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: seasons

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.

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.   

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...

Because it’s ok to need…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We all need real light.

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

For My Tigers

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

Dear Almost-Graduates,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Your Mama K ❤

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.

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.

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.    

Flowers and Students

Flowers and students.

 The comparison has been mulling in my mind since I started working at the flower shop. The first contrast I noticed: Flowers don’t talk back. Flowers smell nicer than high school boys who have English class right after P.E. Flowers don’t produce heaps of papers to grade. Flowers don’t trigger panic attacks—well, not usually. But the similarities between flowers and students go much deeper than their differences.  

In a few days, I’ll have the privilege of catching up with a friend who is a young, first-year, full-time high school English teacher. She also has a long commute. She’s also a newlywed. And I would not trade spots with her. The term “zombie” comes to mind when I describe myself in those days. And currently, I feel pretty peaceful in this season and supremely lucky to work for and with the people I’ve met.

 I feel lucky to still create atmosphere and to create an experience (which was always one of my favorite parts of teaching).

I feel lucky to still put good ideas to use.

To still learn.  

 To come home and still have energy. (This concept is a new one).

 To enjoy my husband. (The best perk of it all).

 Lucky to have freedom and flexibility.

 To enjoy my “me” time. It feels like a selfish season, almost. But I will embrace it. I will store it up. I will remember it fondly when kids are screaming and I don’t have enough time to even take a peaceful shower. I will remember. As I walk around the shop and shower the plants that don’t talk back.  

I talk back to God’s plan, His seasons. What a trap. September and we’re so ready for autumn (my favorite, I admit) that we’ve dismissed the blessings of summer. So ready for autumn and so afraid of winter. And already dreaming of spring. Stop. Sip. Drink it in. Every season has its beauty.   

 But I’ll also tell my friend that what she’s doing—teaching– is the most fulfilling reward in the world. And that fulfillment still carries me. And when I visit my Memorial, too, while I am home—I will cry. I will cry the whole time. At the first regal sight of the building. At the sight of their faces. At the last hug goodbye. At God’s plan that I don’t understand.

Then I will return to creating. God creates beautiful flowers; God creates beautiful kids. Teachers and florists simply attempt to arrange, tweak, and enhance what is already there and already beautiful. Former students and current kids I tutor, you had it in you all along, loves. You just needed the confidence to become you. Teachers and florists pour faith into their “arrangements.” We pour love. Time. Creativity. Hope. We hope our arrangements are used for good purposes. Exciting ones. We pray they don’t wilt. We also know how much they bless others. They just have to get out of the display case and out of that big cooler in the back. We have to let them go. Go. To the hospital rooms of the sick. To the weddings. To the anniversary events. To the restaurant where the boy’s crush works. To the families of the grieving. To the business of the one who feared she was forgotten on her birthday. To your table. To splash a dark time with color. To say you’re sorry. And Thank you. and Just Because and You are Loved.

Purposes. They aren’t always used for the big things. But every purpose? Every season? Important. Perfect. Meaningful. Beautiful. Just as it should be.