Monday, December 2, 2013

Simple Pleasures of November

living

This was a fairly quiet, reflective month for us compared to October. We did join a few of our friends for a semi-annual weekend gathering at a farmhouse, visited a dear friend while he was in a nearby city, and saw my family for Thanksgiving. But otherwise, we kept things pretty uneventful and homey. I recently decided to take a break from church, so that's had me taking stock of my faith and figuring out where I go from here. It sounds scary, but it's actually really really good. Also, we're attempting to buy our first home again this month, so that's kept us busy. If all continues to go well, we'll be moving a few blocks away right before Christmas. Cray-cray! Meanwhile, after months of contemplating it, I'm starting to think seriously about grad school and what that would look like for our family. Any other mamas out there doing the SAHM/student combo? I'd love your thoughts/advice on making it work.

Photo by Tandem Flight Photography
loving

Optimistically picking paint colors, silence, sweet potatoes, baby kisses, first words, laughing 'til it hurts with the people who know how to make me, surprising my favorite one with a movie date, audio books in the car, running because I can, eating sweets because I can.

reading

Thrashing About With God- Freedom, so much freedom written in the pages of this book. Mandy Steward's words gave me the freedom to honestly explore my spirituality and to embrace the tumultuousness of my emotions. It took me a while to get used to the lack of structure, but that's life, eh? In the end, I think the disorganization made the freedom that much more beautiful.

The Memoir Project- This was one of the suggested reading in my Story 101 class. Memoirs have been my go-to book genre for as long as I've been aware of having one, so it was really fun to learn about the process. I took a ton of notes and have, more than once, heard her advice in my head as I write. I may or may not have one in the works.

Jesus Feminist- I said a little something about this one here. Let me also say that this book is beautifully written, gracious, illuminating, and that I very much agree with its contents. But. It took me a while to get through, only because Sarah Bessey is so genuinely and breathtakingly in love with Jesus, and I'm just... not there right now. In summary: the book is lovely, my heart is fickle.

The Dark Night of the Soul- I wrote about this one here. If you find yourself struggling with doubt or God's absence, it's a must read. Promise.

Currently reading ------------->

linking

The entire Love and Making It Series at 1000 Strands

3 Queens on vimeo

Confessions of a Recovering Cynic by Micah J. Murray

blogging

Things were pretty quiet around here this month, but I liked it that way for a while. I'm now back to having to many words and not enough time. This month I wrote about feminism, quietness, skipping church, and my dark night.

*No affiliate links her, per usual, and linking up as always for Leigh Kramer's What I'm Into.*

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Dark Night and Addiction

A couple weeks ago, I picked up an old favorite of mine at the library: The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May. In it, May, a psychiatrist, uses the works of Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross to "explore the connection between darkness and spiritual growth." May defines the darkness he speaks of not as evil, but as obscurity that comes from God. Simply put, the dark night of the soul is the feeling of God's absence.

Via
If you've read some of the latests posts around here, you'll know that I've been experiencing my own dark night for the last five years, though I've only just begun to write of it. When I first read The Dark Night of the Soul a couple years ago, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and came to the conclusion that maybe the darkness I was experiencing wasn't meant to be fixed.

Since then, I have learned a whole lot more about God and myself and community through stillness and contemplation and pretty much giving up than I had in the previous three years through effort and discipline. When I finally decided to take a break from church a couple weeks ago, I was curious what insight the book might have for me in this new season. So I headed to the library and promptly tore through it, dog-earing every other page or so.

This time around, one of the most powerful sentences in the book for me was this one: "We have made an idol our images and feelings of God, giving them more importance than the true God they represent."

Here in the evangelical culture of the bible belt, we talk a lot about idols. In this context, nearly everything can be an idol: money, careers, marriages, self, drugs, food, even service. Never in my life, though, have I ever heard anyone suggest I could make an idol out of my experience of God. More importantly, I didn't know it was possible to wake up to find the Presence I had long worshipped absent, leaving me flailing and grasping for any hint of comfort to keep my head above water.

To be honest, in the months before my dark night began, I was little more than an addict, needing a bigger hit of spiritual connection each day to keep my soul satisfied. Then suddenly, my drugs were mysteriously cut off, God absent. For too long afterward, I tried returning again and again to the suppliers that had always come through for me before, the Bible, church, prayer, but they all came up empty. For years, I had been dependent on clear answers, felt presence, spiritual comfort, but now I was left with only my commitment to going through the motions. Is it any surprise I soon found myself spiraling down into disappointment and doubt and fear?

It's only recently that I have begun to embrace the process of detoxification, of letting go of any hope of returning to the old ways. May says that the dark night is an act of emptying and resensitizing, because "it is as if we have gorged ourselves on rich meals for so long that we cannot appreciate the delicate freshness of a sip of spring water." I am certainly emptying, but honestly I don't know that I will ever feel God's presence again in my life, and that is okay, at least today. Because I don't think his absence means He is incapable of being found, only that I won't find him in the same ways. I'm not sure I want to return down those paths again anyway.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, please get your hands on The Dark Night of the Soul. There is so much insight there. I don't do sponsored posts or affiliate links. I just really want you to read this book, because you are not alone and it's not your fault. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Holy Ground

A couple weeks ago I made the decision to take a break from church. I went to one more Sunday morning service before committing myself to a time of silence and contentment. I am not looking for answers to my doubts or any type of life changing experience. I only want to learn to accept my relationship with God for what it is, distant. I only want to sit quietly in the emptiness of it and let it be okay. To do that, I need to separate myself for a time from environments that make me feel desperate for more than what I have, or who I am. I need to draw back the curtain of activity that I pretend God is hiding behind and just stare into the chasm of his absence. I need to turn the volume down on the endless Christian chatter that fills my ears, so I can hear what God sounds like alone.

One week in and the silence is already piercing.

These past several years, church has been like a security blanket for me. Until last week, it was the last thing I was holding onto that said to the world: "I know God." But the truth is I don't, not anymore. I know him like I know the person two seats over from me in the waiting room at the DMV. We sit in polite silence for as long as necessary, and we don't even make eye contact.

There is a holiness in church, in all of us gathering together despite our imperfections. I know that.

But it was just the two of them in the wilderness when God told Moses to take off his shoes.

It's my own wilderness that I'm finding in my time away from church. It is here in the intimacy of two friends sharing secrets at a forgotten corner table. It is here in the lonely hush of a sick baby and mama cuddled up with a pile of books. And it is here, even here, in the solitude of a woman barefoot and alone on the holy ground of her own living room.

*This post was inspired by a prompt found in the lovely Story Sessions community.*

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Quiet Things

Via
There is a beauty in the quiet things.

In the gentle nuzzle of tired bodies.

The silent companionship of shared meals.


There is a beauty in words unspoken.

In warm truths held close.

Old promises not forgotten.


There is a beauty in absences felt.

In fleeting images uncaptured.

Wide spaces unexplored.


There is a beauty in the quiet things

And in the nothing, too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

We can all be feminists

 Sarah Bessey's Jesus Feminist releases today. A little more than halfway through my advance copy, I can already tell you it is a disarming, poetic, inviting read. In celebration of Sarah's courage in writing it, I've decided to say a little something here today about why I'm a feminist. If you identify as a Christian, but the word feminism makes you feel yucky, you might take to Sarah Bessey's idea of Jesus feminism, which she likes to call "God's radical notion that women are people, too." You may also enjoy these stories of women and men whose feminism is inspired by their faith. 

***
I know. You hate the word. I get that.

But contrary to popular belief, there is no bouncer at the door of the feminism party, checking each of us for the proper sexual identity and political ideology before letting us in.

According to Merriam-Webster, feminism is simply "the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities."

Is that something we can get behind?

Then we can be feminists, too.

Women and men. Republicans and Democrats. CEOs and stay-at-home moms.

We can all be feminists.

Because feminism isn't black or white, conservative or liberal, pro-choice or pro-life, gay or straight. Feminism is believing wholeheartedly in the women around you, in your daughters and sisters, mothers and grandmothers, wives and friends. It is moving aside to make room in the conversation for women from all walks of life, rich and poor, gay and straight, black, white, latino, native, and asian. It is listening to their stories and amplifying their voices. And it is using ours to defend their rights, wherever we find them challenged.

Can we do this?

Can we make a commitment to empower women instead of degrade them?

Can we do the uncomfortable work of challenging humor that deprives women of their humanity and complexity?

Can we walk through the door, or pick up the phone, today, and tell the women we love most that we believe in them? Can we acknowledge their gifts and support their dreams?


Because the women of the world need us.

They need us to believe in their personhood, their intellect, their contributions to society. They need to know they can begin the important work that will change this world of ours for the better. They need to hear in our voices and in our lives that they have permission to invent and create and lead.  From the giggling toddler to the aging matriarch, every one of us needs to be freed to be ourselves.

Can we do that for each other, you and I?

Congratulations. We're feminists.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Simple Pleasures of Autumn

living

O life. In the past two months we found and nearly bought our dream house then had our hopes crushed when the inspection revealed it to be a lemon. O well. Que sera, right?

In other news, we have been thoroughly enjoying the beauty of fall this year, both as a family and with friends. Our small group went on a lovely little retreat together and Andy and I spent a beautiful weekend away to celebrate another year together.

I also used some birthday money to sign up for the current session of Story 101, a writing class taught by the lovely Elora Nicole, which has been a huge source of inspiration and community for me these past couple months. I am so grateful to be learning in the presence of so many brave and talented writers and I can't even begin to tell you how the class has revolutionized my creative process.

loving

Talking doubt and hell over breakfast with a couple gals who really get me, the excellent book request program at our local library, watching babies become toddlers, deepening friendships, carving pumpkins, baking for loved ones, cold mornings, and long hikes in the woods.

reading

Unconditional Parenting- I'm not one to read a lot of parenting books, but the ones I do make time for, like this one, usually come very well recommended. I found it highly educational and extremely helpful as I begin to explore possible alternatives to traditional discipline. I'll probably check it out again for a refresher once I at least have a preschooler.

Every Shattered Thing - A breathtaking work of YA fiction by the aforementioned lovely Elora. The subject matter is not for the faint of heart, but if you can face it, take it slowly and this book will leave you trembling with hard truths.

The War of Art and Zen in the Art of Writing were both suggested reads for my Story 101 class that I was lucky enough to find at the library. While neither would probably make a list of my favorite books on writing, I definitely walked away with several great nuggets of wisdom from each, particularly The War of Art.

Two of the books I've read so far this fall, however, did make it to my list of very favorite books ever, Bird by Bird, which I wrote about here, and When We Were on Fire, which I wrote about here. Obviously, I highly recommend each of them.

currently reading --------->

listening

This great On Being interview with Nadia Bolz Weber made me really want to read her book. I also listened to the audio version of Wild Mind for Story 101. It's not my favorite way to tackle a book, but the efficiency can't be beat when you're chasing a baby around the house! And I've been fairly uninspired in the music arena lately, so I will gladly take any recommendations you've got.

watching

The best movie I watched this fall was the beautifully honest The Kings of Summer. I think everybody who is, was, or knows a teenage boy should watch it.

I've also been faithfully keeping up with Parenthood and Parks and Rec on hulu. And I don't care what anybody says, I've watched every season of Sister Wives available on Netflix. The social commentary is irresistible, folks.

linking

Come Hither Men, for I Have Sex Demons by Grace Biskie

Sometimes I Wish I Were White by Osheta Moore

From the Wife of a Queer Man by Anonymous

The Introverted Mother by Sarah Torna Roberts

For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids by Jennifer Harvey

Get To Work by Nish Weiseth

Does It Matter? by Settle Monroe

blogging

In September, I wrote about my mother heart turning one year old, how my single friends make me a better parent, attending church as a doubter, and rediscovering wonder.

This month, I was lucky enough to guest post for both D.L. Mayfield and A Beautiful Mess. I also commemorated our fourth anniversary and wrote about the flickering out of my "on fire" days for the amazingly honest and redemptive synchroblog hosted by Addie Zierman. If the stories of the highly disillusioned but somehow still faithful sounds like something that would interest you, please go check them out.

*Always a pleasure joining in on Leigh Kramer's What I'm Into link up.*

Monday, October 28, 2013

Thoughts on a fourth anniversary

It is mid-morning on Friday, the day we have been waiting for.

The car is moving forward, but we are going backwards, in search of a specific time and place. We drive past onesies and diapers and ultrasounds. We drive past first apartments and honeymoons and wedding rings. We even drive past long-distance calls and scrabble on the floor and late-night relationship talks in the car. We stop somewhere between running through the rain and staring at the stars and we get out. We are 18 and 19 now, seeing each other with new eyes. The old eyes. The ones that are now too often blinded by all the little everyday things that fight for our attention. But here, we don't see the little things. We see only each other.


We spend the whole weekend like this, because we need it, this being alone, this going back. We need it like fuel in the car, in order to move forward, in order to cover the miles ahead.

We find a little spot for lunch and we are back to a couple of teenagers playing adult in the sticky booths of the Dairy Queen, talking until closing over any topic we can get our hands on, unaware of the time as it drifts by. 

We go to see a play and we are back to college kids playing dress up, out for dinner and dancing in the nicest of our thrift store clothes and the only shoes we own, three weeks from the throw away pile.

We drive aimlessly through the mountain woods and find a small lake that is still and mystical and nearly abandoned. We run out to the dock and let the tranquility of nature wrap her gentle arms around us for as long as she wants, and we are back to us. 

The trees across the water are lit up with the glory of fall and suddenly I see the brilliant flash of my own life in them, past present future. For a moment, all the colors I have ever lived, will ever live, glisten and spark before my eyes. And every one of them is 

beauty 

beauty 

beauty. 


Sunday morning, we are in the car again, passing back by cold December proposals and celebrated pregnancy tests as we drive home to the present day. We savor our last bits of youth and freedom at corn mazes and apples orchards along the way, before arriving back at the house, at this humble little place we've made a home together. We are 26 and 27 again, full-fledged adults with grown-up worries and there is a baby, our baby, napping soundly in his crib. Slowly, we make our way back into this everyday world of jobs and bills and grocery trips and all the little mundane tasks that make up our life together on this earth. And it is beauty. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

When We Were Extinguished

when we were on fire synchroblog

This week, author and blogger Addie Zierman is hosting a syncroblog for those of us with stories from the days we were were on fire, for Jesus, so to speak. This little story from my on fire days is one I've been carrying around in my heart for a while now, so I'm grateful for the chance to share it. I hope you'll visit the synchroblog and read some of the other stories. Also, I hope you'll get ahold of Addie's new memoir, When We Were on Fire. As I've said before, it's a beautiful, important read. 

***

At 16, when I was on fire, my family moved to a new town in the flat plains of middle Tennessee. It was January, during my first moments at my new school, when I met Mary Beth in the front office. We were both brand new and waiting to get our photos taken for our school IDs. We chatted for a bit, discovered we had a class in common, and vowed to sit together. It wasn't long before she was giving me rides home in her beat up coupe, with punk music blasting and a cigarette hanging out the window. She wasn't the friend I was looking for, but she was truly one of the kindest I've ever had.

Later on the first day, I walked nervously into my advanced theatre class, to find little clusters of students smattered about the room. Before long, I was fielding questions about where I was from and why we had moved and what the theatre program had been like at my old school. A few days later, as we sat together on stage working on a new set, my still-closeted, very talented scene partner invited me to hang out with him and a few other drama geeks after school. After that I spent the rest of the semester eating lunch with one of the most wonderfully flamboyant, dramatic, eccentric groups I've ever been blessed to be a part of: gay and straight, Catholic and atheist, honor students, partiers, and a girl who persisted on scrawling "penis" on the board before nearly class, just for the joy of our teacher's reaction. They weren't the friends I was looking for, but they drew me in like family.

The next year, I found my senior English class somehow filled with all the popular Christian kids, the ones who led student government and never got in trouble or said an unkind word about anyone. Some of them had been smattered throughout my classes the previous semester. I had been able to identify them because they were always hanging around before the bell rang talking about youth group and Sunday mornings. I had kept my eyes alert and my posture open, ready to respond to the first subtle invitation to conversation, or, better yet, a church event. None ever came, and by the time I entered my senior year, we were living in different worlds. They were the friends I had been looking for, but they weren't the ones I got.

***

A year or two later, I was studying English and theatre at a local state university, still on fire in my own way and attending the same church my family had called home for the past few years. One Sunday, the pastor asked us all to agree to vote yes on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage. I stood up quietly and walked out, not so much out of anger as sadness. Because despite the smiling faces and welcome arms, I knew my church was not a place where my friends from theatre could ever truly be safe.

Until now, I never dared admit to anyone but my husband that I voted no.

***

I've been thinking a lot about the origins of my doubt lately, this cloud that's been hanging over me for nearly five years now. I've been thinking about these events and other like them, that paved the way for my doubt long before it began. And I've come to the conclusion that I'm better off for having experienced them. I'm better off for interactions, however brief, with those who made me question my own worldview, who took my preconceived notions and flipped them upside down, shaking them around until I couldn't tell top from bottom.

If I could go back in time, I would thank them all, every single one. I would say thank you for befriending me, or not, because it took me to the place I needed to be. Thank you for welcoming me, or frustrating me, or saddening me because it led me away from a world of black and white, and easy answers. It gave me the compassion to put out the flames that had gone on singeing those around me for far too long, and it helped me to find warmth even in the midst of my own darkness.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Celebrating the Little Years (guest post for A Beautiful Mess)

The good people over at A Beautiful Mess have graciously allowed me share my words there today. Four times a year they post short prompts for which readers can submit essays, poems, works of art, and more based on their interpretation of the prompt. Today, I am delighted to share my thoughts on the current prompt, Celebrating the Seasons. I hope you'll hop over there and check out some of the lovely work being done by this beautiful community. 


***
At about this time last year, I entered a new phase of life. It was September, though summer was still going strong here in the South, when I gave birth to my son and held him in my arms for the very first time. This was a big, momentous, earth-shattering moment for me, but something else important, something separate yet connected, also happened in the months that followed. It is something that I have often struggled to put into words, but that is becoming clearer and clearer as time moves on.

Monday, October 7, 2013

An Open Thank You Note to Addie Zierman, Author of When We Were on Fire

I know we're on the tail-end of the Open Letter trend, but I've never written one myself. And last night, after finishing Addie Zierman's upcoming memoir on growing up evangelical at the turn of the millenium, I felt the urge to get down a good old-fashioned thank you letter. You can pre-order When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over here. (I received a free advanced digital copy for review, but the opinions are 110% mine.)

Via
Dear Addie,

I just finished your memoir and wanted to take a few moments to thank you. It was beautiful and painful and healing for me, just as I hoped it would be. There are dozens of little revelations I could express gratitude for, so many carefully-wrapped gifts that you have given me through your words.

I want to thank you for your honest depiction of the beauty and pain in those years we were naive and blazing, and for capturing some of the thousands of ways we were subtly wrecked by good intentions, others' and our own, and for giving me permission to feel the weight of my own doubt, to invite it in and let it exist, and yet not to let it be The End.

I know this story, the story of so many of us, is not everyone's. There are those out in the world who have emerged from the fire whole and complete and passionate as ever. But reading your words, I couldn't help but think, how could we not end up burned out on the other side, in the wreckage of this unsustainable fervor? How could we not come out of the flames coughing and gasping for air? How could we help but conclude that something must be terribly wrong with us now, that the light has gone out?

Thank you for helping me realize for the first time that laced in with my own reasons for doubting is the inevitably of existing in a time and a place that asks for all of it and then some from the deepest center of our hearts.

Most of all, thank you for your astounding bravery, for your diligence in putting the truth of your experiences, our experiences, to words. I can't imagine the courage it took, to throw your tender words out into the great wide world and hope they landed in mostly compassionate laps, to allow the judgmental eyes of Christendom to zero in on your story and defend or accuse at will.

I know it must not have been easy, pouring the ashes of your wounds out onto the altar like that, letting them rise up slowly into words. But I am so very grateful that you did. They are much-needed drops of rain over this little "world within a world" of ours.

Love,

Alissa

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

On food stamps, local schools, and all my white friends (Guest Post for D.L. Mayfield)


I am delighted and honored to be guest posting today on the blog of D.L. Mayfield. D.L. is one of my favorite bloggers out there because she bravely asks the hard questions about downward mobility and life in poor communities and then processes them so eloquently. I hope you'll dig around on her blog a bit. And if you're visiting from D.L.'s place: Welcome and make yourself at home. I'm delighted that you're here. 

***
A couple weeks ago, I went in with my one-year old to our local Department of Human Services. Visits like this are not entirely out of the ordinary for us. In the four years I've been married we've been on and off of both food stamps and WIC at different points, services which require at least a couple visits a year to various government buildings. This particular day, I was in to renew my son's TennCare, which is our state's Medicaid program, the only income-based service for which we still qualify. While we were waiting in line, I turned around to notice a mother and newborn baby in line behind us. I asked about the baby and tried to make polite conversation, but I could tell she wasn't really interested, so I turned back around. That's when it suddenly struck me, that this woman, or any of the people surrounding me, could live on my street, could live a few houses over, and I have no idea who they are.  

Friday, September 27, 2013

On hospitality and writing

I just finished reading Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott and I wish I had read it years and years ago, so I could have already read it ten times at least by now. I wish I had my own paperback copy so that I could mark up the whole thing and draw big boxes around my favorite sections and dog-ear about half the pages. So many words in the book screamed out at me, words about how to write, and why, that have given me a whole new passion for and confidence in putting down these little words of mine. This sentence in particular, though, somehow touched at the core of who I am and why I write:
"It is one of the greatest feelings known to humans, the feeling of being the host, of hosting people, of being the person people come to for food and drink and company. This is what the writer has to offer."
Yes, hospitality. Hospitality is what the writer has to offer, and it is what I as a human being have to offer, need to offer, too. I have been holding the word in my heart for years and years now, trying to make sense of why it keeps calling out to me like a Siren, of why I seem to find it hidden in every corner of my life, and of what it means for me to live it.

That word, hospitality, it feels like home to me somehow, is home to me somehow. It is the essence of what makes our place, our place. It's the commotion of a tiny space filled weekly with friends old and new, of meals shared over a table spread wide with makeshift leaves, of kids and toys scattered across the floor below, and everybody knowing where the cups are. It is in the friends who know just to knock and enter, any time of day, and in the comfort of those who stop by to pour their hearts out over a quick lunch. It is in saying, "make yourself at home" and "you're welcome any time" and meaning every word. It is in the way neighbors can turn into friends and roommates can turn into family. It is in being a place where people can come with empty hands, empty hearts, curl up on the couch, and be themselves. And somewhere along the way I have found my soul was made for this, for being home base to those that need one, this year, this month, this hour.

Our place via
What Anne Lamott is telling me is that this is true for my writer heart, too, which has been calling out to me long, long before hospitality ever entered my consciousness, with the words, "Record, record, record." It turns out this part of me was also made to be home for people, to provide a space in which they can find a little piece of solace or understanding or hope.

I don't think I am there yet with my writing, not really. But I get a hint of it every time someone says "Yes, me too. You have put my thoughts to words." And I am learning that maybe this is why I so long to hear such words, not because of my ego (though surely that is not entirely absent) but because I was made to open up my space, my heart, to others, and to help them feel at home.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wonder lost and found

Once, when I was a kid, I saw this episode of Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood where he visits a crayon factory. I thought it was the most amazing thing I'd ever seen. Something about the imagery, the bright liquid wax hardening into little tubes, the dozens of unique colors mechanically merging together into their boxes, completely captured my imagination. It seemed like probably the most beautiful, magical place in the whole entire world. After that, it was my secret dream to work in a place like that, making crayons.

Via
At some point before I finished elementary school, I realized that working in a factory wasn't really a very respectable childhood dream, so I gave it up. But I never forgot about the images, of the beauty I had seen in rainbows of wax raining down and floating away in little cardboard boxes.

***

Before Andy and I started dating, back when we were pretending to just be friends, we used to drive out to random fields in the country and stare at the stars. As we sat there in the grass I would think about Abraham and his stars, about how many millions more he must have seen, back before electricity and metropolitan areas, than we could ever imagine. I would think about the whole vastness of the universe, every square inch of creation, and I would let the wonder and incomprehensibility of it all melt over me in waves. And I would let myself feel small and insignificant in light of it. And I would let it scare me.  

Later, Andy told me it was one of the things he loved about me, that capacity for wonder. Hearing him put in into words made me want to embrace that part of me and never let it go. But life has gotten busy and my mind is scattered into a million little pockets all around me. I spend so much time looking down at all the little things that I hardly ever remember now to look up at the wide open skylight of images rotating above me.

***

Something about having a kid has made me think really intentionally about my life. Even as the days move slowly, I am aware that they will also speed by and we will awake one day to find a grown up human being who is the messy, beautiful combination of all our mistakes and failures and good intentions. I think a lot about the good things I want to pass on, too, and how to make sure all the best of what Andy and I have to give gets through, undiluted. I want to pass on things like gratitude and generosity, empathy and hospitality. And I want to pass on wonder, too, somehow. I want to find a way  to capture what's left of it in me before the final drops are gone. I want to bottle it up and wrap it in paper and give it to my children as a gift to take with them for their whole lives, through their very last days.

***

It is dawn when the baby makes his first peeps of the day and I step into his room to pull back the curtains. His eyes squint and and his arms reach out as the morning light slowly emerges and settles into the corners. Outside the sky is filled with a hazy pink glow. I pluck the baby out of his bed and we head out to the front porch, before breakfast, before diapers. We sit on the steps awhile and I point up to the sky saying, "Look! Look at the sky, so early in the morning, pink and new. Isn't it beautiful? Isn't it wonderful?"

Via

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What church is like for a doubter

Remember those Magic Eye posters from the 90's? I was always terrible at those. Supposedly, if you look at them in just the right way, a secret image appears.

Via
Whenever I would pass them as a kid, in a store or at someone's house, I would spend several minutes  staring intently per the instructions, waiting and waiting for the image to pop into view. Inevitably, other people would gather around and start saying things like "O I see it!" or "There it is." At this point, I would either asked for help, or just give up and pretend to see it. Rarely, for a fleeting moment, I would get a glimpse of it, or at least think I did.

That's what church is like for a doubter, or at least what church is sometimes like for me, because you're  surround by friends who can all see so clearly something that you can't, at least not anymore. Some days you strain really really hard, because you want so badly to see it. Some days you just pretend to see it, because that's honestly all you have energy for in the moment. Some days, some magical, glorious days, you get this beautiful, fleeting glimpse of it and you close your eyes so tight just to keep it from floating away. Some days, days like today, days like this year, you just say, "Friends, I honestly can't see it, but I believe you see it, so I know it must be there." On the good days, that becomes enough.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How my single friends make me a better parent

I have a dear friend who danced into my life less than three years ago with her trademark enthusiasm and passion. She's the type of friend who accepts and embraces who you are from the moment you meet her, and though we haven't known each other long, we've somehow always been family. She lived with us for a year once, and we would sit at the dining room table late into the night talking about all things hard and true, or sometimes mundane, or sometimes hilarious.

Though I don't do it on the page, during intimate conversation I have a tendency to go on little rants. So during our late-night musings, I would often find myself using declarative phrases like "Here's the thing..." before falling down a rabbit hole of long-held opinions that had been silently bouncing around in my brain waiting to be let out, to which my dear long-suffering friend would usually reply "Tell me the thing."

Though there's a hint of sarcasm in it, a hint of here-we-go-again-brace-yourself, I've always found "Tell me the thing" incredibly affirming. To me, it says "Go ahead, I'm listening. And I've got all the time in the world for whatever it is you have to say." I get the feeling that maybe she'd like to grab a drink and get comfortable while I pour my frequently too cautious heart out over all the little messes that don't really matter.

She really is an incredible listener, my friend, and a couple weeks ago, after I had apologized for selfishly highjacking yet another conversation with her, all for the sake of emptying out my own cluttered brain in front of real adult people, that's when it hit me: She is teaching me how to parent. Because in the midst of her listening, I am learning the holy, redemptive act of hearing others out. In the midst of her listening, I am reminded to hear and affirm the words of even the smallest voices in my own life. In the midst of her listening, I am realizing that sometimes the best way to build trust and dissolve tensions and form bonds, is silently. So someday, years from now, when my son comes home from school all worked up over some little incident that feels so big to his childhood heart, she will be the one who taught me not to fix or diminish or ignore, but to grab a drink, pull up a seat, and say "Tell me the thing."

Baby and Auntie.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

So is a mother

Last fall, a couple months after my son was born, I heard the saying "When a child is born, so is a mother" for the first time. Of course, mothers can be born in more ways than one, but I think the point is that new mothers, like newborn babies, go through an intense process of growth and change. No one would ever expect a baby to have life figured out from the day he emerges, but sometimes, mothers expect this of themselves. So for me, the phrase is a reminder that I'm really no older than my son when it comes to motherhood. The thought has followed me all throughout the past year, my first year, and it came to me again last week, surrounded by cupcakes and wrapping paper, as we ushered in our sweet boy's second year of life.


It was his birthday, but it was mine too, in a way. I turned one-year old last week in my mama heart and that's about as unsteady as I feel today. I'm still just getting on my feet with this whole business, but I have learned a lot, too. It has been so much harder than I thought it would be, in all the ways I didn't expect. Sure there are the sleepless nights and nursing struggles and endless diaper changes, but for me, the difficulty has come mostly in what I have had to give up.

People always say that in marriage your spouse is like a mirror, reflecting yourself back to you. And sure. He is. I get that. But I've never seen myself so clearly as I do each day around 4:00 p.m., when the naps have been taken, the snacks have been given, the husband won't be home for another hour at least, and the baby is sitting on the floor completely unsatisfied with the way things are going. And here's what I see in the mirror: I am needy.


At least once a day I feel the need for solitude, reflection, exercise, companionship, and food. I also regularly feel the need to read, write, create, be outdoors, and shower. Then there is the need for accomplishment, for getting things done and checking them off my list, which usually involves mundane tasks like laundry, dishes, cooking, or grocery shopping. I also have this pesky little need for contributing, both to my community and to the larger world, which is forever buzzing silently around my face like a gnat. On any given day, my son's needs, which primarily involve food and/or my full attention, are usually at odds with at least half, if not all, of these.

So you can see my dilemma. Not all my needs can be met every day. If I'm lucky, I can pick two or three to indulge in during the sacred hours of nap time, but even that luxury will disappear in a couple of years and I'll begin compacting my neediness into the holy edges of the day, into early mornings and late nights. But maybe by then, as my son gets older and finds his footing, I will find my strength too, and my needs will not feel quite so desperate. For now at least, though, I am just giving myself grace in the neediness, because as my son learns to grow and move and communicate, I am learning a lot too, like how to put someone else first every time and not hate it. So I am trying to show as much compassion for myself in this as I do for the needs of my baby. It's only been a year after all. We are still just a couple of one-year olds at this.


*linking up with Imperfect Prose*

Friday, August 30, 2013

Simple Pleasures of August

Living

This month we woke up from the dream of summer break and my husband headed back to a classroom full of 14 year-olds. I'll never know how he does this. It's bittersweet because of course we miss him terribly, but also I somehow turn completely lazy and unproductive when he is home, so it's nice to be back in a rhythm and getting. stuff. done. for a change.

Also this month was my birthday. I love birthdays for the excuse to spend some quality time with my husband, reconnect with friends, and reflect on the past year of my life. This birthday was a milestone because of how much change I've seen in myself over the last year. Twenty-six has potential to be my favorite year yet.

Loving 

Unlimited blueberries from a Saturday of picking with a dear friend, morning bike rides around the neighborhood with my little one, Sunday morning sermons and communion for the first time in years, and planning a little celebration for my favorite nearly one-year old.

And this guy loves baths. 
Reading

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide- Every human being on the planet should read this. It's that important.

War and Peace (Book One)- I did it! Kind of. And then I abandoned it. Hopefully I can return before I forget everything and have to start over.

Currently reading ------------->

Listening

Earlier in the month I listened to a few Jonathan Martin sermons and I've also been listening to Pray-as-you-go each morning while I make the baby's breakfast. Both have been very refreshing for me.

Afternoon kill-time-till-Dad-gets-home dance party music consists of the children's albums of Ziggy Marley, Laura Veirs, and Jack Johnson on Spotify. It's kids music you'll actually want to turn on.

Watching

We chose Sherlock to fill the void The Office left, which was good, but I kind of regret adding another television show to the list of things I feel invested in.

For my birthday, I was surprised with a dinner and a movie date, with the choice of The Great Gatsby (which I've wanted to see for months) and The Way Way Back (which I've wanted to see for weeks). I chose the latter because it's rare that I get to see a movie while everyone is still talking about it. Worth it. It's definitely a good pick for conversation over ice cream afterward. : )

Linking

I always love an overwhelming amount of things in the category, but these are the ones that felt most important to me this month:

How choosing peace at home can stop the war in Syria by Emily Wierenga

What I Won't Tell You About My Ballet Dancing Son by Ashleigh Baker

Christians and Education Inequality: An Interview with Nicole Baker Fulgham by Rachel Held Evans

Why Picking Your Berries for $8,000 A Year Hurts A Lot by Eliza Barclay

Women WILL save the world by Elizabeth Esther

Stop Turning "Devotions" into Dogma: reflections on how we read the bible by Kurt Willems

And This is Also About Submission by Ester Emery

I also happened upon a new little blog, wandering into the woods, that I've enjoyed several posts from this month. If you're looking to support or read more little-known but well-written blogs, check this one out.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Challah and Grape Juice

At our church, we do communion every other week. We do it standing in a circle with broken loaves of white bread and little plastic cups of grape juice that end up littered all over the building on Sunday afternoons. A couple years back, we used to use challah bread. If you've never had challah, it's a traditional Jewish bread that is woven together in a braid-like design, brushed with egg, and baked in the oven until the top is a shiny and golden brown and perfectly beautiful. I know because bread-baking happens to be one of my husbands many talents, but all you really need to know is that the inside comes out unbelievably soft and sweet and delicious.

Via
The thing about communion at out church is that it comes right at the end of the service, a little before 1:00 pm, when you are starting to get hungry and maybe even a little bit crabby. So then the challah comes out and it is looking so good right now. But this is communion. Christ died, you know? So get it together. Usually, when we used the challah, I would try my hardest to think about the bread being Christ's body and all, broken for me, and I would try to get it down without tasting the sweet goodness of it softening on my tongue.

But then a few things happened. Our church went from renting out a middle school cafeteria, to using an abandoned church, and at the same time I began a difficult season of intense doubting that made communion really really hard, and sometimes impossible, for several months. It was also during this time that we stopped using challah for communion. I don't know why. I actually didn't even really notice until last week, when we gathered around in a circle for communion and bam, there was the challah on the table, like it had never left.

And maybe it was the season of doubting from which I have yet to recover, or maybe it was the surprise of seeing it there, but this time, I let myself think about that bread. I let myself think about how good it tasted back in that middle school cafeteria and I let myself long for it. And as the bread was coming around, I decided for the first time ever, to let myself enjoy it. And as I savored that bread in my mouth, I realized that there was a reason Jesus chose this absurd metaphor, of his broken body being bread and his blood being wine, and I think part of that has to do with the goodness of it. I think we are meant to savor it, to touch and taste and smell it. I think it is okay, good even, to enjoy and revel in it. As a human, Jesus knew that food tastes good, and Jesus knew that giving up his body and blood would be something sweet to us too. So when the juice came around, I tasted it too, let the richness linger a moment in my mouth and quench my thirst as it washed down the last crumbs of golden sweetness.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thoughts on 26

I turned 26 yesterday, and in many ways I'm still the same old me: reserved with a rebellious streak, kind yet needy, self-conscious, slow to speak up, painfully empathetic, introspective and introverted to my core. There is so much about me that has been the same from the start, from the day I was born. These are the things that I will likely hang on to for the rest of my life, things that will one day make my great-granchildren say "typical Granny," but I won't really mind, because they will be right and I kind of like those things about me anyway.

But I am changing too, and in so many ways I feel different than the me I have been all the years before. I think less about what others think about me than I ever have, though still more than I'd like. I am more gracious toward and less ashamed of myself. I feel more confident and comfortable in what I believe, and don't believe, than I have in years. I know myself better than I ever have, my faults and gifts, and I am more aware of my needs, too. I am learning how to truly take care of myself. For the first time, I am taking care of my body and health because it is good. I am making time for reflection and writing, and I am collecting my stories in this space because I like it, even if they go unnoticed. In fact, I like that too, because writing them anyway makes me feel fearless and confident, which is nice for a change. So these days I am speaking up, online and off, regardless of whether I am judged, or even heard, but just because it feels good to get the words out there, to live like my thoughts matter too. Somehow, I am even reading more than ever before, because it's actually okay that I'm still that bookworm kid who feels safest lost in the pages. Finally, finally, I am beginning the work of settling into my own skin, of loving and accepting myself not for what I do or even who I am, but because it is necessary for living and loving well in this one life I have been given.

My very favorite birthday gift, every year, for all the years. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Gift of Light

I'm breaking my recent self-imposed ban on NICU writing today to write about #light, because these are the words that came and I am powerless against them. You can find more #light and beauty over at SheLoves

***

I was born in the month of August. Here in the South, it is the time of a good thing gone on for too long, and I'm sure that's how my mother felt those 26 years ago. It is the time when the flies are born too, and the sun bakes everything in sight for their month-long celebratory feast. It is the time of sweat dripping from even the daintiest of women, and of front lawns ignored in favor of more humane tasks. It is the time of sweet teas and fans on the front porch, or air conditioning with the shades drawn in the house. Even the most recreational of outdoor pursuits are temporarily abandoned. All because the sun has overstayed his welcome, and we who once cheered at his arrival for the warmth and light he brought, now turn away bitterly, speaking in hushed tones to each other about the burden he's become, and not entirely minding if he overhears.


It is in this month last year that I found myself about 400 miles east of my birthplace and nine months pregnant. The sweat dripped from every pore and no breeze, man-made or otherwise, was strong enough to cool me down. I found sanctuary in peach popsicles that melted in my mouth and dripped down my hands. Walking what were once casual distances became an act of bravery, subversion even, proof that I could take the heat. I powered through being outside like it was a workout, and I had just a few more reps to go.

On the third day of September, my son was born. He spent one safe night in the quiet and cool of our dimly lit hospital room before being transferred to the bright lights and steady beeps of the NICU. It was there that we three spent the majority of September, that great sigh of relief to August's held breath.  But in the NICU, there were no seasons, nor days, not even windows to mark the hours, only florescent lights that burned without end, and babies away from their mamas' touch for another minute too long.

I would have forgotten about seasons altogether during those long three weeks were it not for the hospital courtyard. In the courtyard, summer was finally melting into fall. Cool breezes ran through my hair as I made my slow, post-partum way along the winding, tree-lined path, or sat gently on a moss-covered bench and watched the most sensitive of the still-green leaves make their way to the ground. I would close my eyes there and feel the sun on my skin, warm and bright at midday, barely peeking through the trees at dusk, each day becoming more gentle. The light of that sun danced on the paved floor of the courtyard, centering my disoriented rhythms and speaking to me of a world outside the hospital walls, reminding me that it existed, and that our family would return to make a home in it one day.

At three weeks old, my son saw the sun for the first time. And I couldn't have been more pleased to bring him into its light.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Links for what La Leche League didn't tell me

My short-lived career as a part-time nursing mother to baby O is officially over. I nursed him for the last time several weeks ago, and I feel, surprisingly, at peace, probably for the first time. We made it ten months. Ideally I would have liked to have at least made it to a year, though considering how things went, we were lucky to make it out of the hospital. Though I'm feeling good now, ten months of low milk supply was not an easy thing to face as a mama, so I thought I'd gather together some of the articles and blog posts that I found encouraging during that time:

Milk: the breast and the bottle by Kasey Fleisher Hickey @ Simple Mom

Lactation Failure: It Happened to Me by Lisa Selin Davis @ Huffington Post


The Breastfeeding Conspiracy by Taffy Brodesser-Akner @ Babble

Tina Fey Opens Up About Breastfeeding by Female First

Opening a Closed Door: An Unexpected Relationship Between a New Mom and a Lactation Consultant by Full Belly Sisters


Happy World Breastfeeding Week. However you feed your baby, #Isupportyou.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Simple Pleasures of Summertime

Family 

It's pretty unreal that our family actually gets two full months of 24/7 togetherness every year, and I can't help but feeling that it's a little rude somehow, seeing as how everyone else is still mostly trekking off to work every morning, but I'm trying to just soak up the last bits because I know August is going to feel like the world's longest Monday. Also, in a few weeks, we will have a one-year old, so there's that.

Community

Two sets of some of our closest friends got married this summer, so it feels like a very special season in our community of friends near and wide. When we first got married, we knew almost no other married couples our age, certainly not in our close circle, and now our once-single friends are suddenly dropping like flies. I'm a big fan of marriage so I'm excited to see all of them start that journey. It has been good for me too, to witness those exciting, holy, blissful first hours and months of two becoming one. Life can start to feel so mundane, a blur of chores and work and baby, that you forget about the holiness and beauty and mystery of it all, about all the little choices you make each day to keep the vows you made, about how every morning you are writing a new line into the story of your family. So I am thankful for the weddings.

Reading

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle - This was a very leisurely, slow read for me, but I'm glad I stuck it out because it was good for me in a lot of ways, some of which I wrote about here. In addition to that, the sentence "A journal is a notebook in which one can, hopefully, be ontological" has helped me get back into journaling as a form of self-care and I found her writing somehow made me excited to be middle-aged someday, so that was nice. I've also been dwelling a lot on her thoughtful interpretation of kairos. I can't explain it all here though. You'll have to read it.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty - I read this all the way back at the beginning of the summer, and it was unusual for me because I'm not usually a beach read, modern day fiction kind of gal, but I had read several good reviews of it that intrigued me, and, like 90% of the books I read, it was at the library. As other people have mentioned, it really made me think about my life and marriage, and the person I want to be in 10 years.

Evolving in Monkey Town by Rachel Held Evans - So so good. I don't have a big sister, but if I could choose one, it would be Rachel Held Evans hands down. We live less than an hour apart, so I'm going to leave that open as a possibility. But seriously, where do I even begin? Her views on theology and life were so affirming to me. In the book (and on her blog) she gently refutes so much modern day religious dogma in a way that is so truthful and graceful and always leaves me thinking, "Of course, why didn't I look at it that way?" As a doubter learning to evolve in my faith as well, I (along with a lot of other people) am truly so grateful for what she does.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott - As a new mom to a baby boy, it was fun to read about Anne Lamott's adventures raising her son and her brutal honesty definitely made me feel a little less crazy. I was hoping to move on to Some Assembly Required next, but was disappointed by the reviews I found. I think I'll stick to her faith-centered memoirs from her on out.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? by Mindy Kaling - Just a quick, fun read. It was cool to learn about her life and career, but I think I'd personally rather watch her be funny than read her be funny.

Ollie and I have been loving Who's Hiding in the Pond? and I am a Bunny. On a related note, I also read parts of Diaper Free Baby, and am following it casually, with mild success.

Listening

We were lucky enough to find audio versions of both Bossypants by Tina Fey and A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans at the local library, so the 20+ hours we spent in a car with a baby this summer actually flew by. No, seriously. Bossypants was hilariously entertaining (the breastfeeding chapter made me especially glad) and I can't even count how many aha moments I had during A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I like to think that O enjoyed them as well.

As far as music goes, baby and I have been listening to a lot of Head and the Heart, because we both love it and O smiles real big when "Cats and Dogs" comes on. And, kind of embarrassingly, I've been a teensie bit obsessed with Get Lucky by Daft Punk because it's really catchy and I feel like it says something profound about the human expereince. I just haven't figured out what that is yet.

In other news, been loving visits with family and bike trips with this guy. 
Watching

The Office- Also kind of embarrassingly, we rewatched the entire series (minus season 9) in three months, basically by watching very little else. It was enjoyable, and we always end up choosing terrible, unexpectedly depressing Netflix movies anyway. Also, it was worth it to realize that the true love story of the last few seasons is the developing friendship between Jim and Dwight. So precious.

Masterchef- We started watching this because a very talented local food blogger from our city was a contestant (seriously, her photos and recipes are amazing, check them out). Unfortunately, she's no longer in the running, but we're hooked on the ridiculousness now anyway.

Doing 

We kicked off the summer with our church's VBS, which is less VBS and more like a week of nightly community-wide parties for all ages, dinner included. It's always amazing to see it come together, everyone doing their part. It was my third year teaching corralling the preschoolers. Each year, as my doubts have become heavier and heavier, I always start off thinking, "Should I really being doing this?" but each year I end the week feeling wonderfully exhausted and loved and where I am meant to be. When we first started attending our church, it was mostly a mix of young middle-class singles and low-income families from the neighborhood, but now the singles are marrying and having their own kids, so all the children's classes are becoming this beautiful mix of classes and races and personalities. I know diversity doesn't mean that reconciliation is happening, but it's nice to see that we're all here, showing up, and slowly pushing through the awkwardness, and becoming family. I'm so glad to know that our son will grow up loved and known by the people of our church.

Linking

There has been so so soooo much goodness on the world wide web this summer. I thought about shortening this list down, but then I didn't:

Parenting: These much-needed posts on adoption ethics. Two posts on how to answer the school question when you're seeking to live intentionally in a low-income neighborhood: this one by Abby Norman on D.L. Mayfield's blog, and this one on Motherlode. It's a question I've been thinking about for a long time, so I'm especially grateful for their thoughts.

MotherhoodThis battle cry for the warrior mamas, this defense of creativity in motherhood, and this mama's perspective on the Treyvon Martin verdict, which is the most touching and thoughtful response I've read.

MarriageThis beautiful letter and this one remind me what it's all about. And this post by reminds me that teaching is our calling.

Faith: O modesty. If you read one post about it, make it this one. Another question I've been thinking about, the effects of sunday school on kids, is addressed in this one. This one is spot on about what 20-somethings really need from the church. And one sentence each from this and this one have been following me all summer: "When our churches have building budgets and our sisters have dying children." and "Hospitality means if there is room in the heart- there is always room in the house.

Simple Living: This funny, but levelheaded view on the idea of emergency preparedness.

Writing: I wouldn't actually call myself a writer, but I frequently find myself in the act of writing anyway and found these pieces encouraging: this one by Ester Emery and this one by D.L. Mayfield.

Whew. I think that's it. But in my defense, it was two months worth. Thanks for sticking it out!

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh