"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: joy dare

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.   

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.

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.  

invincible summer

thankful for…within me, an invincible summer in the depth of winter

The tender. The best bacon and eggs. Jovie’s new trick (she can now rest a treat on her nose until commanded to eat it). The way Josh praises her. Looking forward to fishing trips and planting a garden and spring. The way Josh always has my hand and always leads me (when I’m off-balance and weak or blind. He is my senses, my bearings, my safety. Always has been). Getting to have Jovie for a dog. ❤ The decision of daisies and the purchase of a dress. Tutoring. Finding a rhythm to life again. Thursday coffee.  how good a home feels. how lovely the people I work with are. The way Josh helps cook now sort of a little bit..I never asked him to. I just rewarded him with lots of praise and gratitude (and sex). steamed broccoli, raspberry walnut vinaigrette, zuppa tuscana, fresh salads, homemade macaroni and cheese, Memorial’s new spring musical, purple and pink, messy braids, invitations, burberry brit perfume, caramel mochas, student messages (love how you guys keep me in the loop..sorry I’m so behind in writing back to everyone. Forgive me. I adore you.), WCRC, preppy floral print scarves, random compliments, the boy in high school who is not my husband who taught me the true meaning of valentine’s day (obviously this kind gesture has stuck with me) and sent me a flower when he knew I thought no one cared and wrote on the card, “A true friend is closer than a brother.” doing things I did not know I could do, imperfect progress, new connections, the sweet woods Milkhouse candle I bought at work yesterday (a little obsessed with this brand) that reminds me of the smell of home (yes, they somehow managed to put southern Illinois into a candle), stargazer lilies, be the good bracelets and the story behind it…check out the Anne Made facebook page and etsy shop. The way working at a floral shop is getting me through a dreary, frigid winter. Surrounding me with living, growing things and vibrant color. And it pulls me back from the dark place.  And I’m so thankful.

grace and peace be yours in abundance

credit: via pinterest homedesignspins.com

my abundance:

my niece’s overly large bows and elaborate headbands and tutus..she looks like a ballerina or an indian with a headdress most of the time. russian wedding cakes, aunt linda’s sugar cookies, hot dip that scharlene makes just for me, shrimp, the newness of a new year, my cool new earmuffs, nice travel bags in a cheery yellow, dad’s tradition of getting me the best books ever, mom’s tradition of finding me beautiful and special cameo pieces, jewelry box with music that reminds me of grandma K’s, jovie and klyde’s sweet puppy love, The Game of Things, games with family, cousin talks, the hope josh reminds me of, latin dance workouts with jess, the book Bossypants, boots lined in a row, hands filled with mugs filled with hot drinks, the soundtrack from Country Strong, bringing the four-wheeler back with us (oh, how I’ve missed it!), watching a new little romance form, diet gingerale, dom’s snowflake jammies with the feet, starbucks packets from grandma mabel, my awesome victoria secret pjs and robe, plum colored nail polish, josh in the kitchen right now preparing deer meat for supper, reminders of what really matters, dad hugs, getting to talk to grandma this morning before she went into ICU, a new strength I didn’t know my mom had, the way writing connects people, sweet kindness, standing on grace   

merry + bright

what’s making my days merry and bright lately:
The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the people who send me messages saying how much this little blog helps them or inspires them (THANK YOU…because I know you don’t have to tell me), flower deliveries to sweet elderly people, puppy plans, diet coke deliveries, stella’s carrot cake, stella’s stockton scramble plate, stella’s pancakes, ok…stella’s everything, amber romance lotion and body spray…it’s been my favorite ever since I was old enough to giggle my way around victoria’s secret, antler creek vineyards, aubergine carnations, kitchen kisses, matchmaking, porch swing and blankets, rum and coke in mason jars, a safe escape from the blizzard, when Piper falls asleep on me, watching Josh with his niece (so precious..I melt), fudge making, my mom’s potato soup, southern sunny december days…I do the Timothy Green thing…arms outstretched soaking up every bit of warmth and wonder, Bullard’s, the smell of their bakery, the color pop of a new bright red-orange scarf, early morning writing sessions, morning kiefer coffee talks, sister country harmony while peeling taters, dark nail polishes, flash mobs, my Harvard sweatpants (an explanation is needed: the OLs always go to Goodwill to dress our laser tag partners up in ridiculous outfits. Jeff Bennet wanted to make me a gangsta, so he found the baggiest pants available…and they are the most comforting, coziest fat-pants in the universe), good sleep nights (I sleep terribly up north), Christmas anticipation, favorite aunt and favorite cousins coming soon (I get just as giddy/excited as when I was five), Buzzword, Josh’s smile, old EC high school hoodies, when Jess and Josh give each other crap, when Jess hikes up her festive HOHOHO pants like Steve Urkel, knowing Christmas Eve will always be at grandpa’s (He *owns* Christmas Eve), little prairie sundays, sister’s reeses cup cookies, worship, sweetbabyjesus’birthdayamenhallelujah ❤    

good tidings

here’s my comfort and joy…

family game nights, new purse, comfy boots, invitation for cinnamon rolls and coffee, the always warm welcome from a school that will always be my family, inspiration to create my own cozy with whatever I have and whatever I can make (doesn’t have to be perfect, doesn’t have to match, doesn’t have to be fancy), facebook Bible studies, duke and dolly, horses, target practice, kennels, dogs, sunshine, rocking to sleep, psalm 27 (my nephew’s favorite), beginning to dream again, vanilla mt. dew, dimaggios twice, 7 hills, carhartts, finishing paperwork, k’s happiness, when friends pray for you in front of you (so powerful..and I always cry), starbucks with sister, hearing “mama, mama”, hearing what they plan to do in the future, birthday messages from students, lavender chamomile sleep aromatherapy luxury bath, farmer’s daughter restaurant and bakery, pasta, Christmas shopping finished, birthday lunch with mom, happy babies, hand kisses, cousins coming south for Christmas, rustic exposed wooden beams, sexy showers (giggle), chocolate peanut butter cupcakes, “say ‘cheese fries,’”a safe trip home despite the fog, the scent of ginger-fig, primitive present wrapping, the movie The Thomas Crowne Affair (ok, not an entirely appropriate movie…but I love wit, and I love art, and I like those actors), making our house and the flower shop merryfestivejoyfulbright (love adding special touches), being on an organization kick, breakfast invitations (thanks, annie!), extra time with josh, a re-stocked fridge (sort of), fruit and nut trail mix granola bars (I keep about three in my purse at all times), watching dvrd grey’s while sipping my coffee before work, “season’s blessings,” sweet customers, stella’s cherry pie, wreath-making, a new computer (because joshua spilled coffee on my old one…merry merry Christmas to me), black leggings (do I ever have to wear real pants again?), the movie Great Expectations, the book Great Expectations, real balsam Christmas garland and wreaths (yeahhh, Stockton!), African autumn tea, mumford and sons, pinecones, communion, simplicity           

thankful over yonder

via: cindyeckhart.com
continued thanks:
sister texts, wine and movie nights, jovie belly rubs, mom shopping trips, fettuccini alfredo, raspberry peach bellini tea from olive garden, banana republic sweaters, mulled apple cider, southern breakfasts, the flags on the square on veteran’s day, taco tierra…twice so far (fairfield’s my favorite), grippos, pink Browning huntin’ socks, smell of coffee, persimmon picking, book reading, frailing the pecan tree, watching my niece sleep (and smile and kick and simply look around), the thanksgiving usuals, my mom’s cooking is my favorite, nice messages from people i work for and with, simply being able to come home for a bit, soft blankets, old quilts, the movie The Blindside (I want to be thatkind of mama), seeing Milo and Kathy, how country feels, some long awaited good good news (it’s about time, you two!), peanut-butter ritz almond bark cookies, the sweet nonverbal connection i’ve always had with josh, the verbal connection I’m learning to have with others, the special connections (God given, certainly) i have with favorite friends, students still, my grandpa earnie, my sweetest nephews. the big sky morning, the trees, the pond, stopping in the middle of the road because josh sees someone he knows and needs to catch up on the stories, the men in the coffee shop who know who i am.
i didn’t care before. turned my nose up at the folks, the swamp, the bottoms ground. but it’s beautiful…i know now. and my throat tightens because i miss it. the wild undone. the far and thick and deepest holy place that taught me exactly where yonder is.

all the way back where i belong

Oh, home. I’m here for awhile.

I will

Drink in the blue sky, the big sky. Take long walks. Four-wheeler rides and pickup truck drives. And sip hot soothing drinks. Write. Reconnect with family and friends who are family and my husband and God and my church. To feel worship again. Worship not measured by rules and what’s proper. No judgment, no competition of holiness. To think and not think. And sleep soundly again. Food. Take in all the nourishment that is food and not food– suck the marrow of This South.   

And holy is here. Unforced. The real and raw. I’ve almost, almost found it again. In conversations. In the mess. In water-eyes.  In the way nothing changes between soul-sister-friends. In a children’s book that taught me more than any other book I’ve read recently. A new song that made my heart sing a new song. In inspiration. Knowing I’m not numb. I still can feel.

Yes, I’ve returned to all my gritty-authentic-holy places.

In college, I would sit on Neu Chapel’s steps. When the questions came. Sometimes I’d even go inside in middle of day or middle of night because the chapel had no closing time. Hear echoes of Wesleyan hymns. Something ancient. Wood beams strong. Take naps on wooden pews.  And pray and write. And I would find. Solitude. Presence. And peace.

And Little Prairie’s parking lot…God is there too. Where I’ve always went when I didn’t know where to go. And where Josh always knew where to find me. After he’d given me space and time with just God. Prayers and fights. Stars. And gravel under the tires. Gravel that held my earth together. Touches and talks and tongue kisses that undid me.  But they were holy too somehow. Like coming home. Like the Lord proclaimed, “Here are your blessings, child. I’m right here. I never left.”  

I’ve missed, I love, I’m thankful for:

Country lullabies. The way my husband talks to his niece. My nephews. Getting to know my now all-grown-up little cousin and her dreams and tastes and favorite things. Sunshine and seventy degrees. The melody of little southernisms. My sister. The feeling I get in my gut when I know I must speak and have no choice. The way the sky looks huge because the land’s so flat. Our other two dogs, Duke and Dolly–they still know us, still love us. Manis and pedis and marker tattoos. Exploring Barnes and Noble. The weight of overflowing crates of books. Three hours at Coffee Cottage. Latin and Italian phrases. Porches and my Jovie.

Feels like I’m all the way back where I belong.