the wild of our unknowns

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This past year my typical approach, my self-identifiers, have faced more opposition than I can remember. All past methods do not work and seemingly create more conflicts or unknowns. The need for control does nothing when one is completely out of control. It truly complicates life further and sets everything off kilter. Through grace, bucket loads of grace, I am slowly learning that all-important lesson of stillness. I am getting in touch with emotions, those founded in love, empathy, and shared wisdom. Since moving back East life has felt unsettled, filled with uncertainty; a plethora of obstacles and unknowns. I often struggle with balance, with rest. My mind is always onto the next thing or it’s processing multiple realities and solving a myriad of problems all while grocery shopping. Sitting still and resting in these things is a last resort, a laughable suggestion, and not typically part of my life practice. 

People always want to see external evidence of change; for example, I can say – I am softening, I am becoming more open and loving and vulnerable. You may not see it, or maybe only bits and pieces. I don’t necessarily smile more or make friends everywhere I go, and my party attendance has actually decreased. The changes of which I speak are 90% internal – a change in thought process, a deterioration of walls, and an approach to others with more grace and empathy. I am working to cultivate relationships differently, to invest a lot more in others, to take emotional risks and be OK if they don’t pan out. It doesn’t hurt that I am surrounded by genuine people, ones who give away love and grace effortlessly, without condition. It is inspiring and I am beyond blessed to watch it, take part in it, and receive it. They provide this safe space where failure is merely a stepping stone, where love has no limit, and being seen is the only way to be. They remind me of who I am and who I am becoming. Meeting people who see through your walls or are entirely unaffected by them, has been challenging and eye-opening in so many ways. It makes me love them all the more and crave more relationships like that. I am so thankful to have people who remind me to stop, look up, breath in the chaos and just be still. 

Every single day offers a lesson, a challenge to be better versions of ourselves. We get the honor and privilege to love and be loved in return. We can view our unknowns with a child-like curiosity of where life will lead, or we can get lost in our worries and need for control, missing out on the beauty of it all. I would be naive to think this is all random. I would be remiss to brush it off as a season, or simply the act of maturing as I inch closer to 40. There are no coincidences in this life. There are choices. There is the action one takes in making said choices, and there is acceptance of the outcome. These choices, these moments in life where we either step up and admit our helplessness, our brokenness, and our weakness, they are divinely planted. They are rushing waters of love flowing toward us, open hands asking us to trust, to love, to be exactly who we are and recognize the endless amounts of grace, the richness of life and love, and the one who gently whispers – come to me – Cast your cares on me. 

It will be a year in a couple weeks since we moved back east. It will also be ten years that Mick and I decided to share life together. There are oh so many things we are learning and relearning and so many things we’ve overcome. Through it ALL there is a steady faithfulness, a continued promise of being renewed, and a future ripe with more adventure. We just have to embrace all the parts, the highs, the lows, and especially, the wild of our unknowns.

** image found via Pinterest; words by the lovely Morgan Harper Nichols

being yours

I was undone at the sight of you

I understood how mountains could move, lands separate, oceans rise and fall

I felt my very core tremble knowing you were mine

I became fearless as you took your first breath

With every squeeze of your tiny hand I gained strength, I became better

My old self eclipsed by a woman, now a mother, branded by your very existence

Being yours meant I would accomplish the most difficult, most breaking of things

Being yours means knowing boundless love and soul crushing pain

The light you ushered in is forever unmatched

The truths you unveiled continuously reshape my perspective

My heart now beats where yours cannot, it’s pulse ever so slowly inspiring a new life

Each inhale and exhale carrying the melody of heaven, resounding in His perfect love

It casts out fear, it casts out doubt, it has no end, it has no equal

May that melody flow to others, may it move the mountains in their hearts and bring light to darkness

My precious lil Bird, you are our broken pieces shaped into perfection, into selfless love

What an honor it is to be yours

“It upsets me, and it upsets Christ.”

Once on my lunch, I saw a squirrel funeral outside the local cemetery. One of their brothers/sisters was struck by a vehicle and lay dead in the road. Five various squirrels created a circle around the ‘body’ and wouldn’t move for any car. I ended up driving on the wrong side of the road to pass. It was quite heartbreaking. As my eyes glistened, two extreme thoughts naturally surfaced: 1. Was that squirrel saved? 2. Were they mourning or do squirrels eat their dead and they were playing best out of five – rock, paper, scissors – to see who got the carcass?

A little background: I grew up in a fairly religious home. We went to church generally twice a week. Our circle of friends consisted of 93% church peeps and 7% school and family. We didn’t own a TV and we could not watch movies over a PG rating unless pre-screened by our parents. The radio was generally set to talk radio or church music. I was a puppeteer at VBS [that stands for Vacation Bible School you heathen], I participated in all children’s plays/choirs, I played the piano during the offering and unless grounded (which was more often than not) I attended every youth group function. This was all I knew and I didn’t mind – I loved the people and the family atmosphere. One of my dearest friends dates back to a small non-denominational church we attended in a windowless building. Also, it’s important to note: I was not forced to wear long skirts, I was allowed to cut my hair, and I could walk ahead of any boy/man if I damn well pleased.

Growing up alternating between non-denominational church [themes being spiritual warfare, angels/demons…etc.] and Southern Baptist [summers spent in TN fearing eternal damnation to the fiery pit] I may, or may not, have lived in fear. I had panic attacks on a monthly basis – waking up at night shaking and crying because 1. I was afraid to go to hell or 2. The Nazi’s were going to find me and take me away. I spent many nights sipping warm milk, singing myself to sleep and battled a year-long stint of fainting on the regular. These fears also translated into wanting to save everyone and everything from the devil. I was overly concerned that my pets, and everyone else’s, needed to be saved. There is a chance, if I was ever at your house between the ages of 7 and 12, I prayed the salvation prayer with your pet.  I am not kidding. My cats got saved every other weekend just to be sure I would see them in heaven. I even made sure my stuffed animals were saved just in case they had souls. If I’m being totally honest, Buddy and Maeby are lucky they haven’t been baptized.

I spent a lot of my life concerned about the eternity of others. I was afraid of death, of war, specifically in the Middle East, the book of Revelation ruined me (it speaks of an apocalypse of sorts; the rapture). One time in middle school we were going to buy lunch, a classmate took a little too long in the bathroom. When she came back to class everyone was gone – she honestly thought the rapture occurred and she was devastated. She was still on earth which either meant she wasn’t saved, or, she was one of the few left to be persecuted for years and years. (See the Left Behind series for Hollywood’s perspective on this – Kirk Cameron, the Christian Scorsese). Good content for kids too – the world is going to end and you will likely be tortured, and it could literally happen ANY DAY! I spent so much time worrying about who was saved and who wasn’t and judging those who believed differently than me. It was a way of life.

Through adolescence and my early twenties, I made my own decisions when it came to church and belief. I followed many of the same practices but also developed my own worldview. It all began to feel robotic and methodical, lacking in emotion, lacking in a relationship – simply put, focused on ritual and social status. I soured to the entire idea of Sundays – standing up, sitting down, only to stand up a couple more times. People going through motions, rarely questioning their significance or whether they actually wanted to do those things. It felt vacant and rehearsed…and if you know me, I don’t typically fall in line with trends or ‘shoulds.’

I don’t talk about my faith very much, or at all. I have a heart for specific things, and sometimes, specific people. I don’t believe our words have to be rehearsed or even sound acceptable to the confines of spirituality – which basically means I curse a lot. I believe in sound theology – The Gospel; death, resurrection, and forgiveness of sin. However, I equally believe in Love. I believe that Jesus ALWAYS, always, lead with Love. It was His love for us that made him approachable, that allowed him to rebuke but also show endless amounts of grace. He lived His life without filters and it endeared him to the lost, the poor, the sick, and the dying. I also believe our humanness, those hurts that shape our individuality, are more profound than any cliche, anything scripted ever could be. It’s in our messy and raw realities where redemption is found and lives are changed.

I now know, I cannot redirect anyone’s eternal trajectory, as difficult as that is for a control freak to grasp. But (there’s always a ‘But’ isn’t there?), I can share my (many) broken pieces, practice empathy, and love people, love the CRAP out of them. As the brilliant Bob Goff says, “I used to want to fix people, now I just want to be with them.” Doesn’t that idea instantly relax you? Every time I read it, my shoulders drop a few inches and my jaw unclenches. As much of an introvert as I am – and the idea of sharing my highs and lows here gives me anxiety some of the time, it is in our vulnerability that Love and Grace thrive.

** title is a quote (I think) from Steel Magnolias **

Auntie Mary

There they sat, sun kissed around a 70’s formica table, salt water creating crispy curls in their hair. The scent of tanning oil wafted through the outdated beach rental. The shag carpet was recently vacuumed, and by recently I mean, at least seven times. The furniture rearranged, dusted, lysoled, and dusted again. The ashtray was filled with Marlboro lights, all with red lips permanently imprinted on their papers. Towels hung over the balcony to dry, a tv in the bedroom creating background noise and sending flashes of light down the hall. Tears streamed down their faces, silent laughter shaking their bodies, UNO cards scattered on the floor. There she sat – mascara running down her cheeks, the corners of her Revlon stained red lips almost touching her ears. She never failed to get the last laugh, the hardest laugh, the rawest laugh, and the most joy watching her audience.

My Aunt Mary. My oh my, was she precious to me. She was the queen of sass, brutally honest to her core (savage as the kids say), always a full face of makeup, at least two precious stones on her fingers, peppermint flavored Extra gum, marlboro lights mixed with some Reds, a can of lysol, and a comment about everything. She was never a distant aunt, an old aunt, a crotchety aunt…she was my immediate family. At times I wondered if my cousin and I were switched at birth – I have Mary’s auburn hair, petite frame, eyelashes for days, and precision with a makeup brush. She could never offend me, she loved in her most unique way, and she was a pillar of my childhood and adolescence. She taught me about makeup, skincare, to assume every surface was once touched by someone’s dirty foot or butt, and she taught me how to find humor in just about everything. Her life wasn’t always smooth, but she was a survivor, she was scrappy as hell, and I adored her, every.single.bit of her.

This precious human being left our temporary world for one eternally filled with joy, laughter, and zero pain and suffering. She leaves behind an equally fierce daughter, two priceless grandsons, a gentleman who loved and cared for her over multiple decades, five younger siblings, multiple nieces and nephews who thought the world of her, and a sweet pup named Jacque.

I Love you Auntie Mary, with all my heart. I am so grateful you no longer suffer, I am thankful you are whole, being made new in every way. I can hear your laugh in my head and pray I never lose it. Kiss kiss hug ❤ 12.3.2018

be relentless

Almost exactly 4 years ago I was sitting in this same house, taking in the changing colors, cheeks flushed from the crisp east coast air. It was a joyous week celebrating life – 50 years of one well lived, the union of two beautiful souls, and the anticipation of meeting the little one growing inside me. Family from near and far all converging with shared purpose and excitement. There were so many hugs and squeals – the air riddled with hope, elation, and that feeling – you know the one – where all just feels right in the world.

Weeks before our trek across the US, we learned our Little Bird may not be growing as she should. The messages were mixed and tests inconclusive. We kept the potential of her defect to ourselves – we wanted our ignorance to last as long as it could. The air was thick with joy and maybe selfishly we knew, this would be the last time we would breath with ease, the last time we could wear joy and know it was genuine. Surrounded by every face we’ve ever loved, receiving thoughtful gifts – some passed down through generations, and resting in the idea that life was good – it is something I will never forget.

As I sit in the same house, cheeks flushed from the crisp fall air, tears sneak quietly down my face. This isn’t how we were supposed to return here. Empty handed. Hearts deflated by pain and anger. Broken in every way. It feels as though we exist on the outside looking in. Always asking ourselves, is this our life – forever and ever? Does this state of devastation and grief ever lessen? Does it ever become something capable of sharing space with joy and happiness? I don’t have the answer. It is likely I never will. That has to be OK.

What I do know is this: even when I can’t see through the grey and the fog, life is still beautiful. It’s beautiful because even in this mess, this effed up brokenness, there is love. I know that love is so much bigger than me and my pain – it is the currency in which I should place all my investment. Without it – we would not have made it this far and neither would you. We all have a story – likely littered with pain and disappointments – that’s OK – it makes us human, it gives us common ground. We need to use that common ground to be there for one another. If you know someone in pain – sit outside their door – take them a meal – send them a text or email (snail mail is WAY cooler though) – love them in whatever way they let you, until they let you in. Once you’re in – don’t freaking screw it up! Don’t give unsolicited advice, ask them how long it will last, or lament about your own problems – JUST BE. 

I cannot stress or say this enough – if someone you know is grieving, the loss of a person or their life played out in depression, anger, isolation; maybe they’re struggling with family or lost in their own pain – don’t stop reaching out. Ever. Also, Don’t make it about you. If they don’t respond, do so harshly or coldly – don’t take it personally (well, try not to). It won’t be easy – there is an ugliness that stems from shame, loss and pain. It manifests as self preservation; the thickest and tallest emotional walls, and words sharper than knives. It generates visceral reactions to the simplest of things and strikes out of fear, loneliness, and exhaustion. Nine times outta ten, it has nothing to do with you. Chase them down and leave your expectations outside – try and try again, be relentless in loving them even if they only let you from very far away. One day your love will seep through, it will sit with them when they feel alone, it will tap them on the shoulder when they’re about to lose it, it will keep them going.

my heart

It was my second week in Tennessee, I sat cross-legged on a patch of fresh mauve carpet, hiding 20-year-old basketweave linoleum. The old recliner where I curled up to listen to Peter Jennings talk about a world, one existing far from East Tennessee summers, it was gone. In its place was a bed, the kind with bars on the sides and various mechanical parts. Mr. Jennings voice no longer reverberated through the ancient television, his face distorted by ill-placed foil antennas. Instead, I sat covered in new carpet lint, listening to my Grandpa sing hymns, and stare off into another world; he was dying. We knew it was the end – he rarely existed in the present. He hallucinated about carpentry, selecting nails from his phantom tool belt and grinning while he hammered them off into the air. Sometimes his arm would rise to the sky as if telling angels he was ready to be home. One afternoon we put all 88 lbs of him in a wheelchair and I raced him around the aged double-wide – through the kitchen, squealing through the dining room and back again. With what little energy he had, he would belly laugh as we careened around every turn. My grandma was never far – staying busy by snapping green beans or canning tomatoes. My mom cleaning, even purchasing new drapes to brighten up the place. I sat, rarely taking my eyes off Grandpa. We shared popsicles while the sun beamed soft and gracefully through the front porch. The many plants would rise to greet it – and we would soak in its warmth; I was 13.

Grandpa Jack was hard of hearing, and even when yelling, my voice did not carry the right tone. Despite being unable to hear me – as long as I was talking he was “listening.” He would smile ear to ear and nod his head, and when he could see I stopped speaking, he would smile wider and say, “I love you too!” I knew he had zero clues as to what I said, but it didn’t matter, our language was the same. He told my mom, “she is my heart;” well, he was mine. He wasn’t an affectionate grandparent – you would get a gruff hand on your shoulder more often than a hug – but his smile was all the affection I needed. I adored him. I would often slip my hand in his chapped, grease-covered one or rest my head on his bony shoulder – he never grasped back or warmed into a hug – but he never ever backed away. My favorite spot was next to him as he shared tales, large and small, of shipping yards and odd jobs he had while traveling the country.

His answer to every ailment was iodine – I will never forget that rusty liquid on his various nicks and bruises. He thought cats were disease carriers…and theirs likely had a few. He always wore cotton trousers and a white t-shirt, tucked in with grease stains or a tear around the collar. He walked with his feet kicking out in front of him and arms swinging with purpose. He was older than most grandfathers I knew and had technically been retired my whole life but he still found a “job” every single day. Some days it was “going into town” to run errands. He threw a button up over his tattered t-shirt, put on his favorite fishing cap, “forgot” his hearing aids and fired up the ole Datson. We all knew he really went to socialize which always meant cornering a kind soul into listening to his tall tales. They realized too late he couldn’t hear and had to muster all their southern kindness nodding for an hour. You always knew he was enjoying himself because his chin tilted up and to the left, smiling until his eyes disappeared, hands in his pockets, whistles exiting through his dentures.

His other jobs, for lack of a better term, involved excessive tinkering. You could often find him halfway in his shed, bent over, tools flying aimlessly through his legs into the yard. Once he located the right one, he hammered on whatever needed it and tossed it back into the shed with the same fervor as before. He loved going to my uncle’s farm, he walked along the fence line and gazed out over the fields – I never knew what he was thinking but he always seemed happy, free. He was constantly laughing as me and my cousins wrestled and never panicked when we were racing each other to the top of whatever tree was nearby. He always stood at the trunks’ base whooping us along.

He said grace with the gumption of a southern preacher, and his worn hands always clasped my grandmother’s. As much as those two bickered, they were very much in love. He was her person – he may not have been a consistent husband/father, but he always needed her care and attention and she was happy to give it. I never saw them visit, I never saw them dance or laugh together – but I would catch a glance every once in a while, there was love there.

This particular afternoon in Tennessee my mom came and sat next to me placing her hand on Grandpa’s chest – I noticed a glimmer of concern as she touched his face and grasped his fingertips. I asked what was wrong, even though I already knew; she told me to get Grandma. I walked to the bathroom door and knocked, I’m sorry to bother you but mom says you should come out here. She sat down and clasped Grandpa’s hand – he turned to face her – a rare moment of cognizance. She began weeping and he somehow began comforting her. It was an amazing thing to behold. Grandma leaned down and pressed her face into his chest – he smiled and began humming – he reached his free hand up to the sky and hummed a little louder. As his hand danced in the air his face lit up, his eyes opened wide and he smiled with his mouth open – toothless and filled with joy – he was heading home.

I didn’t know heartbreak until that day. I’m not speaking of my sadness, no, it was my Grandma. I watched her closely the week of his funeral – she was so present, showing grace to everyone who attended. She smiled, she was warm, and her strength was admirable. A couple days after the funeral I walked past the formal living room, she sat, weathered Bible in her lap, and wept. Her tears soaked the red leather cover, her long fingers covering her eyes – she wept in a dark room, alone. In her silent weeping, in her brokenness, I remember seeing the woman I longed to be. I felt warmth in my eyes and a knot in my stomach – watching this woman cry was somehow suffocating and brilliant at the same time.  I missed my Grandpa fiercely, but I hadn’t cried yet…until now. It’s possible I have a robotic way of pushing my feelings aside to appear strong, or maybe I just knew it was his time and I could logically put that emotion in a compartment. Whatever the case, her strength, and poise, her fearlessness moved me. It left a mark. She was an immovable force – stubborn, deliberate, a pistol – Anna Daisy. I like to think she and Grandpa spend their days caring for our lil bird – that Birdie Anna’s namesake is sharing with her the fierceness and independence she taught me. I would not be who I am without them, all three of them are my heart, and I imagine she is theirs.

imaged found via Pinterest

The house we live in

Big change tends to stir up those things we repress. It draws out any ugliness we try to cover with the “New” thing or the “New” experience. I guess the real adventure is embracing every part of the process – not just the shiny newness, but all the brokenness that brought you there in the first place. Since we moved I have been a lost and found box of emotion. I have tried detaching, scare tactics, distraction, numbing, close up magic (just kidding) – none of it works. At the end of the day I look like an out of control emotional crazy person, and basically, I am.

Over the last six or so months I have been a little obsessed with personalities. There is a part of me that always wants | needs to know the “whys” of things. Why things happen, why two people can look at the same situation and come to separate conclusions…etc. Back in September a friend introduced me to the Enneagram (read: diagnosed me). The nerdy researcher in me began reading everything and anything I could get my hands on. It’s an absolutely fascinating concept, and dare I say, spot on. I am familiar with various other methods of personality typing, but this one described me perfectly, to the point where I may have had a small identity crisis. If you aren’t familiar, and are willing to see yourself in the best and worst sense, I would encourage you to check it out.

On my quest to gain a better understanding, I realized my biggest enemy, other than grief, is stress. When I am stressed I either get very sick or basically turn into a monster. I could be a monster to those closest to me, those within a 3 to 5,000 mile radius, or just to myself. I researched introvertedness, logical | critical thinking, sensing, feeling, judging; all the ways we as humans emotionally react to any given situation. I am incredibly hard on myself, the expectations I chase are more often than not impossible to catch. When I disappoint myself I take it out on others. When I am angry or lonely or sad or frustrated, but cannot put words or emotion to it – I project. It is a vicious cycle, one I am desperately attempting to correct. Stress inspires a way of acting/reacting that gives me visions of what I would have been like as a cavewoman – absolutely terrifying. If this were a sitcom we would flash to a scene: me in torn clothes, feeding on raw meat, blood trickling down my face, dirt smeared skin, and grunts and growls being my only form of communication. It also gives me an appreciation – like a deep tear inducing appreciation – for friends and family who love me in spite of my gnashing of teeth and/or disappearing acts.

Who we are and why we are those people is an important study. I was insulted at first by my personality typing and I was incredibly unkind to myself as a result. I am thankful for so many of the things that make me, me – but there are scary parts – there is a wildness that needs – not taming so much as love…self love. I read a quote the other day that basically said – the words you say to yourself, become the house you live in. Throat.Punch. The house I live in is weighed down by words of frustration, sadness, and weariness. Words of joy and gratefulness are certainly scattered in there – but self reflection is no joke. I need to strengthen my walls with encouragement, lower my expectations, accept my lack of control. I need to stop withholding grace – be OK with time: time for growth and healing.

I have been horrible at balancing life this last month. I have been difficult, cold, and ambivalent. Here’s to embracing all the messy broken parts – accepting responsibility and owning the process. Part of showing myself grace, is also a practice in showing it to others, better than I have in the past. Recognizing we are all works in progress – and the only way we can do this life is together is by simply loving ourselves and one another. Love has no expectations or pro and con lists; it is kindness, it is grace. And when we do a crappy job, which we ultimately will, love is owning that failure and trying again, over and over and over.