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: bucket list

Boxed Contentment

My husband asked me a loaded question. He asked me when I will be content. And happy.  I told him I was quite content in my job before I had to leave it. At my best. Kicking butt. But I wasn’t wholly content with life. And everyone knew it. The students. The teachers. My husband was away. I didn’t have him to come home to at the end of the day. Now, I’m content in my marriage. Hold it sacred. But I am not wholly content in life. And everyone knows it.

He always wants to know if teaching makes me so happy then why am I never happy to put the newest teaching resume and application in the mail? I told him I just put in the mail an awesome letter of interest and the most beautiful recommendation letter from my former colleague and one of my dearest friends. I told him I also sent along a copy of the stunning valedictorian speech that one of my favorite students will give this weekend (and will make you rise to your feet in ovation) because it was the best thing that could ever explain the special place I come from and what I’m all about and what that place is all about than anything else could.

Through the eyes of a student. I refuse to play politics. I refuse to play them in Edwards County and I refuse to play them up north. Why? Because what we do should be all for the students. And I want special. I do. I want a special place again.

At my church back home, a lady in Bible study never specifically mentioned her prayer request. She simply asked for the desire of her heart.

The desire of my heart? To speak to people. Full rooms. Auditoriums.  Classrooms. Singe souls. Face-to-face holding a coffee mug gulping cup after cup of grace and love. Or speaking to people through a book. My truth. In writing. Helping them find their own truths. THE truth. Dreams do not simply dissipate. If I feel I was created to do something big and I cannot let it go, please do not put me in a room and leave me to peel away at yellow wallpaper. Because if you’ve read that short story, then you know how it ends. For most people, “the little things” are what breed contentment. But I’m not most people.

“God is contentment. Learn to be content in all circumstances.” Well that’s just the easy answer, people. And the hard one.  And the real one. I know. I KNOW.

She had a baby.  In “The Yellow Wallpaper.”  And in the Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan was a silly little fool who had a silly little fool of a daughter too. And sadly, they weren’t content. But I’m no fool. I know babies fill a certain void of contentment nothing else can. My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me the women I love who most want to be mothers will be mothers. And my best friend since birth? She’ll birth another miracle this winter.

I see it more for them than I do for me. Always. A few Sundays ago I held my niece through church and I adored. Adored. She smiled. Touched my face. Danced to the worship songs. Fell asleep as I kissed-kissed the top of her head.  And my preteen nephews? Hugs. When they are eighteen and twenty, I will still get those same hugs. Because I’m Aunt Melissa. Because they were already mine at baby and two. Because there are no other two boys I could possibly love more.

I looked up our baby name—the name we agreed on years and years ago. I very well could have still been in high school. I love the meaning of names. I gasped when I read the name’s meaning: “bright and shining light.” I don’t have my shining light yet. Because we are not home. Because I am not healthy. Because I dropped fourteen lbs. and don’t know why. Because my meds are switched constantly. Because my body is screwed up. Because I can’t seem to handle anything. Because I have a Master’s degree to start and finish. Because I have higher-paying jobs to land. Because. Because I’ll screw it all up. Yet somehow, if God gives her to us? She’ll be true to her name. Light. What I’ve quested all along.

And maybe my contentment. Or my green light at the end of the dock. But I don’t want to put that kind of pressure on the girl. Her life is not merely for my contentment. It’s for hers. Are you listening, parents? I lived it. I saw that kind of hurt in the eyes of my students.

Once, I made my Themes class give speeches about their most important message. What did they most want the world to know? I think I assigned these speeches right after we read Fahrenheit 451, a book with an obvious message. Thank you, Mr. Bradbury, for your message. It’s a message that got stuck in our minds and never left. Why did I assign these speeches? Honestly, I was stalling. I hadn’t finished reading 1984 and didn’t know how to introduce another novel with such huge themes. Prophetic themes. Themes of life. The name of the class.

Some of the speeches were dull. Eating right. Exercise. Being a good person. Blah. Snore. Some students rambled so much that I couldn’t even pinpoint the message. And that’s ok. Because I don’t remember if I gave them much direction and probably didn’t give them a rubric. So I’m sure I gave everyone a good grade.  But some of these students? Their props were meaningful. They spoke eloquently. They interacted with their peers. Made me gawk and gape and wonder what kind of presence was I in? These kids were geniuses.

And one speech I remembered in the middle of the night, four freaking years later because its truth literally woke me and ironically reminded me of how everything I want right now was everything he warned against.

After he spoke, I was so inspired (and he reminded me too much of the unconventional, caged-in high school-me) that I made the students (those who wanted to) run or gallop or skip back and forth down the basement hallway, loudly proclaiming the specific ways they wanted to express themselves and get out of their comfort zones. I’m also pretty sure I got in major trouble for that one. Ah, well. You remember it though, don’t you? Stepping out of your boxes.

This student is in some city right now. He’s a talented playwright, a director, an actor. He impressed me from the moment I met him, and he will be famous. Brilliant.

He began his speech with an analogy and drew a street map of Lincoln Avenue on my whiteboard. Basically, he told us what drove him bonkers, and he said it with a lot of passion:

“You can be born at St. Mary’s. You can go to elementary school at St. Ben’s. On the very same street, you can attend high school at Memorial. You can go to church on this street. You can hop a block over and get your college degree from the University of Evansville on the same street.  You can have a nice Catholic wedding ceremony on this street. You can rent or buy a house on this street. You can do something during the in-between, and then you can go retire at the little nunnery place down on the very same street. And then you can die. And have your funeral. A nice Catholic wake.  On the same street.”

And that is exactly what some people do. And other than becoming a nun because I am not Catholic, I would be perfectly content returning to Lincoln Avenue. I’d happily return to teach at Memorial and then become a professor at UE (some professors in my subject matter departments are getting up there in age, God bless them). I could have my coffee every day at Coffee Cottage. And Barnes and Noble is right at the end of that long street! I could do book signings. I could browse the titles until I went blind and my fingers bled. Bliss, I tell you. Bliss. And my biggest dream ever since Ms. Felling took our class to see Twelfth Night at the May Studio Theater. Magic. I felt magic. I felt home.

I was told that if I can’t talk about a place without crying, then I have issues. I’m constantly told that Memorial is not the pinnacle of success. I’m reminded of law suits that should have been filed and of everything that was unfair and how it sucked everything I had in me right out of me and the retirement is pitiful. I’m reminded UE parking sucks, that we’re still paying on the ungodly tuition, that it is not Ivy League.

The street? It smells like sewer and it floods.

Shit. I just put myself in a box. I would live in a box. I would live in a box on Lincoln Avenue. And I would maybe or maybe not be content.

English: A square open cardboard box. Based on...

A Room of My Own Update

When we moved, I threw all of my classroom stuff upstairs. Literally…threw. The attic was a haunted Memorial High School graveyard of buried homeroom photos and senior pictures and lesson plans and binders labeled with each novel—a shrine to the people I love, the literature I adore, and the teacher I once was.   
I had to clean it. I had to dig up emotions I wanted to keep six feet under. I had to sort and separate and place in boxes and put in storage. And mourn. Shouldn’t I be done mourning by now? What comes after the mourning? The morning. The new.   
I’m determined to finally make the attic into a room of my own–what I promised it would be from the moment I saw its sloped wooden walls and window nooks and abundance of character.  
Right now, the room holds ideas. Odds and ins. Paintbrushes in coffee tins and mason jars. Black canvases. Old journals. New notebooks. Cutouts from black and white magazines. Pieces of cork waiting to become inspirations boards. Stamps and scissors, scraps of paper and glue. A desk. A table. A colorful quilt. A candle. I wish I had a bean bag or giant hammock, but the hand-me-down recliner we always dump our clean laundry on will do.
 I still need bistro lights, plants, chalkboards and whiteboards, my sister’s paintings, an easel, plastic to cover part of the floor, and a radio. I want maps of the world. I want to grow an indoor tree. I want to go back to Dean and Mary’s house and stumble upon more frames and doors and windowpanes and shutters. I need colors and pretty patterns and words.
As much as I doubted myself, I know I was a good teacher—one of the passionate ones in the classroom for the right reason.  I know the profession is fulfilling. I remember the education professors saying they wish they could bottle up my enthusiasm and energy, creativity and love. But that pretty little bottle slipped off the sink and shattered on the floor. And an overpowering sweetness lingers.
 So I have to hold my breath when I enter the attic. I’m scared. I’m scared every time I walk up the stairs with another armload or basket of supplies. Because I know we will leave this home, too. Because whatever world and sanctuary I create won’t last. Because life changes. Because my identity’s shaken. I work in spurts and go back downstairs often when looking at the pictures and artwork and cards and gifts from my kids becomes too much. As I hang up new pictures, I remember how crippling it feels to take them down, to pack up again.
Still, I hammer more nails in the walls. I rearrange. Because it is what it is. I will make my special space, the room of my own. If I stop creating environment and atmosphere, I’ll get stuck and won’t see possibilities anymore. I won’t hope. I don’t want to be stuck this winter. I want to take my coffee up to my studio, take in the inspiring change of scenery, and see the environment as an opportunity to work and motivate myself and write and play. To be passionate in other ways. I want to break the rules up there. So I’ll begin where I am and dream where I am. And on some small scale….go ahead and do what I’ll eventually do….where I am. So I claim the attic. I claim a room of my own. And I’m allowed to transform the space as life transforms me. Allowed to change. Allowed to keep moving. Allowed to grow, to rearrange.

Quarter-life Crisis

I’m having a quarter-life crisis. You’re laughing, aren’t you? Teaching for only four years made me feel I’ve lived a lifetime already, so I’ve decided to retire a few months shy of twenty-six. I’m just kidding. I haven’t even started doing all I dream of accomplishing. Writing a book or three. Earning my MFA. Owning a café. Building a house. Teaching at the university level. Seeing more than a tiny speck of the world. Raising a kid or three with that man I love. Am I too late? Too early? Too old and too young. Cursed in-between. Where do I go from here? Which of those dreams are in God’s big-picture plan? On my back-and-forth Illinois road trips, I’ve noticed this quote on several church signs: “When life knocks you down {during your quarter-life or mid-life crises} and it’s too hard to stand—kneel.” Oh, bruised knees. Makes sense. ❤

Is a lack of passion and purpose worse than stress and busyness? It’s a question I ask often while on my bruised knees and can’t figure out if not teaching is a relief or not. I saw my students and friends at my Memorial when I went home. I hadn’t felt that kind of love, that fullness of joy since…my last day there in January. They just heard the laughter and endured my too-tight hugs—allowed me to indulge, saw me get caught up in the flourish of excitement and find my heart again that I had hidden in the halls. And reminded me how much I adore the sound of “Mama.”         

That door has been closed for you, people tell me again and again (and again).  But I wait at the door and ask, seek, knock. Maybe I don’t want to move on. Maybe I just want to keep that memory sacred. My students (should I stop saying “my”?) just saw the smiles. But my tears came later. In the quiet. After the crowd. (Ok, fine, I cried for five days—the whole visit, especially while holding my new baby niece). Tears slipped down my cheeks again at the University of Evansville when several students (and a dear education professor) gathered on campus to show me all they’ve become. I’ve never been so touched or so proud. So stricken by the beautiful full-circle of time and life and learning. Yes, those side-by-side homes of Memorial and UE harbored a lot of stress and a lot of busyness. But I had a whole world built right there on Lincoln Avenue.

I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately and if you know me, you know how uncomfortable money makes me. I know it would have made more sense to take a more practical, inexpensive educational route. Perhaps a debt-free educational route would make those other dreams of mine happen a little quicker. It would make more sense if I were doing something related to my degree. And perhaps I would feel less guilty in my marriage and more vibrant around a friend’s bachelorette party guests (mostly holders of doctorates) instead of pale and tired and old and sad and a little purpose-less. But.
But.
I will defend college. A real college experience. Knowledge and lessons and inspiration and fun and support and incredible teaching and becoming. See, something happened to all of us in that place. We became us. So although I’m vice president or some officer of my high school class, I’d rather suffer cruel and unusual punishment than attend another ECHS reunion. Just kidding. There are actually about five of you from my class I’d love to see. But it’s the mention of the university’s Orientation Leader reunion that makes me vibrant again. Because they know the soul of me. They understand the whole of life, the leads to….leads to….leads to. The circle. Oh wait, the We Care circle.Makes sense. ❤ They know how attachment feels. About stepping stones. And adventures.  And helping whoever you can and loving as much as you can along the way. They know that BECOMING YOU was the biggest hurdle, and you can’t put a price tag on climbing over that kind of hurdle. The process involves a lot of falling, a lot of bruised knees. Victorious bruised knees that come with stories to tell. And I will tell the stories. Because in my quarter-life crisis, telling the truth of the stories is the only thing that feels passionate and purposeful enough to me. And when it comes to circles, what seems like the end is really only the beginning.    

89-105 "His presence is fullness of joy" Psalm 16:11

89. cards in the mail from grandma mabel and calls from grandpa earnie.
90. supportive family, friends, former students, and online friends who read my article and hopefully will continue to read, like, share, and comment (next one should come out Saturday on LA Family). I owe you, I need you, and I’m overwhelmed by love. thank you. (and writing for a magazine is another check for my bucket list!).
91. feeling calmer. when i’m more crazy/anxious/nervous than not…the calm days feel so good.
92. the way he always sits beside me instead of across from me in a booth. and orders tomatoes on the side so that i can have extra. and i take the lemon from his tea. and give him my croutons. little rituals. (that have gone on for a decade).
93. the way our house always smells like coffee.
94. not getting the job. yes, you read that correctly. because it wasn’t right for me. and God knew it. and i’m still a darn good teacher. and God knows that, too.
95. how he always tells me i’m pretty during moments when i’m not. during moments when i’m doing unpretty things like running. or running errands. or washing dishes or the tub. or waking up. maybe “pretty” is something else entirely from what women think it means.
96.  the way jovie stretches after a nap. like a yoga pose she holds for several seconds. and i can’t help but say, “strrrettttchhh”every time. and then i stretch because it looks like it feels awfully good.
97. morning walks.
98. hot cocoa in the cool evenings
99. little invitations from people in the most welcoming community i’ve ever known.
100. beautiful roadtrip to prairie du chien.

101. having our own fire pit, finally. ahhhhhh ❤ i promise we’ll get so much use out of it.
102. sun on my skin
103. comfort of knowing i’m his. he’s mine. we’re us.
104. the comfort of having a really, really good tell-it-all-to friend who always feels close though she’s four hundred miles away.
105. the way every breeze feels like refreshment. newness. it sings a new song.

Published!

Today I am featured on LA Family online magazine. The more responses I get from readers (please comment, like, share, tweet, vote, etc. on the site), the better chance I have to keep writing. Thank you for your awesome support. The link is below. ❤ I love you, faithful readers. And I want to continue writing the truth and telling it on my bruised knees. Blessings.

http://www.lafamily.com/life-after-college/imperfectly-grand

41-64

(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.

B is for Bucket List

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credit: via (pinterest) vi.sualize.us

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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credit: (via pinterest) mindlesskids.tumblr.com