"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Month: April, 2012


Today I read an article from an old issue of More magazine. The gripping piece revealed a torrid love affair between a young single woman and a married-with-children man and her choice to accept his invitation to coffee years later after she had moved on, married, had children, and found happiness. She also chose to stay in touch with him after the coffee date because of the way her heart pounded with excitement and because the way he looked at her “instantly reminded her of what it felt like to be eighteen.” Her fling with the “man who got away” made her feel exquisite. desired. alive in her world of diapers and cheerios and pressed pants and dust rags and boredom.

I believe there is truth in the love languages. The problem is, I’m needy and trilingual, responding best to words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time. And sadly, we sit on separate couches, work different shifts, and keep different sleep schedules. We run out of things to talk about. We are alone up here. Alone and together, two people who know everything about the other. Is it possible to feel so familiar yet so disconnected? Don’t you want to learn about me? Touch me? Find me smart and funny or precious or pretty?

I complain often that I liked us better when we were dating. I felt closer to him then somehow. We’ve been together for over ten years, he reasoned. It’s not the same. It’s not going to be the same. But it isn’t fair, I think. It’s not fair to make the wife sacrifice and not get to have the good stuff, the fun, the adventure. So I tell him. I use my words that I sometimes forget to speak because I’m accustomed to choking down disappointment.

And so he pulls me off of “my couch” and onto his lap. He tells me he remembers that I was wearing a tight red and blue striped shirt with a white collar and tiny jeans. A too-skinny late-blooming girl. Loose hair. Tight morals. Fifteen. And he was twenty, having all kinds of inappropriate thoughts. We went to feed his friend’s horses, a daunting task because one was evil. But I walked right up to the horse, not knowing it was mean one, talking gently and stroking its mane. I think he loved me then. Even then. And I remembered. I remember every rush of seeing him and knowing he saw me.

And as we age into old, into married, into old married couple, he reminds me again that I am seen. And I catch small glimpses, nostalgic sparks of what it feels to be fifteen, eighteen, twenty-three. And someday he’ll remind me of the rush it felt to be twenty-five and thirty, how well-loved I was. I am. How I adore him still and look at him with teenage-twinkle-eyes. I am lucky. I am lucky this hard marriage comes with so much history that makes it work. I am lucky that I don’t need to have some wild mistake to take me out to remind me of what it felt like to be alive. I like the contentment of knowing that every passion-flash of memory has been, will be with him, and that any little flicker-flame of reconnection can reignite.

About Me

I dated him for eight years; I’ve been married to him for two. Because he finally asked me to be his wife in the middle of a field in the middle of a rainstorm. He’s the one my soul loves. A love that is Tender. Crazy. Tested. Solid. Challenging. Cherished. I believe that in marriage you should hold hands in the car and take time for fishing. And for praying.  And talking. And kissing. And stuff.
My black lab’s name is Jovie, which means “joy,” and one of my greatest joys is her puppy kisses and nose nudges and sweet silly quirks and fierce loyalty to me.  
I feel restless often, a claustrophobic need for space and a beautiful place. I need Free. Stars. Sun. A Creek. Fishing or walking or simply sitting on my porch or by the fire pit. I need to feel the wind. I need country. But I must also have the culture and the cuisine and a bit of glamour (sometimes) and flowers poking through sidewalk cracks and lots of art.
I love the soothing qualities of hot cocoa or cider and coffee and tea. And I believe these rituals open up the soul, start the imagination, stir the heart, comfort and bind strangers and friends.
I have the strangest form of social anxiety. I panic when it comes to people. I feel awkward around them yet know how desperately I need them and disappoint myself when I shut them out. I’m an introvert who likes small groups but hates shallow conversation. Talking one-on-one with you may cause a panic attack or a case of hives, but I want to know you anyway. I’m usually very calm when standing in front of an audience, however. I love any kind of stage–the way it feels to connect and entertain. I think I’m a little bit insane.   
I believe in always learning. In movement. In bruised knees. In refusing to allow the world to make you hard. I believe in being different. And breaking the stupid rules if you want.
I like pearls and cameo jewelry and sundresses and perfect fitting jeans and cowboy boots. I like children’s laughter and word games and quilts and good gritty literature.
My heart is stuck (I think it always will be) somewhere in Memorial High School, the first place I taught others to dare, to become.
And at the University of Evansville where I learned to be me. And learned about people and all of the important things. From sitting in We Care circles for hours just listening.
I lost my hearing in the eighth grade. Suddenly. Almost completely. I remain deaf in my left ear. Fluctuating hearing in my right. Doctors say I have Meniere’s disease, a frustrating illness. But I’m reminded to hold up hands to God when I need steadied. And I know that when I can hear nothing else, I still can hear Him. I gained more than I lost.
I somehow lost the ability to remember numbers. Math stopped making sense to me in the fourth grade. Fourth grade is when I realized that all of those word problems in our textbook could stand to be a little more interesting. So I rewrote them. Added details. Changed names. Took out the actual numbers. And tied the questions together so they made a story.
I must record stories. Your stories. Mine. To understand. Make you feel understood. I always make sure a notebook is nearby. In my purse. In my Bible. in the kitchen. By my bed. But I also write lists and poems and scripture on post-its, on scraps, on envelopes, on the backs of bills. I write all over the page. Sometimes sideways. And when I stumble upon these bits of paper again, they are more than scraps. More like gems.  
I believe in crossing off items from my bucket list and dreaming up more ideas constantly. I believe in dancing in the kitchen. In aromatherapy bubble baths. And the quiet of the morning. I believe food should be an experience. I believe in not straightening my hair. I believe in the changing seasons.    
I am a southern wildflower transplanted in the north. But now a hearty, healthy thing–still thriving and keeping my face to the sun. And I grow.


(find the joy)
41. watching kids help one another during study hall. when and how and why do we lose this *desire to help* as adults?
42. a warm bed. the man I share it with. open windows. listening to the wind and rain.
43.  any opportunity to learn, to be a student again.
44. farms, friends, new experiences, apple cider, wide-eyed wonder, organic everything
45. a friend’s engagement– congrats Court and Nathan!
46. lambs, calves, chicks, ducks
47. kindergarten silent dance parties in the hallway. they were in line waiting to go to p.e. i demonstrated a funky dance move. they mirrored every funky dance move. the only rule was that they had to be quiet. (tip: turn everything into a game. it works.)
48. listening to kindergartners read expressively. such animation!
49. story time. when I get to read to them.
50. watching the kindergarten students play “school” during their free time (instead of leggos or play-doh) and hearing them say and do the exact same things i said and did while teaching their lesson.
51. listening to middle schoolers sing that “hey, soul sister” song in choir practice.
52. pretty coffee mugs. and the warm delicious liquid drug inside.
53. the wisdom of ladies in my sunday school class. i think the age range is about ten-seventy. oh how they teach me.
54. a spiritual mentor from back home and the way she lovingly convicts me, challenges me, encourages me.
55. visitors coming this weekend, going home soon for a special wedding celebration, plans for dear friend visits in the future. things to look forward to.
56. hearing my best friend talk to her baby while she’s on the phone with me. and hearing him squeal with delight. because life is delightful-squeal worthy.
57. God’s power to heal, to prove doctors wrong, to defy a diagnosis, a prognosis…to be the holder of time and how much we have of it. to be the only holder of time.
58. His comfort. reminders of faithfulness. His patience with our questions.
59. singing Johnny Cash (and June) songs with my husband in the car. for an hour.
60. words. writing. chances. writing chances. (you’ll hopefully know about my exciting writing opportunity very soon! and you’ll support? you have been so good to me.)  🙂
61. the first grader in pigtails who told me, “you have a pretty voice…(but it sounds kinda funny).” oh how i love the honesty of children. i simply explained, “i’m from the south, sweetie. (bless your heart).”
62. reconnecting
63. feeling tired and satisfied at the end of a day. because i sucked the marrow from it.
64. a crossed-off entry on the bucket list.

More Joy

26. peonies, grapes, raspberries, and asparagus in my yard. in. my. yard. ! oh, spring. *be still my heart.
27. recess, enthusiasm, sitting with jr. high kids at lunch..and eating a few bites then rotating so that i sit with as many tables as possible 🙂
28. singing while learning. during grammar. during math. it helps, ok. (and it is more amusing to junior highers than it ever was to my high school students).
29. pictures, drawing, notes (especially ones that say Mrs. “KEEFER” Rocks)
30. blueberry pancakes
31. country drives
32. echoes of mercy, whispers of love
33. TRUTH and the reminder to fill myself back up with truth (i.e scripture) because the world and my brain skew my perception of myself every day. oh, you too?
34. 2nd chances. To be able to rewrite and revise in articles, columns, (and in life).
35. learning to deal with constructive criticism. And making it work.
36. baby animals.
37. the sound of water. fresh air.
38.  reading Hosea. understanding that I am Israel. thankful God takes me back. again. again.
39. a job interview this week. (technically i need a masters. i don’t have one. hmm, we’ll see).
40. the trust that God knows what He’s doing in this little life of mine. and just wanting to be a vessel that allows Him to shine. 

J is for Joy Dare

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I loved Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I’ve been telling everyone I know to read it. Her words are still resonating with me. The ugly-beautiful. Eucharisteo. The fact that we can’t give thanks and feel fear at the same time. All is good, all is grace. To know God loves me and lavishes me with good gifts. And the way I can bless back is to caress Him with thanks. “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul.”

The real Joy Dare and Ann’s healing, convicting, Spirit-filled words can be found on her blog, http://www.aholyexperience.com. I don’t follow the rules, though, because I don’t follow rules (as I skip around on my letters again for the A-Z blog challenge). I just offer spontaneous thanks, which I think is the real purpose. I write the specifics down so that I can remember, and so that I don’t fall into the habit of blanket prayers of gratitude which can become a going-through-the-motions act filled with no real gratitude at all.
My list of joy (which will become a thousand things and then a thousand more):
1. Kind old man I met on walk carrying single white daisy home to his wife.
2. An always happy-to-see-me companion in my dog who has been through moves and changes with me. And adapts. And keeps her joy. And happily explores it all. (I could learn from her).
3. My husband, the eye that beholds me and sees beauty in my flaws, forgives me in my craziness, knows what I need, and loves me with an unconditional love. It is this small glimpse that allows me to open my eyes wider and understand the love-dance of Savior and Beloved.
4. Hymns. A back-to-basics simplicity that I needed. Those words! That richness!
5. The chance to be around kids again in whatever capacity. And all that they teach me.
6. Josh getting out his guitar. Singing together on a random Tuesday night.
7. The words, “Let’s go fishing.”
8. Friends who keep in touch.
9. For the breaking of winter and the emerging of spring. Colorful beauty. Growing life.
10. For breaking me apart. For slowly putting me back together better.
11. For Josh’s excitement in his work. For God’s faithfulness and timing.
12. Herbs on windowsills.
13. Glowing fires in the night, the circle of lawn chairs around the warmth
14. Formed family, community
15. The way there is always coffee in this community. And music, always music. And laughter and children.
16. Wise and spunky older man. A kindred soul. The way God gives me “grandpas”
17. Again–little. kids. The way they are shy at first and then suddenly not shy at all. And for baby fever and for having it. Sort of. Almost.
18. Basketball. High fives. Celebratory dance moves.
19. Witnessing kindness. In all ages.
20. Feeling young. Energy. Excitement. Dancing. Refreshment.
21. A jog that felt so needed and so good.
22. A full day to write. Soothing words. Soothing pot of tea.
23. Falling asleep together.
24. Morning. Sun.
25. The promise.

So, what’s on yours?

C is for Classroom

Yes, I do know my alphabet and realize that this entry is out of order in the A-Z blog challenge.

C is for Classroom
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Teachers can control the climate, the atmosphere of their classrooms. They have the choice to be the thermostat or the thermometer. They can make their classrooms miserable or joyous. They can humiliate or humor. They can hurt or heal. They can humanize or dehumanize. A teacher should have pride in his or her classroom. If it looks like trash, students will trash it. They’ll continue to believe they are trash. Clean it. Make it stimulating, colorful, beautiful.  Turn it into a world for joy, humor, healing.
Dear teachers I see in the schools where I substitute teach: please stop frowning. Students see you as just another person they disappoint. If you hate teaching, don’t be a teacher. Simple logic, really. Your students are angry, unmotivated, and misunderstood. So don’t dive right in to the lesson. You need an opener. You need to connect to their world. Make them care. Make it fun. And you need a closer. Tie it up. Make it memorable. In classroom management, don’t threat. But when you do, follow through. Make the lesson about them. Use examples with the students in it. Don’t get frustrated. It is part of your job to explain concepts over and over again. What the student on the other side of the classroom just learned because you explained it is not something that the current student with his hand up who asked the exact same question heard. It is not his fault. Explain it again. Explain it in a way that he can understand.  Explain the concept using football or “Jersey Shore” or Hunger Games. Speak his language. With a smile. It’s your job.   
Not every teacher I observed while subbing was a burnt out, joy-sucking monster. Meet Mr. Richardson the Rock Star.
His classroom? Perfect. His shirt? Pink. His personality? Hilarious. His smile? Infectious. He taught fifth grade. Some days I want to be a special education teacher. Some days I want to be a college literature professor. Some days a writer of books and magazine columns. And now, some days I want to teach fifth grade. But what I really want? I want so badly to entertain. To be silly, clever ,charming, quick. I have a need to love deeply and to be loved deeply back. Ridiculously so. Idolized almost. A terrible, vain foible of mine.  I was a lowly substitute aide in Mr. Richardson’s classroom. I was to keep quiet and keep an eye out on my students with IEPs. It was not my stage. I was not supposed to interject with grammar songs or anecdotes, especially not when the teacher on his own rightful stage was rocking it. The spotlight wasn’t mine to have. He had a video. He used the students as examples. He used what they ate for lunch as examples. He used school events as examples.  He asked for them to give their own examples. He was using humor, using control, using precise classroom management. He was born to teach, knowing it, making it easy, showing off. And I was the crazed fan, the groupie screaming to please, please pull me up on stage, let me have the chorus or the bridge or the verse. Let me sing with the rock star. I thought about how brilliant co-teaching could be if done correctly, equally, shared– if the teachers got along. But I knew I really wanted the solo; let me hit those high notes. I can. I have a teacher crush. No, not a physical one. The man was wearing pink. I have a teacher crush on technique and charm and colorful classroom and brilliant ideas and memorable tactics.
I wonder why I need this attention. Perhaps because I can’t or don’t take the lead or solo in any social situation. I’m not the entertaining one of any circle. I prefer not to talk, especially not about myself. I start sweating. I start stumbling. I start making not a smidge of sense. I don’t know how to interject politely, so I don’t. I don’t need to be the subject of any conversation–not my problems, not my interests, not my plans or wants or what I’m wearing or what I had to eat today. I want you to talk about you. I am content, a good listener.  I don’t tell interesting stories. I don’t know jokes. I don’t offer examples or worthwhile comments or questions. But in a classroom? I need not a pin to drop. I need them in the palm of my hand. I feel the need to make rabbits appear out of my hat, to twirl my magician cape, to mesmerize with words and material and wit and the wild shock of learning.
I should not have made a scene. I should have known my place. I am not a teacher anymore. What gives me the right? Mr. Richardson’s room was the powerful pull of atmosphere, environment, surroundings. And the classroom proves that in the debate of nature vs. nurture, nature conquers me.
Can you relate? Have you had a similar experience?

F is for Fishing

Obviously, I’m skipping letters in this A-Z challenge. Oops.

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F is for Fishing.

I love fishing trips—spontaneous and planned. The “let’s leave the dirty dishes piled high in the sink and not mow the unsightly lawn for one more day” brand of spontaneity. Because it’s more important right now that we go fishing. It cures boredom and restlessness and bad days. It connects boyfriend and girlfriend and now husband and wife. Because our best talks were in our boat. And outside of it—in the actual lake—because one balmy summer night while coyly dangling my feet in the water, he dared me to jump in.  
I catch fish. This southern girl can bait her own hook and finesse a fish and take the fish off and is not afraid of minnows and worms and slime and stink bait. But I enjoy more than the excitement of a bite. I bask in warmth of sun. I exhilarate in cool refreshment of evening. I am calmed by the cure and quench of water, rocked like a lullaby.  
“F” is for fishing with friends on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, the guys cleaning and filleting while Lyss and I discussed, with flour on our noses and hands coated in Kentucky Kernal, about what it meant to be the women of these men. And we danced to the sizzle of bass and blue gill. And we all feasted on tomatoes and asparagus casserole and golden fried fish and corn on the cob. And then we left dishes to go on a jeep ride. The stars. The love, the lightning bugs. The not caring about anything. Else. But the fish. And the vibrant memory. And the family you find in friends and lovers. And that fullness of life.  
Dale Hollow Lake. Realfoot. Okeechobee. Fly fishing in Gatlinburg. The Shale Pit. Rivers and lakes I don’t remember names of. The farm ponds. The fun drinks and scent of sweet cigar. The old sweatshirts when the wind turns breezy. The freckles sprinkled across my nose and cheeks from sun. Picnic tables and dinner prayers in the dark, bowed thankful faces illuminated by citronella candles. The faces of favorite people.   
And when we feel far away, either from home and friends and family or from one another, we grab the dog and the rod and reels and tackle box, we leave behind the un-mowed lawn and dirty dishes, and we explore new places to go fishing, to demonstrate the perfect cast, to dangle toes in water, to find the peace in water and one another.

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Do you have any favorite fishing memories? What does fishing mean to you?

B is for Bucket List

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My go-to first day of school activity as a teacher has always been to make my students create their bucket lists. I wanted them to do something meaningful. I wanted them to think. And I wanted them to keep it, to someday dig up what they doodled down in their Justin Bieber and Twilight notebooks and realize that what they penned as sophomores might have been their purest dreams from their truest selves before rationality and responsibility crept in and stole away from them. But I have a confession: I have never made my own bucket list. This tease of spring has me restless and overwhelms my desire to do it all, see it all, and learn it all during my one wild and precious life. I want to suck that marrow. I’ll probably “kick the bucket” by sucking so hard that I choke on the bone.  Perhaps I’ve been encouraged too much in my life. Am I delusional, punch-drunk on dreams and hope and “Yes, I Can”? Am I a failure if I don’t accomplish what the world thinks worthy? I panic as thoughts whirl wildly. While contemplating cereal choices in the grocery, I wonder if crossing items off a bucket list can be as simple as drawing a line through a shopping list. While researching random summer jobs to supplement income, I wonder if a retail job–hands on clothes–will fill me like hands on human hearts can. So many expectations, but what are mine? Some so big, some so simple, some so silly. But the purpose? To make me come alive again.

*Revised 1/1/13

-Be in a play again
-Speak in front of a huge audience
-Direct a play
-Go on a girls’ trip
-Go on a trip with our oldest, dearest friends and their beautiful families
Write for a magazine 
-Publish a book(s) of creative nonfiction
-See that book in bookstores
-Go to Italy, England, and Ireland
-Go to Greece
-Go to Hawaii
– Go to Australia
-Eat lobster in Maine
-See Vermont in the fall
-Fish in Canada
-Go back to Dale Hollow Lake
-Line dance in Texas
-Catch a really, really big fish
-Be a mama
-Own horses
Bottle feed a calf
Have lab puppies (a kennel, possibly)
-Sleep under stars
-Have a big wrap-around porch, a screened-in summer room, an old fashioned bear claw tub, a fireplace, a library nook
-Do a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg
-Earn my MFA in Creative Writing
– Make a foundation for Meniere’s disease
-Make pottery on a wheel
-Fill my house with beautiful art
Write meaningful letters, give meaningful gifts
Bring others to Christ (it’s what life is all about, people)
-Baptize someone
-Start a library in my name in a poor foreign country
– Have my own brand of stationary or greeting cards
-Own beautiful quilts
-Go on a trip with my sister and cousin Elise (NC or SC, possibly–because that trip is long overdue)
-Someday own good furniture
-Teach college literature or writing
-Speak at the NCTE
-Start and host a book club
-Own a cool, quirky, cozy cafe (I have so many ideas for this)
-Own a real photographer’s camera. Learn photography.
-Have an amazing flower garden (learn to grow beauty like my grandma could)
-Have an outdoor dining area, host fall and summer dinners
-Read to nursing home residents
Take dance lessons again

I’ll let you know when I add or cross off. What’s on your bucket list? Share with me.

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