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: past

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.

Living Water

In the old southern farmhouse, the cistern once went bone-dry while I was in the shower with my head full of suds. I was mad. The dry cistern represented the heap of inconveniences I hated just like I hated his heap of dirty laundry on the floor. I despised setting mousetraps and killing spiders with my shoe. I loathed the tiny kitchen with no counter space to make a sandwich and hated the stove’s burners that quit in the middle of stirring the gravy, frying pork cutlets, boiling potatoes. I hated the stupid dead bush in the yard. I hated that he worked third shift and was never around to get rid of the stupid dead bush in the yard. You chose this, the dead bush mocked me. I chose this: marriage.

My mom tells the story of her first married Christmas with my dad. They lived in a tiny upstairs apartment. The Christmas tree toppled right on top of them on Christmas morning. Once, the grocery bags broke and tumbled down the three flights of stairs. My dad worked in a factory for nearly nothing. My mom worked in an office for even less. “We were poor. We had each other. We were happy as larks,” she says.

We had each other, too. Together, we hauled the water. And later, his arms encircled my waist while I washed the cups and scrubbed the frying pan. He turned me around, leaned me back for a kiss, got my shirt all wet with dishwater. I chose this. I chose it because it was worth the real passion, the country drives, the pink sunsets, the little sweet corn patch, the black-as-midnight Labrador I adored standing guard on the porch. We guarded marriage, would not let it topple-tumble-fall.

In this old northern brick house, his thumb strokes the length of my foot, sends a tingle down my spine. A stolen moment before bulletproof vest goes back on. He kisses me goodnight at two in the morning, stops in to say hello-goodbye to me while I’m at work at four in the afternoon. My heart still doesn’t know how to handle him in uniform—his shell I can’t quite get through. Handsome. Protective. Bravado.  I chose this, though moving has changed me—made me, all at the same time, brittle, broken, hardened.  I run errands solo, take walks by myself, attend a new church alone. I do not have a day-to-day companion. “I forgot to tell you,” We often share important bits of news three days late. No morning coffee, no evening programs, no nighttime prayers. Instead I’m carried through the day by faith knotted together by fidelity and a patient love, a love that cannot be self-serving.

“Don’t let the difficult circumstances dry up this marriage,” I pray. I kiss him hard, tell him to be safe. He is my one-person support system, and I have to share him because he protects the rest of the citizens, too.  I wait for the sounds of Velcro, the sigh as he takes off his duty belt, and the click of the radio cradled back into the charger. Then I can breathe again.

It’s all worth the sweet stolen moments, the organic love, the take-your-breath away hills and canyons, breakfasts at our favorite café,  the talks on the living room floor, the floppy-eared golden pup with paws too big for her body. Two Labradors now guard the yard while he’s at work. I watch the dogs from the window as I stand by the kitchen sink and stare at the faucet’s steady, gushing stream of living water.

Safe

You know that people do things differently in the South. They even die differently. Still, love strikes you. You work in a floral shop up north where the names aren’t familiar and the addresses are foreign. But when you walk in the flower shop at home to pick out the casket spray, you watch your mama get a good forty-five second hug. Because she lost her mama.

You ruin your vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, clean-eating, low-carb diet because people bring you casseroles. And cupcakes. And coffeecake. Southern love is always shown through food.

You discretely throw away dirty underwear and wash the sheets she died in and cups she drank from. You find her eyeglasses on the table. You water flowers because you don’t want them to die, too. You clean the toilet. The washrags crusted with blood. “Bless her heart,” your mom says as her face crumples. “She was in more pain than she ever let on.”

And the collection agencies and bill collectors continue to call. The phone rings. It does not stop. The abrasive cadence to your cleaning as you scrub sinks, pull sheets tight.  Mom holds the telephone to her ear. Listens for five seconds. Throws the phone back onto the receiver. Mimics their fake professional voices, “No Ms. Fewkes is not available. Ms. Fewkes is dead.”

Her house, which used to have tiny walkways through trash she hoarded, is sterile clean. No pictures or Bible verses or notes on the refrigerator. No purses with mildewed receipts in the pockets. No clothes of all styles and sizes spilling out of closets. No termites, no spiders. A toilet that functions. A shower that’s sturdy. Shiny appliances. Attention to detail. A brand new foundation, un-sunk.  It’s nice. And clean. You’re in awe of the work and the cleanliness should be comforting, but it is not. The house is empty. Gone is every little scrap that frustrated and annoyed you and boiled your blood.

I do not cry during the funeral song. “Mama Liked the Roses” only reminded me of grandma impersonating Elvis. The way she bent her knees and posed, stunningly like Marilyn Monroe, grooved to bluesy melodies, called the king a ‘hunky hunk.’ And I heard floating memories of the song that was ours: “I love you. A bushel and a peck. A bushel and a peck and a hug around your neck.”

Silly, beautiful, loving woman. A barrel and a heap of crazy and kind and crazy-kind. And you are your mother’s mother’s granddaughter.

“You’re special,” she said two months ago on the last day you saw her. She tucked it between, “You look just like your mom” and “I like Ashley’s fiancé” and “I’m so glad Kaci didn’t get hurt in that wreck” and “You tell your sister to be careful goin’ to Evansville.” But you heard it—the thing you most needed to hear that day. And remember the rest of your life. You knew somewhere deep that those would be her last words to you. She validates you, still, just as she did after every awkward day of junior high school.

You do not cry until you feel the weight of her gray casket. Until the graveyard part of the service abruptly ends. The end? This wasn’t supposed to be the end. She was supposed to get more life to live. Better life. Better. You look back.  You glance back again, again. Gray casket. Red rose petals in your hand.

“Be careful,” you hear her voice. The tears roll. Finally. The relief. Because you realize she’s the one who is finally free from fear. She’s not merely pain-free.  She is worry-free.  She is safe. Safe and filled. With better life.

Boxed Contentment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The street? It smells like sewer and it floods.

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

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

M is for Misunderstood

In high school English, we made an acrostic with the letters of our names. Probably a first day of school activity or something. You know, A stands for “awesome” and “amazing.” P stands for pretty and popular, R stands for remarkable or radiant or risk-taker. And so on for whatever your mother named you.

I thought all of those adjectives were stupid. I took this assignment seriously. I was after all, defining myself. Oh the pressure. And the thrill. While I don’t fully remember the rest of the adjectives used to describe the other letters of my own name, I remember the first letter–the M. M always stood for misunderstood. Misunderstood Melissa. “Good word,” my favorite teacher said. Different. Interesting. Creative.

I love Billy Collins’ Introduction to Poetry. The poet-teacher is frustrated because the students automatically want to tie the poem to a chair and torture a confession out of it. Much is missed. by trying to find all answers, by assuming, by jumping the gun. by a one-explanation-fits-all mentality.

by not holding it up to the Light. not taking the time to meander the life maze.

And I am frustrated, too. We cannot catch the Holy Ghost in a paper sack. We cannot label these misunderstood mysteries. Cannot call disappointment sin.  Cannot beat it with a stick. Cannot capture. Cannot wear and hold its power or pain on a cross around our throats.

Or in a behavioral analysis diagram.

Therapy takes time. Can mean something new at different stages just as an old poem can bring new ideas to life. You must sift. Revisit. Sift again.

I brought the misunderstood jagged pieces and scraps to my appointment. Reopened the old sea salt-weathered satchel. Heaped it all up like a sandcastle wailing wall. Stuffed half-prayers into crevices.

Ta-da, empathetic therapists and educated doctors. I want to be well. I’ll take the help. I used to be good, I want them to believe. I used to be very vivacious, impressive.

But I wonder which one was real? The manic? The depressive? The pushed through the panic? The misunderstood. Sift and find me, won’t you? Just in case there’s gold. pearl. treasure.

I want to be well, and,

right now…this is all I can do. I cannot be good or impressive. But I can survive. With the help of diet coke and white and yellow pills and good coffee in the morning and solid soul-advice and a too-good husband.

And this the glamour of surviving:

I sit in front of the space heater cocooned in blankets. I do not move from heat. No heat is bad.

I pick up my puppy, Gracie, and zip her in my coat. Because she’s alone and cold and confused. She burrows there in the crook of my neck. Tiny claws securing skin. And I need grace close to my heart. And her mama with the name that means joy by my side. So I keep the dogs close. Attached.

I re-read a lot of Anne Lamott because she’s neurotic and funny and honest and faith-filled in a way that doesn’t make me gag.

And I read a lot of WordPress to feel less alone.

I don’t wash the dishes in the sink. I don’t put away the laundry hanging haphazardly from the chair.

Afraid to be alone. Afraid in my bones. Afraid of myself. Afraid of people. Afraid to watch him walk out the door. To go to work. To go to the garage. To pick up the mail.

I drink enough to warm the insides and I sleep. And then wake up at 3 in the morning. To take the hottest bath. To see if I can shock the body into calm. And I burn. The curse is too much fire in the veins.

The curses are the raw burns on the forearms from the iron and the glue gun and the curling wand because I like the sensations and the tingle and the warmth. The warmth that takes away the tremble and the mind’s chaos and the ringing and the body’s disarray.

This is what it looks like when it’s sunny and finally April and still thirty degrees. Almost. The dreadful almost. The waiting.

I accept your triple-layered diagnosis. And the labels. And the stigmas. I will accept them in order to dignify them. Because dignifying, affirming, validating, facing truth–makes humanity more human. My life-song mission. And I will use this season of survival. And I will teach again someday with even more dignity. If they let me. Because, see, I am not less. I am more. So I will wait. Because the time will pass.

And someday I will offer scar-burned arms in an embrace. And I will bare bruised-up knees. I will tell a thousand daughters that beneath this weakness and this damage and this fragility is a strong and brutal beauty.

And I will use it.

Expose

in order to

dignify

and teach

and

tell.

And someday the daughters will come out from under the covers

and do more

than survive.

They will live

honest

and

dignified.

Blue Roses

If roses were blue

If violets were red

If dogs were cats spotted instead

If fish had wings and very long tails

If the sky was yellow and jiggled like jello

If the grass was orange

Bright, bright orange….

Would it bother me?

Not a bit.

Melissa Knackmuhs, Age 8

My dad found this poem while digging through old photographs for his father’s funeral. I doubt he found many photos because I don’t remember the gruff old man smiling much (or ever speaking to me). I also don’t remember writing this poem.

But maybe these lines are more than nonsense because I was probably pretty deep and wise at the ripe age of eight. I don’t remember any anxiety at eight-years-old. I was probably my truest self. I’d like to somehow get back to her.

At some age older than eight, I began to have trouble distinguishing the right things I felt in my heart vs. judgment and opinions and wanting to constantly please people. The little girl who didn’t care what color sky and animals and grass are (because all colors are beautiful) turned into a control freak with worries and rituals and attacks of total dread.

I grew up hearing statements such as: They are too young to start a family. He shouldn’t buy that. She shouldn’t have changed her hair. They shouldn’t live there. She shouldn’t marry outside her race. He shouldn’t work there. She shouldn’t quit college. They shouldn’t do that.    

Granted, some of these statements were very true. Some were not. Regardless, people get to do whatever they want to do with their own lives. Why should we care if roses aren’t red? And who are we to judge a yellow sky, a spotted dog-cat?    

 I try to retrain my brain, wash it clean from parent opinions and good intentions and people’s expectations and stone-throwers and dirty looks and disapproving thoughts and narrow minds.  

And I keep thinking of myself, shut off, communication cut, curled in ball. Sick in stomach.  Droplets bleeding down my legs. Because the flowers were late. The roses not red. Angry stranger screaming. Banging down door. It’s Valentine’s Day. Not pleased. The flowers were late. The roses not red.    

My parents never listened to me. They said, “If we don’t like him, you can’t love him.” They said, “Honor your father and mother.” They claimed God told them we shouldn’t be together. I told them God shows me daily why he was chosen for me.

My dad said he thinks I’m not being myself, who I was raised to be. He says he thinks I’m going through a hard time. He will “pray for me.”

I want to tell him there’s a big difference between You’re being a bad girl so Lord Jesus let us pray

and what a precious friends asks when she gets out her notebook, asks how are you doing spiritually? How can I pray for you while you pray for me?

I want to tell him he’s never understood my relationship with my Jesus. And I don’t like when people think they know more about that relationship than I do. And I’d like to let him listen to this husband of mine with all of his faults as he holds my hands firmly and stops the screaming world and bows his head while I stare with all my faults into my plate and relearn how to at least be thankful for daily bread.

I have to tell myself it’s okay not to drive to a stranger-grandfather’s funeral because I don’t want to. It’s okay to feel no emotion at the news of his death.

I have to tell myself, Melissa, writer-woman-warrior, it’s okay to write the honeyed harmony of life and also life unsweetened. And they are both truths. Truths. Your birthright. You write. You’ve done it since you were eight. Child, be not afraid.

I have to hush their deafening voices as I squeak to my doctor about trying therapy because as moods shift and plans change and seasons swing and moves occur and the noise starts and relationships alter and violets go red and roses turn blue, I want to get to the point where I can say…

Would it bother me? If His plan is not my plan? If I simply cannot please them. If not everyone agrees, is pleased? If grass was bright, bright orange? Would it bother me?

Not a bit.   

A Room of My Own Update

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

Quarter-life Crisis

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

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

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

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

Unravelling

For a few weeks, I haven’t been able to sleep. And when I do, I drift into dreams of cleaning out never-ending closets. Throwing items out. Always purging. And I dream of getting lost in a huge school, always arriving to classrooms after the bell. Where sometimes I’m the teacher who can’t control the class. And sometimes I’m the student who can’t find room 413 or the gym and can’t remember my locker combination. It’s back-to-school time, the world announces. And I’m simultaneously relieved and in a fitful panic. And sad. Just sad. Afraid I wasn’t as thankful as I should have been. Afraid there’s something, must be something wrong with me.  

My friend who understands me tells me this time is healing time. The healing season. So I’m surrounded by healing flowers. Healing music. I sip healing coffee. I brew tea to warm my insides.  And I unravel; slowly uncoil all of the knots of expectations and money and careers and questions of purposes and principles and disappointments and aches for a classroom. My classroom. For home. For a baby. For time. For who I thought I’d become. And as I unravel, I can breathe deep enough again.

And I see so clearly that things are better when I’m outside. When we’re grilling. Eating real food. When my dog’s by my side. When Josh and I are playful with each other. Smiling. When we kiss straight on the mouth. Again, again. Kitchen smooches. Tid-bits of gratitude. His hand finds mine. Or my shoulders, my thigh, my feet. When the air feels alive with magic and autumn. Acoustic hymns and good Pandora stations. When I’m creating. Anything. I like the struggle of the creating—the birth of the idea.  

And I like when I hear kids in my yard. Giggles. And happy barks from my dog finally getting attention. And I watch the dance. The end of summer dance. From my window.  While I’m cooking spaghetti and Josh stops at home for dinner. And I’m smiling. And words come again. Uninhibited. Finally loose enough to laugh. And I let go of the ache just long enough to dance again too.   

the one where i write about going home. and coming back.

click on the link, ya’ll. Wide Open Spaces:
http://www.lafamily.com/life-after-college/imperfectly-grand/wide-open-spaces