"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: February, 2013

Blue Roses

If roses were blue

If violets were red

If dogs were cats spotted instead

If fish had wings and very long tails

If the sky was yellow and jiggled like jello

If the grass was orange

Bright, bright orange….

Would it bother me?

Not a bit.

Melissa Knackmuhs, Age 8

My dad found this poem while digging through old photographs for his father’s funeral. I doubt he found many photos because I don’t remember the gruff old man smiling much (or ever speaking to me). I also don’t remember writing this poem.

But maybe these lines are more than nonsense because I was probably pretty deep and wise at the ripe age of eight. I don’t remember any anxiety at eight-years-old. I was probably my truest self. I’d like to somehow get back to her.

At some age older than eight, I began to have trouble distinguishing the right things I felt in my heart vs. judgment and opinions and wanting to constantly please people. The little girl who didn’t care what color sky and animals and grass are (because all colors are beautiful) turned into a control freak with worries and rituals and attacks of total dread.

I grew up hearing statements such as: They are too young to start a family. He shouldn’t buy that. She shouldn’t have changed her hair. They shouldn’t live there. She shouldn’t marry outside her race. He shouldn’t work there. She shouldn’t quit college. They shouldn’t do that.    

Granted, some of these statements were very true. Some were not. Regardless, people get to do whatever they want to do with their own lives. Why should we care if roses aren’t red? And who are we to judge a yellow sky, a spotted dog-cat?    

 I try to retrain my brain, wash it clean from parent opinions and good intentions and people’s expectations and stone-throwers and dirty looks and disapproving thoughts and narrow minds.  

And I keep thinking of myself, shut off, communication cut, curled in ball. Sick in stomach.  Droplets bleeding down my legs. Because the flowers were late. The roses not red. Angry stranger screaming. Banging down door. It’s Valentine’s Day. Not pleased. The flowers were late. The roses not red.    

My parents never listened to me. They said, “If we don’t like him, you can’t love him.” They said, “Honor your father and mother.” They claimed God told them we shouldn’t be together. I told them God shows me daily why he was chosen for me.

My dad said he thinks I’m not being myself, who I was raised to be. He says he thinks I’m going through a hard time. He will “pray for me.”

I want to tell him there’s a big difference between You’re being a bad girl so Lord Jesus let us pray

and what a precious friends asks when she gets out her notebook, asks how are you doing spiritually? How can I pray for you while you pray for me?

I want to tell him he’s never understood my relationship with my Jesus. And I don’t like when people think they know more about that relationship than I do. And I’d like to let him listen to this husband of mine with all of his faults as he holds my hands firmly and stops the screaming world and bows his head while I stare with all my faults into my plate and relearn how to at least be thankful for daily bread.

I have to tell myself it’s okay not to drive to a stranger-grandfather’s funeral because I don’t want to. It’s okay to feel no emotion at the news of his death.

I have to tell myself, Melissa, writer-woman-warrior, it’s okay to write the honeyed harmony of life and also life unsweetened. And they are both truths. Truths. Your birthright. You write. You’ve done it since you were eight. Child, be not afraid.

I have to hush their deafening voices as I squeak to my doctor about trying therapy because as moods shift and plans change and seasons swing and moves occur and the noise starts and relationships alter and violets go red and roses turn blue, I want to get to the point where I can say…

Would it bother me? If His plan is not my plan? If I simply cannot please them. If not everyone agrees, is pleased? If grass was bright, bright orange? Would it bother me?

Not a bit.   

Scared and Sacred and Getting Over Ourselves

I was reminded today that scared and sacred are almost the same word…and often the same experience. I asked my genius-girl, “Did you hate today?”


 “Was today hard?”


She makes eye contact. We see glass-clear reflections of ourselves.  

 I’m so glad she didn’t hate this scared, sacred day. We broke it down today. The elements of speaking, communicating, why God gave us words and voices. And specific circumstances where talking is necessary. We both have much going on in our brains. And we both only let out a fraction of it.  

I told my brilliant, beautiful girl I had some hidden years. I call them junior high. Who knew all those hidden days would be so relevant? Who knew I would draw from them often and reference that time again, again. A sort of testimony. Bulbs under snow. The frozen ground, the not wanting to become…was part of the becoming. Those hidden years? They weren’t about me. They were bigger than me.

Through the years, students have told me that their goal of fill-in-the-blank was too hard. Too hard? So I hold out my sweat-drenched shaky icicle hands for them to see. I show them stains of sweat. I line up the pill bottles in a neat little row.   

“Even you?” They ask. “Why?”

“Because speaking to you and teaching you is a worthwhile, purposeful thing. And it makes me nervous”  

I made the confidence of so many girls my mission. Now they write me to say they are studying abroad, they are running marathons, they are working for dream companies, they are making new friends, they are stepping outside their own boxes. They are doing a hundred things I’m still too afraid to do.

So when I hear a girl make noises in that squeaky, I’m-too-afraid-to-breathe-because-I-don’t-know-if- I- deserve- air kind of way…that voice scrapes my heart.  

I will fight for you against that hesitation and inferiority. I will push. But I will not push in a way that breaks you and makes you want to crumple to the floor in a heap. I’m proof of plenty of tactics that didn’t quite work.

In college, an education professor made me yell as loud as I could and told me to practice my teacher voice while I was driving in my car. I hope I busted his dear little eardrum. After class, I rolled my eyes. I guess he didn’t know I led basketball cheers, sang solos, performed on stages, blared, resounded, boomed. You know, in the name of theatre.

But he did know, he must have known that some deep part of me still did not believe I had any merit. I did not believe in everyday, daily-life me. “You apologize too much,” he said. “Why are you always apologizing?”

I caught myself apologizing a few days ago. I was positive peer-pressured into posing for the flower shop’s sister company clothing store photo shoot.

 “But I’m pasty winter-white! My hair will be messy unless it’s professionally smoothed and straightened! I have an underbite and don’t smile right! My cheeks still have babyfat! My triceps are flabby! I have no boobs and a rear that is too bootylicious for pattered skinny jeans! My sister’s an actual model…let’s wait until next month when she visits over spring break and she will rock these outfits! I’m out of the habit of wearing foundation!”
(Side note: Life feels more about survival than sparkle and gloss here in the tundra, more functional than feminine. The husband prefers au natural and I have zero people to compete with/compare myself to because the tundra is not located in Edwards County. So that’s what I mean when I say Girl is plumb out of the habit).
I mentally continued on my self-destructive rampage, “I never learned proper eye shadow application! My nail polish is always chipped! I’m bad at being a girl! I’m only 5’4”! Out of a hundred senior picture poses, I only have one photo that wasn’t awkward! I’m like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights who doesn’t know what to do with his hands!”
Then I realized it’s not about me. It was about letting the customers see how the clothes fit. And about helping the company. And that’s bigger than my hang-ups and hitches. And why was I apologizing for natural in the first place?

Let’s stop apologizing, shall we?

For who we are, for what we do, for what we look like when we don’t try or we do try, for being women, for having voices, for having thoughts, for having opinions.

Stop being scared little birds.

I think God wants us to get over ourselves.

Because the scared experiences are also the sacred ones.

the good stuff

Apple blue cheese salad with grilled chicken, Auntie Nancy’s manicotti from Vinny’s, when friends know you need a text or an email or a message (my friends have the best, God-wink, God-inspired timing), snowflake mochas, white chocolate mochas, fancy cupcakes, new worship songs, Friday night breakfast dates at Stella’s (and Friday night breakfasts at home). I love cooking together. I feel lonely in a kitchen without two or more people. Kitchens are for dancing. And romance. Bacon, biscuits, sausage, eggs, and pancakes at midnight and coffee at the perk of morning. Mother-in-law advice and soul sessions with favorite friends elbow-deep in sudsy water while scrubbing pans. My best memories are made in kitchens. sister chats, Pitch Perfect, the encouragement from readers who value vulnerability, a haircut finally, gardening plans, fishing trip plans, The show “Restaurant: Impossible,” books (currently reading Praise the Human Season, Mended, and Her Fearful Symmetry), Isaiah 43:19, pilates, new bras (and throwing the ratty ones away), homemade blueberry muffins with butter, new books hanging on my doorknob(!), eos lip balm, matte neutral nail polishes, the Wisconsin/Minnesota hills (but not the frigid tundra temps), Mayo Clinic’s professionalism and thoroughness and service, his comfort, and His comfort, too.  

Lot’s Wife

I received my “important tax document” in the mail from Reitz Memorial High School a few days ago. I gasped. I remembered. Exactly a year ago, I moved eight hours north after teaching my very last January. A year ago? Already? Only? I often think about those change-of-the-semester students I only knew for one month. I hope they understand why I was so guarded and did not invest in them as I should have. I hope the students who still write me know how much they are loved. How sometimes it’s too hard to respond. I think about my children who are seniors. My babies who will be seniors next year. My AP and Themes class young adults who are graduating college. And I’m still stuck in a love affair with their brains and creativity, their human stories and their souls.

Memorial High School was not Sodom or Gomorrah. Other than a couple of perverted boys who took pictures up my skirt, some bullies and some mean girls all high schools are allotted, a former principal who drove us all mad, and a few classes straight out of Hades, I know I can find more than ten righteous people in that place. Hundreds more.  

 But God’s plan was to take me to a different land with my husband, a foreign strange land with different opportunities. And I am the nameless wife. Because I lusted after a former life I made an idol. In looking back, I turned into a pillar. A statue of salt. Unmoving. Stuck.

In the book Mended by Angie Smith, the author dropped a pitcher on the floor. On purpose. Then she hot-glued the pieces back together. The result wasn’t pretty, but the pitcher was mended. Shattered and mended and changed.

Changed. When one is a frozen salt pillar, one has plenty of time to think. So I thought about how I’ve changed. And what it means to be a wife.

I learned how to infuse gratitude into each little granule of salt-statue-me.

I never liked that Lot guy. He never tried to shake his wife back to life. My own husband? He would have knocked down the pillar. Collected every particle, every tiny grain. He would have poured the remnants in his pocket for safekeeping before fleeing. Leave no comrade behind. Even one appearing lifeless. Even in spite of my sin. Even when I’m wild-eyed, all fight and flight and stumbling sideways and looking back.        

But we journeyed forward. I put all the pieces of me back together best I could with masking tape and an old half dried-out glue stick. I have many rough places. Cracks. Holes. Gaps. They allow light in; they let love and soul and honesty and truth pour out. And sometimes I dump out a little salt from my shoes, shake out a little salt still stuck in my hair. As a reminder that I am seasoned by so much grace.