"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: nature

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.   

Nowhere and Somewhere

The best part of the book I just finished reading? The first page. The first page captures something I’ve felt since moving north and hadn’t been able to put into words. The author of A Wild Ride up the Cupboards describes the Nowhere Place, a spot coined by her autistic son, which is actually the distance between the Minnesota sign and the Welcome to Iowa sign. “We’re nowhere now,” she writes. “We aren’t anywhere in the world.”

Author Ann Baur continues, “Because even then Edward knew, as I did, that a human being can be knocked off the continuum of this ordinary, sweaty, oxygen-filled existence into the locked stillness of nowhere….I came to believe it was our momentum, traveling sixty or even sixty-five miles an hour, that anchored us and kept us safe. And that if we were to stop between the signs, all three of us might just tumble out of the car and out of our lives, into a nameless expanse of space.”

No other passage could more appropriately describe the odd little village in northern Illinois. It’s meaning holds more than just the space between Chicago and Dubuque or the expanse between Wisconsin and Iowa and Illinois. This time is also the “nowhere” time in our lives. The waiting area. The holding cell. We landed in a dystopia. A twilight zone. Limbo. The nowhere place. I had lost the momentum which propelled me, kept me exhausted and productive and smiling. Like Alice, I fell down a rabbit hole. I somersaulted into weirdness. I crashed into the wonderland of Woodbine.

I spent many days wishing to disappear. And the people I love most told me to disappear, hide, cover up the scars and the reasons for the scars. They even told me to stop writing. But burns are different from other ailments. In order for a burn to heal, it should not be covered. Burns need air for cell division and regeneration. Burns must breathe in order for new skin to grow.

Several weeks ago, I went in for some blood tests. I collapsed. The needle left a bruise that stretched from my armpit to my inner wrist. I lost control of my body, a helpless feeling I do not want to relive. While dabbing my neck with cold compresses, nurses encouraged me to open my eyes, to take a sip. I didn’t want to. I was lost in unconsciousness and echoes—a nowhere place.

Upon awakening, I examined the damage. The bluish-purple-green bruise paired with the pink-gray burn scars reminded me of the arms of a drug addict. In that moment, I realized the world would hurt me enough as it is without the added pain of harming myself, and I vowed to never hurt myself again. I also vowed to eat food and nourish my body.

I am a stubborn, stubborn girl. I must get to those points myself. Must feel the lowest low and wallow in it for a moment. Must decide, then, what to do next. Move on. Finally, I hit the low that would allow me to move on.

I decided I do not like the mental distress and despair of “inside.” More claustrophobic than normal, I am restless. Inside feels like caged confinement. I do not like the itch and crawl of sedentary, stationary, artificial light and plastic plants. Suddenly, outside is safe and free. In summer, inside is cruel and dark and dangerous like waiting rooms and cancer wards, windowless classrooms and coffins and prison and the last week of school.

I decide that, like a burn, I need air. I get a free sunrise and sunset every single day. I need them. I need the space between the sunrises and the sunsets, too.  I don’t even want to go inside for meals. I’ll partake of food in open air, the burst of sun-ripened tomato on my tongue. Skin kissed by this sweet tingle of sun. Do enough trails exist? Because once I start walking, moving this body, I don’t know if I’ll ever get my fill. I wander in the Nowhere Place. I take a step and breathe. And breathe. And inhale. Exhale. I learn how to breathe in the Nowhere Place.

And when we are home, eventually, I’ll look back at the Nowhere Place and see that it was actually….somewhere.

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.

169-236 i hope you dance….wildly, joyfully, undignified

169. how he mows the hard parts for me in the yard (steep hills, around the obstacles, etc.). teamwork.
170. wet chapstick kisses
171. the way he looks in that uniform. sigh.
172. quick trips in the truck
173. the way stella’s knows my usual– veggie omelet, wheat toast instead of hash browns, lots of coffee (and i get the coffee as soon as i sit down).
174. frappes from e-town coffee (maybe i like them a little too much).

175. friends of all ages; bonds with all ages ❤
176. my kids i subbed nearly knocking me over in a group hug at the ballpark.
177.  1$ ice cream and nineteen flavors to choose from
178. the fact that the northern townspeople don’t look like strangers anymore
179. funny faces

180. rain. and sun.
181. farmers markets
182. toddler in a store who ran over to me, reached up her hands and said, “up.” so i picked her up. because what else was there to do? i have no idea who she was, but she was darling.
183. finding things to be thankful for whether i’m with josh or just by myself or with a whole group of people. starting to feel comfortable in all of those different scenarios and knowing i need a balance of all of them.
184. call from a speech coach (and the sweet woman who passed my name along to him!) so excited to be involved with speech again.
185. blaring carrie underwood in my car.
186. when girls from church don’t let me sit alone in the back all by myself.
187. chilly night wrapped in blankets around firepit with friends. i. felt. so. cozy.
188. i want this simple testimony (like enoch had) for my own life: that i pleased God.
189. heart stirrings
190. cowboy boots

191. kid grins

192. Tate’s bridge, old memories
193. the Case sister-in-laws. i may not be a Case, but they definitely make me feel like a sister. and i adore them.

194. seeing a lightness, a peace, and a joy in a dear friend.
195. wedding vows and reception speeches.
196. sitting on his lap
197. the loving questions my nephews ask.
198. Jovie and Josh playing basketball. jovie went nuts.
199. “Aunt Melissa, will you scratch my back? I don’t care that I’m eleven.”
200. goodbye hugs that turn into 3 and 4 and 5
201. when grandpa Earnie calls me Missy
202. big blue bows, white dresses, tiny pearl bracelets

203. yellow
204. encouragement that makes me believe (from the beautiful kristi glover).
205. my sister-in-law’s baby belly (!). my first niece is coming in a few months! i’m already in love with her. and yes, i’ve already bought her outfits.
206. clever sweet children’s books
207. my big and tough brother-in-law who wants pink and frills and bows int he hair of his first baby girl.
208.my sister’s determination during therapy to get her knee back in shape. she’s kickin’ butt.
209. double dates.
210. long front porches
211. pork chops
212. vibrant green–the way the leaves canopy the backroads.
213. four wheelers, jeeps, go-karts

214. “i’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah.” that song and especially that line gives me chills. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooZonYCkz-Q
215. story tellers. even when they are stories i’ve heard many times before.
216. taking our dog down south with us.

217. a very well-behaved jovie at the vet!
218. sonic cherry limeades (it’s like summer in a cup)
219. book in my lap, dog at my feet
220. the sound of a waterfall

221. lightening bugs
222.  hearing “you look good, well-rested, refreshed” and more importantly, feeling well
223. lemon bars and cherry pie
224. the exotic landscaping and relaxing world-of-its-own oasis tucked away in bone gap, IL
225. lake passes
226. sneaky ear piercing shenanigans in church bathrooms

227. a one-year-old’s face smeared with chocolate cake

228.  sweet peas
229. country chic shindigs
230. watermelon
231. tennis championships
232. artsy photography http://alishasims.com/ check out her site! you’ll be enchanted. i’m super impressed by her creativity.
233. the south
234. sisters

235. the way home is just in us…and reawakened often
236. dancing with joy. with wild abandon. “i will dance, i will sing…nothing, Lord, is hindering this passion in my soul…and i’ll become even more undignified than this.”  

joyful, joyful 141-168

141. cracking crab legs, butter running down my chin–the way eating can be an experience that is joyful, sexy, messy.
142. good clear test results.
143. Apple Canyon State Park, and my beautiful solace thinking spot by the water
144. crying. fighting. communicating. healing. relief.
145. the warmth, comfort, and realness of a friend’s phone call. instant warmth.
146. a husband who protects me and keep me very grounded.
147. lunch invitations. any invitations. especially from kids. i completely melt.
148. grocery runs with the husband. only for snacks. it makes me feel like we’re teenagers.
149. whispers in church. (but i promise we’re still listening). hearing him sing beside me, that deep richness. the way, so different, we blend. while singing hymns. while doing life together.
150. bluegrass special music nearly every sunday. yes, i’m serious and yes, i know how awesome it is.

151. pops of hot pink.
152. tennis. it’s really fun. i like to pretend i’m venus williams. or serena. or anna kournikova.
153. that euphoric high after a run.
154. the fact that i can actually breathe the air here without suffocating. it’s so much lighter than down south. i keep breathing fully, deeply, and enjoying air that you don’t need a shovel in order to inhale.
155. diet cranberry lime juice. on the rocks. with extra lime.
156. drinking everything in mason jars. all summer long. with a bend-y straw. because it’s fun.

157. lemon water. with lots of lemons.
158. mojitos with sprigs of fresh mint.
159. cooking shows.
160. motivation to organize, try to find employment up here, and write a lot.
161. more LA Family articles coming up. You are the reason why I secured my weekly column, Imperfectly Grand. You rock. Thank you. In my next article (which comes out FRIDAY), i talk about….my butt. gotcha curious, don’t i. if you have any ideas of things i should write about/places i could write for…send anything my way. 🙂
162. the anticipation of getting to see my sister soon. knowing we’ll do crazy interpretive dances and shop for swimsuits and laugh. knowing she’ll fill my sister-time void.
163. seeing my favorite women in the world soon, my soul-friends from Evansville and E.C. and my favorite nephews. 
164. finding Josh’s Eagle Scout essay in the basement while sorting through his junk and reading the part about his future career goals. and the fact that we’re living it, finally. right. now.
165. joyful, joyful we adore thee on a piano played by a six-year-old.
166. a four-year-old wearing her mama’s reading glasses in church. and turning around to look at us.
167. jovie’s shenanigans.

168. all of the shenanigans we’re about to experience in sweet home southern IL.  


65. My classy grandma Mabel and feisty, kind-hearted grandpa Earnie
66. the surprise gift of a sweet summer dress from my mother-in-law that makes me feel special (I plan to wear it with my cowboy boots).
67. little pick-me-ups, like new yellow shoes, that make me feel sunny

68. pretty old quilts and the hands that made them

69. gerber daisies

70. strangers who became friends who reach out to me when I’m being weird and unfriendly
71. my one friend who is my person, who gets my weirdness, and who knows I’m not actually unfriendly
73. cool evenings on the stoop with Jovie and Josh

74. pretty, colorful, preppy prints

75. My barn (it’s not actually mine; I just call it that) that says “To God be the Glory.” Amen, yes?
76. my latest best discovery which I slather on every inch of my body (and smells awesome):
coconut oil
77. coconut shrimp. and lobster and crab legs. and plans to go to Maine someday and eat the same.
78. husband hugs. I feel like I’ve loved him for a thousand years. and would love him for a thousand more.
79. walking into a middle school now and feeling like a celebrity (waves, excited hellos, invitations to sit at every table). yet when i was a middle school student myself? the cafeteria terrified me.
80. asking a special needs kid to teach me sign language. i remember….about five words. but he loved being the teacher.
81. warmer temperatures. thank you, thank you, thank you.
82. knowing we get to visit home soon and having lots to celebrate there
83. seeing pictures of my beautiful ladies and dashing gentlemen from memorial’s prom. so grown up. and feeling like their mama again. all proud and teary-eyed.
84. OL memories. realizing just how much they created me. I wrote about it in an article that will be published later this month. Remember how we sat for hours duck-duck-goose style? you made me feel, for the first time, like i was more than an awkward timid ugly duckling. i want to look all of you in the eyes right now and not say anything. and make you understand how much you are still a part of me. that was my becoming.
85. hearing from my sis
86. art.
87. words. words are an art. ❤
88. the fact that I’m not steering the ship. but also the fact that the ship is not left in harbor. that’s not what ships were meant for.

J is for Joy Dare

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credit: (via pinterest) facelessletdown.tumblr.com

I loved Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I’ve been telling everyone I know to read it. Her words are still resonating with me. The ugly-beautiful. Eucharisteo. The fact that we can’t give thanks and feel fear at the same time. All is good, all is grace. To know God loves me and lavishes me with good gifts. And the way I can bless back is to caress Him with thanks. “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul.”

The real Joy Dare and Ann’s healing, convicting, Spirit-filled words can be found on her blog, http://www.aholyexperience.com. I don’t follow the rules, though, because I don’t follow rules (as I skip around on my letters again for the A-Z blog challenge). I just offer spontaneous thanks, which I think is the real purpose. I write the specifics down so that I can remember, and so that I don’t fall into the habit of blanket prayers of gratitude which can become a going-through-the-motions act filled with no real gratitude at all.
My list of joy (which will become a thousand things and then a thousand more):
1. Kind old man I met on walk carrying single white daisy home to his wife.
2. An always happy-to-see-me companion in my dog who has been through moves and changes with me. And adapts. And keeps her joy. And happily explores it all. (I could learn from her).
3. My husband, the eye that beholds me and sees beauty in my flaws, forgives me in my craziness, knows what I need, and loves me with an unconditional love. It is this small glimpse that allows me to open my eyes wider and understand the love-dance of Savior and Beloved.
4. Hymns. A back-to-basics simplicity that I needed. Those words! That richness!
5. The chance to be around kids again in whatever capacity. And all that they teach me.
6. Josh getting out his guitar. Singing together on a random Tuesday night.
7. The words, “Let’s go fishing.”
8. Friends who keep in touch.
9. For the breaking of winter and the emerging of spring. Colorful beauty. Growing life.
10. For breaking me apart. For slowly putting me back together better.
11. For Josh’s excitement in his work. For God’s faithfulness and timing.
12. Herbs on windowsills.
13. Glowing fires in the night, the circle of lawn chairs around the warmth
14. Formed family, community
15. The way there is always coffee in this community. And music, always music. And laughter and children.
16. Wise and spunky older man. A kindred soul. The way God gives me “grandpas”
17. Again–little. kids. The way they are shy at first and then suddenly not shy at all. And for baby fever and for having it. Sort of. Almost.
18. Basketball. High fives. Celebratory dance moves.
19. Witnessing kindness. In all ages.
20. Feeling young. Energy. Excitement. Dancing. Refreshment.
21. A jog that felt so needed and so good.
22. A full day to write. Soothing words. Soothing pot of tea.
23. Falling asleep together.
24. Morning. Sun.
25. The promise.

So, what’s on yours?

F is for Fishing

Obviously, I’m skipping letters in this A-Z challenge. Oops.

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F is for Fishing.

I love fishing trips—spontaneous and planned. The “let’s leave the dirty dishes piled high in the sink and not mow the unsightly lawn for one more day” brand of spontaneity. Because it’s more important right now that we go fishing. It cures boredom and restlessness and bad days. It connects boyfriend and girlfriend and now husband and wife. Because our best talks were in our boat. And outside of it—in the actual lake—because one balmy summer night while coyly dangling my feet in the water, he dared me to jump in.  
I catch fish. This southern girl can bait her own hook and finesse a fish and take the fish off and is not afraid of minnows and worms and slime and stink bait. But I enjoy more than the excitement of a bite. I bask in warmth of sun. I exhilarate in cool refreshment of evening. I am calmed by the cure and quench of water, rocked like a lullaby.  
“F” is for fishing with friends on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons, the guys cleaning and filleting while Lyss and I discussed, with flour on our noses and hands coated in Kentucky Kernal, about what it meant to be the women of these men. And we danced to the sizzle of bass and blue gill. And we all feasted on tomatoes and asparagus casserole and golden fried fish and corn on the cob. And then we left dishes to go on a jeep ride. The stars. The love, the lightning bugs. The not caring about anything. Else. But the fish. And the vibrant memory. And the family you find in friends and lovers. And that fullness of life.  
Dale Hollow Lake. Realfoot. Okeechobee. Fly fishing in Gatlinburg. The Shale Pit. Rivers and lakes I don’t remember names of. The farm ponds. The fun drinks and scent of sweet cigar. The old sweatshirts when the wind turns breezy. The freckles sprinkled across my nose and cheeks from sun. Picnic tables and dinner prayers in the dark, bowed thankful faces illuminated by citronella candles. The faces of favorite people.   
And when we feel far away, either from home and friends and family or from one another, we grab the dog and the rod and reels and tackle box, we leave behind the un-mowed lawn and dirty dishes, and we explore new places to go fishing, to demonstrate the perfect cast, to dangle toes in water, to find the peace in water and one another.

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Do you have any favorite fishing memories? What does fishing mean to you?

Traveling Mercies

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 You are probably familiar with this quote by Hunter S. Thompson: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow! What a ride!’”
A few Sundays ago, I heard what I believe is the spiritual version of that journey to the grave. I know hymns. I know “It is Well with my Soul” which makes me cry and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” which always reminds me of Wesley Fellowship and convicts my prone-to-wandering heart. But I did not know the hymn “Am I Soldier of the Cross”:
“Must I be carried to the skies in flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas. Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood? Is this vile world a friend to grace, to help me on to God?”
 “Oh goodness, life is kind of swell,” I think, sitting here in my comfort, my husband-is-finally-home-now bliss. I don’t have a deadline. I don’t have a full time job. I don’t have hundreds of research papers to grade. I don’t have to drive an hour to work every day. Instead, I love sitting on the stoop with my dog and coffee and book while watching the cars drive Highway 20 on their way to work. But I don’t want that kind of ease every day. I realize that I want to fight. If we don’t endure—then what do we have to talk about? More importantly, what do I have to write about? Fluff. Sugar. Cotton candy. It’s the reason I can’t always write and must wait to feel the pain and the process. Because my faith is built on a rock and not the sand of grainy half-slobbered cotton candy fluff.
Sugar. The stuff that rots. The reason for cavities. I went to the dentist and did not have any (probably because one of my OCD tendencies is to brush my teeth five times a day). What my new dentist did find, however: huge tonsils that need to be removed and an under bite that not only has cosmetically always bothered me but also is believed to be the reason for some of my ear and head problems which will undoubtedly get worse. On our calendar? A trip to see a surgeon in Chicago and then perhaps another opinion at Mayo Clinic. I have a jaw that needs to be broken—slid back and rearranged. So fitting. What I need physically is what I need spiritually and what I can feel God beginning to do. I have two options. I can be upset like I usually am. I can distance myself. I can be mad about a long recovery. I can lament over another body part that does not feel fearfully and wonderfully made. Or I can say, as I’ve been reading in Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, “All is good; all is grace.” I can believe in His bizarre and perfect timing. And I do. I already know that God makes beauty out of ugly bruised knees and all the broken things.       
God also knew I needed a breaking-down of the complicated and chaotic mess I made of teaching. He knew I needed to re-learn what I lived backwards from the blessing of landing a teaching job before I had even graduated college and was thrown into delightful chaos. He knew this girl who would sit on the floor of her classroom until eight at night needed to be smacked in the head with some sense. She needed to learn how to be home-based instead of work-based. He knew I needed to be nudged along, taken by the hand and shown how to live, function, balance—needed to learn to see a day as an adventure and not an overwhelming lump of hours. I needed to learn how to be married, how to be an everyday wife whose heart is there even when she’s not necessarily home every day. I needed to find the strength and the joy that comes with the morning. He’s fixing my vision, too. He is slicing the cloudy cataracts of my perception until my eyes see light. And I know that this breaking and resetting and re-healing will make me into a healthier teacher, a more balanced being. If I’m ever a teacher again? I’ll be a better one by being rebuilt.
I am a substitute. Nothing is mine now. God knows I am so greedy–I can’t handle student hearts again. Not quite yet. I’m not allowed to take off the cast before the bone has fully mended. So I just trust. I trust the healing I can’t see going on beneath that hard encasement of plaster. The feeling is starting to come back, the numbness subsiding. I feel a hunger pang, strong after months of no appetite—this gnawing desire to go into every school and shake up learning. And it is all learning. Whether I substitute teach (and join in on) sixth grade pickle ball, high school Spanish, government, sociology, elementary music, sophomore health, or special education—it’s all learning. I find this simple joy in finally seeing what the human brain can do, something I so ironically had to leave behind in the beloved private Catholic 6.0 grade scale honor classes I taught in that Blue Ribbon school of absolute Excellence in order to see. I get to have an unbridled enthusiasm when four special needs kids understand fractions. Why? Because I finally understood fractions through helping them. Because I know what’s it like to be lost and then found. Because it’s a victory. Because we should celebrate fractions and synonyms and antonyms and homophones and the conjugation of Spanish verbs. I get to go back to my own ingrained, instinctive ideals of education before the years made me doubt myself. I have no planning to do and no control over where I go or what I teach, and it terrifies me. But with sweaty palms and uneven breath, I get to ask myself as I used to, “Did I put something good into this day? Did I help someone? Did I notice someone who might normally go unnoticed? Did they learn? Were they having fun? Was I? Did I let this lifesong sing?”    
Through subbing, I better understand my sixteen-year-old self, but I also look back at how ungrateful she could be. I find that most rural high school kids in Illinois feel that their schools suck. “Why would you move here? Why would you want to sub here?” they ask.  “We’re poor, can’t you see?” My favorite comments? “That’s just what it’s like here.” Sarcastically they say, “Welcome to (degradingly insert school name here).” But really? Their schools don’t suck. And I ashamedly look back and see that I was that girl too. I said those things. I thought those things. Subbing has taught me that I love minds. And hearts. And lives and souls. And waking up all of those. I love possibilities, hope. I am trying to open the cage in a place where they feel trapped. I even love people who are hard to love. Who am I? So different from whom I used to be. I am an educator who has become a better woman from quitting and leaving, from unclasping, unclenching. Palms open. Hands up. I am receiving the manna, the mystery, as daily bread and allowing it to nourish me.  
I found part of myself this weekend. We went home. We went home to Bradford pear trees, daffodils, pink dogwood, forsythia, bursting glory—uncontainable. Everything is memory. I sat up from my reclined position in the truck, suddenly awaked from my nap by the smell of home—air you want to drink. Josh had rolled down the windows. He was gazing at the strong, ancient southern Illinois trees and listening to the rhythm of oil wells and taking in the sight of a level landscape and all of that luscious green. And I knew the instant I woke up. I knew that three years ago in the middle of March in a field of green, beside a four-wheeler in the middle of a downpour of rain and grace and electric love, he asked me to turn around and was down on one knee. In northern Illinois, would I have remembered? Would I have tasted and savored that moment; would I have revisited ten years ago, too? Another rainstorm. Another springtime. Another green field. A love wild and new and daring and strong. 
Flashbacks. I grabbed for his hand more often while we were home this weekend. I stroked his hair, kissed his neck. Because that parking lot reminded me of us. And that road and that one. And that field, too. And that church. And that friend’s house. And that campfire. I felt the surprised relief of knowing that home actually does feel like home to me. Finally. Home does not change. But I had to. I laughed at the way he was always looking and looking, twisting his neck to look out the windows. Giddy, boyish, bright wide eyed, looking and looking. I looked, too, with new eyes at the familiar. And found the same kind of different beauty. He was more himself there, and I knew it. I cried later, back in the North, because I’m also attached to these hills. Can opposites—north and south—both house my heart? Can he find that same magnitude of joy with just me, the girl pulling the boat trailer and throwing miles between home and familiar and family and friends and us in the truck with a compass clearly pointing north? Yet his job is the reason we are here. Am I guilty for my good attitude or simply surprised by my peace in a new place? He’s more himself, but what am I? A woman who needs her husband to be himself more than she wants bookstores and coffee bars and art and sophistication. We went home to the bubbly enthusiasm of precious friends. Home to eager nephews with minnow buckets and fishing poles. We went home to Grandpa with a big so-glad-to-see-you grin and Grandma holding chocolate pie. Home to dreamsicle sunset. Home to late night kitchen talks with his mom about all of the important things. Home to his dad saying, “If you two ever have a daughter, she’ll be queen of my world. She’ll probably be queen of the whole world.” Family. Friends. Home.

We will be home for good someday in God’s bizarre and perfect time. I know this because I married a man who loves the South almost as much as he loves me. And although the world still feels bigger when I’m away from it and small when I’m back in it, God is working on my perception. Both here and there—I see light. Both here and there—God molds me, breaks me, and rearranges me. Both here and there—all is good, all is grace. And so is the journey in between.

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Decaf. Skinny. Extra Whip.

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Today I stepped inside every shop in Galena. I roamed into the popcorn store, the chocolate kitchens, and the spice shops just to breathe distinctive scents.  My senses: so awake lately. I browsed the boutiques and antiques and books. I ogled at art. I wanted to buy a purse the color of sunshine and wanted to fill my walls with the entire Kelly Rae Roberts collection. Instead, I bought Jovie a nice leather leash and some dog treats at a unique place called New Earth Animals. The owner was beautiful—exotic, with a heart for creatures and a voice of grace. She’s a writer, too, and she invited me to a gathering of the local writer’s guild. I felt that Godwink down to the soles of my feet.   

My senses, so accustomed to “flat,” bask in the beauty of a landscape that rolls and changes and flows. My black lab and I will explore the streams and bluffs which Josh and I discovered at the state park this weekend—the state park just seven miles from my door with its meandering paths where crossing over a bluff could mean you’ve placed your foot onto Wisconsin soil, but no official signs can say for certain. You know only you’re on the edge of beauty on either side.
I also live midpoint between my new two favorite cafes. They both boast tin-punch ceilings and an ambience that begs, “Write.” I ordered my caramel macchiato. Decaf, ma’am. Skinny. Sugar free. Extra whip, please. The barista smiled. I sat in my special nook and realized my coffee order describes me. An oxymoron. A contradiction. A….woman. A woman who can shoot a pistol, quote Shakespeare, catch bluegill, live lovely, love stubbornly. I am a woman who had to leave to find what she wants. I am a woman who can’t help that I need art, words, and culture. I need cafes and cobblestone pathways, fresh markets and bakeries. I need husband time; I need alone time. And I need sunshine and a creek and my dog. I need this melding of new and old, town and country, the midpoint. I need the freedom to indulge and luxuriate while living uninhibited and frugally. In this place I did not know I would be, I love wildly and stubbornly this life that is organic, authentic, free.