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.


Sunday, April 09, 2017


 When I was in elementary school we did not have a digital thermometer.  Glass thermometers full of mercury are a relic these days but they provided those of us in our mid-30s and above with the perfect tool for skipping school.  I'd feign some vague pains, mom would bring me the thermometer, and when she left the room I'd press the tip against the light bulb for a few seconds and then shake the scary 105 temp down to a reasonable 100 or so.

At the time, mom and dad both worked.  So being sick meant a trip to Mamaw and Papaw, which was really 90% of the reason for my sick day effort. Being sick in their home meant a cozy snuggle on the basement couch with cinnamon toast on command and an orange juice far superior in quality to whatever my mom bought. Being a doctor, Papaw was a bit wiser to my game than Mamaw, I think.  But he never gave me away. I was the first grandchild and I'm sure as a general rule I got away with a few ploys that the later generations did not. I'll get wrinkles first, so I feel like this is a fair trade. 

Sometimes I wasn't faking.  I spent a week at Mamaw and Papaw's when I had the chicken pox. I was an itchy, ornery mess but there was something magical about that cinnamon toast, something medicinal in the bright yellow of that smiley face cup. The wet washcloths on my forehead were cooler in that basement, the pillows softer. And a sick nerd loves nothing better than a pile of National Geographic and Encyclopedia Brittanica. 

My years of sick days with my grandparents were limited, something I can't blame on digital thermometers but must blame on distance when we moved away. While I spent less time convalescing on that basement couch, the years of Mamaw's cool, loving touch and soft kiss on my cheek continued for a total of 36 lucky years, through Papaw's death, the birth of additional grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a dear second grandfather in Onis, multiple moves and adventures, and an impressive number of hurricane evacuations on my part. 

I am the eldest of thirteen grandchildren and the span of years and distance between us has meant that while we've always prayed for and loved one another, we haven't always known each other incredibly well. But we all loved and were loved by Mamaw. We've all felt her hands on our back, we've all shared a Dove chocolate with her, felt her softest of kisses as we said goodbye. We've laughed with her, prayed with her, and heard her "I love you," complimented her lipstick or her scarf, drawn her a million pictures and sent her postcards from faraway lands, and in loving and knowing her, we've loved and known each other a little better. 

Families are full of so many different dreams and personalities and hills and valleys, it's easy to see how the connections of childhood can fade with the addition of years and new families, a new generation. But that's what makes that communal experience of a grandmother's love that much more precious and powerful. Because as the years go on, remembering what it felt like to set the table for Thanksgiving, to go to church together, to smell the cinnamon toast in the toaster oven, to pretend and climb mountains, to dig through drawers for old love letters, to marvel at faded pictures of our parents as children, to tell Mamaw what you wanted to be when you grew up, and listen as your cousin answered the same question, those are memories imprinted on our bones. They're the guts of what it means to be loved, to be a family that loves well, a family that looks heavenward and gives thanks when Mamaw goes Home.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Drew a Map of the World

I cannot read maps. I get lost in malls. I suffer almost-panic when I'm called upon in the passenger seat to be the navigator. There is a disconnect in my brain between the world I see in front of me and the flat, impersonal scratches one sees in an atlas or by way of dear, helpful Google Maps. I've always preferred directions in written form.  Turn left at the stop sign. Turn right when you take the exit. If you feel the need to draw a picture, you can assume I'll be late.

A common first project for Peace Corps volunteers, especially for those tasked with teaching, is the world map. You have a grid to work from and together with your students, their parents, any number of curious on-lookers, you slowly begin to sketch the world. In training, I was skeptical of my ability to spearhead anything resembling a map. And while I had a shiny new bachelor's degree, I worried I'd confuse the country names in some disastrous, offensive way. But I needed a project.  I needed a way to get messy with my students, connect with the boys in a silly way, and carve out time with my shyest girls, as we wondered how cold Antarctica must be.

This experience strikes me now with a rib-crunching blow. These were students whose families loved me when I was all alone in a country very different from my own. They always knew I was a Christian.  They knew I covered my hair out of respect, not out of any deep understanding of their religion. They knew I fasted for Ramadan out of curiosity, not devotion. They took care of me because of their innate goodness, the joy that permeated their homes, the warmth that made them quick to give and quick to smile, and their faith, which taught them to love and show kindness to strangers. This is what I know of Islam. This is what I know to be true.

When I think of Islam, I think of paint.  I think of a wall in a rundown youth center that slowly resembled the world. I think of tea and laughter. I think of friends who walked me home after a long day. I think of warm bread, mint, cumin, and heaps of golden couscous on Fridays. I think of cool hands on my hot forehead, when I was too sick to get out of bed. I think of babies held and kisses on cheeks and the gut-deep chuckle of old men. And I think of goodbyes.

The recent executive action against refugees, against Muslims, against immigrants in total, has me thinking of that map. How arbitrary those lines seemed once we sketched them on the wall. Some I knew to trace the line of a river, of a mountain range, some soft demarcation made by God. But most I knew to be the creation of men. As if the line built a home, built a place worth living, built space with some superior context. The lines felt unnecessarily powerful, and so unfair.

To see my country, my combination of lines, deepen those divides, draw them with such hatred, wrap them in religious and cultural superiority and call them "security," only strengthens the feeling I had 15 years ago that the lines must be among the darkest of God's heartbreaks. The God I believe in loves without any care of the lines we're born between. God drew the world, drew the color, drew the mountains and rivers full of life, drew the perfection of Eden and the wood of the cross, drew the people that would wander every inch of creation, drew faces of every shade, voices of every pitch, bodies of every strength, minds of every depth, drew love. We drew the map.