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.