I'm doing pretty good, how are you

I never really know what to say when the doctor walks in the room and says, “hi, how are you doing?”

Uhh, well, take a wild guess? Obviously not great?

So I especially never know what to say to the psychiatrist. Well, don’t wanna kill myself today but couldn’t get out of bed yesterday, so, you tell me maybe?

But today. Today I got to say, “I’m doing pretty good, how are you?” And I meant it, y’all. I’m doing pretty good. I’m doing well, but also, I’m doing good. When someone asks “how’s life?” I get to say “good.” It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to honestly and consistently answer that way. Every day isn’t great, but most days are good. I’m doing good days. I’m doing good. I’m doing good for myself. I’m taking medicine that’s good, that’s doing what it’s supposed to do, that’s doing good for my body and my brain.

I got to pet a dog while I told my psych that I’m good. What’s more good than that?

I’m marking today good, a victory, and hoping you are too.

05

Five years ago today, I watched my mom be carried out of the house by the EMS team. I had already heard her say “I love you,” for the last time. I had already held her hand for the last time. I had seen her for the last time. By the time we got to the hospital, she was gone and the spirit that animated her body had already left.

I still have voicemails from her, so I can still hear her voice. I have notes and letters from her, so I can still remember how she talked and what she said to cheer me up when I needed it. I still have some of her clothes, so I can wear them and feel like I have a part of her. I have some of her jewelry, so I can still hear how they clinked together whenever she moved. I can listen to Amy Grant and Carole King and remember her singing along. I have videos of her, so I can remember how she moved. I have recordings of her singing when she was my age, so I can remember her voice.

What I don’t have is her, and even as I add up those parts, nothing could equal the whole. When people find out that my mom is dead, they often ask if we were close. The truth is, we were just beginning to be friends as well as mother and daughter. We had a pretty good relationship overall, but as I become further removed from May 7th, 2014, it becomes harder to accept that we’ll never be friends. We’ll never get to have a weekend away, a bottle of wine between us as we laugh, ask each other questions, as I learn from her wisdom. We won’t watch Gilmore Girls together ever again. We won’t drink coffee in the morning in our pj’s. We won’t go on walks with the dog. We won’t watch my kids grow up. My kids won’t know her.

This day is confusing. I have hope that I’ll see her again but all of the days between now and then are a shade darker than they should be. Nothing feels as bright as it should. But like I said in my last post about Rachel Held Evans, the only way to move forward when we lose a light so bright is to try to make each of our own shine a little brighter than it always has to make up for the one that’s gone. Maybe the world doesn’t have to be dimmer without the ones we’ve lost. I’ve spent five years trying to figure that out and I still don’t know if it’s true, but part of me really hopes it is.

#becauseofRHE

I’ve spent the better part of this weekend on twitter reading tributes to author, speaker, prophet Rachel Held Evans, who died yesterday morning. I’m a new-ish follower of hers, but the space that she provided to question and wonder aloud about faith has been like a breath of fresh air for me. She wasn’t afraid to state an opinion, apologize when wrong, assert herself when right, and offer words of encouragement to those who needed them. Watching her and learning from her was in itself an inspirational example of a living faith, but reading the #prayforRHE and #becauseofRHE threads on twitter is enough to light your heart on fire.

What’s incredible is the vast array of supporters, students, followers, friends, and cheerleaders she leaves behind, and the depth of impact she had on them all. Do they all agree with her on everything? No. Do they all support the same vision? Not necessarily. But the respect she gained from leaders across the world is a testimony to what can happen when honesty, empathy, humor, challenge, and invitation are employed with holiness and redemption at the center of it all.

As I walked from the car to my apartment tonight, all calm and quiet around me, wading through the softness and stillness of a spring night, I thought about what a bright light RHE was in this world. And I kept thinking about how darkness feels so much a part of grief. A light goes out, and we’re stuck in the absence of it. We’re stuck, until we look at her life, and decide that the only way to move forward is to take a portion of that light, each of us, add it to our own, and shine all the brighter in her honor and in honor of all the saints who have gone before us. When the light of a saint goes out, the world doesn’t have to become darker. We just have to strive alongside the Spirit to make our own lights shine a little brighter, or find others to light up alongside us. That’s Rachel’s legacy to me. She was a woman who wasn’t satisfied with her own light. She wanted everyone around her to harness their own to bring to this dark, dreary world the dawn of Easter morning every day of the year.

back to the bible

One of my most frustrating qualities is that I have a tendency to quit. When I wasn’t the best at soccer or ballet, I wanted to quit. When a job gets difficult, I want to quit. When my marriage is hard, I want to give up. I mean just look back through this blog and you’ll see. How many times have I committed to some blogging theme and given up just a few weeks in? Before I even give something my best effort, if I feel like I’m not going to be the best or not live up to my expectations, I want to quit before I prove to myself that I’m not good enough or quit before I can fail. Every time I start typing a blog post, I over-analyze and quite often end up scrapping the whole thing. I wouldn’t even call myself a perfectionist, just spent. Worn out. Tired of putting in the energy. Avoiding having to deal with deeper issues, working through difficult realities, confronting other less than desirable qualities.

And quite often, this manifests itself in how I commune and abide with God. I think I speak for many when I say that the current culture, Christian or otherwise, lends itself to a lot of introspection and dismantling of what before we might have considered pillars in the lives we live. How frequently are we pulled back and forth to different sides of arguments revolving around the same idea- the faith we claim? Read the Bible this way. No wait, this way. But understand this first, but don’t listen to that guy about it. That lady is wrong too. You’re being led down a dangerous path. No you’re not, you’re being held back by antiquated ideas. Listen to me. No listen to me. Read with this context, but don’t rely on it too heavily.

I mean, really. My head fogs up every time I start trying to untangle the knot that the Bible looks like sometimes. And being true to myself, I just. want. to quit. I just want to rest my eyes and my brain and think about pretty things that don’t hurt or confuse me. I want to ask questions that have answers, not more questions. Because sometimes, that untangling causes unravelling. And that unravelling causes panic. And that panic, chaos.


For as long as I can remember, my mom was a woman of the Bible. Hers was never neatly tucked away in a corner, but always within arm’s reach. Well-worn, well-notated, well-loved. How easy, I thought, it must be to read and understand. How simple and full of answers it all must be. She drew so much confidence from that book. She studied it, taught from it, revered it. She greeted every day with it and a cup of coffee. I have never been very good at self-discipline, so this was, and is even more so now, amazing to me.

But then she died. Her Bible sat, pen sticking out one end, on her chair in the living room for awhile, then got tucked away in a cabinet. I began to resent it, the institution of it. The reverence for it. It took me awhile to pick mine back up again. I didn’t quit believing, but I quit studying. Maybe I did quit believing some of it. That could take a lifetime to unpack.

But when you lose someone you love and admire, you start wanting to take on their characteristics. You want to wear their clothes, their jewelry, to feel the closeness again, to think of them and not forget them. You want them to see you, to see him or herself in you, and smile. The most precious words someone could say over you become “they would be so proud of you.”

So eventually I picked up my Bible again. I started making notes and asking questions. I started writing my doubts on its pages. I started finding hope. I also found despair. I found healing. I found more broken parts of me. I found my mom. I found Jesus again. I learned how to find the Spirit again in those pages and in me.

This past year I’ve been attending a weekly Bible study like my mom always did while I was growing up. Every week I felt like I was making her proud. Studying, discussing, learning, loving, crying, questioning. I think I finally started to find what she found in those pages.

Since she died, a lot of people have told me about how she led them back to faith. And now, even though she’s not here, I can tell you how she helped me unquit the Bible. How she led me back too.

I am bound

Five years ago, I got a call while I was at work at the library on campus. My parents were conference calling me and my sister, which was always a red flag. That meant bad news.

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I went to one of the big stairwells with giant windows and sat on a window ledge, shaking, waiting to hear what was wrong. Mom’s cancer had been up and down for two and a half years at this point, but now, apparently, it was an entirely uphill battle. A battle so hopeless, by the time the general is telling the troops, the white flag has already been waved and everybody is starting to pack it in.

Three months, maybe. One month, more likely. A final expiration date, to put it crassly, I guess. What do you say to that news? I don’t remember what else was said. I remember hanging up, quietly sneaking back to my work area to collect my things and leave hopefully unnoticed, and then walking home.

I sat on the couch crying. My roommate/best friend Lexi came home, on the phone, and immediately ended the call. My boyfriend (now husband, bless him) came over. I was all tears and snot while they prayed for me and my mom and my family. I hilariously remember the snot vividly. The three of us walked down the street to get margaritas from the Mexican place just off campus. Then Tucker and I took my hammock to Lake Nicol, one of my favorite spots in Tuscaloosa. We sat there covered by a blanket. I cried. It was cold. My face stung from the cold hitting the tears rolling down my cheeks. It was so quiet.

Either that night or the next, we were at RUF large group, singing “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” Bad idea when your mom has limited time left to live. I wept, like actually wept, on the back row, Tucker and Lexi each with an arm around me. I’ve never felt so safe and so alone at the same time.

I cry every time I hear that song.

1. On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand,

And cast a wishful eye

To Canaan’s fair and happy land,

Where my possessions lie.

2. All o’er those wide extended plains,

Shines one eternal day;

There God the Son forever reigns,

And scatters night away.

Chorus: I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound for promised land,

I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound (I am bound)

I am bound for promised land.

3. No chilling winds nor poisonous breath

Can reach that healthful shore;

Sickness, sorrow, pain and death,

Are felt and feared no more.

4. When shall I reach that happy place,

And be forever blessed?

When shall I see my Father’s face,

And in His bosom rest?

I don’t have any sort of resolution to this day. Mom died six weeks later. She got to see His face, sure. But I still have to cry every time I think about it. So that’s March 18th.

Balloons

This is one of those topics that sounds great in my head but inevitably feels so lame when I see it typed out. So Jesus-y and preachy.

I always imagined that when you’re hard pressed for money, God would magically write a check made out to you and zap it into your mailbox, something akin to the tooth fairy. How else would it happen? Maybe raining money, or simply finding an envelope full of ca$h somewhere. Is that so much to ask?

But instead, what I’ve found is that He sneaks it in by making you work for it. Ugh. Such a disappointment. (please don’t report me for blasphemy) You may know that over the last few years I’ve cobbled together a patchwork-like collection of jobs that mostly have very little to do with each other. I work for a church, I work for a stationery designer, I do a little designing of my own, I work for a couple of florists in town, I babysit, I worked at a biscuit place briefly, I worked at Paper Source, now I just teach lettering workshops there, I worked in a showroom as people bought thousands and thousands of dollars worth of beautiful homewares. I’m probably forgetting stuff. As you can imagine, it’s not a dream salary. So sometimes things get tight and I start panicking about money and finances. The bank account keeps getting lower and I am a bundle of anxiety bopping around like a balloon ready to pop if you hit it just the wrong way.

That’s usually when I get an email that goes something like, “Hey! I need some extra help this week, do you have time?” AND THEN I MAKE MONEY. The balloon slowly deflates to a more manageable size (because let’s be honest, we’re all anxiety balloons all the time to some degree) and bills get paid, the gifts get bought, the dinner doesn’t get cancelled, the tithe doesn’t empty the checking account. It took several of these well-timed employment adventures for me to realize that it wasn’t mere chance but a beautiful orchestration of care and teaching.

I care about your bills getting paid. I care about you being able to keep that coffee date with a friend. I care about your anxiety. I care about your balloon metaphor, that was cute, good job.

That’s God. He thinks my metaphor was cute.

But also, remember that I care about you. Remember that if you are that balloon, it’s for a good reason. I want you to learn to trust me. I want you to remember you can come to Me before you pop and I’ll make sure you don’t. I want you to learn that I’m here, waiting to hear your voice directed to Me.

God really likes this balloon thing. (Okay but really am I getting blasphemous? All in good fun, y’all. Pinky promise. I’ve got some embarrassing moments that prove He’s got a sense of humor.)

Weird self-praise aside, I really do believe these things. I pray a lot more now, and I reap the benefits, believe me. I never thought I’d be one to piece together several different jobs to try to make a whole one. I’m not great at it yet. It’s hard and exhausting. Establishing boundaries isn’t easy either. But little by little, job by job, one-off by one-off, I’m learning and trying new things and hoping that soon I’ll see why. But I at least have a piece of that big picture, even when I have to work for it.

Hi hello, it's me

Only a few weeks into the year and I am majorly struggling with this blogging commitment. I have started and scratched three different drafts of my next post?

Quick aside- there is a mom a few seats away from me at this coffee shop with two fairly boisterous little boys, and the woman across from me has been shooting them the side eye every time they squeal while also emitting a quite audible “UGH.” Mama over there ain’t noticing, but UGH lady is changing the side eye game, you guys. I am in love with this seating arrangement.

Okay back to the point. I thought I would feel so freed by putting the proverbial pen to paper each week, putting all of the thoughts swirling around in my head somewhere else where I don’t have to keep them in line anymore. But it’s hard. Everything I try to write feels so contrived, so “wow, stop trying so hard,” so forced. Who wants to read these things? Who really cares? How self-absorbed am I to think I have so much wisdom and wit to share with the world that I’ve been depriving it for so long?

This is why I always scoffed at people who started blogs. I mean it goes to show you that whatever you scoff at, you become. I swore I would never be the girl to get married straight out of college, to never live on her own, but hi hello, it’s me. I never thought I’d be the one to suddenly think, “how and when did I gain this weight? What’s wrong with me?” I never thought I’d be the one to struggle with suicidal temptations. I would never be one of those people. But again, hi hello, it’s me.

Maybe by the end of this year I’ll have learned how to not use blogging as an excuse to ramble barely-connected thoughts. But I’m already a week behind so anything goes.

52 is a lot

I have a good friend, Linda, who blogged once a week for the whole year in 2017. Usually when I “commit” to something like that, it doesn’t last. I tried to do something similar where I talked about a different color every week, but didn’t make it. Scroll back through these posts to find the failed attempt.

But what is January without (hopeless) resolutions being declared left and right? So here we go. I’m blogging every week for 2019. I kind of cheated last week and posted something I wrote in late December, and I’m cheating this week by introducing my intentions, but so far so good? 2 outta 2?

So what is to be expected? Great q. Usually I turn to the blog when needing an outlet for sad times, so probably some of that (hey, last week). Maybe reviews of Gilmore Girls episodes (I usually skip most of season 2 but I’m really feelin it right now. Holler if you wanna chat about it.). Maybe some more goals and aspirations. Who’s to say?

Have I written enough for this to count as blogging? I think so. See you next week. And the next one. And the next one. And the next one.

She

A song came on and suddenly I was that 19 year old girl who was infatuated with that 19 year old boy. I was that college student who thought she had everything figured out. I was a daughter who loved the taste of freedom but hated the guilt of it. I close my eyes and I am her. I close my eyes and bob my head, tap my foot to the rhythm of the ukuleles like I did in my dorm room. The worst thing in my life was being infatuated with that boy and not knowing if he was infatuated with me. Sickness was long in the past. Forgotten. I was figuring life out and loving it. L-O-V-I-N-G I-T. I had cool friends who made me feel cool too. I could flirt and feel like a real girl. My heart was light. My soul was deepening. I could be in love any day now. I could be loved any day now.

I envy that 19 year old. I curse her sometimes for her innocence and completeness. Her ignorance. Her freedom. Her hope. Her easy faith. Her life. Her energy and enthusiasm. Sure, she was insecure and low-key depressed, but high level functional.

I love escaping into her life again when I hear those songs that she listened to on repeat, that I forgot about in the darkness. She was sad a lot because of that boy, but still had so much hope. She didn’t think about death every day. She didn’t think about what would happen if she died. She would live forever.

But she died. The day Mom died, she died too. When she sat on that hospital floor, alone, sobbing, watching the nurses and doctors on duty laughing and drinking their coffee and having a normal day at work, contempt slithered in. Envy. Rage. Absolute rage. When she saw the lifeless body, separated from its soul and spirit, the hunger for her own separation of body and soul overwhelmed. That desire became insatiable. Death colored everything now. Loneliness, abandonment, and betrayal became her companions.

These songs eventually send me into a dull, achy sadness. I want to rebel against my current reality and move into hers. I know I’m young. I’m told that all the time. But she feels young. She hasn’t lived through what I have. She makes me feel old, weathered, calloused. She is free, she doesn’t monitor her thoughts for inklings of suicide creeping back in. She is soft. She doesn’t look at her loved ones and picture their dead bodies, emptied of their souls, lying on a hospital bed. She doesn’t wish for the kind of loneliness that protects you from pain and loss. She doesn’t feel the weight I feel every day. She sees light all around her.

She doesn’t know yet.

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.