the best I can do

I often feel inadequate or unworthy because I’m not bringing home a full-time, steady paycheck. I work at least two jobs a week, sometimes more, but still feel like I could/should be doing more. Every Wednesday morning I go to Community Bible Study for two hours, and I often feel guilty about that. Time is money, and Jesus ain’t payin me to read 1 John chapter 5 this week. But today I was reminded by my wise CBS core group leader that the best thing I can do for my family is to spend time with Jesus and study His Word. The best thing I can do is forget what my financial contribution is sometimes but always remember my value is found in the Lord. The best thing I can do is seek richness in spirit, not in wealth.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read 1 John chapter 5 and sip my $6 wine thankyouverymuch.

9:15 pm in the summer

The trees are dark shapes that look more like the blackest clouds. The sky is that perfect indigo blue with just a little bit of glow as the sun disappears. It's not too dark yet but all the buildings are already lit up. Street lights sparkle. Cicadas sing. The heat dies a little and lets a cool(ish) breeze float through it. Everything is still. Even on a busy street, the night feels still. As I walk inside, I can hear people laughing as they stroll down the street together. Distant sirens break through a few times, competing with the quiet. Air conditioning units hum, working hard.

It's the perfect night for a sad song. A song about ailment, about pain, about memories, about dying. About grieving. About little moments that stick out with that person for no particular reason. Those little moments that no one else would remember or even think significant. Those sensory details feeling as real as they did that day.

There's something about night drives that calms but also antagonizes. They never seem to be long enough, but if I keep going, I'm just wallowing. Night drives never bring resolution. They just prompt the fountain of emotions always hiding right beneath the surface, ready to bubble up at any moment, whether provoked or not. Crying helps, but makes it worse. It releases, but suffocates. The other side of crying always leaves me overwhelmed but too spent to do anything about it. My mind feels the frustration but refuses to confront it. It's kind of like sitting on the beach with your chair positioned just close enough for the waves to hit your feet. But then the water keep inching closer with each reach away from itself. You want to get up and move your chair back, but ugh. You already placed it perfectly once, it's too much trouble to do it again. So you either give up and go back to the dry sand, or you give up and let the waves cover you more and more.

I'm dreaming of colder days. Bundling up feels safe. Warm drinks, snuggled with someone feels right. The rush of cool on your face when you go outside, invigorating. Those are my days. October, November, you are too far away. So I guess for right now, it's just me and Sufjan at 9:15 pm in the summer.

04 | let us be good to one another

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My mom died on May 7th, 2014. Monday marked four years. I often get the urge to go visit her grave, but being that it is 40 minutes away, I usually talk myself out of it. Traffic, you know? But yesterday, we went. Dad, Grandmama, and I went to see Mom. And just like every time since the burial, I expected to feel something, but I just... didn't. It feels so detached. It's just her name on the ground. I might as well be looking at any of the other hundreds surrounding hers. I did, actually. And felt about the same looking at their names. I spent a few minutes judging headstones like outfits. Any excuse to feel superior, I guess. Don't get me wrong, it hurts. But knowing that her body is down below my feet just doesn't seem real. It could just as easily be the bones of King Tut himself in my mind. 

I ate two macarons from the French restaurant Mom loved and imagined sharing them with her. Well, I imagined her having two as well, so we didn't have to share. That's usually how it went with things like macarons or donuts. I think she'd really like the lavender one that's my favorite. I think she'd speak with a little French accent to me after the woman behind the counter said "Merci, au revoir." We'd have a good little giggle. If she had been with us at the gravesite (I know, I know, bear with me), she probably would've said something about the humidity and definitely would have been sneezing the whole time due to allergies. She'd pull out one of hundreds of half-used tissues from her purse or pockets. She'd have big sunglasses on, a red-orange sleeveless shirt, white pleated shorts, a festive, colorful belt, and some sandals. Lots of clinking bracelets and bangles, a watch, dangley earrings. Maybe a big necklace. Big rings. Always with the big rings. She'd stand beside me and put one arm around me and hug me real tight while telling me she loves me. I'd probably make a joke that would make her look at me with her patented "I shouldn't be laughing because that was inappropriate but it was pretty funny" look, like when I (JOKINGLY) asked for a margarita at home one time before I turned 21. If it weren't a gravesite, she probably would have made us all take a picture together. She and Grandmama would've talked about "the monument" in small-town Alabama where a lot of my family is from. We would've talked about old relatives who have now passed on. All the funny stories, all the sad ones, all the tales that would rival a Faulkner novel with their southern gothic, twisted darkness. Those kind of stories exist, boys and girls.

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But she didn't do any of that. She's still down below in a casket covered by a concrete slab and dirt and grass. So we stood there, Dad, Grandmama, and I, looking at the headstone. Dad made a joke about the HEADstone. We cleared off branches and dirt so you could see her name and the marble trim. We looked into the woods behind the gravesite. We sat on someone else's memorial bench, just as Mom suggested. We looked at all of the Bible verses on the headstone and Dad talked about the significance of each one and their placement. I thought about her drinking coffee on the back porch, reading her Bible every morning. I thought about the voicemails I still have saved so I can hear her voice again. Grandmama said, "It's not too long before the rest of us will be up there with you, Laura. We'll see you soon. Have a place ready for us." We talked about how time seems so slow and agonizing here between her death and now and when we can finally join her, and how she's in a place that's free of time. All of this looks different to her. She's not waiting around for us like we're waiting to join her. For her it will feel like no time at all. For us it feels, ironically, like an eternity before we'll see her bright, beautiful, shining face in front of us again. 

I found a picture this morning that she had taken on her phone not long before she died. It was a picture of herself, smiling, with no hair. Calling it a selfie seems so wrong on so many levels, so we'll go with self-portrait. She looks out of proportion. She looks not right. Because she wasn't right. May 7th told us that.

I've heard of people who have dreams of their deceased loved ones where they come back long enough to leave them with some peace and comfort, some final words that couldn't be breathed in their lifetime. In all the dreams I've had of her since she died, she's disappointed in me, or annoyed with me, or angry at me. I won't get into the psychology of that right now. But Monday night before I went to sleep I begged God for a dream like that. I pleaded with Him that He would send my mama down to me one more time to love on me and say something to me. Anything. But that dream, that reach from the beyond, didn't happen. I woke up yesterday, and today, stuck in the same pattern I carry out each day.

It would be hard to reckon with that, with God's seeming distance, his holding me away at arm's length, except for C.S. Lewis. Most days I remember this little passage from The Magician's Nephew from The Chronicles of Narnia

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Up till then he had been looking at the Lion's great front feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion's eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory's own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself. "My son, my son," said Aslan. "I know. Grief is great. Only you and I in this land know that yet. Let us be good to one another.”

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I'm reminded by that and recently by a friend that God cries with us. Our pain is His pain. I can't say why He allows things to happen, but I take comfort in knowing that as much as I ache, He does even more.

All good

The Apostles Creed says:  

Jesus “Was crucified, dead, and buried:

He descended into hell;

The third day he rose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;”

 

I was thinking about this. The cross was brutal, Jesus cried out for mercy, then he died. Then he went to Hell. Things were bad for Him on the cross.  THEN IT GOT WORSE. Then a few days later, all good. 

 

I need this reminder that crying out for help or mercy doesn’t mean tomorrow is better. Tomorrow might be way worse, but for a good reason. 

Yeah but she has a great personality

I spent the majority of today taking personality tests. Although I do occasionally check in on that Myers-Briggs just to see if anything's changed, I was actually asked to do this by somebody else for an actual purpose. That's pretty irrelevant to the rest of this post though.

Becoming a student of myself has been tricky for me. Trying to observe my motivations, thoughts, feelings, actions, etc. is SO helpful in diagnosing problems-mentally, physically, emotionally- but can also, for my personality type, translate into self-absorption and wallowing. But at its best, answering those questions, rating my affinities toward different feelings and thoughts, following gut answers rather than taking an hour to overthink every decision, self-analysis can be really, really fascinating. Also a little insulting. At times inspiring. With little sprinkles of "oh great, there's no hope for me at all."

I MEAN. LOOK AT THIS. 

ENNEAGRAM TYPE 4. THE INDIVIDUALIST. The sensitive, introspective type: expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, and temperamental.

It takes awhile to get to the positives. And I can't even argue that it's not accurate. 

I'm also INFJ. I don't know enough about it all to really expand beyond that.

But I had a great time reading these things! (Of course.) I also took one to determine my five greatest strengths but that feels a little braggy so I won't get into that. But reading about yourself, or at least a psychological label for yourself, can be really helpful. I know that I have trouble following through on things. I'm an initiator, not so much a finisher. But reading that description along with the things I am capable of gives a specific space and time to think about how to engage your strengths and challenge your weaknesses. You can accept something about yourself, but that doesn't mean you can use it as an excuse or indulge in it.

Anyway, as a type 4 INFJ with specific strengths (and weaknesses), I find it all fascinating. So leave a comment and tell me your type! I will read about it and judge you. No! But I do like to learn and know my people better.

Plus, I feel like I'm in good company. Apparently I share an enneagram type with the following: Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Jackie O, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Frank, Isak Dinesen, Frida Kahlo, Diane Arbus, Martha Graham, Cindy Sherman, Cat Stevens, Cher, Prince, Feist (should I take on a single-name persona?), Florence Welch, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen, Winona Ryder, Kate Winslet, Nicholas Cage (LOL), and others.

I'll take 'em.

03

As today marks three years since my mom died, I've been in a very deep darkness lately. This time of year always proves harder than I think. While others see life, fresh flowers, green, sunshine, warmth, I see darkness, death, decay, and blooming gardenias that remind me that my mom can't clip them and keep them in a little glass by the kitchen sink anymore. Any sweet-smelling breeze reminds me of her. Every garden, I see her kneeling by a flower bed like every spring Saturday morning of my life. I put a tissue in my purse because of allergies, and I remember how she always had the worst allergies and tissues would fly out of her purse every time she pulled her wallet out. I found a couple of her purses the other day. Every single one of them had tissues in them. A nail file. Loose change. Old receipts. Like she wasn't even gone, I was just sneaking her purse out to borrow it.

And today, I remember the 3 am trip to the hospital, even though looking into her eyes, we all knew she was gone. When it was confirmed and we went into the room where her body was, she was unrecognizable. Not only because of the cancer and chemo, but the absence of spirit. I know my mama's face, and it wasn't there anymore. Any time I hear a siren, I remember the flashing lights outside the house, two EMT's carrying my mom out to the ambulance on a bed sheet. I'm still not sure why they didn't bring a stretcher in. I remember throwing decent clothes on as quick as possible, then looking down to realize every piece of clothing I had on was some kind of Alabama paraphernalia. Mom would've enjoyed that. I remember calling my important people to tell them she was gone as a group of doctors and nurses joked and laughed nearby with coffee cups in hand, a dead body in the nearest room, and a crying, Alabama-clad young lady on the phone not ten feet away. That day is one of the few that I've been up early enough to see the sunrise.


03.

People are often afraid to ask those who have lost someone how they're doing. I've been told they're nervous to ask because they fear they'll remind that person of their loss and make them sad when they were otherwise having a good day. Let me assure you, that even three years later, I am still always thinking of her. No one can ever remind me of her death because I never forget about it. Good days are just the ones where I can remember it but find something else that makes me feel okay. Bad days are the ones where I remember it but it forms clouds around me so I can't find anything else to hold onto. After three years I thought I'd be better at preventing bad days, but I'm not. There's a song by my favorite artist Johnny Flynn called "After Eliot" and I listen to it a lot. There's one line that says "What did I lose to mourn so long?" and it makes me cry 9/10 times. I lost my mama who so tenderly and fiercely loved me. I think even in thirty years, I will feel the same on May seventh. This terrible, frightening day.

A very wise friend shared with me today, "I've been realizing that time doesn't really do much healing... it's only about the way we surrender our feelings to God." Time does nothing but give false promises and delay recovery. But God makes the good days possible. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ." Ephesians 2: 4-5

Advent in Mourning

Since my mom passed away two and a half years ago, I have often found myself trying to fill the void that she left in my heart. It's a common part of the mourning process, so it feels like it shouldn't be important. It's nothing new, so is it even worth talking about? Surely by now, every part of the grieving process has been twisted, turned, examined, discussed, picked apart, analyzed, and broken down. Surely it is common enough by now that there aren't any lessons to be learned. But unfortunately, even if you think you've learned those lessons from watching other people grieve or reading about it, you don't understand it until you're going through it yourself. And then, even with an arsenal of books or podcasts, you're still left to figure it all out on your own. I was. And I've done it really poorly.

Advent started yesterday. It's my favorite time of year, mostly for all of the commercialized parts of it. I love when homes get sparkly and cozy and pine-scented. I love wearing red all the time. I love Christmas hymns, because they sound so pretty. But my mom is gone, and since then, this time of year doesn't give me what it did before. I ruminated on this question for awhile on Saturday: how do you celebrate Christmas without the person with whom you shared it most deeply? I've struggled with that. My mom and I made a point to decorate the tree together every year. We can't do that anymore. The very first Christmas Eve service after she died was mostly about Mary and her maternal relationship with Christ. That was killer. If the floor wasn't hard and noisy, I really would have gotten up and left. But we sat too close to the front for that. All of the signs of Advent, of Christmas, point me to my mom now that she's gone. So how do I find joy in this season? How do I adorn the tree without her? What do I fill that deep chasm with? How do you grieve someone and find joy in Advent?

And then the Spirit spoke. And He said to me, "You realize that they were not born and placed in a manger. Jesus was. He is who you celebrate. He is who you celebrate with."

This season isn't about family or friends, or parties and seasonal cocktails (though I'm planning for all of that), it's about the coming of Emmanuel. The Advent of God with us. He is the one who fills that chasm, and in fact, makes it overflow. He is the one who brings joy.


But still, it's hard, mourning during Advent. You still see the empty chair, you still miss that voice, that partner, that beloved. And mostly, I've tried to deny it. I put off grief for two years almost. That first Christmas, I spent the whole day snapping at everyone, reading Amy Poehler's Yes, Please in one sitting. ONE. I avoided everything and I don't think I ever admitted why. I'm sure it was easy to decipher, but I never said that I was sad. I never said that I missed Mom. Slowly I've learned how to grieve. Slowly, I'm sure, it will change. But I want to offer these tenets of grief that I've assembled in my head. I try to live by them every day, but especially during this time of year, I think it's important to practice them daily. This is how I mourn. Or at least, this is how I should mourn. This is how I will do holidays without one of my beloveds. While walking through the valley, I have found hope in one thing: that my pain would maybe one day serve to bolster someone else. Maybe one day, when someone else feels this pain, I can hold their hand and walk with them, as a guide, a confidante, a shoulder, a partner in commiseration, a source of truth, a fellow forlorn spirit. So to that end, I offer this.

  • Acknowledge in your heart that they are gone. Admit to yourself that there is a hole in your heart now. Look at their empty chair and give a nod. Don't hide facts from yourself.
  • BUT, don't dwell on it. Acknowledge, but don't focus. Take a deep breath. Look elsewhere and take a step away, whether it be in your mind or on your feet.
  • Take one moment in your heart to mourn the memories that can't be made anymore. Just as you've mourned a person and their life, grieve the laughs that may not happen. Grieve the empty space at the table. Grieve the person they were. Grieve the person you were. Grieve the people you both would have been if they were still here. It may not be the healthiest to mourn in hypotheticals, but you'll want to do it all the same, so just do it.
  • BUT, celebrate the ways they made you into the person you are. Celebrate how they gave you good things. Give another nod to their spirit and that empty chair.
  • Partake in something they loved- food, drink, activity, game, jokes. Give a toast in their memory, even if only in your heart.
  • If you feel up to it, create a space for others to grieve with you. Tell someone you are thinking of that person. Odds are, they are too. It isn't misery loves company, but memory loves company. Bring others into your pain, but don't let them dwell on it either.
  • Remember, when you start slipping away from "now," take a step- mentally, physically, whatever you need.
  • Cry if you need to. Tears always seem less bitter when you have someone next to you.
  • Finally, pray. This should really be your only step, but we are humans, trapped in a cycle of evil and brokenness. The more you ignore those two things, the deeper and stronger they sink into you, without you knowing until you're very suddenly a slave to them both. Don't allow that to happen. Better yet, ask God for protection, especially in those slippery moments of grief and pain. Read James 5: 13. Pray for now, for tomorrow, and for every day. Pray for the moments that will come in which you know you won't have the strength to trust and pray. Find someone to call in those moments that will point you back to God.

Because truly, He is your only true, reliable, trustworthy support. Only He can pull up the roots of evil and brokenness. Only He can keep you from collapsing and allowing the thick nastiness of grief to make you doubt your value and purpose, your God-given, God-held value and purpose.

Jumping Rocks

I'm published! Y'all! I'm published! What a great little victory. I answered an open call for contributors for a magazine out of the Netherlands and now my name, my words, and my photographs are printed and bound alongside that of several other intelligent, creative, and fascinating people. What a great honor. And what depth of confidence and happiness! I am beaming. Also, very afraid to read my piece again YIKES. But what a lovely reminder of kindness, hospitality, joy, friendship, gentleness, and peace in the midst of a lot of nasty stuff, big and small.

  Let's Explore Magazine  Issue 01, photo from LEM website

Let's Explore Magazine Issue 01, photo from LEM website

It feels like a big step in the right direction for me, and hopefully the first of many! It reminds me (at the risk of channeling a "be all you can be!" inspirational poster) of jumping from one moss-covered rock to another to cross a creek, which sounds idyllic and playful. However, for a very ungraceful person like myself, it takes a lot more concentration to look sprightly, so every successful landing feels like one more successful heartbeat. You have to decide to risk looking like a fool and giving people the opportunity to laugh at you in order to feel the satisfaction of your toes hitting solid rock and staying there (and the assurance that your shoes have enough tread). But when you land and wiggle around with your arms flying out at each side for balance, you feel silly, sure, but you feel a lift in spirit, knowing that you made the choice to do something maybe pretty stupid, but you did it well. But really, you just did it, and that's the hardest part.

I have plenty to improve upon, plenty to work on, plenty to learn, but for now, I'm going to stop on this rock and take a little spin. Because all of those treacherous, slippery lil devils can also lead to great, albeit sometimes small, victory.

C

Etsy Announcement!

I've added a few items to my Etsy shop that I'm really excited about and hope to expand upon in the near future! It's been a fun challenge to think outside my own little box and create things I can be proud of. It's hard to put yourself and your creativity on display like that, where your reception is so dependent on success and sales. But I'm looking forward to seeing how that challenges me and my confidence and humility. So please go take a look! And keep an eye on it in the coming weeks as I continue to add to my collection.

When Prayer Is Answered and When It's Not

When I was small, as I prayed I always tried to imagine a grandfatherly old God with a long, white beard wearing a flowy robe sitting in a rocking chair in the corner, patiently and quietly considering my requests. Even when I was bigger than small, I had to imagine that same God. When it comes to the cerebral, the spirit-y, the imagination, the indefinable, I am still very literal. If there's no God sitting in the corner, does it count? So I've carried that image around in my back pocket for many, many years, and let me just say, it's kind of heavy. It's a lot of hard work to 1. pray, 2. not fall asleep, and 3. maintain that image, including the right reactions and laughs in the right places, in response to the right cues. So my next tactic was to just stop altogether. What kind of God wants me to work that hard to assign Him a visage and personality while at the same time give praise and glory and petition and blah blah blah? (Was that sacrilegious?)

But people looooooove to spout on and on about their prayer life. I mean, if ever there was a humble brag, prayer life is it. Which, when you have nothing to brag about, is the most incendiary conversation you can have with another human. But I suppose it wasn't fruitless, listening to those people, because the other day, I prayed. I was in my car which is so full of junk that there was no room in the back seat for God to sit, and my purse was in the passenger seat. Even the trunk is full. So it was just me. Alone. Talking to myself. I was about to head in for a job interview-the second one for this position. I was there pretty early, so before I walked ever so gracefully in my heels through the door, I sent up a little something. I asked for confidence and humility. I asked for peace and calmed nerves. I asked for the right answers to questions. I didn't ask for the ability to cut myself off from rambling too much and perhaps I should have, but regardless, I asked for some pretty specific things. And I rolled my eyes at myself, stumbled through the parking lot and stood uncomfortably by the abandoned front desk, waiting for someone to notice me and take me to the right office. And as I sat through the interview, I noticed a lot of things: the interviewer was responding seemingly positively to my answers, I rarely stammered like a moron trying to answer a question I wasn't at all prepared for, and I felt great. I held my hand out for a handshake first and I made appropriate jokes. It was like magic, but really it was like prayer answered. I returned to my car and was stunned. Even now it's hard to admit that praying worked. It's hard to admit that I witnessed power flowing through me that was in no way a natural part of myself. It's hard to spit out these words that so forcefully discredit any pride or ability of my own. But I suppose that's the point.

I learned today that for the time being, the company won't be hiring for that position. Should they decide to in the future, I'm at least on their short list. It's just as well, honestly, because I have been pretty uneasy about the prospect of another forty-five minute to an hour commute. Historically, I don't do well with that. I've been vacillating between accepting or declining the position should it be offered to me. The job itself would be just fine, but the commute? It could be pretty terrible. So again, I've been praying for God's will to be made known to me. The waiting part of the interview process is truly the worst. I can't really make a decision when I don't know what their's is yet. So I asked for God to reveal his plan to me. His capital p Plan. It seems dumb to ask for that, because won't that happen eventually anyway? But knowing that it wasn't my own plan I was waiting to play out, but His, gave me a peace that I've never felt before. So today, His Plan was kind of revealed, at least the next little part. Taking the step to interview for a job was great for me, but it wasn't the right one. But at least now I know I can do it, and I can try again. I don't have to drive to the ends of the earth, or the ends of Atlanta, and God knows that and hopefully will keep it that way. 

BUT. That answer was also kind of a non-answer. I don't really know how to proceed from here. I still don't know what kind of job I want or how to figure that out or where to figure that out. So I have more praying to do and more people to pester, but at least I know that where there's a non-answer now, there will be an answer one day. 

Further Up and Further In

The other day I finished reading the Chronicles of Narnia series. I read the whole thing beginning to end over the past six months and never in my life have I ever been so taken with a fictional idea or place. As silly as it sounds, I have been yearning for the mountains, the sea, the hills, the forests. I want to dance around the fire to the beat of the dwarfs' drums with the satyrs and the fauns. I want to feel the spirits of the trees and trade verses with the horses, eagles, badgers, foxes, beavers, sparrows, rabbits, and mice. I want to go on adventures with Peter, Edmund, Lucy, (NOT Susan), Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly. I want to feel the warm breath of the Great Lion and hear his voice. I want to meet the kings and queens that sit enthroned at Cair Paravel and feast with them, overlooking the Eastern Sea where mermaids and fish and dolphins jump out of the water and rejoice. Can you imagine? The joy, the adventure, the warmth of the fire in the beavers' dam, the chill of the snow, the tickle of the breeze. 

 I found this in a castle on the southern coast of Devon, England, and stood in front of it, waiting for Narnia to appear on the other side for longer than is probably appropriate for an adult.

I found this in a castle on the southern coast of Devon, England, and stood in front of it, waiting for Narnia to appear on the other side for longer than is probably appropriate for an adult.

I get very caught up in the words of C.S. Lewis. Each one drips with magic and thoughtfulness and wonder. The lands he describes and the emotions and textures. I can imagine no place more wonderful than the world he created. Since I was a child and read these books and heard the stories, I knew that it was all an allegory for the creation of the world, the sacrifice of Jesus, the relationship of God with His people, but reading these books as an adult is an even richer experience than I could have anticipated. As I've had to depend more and more on Jesus and His righteousness, the beauty of THAT story, of Jesus and me, has become more beautiful and believable, just like Narnia to each of the children that stumble upon it. Reading the last few pages of The Last Battle and hearing the description of each part of Narnia and the journey further up and further in as each inside is bigger than its outside, gave me so much hope, but also so much heartbreak. I mourn the reality of the fallen world. We should have been that beautiful Narnia, but we're not. We should feel no pain, but we do. I do. And as hard as that is to swallow, regardless of Narnia, it becomes so sweet at the same time. Each character wished to leave Narnia at one point, and eventually they all do. Each one had to sweat, worry, bleed, cry, fight, climb, crawl, stumble, hide, run, swim, and work before their task was done and the sweet breath of Aslan wrapped around them in perfect approval, forgiveness, and love. And even as they went back to their own world, thinking they'd never return again to the exceedingly beautiful world they so loved, there was gratitude for the grunting, sweating, crying, and worrying. Each of those things taught them something they did not yet know about themselves. EUSTACE. Can you imagine a more horrid child? And by the end, you just want to wrap your arms around him, kiss his forehead, and say "Well done, mate." And glory be, GLORY BE! Aslan works perfectly and deliberately until finally he can call each good and righteous Narnian- native or not- home to their proper place next to him as the world darkens. All hope is threatened to be overtaken too, until you move further up and further in.

Further up and further in. Is there a better call in all this world, all this life, than to move further up and further in? I don't know if you know this, but Narnia is Heaven. It's Heaven, y'all, the real one. It beckons and receives absolutely and perfectly. There is a lot of worry, blood, sweat, crying, stumbling, rejoicing, mourning, playing, dancing, and celebrating that comes first, but in the end, all the characters who Aslan smiles upon and blesses with a big Lion kiss are brought further up and further in. Each new layer to the world that has been perfected is better and richer than the last. There is no mourning or crying, except maybe joyful crying. And that's what we're bound for, you and me, when we feel Aslan's pull away from the world we thought was our own, only to find out that there's another one waiting for us. "‘Glory be!’ said the Cabby. ‘I’d ha’ been a better man all my life if I’d known there were things like this.’" Indeed, dear Cabby, indeed.

But what makes this so disheartening is the waiting. I know there's a Narnia out there. I know this world, our world, will one day be redeemed. I know that like King Caspian I may die hundreds of years before that happens, or like Jill and Eustace I'll be there when it does, more alive than could be (more or less). But does that make the waiting any easier? Not for me. Is there anything I want more than redemption of this wretched world? I don't think there is. I want freedom, courage, bliss, joy, kinship, friendship, love, all boundless and timeless. But I have to wait. And I have to believe that there is hope in a new Narnia and there is hope in a new Earth, if only we have the patience, courage, faith, and pluck to make it until then. I doubt my possession of those things quite often, but I'm reminded that I don't have to get up every day and work until sundown to make sure by the end of the day I can lift the robes of righteousness and wrap them around me. I must believe that they are always on me, head to toe, covering the blood, sweat, worry, tears, scrapes, scabs, panic, and doubt that are nullified by Jesus. By Aslan. By the Perfect One. The Ever-present One. The Alpha and the Omega. The Beginning, and most certainly the End, and everything in between. 

 And here's what I imagine Cair Paravel to be.

And here's what I imagine Cair Paravel to be.

an occasion

Yesterday we celebrated our first wedding anniversary, and I have to admit, I had mixed feelings prior to it. I'm all about occasions. ALL about occasions. Pomp and circumstance, frills, unnecessary decor, themes upon themes. It is not easy to rein me in. The budget has been tight the last few months with only one income, so we were pretty limited with what we could do to celebrate. That's where the mixed feelings came in. I had pictures in my head of flowers hanging from the ceiling, a backyard strung with lights, an elaborate dinner, but I had to be reined in.

I was pretty bummed to be honest, and pretty selfishly. Maybe I also was hoping to prove something to myself, to Tucker, to Instagram, that even though I've been pretty knocked down the past few months, I can still pull together an Occasion with a capital O. But then, the magic of Trader Joe's reared it's beautiful, $3, eucalyptus-crowned head. And a vision was born.



I thought about going to buy some new candle holders, but why buy when you can very subtly steal/generously borrow from loved ones? So shout out to the late and great Laura Head for collecting beautiful pieces, and for instilling the same quality and eye in me so that all of our things blend and complement seamlessly! 

So I give you a humble table covered in eucalyptus and candles that are only lit when the air conditioner is off so it therefore can no longer blow out the aforementioned candles. Glamorous. But glory, glory I had a beautiful afternoon playing with plants. And I am inspired to be more creative with my few little dollars, because that's all it takes, if that.



failure is as failure does

Do you believe in failure? What do you believe about it?

I've always thought that those people who say they don't believe in failure were just trying to cover up or ignore mistakes they had made. "There's no such thing as failure." Well, really? You sure? Because I could point out where you definitely failed. Please, allow me. 

I saw this quote on an Instagram post today: "Failure is a part of life-not just business. Almost every successful person we admire has experienced some type of failure, but their failure becomes a big part of their future success." So says Jonathan Levine to the Great Discontent. So say I? I might have six months ago, but I'm not so sure anymore, because for the last four months I've been lambasting myself for my failures. Here's the list I've often recited:

1. Depression.

2. Neglecting to seek real treatment for depression.

3. Quitting my first real job because I neglected to seek real treatment for depression and anxiety.

4. Allowing myself to fantasize the idea of suicide. More than once. (Disclaimer: I never attempted anything, but I got damn close.)

5. Thinking I don't need help-from family, friends, professionals.

6. Retreating away from people who would have helped me. Retreating away from God. Indulging Satan's whispers of lies and believing them. 

7. Thinking I could handle everything, every problem by myself.

That's seven failures that really only scratch the surface of what I have recited to myself for months, or even years, on end. But through grace upon endless grace, I can look at that list and feel free of blame. It doesn't have to be a list of failures. It can just be a list. A list of facts, of experiences, of days, of truths. These things will determine a lot of my future, and that's okay. They'll become a part of my future success, even if I find that success after I die.

So no, I don't think I believe in failure. I don't have grand illusions of being a revolutionary with this line of thinking. Edison found 99 ways not to make a lightbulb, right? This is not new, but it is freedom, a daily freedom that I can recite to myself. I didn't fail. There has always been a plan for me and these were all parts of that plan. I don't think I deviated from the Plan of Me, the Plan of Catherine. I deviated from what I thought was the Plan of Me. Failure isn't real. Failure is finding out that you didn't have the current update of the plan. Failure is mistaking future ideas for future guarantees. So in that way I failed, but in the real way, I was just walking towards someone else's future, mistaking it for my own. I've been plucked up by the One who is really in charge and placed back on the trail where I'm being led forward one pace at a time. And that's good enough for me.

Let's Take a Break, From Us

I quit my job three months ago. It was necessary and I'm not looking back with disdain or regret or embarrassment. However, I did promise myself that I wasn't going to use this time to sloth around, as I'm prone to do. I reassured people that I wasn't going to fall and land softly on a pile of Netflix. Of course, it's taking me awhile to type this because I have Friends on in the background. Okay, foreground. But I'm having a change of heart, sort of. I love Netflix. It's been my pal the last few months. Friends, Gilmore Girls, Bob's Burgers, Portlandia, Mad Men. I like those. Netflix has those. But also, those stories don't change. I watch them over and over, which is not inherently bad, but it takes my time away from me, something I covet deeply.

But last week, I had a shift to new stories. I started back up again with the Chronicles of Narnia series and blew through them. I read three of the books in I think as many days. So much to be found there! So many pictures of God there. So many pictures of me there. My doubts, my fears, my sins. Then redemption and lessons of trust and faith, with plenty of humour (it is an English book, after all) and lovable characters to snuggle up with. The value of new stories and classic stories, for the young and the old, is immeasurable to me. The gift of imagination that each book seeps into our fingertips as we hold them is precious. The new worlds or eras we are invited into are perhaps not better or worse than our own, but supremely different and rife with adventure. Books hold more power than do television shows. Not to say that tv and movies and Netflix are not worth something and do not provide great room for engagement and story-telling, but it is no secret that books and stories on pages possess a unique ability to enchant our minds and hearts and take them soaring to new heights of creativity, imagination, intelligence, and adventure. 

So I hope to find more stories. I hope to continue to be engaged in musty pages and clean, crisp ones. I hope to escape to Narnia over and over again and smell the enchanting perfume of the Great Lion's mane and plunge my toes into the soft grass, dance with the dryads, drink and feast with Bacchus, catch a favorable wind setting forth from Cair Paravel, and brush my fingers along every blooming flower and soft pelt and hide of the Talking Animals.

Nanny

Last week, my dad's mother died. She was ninety on her last birthday and was suffering from a myriad of heart-breaking ailments: dementia, hip replacement after hip replacement, breast cancer that they didn't even try to treat, and finally a stroke, among other things. This last stroke left her unable to swallow, which was a pretty clear indicator of the end for her. I haven't seen her in probably ten years, if not longer. She lived in England, you see, along with the rest of my dad's family. He's the only defector. The last time he saw his mother was 8 years ago, because for too long now, she wouldn't have even recognized him. Her husband has been dead for almost twenty years. I was only four years old when he died, so I have more memories of my grandmother than of my grandfather, but they both are precious to me.

We call them Nanny and YaYa. I couldn't tell you where that came from, but I've always loved it. Those names were always one more fascinating, unique layer to my English heritage, which I take great pride in. Nanny's funeral will be in June. My dad, my sister, and I will be there. My dad will be speaking, like he did at his father's and my mother's funerals. We talked on the phone for a little bit yesterday and I offered to help with the eulogy if he needs, so he charged me with forming some thoughts about dear Nanny from the perspective of me and my sister. So here they are:

She had the most lovely, childlike little giggle. Watching her laugh at my dad's jokes was a delight, as she playfully scolded him, "Oh, Michael," followed by a series of giggles.

I was always intimidated to talk to her on the phone because of her accent. I loved it so much and have always wished I had the same one, but as a child, I was terrified if I didn't understand her she would be disappointed or think me a silly American. I always had Dad right there, listening as well, to translate when the accent became too thick, or the phone connection was bad (hello, 1998), or she used some English slang or jargon that I didn't know.

She seemed so small, but sturdy. She looked like a perfectly pleasant Englishwoman, but one who could hold her own as well.

I'm fascinated by the fact that she lived through the second World War, and the London bombings to boot. The idea that she was one of the children sent out to the country to preserve a generation seemed so romantic and idyllic to me. That is, when focusing on the country and not the war zone left behind. I wish I had heard more of her stories.

I remember going to the big grocery store with her where she bought frozen pizzas for me and my sister, because we were such picky eaters as kids. I remember the smell of those exact pizzas too.

I don't remember it at all, but I know the picture. When she and YaYa pretended to be the king and queen of England for Meredith's (my sister) birthday party, well, I don't think anything could ever outdo that party. 

I remember how she said my mother's name, Laura. It sounded like Looorah, and made my mom seem even more classy than she already was, if possible. 

I remember the way she smelled. She smelled English. I don't know how else to describe it. Old-fashioned, elegant, sturdy, proud. I think she wore Chanel No. 5, but that's not what I remember smelling. I loved her Nanny smell.

When she used to go through every male name in the family until she finally landed on the right one to address who she was talking to, I thought it was endearing. Now I realize it was more of a warning sign. "George, Pete, Malc, ugh, uh, Michael! Michael would you pass me the sugar?"

One time when I was about five or six, probably, I asked a question which my dad answered. I looked at him and said, "I wasn't talking to you, fatbelly." It's a family joke now, my little insensitive attitude, but Nanny and YaYa didn't find it quite as endearing and laughable as most people do when they hear the story. I've always been a little embarrassed about them disapproving of that moment.

I remember her little house in Ipplepen. Drinking tea. Being fascinated by the chairlift on her stairs, and even more fascinated by the fixtures in the bathroom- pull chains on the toilets and showers, what a strange, foreign land.

She didn't like for silverware to be crossed over each other, forming an X. She asked my mom to fix it one time. Superstition, I suppose.

I wish I knew more about her. Maybe I will hear some stories next month, but she is the last of her siblings to die. An entire generation gone. Uncle Pete, Aunt Mol. The many others whose names I remember when prompted, but only then. I'll tell my own children one day about Nanny and Yaya. I'll tell them these things and about England, and one day take them to see those places. I'll take them to the Newton Abbot market day, Broadhempston where my Uncle Malc lives, Portobello Road, the Bloomsbury Park Hotel on Southampton Row in London where we looked out our window onto the pub in the alley and the ballerinas pirouetting (drunkenly, I'm sure), and the little church in Ipplepen where my grandfather, and soon my grandmother, are buried, where my parents were married, and where my sister and I were both christened. I'll show them the kneeling pillow with my name on it. I'll tell them these stories and more that are sure to come. I will make them overly proud of their English heritage. One day, too, I'll be someone's little Nanny who they love dearly and will miss when I'm gone. A little old lady who lived in the old days with stories and stories to tell.

Every time I drink tea, I think of my English family. Every time I drink tea, I'll raise my cup to George and Betty Head, my Yaya and my Nanny.

Settlement

When I was in high school, I was miserable. I have an older sister who was off at college already while I was doomed to trudge through the hallways, avoid the mean girls, dodge the obnoxious boys, meekly try to get my favorite teachers to like me. It was awful. I truly hated high school. I also hated the place we lived. We moved there right before I entered middle school, a very inopportune time for my dear parents to uproot us with the best of intentions. So I was a depressed, angry, anxious, Gilmore Girls fanatic who just wanted to go to college and find myself like Rory did. Truly, didn't we all? It all came to a head at the start of my senior year when the principal called the class into the auditorium for our big beginning-of-the-year assembly. I remember very little about what he said (sorry). What I do remember is his praise of our school, calling it the Ritz Carlton of high schools (HA okay) and then his big finish:

"These are the best four years of your life! Don't let them go to waste! This is the best time of your life so enjoy this last year and appreciate it."

Or something to that effect. WHAT? I sat in my seat, horrified. All the other faces were beaming, beaming! I was surrounded by buffoons (sorry) who would follow the same path their parents carved out or inherited from their parents: go to the big high school, go to a big state university, then MOVE BACK and live there FOREVER with all the same people they've gone to school with for their entire lives. Now, maybe had I liked the place we lived, that fate wouldn't have induced my most dramatic eye rolls and sounds of disgust. But knowing that system of this weird, wacko Florida town, and coupling it with that speech, my vision for my future seemed all the more in danger. This is it? We've all peaked now? THESE are the BEST four years of my life? Oh dear God.

We shuffled (I shuffled, they skipped) back to our classes and I went back into the photography lab. And those next moments lifted the relief off of me so quickly that I swear had I tried, I could've floated right out of the room. My teacher, more than slightly eccentric but dear to everyone's hearts, had us all sit down and look her in the eye before we got back to work. She told us,

"Don't listen to that man. These do NOT have to be the best years of your life. Do not peak in high school. That does not have to be you."

(Again, or something to that effect.) I mean, I wanted to fall down on my face and worship her. In a sea of settlers, here was this amazing woman telling us to do better. To make better years. To aim higher for our lives, not even just for our education. So I strutted around the rest of that day feeling infinitely superior to everyone else for already wanting to aim higher and to have better years and to move on from high school and and and and... 

I had an amazing college experience, I mean truly remarkable. I could talk to you for hours about how amazing and superior my experience was to anyone else's. Humility is not my strong-suit, as you can probably tell by now. But my last (fifth) year in college was different. Most of my friends had graduated and left, I was ready to be done. Granted my mom had just died, so I was raw and low, so low. My best friend, my saving grace that year especially, was staying for another year too. We had talk upon talk about how it just wasn't the same that year, that we wanted everyone to move back and be friends and live within five minutes of each other and be pals all the time. Is this sounding familiar? I had idolized college and the freedom from that high school and those people for so long but I was doing the exact thing they did then. I thought I had peaked. I thought that nothing would ever be as good as college was. 

So settlement. I genuinely thought I was destined to settle. Ugh, shudders down my spine. I may not have put it in these words until recently, but I neglected my ideas and values because I didn't think I could make anything as good as those years were, so why try? Why put in all the effort just to be disappointed? A lot of layers to this thinking. But then I had to quit my job. I was suicidal. I haven't publicly acknowledged that before now. But I was. I'll spare the details for now, but suddenly I found myself without any purpose. I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I had to determine if I'd go back to design, or just find any job to get by for the rest of my life. Then little creative thoughts entered my mind. I wanted to be a woodworker, a writer, a florist, a painter, a stationery designer. I still want to be all of those things, but realistically I cannot. Talent only goes so far with some things. But, I can be something. I can be something. I can be something. I can make a grand life. I can plan it all out, but chances are those plans are probably in vain-worry not about tomorrow today, for tomorrow has enough problems. Is that how the verse goes? Anyway, I can't determine every step, every turn, every hill, every valley in my future, but I can move forward expecting things to go up. I'm anything but an optimist, so I don't go further blindly thinking nothing will ever go wrong. I have really bad days. Then I have really good days. But what matters is the general upward trend. As soon as that line on the graph starts flat-lining or declining, I'm in trouble, because settlement is dangerous. It halts every ambition and deprives you of hope. And after all, what more do we have than hope?

A handwritten note

It's something I've always loved. Loved to give, loved to receive. Handwritten notes are some of my most precious belongings. Over the past two weeks I had the privilege to be a part of maybe a dozen handwritten notes from sons and daughters to their mothers for Mother's Day. It was one of the most fun projects I've ever undertaken. A good deal of my time for about a week and a half was spent painting little flowers, a pineapple, an Alabama A. Those little cards were sent out, then sent again or hand-delivered with writing inside. Being a facilitator for little pieces of joy like that is a gift to me, now especially. Two years ago on May 7, 2014, my mom died after a long tug-of-war with cancer. I've hated Mother's Day since then. I've avoided talking about it, didn't attend church on that day, sunk back into myself to the little shelter I've built out of grief, depression, anxiety, fear, anger, and the like. It was a safe little place in that there were no emotions that could catch me off guard there. I was miserable, but in control. Acknowledging Mother's Day, wishing the other mothers in my life a happy day, is painful. It always will be. But this year, I got to channel all of that fear, anxiety, depression, anger, and grief into delicate little cards. I couldn't send a note to my mom, but I got to send notes to moms across the country. A lot of them I don't even know, but all of them played a special part in my Mother's Day this year. So I'm thankful for those strangers. I'm thankful that in their honor I got to paint and relish Mother's Day. I'm thankful I got to look at pictures of my mom and smile, knowing how excited she would have been to have gotten one of those cards from me. I'm thankful. And I'm okay.