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: Teaching

Red Reading Glasses

In college, I didn’t have many clothes. I snuggled into UE hoodies and high school jeans and old tennis shoes. Everyone else in the classroom equally looked they’d just rolled out of bed. So it was fine, until the weekend when everyone transformed into glamorous movie stars. I borrowed a dress that didn’t fit me to attend a semi-formal. And because I had smaller feet than all my friends, I wore my own clunky size fives that didn’t match the dress. I looked like a contestant on “What Not to Wear.” I always looked out-of-place at the fraternity house parties or when friends convinced me to go out. I looked out-of-place because I wasn’t the kind of girl who went out, and therefore, I did not have that short skirt, strappy heel wardrobe. I just couldn’t play the part—especially not on Halloween weekend surrounded by naughty nurses and sexy firefighters and Playboy bunnies and Hooters waitresses.

Not playing that part was okay with me, though. I wanted to be like my writing professor who wore a lot of basic black and perfect lipstick and chic red reading glasses. She was a professor, a writer, a traveler, and a speaker. I wanted to be her. In fact, I desperately wanted a pair of red reading glasses although my vision was perfectly fine.

When I go crazy, I usually do something drastic. Or change my hair. When I moved seven hours away from my home and my teaching job, I went back blonde. Then I chopped it all off.  Then I got rid of all my teaching clothes. See, I was the best dressed teacher. I wore my title proudly. I accessorized. I enjoyed the click, click of my heels on the hard floor. I was a professional working woman. I was a fashionista. I finally had the money to buy the clothes to play the part.

“Your closet must be so big!”

“Great outfit.”

“Mrs. Knackmuhs, I love your dress.”

“You always look so cute.”

“How do you always manage to look so put together?”

I liked the attention from students. And I hoped, in a private school where students noticed fresh manicures and new highlights and the subtle glow from a tanning session, that having a fresh manicure and highlights and a subtle glow might get them to listen to me about Shakespeare and kindness and life and how not to be superficial and stuff. Meanwhile, shopping was my hobby. I went several times a week.

When I no longer taught, I no longer had an identity. I no longer had a part to play. In a wild fury, I flung the pencil skirts and the dress pants and the blouses and the blazers and the cardigans and the heels out of my closet. I took all of the beautiful professional clothing to the consignment shop. “You do not get to be the woman you used to be,” I told myself.  “Stop pretending nothing’s changed. Everything has changed.” I stopped shopping. I wore UE hoodies and jeans from high school. I wore leggings and yoga pants. I looked out-of-place. I stopped looking into mirrors. Yes, I was voted most likely to look in the mirror in high school, but I went back to being an eligible candidate for “What Not to Wear.”

When my mom came to visit me recently, she thought shopping would cheer me up (ha!). We went into Maurices (an old favorite store of mine), and she immediately found an outfit that would be perfect for her job at a law firm. She looked pretty and professional and powerful and confident. I started to tear up because I had no reason to shop in the professional clothing department. I had no reason to look pretty, professional, powerful, and confident. I locked myself in the dressing room and stared at myself in the mirror. Who am I? And what do I wear?

I’ve started going into stores by myself again. It’s a step. But I always talk myself out of buying. I think, “Where would I wear that? It doesn’t quite fit right. If I don’t buy this shirt, I could buy more groceries. I don’t earn enough to buy new clothes. This material doesn’t feel warm enough. 100% cotton? Hand wash only? Is this outfit really me? This shirt feels too ‘special’ for me, for my life.” I walk out of stores empty-handed. I walk out of stores knowing that my identity is not inside a shopping mall. I start my car, I put on my red sunglasses, and I go home to change into yoga pants and brew some peppermint tea and write. And I dream of someday needing a wardrobe fit for a traveler-speaker-professor-writer.

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...

For My Tigers

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

Dear Almost-Graduates,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love, Your Mama K ❤

Kicking at the Sides of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Attachment

My Labrador, Jovie, nurtures nine joyful puppies. Four yellows, three chocolates, two blacks.

I have secret names for them all–Biscuit, Nugget, Nella, Scout, Boo, Georgie, Pip, Sassafras, and Honeysuckle–just as I have human names for real children. Just as I remember every student I had by name. I cannot call the nine-day-old dogs Pup 1, Pup 2, Pup 3. I couldn’t even discipline their mama when she was a pup.

Because I wanted her to love me best. I wanted to be her favorite. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

I check on them, I do. But not every hour like husband does.

See, I’m more in awe of mama instincts. The delivery process. The bath-time licks and constant nursing. The arranging and rearranging and safekeeping and keeping warm. Instincts I don’t know if I possess because I’m so inside my own head. Because when I don’t know what to do I go into shutdown mode.

I see more of me when mama barrels out of whelping box, finally free. Poor thing needs a little space.

But as soon as she hears the yips and yelps, she returns. Puts up her paws. Waits for me to hoist  her up–back to her babes.

Mama dog is calmer now. Rests her chin on my knee. She’s a little blue. Exhausting, pouring out love. Somehow she must know six more weeks are all we get.

I can tell you which one has a little white stripe on its chest, which one looks most like its mama, which one has a tiny patch on its paw, which one is chubbiest, and which three pink noses are turning brown.

I can also say I want to be indifferent.

Because I do not get to keep.

Because with investment comes the inevitable process of detachment.

And to me, there’s not much difference between puppies and places and friendships and children and students.

Scared and Sacred and Getting Over Ourselves

I was reminded today that scared and sacred are almost the same word…and often the same experience. I asked my genius-girl, “Did you hate today?”

 “No.”

 “Was today hard?”

 “Yes.”

She makes eye contact. We see glass-clear reflections of ourselves.  

 I’m so glad she didn’t hate this scared, sacred day. We broke it down today. The elements of speaking, communicating, why God gave us words and voices. And specific circumstances where talking is necessary. We both have much going on in our brains. And we both only let out a fraction of it.  

I told my brilliant, beautiful girl I had some hidden years. I call them junior high. Who knew all those hidden days would be so relevant? Who knew I would draw from them often and reference that time again, again. A sort of testimony. Bulbs under snow. The frozen ground, the not wanting to become…was part of the becoming. Those hidden years? They weren’t about me. They were bigger than me.

Through the years, students have told me that their goal of fill-in-the-blank was too hard. Too hard? So I hold out my sweat-drenched shaky icicle hands for them to see. I show them stains of sweat. I line up the pill bottles in a neat little row.   

“Even you?” They ask. “Why?”

“Because speaking to you and teaching you is a worthwhile, purposeful thing. And it makes me nervous”  

I made the confidence of so many girls my mission. Now they write me to say they are studying abroad, they are running marathons, they are working for dream companies, they are making new friends, they are stepping outside their own boxes. They are doing a hundred things I’m still too afraid to do.

So when I hear a girl make noises in that squeaky, I’m-too-afraid-to-breathe-because-I-don’t-know-if- I- deserve- air kind of way…that voice scrapes my heart.  

I will fight for you against that hesitation and inferiority. I will push. But I will not push in a way that breaks you and makes you want to crumple to the floor in a heap. I’m proof of plenty of tactics that didn’t quite work.

In college, an education professor made me yell as loud as I could and told me to practice my teacher voice while I was driving in my car. I hope I busted his dear little eardrum. After class, I rolled my eyes. I guess he didn’t know I led basketball cheers, sang solos, performed on stages, blared, resounded, boomed. You know, in the name of theatre.

But he did know, he must have known that some deep part of me still did not believe I had any merit. I did not believe in everyday, daily-life me. “You apologize too much,” he said. “Why are you always apologizing?”

I caught myself apologizing a few days ago. I was positive peer-pressured into posing for the flower shop’s sister company clothing store photo shoot.

 “But I’m pasty winter-white! My hair will be messy unless it’s professionally smoothed and straightened! I have an underbite and don’t smile right! My cheeks still have babyfat! My triceps are flabby! I have no boobs and a rear that is too bootylicious for pattered skinny jeans! My sister’s an actual model…let’s wait until next month when she visits over spring break and she will rock these outfits! I’m out of the habit of wearing foundation!”
(Side note: Life feels more about survival than sparkle and gloss here in the tundra, more functional than feminine. The husband prefers au natural and I have zero people to compete with/compare myself to because the tundra is not located in Edwards County. So that’s what I mean when I say Girl is plumb out of the habit).
I mentally continued on my self-destructive rampage, “I never learned proper eye shadow application! My nail polish is always chipped! I’m bad at being a girl! I’m only 5’4”! Out of a hundred senior picture poses, I only have one photo that wasn’t awkward! I’m like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights who doesn’t know what to do with his hands!”
Then I realized it’s not about me. It was about letting the customers see how the clothes fit. And about helping the company. And that’s bigger than my hang-ups and hitches. And why was I apologizing for natural in the first place?

Let’s stop apologizing, shall we?

For who we are, for what we do, for what we look like when we don’t try or we do try, for being women, for having voices, for having thoughts, for having opinions.

 
Stop being scared little birds.

I think God wants us to get over ourselves.

Because the scared experiences are also the sacred ones.

Lot’s Wife

I received my “important tax document” in the mail from Reitz Memorial High School a few days ago. I gasped. I remembered. Exactly a year ago, I moved eight hours north after teaching my very last January. A year ago? Already? Only? I often think about those change-of-the-semester students I only knew for one month. I hope they understand why I was so guarded and did not invest in them as I should have. I hope the students who still write me know how much they are loved. How sometimes it’s too hard to respond. I think about my children who are seniors. My babies who will be seniors next year. My AP and Themes class young adults who are graduating college. And I’m still stuck in a love affair with their brains and creativity, their human stories and their souls.

Memorial High School was not Sodom or Gomorrah. Other than a couple of perverted boys who took pictures up my skirt, some bullies and some mean girls all high schools are allotted, a former principal who drove us all mad, and a few classes straight out of Hades, I know I can find more than ten righteous people in that place. Hundreds more.  

 But God’s plan was to take me to a different land with my husband, a foreign strange land with different opportunities. And I am the nameless wife. Because I lusted after a former life I made an idol. In looking back, I turned into a pillar. A statue of salt. Unmoving. Stuck.

In the book Mended by Angie Smith, the author dropped a pitcher on the floor. On purpose. Then she hot-glued the pieces back together. The result wasn’t pretty, but the pitcher was mended. Shattered and mended and changed.

Changed. When one is a frozen salt pillar, one has plenty of time to think. So I thought about how I’ve changed. And what it means to be a wife.

I learned how to infuse gratitude into each little granule of salt-statue-me.

I never liked that Lot guy. He never tried to shake his wife back to life. My own husband? He would have knocked down the pillar. Collected every particle, every tiny grain. He would have poured the remnants in his pocket for safekeeping before fleeing. Leave no comrade behind. Even one appearing lifeless. Even in spite of my sin. Even when I’m wild-eyed, all fight and flight and stumbling sideways and looking back.        

But we journeyed forward. I put all the pieces of me back together best I could with masking tape and an old half dried-out glue stick. I have many rough places. Cracks. Holes. Gaps. They allow light in; they let love and soul and honesty and truth pour out. And sometimes I dump out a little salt from my shoes, shake out a little salt still stuck in my hair. As a reminder that I am seasoned by so much grace.         

Heart on a Plate

 

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

 

 

 

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