Homebirth Safe & Sacred (a book review)

Two years ago, an advanced reader copy of Kim Woodard Osterholzer’s memoir, A Midwife in Amish Country, arrived in the mail for my roommate. I picked it up off the coffee table one night, started reading, and barely put it down until I reached the last page the next day. I was fascinated by Kim’s account of becoming a midwife and the numerous births she has attended throughout the years. I joined the launch team, posted my reviews, and became a fan of Kim and her work. Then a month ago, Kim popped back into the lunch team Facebook group and invited us to help her launch a new little pair of book babies.

Homebirth Safe & Sacred was born to explore “the many misconceptions surrounding the safety…of both American home birth and American hospital birth.” In this small but informative 116-page book and its companion, Homebirth: Commonly Asked Questions, Kim distills the facts and statistics regarding the benefits of home birth interwoven with scenes of one family’s experience with birthing at home.
When I saw Kim’s invitation to join the new launch team, I practically jumped at the opportunity.

For half a second before clicking the Join Group button I thought, “What are you doing? Why would you agree to promote a book on a topic you, a childless woman, has no life experience with?”

“Because it lights a fire in my soul,” I replied to the devil’s advocate in my head as I clicked the button.

Last week when Kim announced the advance reader copies have been mailed and alerted us to watch our mailboxes for the book’s arrival, I commented on her post, confessing my hesitation:

“I read the Q&A this morning and agree that this is a necessary conversation that needs to be addressed by medical professionals and women of childbearing age. As a 35 year old childless woman who has been fascinated by pregnancy, birth, and babies since young childhood and desperately wants a child of her own–but has no prospects of that happening conventionally, my presence on this launch team feels a bit odd. But my dream has long been to have a home birth yes and when I have a child it’s a subject I feel passionately about, yet don’t feel free to share my opinions on because I don’t have personal experience in this arena. I’m weary of feeling like I can’t express my desires and perspectives because I don’t have kids.”

Interest in childbearing and mothering has been part of my DNA since I was very young. I started reading about pregnancy and birth at age eleven, when my mom got pregnant with my first younger brother. At around age 15, with the relatively new introduction of the internet to our household, the popularity of mommy bloggers, and the arrival of my youngest brother, I discovered the literary genre of birth stories and within that group, the even more specific genre of homebirth. All of it fascinated me–pregnancy, birth, doulas, midwives, birth photography, newborns. I was enthralled–and have been ever since. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to have a home waterbirth when I finally got married and pregnant.

But that never happened.

Following the strict tenets of purity culture, I not only stuck to the rules to effectively avoid premarital sex and pregnancy (as was the fear-based aim of purity culture) but also learned to passively wait until my future husband rode up on a white horse (to represent his purity, of course), swept me (in my flowy, white dress to showcase my own purity, of course) off my feet, put a ring on my finger, and offered me the means to achieve this desire of my heart.

That’s how it was supposed to play out, according to everything the church (and the Disney empire) taught me. But it hasn’t.

So here I’ve sat on this huge, secret passion and dream hidden deep in my heart while I’ve watched countless friends and family members have children–married or not. Not talking about it. Pretending it didn’t really matter to me. Feigning ignorance about the topic even when I’ve taken in as much information as I possibly could and have solid views and opinions on the subject.

I’m not suggesting that information and theory is a parallel substitute for firsthand experience, but it’s also not to be discredited. 

In her reply to my comment in the group, Kim confirmed as much: You get to have opinions and you get to share them. Incidentally, some of the finest midwives I know never birthed their own babies.”

For a very long time I’ve suppressed the essence of who I am the me I was created to be in order to fit the expectations of who other people wanted me to be or perceived me to be. Squished my uniqueness down until it would fit in the box built by external influences, effectively locking away the parts of my heart, mind, and soul that make me tick. I learned to keep my thoughts, emotions, and opinions to myself in order to keep peace and avoid conflict.

I avoid conversations about topics in which society would assume I had no credibility. Despite my natural curiosity, voracious reading habits stemming from early childhood, and propensity for extensively researching interesting topics, I have allowed societal boundaries (educational background, marital status, religious affiliations, parental status, etc) to dictate what conversations I could or could not enter–regardless of how much knowledge I possess about a given topic.

No longer am I willing to discredit myself to fit the box in which I wasn’t made to be confined.

I want to listen to the intuitive fire inside me when it leaps enthusiastically, fanning the flame of passionate curiosity, making my heart beat wildly as something comes alive within my soul.

This little book has allowed me to do just that, and I’m not sorry.

For Rachel Held Evans: a tribute

Rachel Held Evans is, unquestionably, one of my heroines of faith. Though I’d never met her in person, her life has marked my own.

 

original image courtesy rachelheldevans.com

 

Hard News and New Opportunities

Two weeks ago today, I spent my Saturday morning getting dressed and psyching myself up for an opportunity that had popped up quite unexpectedly. A few days earlier, within minutes of sitting down to watch Brene Brown’s new Netflix special, my phone pinged with a text message from my friend, Bob Hamp, who wanted to know if I would consider recording a segment with him and his wife Polly. They wanted to interview me about my faith deconstruction for their upcoming Think Differently video series on Reformation.

Before I said yes, I clarified with Bob that I was still deeply entrenched in the middle of my deconstruction process. I had no definitive answers to any of my questions. I had little idea of where I would land on the faith spectrum when all was said and done. It’s still a bit fuzzy. But I’m okay with that fuzziness. Well, at least for today. Tomorrow might be another story. Such is deconstruction.

I digress.

I told him I would think about it and let him know the next day.

As my mind started immediately weighing the pros and cons, I texted Anna and told her about the invitation. While waiting for her reply, a thought settled gently in my mind. “I trust Bob and Polly with this conversation.”

My answer was yes, but I waited until the following day to accept the invitation.

When Saturday morning came, I was busy talking myself down from my nervous excitement. I paid little attention to social media as I prepared to leave the house. On my way to pick up Anna, who was going to the shoot with me, I turned on my favorite playlist and worked hard to push my anxiety to the edge of my mind.

Then, as I sat in the car waiting for Anna, I scrolled Facebook. That’s when I saw Sarah Bessey’s post.

image courtesy rachelheldevans.com

After a weeks-long hospital stay, Rachel Held Evans had died.

Tears stung the corners of my eyes immediately and the words on the screen blurred. I held the tears at bay to preserve my camera-ready face. But my heart was splitting in two. For Rachel’s sweet babies, for her husband, for her family, for her friends, for her readers. We had all lost something precious. #PrayforRHE, the hashtag that had been trending on Twitter for weeks, told us she mattered. #BecauseofRHE, the hashtag that flooded social media at the news of her death, told us she wouldn’t be forgotten.

By the time I arrived at Bob’s office for our recording session, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I wasn’t only telling my story for my own healing but also for those who were sitting in their own ash heaps. My story might give someone else permission to ask questions and courage to begin rebuilding. Even in the middle of my own process, I have a voice.

image courtesy Anna LeBaron


I am telling my story for myself and for those who are sitting in similar ashes.

~*~
Meeting Rachel through Her Words

I knew who Rachel was before last summer, but I hadn’t yet read any of her books. Then Anna was hired to run her launch team for Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving Bible Again, and in a degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way, I too worked on the launch behind the scenes. When Anna received her very early ARC of Inspired, I knew it was a book I wanted to read.

image courtesy Ticcoa Leister

When I picked the book up last May, I had no idea that I was headed into a deconstruction of faith and everything I believed. But I did know that Rachel saw the Bible as more than a rigid rule book that could not be questioned. My English major background had given me tools to dissect texts of all kinds–to question, to poke, to test, to re-imagine. But my evangelical, Southern Baptist Christian upbringing had clearly defined the Bible as off-limits when it came to investigating it from any angle other than what my churches taught.

Rachel gave me permission to explore the possibility that the Bible wasn’t meant to be so rigid.

Rachel gave me permission to be curious about the contents of the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to pick up my literary tools alongside the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to think critically rather than believe blindly about the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to explore the Bible as a collection of different literary genres.

Rachel gave me permission to wrestle with the contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible.

~*~
Searching for Sunday

Several days before the news of Rachel’s hospitalization became public, I’d ordered a copy of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. It arrived the day after her illness was revealed. Flipping it open the next day, the first words I read were the first sentence of Glennon Doyle’s foreword: 

 

Whenever I want to scare myself, I consider what would happen to the world if Rachel Held Evans stopped writing.

 

Nearly a year after reading Inspired, I found myself in a desolate season. Questioning everything I thought I knew about God and the Bible. Raising hell against the patriarchy and chains of the purity cultural movement. Closing my Bible and insisting that God find another way to speak to me. Yelling. Weeping. Cussing. Wrestling.

Now, I knew I was in the throes of deconstruction. It’s a lonely place, sitting in the rubble of your beliefs after they’ve burned to the ground. But when I found myself there in the ashes, I knew there were people who had been there. People who understood. People who had a wider vision of faith, God, and the Bible than I’d ever known. And those are the people I seek to learn from.

Jen Hatmaker.

Sarah Bessey.

Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Elizabeth Esther.

Pete Enns.

Jonathan Merritt.

Bob Hamp.

Rebecca Reynolds.

Alia Joy.

Anna LeBaron.

Rachel Held Evans.

(this is not an exhaustive list, by any means.)

Rachel wasn’t ashamed to ask hard questions and sit in the ashes without answers. Her bold and authentic personality blazed a trail for those of us who weren’t even sure if were allowed to have the slightest bit of doubt. She, and others, created space at a table much wider than the the one evangelicalism built. Rachel pulled out chairs for the people on the fringes. She smiled big and introduced us to the Jesus who welcomed the very people who the church condemns.

Rachel was brave. She gave us agency to get to know Jesus in the ashes.  
Rachel was true. She didn’t pretend to have all the answers.
Rachel was courageous. She stood up for her beliefs in the face of vehement backlash.
Rachel was a woman of valor. She fought a good fight and finished–too early–but well.

~*~
Christ Have Mercy…We Give Thanks

Yesterday, I was reading Searching for Sunday. In chapter ten, What Have We Done, Rachel begins by discussing ways the church at large has twisted its beliefs to harm and destroy human lives. Breaking between each paragraph, she offers a line of liturgical prayer:

“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”

In the second half of the chapter, she honors a bunch of people who have stood for their beliefs in order to provide more freedom for others throughout history. This time, each paragraph is sandwiched  by a different liturgical line:

For [name] we give thanks.

The chapter ends with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer:

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.”

The list of faith heroes includes Teresa of Avila, Anne Hutchinson, William Wilberforce, Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth. The section ends with this sentence:

“For all who did the right thing even when it was hard, we give thanks.”

The way Rachel wrote this chapter was beautiful and lyrical. When I came to the end of the we give thanks list, I sat for a moment with the complexity of feeling both inspired and grieved by the paradoxes in the chapter, compounded by the weight of Rachel’s death.

Then I picked up my pen and added my own tribute to the bottom of the list:

image courtesy Ticcoa Leister


For Rachel Held Evans, who made a way for raw questions and messy faith, even when it wasn’t popular to do so, we give thanks.

 

Today is the Day to Thank the Administrative Mary Poppins In Your Life

Do you have an administrative Mary Poppins in your life? Today is Administrative Professionals Day–the day to thank them for all they do.

Who is an administrative Mary Poppins?

An administrative Mary Poppins is someone who helps you run your business, someone who knows what’s going on and can answer your questions before you finish asking them. They can recite the history of your company and your credit card number. If they’re the best of the best, they’re also a vault that holds all your information in a fire-proof chamber of their brain.

An administrative Mary Poppins runs the world–or your world, at the very least–behind a computer screen, juggling calendars, sorting emails, and dozens of other tasks that keep everything in order.

An administrative Mary Poppins works mostly backstage to free up your mental bandwidth so you can focus on the front-of-house matters. They make you look your very best on the stage.

What your administrative Mary Poppins wants you to know:

Due to the nature of the job, your administrative Mary Poppins is likely introverted, intuitive, detail-oriented, a problem solver always looking for solutions–even to issues you don’t see yet, and focused, along with a host of other qualities.

Often, administrative assistants–especially those who work virtually–are overlooked. They easily slip into to the shadows while you’re in the spotlight.

But sometimes they need a spotlight, too.

Administration is a skill I’ve developed over the years. In college, I unofficially assumed the role of an administrative work-study for the English department until an official position became available in my senior year. I found grading tests and filing essays immeasurably enjoyable while sitting in the floor of my favorite professors’ offices.

I’ve been focusing on being an admin and virtual assistant for just over three years. My tasks during those three years have ranged from traditional administrative tasks to special projects, event planning, book tour management, book launch team management, social media, web design, graphic design, online course creation, copy writing, editing, ghostwriting, proofreading and more.

I’ve found that I’m more willing to work with clients who acknowledge the presence of their administrative Mary Poppins–whether that be an individual or a team of people. Some clients I’ve worked with prefer to take all the credit themselves, declaring their public image self-made when it’s actually took an army to help them get on stage. To me, that feels dismissive and unappreciative of the effort made by the backstage crew.

Others, like my main client, frequently pull their administrative Mary Poppins to the stage alongside them, to share the spotlight of the work they’ve done together. These clients recognize the efforts made by the backstage crew and celebrate them with their audience. That definitely makes me feel more invested in my backstage role.

Celebrate your administrative Mary Poppins

Your administrative Mary Poppins probably doesn’t need a showy display of appreciation; nonetheless, a token of your gratitude for them will go a long way toward boosting their enthusiasm for running the show.

Give them a shout out, a coffee shop gift card, a day off…whatever you think they’ll enjoy on Administrative Professionals Day.

The actual gift doesn’t really matter as much as letting your AMP know you see how valuable they are to your daily life and to your work.

They are a  supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

 

 

The One Where We Talk About Circumstantial Infertility

Circumstantial infertility is one of the areas I have found to be a direct cause of harm resulting from the teachings of purity culture.

Since I started deconstructing, I’ve realized that my process sometimes causes other people discomfort because it rattles their own beliefs. Circumstantial infertility is one of those taboo topics society sweeps under the rug, so let’s talk about it, shall we?

Purity Culture Fallout

The dogmatic doctrine of purity culture screwed me, even as one who followed the rules hook, line, and sinker.

I’ve discovered in the beginning stages of my deconstruction—as my beliefs and faith have imploded—there is an ever-growing mess of fallout to sift through, not just from growing up in purity culture but in evangelical Christianity itself. So here I am, picking through the rubble, one area at a time, allowing myself to process the full emotions of each new discovery.

Learning to suppress your emotions as a child poses a problem. Once faced with a loss large enough to uncork the flow of grief both past and present, the tap flows freely.  In turn, you awaken to pain you’ve been able to numb for decades as a matter of survival.

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is defined as ““grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

It must be held close because it is not understood or widely excepted.

I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half grieving the insurmountable and irreconcilable loss of my sister. Tapping into the messy emotions of that understandable, accepted grief has awakened other areas of raw pain and deep disappointment. One of the most painful areas I’ve found is the disenfranchised grief of circumstantial infertility.

Circumstantial Infertility

Circumstantial infertility  refers to the deep desire to have a baby but being hindered from getting pregnant and giving birth, not by biological infertility but by other circumstances.

For single, childless women suffering from circumstantial infertility, there are few resources to help us carry our pain. Once we reach a certain age, we find ourselves as a minority. Most of our friends are married-with-kids or divorced-with-kids or single-with-kids.

When we try to explain our longings and desires to have a family, some of those friends say they understand. Perhaps they struggled with medical—or even circumstantial—infertility at some point. They attempt to empathize, but that season is now behind them.

Yet, I’m left to reckon with the ever-deepening awareness that my biological clock is ticking like a time bomb.

Tick, tick, tick…


Unfulfilled Longing

I’ve been drawn to babies, young children, and all things pregnancy my entire life; mothering is carved into my DNA.

As a  child, I had a half-dozen dolls that I carted around everywhere. I nursed them, talked to them, diapered them, fed them, bathed them.  I could rattle off every one of their names to you today. First and middle. They were real to me, and I was very offended by anyone who suggested otherwise.

The first time I remember seeing a pregnant woman was at a grocery store. I was probably four or five, and when she came around the corner of the aisle, her protruding belly was at my eye-level. I remember staring with wide-eyed wonder at the mystery of the life within her, fascinated.

At eight, I wanted to be a “baby doctor or nurse” when I grew up.

At nine, my mom began babysitting a six-week-old. B was the first baby in whose care I played an active role. I quickly claimed her as my own special baby, which I earned by feeding, diapering, supervising, soothing, and entertaining.

At eleven, a new brother arrived, further cementing my love of babies.

At fifteen, another brother joined our family. I spent the night at the hospital after he was born because Mom was recovering from emergency surgery. When they came home, I slept with a baby monitor on my nightstand, so I could help care for him when he woke in the night.

And on goes my history of enchantment with babies and young children…

I’ve watched many friends and family members get pregnant and have children. And while I have genuinely celebrated with them, my heart has felt the void of my own dreams deferred.

Seven years ago, I received the privilege of aunt-hood from close family friends. They have willingly and enthusiastically shared their two girls, a gift to my soul.

Still, my arms ache for a child of my own.

Front Row Seats

Over the next few months, I’m going to have a seat close to the stage that is the wonder of developing life and the exhilaration of the newborn stage.

And while I, like the rest of the family, look forward to the new arrival with joy and anticipation, the emptiness I carry is sometimes too much to bear. So I avert my eyes, escape my seat, and grieve in the dark shadows of the theater.

Limited Options

This year, I turn 35.  This year automatically signals the decline of reproductive health and ushers the status of high-risk pregnancy. That sense of time running out coupled with the stark reality of perpetual singleness* strangles hope and shatters dreams.

My options are so limited, they’re practically nonexistent. (*Another area of purity culture fallout.)

It feels as if it’s a cruel joke to be imparted such a deep, intrinsic desire only to watch it rapidly dissipate with no hope of seeing it manifested. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but I’m not even sure I know how—or even if it’s sane—to hope in this vein any longer.

Do I accept the hand I’ve been dealt or continue wishful thinking, knowing reality paints a much less hopeful picture?

Neither seems like a good option.

The Risk of Becoming Real and Why It Is a Worthwhile Process

There is a certain risk involved in deconstructing one’s faith to rebuild it in a new and stronger way. You risk being misunderstood, accused of heresy, and otherwise shunned. You risk hurting the feelings of those closely associated to your own story. Committing to a deep-dive expedition of sorting through the roots of your belief system guarantees discomfort and some degree of conflict. As the beloved, classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, reflects, becoming real is risky, harrowing, and often lonely, yet enormously rewarding:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”



 

Growing up in a relatively unstable and dysfunctional home required me to learn some unhealthy coping and survival skills. Sure, things looked okay on the outside because we learned to mask the uglier facets, but we were not a happy family. There were moments, of course, especially in my younger years when we managed to complete a family activity in relative peace. Yet, for as long as I can remember, there was an underlying current of tension, an expectation that the lid would blow at any moment without warning—and it grew increasingly heavier as the years passed. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when my sister and I referred to our father as “the man who lives in our house” (because he was physically present, but emotionally distant) that I began to realize  this wasn’t normal.

Looking back, I can see how many of my behaviors and thought patterns developed as coping mechanisms and self-preservation tactics.  Only recently have I learned that some of the things I experienced actually fall under the umbrella of trauma—including psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

I know those are weighty admissions.

Believe me when I say I’m aware of their implications. But I’m tired of minimizing my experience to make others look better; I’m tired of remaining silent to keep the peace. It wasn’t my responsibility to do so as a child…but I did. As I work on healing and re-parenting my younger self, the best gift I can give her is to let her have her voice back.

In the past ten months, I’ve begun to realize just how much growing up not only in evangelical Christianity itself, but also during the height of the evangelical purity culture movement has informed my views of myself, the world, and the nature of God. While seeking growth and a deeper understanding of who I am, I hold a tangled ball of readily-accepted lies, wounds, and assumptions that formed from early childhood forward.

Not everything I learned was bad—and I believe most (emphasis on most) people who were responsible for teaching and guiding me did not have motives to harm. Many of them were merely passing on the tradition of the faith culture they themselves were fed. The problem, though, is that going against the grain or questioning the authority of those in leadership roles is highly discouraged and, therefore, taboo.

Well, I’m questioning.

And it isn’t a tidy little Q&A panel with answers handed out in neatly packaged boxes. No, this feels like a throw-everything-you-know-in-a-dumpster-douse-with-gasoline-light-a-match-and-toss-it-in season. You know how people describe working through issues as peeling the layers of an onion? This feels more like hacking the onion to death and hoping for the best.

Even in nature, death precedes growth—seeds must die before trees grow; seasons must rotate through fall and winter before the bounty of spring and summer.  Pearls begin as an irritant inside an oyster’s shell. The process of change and discomfort is necessary for transformation and beauty to be birthed. It’s a healthy, natural process to wrestle through the beliefs, patterns, and circumstances that have irritated the human soul to find the core of one’s true identity without merely accepting Sunday School answers at face value.

I hope that my readers—both those who have known me my whole life and those who have known me only briefly in person/this virtual space can respect and honor my perspectives. We certainly don’t have to agree in order to honor one another’s stories. You don’t get to sit in the cheap seats and tell me I’m doing it wrong “if you aren’t in the arena getting your [butt] kicked” too, as Brené Brown says. Because I process so much of my inner life through writing and because a lot (though not all) of that happens on this platform, I need to make this clear: I’m not seeking to cast blame on any particular individuals but rather to share MY experiences from MY perspective as well as the culminating effects of those things. I’ve spent too much of my life suppressing my own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs because I worried about what everyone else would think.

Brené also says, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

I’ve stood outside my story all my life.

Now, I’m stepping inside and owning it.

Some Days Are Like This

Residual melancholy.

An inexplicable ache in your gut.

Unanswered questions, unattended emails.

Too little sleep.

Too much procrastination.

Not enough energy.

More than enough doubt.

Endless tasks.

Unhelpful voices to silence.

Some days are like this. 

Anticipation of what’s on the horizon.

Words to write.

Ideas to flesh out.

Manuscripts to edit.

A blank slate of a new year to dream upon.

A tribe to cheer you on.

Some days are like this.

Sometimes even simultaneously.

Little by Little: A Winter Solstice Reflection

Maybe it’s been a long year.

Perhaps you’ve slogged through, begging for relief.

The days have passed slowly in the minute-by-minute until you suddenly blink and wonder where they’ve gone.

The dark nights have lingered endlessly.

You’re surviving, clinging to the last shred of hope that it won’t always be this way.

Today marks the Winter Solstice.

The shortest day.

The darkest day.

The day that gives way to a little more light each day.

The first day of Winter.

I’m reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote in The Chronicles of Narnia when Mr. Tumnus explains the effects of the White Witch’s icy reign:

“Always winter and never Christmas.

And I wonder if, in the days before the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary experienced a season of winter in their hearts, minds, and spirits.

As they trekked from Nazareth to Bethlehem, were they not only physically tired, but also mentally, emotionally, spiritually weary from the journey they’d been on since the angel came to Mary with news of the impending birth?

Could they see the light at the end of the tunnel clearly or was their vision clouded with uncertainty?

Did they know Christmas—the true essence of Christmas—the Light of the World in the form of a baby—was just ahead?

Perhaps in the the cold grip of unsettling circumstances, you are wandering through the night, waiting, wondering, hoping for relief from the burden tucked inside you.

Little by little, dawn is breaking.

Christmas is coming.

The Light is on its way.

On the Road Again: The Summer of Endless Miles, Days 7&8

Days 4-6 offered a few days back in Dallas. One of us spent that time introverting while the other flitted about for interviews and meet ups. I’ll let you guess who did which.

On Day 7, we packed up the truck and hit the road. In Anna’s words, we were “off again like a herd of turtles in a cloud of peanut butter.”

Houston, TX was the next stop on the tour. Evelyn A. had planned a meet and greet for that evening—and we had six boxes of books awaiting us. About halfway to Houston, Anna had an epiphany that we were wasting valuable advertising space. We Googled the nearest Walmart and whipped off the highway via the designated exit. I ran into the tiniest Walmart I’ve ever seen and located the desired item: white shoe polish. (I also grabbed a package of socks since I’d not been able to locate any of my own while I was packing for the long haul.)

Purchases in hand, I headed back to the truck. Anna met me at the rear and emblazoned a message across the back window:

Free advertising secured, we jumped back in the car and resumed our journey.

That evening, Evelyn hosted a lovely party. Along with Evelyn’s friend’s, we were joined by some of the girls from #the4500 for an evening of book discussion and enjoying one another’s company.

The next morning, we crammed the boxes of books in the truck and went on our way. Our next stop was a youth conference in Houston on our way to Liberty, TX. In Liberty, Anna spoke at a women’s event hosted by her literary agent, Jessie’s, church. This event was exciting because it marked the first time Anna and Jessie met in real life. They’d spent more than a year trading emails and phone calls as Anna wrote her book proposal and, eventually, her book.

Seeing them meet each other was such a sweet moment!

We stayed at Jessie’s parents house that evening and had a truly delightful time. As we told Jessie about our unconventional plan for the book tour, I pulled the wall map of our route out of my notebook (which was affectionally dubbed the book tour bible), her eyes widened in awe.

I mean, it was an impressive sight to behold, if I do say so myself.

We stayed up late talking about our plans and the journey Anna had taken to reach the point of having a published book. She had come so far, yet we had only just begun our journey. Little did we know, the very next day would hold an unexpected surprise or two.

To be continued….

Five Minute Friday: Collect

This week’s #FMFParty prompt is “Collect.” The rules: Set a timer and free write for five minutes about the week’s topic. No editing allowed!

~*~

I sat at the water’s edge, sifting through the sand and shells as they rolled in with the waves and were swept back out to sea.

Shells stretched for miles along the water’s edge. I wanted to collect them all—each one unique.
But I couldn’t.

I had to choose.

I had to choose which ones were worthy of making the trip home.

I’m learning I also have to choose moments. Which ones to keep and which to let go; which moment to grasp tightly and which to release.

There are a multitude of moments I wish I’d had time to collect with my sister.

Thirty years is too short a time to collect all the moments we wanted. There were more—many, many more that had yet to pass.

And because those moments are gone, I grasp at the ones that are left—the moments turned memories. I will lose some as time passes, just as I will lose some of the shells I picked up on the Florida coast. But there are some moments that have been collected that will be with me always.

Dreary Days, Nostalgia, and Pumpkin Muffins

Sunlight dimmed by a thick, gray cloud cover filtered through the blinds, my eyelids cracking open as eyelashes stuck together by last night’s leftover makeup parted. Groggily, I rolled over, wondering whether I should get up or sleep in—what day is it anyway?

As it dawned on me that it is, indeed, Saturday, I also realized the date—March 11th. The day my life changed, one year ago, in a way I never wanted it to or imagined it would. Sometimes the blessing of a photographic memory—especially one that clings to the significance of particular dates—is also a curse.

It seems like there’s an awful lot of juxtaposition of binaries following me around these days: happy/sad, joyful/tearful, known/unknown, faith/fear, freedom/guilt, settled/homesick. It’s a dichotomy of soft places and hard places that I’ve never had to learn to navigate long-term—until now.

Even the side-by-side juxtaposition of yesterday—March 10th—and today, March 11th is a representation of the current paradoxical tension that binds my daily life.

Two years ago yesterday, #the4500 was formed. I didn’t know then how radically a group of internet strangers would change my life, eventually landing me in Texas. If I had known, I probably would’ve jumped shipped. I’m glad I didn’t know—because these past two years have been an adventure like no other. One that has brought an abundance of love, laughter, and friendship; it has thrown open doors of possibility one after another.

March 10th is a day that will forever remind me of a Father who answers prayers both before we’ve uttered them and also in ways that we’d never imagine them manifesting.

And March 11th is a day that will also be forever burned in my memory.

It’s that day, exactly one year ago, that I was sitting on the playground with my co-teacher and friend, Christine, at recess, watching our students play and explore, when I got the news that changed so many things.

It’s the day my phone buzzed and the text told me my sister had been diagnosed with a laughably rare cancer. The long, unpronounceable diagnosis stared at me from the screen…and, in shock and disbelief, I did what you should never do: I Googled. I handed the phone to Christine and tried to breathe. Tried to digest this information. With only an hour left in the school day, and a visiting former classroom assistant who could cover me, Christine tried to talk me into leaving early, but I knew I would spiral as soon as I left work and wanted to delay that as long as possible.

The 365 days between that day and this one have been rocky and hard to walk. There are still many questions that remain unanswered. The decisions that my sister and I—and others in our family have made have been difficult. My decision to leave South Carolina and move to Texas was such a daunting one that I didn’t come to terms with the fact that I had already moved to Texas until seven months after I packed up my carload of belongings and made the trek. Now that I’ve been here for nine months [to the day, as I just realized; I arrived in the Friendly State on June 11th of last year. I’m going to need to chew on this for a moment], I’m finally reclaiming some of the routines that the trauma of moving cross-country displaced.

When I lived in SC and taught all week, Saturday mornings were my sanctuary. A quiet kitchen, a slow day, a recipe—either precise and written out or experimental and thrown together in my head—and a little baking therapy resulted in one of my favorite weekend routines

When I moved to Texas and threw my life into the spin cycle of settling into a new space, I pretty much quit cooking, quit baking. It took months for me to be comfortable enough in my new surroundings to cook again. For some, baking is an art form. For me, it’s therapy. And this morning, I needed it. I needed a reason to get out of bed. (And aren’t warm-from-the-oven, slathered-in-cream-cheese-frosting pumpkin muffins a great reason to get out of bed??) So I threw back the covers, got “dressed” in leggings and flannel shirt and headed to the kitchen. Within minutes, I’d assembled the necessary items and accouterments and set the oven to preheat. As I measured ingredients, cracked eggs, and mixed the batter, I thought about the significance of this day and how I could easily allow all the unknowns that still exist take precedence over the joy of the work I need to accomplish today.

The act of stirring separate ingredients together to make one cohesive batter, of dropping that batter into the wells of a muffin tin spoonful by spoonful is a calming process. I can’t exactly explain it, but my anxiety levels decrease and my mind quiets as I bake. It’s therapeutic and cathartic though, so I don’t question it much.

Days like today, if I dwell on the hard and allow my mind to entertain the unknowns, I will drown; I will spiral into a darkness I’ve visited previously and to which I never wish to return.

Recognizing the precursory symptoms of this descent is one of the most powerful tools I have honed over the past year. Knowing that dreary days are more likely to bring a cloud cover to my soul allows me to press through the muddled emotions and lying thoughts that make me want to throw the blanket over my head, shutting down and shutting out the light that surrounds me. Choosing not to focus on the things I have zero control over, but rather focusing on the truth that I am well-loved by the God who sees all things is the first step to reversing the descent.

This doesn’t make this space easy to live in, but it does make it easier, and pumpkin muffins make it slightly sweeter.