12

Friday

Re-Entry

Re-Entry

I felt a little like I was getting ready for a date. I had picked out my clothes the night before, hanging them carefully over my chair, but in the light of day, they just didn’t seem right.

I found a white jersey dress that I almost never wear (mostly because almost everything I do involves eating, and I am not good with food and white). It was the right choice.

I wore make-up, too, which is less common than not these days. My stomach was a little jittery as I slid the eyeliner across the edges of my lids.

I couldn’t tell you why now, except that I’d felt it deep in my center the night before. The winds were changing, the leaves were stirring.

I went to bed nervous, but excited as well.

I went to bed wrapped in hope.

I took in every detail on the drive the next morning. It was sunny, which made it easier to get out of bed with joy, and as I parked my car and began to walk, I noticed that the sun brought out the bright colors of the mural on the side of the church.

I took a deep breath and walked inside.

Almost immediately upon entering, I made eye contact with my pastor’s husband and quickly spied their son (one of my favorite children). Almost immediately after, I recognized a couple I’d met at a friend’s outdoor movie night earlier in the summer. They were greeting people near the entrance to the sanctuary. I said hello and and asked to be pointed in the right direction. What with the sun and all of the people, I was already a little disoriented, (and still nervous).

They smiled and showed me where to find a printed liturgy. I found a seat and picked up a hymnal, ready to flip to the correct page.

I took a deep breath. The sanctuary itself was filled with light. The floors were a light golden wood, and the stained glass windows are formed from a glass almost the color of lilacs.

I caught the eye of my pastor, and she smiled warmly at me.

Next to her, I noticed another familiar face, another welcoming smile (a poet I’d met at that same outdoor movie night, which was beginning to seem like the cornerstone of my social life).

The service began.

The last time I went to church was during Holy Week. A friend was singing in the choir at our local cathedral and invited me to the Maundy Thursday service. I wrote a bit about it later, especially about watching the stripping of the altar and the way that it contributed to my own desolation.

I also wrote about hearing the words from Exodus read aloud, in reference to the Passover feast: “If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one.” At the time, it made me feel small and alone. I was preparing to spend Easter alone, and many other days besides. I couldn’t think of a near neighbor with whom I could join forces.

Last Sunday, in this sunshiny church, I heard those words read aloud again. Of course the liturgy for my re-entry included these same verses. This time, I saw something else as I listened to the text. We read Exodus 12:1-14, and I realized that joining with a close neighbor to eat a lamb wasn’t simply about requiring companionship. It was the blood from that very lamb that saved the Israelites from the angel of death. Community, while sometimes hard and uncomfortable, is a matter of life and death in this passage.

I’ve been struggling lately, with feelings of isolation, coupled with the scars of pain inflicted a year ago at this time. I’ve been fighting the urge to hole up in my home, and even in my bed, doing my best to reach out, even when I haven’t felt like it.

One of the times I reached out, my pastor reached back with a poem. She read it aloud to me, and I’ve played it back over and over again since. She couldn’t have known how it spoke to my weary heart, so intent upon ignoring what grace really means.

As part of the liturgy, we turned over our bulletin to read a poem together in unison. It was the poem she had sent me, and I repeated it with the rest of the congregation, the words familiar like a stone I had been keeping in my pocket, rubbing with my thumb.

from A Timbered Choir

By Wendell Berry

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Must be lived out from day to day.

Vision held open in the dark

By our ten thousand days of work.

Harvest will fill the barn; for that

The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled

By work of ours; the field is tilled

And left to grace. That we may reap,

Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood

Rests on our day, and finds it good.

(The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997)

I could talk about the fresh garden produce at coffee hour. Green beans and tomatoes and cucumber, (brought by one of those couples I met at that movie night). I could talk about the conversations I had, conversations where I didn’t hold back from saying that I was still healing from past church wounds. “This is a good place to heal,” one woman said.

I could talk about the way it felt to be remembered, with bread and wine, with word and wink.

But I think I’ll close by telling you that in the middle of the service, someone behind me spilled a cup of coffee. Those of us in my pew moved quickly to avoid being covered in the liquid, as it pooled near our feet. We did all of this with little sound, and one man ran off for a few paper towels, which didn’t accomplish much.

We kept right on singing.

I couldn’t help but think about how community, especially church community, is a little like that cup of coffee. It’s warm and messy and a little sticky, and ends up in unexpected places. But it’s sweet. And it spreads out, defying containment.

We keep right on singing.

{photo credit}

10

Wednesday

de(tales): holding hands

Carmen and I met through a story she told me on Twitter. (Isn’t it amazing how stories connect us?) Since then, she has been a faithful friend, even with the time difference between us. I’m happy to have the opportunity to share her de(tale) with you today. 

de(tales): holding hands

I was a rather aloof child, growing up. I enjoyed my own company and that of my books more than that of others, even the members of my family, much to their dismay. I did not enjoy hugs, and I didn’t like having my hand held. I can’t tell you why; the thought of it made me cringe.

This began to change when one of my uncles passed away from health complications due to diabetes and an open heart surgery. He was negligent with his health the last few weeks, I was told. I was 17, and the next day was my first day of my senior year of high school. One of my good friends met me at the door in the morning and gave me a hug. Her family graciously invited me to spend the night at their house that day.

A few months later, I went to visit my grandmother in a home. She had suffered a stroke and lost her ability to speak coherently. Her being in a home created tension and led to fights in the family. Before we left, she gestured for my sister to open the closet and give her the box of tissues. She took out four and carefully folded each and every one, gave one to me, my sisters, and my mother. It was all she had, and it was all she could give us. As she held my hand and pressed the tissue into my palm, tears streaming down her cheeks, I wished that I’d held her hand more often.

That was the last time that I saw her.

And then again, a few days before I started my first year of college, I found myself reaching for my little sister’s neck as she picked me from my fetal position on the bathroom floor, after having gone all day without shedding one tear when we found out that another uncle had lost the battle with leukemia.

Loss after loss tore at my heart, and I began to discover that pressing my palm into someone else’s helped me breathe a little better. When I was seventeen, I went camping with the youth group of the church across the street, and by the bonfire, with the leaders singing songs about Jesus, I rested my hand on the log I was sitting in, and the hand of the nineteen year old boy I liked found mine. His pinky finger covered mine at first, and then our fingers intertwined. I don’t know that anyone noticed or cared. In that moment, that was all I needed. That, and the bonfire, and the stars.

When I was nineteen, on a visit to my father in Kurdistan, I found myself in the car of the man I shared my first kiss with. He drove me home after we went out to dinner with my sister and his friend. We’d gone go-kart racing next door. I realized I was miserable at it, and so I joined him on the steps out in the sticky heat while my sister and his friend raced each other at irresponsible speeds. I don’t remember the conversation we had, but I remember it left me feeling like he was someone whose hand I could hold.

And so when we reached the car, I sped up my pace and climbed into the front passenger seat. This felt bold and brazen to me. He knew what I was doing and what I wanted, something I appreciated. He asked me out loud if I was trying to get him to hold my hand, something I didn’t appreciate as much. Mortified, I looked down at my hands in my lap, and he reached over and intertwined his fingers with mine, while we drove across the dry land of Northern Iraq in his pick-up truck, windows down, Kings of Leon playing from his car stereo.

I spent the next several months nursing a wounded heart and a bruised ego by going out with boys who had no interest in holding my hand, and while I enjoyed all the kissing, I longed to have someone whose hand I could hold again. There is something about your palm pressed into another’s that is reassuring, that tells you that life could be lived with this person by your side.

I have since learned that holding someone’s hand could be done in friendship. I have held hands with girlfriends over cups of tea and tears. I have held the hands of male friends in prayer and for reassurance through struggles (whether for them or for me). Today, as I walked away from hurtful words of a friend that made me feel shame over things I’d told him in confidence, another friend followed me and when she’d kept pace with me, slid her hand in mine, no questions asked.

I am thankful for these friends who walk through life with me, to the extent they can. Life gets in the way, and people move away. I move away and then come back. They come back to visit, and it’s bittersweet. Some of them you’ll still hold hands with. But it’s not the same. You change and so do they. You grow up and sometimes that means you grow apart.

I do not think I am yet ready, but having someone to hold hands with and walk through life with, without the fear that one day that will go away or change, is definitely a longing of mine.

Carmen IbrahimCarmen Ibrahim is a graduate student at the American University of Beirut, as well as a teacher. She is playing at being an adult with her first Beirut apartment and all the funnies (well, not so much) that come along with it. Being an introvert who likes people, bring her a warm cup of coffee and good conversation on a rainy day, and you’re friends for life. (You can connect with her on Twitter)
You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.
{photo credit}

8

Monday

Best Friends Forever

Best Friends Forever

I’m beginning to think that being a writer means explaining myself over and over again. I find myself telling the same stories, finding new ways of saying old things. I have stories that I always tell, things that burn in my heart. I’m sure you have your stories, too, the ones that are always percolating in the back of your mind.

One of those stories, for me, is the story of the best friend.

I distinctly remember going to Costco with my family, lined notebook paper in tow. I was writing a story, and I couldn’t be bothered to stop.

I rode on one of those flat cards, and as we accumulated groceries around me, I crafted the story of Beatrix O’Brien (names are important). It was the story of Beatrix meeting her best friend and the account of their adventures (and one misadventure, involving playground equipment). Later, I created my own illustrations (a practice which has, fortunately, ceased).

I have a box of these stories. They are stapled together, hand-written and largely illustrated. They have one other striking similarity: they are all about the main character meeting her best friend.

I always trace this back to Anne and Diana and bosom friends, but the timing doesn’t quite add up. Long before I was reading about Marilla’s refusal for Anne to go to the Sunday School Class Picnic (and Anne’s subsequent belief that she would never meet a bosom friend) I was looking out my window at houses for rent and praying that a girl my age might move in.

Once, I struck up a conversation with a girl on a bike as I was in my side yard. She seemed friendly, and had come from somewhere down the street. I went to the side yard every day, hoping to catch a glimpse of her, but I never saw her again.

Although I kept praying for a kindred spirit, and met people here and there, I never truly found a “best friend.”

In Sunday School, I told people that all of my friends were my best friends (which now makes me think about Dash’s line in The Incredibles after his mother tells him that everyone is special. “Which is another way of saying no one is”). Later, I began to refer to this friend or that as my best friend, to try it on for size. It always got awkward when I met their actual “best friend.”

It always seemed that the position had been filled.

By the time I got to high school and college, I had realized that one of the best ways to avoid this awkward conversation, was to say that I “didn’t like labels.”

“I’m not really into the ‘best friend’ thing,” I would say, should anyone ask. “I don’t want to demean other relationships by elevating one above the others.”

But it was a lie. I wanted so desperately to be singled out, to be set apart from the others. I wanted to be someone’s best friend.

Post-college, I still cringe, a bit, when I hear someone talk about their best friend. It’s a gut reaction, and I know that it doesn’t take away from how they think about me, but it still takes my breath away for a moment.

Recently, I realized that I had stopped talking about friendship for a while and started talking about romantic relationships. I like romance as much as the next person (probably more) but what I was really doing was finding an acceptable way to talk about this void of not being singled out, of being elevated above the rest. A spouse can be like that, a sort of best friend that one is expected to live with (and indeed, not to want to live without), a companion for the most mundane moments of sleep and waking, reading and walking, television, and cleaning.

I would like to meet and marry someone lovely, but truly, I am seeking a companion with which to do life, someone to whom I can recount everything I ate during my day, my excitement over an email, and my concerns about road construction. I am looking for someone who will contact me first when you can turn on your phone after the airplane lands.

In recent years, I have felt guilty about this desire. I’ve wondered why I yearn so deeply for exclusivity. I have tried to convince myself that it doesn’t really matter all that much.

But it does.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve brought it to God, both asking that it would be taken away, and that it would be fulfilled. But neither of those things have happened.

It’s only been recently that I’ve been learning to look at my large connection capacity as a gift. I am capable of many deep conversations per week, I am encouraged by lots of time spent in good company (good food and drink don’t hurt, either). I give and give and give in relationships and still have lots left over, which, I suppose, is a good problem to have.

I spoke with a faraway friend a couple of months ago about this and I’m still haunted by her words. “I love my husband,” she said. “He’s wonderful. But I need so many more people than just him.”

Getting married will not solve this (though I can imagine that I would love being singled out in the way I’ve always hoped). Even meeting a best friend would not completely satisfy me, I think. I’ve built that relationship up so high in my mind that I think only Anne herself could truly fill that gap.

Even as I try to figure out relationships here on earth, I find myself thinking about Heaven. It is my understanding that there will be no exclusivity there. I will never again feel left out. If there was one thing that I would ask for, here on earth, that would be it. I have built my life around the outcasts, trying to welcome those who feel out of place, because I know the pain that comes when I feel like I don’t belong. But in Heaven, there will be no spouses, and we will all be one, just as God is one.

I can’t squash the pain that comes from feeling on the outside of something. I can’t control the sinking feeling when I wake up, some weekends, as empty hours stretch ahead of me. I want to be honest about where I am and how I feel. But at the same time, I believe that there is a reason that God is never exclusive, never shows partiality, never blocks those who want to be with Him. I am holding all of this in my hands, today, like a prayer.

For more Single Minded Mondays, click here.

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5

Friday

On Brokenness and Mole-Whacking

On Brokenness and Mole-Whacking

There have always been two conflicting notions in my head. First, there was the idea that I am lovely. As a young child, it was almost self-forgetful, filled with joy at all that life and God and light had to offer. Many of my earliest memories are filled with smiles and sunshine and responsiveness.

Second, there is the idea that I’m broken. I have some theories, but I don’t know exactly where it came from. I only know that when I was having trouble finding playmates, or dates, or people do do things other than study with in college, I thought: what’s wrong with me?

My time in church did nothing to allay these questions. I listened to sermon after sermon about behavior modification. I had the occasional dream that I had engaged in pre-marital sex and woke up sweating because had that actually happened: the world would end. I sat in small groups and shared struggles during prayer request time, only to hear everyone else ask for prayer for someone else. I sat in worship, wondering how the worship leader always looked so cute, hair curled and feet in tall boots. I felt like a call and response without the response.

Marco…

At first, it was just me. I looked at myself and tried to force my behavior into submission. I read my Bible everyday, through in a year, and journaled about it. I faithfully confessed every sin, scared to death that I would die with some unspoken and be barred from Heaven. But then, as I started to memorize verses for candy and glory, I learned that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I learned that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. I walked the Romans road without context or care. I wasn’t broken alone anymore, but I was still in a desolate place.

When I’m looking for something, I often find it. My view of the brokenness of myself, others and the world has given me an uncanny knack for seeing just that. I’ve entered into relationships with big red flags flying, sighing in frustration when things fell apart again. Every friend’s divorce, challenging friendship, or miscarriage has added fuel to my fire. Everything is broken. Everyone is broken.

Suddenly, I was no longer asking what was wrong with me. I was wondering aloud what was wrong with everyone else. I was still uncomfortable with my own shortcomings, but at least I was trying. Why wasn’t anyone else trying?

It made me not want to try anymore.

I fell in love with Brene Brown at first TED talk. She looked into my eyes and told me that the difference between those who feel love and belonging and those who don’t is that those people feel worthy of love and belonging.

Deep breath.

At first, this seemed like really good news. I’ll just feel like I’m worthy of love and belonging, I thought, and then I will be fixed. 

But it’s never that simple, is it?

Deep down in my stomach, there’s still a tight little stress ball whispering lies. I know that they are lies, and I’m whacking them as fast as I can, but as with fake moles in that terrifying arcade game Whac-a-Mole they speed up and come faster, and some are bound to get through.

My strategy for dealing with these lies has become similar to my strategy for Whac-a-Mole, strangely enough.

I enlist help.

With three or four of us on the same team, we could usually bonk every single mole on the head.

These mole-whackers are my friends and my therapist, my pastor, the Holy Spirit, even my favorites books.

And perhaps there is no greater mole-whacker than Jesus. Lately there are words of Jesus that are jumping off the page for me, even when I’m not reading them. There are words that are catching my attention just before I go to sleep or as I’m driving to work.

I am with you always, even to the end of the age. 

I have no longer called you servants, I have called you friends. 

Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?

The moles keep coming, quickly and erratically. They have not been fixed. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this process is that I am starting to tell myself that the moles are not my fault, and even to believe it, sometimes. On certain days, I lay back and trust that others will keep whacking, even while I sleep.

But a strange thing has happened. Instead of looking inward and wondering what is wrong with me, automatically, I am learning to see hints of God, even in myself. Instead of looking at the world and seeing only brokenness and decay, I am starting to see snatches of life, flourishing even in places that don’t appear very fertile. Rather than looking for evidence of thoughtlessness and cruelty, I am keeping my eyes out for kindness and a desire for connection.

I usually don’t see a double rainbow on the way to work, but sometimes it is sunny. I don’t get flowers delivered, but I’ll get an encouraging text, or email. I don’t always go to bed satisfied with myself, but sometimes I speak aloud: “you’re lovely.” Because it’s true.

..

{photo credit}

3

Wednesday

de(tales): an ep for katie

Amy teaches at my alma mater, but we met in the great wide world of the internet, through a mutual friend. I had the (much-too-short) pleasure of meeting her in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing, and I found her just as lovely in person as she is in prose. Her writing consistently challenges me and makes me think, but also makes me laugh and nod along as she takes me on a wonderful journey. I hope that you’ll enjoy going on this one as much as I did. 

Enjoy, friends. 

Track One: Just Don’t Want Coffee -Caedmon’s Call (1997)

detalesanepforkatieI never pay attention to the details.

It’s 7:35 when I clatter down the stairs in Doc Martens and no make-up, my hair in one long braid still damp from last night’s shower. I choose an apple and a banana – lunch – and ask if you’re ready.

“Is that what you’re wearing?” you reply, wrinkling your nose. Your details are perfect, as always: your sticky notes color coded, your handwriting regular as a typeface, your mascara evenly applied and your shirt from American Eagle.  I roll my eyes and head toward the garage.

You’d prefer almost anything, from the Dixie Chicks to MxPx, but it’s my Camry and my cassette deck, so you’ve had to make peace with my Caedmon’s Call tape.  I love the way it begins:

Though I am small, I’ve seen things far beyond these city walls
The land is flat and it rolls for miles
I don’t know much, I know I’ve many places yet to see
I know I’ve been here for a while.

From the acoustic guitar to the whiny vocals, it’s exactly how I feel about high school in the deep south: desperate for a wider world.

You thrive in it, though. At school, you’re Quinn and I’m Daria.  You are friends with the cheerleaders and the pretty girls.  You all obsess over crushes together and have sleepovers and pass notes in class, and I feel vaguely guilty — it must be embarrassing for you to have a sister like me, bookish, quietly defiant, misanthropic, feminist. But I just can’t get myself to care about those superficial details.

Track Two: When U Love Somebody – Fruit Bats (2004)

I’ve hardly seen you at all in the last year, me sweating beatifically in Southeast Asia and you disoriented in Manhattan. Now we’re apart for the summer too. By July, my well-planned life is unraveling and I know it.  You don’t know yet that sadness has set its sights on you as well.

Your handwriting, neat as ever, lines the yellow envelope sent from your summer camp to my brick halls. There’s a letter and a mix cd for me inside.

We’re both trying to figure out what to do with the boys we’ve fallen for.  Yours has a girlfriend, always has; mine has just started seeing someone, too. You joke in your letter that “Lepine girls always get what we want,” but maybe this time we won’t. “Maybe that will be good for us,” I think philosophically, if not quite logically. “Maybe we need to have our hearts broken.”

I play the CD over and over, mostly songs from bands I’ve never heard before. “When you love somebody, bite your tongue, all you get is a mouthful of blood,” the Fruit Bats sing to rhythmic guitar and jangly hand-claps.  As I listen, I compose an email back to you. “I don’t trust him,” I say.  “You should just let him go.”

Of course you’re led by your heart, you never bite your tongue.  You stay out all night, you fall right into love, you know I don’t approve, and you wonder in your journal if I’ll ever be proud of you.  I’m Elinor Dashwood and you’re Marianne: I just want to protect you.

Caution leads me; I always bite my tongue, and pretend like it doesn’t hurt. The summer is salty and metallic for us both. At least it has a soundtrack.
Track Three: Double Life – Conor Oberst (2014)

“So Conor’s ‘Double Life’ seems like a good theme song for you right now,” I text you from the kitchen, slicing tomatoes while my children pretend to be secret spies under the table.

“omg

my dream text”

you respond, winking at me with emoji. You’ve seen Conor Oberst in concert 21 times, and even walked down the aisle to one of his songs, but I’ve never shared the love.  Later I put the song at the end of a playlist and mail you the link.  You tell me it’s my best playlist yet, “not just because it has Conor on it,” and you play it over speakers in your Brooklyn backyard at dusk, grilling burgers with your friends (amazingly, the same girls from highschool!) at the end of summer. Maybe my taste in music isn’t as embarrassing as it once was.

I spent a week at your house in January, and it was perfect: you clorox the counters twice a day, never leave dishes overnight, and always hang up your coat.  You love doing laundry, never neglect dentist’s visits, and still throw your whole heart open for your friends.

I still wear my hair in long, damp braids and leave my clothes in piles, misanthropically avoiding relationships with (shudder) people, abstractly wondering about the things far beyond my city walls, and judging people around me for caring about silly things.

But when I need to remember the truth, I call you.  You know all the details, what I was wearing, what song was playing, who was there, which day of the week it was. I’ve started to believe those things aren’t superficial. Maybe they’re the whole point.

“I don’t remember getting here,” Conor sings. I don’t know exactly how we became what sisters are supposed to be, but it is a better life, on the other side. You bring the details and the heart, I’ll bring the big picture, we’ll make the playlist together.

Amy Peterson teaches ESL and works with the Honors Guild at Taylor University.  Follow her on twitter and read more at her blog.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

29

Friday

What I’m Into {a snapshot of August 2014}

August has gone by quickly in some ways, slowly in others. I’m starting to be ready for fall in my bones. I’ve been wearing boots and leggings to work (and sweating all the way home). Part of me is even a little wistful about not heading back into a classroom, even though it’s been a while.

Fall is my favorite season, though, with all of the beauty and death and promise of regeneration, so I can’t say that I’m too sorry to see summer fading (though transition is always a little hard). I have done my best to enjoy August to the fullest, accepting the month as it came and letting go of it now.

Once again, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for What I’m Into (check out the rest over at her site).

I hope you enjoy this little peek into my everyday, and I hope you’ll share a little of yours with me.

Reading

perfectly-imperfect-home-coverThe Perfectly Imperfect Home
by Deborah Needleman

I returned to a favorite book this month (since I’m decorating my new house). I first picked it up for the adorable illustrations, but I fell in love with the conversational writing and relaxed way that Deborah Needleman (founding editor of Domino magazine) approaches decorating. There is a section called “Glamifications” and one called “Cozifications” which just about sums up the sort of home I want to have. This is a book that I will probably return to again, as needed.

The-Girls-At-The-Kingfisher-ClubThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club
by Genevieve Valentine

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is one of my very favorite fairy tales (I must have worn out the library’s copy of the Faerie Tale Theatre version with Lesley Ann Warren). When I read a review for this retelling, set in the 1920s, I was intrigued. There is something both beautiful and sad about any story set in the 1920s for me. Maybe it’s because I know what is coming in 1929, maybe it’s because of all the sneaking around to speakeasies. This book had that same sadness to it (as well as all of the sparkle). I enjoyed it, but I’m still not quite sure what I think about it.

WDBWriting Down the Bones
by Natalie Goldberg

I finally read this classic (after numerous times checking it out at the library and so many recommendations). It was everything I hoped it would be and more. I’m sure that these words wouldn’t work for everyone (which do?) but I found Natalie’s zen approach very calming. I tend to be anxious about most things (even about writing, occasionally). I found myself wanting to take a deep breath as I finished each short chapter. I’ll be going back to this one (and moving on to the rest of her work).

jennifergwyneth_1217-1Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me: The Pursuit of Happiness, One Celebrity at a Time
by Rachel Bertsche

I was such a fan of Rachel’s first book about friendship (MWF Seeking BFF). When I saw that she was writing another book (another work of stunt non-fiction, even) I didn’t bother looking too closely before requesting it. This book is Rachel’s attempt to see if copying certain elements of celebrity’s lives will make her happy. The premise sounds sort of shallow, but the book itself is poignant, thought-provoking, and well-written. I loved this little look inside her head, and the personal way she chose to share things. It made me wonder about the people that I’m emulating, comparing myself to, and even dismissing.

Watching

My mom and I went to see The 100 Foot Journey this week. It’s a story about food and family, hope and ambition. It’s set in France, in a beautiful little village and if it had been an hour longer, I would have sat there and continued to soak in the gorgeous scenery and the fast chopping of garlic. Like most food movies, it’s about so much more than food, and this one is very emotional, as well as being satisfying.

I was home sick for a couple of days this month and the time seemed right to finally start watching Parks and Recreation (as my roommate suggested when I moved in). Nothing could have prepared me for how much I love this show. My little type-A, perfectionistic soul finds a kindred spirit in Leslie Knope (who also just happens to work for the government). These characters have become my friends, and binging on this show has also provided an opportunity for roommate bonding. I’m working on season four (no spoilers please, la la la la).

For those who are paying attention, I’m still working my way through season two of Sex and the City.

As much as I enjoy the unstructured nature of summer TV show watching, I’m really looking forward to my shows coming back in September.

Listening

Ever since I heard about The Civil Wars official break up, I’ve been listening to the most recent album. It was sad before (they never were very happy songwriters) but now there is a deeper sadness to it, in the wake of the split.

But it’s beautiful.

I took a road trip with a friend this month (more on that later) and we listened to I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing as audiobooks on the way and back. It’s been a little over two years since Nora Ephron died and it was about time I heard her voice again. If you’re a fan at all, I highly recommend that you listen to the recordings of these books by the author. She’s funny, and honest and such a good writer, and her tone is always so telling. I found her style sneaking it’s way into my writing in the days and weeks after listening.

Living

The last few times my alumni magazine has come, I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the marriages and babies in the pages. I decided to submit my own version of a “baby announcement.” This blog is my baby in so many ways. Unfortunately, even though they mailed this magazine to me, they still can’t figure out what city I live in. Oh well.

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Some wonderful friends of mine have a big backyard, a screen and an old-fashioned popcorn machine and they take advantage of this by having movie nights to watch campy movies. This month I sipped signature cocktails and ate gourmet snacks while watching Kung-Pow: Enter the Fist and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I doubt very seriously whether many people can say that.

These are just exactly the sort of evenings that I want to have in my real life, so I’m glad they are happening. Life shows no sign of getting realer.

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In pursuit of a few essentials for my house, I convinced a friend to travel with me to IKEA in Seattle. We left at 7am, listening to Over the Rhine (with whom she fell in love, as I had planned) and Nora Ephron. Four hours later, we arrived. I sampled my first ever IKEA food (mmm, meatballs) and we plunged in. Three hours later, we emerged triumphant and picked someplace lovely to go to dinner. In the middle of my craft cocktail, as I ate foie gras without bread (because I forgot you were supposed to eat it with bread), I was heard to remark: “You know that single girl dream everyone is always talking about? We are living it.”

After dinner, we turned around and were home in bed by 10:30 (which may also be the single girl dream).

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I made salsa one Sunday for hours (truly, there was a movie and two TV episodes involved). It was only after I was finished and washing my knife that I cut myself and had to put my nurse roommate to work. Incidentally, this was also when we realized that we should probably have some first aid stuff around the house (oops). No permanent harm done.

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We went dancing (which is not something I’d done before moving into this house, at least, not like this). We go to the lounge at the casino and we go in force. This time, the theme was the 90s (note my Relient K t-shirt and jellies). I wore workout pants and prepared to get in some cardio. I do not wish the 90s back, but we had a lot of fun (even if I was exhausted by 1am). I would like to think that we ruined at least five one night stands with our jubilance.

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I’m going to take you on just a little house tour (just in case you’re curious). This is where I live:

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Clicking

Harry, Severus, & David: The Danger of a Single Narrative by Laura Brekke at On Pop Theology

I found this post very thought-provoking, but then, literature is the way to my heart. There are Harry Potter spoilers here, so if you haven’t read them, steer clear.

What I Left Behind from My Childhood Faith by Rachel Marie Stone at onfaith

I relate to so much of this piece, including the part about hoping that the rapture would wait until after my wedding night. Oh dear.

Unusual Jobs: Pastor’s work takes her beyond church walls by Pia Hallenberg at The Spokesman-Review

This is my pastor.

A Memoir is Not a Status Update by Dani Shapiro at The New Yorker

‘Nuff said.

Making Space Anyway by Addie Zierman at SheLoves

Thoughts on mentoring.

Be Sweet to Me by Erin S. Lane at Holy Hellions

This poem did me in. So beautiful.

Writing

This month, I wrote about my St. Martha’s Day party and the waves of blessings that washed over me that night. I wrote about some of my thoughts on weddings. I wrote about some things that I don’t regret.

In Single Minded Mondays, I wrote about my baggage with the phrase “put yourself out there” (and about the beautiful already).  I wrote a Monday prayer (you’re still welcome to join, even though it isn’t Monday). I wrote about a dream I had when I was young that still shapes my vision for relationships and I confessed some grocery shopping melancholy.

In the de(tales) series, I had the honor of hosting Nicole Sheets (writing about the one-piece rule and online dating), Caris Adel (writing about her first memories of safety), Abby Norman (writing about purple glitter), and Aaron J. Smith writing about some little hands.

If you’d like to make sure you don’t miss one of my posts, you can subscribe by email.

What are you into this month, friends?

27

Wednesday

de(tales): hands

Aaron is a consistently honest and real voice on the internet. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him online, and also spending time with him in person, at the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference. He writes with passion and beauty and speaks often to one of my great passions: the left out ones. I hope you’ll enjoy this beautiful de(tale) about his son as much as I did.

de(tale): hands

His hands are small.

His little fists fit into the palm of my hand, and I am reminded that he is still a small boy. After four years of growth, I forget that he is still my baby, my little guy. I remember thinking about how small and tender his hands were when he first grasped my fingers as an infant. I’m still reminded of how small and tender he is when he holds my hand as we walk down the street.

It’s not that he is small. In fact, he is big for his age. He is solid and strong. He is also still growing, and I forget that he is not yet what he will be. I remember it when he sleeps, when he is vulnerable and small in our king sized bed. It’s then I see what a child he still is, how much he has grown, and how much he has left to become.

When he holds my hand as we sleep, I can still feel the smallness of his tender hands. It reminds me of when he was younger, a baby. It reminds me when I was struck with the realization that my first born son – MY SON – was holding my hand. It was one of those moments of pure shock and bliss that strikes you and makes you remember it forever.

As my boy holds my hand and we walk, I remember when he held my hands learning to walk, learning to take steps and support his body on those chubby little baby legs. I remember sitting on the floor of the apartment with him, watching him pull himself up to stand leaning against coffee tables, couches, chairs, and anything else those little hands could grab. I remember him as a toddler, learning to use his hands to not hit and to grab his own spoon. I remember the mess his hands made of spaghetti.

His hands are small, but already they are traced with the lines of life and living. Already they remind me of my own. Already, I can see how someday his hands will outgrow mine. What will happen when my child grows bigger than me? What about when he simply grows too big to hold in my arms the way we snuggle now. My son is growing up, his hands are getting bigger, changing what they can do, and someday those hands will be fully grown, big, and independent.

Right now, those hands remain small. For now his hands fit into mine. For now, he has so much more growing to do. My prayer is that my hands, my older, bigger hands might lead him in the good paths, the ways that let him grow well and grow good. My hands hold his for now, and I feel the weight of those little hands. It’s something special and unlike anything other weight my hands can lift in this life.

So we hold hands, we give high fives, we play with toys together, we learn to be gentle with our hands, and together we walk, crossing streets and climbing hills. As we hold hands, we move through life, even while we sleep. I never really thought about it until now, but I see that his hands lead me to grow just as much as my hands guide him in his growth. It is a beautiful thing, something sacred. Those small hands are something holy, and I get to touch and hold them. I handle the sacred when I hold my child’s hand.

No matter how small they are.

Aaron SmithAaron Smith is a husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical Jesus obsessed, question everything, bipolar, poet-punk-theologian. You can connect with him further on his blog, Cultural Savage, and on Twitter.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

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25

Monday

Grocery Shopping Melancholy

Grocery Shopping Melancholy

Yesterday, I went to the grocery store. I had reached that point where my options for lunch were iced tea, juice, or a bottle of wine (I never run out of beverages).

I worked in a grocery store for one of my first jobs. I started as a box girl and worked my way through almost every department (including floral, which comes in quite handy). I don’t know if it is because of my past employment history, or in spite of it, but I often find grocery shopping comforting.

But not yesterday.

Yesterday, instead of feeling grown up as I asked for seven pieces of bacon at the meat counter, I felt pathetic. I placed the bacon in my cart, the little kind with two tiered baskets, and made my way to the produce section.

I’ve been having trouble with bananas lately. They seem to be perfect for about ten minutes, between being a pinch too green and covered in brown spots. Buying even three seems too many. The produce guy is stocking the banana display and he smiles at me and moves his cart to the side so that I can take my pick. It’s the first one-on-one interaction I’ve had with an attractive man for a while, and I enjoy it.

The last time I bought bananas, I noticed a sticker affixed directly to the fruit. “Freeze me,” it says. So I do. I arrest the ripening process and put the bananas directly in the freezer, forgetting to take off the peel at first (rectifying the situation later, with effort). The finished product is delicious, but not at all the same as eating a regular banana. I am not able to succeed in freezing a banana, or a moment, in time. It must change, or go to waste.

I select my bunch and begin to count out 14 dates which I plan on stuffing with honey goat cheese and wrapping in the seven slices of bacon I have just purchased. This is still the only recipe from Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine that I have tried. As often as I buy dates, I think about her words on how to prepare them: “Slice alongside one side of each date, from the top to the bottom, so you can open it like a tiny book.” As I count out my tiny books from the plastic bulk bin and scoop them into my bag, a young, very attractive woman walks into the produce section and begins chatting with the produce guy with a casual familiarity. She reminds me of the girlfriend of my drummer-crush in middle school: put-together, seemingly effortless, and confident (for all I know, it might have been her). After she leaves, with a parting “tag” on his shoulder, the produce guy turns to another friend (does he work? I think) “We’ve been playing tag for months,” he says. “You’ve got to do something.”

By the time I get to the bread and deli side of the store, I am exhausted by the process. I leave the hummus, the english muffins and the rows of miniature cupcakes and check out. At the register, my checker attempts to make casual conversation. I always tried to do this when I worked at the grocery store. I loved trying to guess what people were making for dinner. “Are you having some people over?” he asks me. I survey the belt and realize that my melancholy is laid bare for everyone to see, and, apparently, it looks like a party.

“No,” I say, “it’s just for me.”

Later, I try to figure out if it was the cheese, the fresh bread, or the salsa that helped him to that conclusion. I still can’t figure it out. While I might have bought the ingredients for Shauna’s dates to cheer myself up, my cart wasn’t very different from any other week.

Once, during an interview with a Nepali family, I discovered that my name means banana in their language, which explained all of the giggles during the introductions. I seem to have two choices, banana-wise. I can buy them one at a time, waiting for that ten-minute window and peeling rapidly to take advantage of it, or I can put them on hold in a freezer bag, awaiting my pleasure, but changing their character. Neither of these options compel me, but they are what I have. Tag, or no tag, you have to do something.

For more Single Minded Mondays, click here.

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22

Friday

Things I Don’t Regret

Things I Don't Regret

There was a moment where I hesitated.

The processing fees and the plane ticket and the long drive suddenly seemed like a lot to trade for an evening with a band I loved. The Civil Wars had come to my town, the year before, but not this year. I hovered over my computer, ready to buy my tickets to the Portland show.

I did it.

I flew to Portland and met two college friends. We ate noodles before the concert and squealed in line from time to time. The show was different than the small, intimate one I’d attended the year before, but the music filled that big space, making it’s way into the elaborate dome above us.

I thought I’d have many more chances. I never considered that this would be my last opportunity to listen to those two voices harmonize live.

But it was.

I’m glad I took it.

I probably should have known better.

I was in the midst of unhelpful therapy, recovery from a devastating summer, and Daring Greatly.

It’s possible that I did know better.

But I fell in love with what it felt like to be myself without apologies (perhaps for the first time, certainly for the first time in a relationship). I held everything loosely, like a breath, even as my heart raced.

Maybe that’s why my heart didn’t break when it all fell apart. It was always built like a pie crust, rather than a chocolate cake.

I still think about all that time we spent by the lake in November, from time to time.

I’m still glad we did.

I got up early, far earlier than I usually did.

It was for a boy.

At least, it was at first.

I knocked on the back door in the alley, and they let me in. I started flipping pancakes before I took my turn at the serving line. Then, I went from table to table re-filling coffee and bringing syrup where needed.

There are songs that still take me back to those sun-streaked mornings, too early for my own comfort. I would watch the line of people forming outside, men and women set against the cold they’d spent the night inside, waiting to come in for a hot breakfast. I had the chance to look these men and women in the eye, a chance to say: I see you.

It didn’t matter, in hindsight, that the boy I was originally going to see, didn’t see me.

After a hard winter, I went to an art show, an opening for a friend of mine in college. There was something healing about her work, something that spoke to my tattered soul. I lingered in front of the paintings, letting their calm wash over me.

I had never bought a painting before, had never even considered it. But I didn’t hesitate. I wrote my friend a check for the full amount of my tax refund.

Those three paintings still hang in my bedroom. They still speak.

I poured out my prayers every day in my journal. I have my traditional prayer journal, the one that I got at youth group, with the suggested readings for each day. It had space for a prayer, and a journal response to the Scripture. I was supposed to use it in my “quiet time,” or “PB&J” (prayer, Bible reading, journaling).

I don’t do it that way any more.

But when I look back at those journals now, I can still see that earnest, sweet girl, just trying to do it the right way. In the pursuit of checking all of the boxes, somehow, the Holy Spirit still came.

20

Wednesday

de(tales): purple glitter

I met Abby originally online, through Twitter and an online writer community that we were both a part of at the time. She is spunky and driven and always has lots to say. When I met her in person, at the Festival of Faith and Writing, I realized that this is true of her on and offline. I hope you enjoy this glittery de(tale) of hers, today. 

de(tales) purple glitter

My girls are two and three, and cannot get enough of girly things. Their grandparents got them two baskets full of dress up clothes this Christmas, and it has been a rotating fashion show every day since. Pink bunny masks, pointy princess hats, beloved white heels that clop-clop-clop through our wooden hallway.

But nothing compares to the pretty skirts that the girls can scoot up their legs by themselves. For about a month after they opened them, my girls wore those dress up skirts every day. We had to draw the line at wearing them outside the house. Not because I am terribly concerned about the impression we will give the neighbors (our neighbors love the crazy flare of our daughters ). Rather, the rule of no “fancy skirts” outside the house came because I did not want to inflict the trail of glitter these skirts leave on anyone else.

One of the skirts was covered in purple glitter, neon purple glitter. Within 24 hours my house was also covered in neon purple glitter. It was everywhere. On the couches, the carpet, all over our wood floors there was glitter. The girls room looked like a purple fairy had exploded. Their bed was covered in the stuff.

At first, it was cute, the glitter everywhere. The girls were so enchanted with their fancy skirts they even slept in them. It was an instagram-able bedtime if there ever was one. How precious. Being a mom who is delighted, or at least amused by constant  glitter is the kind of mom I like to be.

Slowly, the glitter started wearing on me. It stuck to my black work pants when I sat down on the couch for just a second before work. I could feel it stick to my bare feet when I walked along the hallway and into the girls room. I tried to vacuum the one small square of carpet we own; the glitter was impossible to get out. Without even realizing it, that glitter I had once been completely enchanted by, became a constant source of torture.

The glitter my girls left around the house gave way to all my mothering insecurities. Surely, a better mom would vacuum more often. Surely, a better mom would clean the couches on a regular basis. Surely this purple glitter all over the house spoke to when and how I was failing my girls. I gave into them too much. I don’t say no enough.

And then I stopped noticing the glitter all together. I was surprised when my co-worker asked me what was with the streak of glitter across my cheek. I shrugged, glitter in random places is just what happens when you are raising two tiny girls.

Parenting, for me, has been a lot like my battle with the glitter. My kids get to a new phase and I am thrilled, then all too quickly I am ready to move on. I blame myself for normal toddler troubles, potty accidents or tantrums. Then I don’t even notice the things I used to delight in.

A few months after Christmas the girls found something else to be enamored with. The fancy skirts are trotted out only occasionally. I find myself missing the purple glitter all over the house.

I am tucking that longing away in my heart, and learning to embrace the stages my kids are in.  Purple glitter is a small price to pay for two little girls, completely ecstatic to be wearing their fancy skirts to bed.

Abby NormanAbby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words. She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit.

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