Monday, February 12, 2018

A Day Like Sunday

Sometimes a day feels impossibly heavy, like the heft of it might crush your next inhale. I woke up to a call on Sunday that my grandmother, my last grandparent to share the Earth with, had passed away. I cried for as long as time allowed as friends were hosting a sweet bridal brunch and puffy eyes are not how I choose to present myself to the world.

As my fiance drove me to the party, I looked at my eyes again in the side view mirror, checking for errant mascara smears, and remembered my 13 year old self, armed with my triplet of green eyeshadows, painting Grandmother's eyelids some summer. She liked the way I put the darker color in the crease, she said, and how the green looked with my eyes. They're her eyes, really, and I think that was the first moment I wondered if I'd look like her someday. Over the last decades I've seen hints of lines on my face that whisper at the depth of the ones she carried. And that deep left crease between the nose and mouth when we smile always reminded me that she is rooted in me, as powerful a marker as the mountain she drew us all to every summer.

The day passed slowly, with laughter and joy sipping mimosas among loving friends (not lost on me that Grandmother would not approve of that form of self-soothing) and with tenderness as Dad and I practiced our father-daughter dance, debated the merits of my song options. It struck me throughout the day, sometimes like a feather grazing against my arm, sometimes like a knife below my ear, that she wasn't here anymore. I wouldn't get to tell her the song we chose. I wouldn't get to tell her about the delicious cake at my shower, the sweet friends who made bacon and biscuits to celebrate with me. I wouldn't get to tell her that I wore a new dress that day, that there were stars on it, and the snow was finally packed down enough to make heeled boots less treacherous. These were all the things I'd share with her on our next call, all the things I'd mention as I shared my life with her from 800 miles away.

We'd spoken last a few days before, chatting about my wedding, discussing my plan to shorten her bridal gloves so that I could wear them with my dress. We talked a bit about the milk glass she'd sent for Christmas, how pretty it would be as a candy dish. I've never in life had a candy dish but she's right, it's perfect for a pile of sweets. We laughed about her getting straight As in physical therapy. We were kindred achievers, straight As were important.

I knew my brother headed to church with his family on Sunday, knew my sister had to teach yoga at noon that day.  I wondered how Katie, my cousin, would fill her day, how the hours would pass for her, the fourth of our small but mighty pack of grandchildren. And I wondered if they each felt the loss as I did, in jolts of memory, or if they settled into it better, felt the loss unfold like a blanket.

She was the eldest of her siblings and I am the first born of her first born. I always felt a certain kinship (and friction) there, the shared independence providing an easy bond and an easy cause for heated discussion. She was not meek, but she was generous and joyful even when life was harsh.  She was a doer, an achiever, an accomplisher of tasks great and small. I think we recognized that trait in one another often, both able to rattle off what we’d done and what we planned to do, a momentum couched in faith as much as birth order. And as the litany of things I'd never share with her piled up, it was that mixture of strength and DOING and joy that underscored the loss. Everyone needs a pair of blue eyes like hers, looking into you, reminding you of what you're capable of doing and the joys you're capable of experiencing. I needed those reminders often, whispers of that toughness, fortitude when life felt exhausting. She was so sure of herself, her place in the world, her place before God, and I envied that assurance. I will always envy it. And I will always be thankful that for 37 years I had her blue eyes looking into mine, her left smile crease mirroring my own, her strength providing all the guidance a girl could need for the burdens and joys of a day like Sunday.

Saturday, January 06, 2018


Whenever I'm in the midst of an intense experience, I always wonder what it is that I'll need to write about.  Most of my writing is reflective, a way to process the world and the people around me, my method to life's large and small madness. This year I've also gotten into the habit of writing more with pen and paper, started in January with the purchase of a perfectly pocket-sized notebook during a rainy day in New Orleans, and more recently due to a beautiful leather journal given to me by my fiance.  Paper is a bit more private and a bit more precious.

But sometimes my thoughts are broader than the poems and missives I jot in notebooks. Paragraphs are usually better suited for a keyboard.  The trouble with that is that I sit, well over 24 hours now back in the US after my latest adventure, and the moments of "I must write about this" blur in my mind. But I must give a few their due, so I'll begin...

Only a Year?
I sat on a plane to Brazil with my fiance five days after the one year anniversary of our first date. I've never been one to support the idea of proper romantic chronology (date for X amount before you're exclusive, be exclusive for X amount before you get serious, be together X amount before you get engaged, etc.).  I credit that flippancy with my mom's early marriage.  She married at 19 and I think it's natural for girls to imagine their lives as a kind of mirror or vague approximation of the timeline of their mothers.  Hitting 22, 27 (not to mention higher numbers) with no marriage on the horizon, it became clear to me that the timing that shaped my mother's life would not be the same for me.  There's a freedom in that, and a terror.  But it's the freedom I felt most strongly.

All that flippancy as to proper dating timelines aside, sitting next to a fiance on a trip out of the country with members of his family was not what I would have anticipated of my life a year ago. Surely that's a speedy leap. Not only do I feel overwhelmed by the love that has come to me, I'm overwhelmed at how easy it is to be taken care of, how natural it feels to want to take care of someone else. I always imagined it to be impossibly difficult, that level of care, but it seems to have bubbled up naturally alongside the love. To not only feel and want to give that care but to receive it, feels genuinely holy.

These Rocks Remind Me of Those Rocks
Walking on the rocks at one of the beaches we visited in Buzios, I was reminded by the rocks I piled on top of each other when I hiked the glacier trail in Zermatt, Switzerland.  In one location I was slathered in sunscreen and walking barefoot in a swimsuit on a crowded beach, and in the other I was bundled up and felt like I could hear my own heartbeat in the silence and solitude around me. But my brain still connected the two, saw the rocks, their shape and color, the tumble of little stones along the coast, and recalled the similar shapes on that hike and the peace I felt in laying on the cold ground in those mountains, stacking stones while I muttered prayers.

But it wasn't that connection that made the real impression.  What halted my step for a moment was the fact that I connected them at all.  To be walking in Brazil and be reminded of Switzerland, what kind of glorious existence have I been blessed with? To have both images alive in my experience, to hold both close enough to want to fit them into the puzzle of rocky landscapes of my life, it just makes me so overwhelmed with gratitude.

Home is Everything
In the middle of our trip we made our way to Campo Mourao, the small city where my fiance was born and raised. Specifically, he grew up on a small campus for training seminarians and providing orphanage care. We spent time at his childhood home and I could picture him running from one building to the next, picture the red dirt caked on his knees.  I saw him hug and laugh and tell stories with men and women who'd known him since childhood, people who'd known and loved his family, people who recognized the ring on my finger was worn by his mother. It was a home clearly steeped in love and devotion and he relaxed there in a way you can only relax in surroundings you fully understand and embrace.  And it struck me that that's one of the things any marriage would want to construct, a home that allows two people of vastly different backgrounds and experiences to relax, enjoy, embrace, and be comforted. A tiny portion of the world within which you can each be seen and heard and cherished, even if the heater is making noise or the laundry has piled up. Seems like a tricky thing, home-making. Tricky and exciting.

And finally...

No Wondering This Time
On every adventure since my first trip abroad to Russia at 14, I've wondered the same thing.  Is this the first and last time I ever see this place? Will I ever return? Is this moment once in a lifetime?  When I studied in England in college, my dad said something on the phone that always stuck with me.  I was (very dramatically) begging for money to travel to Ireland with classmates over a weekend and I used the phrase "once in a lifetime" probably a bit too heavily to the parents that were generously paying for me to study abroad in the first place.  My dad responded to my "once in a lifetime" plea with a short, "that's your choice." He went on to say something along the lines of it being my decision whether or not something would be a once in a lifetime experience, at least when it comes to travel.  If I wanted to go to Ireland someday, I would go (on my own dime). I know I must have been upset with that answer but it was actually very sound advice and a good reminder that while there are some experiences that may truly be of the once in a lifetime variety, many are not.  They are only "once" because we choose to make them so. We have the power to determine whether we want to experience something, whether it's worth our effort and investment. Life doesn't just happen to you.  You build it yourself. [Side note: I did go to Ireland, this year! On my own dime and with my own dear friend, Sandy, beside me. So Dad was clearly right.]

But that's a bit of a burden, too.  To know that I will choose to not return to places I've loved in favor of new adventures is a bit sad.  So that's what made the wondering so much more fun this time around.  Brazil (Brasil, for Chester) will be a part of my life for all my life, because it is home to my future husband.  We won't be able to go back every year but we have every hope of going back every few years to see friends and do more exploring.  We'll see places Chester has never seen, we'll fly to Argentina and Chile to get more stamps in our passport and finally spend time in Patagonia.  We'll likely stand in the same place at Iguacu Falls and take pictures again someday (see picture), soaked again by that massive storm of water. And that shifting of wonder, to a when, as opposed to an if, feels like a great gift.

And that's the sum of every thought about this trip, really.  It all feels like too great an experience to boil down into paragraphs here and into poems scratched in journals at the beach. It all feels like a gift, laden with farofa and sweat and bug spray and bad plumbing and grilled meat and mud and laughter and new freckles and love.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Counting Down

Over the weekend we celebrated our engagement with family and friends, successfully introducing the bridal party for the first time. My uncle surprised me in his characteristic Uncle Buck way, flying in for 24 hours to raise a glass to the pending nuptials.  It was a weekend full of family, hugs, love, surprises, bridesmaid dresses, and daydreams about how I should wear my hair with my mother's veil.

Counting down is equal parts intimidating and exciting. As a planner, I can feel the to-dos whispering with every day discarded. But I also have an overwhelming sense of "oh, hurry up, already" at times. Let's get crackin' on the rest of our lives! I don't care about flatware!

Counting down felt a bit holier when surrounded by family and the dearest of friends. It wasn't just a list of boxes to check, it was a taste of what that day will be, how it will feel.  Ches was largely in the kitchen, laughing and making sure our guests were well-hydrated. I floated in the living room and kitchen, catching up with friends I hadn't seen in awhile, introducing Little Debbie to her future in-laws. Occasionally Ches and I would stand still long enough to make introductions, tell a story, tease each other a bit, and then we'd each float back to our people.  I laughed a lot, and I heard Ches laughing, too.

These are some of the people that made him the man I love. And vice versa.

It's a count down to a life that involves them all. Some will be at the wedding, some will not. Some will come over for dinner often, others we'll see sporadically. We'll celebrate birthdays together, other weddings. We'll hold each others hands at funerals, loan each other sunglasses on vacation. We'll set some up on blind dates, we'll ask others for a lift when the car is in the shop. We're counting down to each being more than an introduction.  They'll belong to each of us, in some way.  And all of those little connections amaze me.  Those ties can feel tenuous, but in other moments they feel like some kind of cosmic glue, binding us to the people who teach us how to love and be loved.

Love feels a bit like gravity, a bit like standing on a cliff and hoping for flight, like a soap bubble and a rainbow and a bowl of soup, like a hammer, like a nail, like a law and a theory all rolled into one. I learned love from my people, those in the room on Saturday and those in my heart. I learned love in the reach of their arms and the depth of their laughter, in the fervency of their prayer. And I feel every definition of that love, counting down.

Friday, October 06, 2017


When I bought my house three years ago I was immediately overwhelmed by the space.  After six years in a 500 square foot apartment, my home's indulgent 890 square feet felt palatial.  I needed furniture and I acquired it in bits and pieces.  Some I ordered off various low cost websites (the twin bed I built from such a delivery has an unfortunate habit of falling apart if you're too violent a sleeper) and other pieces I grabbed at Target.

But I wanted a "grown up" couch. I wanted it to be new and perfect. I'm also fairly frugal so I opted for the Room and Board Outlet and left after my first trip with a receipt for a small grey canvas couch and a pale blue velvet swivel chair.  I was proud, happy, and impressed with the enthusiasm I could muster for decorating and getting things in order.

The couch has served me well.  It's the perfect snuggling size with my pup and it has been my landing spot after breakups, long runs, long days, and marathon viewings of Parks and Rec. It is not, perhaps, the perfect size for me, my pup, and my 6' hubby-to-be.  And so last weekend we went furniture shopping together.

Wedding planning is a weird thing.  In many ways it just feels like I'm planning the biggest party of my life. It's amorphous and fuzzy when I visualize it and only over time does it start to take shape. I waffle on colors and dress styles and hair options and whether or not I want the groom in a tux. And because my fiance is the Type B to my Type A, a lot of that waffling is met with a smile and a hug.  As long as he gets to marry me, Chester seems content with all options. The marriage is more important to me than the wedding, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't care about the details.

House planning makes marriage feel more real to me.  Perhaps it's because we both know the wedding is one day and that it will come and go quickly.  Discussing how we'll update my home to make it our home feels heavier, more laden with understanding that there will come a time when he doesn't leave. Someday he'll live here and this space will be his.  And we need a couch that makes room for him, for us.

And this is the part of planning I truly love.  Wedding planning is an exercise in addressing multiple inputs. You want your guests to feel welcome, you want to stay within a reasonable budget, you want your parents to be proud, you want your family to feel included, you want travelers to be happy they bought that plane ticket.  You review every detail with those desires in mind.

The wedding day belongs to many people. The couch only belongs to us. The house will be only ours. And because the "ours" is new to me, it feels precious. The decisions on leather vs canvas, grey vs. camel, are portentous. Holy.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Rest of Your Life

You don't experience singleness in your thirties without toying with the idea that singleness is the mode in which you'll experience the rest of your life. You either grow comfortable with this idea or you fight it, wavering between acceptance and sadness.  And even if you grow comfortable with the idea of life-long singleness, you still have seasons of loneliness, evenings that end with more grey than you'd like.

I can't say that I ever felt comfortable with accepting singleness, but I had grown content in the day-to-day of it. Life can be full and joyous without a mate and I laughed infinitely more than I cried. As easy as it is to be thrilled and excited these days, his mother's ring on my finger, I've struggled to articulate this other feeling, this bittersweet look backwards.

The joy I hold in one hand is coupled with a smidge of melancholy in the other that I didn't love alone-ness more, that I didn't dig in and just rest in that season instead of so often hoping that the rest of my life had not yet begun. I didn't always remember that the rest of my life was already happening, that finding someone with whom to share some later season did not belittle the season I was in.

But that feels like a good lesson, one I hope to hold dear and precious, for whatever seasons are ahead. It is so easy to wrap all one's hopes and joys around some later moment, to sit on the lawn and stare heavenward, waiting for that next specific, life-changing firework, even when reeling from the firework before. He makes my heart burst and rest at the same time, makes joy feel easy. But I'm still quick to stare heavenward and wonder about the shape of our lives together, what thousands of tomorrows will look like, what fireworks are ahead.

We'll marry sometime early next year, and soon I'll know exactly when, know the date that will be etched on trinkets over the next 50 years. Soon I'll know what the dress looks like, and what the colors will be.  Soon I'll know who'll attend, what drinks they'll hold in their hands when they toast my new last name.  Soon some other season will unfold, lace and gold and figuring out whose turn it is to do laundry. Soon this season will be over, this short and beautiful season of almost and not-yet. I have learned the preciousness of the passage of time. I will cherish the rest of my life that is happening today, weight of a promise on my finger.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Rocks We Lean Into

My dearest friend, Megan, is in the process of losing her dad. To say the season has not been easy seems trite. A few short months ago she lost her older brother and her current grief I can only imagine as some sort of heartrending whiplash. I picture a knot of silly putty, slowly stretched to its limit, tiny strands of translucent pinkness waiting to silently break.

We talk often these days, sometimes on the phone but often by text as she goes through the routine of work and having-a-life while simultaneously planning for something that must feel unplannable. And she has said that these days she simply does not feel like herself, which seems fair.  We get so used to ourselves in a known context, when that context changes violently, how do you recognize the face in the mirror? The self she knew six months ago was a self with three living brothers, a healthy dad. The self she wakes up to now has lost and is losing so much.

My parents have lost parents, my mom recently so. As dear as Mamaw was to me, it strikes me that for my mother, she is now a woman living in a world with no mom and dad. To be nurtured and loved and guided for so long, and then to find that presence gone must be jarring. You were once a grandmother with a mother to share in your joys and sorrows, a mother to watch and learn from and listen to.  Now you are a grandmother, you are the one to be watched and learned from and listened to.  Not an orphan, but alone in an important way.

I love a man who lost his mom a decade ago. I can't help but wonder who he was when she was alive, and how losing her changed him. There's a steadiness tied to parents and to lose them before you become a parent yourself seems so disorienting, like a star you planned to guide your ship by goes dark.

I've never lost a parent or a sibling so my world has never shifted, turned itself upside down, reordered itself around that new truth. There have been moments of brightness and sorrow that have rearranged my Self, made me more of what I am now and less of what I once was. But those moments provided periods of transition, months of growth, and their destabilizing force was always cushioned by the comfort of parents, siblings, those rocks we lean into out of the wind.

We have no choice but to grow into our new selves. And when we lose one rock, we must find another. For those who live lives of faith, like Megan and my mom and my love, they find comfort in one rock that never shifts, never changes, never weakens. And there's beauty in that dependence, that trust, that choice to root oneself in a Truth that never leaves. I pray I'd have the courage to stand that firm. Or, if lacking in courage, the gift to be surrounded by those who've leaned on the Rock before me.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Little Things

For the last 18 months I've kept a running list on my phone of things I'm thankful for.  Sometimes I'm very dedicated to this list, adding a couple items a day.  But life gets busy and I'll forget the list for a couple weeks. What strikes me is that the moments of thankfulness that bring me back to the list are never big. They're almost always small. Very, very small.

I fell in love a few months ago.  Not really sure of the timing, honestly. All of the sudden it was just there, this person I'd been spending a lot of time with started feeling more important than expected. And I say "expected" because I'm 36 years old and it's impossible to reach your mid-30s as a single person and not have built an expectation around who might make you happy. It's a conglomerate of past hurts and past loves, a tallying of traits both beneficial and harmful, and question marks, things I assumed I needed in order to be Happy. I won't call it a checklist, because it never felt that way.  It felt like everything I've learned about love rolled into a vague idea as to what a greater Love might mean.

The man I fell in love with is not a vague idea. He's flesh and nerves and commitment, a bundle of curiosities and passions and preferences, some of which mirror my own and some of which feel completely foreign. We grew up in completely different environments, we share no common career arc or goal, but when I'm with him, he feels like a great big "of course." Of course it's you.

And it's those "of course" moments that spring up in tiny, heart-seizing ways. Moments so small they're almost unmemorable, they fleet in and grab and then float away, in favor of finding directions to the restaurant or getting the potatoes out of the oven. They're looks, and hands on shoulders, and unloading the silverware (because he knows I hate unloading silverware), they're using "we" when referencing the future, they're the questions born of figuring out someone else's family, all the worry generated by wanting to make someone else smile, the promises of prayer before big meetings, the comfort of knowing the person next to you plans to be next to you forever.

They're moments too big and too small to perfectly articulate on a list. But I will continue to try because it seems important to give the tiny moments their due. The grand gestures, first "I love you"s, and adventures get all the glory.  They're easier to document, proof that you laughed at this restaurant or explored a city, posted on any number of social media platforms. But it's the uncaptured moments that write the story, that give color and definition to the "of course" beside me.

Admitting love is a scary thing. Lovely, but unsettling, risky. I've written this post in my head a few times and have avoided publishing it because it feels very much like a tattoo of a lover's name on your arm. Like you're tempting the gods if you express love too vehemently, too sure, you're invariably going to have to cover up that tattoo eventually with a pretty flower. But "of course" has made me brave and thankfulness has helped me rest in the moment. Being courageous in the moment gets easier with practice, easier with company. And I've always loved tattoos.