onbruisedknees

"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

Category: autumn

Caramel Apples and Depression

Like toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my stiletto, a string of failures follow me. Any hotshot in a fancy dress looks ridiculous when she leaves a trail of Charmin.

Ridiculous and human and taken down a few notches.

I still haven’t landed any northern teaching jobs. Failure.

The state of Illinois requires me to take a math test filled with algebra and geometry before I can teach Shakespeare and grammar (although I’ve already taught for four wonderful years in Indiana).  I can’t pass it because I spent high school math classes daydreaming and writing poetry. Failure after Failure.

I thought graduate school classes–filled with writing and literature and all topics I’m used to succeeding in—would be easy. It’s not easy. Writing means criticism. It means struggling to type a single word for fear it’s not graduate quality. Writing means going to battle with the blank page. Sometimes it means losing that battle. It means many, many Failures.

These failures, along with the fact that God’s will is still not synonymous with going home to the south, sunk me. What was the point of getting out of bed? I used to be a perky morning person. I was the teacher who was so peppy at 8 in the morning that my students thought I was on crack.  But now, I panicked at the thought of a new day. What would I do with myself? How would I fill up so much empty time?

For weeks, I needed to get groceries…but the thought of shopping overwhelmed me to the point of tears. I just wanted to sleep and avoid life. I was paralyzed under those covers. Wounded. I was failing at everything that used to make me confident. And I was taking life too seriously.

While I was inside (my house and my worries and my own head), I almost didn’t notice that outside was autumn-crisp and bursting with pure beauty. Golden hours. Big-sky blue. Crismson-orange-yellow leaves. I had quit my joy dare and filled up my prayers with little complaints. I had bones to pick with God. But it’s gratitude that can make a grown girl fall to her knees. And its gratitude—this is key—that can lift her face back up again.

This weekend, I bought a caramel apple. I ate it with such gusto that caramel smeared all over my cheeks and somehow got up my nostrils. And I laughed at the sight of myself. Joy. Messy joy. Like a child. I was wondering where my joy went.

Feeling better starts with laughter. It starts with forcing yourself to do things that feel stupid. It starts with buying a pumpkin for my porch and making a wreath and buying an apple-pumpkin scented candle. I have to create my own cozy. Even if I don’t love where I’m at. I can save up all my decorating ideas and wait until the day when I have the house in southern Illinois with the big front porch or I can put a big fat pumpkin on my little stoop. I can tie a burlap bow around a mason jar full of sunflowers and bittersweet. I can adorn my table with festive five dollar place-mats. I can stop coveting what others have and start working with what I’ve got. And I can stop listening to depression’s lies, the ones that tell me “What for? Why try? What’s the point?”

The point is that even though it’s cliché, there is joy in the little things.

I can’t bank all of my happiness on going home. If I do, I’ll miss out on all of the little northern good things. If I wait for perfect timing, I’ll miss out on the life that’s happening. So I’m savoring the season– with caramel dripping down my chin.

I’m taking chances. I’m meeting people. I’m connecting.

I walked into a new church by myself and didn’t feel scared or lonely. I just felt God again. God’s presence dripping with grace. I was wondering where He went. (Although I know He never really left).

I spent time with a friend who also lives the police wife life. And she understood everything. She invites me over when she knows it’s not a good night for me to be alone. She crushed depression’s other lies: “No one understands. You’re all alone.”

I think I’m going to take that trail of toilet paper from my shoe and TP my yard with it in the spirit of the season. With gusto. I’m going to try to celebrate all of life’s seasons, knowing that God works all things together for good and knowing I must try my best to make the most of it all in the meantime.  Happy Fall, Y’all. Have a caramel apple. ❤

The Peace Place

I thought we’d be home by now. I thought we’d return home well before another brutal northern winter.  I thought we’d reunite in time to sit with friends around the fire pit, girls laughing, snuggling into flannel blankets, sipping spiced cider.

 I thought we’d build a little house with a wrap-around porch on some wild piece of land where Edwards County kisses Wayne County. And I’d never miss a Sunday chance to go to Prairie Church. I’d teach again. My heart would swell with words and purpose, and my abdomen would stretch and swell with miracles. I’d go on walks where dreamsicle sunsets stretched out before me, and my dogs would run, ears flopping, unleashed. I’d feel as free as they did. I’d remember how to breathe again.

I cried hard. I shook and sobbed until I couldn’t breathe over broken expectations and a broken identity and a dark dread that convinced me this world cares nothing for me anymore. I dropped to the bed and began to feel the familiar paralysis of a heavy and hard depression.

“I’m grieving,” I said. I’m grieving home—the place, its people. Leave me alone. This is what acceptance looks like. I’m getting there. I’m trying to get to that place of acceptance.

Husband said, “Enough. Enough grieving. Real acceptance is making peace with a place.”

Real acceptance is discovering the good, counting the joy.

 So we make a point to feel the land. We dig hands into this new earth, get the grit under our fingernails. We grow corn and squash and tomatoes. We drive the truck, aimlessly, to make me feel lighter, light enough to almost laugh again. We drive with windows down always, drive the back roads until their curves and canyons feel as familiar as his hand hooking into mine. We notice the same doe with her twin fawns in the bean field. They become familiar, too. Ours. We ride the four-wheeler over the hills and through the trickle-streams. We feast at the restaurant on the little cove at the lake.  I look out from under our umbrella and see the sun glisten, the water ripple. Tomorrow could be dark again, but today I’m drenched with grace.   

Flowers and Students

Flowers and students.

 The comparison has been mulling in my mind since I started working at the flower shop. The first contrast I noticed: Flowers don’t talk back. Flowers smell nicer than high school boys who have English class right after P.E. Flowers don’t produce heaps of papers to grade. Flowers don’t trigger panic attacks—well, not usually. But the similarities between flowers and students go much deeper than their differences.  

In a few days, I’ll have the privilege of catching up with a friend who is a young, first-year, full-time high school English teacher. She also has a long commute. She’s also a newlywed. And I would not trade spots with her. The term “zombie” comes to mind when I describe myself in those days. And currently, I feel pretty peaceful in this season and supremely lucky to work for and with the people I’ve met.

 I feel lucky to still create atmosphere and to create an experience (which was always one of my favorite parts of teaching).

I feel lucky to still put good ideas to use.

To still learn.  

 To come home and still have energy. (This concept is a new one).

 To enjoy my husband. (The best perk of it all).

 Lucky to have freedom and flexibility.

 To enjoy my “me” time. It feels like a selfish season, almost. But I will embrace it. I will store it up. I will remember it fondly when kids are screaming and I don’t have enough time to even take a peaceful shower. I will remember. As I walk around the shop and shower the plants that don’t talk back.  

I talk back to God’s plan, His seasons. What a trap. September and we’re so ready for autumn (my favorite, I admit) that we’ve dismissed the blessings of summer. So ready for autumn and so afraid of winter. And already dreaming of spring. Stop. Sip. Drink it in. Every season has its beauty.   

 But I’ll also tell my friend that what she’s doing—teaching– is the most fulfilling reward in the world. And that fulfillment still carries me. And when I visit my Memorial, too, while I am home—I will cry. I will cry the whole time. At the first regal sight of the building. At the sight of their faces. At the last hug goodbye. At God’s plan that I don’t understand.

Then I will return to creating. God creates beautiful flowers; God creates beautiful kids. Teachers and florists simply attempt to arrange, tweak, and enhance what is already there and already beautiful. Former students and current kids I tutor, you had it in you all along, loves. You just needed the confidence to become you. Teachers and florists pour faith into their “arrangements.” We pour love. Time. Creativity. Hope. We hope our arrangements are used for good purposes. Exciting ones. We pray they don’t wilt. We also know how much they bless others. They just have to get out of the display case and out of that big cooler in the back. We have to let them go. Go. To the hospital rooms of the sick. To the weddings. To the anniversary events. To the restaurant where the boy’s crush works. To the families of the grieving. To the business of the one who feared she was forgotten on her birthday. To your table. To splash a dark time with color. To say you’re sorry. And Thank you. and Just Because and You are Loved.

Purposes. They aren’t always used for the big things. But every purpose? Every season? Important. Perfect. Meaningful. Beautiful. Just as it should be.  

Savor

 

I was so in need of home when I was welcomed into my best friend’s cabin. Where my favorite family dwells. Where candles glowed and the room danced. And the whole cabin whispered fall.  Blanket draped over couch just in case. Tissues close. Just in case. Needed rarely because we are sad but because life is full. And we make plans for the next visit. Plans that speak,“We embrace life. And we know how to savor it.”