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: hope

Church

Church Steeple Sunrise Silhouette

via pinterest

Moving has taught me dozens of things—gratitude, most of all. I’m working on a list of all I’ve learned. In fact, I’ve recently concluded that the reason we haven’t received our transfer home yet is because we must still have some things to learn up here. God must have more to teach and reveal. And learning always involves growing pains and bruised knees. It’s the only way the healing begins.

One thing I’ve learned about moving away from home is that Sundays are hard. At home, I lived inside the nostalgic country song “That’s What I Love About Sunday.” You know, “Amazing Grace”, chicken for dinner, cat napping on a porch swing, new believers gettin’ baptized and all that. But up North, I dreaded Sundays—sometimes they brought full-on panic attacks. I knew I needed to be in church, but so many churches felt wrong.  “Where’s my warm and fuzzy community?” I wondered. Or “Where’s a community who won’t judge me for what I wear or for not having kids yet and for planning on immunizing those kids and for not planning on homeschooling?  And more importantly, “Where’s God amongst the drama and the Sunday school gossip and the legalism and all that unnecessary background noise?”

I church hopped. I did. I church hopped until I could feel God. And I think that’s okay.

Today as I sat by myself in my new northern church, I remembered I was missing Little Prairie Christian Church’s homecoming. I’ve been so refreshed and recharged by this new church the past three Sundays, but I can’t lie—I sat down for a few seconds during worship and cried (and not just because I was missing the amazing potluck of southern food).

I’m thankful for my many Little Prairie memories. It’s the place where I first sang special music with Josh. And its parking lot is where we had many fights, made up, broke up, and got back together. And eventually, I walked down its aisle, lined with pink rose petals, to my groom.

Little Prairie—that church body—those are my people.

It’s the place where Jack Kelsey handed me an index card with scripture written in his handwriting about where real beauty comes from (not from outward adornment). The sweet man said the Lord told him I needed that verse. I did. I was sixteen and had some very mixed up ideas about beauty. Little Prairie’s the place where Bible studies convicted me and stretched me and where I learned that women can be real with one another. It’s the place where Danny Lankford cheers me up without fail.

I am the product of Lorna Mann’s Sunday school class, Brian Maas’ high school youth group, Bible Bowl and Bible Busters, and Sunday movie nights at the St. Ledger’s. Little Prairie’s the place where I was on the prayer list and prayer chain for months. Where I can count on a card from Angie Garrett for every occasion and know I will not be forgotten. It’s where I knew Jesus with my head and rejected Him with my heart for years until Matt Johnson, who never gave up on me, took my anger and showed me God’s grace, took my sadness and showed me how to trade it in for Christ’s joy. It’s the place where I can count on seven or eight hug-like-you-mean-it hugs. I cherish my home church, but I got comfortable there. I had built-in things to do, ways to serve. I didn’t have to try or deviate from the plans set out for me. Children’s church. Worship team. Sit in my regular comfortable pew. Eat my weight in potluck food.

I’m proud of Little Prairie for many reasons, but most recently for their Block Party on the Bricks outreach yesterday. I heard it was cool. I heard the food was free, the bounce houses drew in all the kids, and the singers and musicians worshiped God from the very top of the pagoda. I heard random people walked up to see what the party was all about. Maybe they’ll check out this whole church thing. I hope so. I never paid much attention to “outreach” until I moved seven hours away and yearned for some northerners to reach out to me. “I just need people,” I said honestly and without inhibitions, to the lady standing in the row behind me.  Now, I feel like outreach could be a passion for this introvert. I’ve been a secure and comfortable member of a church…and I’ve been an uncomfortable visitor, a seeker, a girl so scared to get out of her car and walk to the door. A dear writer-friend of mine wrote an essay about sitting across from a church every Sunday for an entire year before a church member invited her into all of the love she found inside.

I have some tips on how to welcome new people. Firstly and obviously, please invite people to church. I wouldn’t have found my current church if two separate people hadn’t persistently invited me. Gather some people to stand near the entrance/parking lot. That first Sunday I found the courage to walk up by myself, an older fellow met me halfway down the parking lot, shook my hand, and introduced me to the others standing near the door. I felt so relieved that I had tears in my eyes. That same man said hello to me today. He remembered my name.

Show them where the coffee is. Coffee makes people comfortable. Coffee is a miracle. Tell them where the restrooms are. Do not allow visitors to stand awkwardly with their hands in their pockets during “greet one another” time. Visitors know that you can see them. They know they stick out. So really see them. Walk up to them. Acknowledge their presence. Invite newcomers to small groups and Bible studies. Personally invite them, don’t just assume they’ll read the bulletin. Exchange phone numbers. People just need people. Get to know another human soul.

And scan every single car in the parking lot.

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.   

Because it’s ok to need…

I hate needy, clingy, high-maintenance women. I also hate that I am one of those wives. Because he was in the academy for the newlywed phase. Because schedules do not allow us to spend appropriate allotted time. Because I would like some normalcy. Because I hate that we were transferred. Because I know certain self-injury behaviors scare him and worry him and I cannot do them. Or I might do them. If I want attention. If I want to simply not be alone on a bad evening.

And he uses every stolen moment to cherish me. To ask if I’m ok. To Gesture of every tenderness. To show me love is a verb. I wonder when did I become so selfish?   

I could tell you it’s hard to be a law enforcement officer’s wife. A state trooper’s wife, in fact. But, heck, it’s hard to be anyone’s wife. Amen, sisters? Amen?

Does he want food, I wonder? Is he coming home for personal time? What shift is he working? When is overtime again? When is court? Is he actually off work or “off work” but working a seatbelt or drug detail? What were those sirens? Where? What county or counties or zones is he working tonight? Did I tell him to be careful and safe? Did I say I love you and kiss him like I meant it? If I call him right now will I break his concentration during a time when he should be concentrating on driving during a high-speed chase or reaching for his gun to stop a lunatic with a gun so he can come back home alive to me?  Will he ever come to bed? Will he EVER come to bed?

Fine. Then I will sleep in the living room floor. So that at the first eye-blink of morning I will know if he is home. And when he’s not working, I will sleep with him on the living room floor as he watches intense criminal-cop television shows too loudly and puts my nerves on edge even as he is physically beside me.

I will wait on him. I will wait on him to wake up so we can do something, anything that makes me feel alive and not trapped in a house with the blinds down and curtains drawn. I will leave the coffee brewing in the morning. I will move with him. I will listen to police politics, to crazy DUI stories, to tales of stupid citizens.

 I will adore him. I do adore him. For being others’ protection and hero and helper and defender and truth. And for being mine. I love him for what he is and does and believes. That you are not entitled. You must keep your kids safe in car-seats and safe in their general well-being. You don’t get to put others in danger. You do not get to bully. You do not get to try to pull any sort of crap.

My husband said to me, randomly, “It’s okay to need things.”  I’m not really sure what he meant. But I repeat it often, a little sweet incantation to myself. Okay to need people. To need some kind of healthy, not harmful fix to get through the day. Currently mine are caramel lattes because my appetite is zero. Currently it’s talks with Annie, my warrior. Currently it’s that snappy “Ho Hey” song from the Lumineers and a couple of too –truthful songs from The Band Perry’s Pioneer. It’s okay to need to call someone from back home and stop worrying about being a bother or wondering what to say.

Ok to need sunlight or a walk or a drive or a puppy. The need to lean way back into the solidness of him against a farmer’s fence at nightfall. And listen to the thunder and the heartbeats. And the wind. And the turkeys talkin’. Ok to need. Therapy or medicine or doctors or sex or Jesus or a good book or THE Good Book or people or an electric blanket or a really tight hug.   

Today at work, I needed. Something. So to see if it would help, I sat outside with the store’s phone in order to not miss any telephone orders and took out a bucket of starburst-colored roses and a handmade sign. Roses. $2.50

I felt like a kid with a lemonade stand selling some freshly squeezed J-O-Y.

And the northerners smiled. I people-watched happy customers spill out of the café.  Some spoke. Said hello. Talked about the sunshine. I said hun and darlin’ and sir and ma’am and southern phrases with extra twang. And they probably thought I was half charming and half crazy.

 I wheeled a homeless man across the street. I opened doors. Paid for a prom corsage for a special young lady.  Told myself I would look for opportunities to do something purposeful today. I’m not bragging about good deeds and believe works naturally spill out of grace instead of earn it. I’m trying to understand that whole ‘small things with great love’ idea. Trying to understand an extravagant grace. I’m trying to take care of others so I don’t harm myself. So that I take good care of myself. And that is Not. Selfish.  

And the northerners?  They’re a little different still. But humans can’t help but admire God’s beauty in those vivid bloomed-out roses. Older folks and young lovers and dog walkers and runners and passersby and mostly wide-eyed sweet latch-key kids stopped to admire. At least they talk to me. Look up to me. A role model until they ask about the boo-boos on my arms and I have to lie.

 I say feel spring in that warm breeze? Smell the good earth?  I kick off my shoes. Hopeful. I need bare feet. Such a long winter. They kick off their shoes, too. Sit with me on that little stoop.

We all need real light.

It’s okay to need grace. Did you know that’s why I named my puppy Gracie? See, I learn more about grace from her than I do under a steeple. My Grace leaps—leaps– into my arms. And how can she be so sure I’ll catch her? She attaches herself to me like a little puppy hug around the neck. Covers me and licks me clean. Finds within me favor and mercy unconditionally. When I get lost, she finds me. Grace. Amazing.       

For My Tigers

People snicker, ‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing…while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional, as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins. Wrongly I have thought teaching has lessened me at times, but now I experience a teacher’s greatest euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me…It’s an almost psychotic feeling, believing that part of their lives belong to me. Everything they become, I also become. And everything about me, they helped create –from Educating Esme

Dear Almost-Graduates,

I remember our very first home room class downstairs. And for those of you not in my homeroom—I remember our epic English classes. Every. Single. One. I remember you. Every. Single. One. I didn’t always know what I was doing, obviously, but we learned. And we had fun. And I thought it was so cool both those things could occur at the same time. I was happy you were mine. Blessed. We grew a lot together, didn’t we? You taught me. And I think, with the help of genuine friends and coaches and mentors and teachers, you found the courage to become yourselves. I hope so. I hope you at least started the process.

See, my first real class is graduating college now. I have a very special chunk in my heart that belongs to them, but you were my fresh start. My joy. You made me want to drive the fifty-seven miles. You were so purposeful to me.

Without you, I went crazy. Spent fifteen months just aching.  Doubted myself and God and His plan. Spent lots of time hurting myself. Haunted by you. I didn’t know who Mrs. Kiefer was without the teacher part. Didn’t know how to be just Melissa.  Had a major, terrible, unhealthy identity crisis. I never want you to have one of those when change and transition come. And change is coming. So please let me tell you who you are. You are a Tiger. Capital T. Forgive me for being a little cheesy and running with this metaphor.

We all came to be Tigers somehow. We were meant to be. And every experience you have had in the past and will have in the future has a purpose. The purpose is so that you can help others or help yourself. God intends so.

As Tigers, we are fierce and humble. A hunter of dreams. Noble, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. We might travel the country and the world, yet we are territorial of Evansville, of MHS, of home, of our tiger pack. I’m still working hard in therapy and praying hard and loving hard and learning…and slowly remembering and accepting that I am still a tiger. And you taught me how to be a fighter for all the good and right things. Ferociously, we fight.

Maybe I was too young to teach. Maybe I found too deep of friendships with you. Too many things in common. I’ve always felt a little too connected to you. So maybe it’s no accident that you are beginning something new at the same time I am starting a journey new. We can compare notes if you want. Discuss literature. Share ideas. Buy backpacks and notebooks and those nice flow-y pens. Be nerds together.

I’m starting a new school in a new place, too. I feel many of your same emotions. Excited. Anxious. Thrilled. Afraid. Are we enough? Yes. Yes, we are enough just as we are. And we have more to learn. I’m thrilled to create projects instead of assign them. I get to write instead of grade. I never have to use my mean voice!

Through the Kiefer Café’s, the quotes on the board and the door, our talks on the floor, the way I watched you struggle and overcome—you inspired me. Your drive. Your passion. Your determination. Your wisdom. You depth. Your blank slate. Your unfolding and brilliant future. Your hope. I want to write about you. And I want you to someday be able to say you are as proud of me as I am of you.

You are prepared. So light-filed, so strong, so intelligent, so passionately curious. Life might not end up the way you planned. It’s ok. God is so good and knows what He’s doing. I’m proud of you. What beautiful human beings you are.

“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.”

Just wanted to end with some wisdom above from Mama T.

Love, Your Mama K ❤

Kicking at the Sides of Life

Special intentions—such a sweet Catholic Memorial High School phrase that I gladly sprinkled into my vocabulary.

Today all of my special intentions are saved for Boston. Peace. Peace be with you.

Since we moved north, Josh’s dinner prayers have been filled with special intentions for our loved ones back home. Because we painfully miss them. Adore them. Ask for their protection.

And he prays special intentions for me. Sitting right there beside him. Because he sees this assortment of pain, too, in me.

“Please help Melissa find something fulfilling to do up here—a chance to live her calling”

And my private prayers went something like, “Ok God, let’s You and me do something big and special and important. I know I’m meant for it. So let’s go. Get movin’ Time’s a wastin’.”

In fact even before we moved, we believed God would bless me for choosing to follow my husband and for leaving all the rest behind. For what we thought must be a special, purposeful, bigger and better and new Plan. I look back now at how foolish the expected blessings sounded. The blessing was in the following. The together.

We spent some time together with dear home-friends recently. They brought The South to me. They brought me homemade chicken and noodles (to warm my bones, E said, because she knows I’m always cold) and homemade cinnamon rolls and four wildly precious children who chased puppies and colored pictures and wrestled and snuggled and lifted hands up to be held. Jesus, someday give me a little one whose arms reach up to be held.

E and her family marched joy into my house. Anointed it with hugs and laughter and washed it pure with good tears. As I held tightly to my coffee mug, she told me to hold tightly to Christ and loosely to everything else in the world. I love how she naturally convicts me to check priorities.

“How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know who reflected your own light to you?”

The priorities that really matter? Loving. Agape loving. Carpe Kairos-ing. Blessing. Inspiring. Truth-telling. Mask-unveiling. Helping others feel secure in who they are. Those goals hit the deepest part of me.

I feel change coming. And I’m seriously thinking about alerting my doctors at the behavioral health clinic today that I have a sixth sense. Or maybe just that I can feel change in the wind and in my heart and in my bones.

My person, my K, the teacher who taught across the hall from me, assigned her students creative essays about what animal or season or element they were. Not which one of those things they liked the best, but instead which one they actually embodied, encompassed. I freaking love out-of-the-box assignments that push students to think in different ways, so obviously K was meant to be one of my very best friends. We always argued, though, about my element. I always insisted I was fire. Now, ironically, I have fire-scars to prove the burning.

It was a pleasure to burn.” To feel warm and tingling and in control and to concentrate the chaos. It’s like that old saying about how pinching your arm will make you forget about the pain in your leg. And a great reminder. Of punishment. For being me.

K is stubborn, though. She knew her element was water and she persisted long ago that my element was not fire but wind. I think she said I was a refreshing wind in a desert. The wind that makes you alive again. And changed. And stirred up in your soul and in your ideas and words and emotions.

I experienced such sweet-breezes these past four days.  We do need people. We do belong to each other. North. South. East. West.

When I felt as a friend and a tutor and a woman that I am not doing enough or helping enough or seeing expected results or being enough, I needed my northern mother-spiritual- mentor-truth-teller-guide to tell me with so much firmness and authority that I am not allowed to entertain that thought. Those thoughts are lies.

I don’t think I’ve ever been told such remarkable words. Or ever really heard them. Or believed them.

 I needed her to tell me she prayed me here. That kingdom purposes and plans look different from world successes and look different from what I thought purposes and plans and bigger and better would look like. And I realized I’m a little bit blind.

And now, wind shakes the branches and clouds darken and I wonder about rain splashes and flashes of electric light. Part of me wants to hide. Part of me wants to run outside. Naked and warrior-like with arms outstretched and looking at the exquisite sky.

I’m still crazy. The rain feels good. I love to walk in it.”

I live in this peculiar dichotomy between passionately wanting to feel and not feel.

And maybe this is manic-me. The one who wants to run outside with hair blowing in her face to feel the change and the refresh and the alive and the renew. And scream, “I’m still here with my bruised knees kicking at the sides of life!”

Or maybe I’m just the romantic proposed to during a thunderstorm. Or a little too much like Clarisse from Fahrenheit 451.

And in the rain and darkness, I thought about how favorite college friends are having babies and buying houses. I’m so happy for them. So waiting for something important to happen to me.

I heard the voice that said I’m dumb and not worthy and instead of making people feel inspired and secure in who they are, I make prom corsages and casket sprays and make sure a flower is the exact-whatever shade some city bride demands.

Then E’s voice came back to me and said, “Oh honey, that’s just your day job. Don’t let yourself be defined.” And my northern mother-spiritual-mentor-truth-teller-guide echoed, “You are enough. I prayed you here. You are not allowed to entertain those other thoughts. Those thoughts are lies.”

Josh and I went on a date to expand the good weekend, the good vibes. He tries to get me out of the house but not push me too hard so that it actually seems like my idea when I poke my head out of my scared little hermit-hole. We sat in the movie theater and the preview for the new Gatsby flickered on that larger-than-life screen. I whispered in his ear, “I taught the hell out of that book, husband. I’d never read it and didn’t have a clue what I was doing, and I still taught the hell out of it. And Fahrenheit. And most of the others.” And he said, “I know, baby. I know you did. Even that Shakespeare crap.”

And when he was embarrassed that I did a happy dance upon finding Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton in a bookstore, he also smiled and told me one day that would be me on a book tour. And I replied that on that book tour, I want to help take the hell out of peoples’ life. And replace it with water and wind and good light. And tie the book up in a rope and lower it down all the hermit-holes. And put it in the classrooms. And the behavioral health clinics.

My sixth sense Holy Spirit twitch tells me change is coming, but I don’t know what the change is. Maybe returning home? I don’t know for sure, but I know there will always be a fish-hook in my heart for home. As soon as I’m comfortable in a place, as soon as something has healed in me and been surrendered, life shakes up again. It’s what I’ve always known. It’s how I’ve always grown.

“But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again.”  

A Thousand Daughters

Love woke me up this morning.

Love and puppies.

And knowing at work today new plants would be delivered. I could get my hands in potting soil and roots and bulbs. And knowing I might buy an African violet and eat a slice of carrot cake from Stella’s.

You must find things to look forward to, he says.

I’d paint jars sunshine yellow and make a wreath in the shape of a square. Because sometimes it’s fun to be a different shape than what others expect you to be. I’m not a circle, am I. No. I have a lot of angles. I might be an octagon-trapezoid-isosceles. Something irregular like that. (I was never any good at geometry).

Funny things happened this morning while getting ready.

The first funny thing is I actually got ready.

And the second funny thing?

The sun was shining. Full on shinin’ instead of doing its little peepshow tease. Full on shinin’ instead of acting drunk in the sky. So I actually washed my hair. Actually applied makeup. And I wrote…in my head. I never write in my head. I’m a walking ditzy dum-dum until I have paper in front of me.

And while I painted a pop of peony-pink on my lips, thoughts swirled like yesterday’s snow. Jumbled. But feels so good.

To think again.

To feel.

That movement.

You know?

I started thinking about flocks and shepherding

and the quote that says, “I’ll live as though I have a thousand daughters.”

Sons and daughters, I had. Had a door to stick post-it notes of encouragement. A whiteboard to write quotes and song lyrics. Stories to expand to life. Characters we turned into humans. Heart-to-hearts about parents and dreams and relationships and lust and love and struggle and God and hope and being who we really are. Café days where they found their voices. An avenue. A stage.

A whole big flock.

I was the young one. And so they followed me.

My heart’s kind of sticky that way.

So what’s a shepherdess to do?

I tried to find new sheep when we had to migrate.

But they weren’t mine.

They weren’t mine to tell them it’s possible to be in the world and still not of it. Not my place to give advice. To tell them what worth and holiness are most certainly not measured by.

To talk to them like young adults. Or say they should be in school. They should get to live–at least a little bit–the way they want to.

It’s not up to me. This is not the same place as there.

I don’t get to tell them what to see. I don’t even get to tell them the place to look and let them decide what they see.

So I had to back up. Back off. Back away, far away.

Then found myself in a season where my own heart had to be tended to.

In that place again–

Made to feel like my truth is just not a good example.

Not a lifesong.

Ugh, better to be fake. To be reserved. Not the wild-hearted you that danced with abandon.

Oh, but the gritty and the grace. Your own deep truth, daughters.

That’s the melody. Makes the song worth singing.

Tone down good passions? I can’t. I just find other ways. I’m sick of the way we give into the lies that we are too much. And not enough.

When love wakes me up in the morning, I want to…write. Write again.

And tell all the daughters.

I may never get to have a daughter of my own–though I have named her.

But I will write for my daughters. I will write as though

I have

a thousand daughters.

Heart on a Plate

 

When they asked me what I wanted to be I said I didn’t know. “Oh, sure you know,” the photographer said. “She wants,” said Jay Cee wittily, “to be everything.” — The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

 

 

 

Last week I filled out several scholarships with questions about involvement in high school and college organizations, leadership positions, volunteer service, work experience, and awards won. And I couldn’t remember them all. Why? Because I used to be fabulous. Fast. Track. Impressive. Sparkly and shiny and stellar. I think I used to poop glitter. Now I just shit.  
And now I’m trying to understand what it means to just be me. That girl with all the passion and ambition….what woman does she turn into?
Well this woman, in the height of her quarter-life crisis (stop laughing), applied to graduate school for creative writing and got in. I can’t afford more education (hence the desperate need for those scholarships), but here’s why I’m scared and why I ultimately want to go anyway: 
The Fears…  
I look back at old essays, I see how awful and cliché they are, and I’m ashamed. I worry that I’m still awful in the present and don’t have the future perspective to see clearly. And I know I have to pass that stupid “SO WHAT” test that all the professors warned about.  Do I?
            I love real and raw writing, writing that feels so…human. But the problem with being human is that being human comes with so many mistakes. I’m not perfect. I’m not polished. I have not read all of the books. I make typos. I like stylistic fragments. I don’t know all of the grammar rules and often break the ones I do know. On purpose because I feel like being a rebel. I am painfully and ignorantly human. Flaws stitched together with good intentions. Mismatched pieces of scrap.  
I’m overwhelmed by the mystery of editors and agents and query letters. How does one’s manuscript get on a bookshelf? I don’t know. I think it’s hard work. And magic. So I want to learn more. I was always so jealous of my students. For the fact that they got to be students. Because I hated being in charge. Because I wanted to write the papers instead of grade the avalanche.  
I read in a magazine that younger adults shouldn’t use the valuable time and money for an MFA program (especially in creative nonfiction) because they aren’t ready. Too early. They haven’t had enough life experience yet. Probably the only thing bad that’s happened to them is the death of a grandparent, the experts say. But people also give me the advice, “Go back to school now. Get whatever degrees you want before kids so you’ll actually complete your goals.” So I’m confused.
 
And I DO want to write about my dead grandma. I also want to explore her marriage to an abusive angry atheist and hope it passes the so what test. And I want to write about my other grandma who is literally insane and covers it up so damned beautifully.
Grandmas aren’t the only thing worth writing about from my twenty-six years. I want to write about my husband and our own intense love story that began when I was only fifteen. I want to write about my too-intense love for students. What teaching gave me and took from me. About the whole education system. And religion. And about God despite religion. I want to write about a unique view of feminism. About moving and people and north and south. About a ridiculous village called Woodbine. About mother-daughter relationships. And sisters. The teeter-totter of losing my hearing, gaining, and losing again. I want to write about childhood and high school and marriage and learning and panic disorder and crippling anxiety. Dear experts, respectfully please go poke yourselves in the eye because I have plenty of writing material. And I will continue to write into motherhood and new careers and more losses and other victories and changes. I want to show you what it all looks like, make you nod your head, “yes.” Show you you’re understood.
Why I must try anyway:
I have a fierce and urgent need for truth—a need to expose the fake, reveal the hidden, see the whole of the experience. I want to sculpt words of clay into a masterpiece without forgetting the masterpiece is of mud. I love confessional writing, the mud of everyday life, and I believe the specific can be universal. Stop pretending, I want to scream at everyone. And myself. 
This need for authenticity is why I’m so drawn to creative nonfiction. Ezra Pound echoes “Make it new.” Truth is ancient and timeless but also a daily discovery, a growing thing.  Real life has enough layers to keep me fascinated and busy peeling. Enough questions to keep me curious. There’s enough grit there. And enough grace.
Writing is prayer to me….it’s always some sort of prayer. Even filled with curses. Even about non-godly things. The release of clenched fists. I tutor a girl who fascinates me and teaches me about herself and myself at her age and myself now and God. She possesses a beautiful and challenging duality. She doesn’t speak much. Communication seems slow and imbalanced and pulled and simple-minded. But she is anything but simple-minded. Her writing is poetic and symbolic and filled with misspellings and shockingly brilliant and scary and complex and genius. She lets me read her prayer journal sometimes.
 Her journal (much like the one I wrote in at her age) is the only thing that softens all the hardness in this heart. She understands the release of writing. I have to start with the tool of writing to get her talking.  Keep turning the knob on the faucet. And the faucet just does a little drip…and then a few slow, weighty, seems-like-forever moments later…it does a little drip-drip again. And then. And then ten minutes later the whole sink overflows with a gushing flood of creativity. Words that are special and different, poetic and so…worth the wait. And oh, how I understand her hesitation. And I will gently draw out all of that inside beauty. Because God’s right there in the details. And writing is a holy act.
Betsy Lerner says that writing is like handing over your heart on a plate. So true. Fears of not being adequate in my writing make me feel like I am nothing. Fears make me hesitate to admit what I want to be.  But the art of writing, the humanness of writing, allows me the chance to be everything. And to be everything is simply all I’ve ever wanted to be.


 

 

 
 

 

 

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.

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.