23

Wednesday

de(tales): ugly sweatshirt

Megan and I met through the SheLoves Magazine community and I quickly realized that I resonated with everything she writes. She is smart and honest and I know that you will love her. I fell in love with this de(tale) immediately, since I too can pinpoint so much of what I was wearing at different parts of my life. 

Enjoy, friends. 

de(tale): ugly sweatshirt

I see it when I am 11 years old. In the boys department at Wal-Mart. Athletic gray – the least flattering color on the planet – with long sleeves and generous hood. Laced with a thick cotton string, perfect for weaving round and round distracted fingers. Emblazoned with the basketball logo for the Georgetown Hoyas, it’s an odd choice for a hockey-obsessed Canadian girl.

But something about the bold navy lettering and vicious cartoon bulldog growling on the front speaks to my tomboyish sensibilities.

This giant bulldog head on a misshapen Wal-Mart hoodie becomes my statement. I wear it constantly. Well before the introduction of cutesy fitted sweatshirts, it balloons out from my pre-pubescent chest and stays billowed until reluctantly succumbing to the ribbed elastic firmly adhered to my waist. It truly is an ugly sweatshirt.

But I feel comfortable.

At 11 years old, a Georgetown Hoyas sweatshirt defines me to the world.

* * *

Five years later, I creak open the door to my math class, a few minutes late. The sweatshirt is long gone. I am wearing a fitted short sleeve shirt – some sort of rayon-polyester blend. It has a white collar and is dotted with teensy pastel flowers, lavender and mint and buttercup. I think it the most gorgeous thing every created. Wrapped around my lower half is a short denim skirt with metal buttons parading down the front. Nude nylons (complete with circulation-cutting control top) discreetly lead the way to black high-heeled clogs.

As I teeter to my seat, a boy swivels in his chair and gives me a shy smile. Then he blushes crimson and rapidly turns back to the front.

I can’t say I feel all that comfy squeezed sausage-style into nude nylons and platform heels. I tug at the skirt and am constantly wary of the rebellious second button that keeps popping open.

But I feel beautiful.

At 16 years old, a polyester blend shirt and nude nylons defines me to the world.

* * *

11 years later I am standing in front of a full-length mirror at H & M. I am wearing a dress, something that hasn’t graced my wardrobe for the better part of decade. I think I will feel awkward in this girlish frock, so feminine, my bare knees exposed. But with my closely cropped androgynous hair, the Laura Ingalls vibe this dress conveys works in a contradictory way I adore. I give a childish spin, and the skirt dances around me. I laugh that I should feel so at ease in fluttery sleeves and sweet flowers.

But I do.

I feel comfortable.

I feel beautiful.

And I feel powerful. Brilliantly powerful, actually.

At 27 years old, a Laura Ingalls dress defines me to the world.

* * *

I am flabbergasted at the detail I recall of certain garments from seemingly insignificant moments in my life. How they made me feel. How they contributed to the parts of myself I wanted to put out into the world. The hidden spaces they pulled out of me.

So I’m curious. Is there something you remember wearing that just felt like you? For no logical reason? I would rather love to hear about it. Was it more ridiculous than control-top nude nylons? I highly doubt it.

At any rate, I believe I owe the Georgetown Hoyas a fan letter.

Their first ever from a basketball hater, I’m sure.

MeganGahanPhotoWell hello there! My name is Megan, but you can call me Megs or Meg. I love thick books, scalding soaks in the tub and breaking out into song. I don’t share desserts. Ever. After working in fitness for the past ten years, I am currently fumbling through motherhood with the sweetest little boy ever. Discussing body image, Jesus and proper push-up technique gets me excited. I write at megangahan.com.

 

21

Monday

Things I Didn’t Photograph

Things I Didn't Photograph

I’ve been calling myself a photographer ever since I started studying camera arts in college. My teacher suggested, as many of my writing teachers and friends also did, that the first step to creating something worthwhile was to claim that you were indeed attempting to do it. “You are photographers,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to call yourself what you are.”

Since then, I’ve taken many pictures, many of them terrible, some of them for compensation. I have chased light into the sunset, laid on my stomach in wet grass and gotten very close to small things that no one else seems to notice.

In the thick of the time when photography also meant money, I found, like many photographers do, that I had difficulty putting my camera down and enjoying the moment. Slowly, I began to intentionally leave my camera at home.

Over the years, I may have gotten too good at this. I have to remind myself to take pictures (even with my phone). Sometimes, I look at my camera and notice a layer of dust.

But on the whole, I have learned to be more present. Instead of looking for the next shot, I am engaging in the moment. Instead of capturing the way the water sparkles in the sunlight, I am jumping into it. Instead of trying to get the right angle on the laughter of someone I love, I am joining in.

Sometimes, I wonder if writing isn’t the best camera of all, so I’ve been practicing lately, capturing images with words. Today, I’d like to share some of the results of this practice with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

 

I.

I arrive at the restaurant just as they open. I am the only patron, and I sit on my own, waiting for a friend. There is a frisson of tension just under the surface of the calm room.

The kitchen is beginning to stir.

I am savoring my last moments as a food editor, excited to move on to the next adventure and a little wistful about what I am giving up.

I will still have moments like these, I am sure. But I am suddenly hyper-aware of the tables, crisp and prepared, and the way my waitress pops her head out of the kitchen every once in a while to make sure I haven’t changed my mind about ordering before my friend arrives.

I sip my Dark and Stormy in silence, listening, noticing. It is a long while before anyone else comes in. I am early, and I am glad.

 

II.

I am waking up in my new house for the first time. I’ve been thinking about this morning since I first stepped inside.

It was the kitchen that got me.

It’s all windows and the light spills in, onto the blonde wood floors, just as I knew it would.

I put the kettle on and begin to brew my morning tea, smiling to myself as I do so, in spite of all of the work I have ahead of me. It is good work.

I linger with my tea several moments longer than necessary. My tea catches the light and sparkles.

 

III.

I was nervous as I stepped into the waiting room, but I am not now.

I am sitting on a light green leather couch high in an office building, early in the morning. Sun streams in through the windows, illuminating a hand-painted sign just above my new therapist’s head. It says: Grace.

Even though I have many reasons to be cautious and circumspect, I allow myself to settle into the gentle folds of the couch. In this moment, I cannot help but hope.

 

IV.

The smoke is starting to lift and the lake doesn’t look so hazy as we walk companionably, checking out hammocks, lawn furniture and hydrangeas. It is this habit of looking in the yards of other people that makes me notice him.

Clumsily, with new feet, eyes and ears, he comes toward me. An English Lab, his mother tells me, twelve weeks old.

His name is Otis.

He licks my hand as though I am an ice cream cone and I allow myself to steep in thanks.

I have been praying for a puppy lately.

This one looks almost exactly like my own dog when she was small. Now, she creaks and groans, legs clumsy on the other side of life.

My companion and Otis’ mother discuss human things, and I crouch, looking deeply into eyes that are almost tearful. Otis gently chews on my hand. I tousle his ears.

It is with great difficulty that I tear myself away.

{photo credit}

16

Wednesday

de(tales): paddleboard

Kelli and I met in college, both following our love of words and stringing them together. Over those years, and the ones since, she we have read all sorts of each others’ words. Once, she spent hours explaining the correct terminology for coffee-making to me so that I could write a story about a barista. She is a gem and a wonderful writer. I am delighted to share this thought provoking story of hers with you today. 

de(tales): paddleboard

I first tried stand-up paddle boarding a few years ago. Two friends and I were on a road trip, and instead of coming up with an itinerary, each day we would check Groupon for Event and Activity deals in our current city. In Boston, we took a guided Segway tour of the harbor. Somewhere near Cape Cod, we found a deal for paddle boarding. The ocean was glassy that day, and balancing on the board was easier than I expected. I loved it.

I’ve been paddle boarding once since then on a family vacation, but I wanted to do it in Nashville, and I wanted the guy I was seeing here to try it. “It’s summer,” I would say. “We should hike.” “We should Kayak.” Then I saw another Groupon, this one for a place called Float-A-Boat in Wartrace, Tennessee. That was over an hour away, but I didn’t care. I signed us up.

So yesterday we checked the weather, put on our bathing suits, and drove to Wartrace.

In the 70 minutes it took us to get there from Nashville, the clouds got thicker and light rainshowers would start and then stop again before a new song came on the radio. Things didn’t look good, but we’d come too far to turn around.

A woman from Float-A-Boat met us at the water with our boards, life jackets, and paddles. She gave us a few quick tips and a precaution: “Obviously, the wind will be a factor today. You probably want to head for one of those coves.” She got back in her pick-up and drove away.

We started out on our knees. The waves were choppy and a strong wind blew straight toward us. I paddled as hard as I could, but one stroke on the left and the nose of my board would veer right, then a wave would catch me from the side and partly submerge my board for a second. I had to switch the paddle from left to right after every stroke to avoid the waves catching me from the side. It was easier to balance the board when the waves were coming at me straight on, but I had to paddle with all my strength just to make any headway against the wind and the waves trying to push me back toward shore. This was nothing like the two times I’d tried paddle boarding before. I was having trouble balancing even on my knees; standing up was not an option.

In my concentration, I lost sight of Elliott and when I looked again he was 20 yards away. I could tell from a distance that he was struggling too. I kept going and fought my way halfway across the open water toward a cove. The next time I checked, he was still behind me and turned around facing the dock we had just come from. I tried to shout out some pointers– “Keep your paddle close to the side of the board”; “Make sure you face it the right way so it’s cupping the water”– but he could barely hear me over the wind. He seemed to be going in circles. Oh no, I thought. He’s not having fun.

Sometimes I forget to be happy about the big things because I focus too much on the little things. I’m healthy. I have a place to live and a family. I’m a teacher on summer vacation. But I don’t feel like shampooing my hair today and I didn’t yesterday either and I don’t want to open my mail.

Living in Nashville, I go to concerts now and then. In retrospect, it always seems like a good time. When they play the one song I know and they get to the chorus, I sing along and I’m happy. But for most of the moments I’m thinking My feet hurt, and This air conditioning is too cold, and I can’t wait to sit down and be warm and maybe eat a cookie.

There’s this one Elbow song I only listen to occasionally because I don’t want to wear it out. To me it feels epic, and I’m afraid of making it commonplace or getting sick of it. I don’t want to ruin it like I once did Wheat Thins by eating a whole box on a junior high youth group trip. The song is attached to a blurry memory of driving down rural roads in Indiana on a day when everything was gold.

I burned a CD for a guy I was dating once with that song on it, and I gave him rules for it. You can’t listen to it too often, and only on a sunny day with the windows down and the sunroof open when you’re really, truly happy. He didn’t seem to get it. I tried to explain that we were keeping the song epic. “People overuse the word epic,” he said. “I hate that.”

Over time, the song has lost some of its luster for me anyway. I wanted it to recreate an experience every time I heard it, but you can’t manufacture those moments.

I just finished reading the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. She writes about her search for blessings in the midst of the ordinary. She discovers the word Eucharisteo (Thanksgiving) from the root words Charis (Grace) and Chara (Joy). And then– I remember this part– she is writing poetically about the wonder of a bubble of soap, because everything is grace; it is a gift. Gratitude is the key to joy, and it is a discipline, finding eucharisteo in the day-to-day, and I am learning it too.

We were only 45 minutes into our so far not fun paddle boarding experience and the rental was for 4 hours, so giving up didn’t seem like it was yet an option. Elliott and I didn’t talk to each other or try to stay close; we each focused on getting to the cove. I fought the waves and fought to keep my board straight. The muscles in my legs already hurt.

And then I realized I wasn’t fighting the waves anymore. They had calmed enough that I was able to stand, though my legs were shaky. Either the wind had changed or we had come far enough across the lake that the waves were carrying us in the direction we wanted to go. I realized I could give my arms a rest from paddling and, instead of losing ground, I would be carried in the direction I wanted to go. The nose of my board still wanted to turn, but I surrendered to a current and let it turn me around. I stood there holding my paddle, letting the water take me backward into the cove. I drifted and Elliott did too, finally at ease and enjoying the beautiful view, even though it was of the lake we had just crossed and not of the cove we were drifting into.

We floated backward like this for a few minutes before it dawned on either of us. The water naturally wanted to take our boards this way. Perhaps we had been standing facing the back of our boards the whole time? I dropped to my knees and did a 180. I stood again and drifted, facing ahead, then tried paddling this way. Everything was easier.

An hour later, we stopped at a small boat ramp where some kids were swimming and fishing and pulled our boards onto shore so we could rest and swim. I examined the bottom of mine. Sure enough, there were two little fins meant to serve as a rudder on what I was now considering the back of my board.

The wind had calmed and that helped too, and we laughed about our mistake for the rest of the afternoon and I’d think to myself, I can’t believe I didn’t notice that. I was backwards that whole time. 

The whole time, I had created my own resistance.

Kelli received her B.A. in English from Taylor University and her M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt University. Her hometown is Rockford, Michigan, but she currently works as a high school Writing Center Coordinator in Nashville, Tennessee.

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

{photo credit}

14

Monday

The Art of Losing

The Art of Losing

This is a sad story, you might as well know this up front.

It takes place during a hard time in the story of my family, in the months following the sudden death of my mom’s dad, my Poppa. He was very young, less than 30 years older than I am now.

This is one of those stories that always shocks my mother when I tell it in detail. I was so young, she says, and she is amazed that I can remember. Sometimes I wonder if sadness helps things to stick in the brain, just as trauma sometimes sweeps them under the rug and joy makes them hazy.

We were together at my grandmother’s house, somber and silent. My grandmother’s entry, once a wonderfully fun place to slide on the cool marble in socks, became someplace deadly.

Death changes things.

The only thing that made that hard gathering bearable was the presence of Jebby (short for Jebidiah), my old friend. He was a big loping dog, a German Shepherd-Doberman mix, used to numerous milk bones when the grandkids came over.

I adored him.

He would watch us dive into the pool after limes picked from the tree and colorful rings and batons.

But as happy as he was to see us, it was clear that he missed Poppa. I am still convinced that dogs primarily bond with only one person. Jebby’s person was gone, and he wasn’t coming back.

I don’t remember all the details and the whys of my grandmother’s decision, but I know that she made it impaired in the thrall of grief, not really knowing what she was doing. She was going to put Jebby down. He was sick, I think, but now I wonder if he wasn’t really just heart-sick.

My mother and her sister chose different ways to handle this information with their children. My aunt didn’t say a word to my cousins as they prepared to leave the house.

My mother drew my brother and I aside and told us the truth, gently. Whatever she might have thought of her mother’s decision, it didn’t show. I think, now, that she thought we’d had enough of leaving without saying goodbye. I know she had.

I hugged Jebby’s neck, trying to communicate all of my love and sorrow and wishes to see him again, hot, frantic tears falling onto his fur. I blew him a kiss.

I couldn’t stop crying as we prepared to leave, confusing my cousins to no end. I’ve always been one to feel deeply, but this was a little over the top for a simple family goodbye, even for me.

I stayed silent, as my mother had asked me to do.

To this day, I am thankful for the way my mother handled that situation. There are so few sad things I’ve had the opportunity to know about in advance. So few goodbyes I’ve known were final. So few losses I’ve had a chance to prepare for.

I think about Poppa a lot these days. I wonder what it would look like if he was still here. He was the man who called me “Cupcake” and rejoiced over the birth of my brother, the first grandson. He loved steak and artichokes (just like I do). I’ve been told that he occasionally burst into song to make fun of the musicals my grandmother loved. He taped every John Wayne movie that played on TV neatly onto VHS, cataloging them (and other movies he taped) in alphabetical order in a handwritten book.

I remember Independence Day on the deck at their house, family tension finessed by his presence. We haven’t spent a fourth of July together in years. It’s never been the same.

The story of the time he invited a guy working at a local gas-station home for Thanksgiving dinner is still legendary in my house.

He always said that he wanted to die young and make a good-looking corpse. We just didn’t think he’d actually do it.

As a child, I never doubted that I would see Jebby again, any more than I doubted that I would see Poppa. One of the things I’ve liked least about my theological exploration is the doubt which has been cast on the matter of animals in the afterlife. I’d still like to believe that all dogs go to Heaven, though, especially Jebby.

I can’t wait to see them both, again.

{photo credit}

9

Wednesday

de(tales): sunglasses

It’s truly difficult for me to write an introduction for Tanya Marlow. 

Not only is she a lovely, insightful writer, she is a treasured friend. We have cried together as we’ve walked dark paths in tandem. She has listened to me at my most honest without judgement. We keep each other’s secrets. She is truly the very best sort, and I’m thrilled beyond measure to share the words of her lovely de(tale) with you today. 

John Lennon glasses

A pair of sunglasses changed my life. 

I was perhaps fourteen or fifteen when I got my first pair of sunglasses, because it was then I got my first pair of contact lenses. I have a photo of me aged fourteen, all bushy hair and awkward squinting, and then a picture of me at fifteen, with short bobbed hair and free eyes. (Only someone who has worn spectacles so heavy with glass they make your eyes look like tadpoles in a petri dish can know the peculiar joy of this event.) 

I would go into Superdrug on a Saturday morning and spend hours browsing the plastic display of sunglasses before my piano lessons in town, trying on one pair after another. 

I picked up a pair of John Lennon-style sunglasses and stared at myself in the smudged plastic pseudo-mirror: I was no longer a geek. I was cool. 

The summers between the ages of fifteen and twenty-one were blurred and happy. One pair of sunglasses got lost somewhere in transit back from a youth trip to Folkestone beach; another pair got crushed at the bottom of my army rucksack underneath the weight of my A Level files, another pair was dropped somewhere in Durham University library (but the lenses kept popping out, so I wasn’t too sad about that.) Each year, every summer, I bought new sunglasses for the season ahead, sometimes two pairs, just in case. They only cost about £2, and I still looked cool.

**** 

One sunny day when I was twenty, I was strolling on the college green in Durham on the way back from lectures, chatting to Andy, my boyfriend’s best friend. 

I wondered what Jon was doing in Oxford at that very moment, and my heart leapt a little. He had bought a new phone plan that enabled us to talk up to 100 minutes each day for free, but even with all those minutes we kept going over the limit, because there was always so much to talk about, and he was so far away. Although it was just talking on a phone while lying in my college bedroom, they were the happiest almost-two-hours of my day. I continued walking back up the path, but found myself staring at the sky. 

I turned my attention back to the present, and tried to think of a topic of conversation with Andy. We were both wearing sunglasses, and I noticed he had the same brand as Jon. 

“How much were your sunglasses?” I asked him.
“Around £100,” he said. I stopped in my tracks, and stared at him, appalled. 
“How can you spend that much on sunglasses?”
“They’re not just sunglasses – they’re Oakley’s.” He replied like a boy, like an engineer – he may have mentioned UV or Titanium or moulding. 
“But – £100? That’s crazy money. They don’t even have diamonds in them. You spend that amount each summer?”
“No – I just keep them from year to year.” 
“But aren’t you worried they’ll break? Surely you can’t just keep one pair forever?”
“You just don’t break them,” he said drily. “You look after them.”

We were walking uphill, and the sun was shining right in my eyes.
“I don’t see how you can justify spending that kind of money on sunglasses. I would never spend that amount on a pair of sunglasses.” I was getting more passionate as I spoke. “I would never, ever buy a pair of Oakley’s. I would never even wear them.” 
“You wouldn’t wear them?” 
“No. Never.” (It had become a principle, though I wasn’t completely sure why.)
“So what would you do if someone gave you a pair, then?”
“I’d smash them up,” I said. 
It was the first thing that came to mind. It wasn’t rational, and it came somewhere from the knowledge that every pair of sunglasses I’d owned had ended up smashed or lost anyway, and it came from a startling fear of owning something of such value. 

“If someone gave you a pair of Oakley’s as a gift, you’d smash them up?” 
He looked at me like I was a complete lunatic, and you could see why. 
“Yes,” I said. “I’d smash them up.” 

****

By my twenty-first birthday I was engaged. We had decided that it just made good economic sense to get married: we were spending far too much on phone bills. 

So much was changing: I would be graduating in a couple of months, and moving to Oxford, and I still didn’t have a job, but it was all okay, because I had a sparkly diamond on my finger, and I knew that I had found a man who knew me and loved me. 

For my twentieth birthday, when we had only been dating a couple of months, Jon had bought me a classic picture of Durham, and a set of tinted-glass wine glasses, which were in vogue that year. It was the perfect gift: romantic, and grown-up, and just what I wanted, and it was such a confirmation that he really knew me. I knew that I loved him, even after two months. 

Now I was unwrapping the present for my twenty-first birthday. The present was about the length of a watch, and I smiled at him in anticipation, and pulled the wrapping off. Before I had even opened the box, I had seen the characteristic ‘O’ of the Oakley’s, and my stomach dropped. I pulled out the soft black cloth, and sure enough, there was a pair of dark blue Oakley’s sunglasses inside. 


“I got them especially sized for your face,” he said. “See – they’re much smaller than mine. And they’re blue, to match your eyes.” 
I smiled my best happy smile. 
“Try them on,” he said, and I put them on my face. I was used to light, wiry frames, and these were heavier; solid, confident and unmoving. He kissed me, and then he left for work. 

In the silence of the room, alone with my Oakley’s, I cried. I hated Oakley’s, and now he had got me a pair, and I would have to pretend I liked them. (I really, really hoped Andy wouldn’t repeat the conversation I’d had with him about smashing up Oakley’s). 

But actually, it wasn’t that I hated Oakley’s. The thought that kept going round my mind was, ‘These cost £70.’ (I’d looked up the price). ‘£70. And I will lose them. I will break them. He spent so much money on me, and he doesn’t realise that I am a girl who loses and breaks things. He doesn’t know me.’ (What if he finds out what I’m really like?). ‘Maybe we shouldn’t get married.’ 

We think we know the momentous and portentous events of our lives, because we have them mapped out with the big things – proposals, births, funerals –  but love and grief have their own rules, and they funnel their potency into the little details, the ordinary objects of life, so that we are caught unawares by our emotion even whilst we are going about our daily business. I had thrown my head back and delightedly nodded my ‘yes’ to Jon’s proposal without hesitating for a second, because it had seemed like the most natural thing in the world, and yet here I was, holding a pair of sunglasses, undone by the heft of the sunglasses and the weight of marriage. 

On my twenty-first birthday, with a diamond on my finger and a pair of Oakleys sunglasses in my hands, I spent most of the day crying. 

IMG_1303-1

****

Five months later we emerged from a church on a hot summer’s day, radiant and joyful. 

Reader, I married him. 

I married a man who saw that I was worthy of spending £70 when I would have been happy with £2, and who saw that I could look after things well when I had never done so before. I married a man who saw me, not only for who I was, but who I could be. 

****

IMG_1304-1

I still have the sunglasses today: we had to replace the lenses two years ago, and the writing of the ‘Oakley’ brand on the bridge is all but worn off, but I still have them. Fourteen years later, they are still dark blue and strong, and I have kept them in good times and bad, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. I love them.

****

Tanya MarlowTanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology, and then she got sick, and became a writer. She likes answering the tricky questions of faith that most avoid, and writing honestly about suffering and searching for God. She blogs at Thorns and Gold. Find her on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook.

2

Wednesday

de(tales): mulberries

Rebecca Carhart was my very first college roommate. She is one of the people I think of when I wonder if I went to the right school, and I think about our conversations often. She challenged me (and still does) in so many ways. She is also a lovely writer. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know her.

 de(tales): mulberriesThe first house I lived in was in town, a Nebraska farming town of about one thousand people. When I was two years old my family moved a few miles out into the country. At the new place we had a large garden, acres of trees and pastures to explore, and, when we were feeling particularly adventurous, walks to the Big Creek.

The Big Creek generally ran no more than three feet wide, but in places it had high, steep banks that were quite impressive to small children. When my siblings and I were young we could only go to the Big Creek with our mom. Adding to the thrill of the excursion, we sometimes pretended to be characters from the books our mom read to us. I distinctly remember being designated as Edmund from the Chronicles of Narnia (which was fine with me; I liked him better than Lucy).

In summer—late June and July—there was an additional highlight to our walks: the mulberries came out. Near our usual path were several large trees, some with purple-red and one with white mulberries. There is something uniquely delightful about being able to linger beneath a tree, reach into its branches, and bring fruit directly to your mouth. Mulberries taste like warm sun, prairie winds, deep-earthed roots, and full leaves. Like summer.

At the third house I lived in, just a few more miles away, we could walk outside after supper and pick our fill from mulberry trees just at the edge of our yard. There was one tree with a hybrid of white and red berries. My sisters and I rated the qualities of the various trees; I speculated that the sweeter berries are those that get more direct sunlight. We used mulberry juice to dye cottonwood fluff and to make ink for drawing fantastical maps and writing mysterious messages. We gathered mulberries for our mom to make into jam.

Over the years, jars of that jam have traveled around Nebraska and beyond—including into the fridge in my current home, so that I can enjoy summer year round.

The third apartment I’ve lived in is in a pleasant, lively suburb. This is my second mulberry season there, and I know where the few nearby mulberry trees are hiding out. Most are along the Prairie Path (which actually has quite little to do with the prairie). These berries are not usually the best quality, but sometimes I stop on the path and furtively sample a few. I worry that I’ll be run over by someone jogging, zipping past on a bike or pushing a stroller roughly the size of a bulldozer. So I keep walking, and I wonder if anyone else pauses to notice the mulberries of summer.

A native of rural Nebraska and graduate of Taylor University, I now live in the Chicago area. Currently I work in publishing, where I am paid to help find mistakes and make books better. Through various seasons of transition my life has remained centered around my family (biological and beyond), seeking truth, and knowing and serving my Heavenly Father.

Rebecca blogs at rebeccafaith.wordpress.com

30

Monday

Letter to the Next Guy I Date: II

Letter to the Next Guy I Date II

Several months ago, I wrote a letter to “the next guy I date.” It was a riff on those “letters to my future husband” that I used to write in high school (and, let’s face it, beyond). I enjoyed getting some of my thoughts down in black and white, and hearing many of you talk about similar letters that you wanted to write.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that actual guys who were interested in dating me seemed to be able to find that not-so-recent post with an uncanny accuracy. They have read it as it was intended to be read: as a letter directly to them.

But I’m not the girl I was when I wrote that letter.

Many of the things I say in it are still true. But I have grown and changed. That letter was written by a different Cara than the one I am today.

That’s why I’ve decided to write a new one, every now and then. I’d like to be able to look back and remember these different Caras (and the different guys who read each letter as if it was written for them, because it was).

I hope you enjoy this process as much as I do.

To the next guy that I date,

I’m learning that life is a journey. Some days, it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of another. On others, I’m practically skipping with enthusiasm. I haven’t yet been able to predict what is going to happen next.

I hope you like to dance. I’m not talking about getting down in the club (or whatever it is people say these days). I’m just talking about you and me, gentle pressure at my back, my hand on your shoulder, the occasional spin. That would be nice.

I’ve probably told you that I don’t like surprises. This is what I mean: I don’t want to disappoint you. I’m worried that you will plan something you think I’ll love, hoping that I will respond a certain way. I’m worried that I won’t respond that way and you’ll be unhappy. This has happened before.

With some time, some trust, some getting to know each other well, I hope that we will both find ways to delight the other. Some of that will come as a surprise, I’m sure, and some of it we will plan together.

Lately, I’ve been taking walks and spending hours in my hammock, being intentional about being outside. Some of the scars of my past are healing, in this and other ways. I’m not ready to hop in the car for a camping trip, but I won’t (always) say no to a hike.

I have worked hard to cultivate a group of reciprocal friends. I am honest with these people about the details of my life, including you. They have walked with me through some hard things, they know my stories differently than you can (they were there). When I get scared, or worried, I will go to them. When I am jubilant and excited, I will go to them as well. They will either be your best advocates, or your worst critics, depending on you.

I try to be kind, and I try to be fair, but I am a writer and I mine my life for material. You get to choose how I write about you. Please act accordingly.

I know you’ve probably read a chunk of this blog. It’s always a risk to put a personal essay out into the internet. It’s all I can do sometimes not to purge my archives. I’m not the girls I once was, I don’t agree with everything I’ve said in the past. If there is something that concerns you, please don’t hesitate to bring it up.

If you’re feeling generous and want to make me smile, I recommend baklava.

I don’t know what kind of story we’re going to have. It could be short or epic, funny, tragic or bizarre, but I’m looking forward to living it, and to telling it.

Love,

Cara

For more Single Minded Mondays, click here.

{photo credit}

27

Friday

Sushi

Sushi

It was winter in Chicago and I was wearing blue and green shiny heels on the “El.” I had bought them in anticipation of this evening, thinking that they looked like the sort of shoes that should be worn to sushi. I was probably holding hands with my boyfriend. We had been apart for seven months, and we couldn’t stop holding hands.

The wind whipped around my legs, encased in nylons. We had to walk for several blocks and halfway there, I couldn’t feel my feet. I worried that I might accidentally step wrong in my heels and break my ankle.

But I didn’t.

We arrived at our destination, a small sushi restaurant which had come highly recommended by the neighbor of the friend I was staying with. I had made reservations, but it soon became evident that they hadn’t been needed.

We had the place to ourselves.

We had talked, that night and earlier that week, about our wedding plans. We had a date swimming in the future. We had not yet begun to fight about the color of the bridesmaid dresses.

That night, I was introducing him to sushi for the first time.

I’m not sure exactly how it started for me. I think some friends back home had invited me along to sushi for the first time.

There is a little restaurant in Spokane called Sushi.com (which, ironically, didn’t have a website until recently). I’m pretty sure that was the first place I tasted sushi (other than grocery store California rolls).

The menu was large and overwhelming and they ordered rolls for the table, giving me a chance to try a lot of different things.

I was hooked.
I loved the fresh taste of the cucumbers, the texture of the avocado and the flavorful salmon, the tangy punch of the spicy tuna.

From then on, I went to sushi regularly. Sometimes with those who already enjoyed it. Other times, I would bring new initiates, ordering rolls for the table carefully, as my friends had done.

My boyfriend and I sat together, knowing that our time was drawing to a close. He would be traveling back to school and I was studying abroad for a month in London. We weren’t sure when we would see each other next.

I ordered sushi for us, carefully, thoughtfully.

They brought it quickly, and I watched nervously as he took his first bite.

He smiled and squeezed my hand, taking another roll between his chopsticks.

We made short work of that plate (and the ones that came after).

I was supremely happy that night, with no shadow of a notion that the beginning of March would bring a fissure and an irreparable break to this relationship.

It was the new year, and I was sharing sushi with the man I loved.

A year later, I ventured into a larger Indiana city on a day off from school with my roommate.

We were in search of sushi.

We had done our homework and found a place, in central Indiana, that seemed to get good reviews. After a leisurely day and some cryptic directions, we made our way there.

It had been months since I had been to sushi, and I was craving it.

Even my roommate, who was from New York City, had to admit that this sushi was delicious. We consumed more than we probably should have, drinking endless cups of green tea to go along with it.

Later that night, after we returned to the dorms, we began to notice a change in the hall. That night was the beginning of a flu epidemic which lasted for most of January.

That night, I began to feel very ill.

Though the sushi wasn’t to blame, even the thought of eating it brought on nausea.

I dated a boy that spring, not knowing the depth of my mental block. On our first official date, he took me to sushi. I ate all of the tempura vegetables, but couldn’t bring myself to eat more than one bite of sushi.

When I moved back home, I went to a bachelorette party at Sushi.com. I did my best to try to eat, but I found myself leaving hungry and finding other options at home.

In a bind for a magazine, this past winter, I found myself needing to review a sushi restaurant. I took a pair of new friends along and forced it down. I felt so close, but I still went home with a stomach ache.

Over the years, I’ve been frustrated about sushi. I truly loved the whole experience, the flavors, the deep fried green tea ice cream at the end of the evening. It was awful to have something I enjoyed so much taken from me, seemingly without cause.

After a while, I gave up, put sushi in my rearview mirror and spoke sweet, comforting words to myself.

Lately, I’ve been learning a few things about healing. No matter how hard I wish wounds to be healed, they do not heal on my timeline. The Spirit binds my wounds, and they often heal slow, itching for a while, even though they are still tender.

I’m learning to lean into this process, and not to wish it away. I would rather that the skin be unmarred and the bones re-grow straight. Even if it takes longer than I think I can stand.

This past week, I began to crave sushi. I could taste the raw salmon on my tongue as I dropped off to sleep. I woke thinking about the rolls I would always order, no matter what else I switched up. For the first time since that fateful day, so many years ago, I was hungry for sushi again.

On Tuesday, a friend and I went to hear Molly Wizenberg, a food writer from Seattle, at a local bookstore. We went to dinner beforehand, and I asked if she would like to go to sushi, hoping that she would say yes.

She did.

I arrived at Sushi.com with a strong appetite and started to scan the menu. The part of my brain that knew what each element tasted like and predicted how it would taste together kicked into gear. My mouth began to water.

My friend and I ordered several rolls and shared them. Unlike the other times I’ve tried to force sushi back into my life, these plates did not stay laden long.

I allowed myself to slow down and enjoy the experience I had been craving. I let the fish linger for a moment on my tongue, savoring the flavors and the quenching of a hunger I had carried for so long.

As I feasted, I noticed a new flavor. It tasted a little like redemption.

25

Wednesday

de(tales): dolce vita

Emily is the first online friend I ever met in person. She lives not far from me. In person, she is just as delightful and personable as on Twitter and her blog. I know that you’ll enjoy meeting her (and hearing this delicious story). 

Enjoy, friends. 

de(tales): dolce vita

Posso avere un cappuccino decaffeinato?

That was one of the first phrases I learned by heart while studying in Italy. (Apparently I hadn’t embraced my love of caffeine just yet, or maybe I was always wired from the shots of espresso my host mom made for me, when I ordered my afternoon coffee.)

It was received with utter patience by the mom and son duo who ran Dolce Vita, a favorite pasticceria in town. A friend and I had a standing cappuccino and cookie date at the little shop every Wednesday after our photography class. Every week quickly became every other day and the young Italian man who most often took our order went from guarded to bemused as we deliberated over which delectable cookie would go with our coffee.

The shiny gold trays that held neat stacks of cookies and cakes were like warm rays of comfort to my soul. Occhi, the Italian word for eyes, was the perfect name for the cookie that most often accompanied my cappuccino.

Scalloped edges decorated two thin sugar cookies held together by Nutella. A round hole in the top cookie gave the illusion that the Nutella filling was staring at you. I always had the distinct feeling that brown pupil knew more about me than the other students in my program did.

It seemed to know I needed to be recognized in a foreign land, that even if it was an Italian twenty-something who probably laughed at my accent and wondered why it took me so long to pick a cookie, I just needed to be known. It seemed to know I needed a routine, a predictability amidst the chaos of a new culture. It seemed to know the best way for me to immerse myself in this small medieval town was to eat those eyes and sip a tiny coffee.

When my few months in Italy were drawing to a close, I knew I couldn’t leave without a reminder of that place, those eyes. The tastes and smells wouldn’t linger forever. Photos are nice, but the memories evoked would only penetrate so deep. I wanted a tangible reminder of that routine, that familiarity, that part of what Italy meant to me.

Both mom and son were at the shop when I walked in. “Cappuccino decaffeinato?” he asked before I could open my mouth. My smile was infused with the sadness of goodbye as I nodded and said, “ma, prima…” But, first… “Posso acquistare una tazza?” Can I buy a cup? I knew my phraseology was off, but the mom caught on as I gestured to the ceramic espresso cups.

I tried to explain that my studies were almost done and we wouldn’t be around anymore. The cup was something to remember our time at Dolce Vita by. Mom and son spoke to each other in rapid Italian. She turned softened eyes to me and began wrapping a cup in butcher paper, refusing my payment.

Molte grazie. I received her gift with many thanks.

That little cup has traveled with me as I’ve changed houses and life stages. It now sits in my thrifted china hutch, the gold letters spelling out Dolce Vita hidden unless you know to look for them. Whenever I catch a glimpse I am reminded of those shiny gold trays and the eye that saw more than my stomach.

The sweet life, indeed.

Emily GardnerEmily is a Southern California native starting a new adventure in Northern Idaho with her youth pastor husband, Tim. They became a family of three in January. She loves partnering with Tim in ministry and spends her free time snuggling with her son, baking, reading, and crafting. You can find her blogging about marriage, motherhood, and ministry at emilycgardner.com

23

Monday

The Pressure of Definition

The Pressure of Definition

I have a love-hate relationship with labels.

On one hand, it’s wonderful to see eyes light up when I’m meeting someone and find that we have something in common. Sharing identifying information about myself can be just that: a way to place me, a shorthand for knowing something about me without my having to explain it.

Which brings me to the hate part of my relationship with labels.

I know what happens in my brain when I hear words like “introvert,” “liturgical,” “feminist,” “stay-at-home-mom” or “homeschooled.” I run those labels through my own life, allowing each conversation, interaction, or experience help me decide what I think about this person standing in front of me (sometimes metaphorically, if I’m reading something). Though I do my best to see that person, and not the compilation of information filed away in my brain, I don’t always succeed.

I often assume.

I do this with people I’m just meeting and friends I’ve known a long time. I do it with myself, and with God.

There is a large part of my soul that is longing to be settled, to be home. There is something beautiful about this, I think, a longing for what is not possible at this point, for the not-yet of this life.

I think that there is a reason for the desert feelings I have so often, moments upon moments of parched longing and dry hope. I write often about the rivers in the desert, and I believe in a God who starts tiny rivulets of water in the middle of the sand, cascading them into streams, and many mighty waters.

But though the desert is blooming and flowing and pleasant to live in, the desert is not home.

When I meet someone new, there is occasionally that feeling of home about them. There is a look or conversation, or feeling of warmth that makes me feel as though I’ve recognized a kindred spirit.

These people are streams in the desert, companions for the journey.

But they are also not home.

If there is anything I have found to be true of life, it is that transition is always present. The cycles of birth and death and growing and moving and changing are permanent in their impermanence.

It takes some getting used to for me to realize that I rarely have the opportunity to get used to anything. The moments slip through my fingers, resisting anything but a moment-long embrace and a quick look over a winged shoulder.

It is so easy for me to see things in others that are equally true about myself, without, of course, seeing that they are true about me. I lamented this for a long time, but recently, I’ve been learning to pay attention to what bothers me and learn from it.

I had a boyfriend who was so pleased when he discovered that I liked Guinness. Once he did, that was my beer. When we would meet somewhere, for dinner, or drinks and he arrived first, I could always expect to find a Guinness waiting for me.

Early on in our relationship, I found this adorable. I loved that he was paying attention to my preferences. Later on, I began to think longingly of ordering a cocktail, a glass of wine, or another kind of beer, if I wanted.

This is what I find hard to love about labels: if I let them, they shut down the conversation. When that boyfriend and I first started dating, we were eager to learn all that we could about each other. For my part, I bought Costco-sized cases of his favorite beers and distributed them as needed. Both of us, in our attempts to be thoughtful, left no room for growth.

When my ideologies, my jobs, or my beer of choice become enmeshed with my personhood, they become dangerous weights which discourage movement.

For years, I’ve been paying attention to my language, trying to eradicate the words “always” and “never” and other line-in-the-sand attitudes, when I speak. I’ve been intentionally embracing the tension of human knowledge, or lack thereof.

I can look back at the archives of this blog, over five years of my voice, and see countless times that my mind has changed. Instead of wishing those past selves away, I am learning to embrace them for what they were: formative and important, impermanent and fleeting.

{photo credit}