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: Womanhood

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.

Dance

Dance Quote @Crystal Chou Costello

via pinterest

This morning I had dance class. I take adult jazz and tap. I’m the youngest. The oldest ladies are late sixties or early seventies. Some of them can’t pivot-turn. Some can really cut a rug. I do not know these women well, but I adore them all. I love that we are women in every different stage of womanhood. I love that we warm up to songs by Jamie Grace and Toby Mac and Mandisa. “You’re an overcomer,” one song says. “I’m an overcomer,” I repeat to myself.  My dance teacher’s the type of person who radiates. I make myself go to dance class even when I feel dark.

I have not improved much in tap since I was a five-year-old in a bumblebee costume who ran off the stage because I forgot how to paradiddle and shuffle step, but I’m a decent jazz dancer. One of the jazz dance sequences today was clever—it involved some attitude and some groove and a hop. And it required a certain joy.  The movement felt good and spot-on, and so I laughed full and loud–a sound I hadn’t heard in a while, a sound my friend next to me said she loved to hear.

I felt high school dinner theater opening night-good. I felt closing ceremony of Dirty Dancing– good. I felt Susan Sarandon in Elizabethtown-good. Remember when she dances her beautiful tap dance routine during her husband’s memorial service? Remember her freely gliding across that stage? Her children don’t understand why she decided to take tap dance lessons so soon after their dad’s death, but she knew she needed to carpe diem. She allowed herself to feel good, to laugh, to dance in the middle of her grief. Through her grief. There’s a newly widowed lady in my dance class. She’s surely grieving, but she shows up every Tuesday.

She can’t pivot-turn.

I can’t tap dance.

I don’t know what I’m grieving, but I’m glad dance, movement, joy…..rescues us all.

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.

Just Get Used to It

You’ll get used to quick kisses at the screen door—the door that swings with the swing shifts, the door that shuts you inside. “Be safe,” you whisper compulsively. You’ll get used to seeing him asleep more than you see him awake. You’ll see him sprawled on the living room floor at six a.m., the theme song from Cops blaring from the television screen or the unmistakable voice of Unsolved Mysteries. He solves cold cases in his dreams. He can fall dead asleep to the sound of sirens. You’ll get used to camping out on a hand-me-down couch because you don’t want to sleep in a bed alone.

You’ll get used to the ten codes, the radio static. And right as you’re spooning up gravy and taking up a sizzling piece of fried chicken, and right as he lifts a piece of buttery corn on the cob to his mouth, he’ll get called to a domestic disturbance a few towns over. And you’ll be left with all your own desperate attempts of domesticity. You’ll get used to throwing out cold supper to the dogs.

“How was your night?” you’ll ask him. You’ll get used to his answers. He pulled his gun on a gang. He saw a dead man, saw his insides, saw his brain, saw his skull. He chased a criminal several miles through the woods. He busted drugs. Blood splattered on his uniform. Can you get the spot out? You’ll get used to it.     

You’ll get so used to the gadgets and gear that you’ll forget most people don’t have loaded guns in every room or a bulletproof vest plopped in the corner and the contents of the duty belt strewn across the floor. You’ll get used to seeing him in the crisp pressed pants and the buttoned shirt with the badge. You’ll get used to the whispers in public and the stares and the mix of tension and respect he gets when you walk with him into a room.  You’ll get used to a persona that’s always on duty even when he’s not in uniform.

You’ll get used to pulling into your driveway and sitting for too long in your car because you don’t want to go inside to another empty night in an empty house.

You’ll get used to going to church without his hand to hold. You’ll see the old man in the pew in front of you place his hand on his wife’s back, rub his thumb across her shoulder. You’ll swallow tears and hold up palms to God because you’re too choked to sing the benediction. “God,” you’ll say, realizing you don’t have to pretend. “God, I’m not used to any of it.”

Safe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nowhere and Somewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.       

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.