Martha-ish.

What a day. I do not usually subscribe to the idea that Mondays are the worst, but today sure felt like it. I overextended myself considerably in an effort to make it all work for everyone else’s schedule and a lack of saying no and I am bone tired. Teary tired. Even as I am writing this, the memories of frustration are causing this lump to settle in my throat.

I work with college students and that requires a certain level of flexibility. I am not inflexible per se, but I have a low (make that zero) tolerance for ambiguity and nonsense. I hide it well, but it manifests itself in ways no one can see, through the aforementioned lump and the knot between my shoulders and the imperceptible tears brimming at the corners of my eyes. Today garnered all three and then some. The setup for my first event was wrong, the catering was delivered so early for my second workshop that it was cold by the time we began, a girl flat out interrupted that workshop by walking into the room in the middle of it and walking across the front of the room (where I was presenting) and walking into a storage closet only to walk back out and tell me she was looking for a room that was in a different part of the building (yes, I cursed internally at that one), the catering was an hour late for my last workshop of the day and only three students showed up for a speaker who had flown in from Houston. At the end, one student declared, “In the nicest way possible, I don’t know who is in charge of your marketing, but they need to do a better job.” I’m in charge of it, child. I am. But please, in your complete lack of professional work and your claims to know everything at 23, please tell me how I am really supposed to do it. Of course, I didn’t say that, but I wanted to. It was right there. Bless her little heart. And then I promptly spilled two chafing dishes full of hot water down the front of my blouse and trousers when cleaning up.

To make matters worse, I am a department of one so all set up and tear down and clean up is on me. I am frustrated with colleagues for not showing me professional courtesy. I am tired of being there for them with their events and then them not being there for me. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

So all of this was building up over the last twelve hours and I was real done with this day and sat down in my sopping wet pants to work on packaging the untouched catering from tonight and trying to sort through three workshops worth of assessment and fliers when I stopped for a moment to look at Instagram. Because my sweet friends make adorable children and there is nothing like smiling babies and a loved tribe to brighten my day. But instead, the first thing in my feed was a quote from dear (and dead) Oswald Chambers, “There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender.

Ouch. I immediately remembered the day some ten years ago when I learned the difference between Mary and Martha. For my un-Bible friends, a little recap: Mary and Martha were sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home. While Martha ran around and cleaned and served food and got mad, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened. Martha’s mad spilled over and she asked Jesus why Mary could get away with being so lazy. “But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

I spent most of my life, both childhood and adulthood, being mad at Mary…and Jesus for enabling her. I am a do-er of things and not always a listener of truth. I despise laziness in word and deed and thought. I am better now, but sometimes I fall into my old ruts. Like today. Lots of rushing about. Not a lot of taking the time to heed what the Lord was teaching me in every moment. Even though I know better and I have learned a better way, I am still a hot mess of curls and wild dreams and too much perfectionist demands. That’s a painful truth after a painful day.

So back to dear old Oswald. God doesn’t want my rushing about. He just wants my heart. Every bit. I don’t measure success by the number of people attending my workshops or how high I rate in my boss’s estimation of my work or how well my student’s rate their level of satisfaction. All I want is to lay down to sleep at night knowing I was kind and gracious with each person in my path and somehow mimicked the love of Christ that I have been freely given. I don’t do it well. I know this. I can be most Martha-ish in chaos. And yet God is ever there, gently reminding me (okay, maybe sometimes not real gently, because I don’t always listen) that He just wants my heart. He doesn’t care how I measure up in others’ eyes either. He just wants my heart. My life. My all. My surrender.

Amen to that.

 

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Made grateful.

Man, I have been going through it. Just learning more deeply about people and about myself in relation to the world around me. Some good lessons, some painful. All of it worth the hassle because of today.

A dear friend texted me to see if I had time to chat this afternoon. She is one of those people with whom I can go years without speaking or seeing, but we pick up right where we left off and we have learned to cover a lot of ground in thirty stolen minutes in the midst of our busy. Throughout our pouring out of words and hearts, I was reminded over and over again that this season of loneliness and lack of friendship has carved this well of gratitude in the deeper recesses of my heart.

I am more grateful for the friends I still have in far-flung places. More grateful for the depths of their souls and that they choose to share that depth with me. More grateful for the way they live their own wild lives with such dignity and respect for the imago Dei residing in us all. More grateful for how they process my words and speak truth to my weary, happy heart. More grateful for the love and goodness of the Lord that I see evident in their lives.

I am naturally a stubborn ass. I need hard lessons and tough love and loud truth for me to understand and accept things. I rarely take anything (or anyone, for that matter) at face value. I question everything, not out of cynicism, but out of curiosity and an expectation of honesty from the world around me. I reside in the uncomfortable belief that because I demand kindness and vulnerability without motive from myself that others are doing the same. They are not, I know. I am a hopeless hopeful just the same.

As much as I hate to admit it, I needed these last three and a half years of loneliness. I needed these years because I had gotten complacent about my tribe. I loved  my people, but I did not acknowledge all that they meant to me. Now I cherish those incredible memories and any moments I get to have in the present. I am so grateful for the people who have lifted me up over the years and heard my stories and been vulnerable over countless cups of coffee sunk deep in couches in lamp-lit rooms as we pondered life and faith and love. I did not fathom then what a gift that was, nor realize that it was a gift I would not always possess. In time, I suppose. Surely there must be a fellow adventurer looking for real words over stained coffee cups in this vast state. In the meantime, for now,  I am more grateful than I was yesterday, and tomorrow will be even more grateful still. This stubborn ass has learned a valuable lesson in the power of friendship and how to be grateful in all things. Thanks be to a good God Who does not give up on me. Amen.

Deep in the heart. Of Texas.

I love where I live. Love it. I love how men hold the doors and kids say, “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir.” I love how the piney woods make me feel tucked away and safe. I love how people flock to church on Sunday and how the local Whataburger gets my picky burger order right. I quote the old joke that I wasn’t born here but I got here as fast as I could. And it’s true. Prior to moving to my beloved state, I spent three years dreaming of ways to get here. When I finally made it, I wept with the wonder of it all.

I have been a Texas resident for 19 months now. The time has, as they say, flown by. I have waited expectantly for the promises of the Lord to be fulfilled. The anticipatory hope that filled my first year has long since been sated in some ways, and retreated in others. Those prophetic words about relationship spoken over me one month after I arrived have not come to fruition. I am not married, not dating, not in love or even entertaining thoughts about some strapping bearded Jesus-loving fellow who is supposed to sweep me off my feet and whisk me away to our little cabin in the woods where love and babies and biscuits are made with the same wild abandon and we welcome people into our home and our hearts trying to be like the God we seek. In fact, I have laid all of that aside in recent months. I may never see that dream fulfilled and I have learned to accept that hard, but all too possible, truth for, quite possibly, the first time in my life.

I have not just continued in my career in higher education, but have thrived in my work. I love my kids and their questioning hearts and their ponderings and their wildness. I love how they work diligently at some things, and recklessly at others. I love the new possibilities opening up for me in my field. I love my new grad program and the excitement of adding another hard-earned degree to my wall in just 9 short months.

But if I’m honest, the good things and good gifts and good lessons carved out in these months in the place I hold dear pale dreadfully when sitting alongside the nagging loneliness that persists deep in my soul. It is no secret that I have not managed to establish a community here. I know a handful of good people, but I have made exactly one friend. One. Early on, I used to say that these Texans know how to serve full-metal jackets in slices of pie with smiles on their faces. I didn’t know how true that was until just a few months ago. That backstabbing nonsense left some deep scars. They emerged unscathed and I, with my too-thin skins and too-big heart, did not. Those days made me even more wary to establish connections.

As I told a dear, and far away, friend recently, it is not so much that I want to be praised or validated – words of affirmation do little for me. I simply do not want to be invisible. I don’t want a big group of folks, introvert that I am, but there is literally not one person here that I can call up and say, “Want to go for some coffee and good conversation? And what happens over coffee cups stays over coffee cups?” No, not one.

I drive to work and I drive home and I pore over textbooks and journal exorbitantly and write on this little blog and fret over my family and pray and sing and sometimes cry myself to sleep. I know, as I have known since that life-altering day in 2006, that we were not designed for solitary life. Community is life. The breaking of bread and sharing stories and laughing and crying and hugging and yelling and doting on babies and dreaming dreams together is life.

I’m deep in the heart of Texas and deeper still in my own heart as I try mightily to carve out sacred space for thought and connectivity with fellow travelers. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

Joy & Sorrow.

I have been debating for some time about writing this particular post. I wasn’t sure if anyone would read it or if it was even necessary. In the last two weeks, however, I have had two dear friends make a comment in passing that I “always look so happy on Facebook.” It is true in part. I am happy…and I’ve never thought that social media was really the appropriate place to air our woes. But I would like to dispel the myth that life is a breeze. If I’m going to be really honest and do real life and I want others to do the same with me, then I have to be honest about this: my joy goes hand in hand with my sorrow. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would not be as well-equipped to bear the burdens of others if I did not know pain.

For starters, I am a Baptist/Wesleyan girl. And I’m 34, educated, and single. And I live in the South. My church doesn’t even have a singles group with my age group because the vast majority of them are married. So I stick out. And people say ugly things about my singleness sometimes. As though it is a lack and not an opportunity to do things I wouldn’t be able to do if I were married. I want to be married and have babies, but I’ve simply not met a good man yet. And I’m not rushing about to do it, either.

I am a Southern Baptist who also has tattoos as memorial stones to her life. I like the occasional sip of whiskey, but never drunkenness. Sometimes I curse in anger. I really love Jesus and try to seek after and serve this God that loves me and has redeemed so much of my life. I decided 20 years ago that I wanted to save my body for my husband. I loathe bars and church greeting times both. I’m too shocking for the good little church girls and too much of a prude for everyone else. So I walk this really fine line and fit in nowhere.

I try really, really hard to do right by everyone. This usually ends in abject failure. Mostly because it’s impossible. Even when I think I am doing the right thing and love the people, it blows up in my face. Words get twisted. Accusations get flung. People get hurt. It is second nature to me to walk away. Because that’s what I know to do. I’m not saying it’s right. It’s just what I do. So then I gain this reputation of being some sort of holier-than-thou aloof woman when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m actually just really sad and my heart is hurting and I’m trying to figure out how it could all go so terribly wrong. I lose a lot of friends this way.

I am a child of divorce. A really nasty, messy divorce. Adultery, drugs, and my mom losing all her parental rights kind of divorce. I became an adult at 14 during my freshman year of high school in ways I wish I didn’t know. So I don’t have a lot of patience for nonsense. Those experiences made me old before my time, hardened me for awhile, and then made me compassionate for others who know pain. I still have nightmares and fears. I hate the dark and sleeping alone and not having my back to a wall and people grabbing my shoulders from behind.

I know what it is to be mired down in the pit of depression. Now I lean more towards anxiety at times. Not always and not with any discernible trigger, but I get stupid scared when I am called out publicly and I hate attention. I despise yelling and slamming doors. I am thankful for good physicians and good friends and a good God who have seen me through all of this.

I used to be an athlete, but then I let an individual have so much control over me that I gave it up and lived in overwhelming fear and currently reside in a body that doesn’t feel like my own. I am long past all that now and slowly getting my life together and restoring what was lost. I’ll always have the scars, but it’s my body and my story and it counts for something.

I was 5 when I was saved from the pit of death and 23 when I was saved from the pit that had become my life. I see my life divided very neatly into two halves: the first, a sunset where my life dipped slowly but gradually down and down into dark; the second, a sunrise on my 23rd birthday, during which I discovered anew the love of my good God and which has dictated every day since. These days feel like a given gift because I lived the first 23 years feeling like life itself was a burden.

I care too much and have too-thin skin and a too-big heart. People tell me I shouldn’t feel so much or love everyone. I often respond that I am grateful for the feeling because there was a time in my life that I was quite numb and it was there that I learned there are things far worse than death. I make no apologies for feeling. I am who I am. Sweeping it all under the rug serves no one well. Shutting myself off isn’t kind or good. Engaging in some self-discipline, however, goes a long way. So if I talk a lot, I am really passionate about the subject and I trust you enough to share my words with you. And I will hug you a whole lot. If I don’t, I’m just not feeling it or you. If I talk, thanks for listening. I’m thankful I finally found my voice. I’m working on “finding some grace to go with my boldness,” as a dear fellow introvert friend put it the other day. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

Life has been really, really hard at times. And so dreadfully painful. Yet it is all beautiful and it is all gift. Of this, I am absolutely convinced.

The Single Adventurer.

When you’re in your mid-thirties and single, people feel the need to constantly put you in your place and give you their unsolicited two cents. And some of that feels like folks lobbing dollar coins at your head. It’s exhausting.

Some people think single is lonely and uncool and that the single woman is wandering about longing for something she doesn’t have and envious of all the marriages and babies. What a sad and uninformed perspective.

You want to know what single really is?

Single is getting to make coffee at 4:00 am and wander about the house contemplating life without worrying about waking anyone else up.

Single is binge-watching Netflix and binge-reading John Grisham novels and binge-daydreaming about road trips for the summer.

Single is knowing I only have my own underwear to fold on Saturday.

Single is not having to ask anyone else what they want from the store.

Single is wandering the aisles of Target for three hours and mentally redecorating your house without purchasing a single thing.

Single is ordering the pizza toppings I like most, and not having to share my beer.

Single is shooting guns on Saturday without having to rush home to make dinner.

Single is curling up in front of the fireplace on rainy evenings and writing five blog posts in one sitting.

Single is hiking to the crag and watching the sunrise without being interrupted.

Single is holding all the babies and getting to be the novelty aunt. And it’s fun.

Single is taking off for a hike whenever and wherever I want.

Single is not having to come up with a reasonable explanation for why all the queso is gone.

Single is leaving church on Sunday and not having to worry about getting a table at the restaurant afterward because you’re going to go home and eat leftovers and curl up with a good book.

Single is going to midnight showings of Star Wars and not complaining about being tired because it was TOTALLY worth it.

Single comes with painful reminders, particularly when filling out wedding RSVPs. Or when asked to be the 3rd or 5th or 11th wheel at a gathering.

Single is sleeping alone and having only yourself for comfort when it storms.

Single is hard. Sometimes.

Single is lovely. Most times.

Single is so often trial by fire. Some people think you have not matured or experienced responsibility until you have birthed a baby and/or walked down an aisle. But the fire that refines one individual may not be the fire that refines another. I’m only thirty-four and I was thrust painfully into adulthood some twenty years ago. Some of us get burned by fire you cannot imagine. Nor do we wish it on you.

I’ve known great loss. And I’ve known great love. My heart breaks when I see parents who don’t parent and don’t love their children. My soul hurts deep within when I watch unfaithful spouses and people who manipulate the truth to suit their own needs and feed their own images, their loves ones be damned.

I don’t know if I’ll ever marry. I don’t know if I’ll ever bear children, and I don’t think I physically will be able to even if I were to marry. I want those things, I’ve always wanted them, but I’m not looking or hoping or searching. I’m choosing to let it happen organically in a timing of the Lord’s making. And I’m choosing to dwell in singleness and explore the adventure of it. It’s not a disease. It’s kind of awesome. And I much prefer it to what I’ve seen in relationships of late.

I’m happy. I’m whole. And I’m single. Imagine that.

 

Wild women.

As I reflect on my adventures lately and how the whole of it has been not at all what I hoped in some aspects, and yet beyond my wildest dreams in others, I have been hard-pressed to remember my bloodlines. To remember the women who came before me and are long gone. To honor the wild in each of them and measure how it was passed down to me.

My paternal great-grandmother, Sylvia. By the time I knew her, she was just a slip of a woman who spent most of her days in a chair with a homemade afghan over her legs. I was little when she died and I have only one photo of her, me dirty as always and hands full of some gooey pastry and her smiling indulgently over my dark unruly curls. Long after she died, I learned that she had lived through great loss: burying children in both infancy and young childhood, burying her husband, and burying two sons in adulthood, both from cancer and one of them my grandfather. I heard a story once that when a woman in town made fun of her many children (and them desperately poor), she chased after the woman with a sack of potatoes. She was tough. She had to be, raising so many boys and military men and burying her tribe one by one. My only memories of her, though, are her smiling her long, slow, peaceful smile.

My maternal great-aunts: Gladys, Lois, Nancy, and Chris. I had the privilege of keeping vigil with them the last week of my grandmother’s life. I have never laughed harder or cried more deeply wounded than I did that week. Shared grief will do that. I don’t know their stories well, but I know they all married young and were wild as horses and were sisters in blood and heart, each of them wearing their high Cherokee cheekbones proud. They laugh like my grandmother laughed, full-bodied and whole.

My paternal grandmother, Nora. In my often chaotic childhood, she was the one constant. We didn’t always get along, in fact almost never, but I realize in adulthood that we were both incredibly stubborn and stood our ground no matter what. She had built a reputation of standing her ground, that one. She hated guns. Hated them. I never knew why (and it was something on which we strongly disagreed) until just a few weeks ago when my father shared a story of her. My grandfather was a wild man from a family full of wild men. When he got in an argument with one of his brothers and said brother pulled a gun on him, my grandmother walked straight in between them, the gun barrel resting on her forehead, and demanded they stop. She hated alcohol, too, and my father, the last and unexpected of her four children, did not grow up with alcohol in the house. I knew that my grandfather had enjoyed a sip in his day, but I also knew my grandmother’s vehement opposition to drinking of any sort. My grandfather wrecked their only car one night driving drunk. She informed him in no uncertain terms that if he were to ever do such a thing again, she would leave and take the children. He never drank again. She could do that to a person, put someone in his place and make sure he knew the consequences of his choices. As harsh as she was, she was also the woman who taught me how to make bread and enjoy coffee and watch the sunrise and revel in the beauty of playing in the dirt. She was tough, but she was a classy lady. And she ended every conversation with “God loves you…and so do I.” I miss hearing her shaky alto calling me at unholy hours to sing me happy birthday. I miss the way she would fling her hands and mutter curse words if someone called during a ballgame when her beloved KC Royals were playing. I miss the way she could fill a room without saying a word.

My maternal grandmother, Ruth. She was a spitfire in a tiny package. I have never witnessed a woman work so hard and eat so hard and laugh so hard in my life. Whatever she did, she did it with everything she had. Life, love, and faith. There were no halves in her. She raised her cows like beloved dogs and I have many memories of laying my head on their warm, soft bellies while they basked in the sun. I was never afraid of her gentle giants and I had no reason to be. She loved them and they knew it. It was the same for people: she loved or hated you and you knew it. She didn’t bother with masks or pretenses and I loved her honesty, even when it was brutal. I worked as a farmhand for her one summer in college; it was the most difficult and blessed summer of my life. I learned so much and walked away with cherished memories of a five-foot-tall firecracker.

These are the women in my blood. I see bits of them in myself and I am thankful for that from which I come. Wild women. May we be them, know them, and raise them.

 

 

Sunset.

When I celebrate my birthday on March 31st each year, it is not just celebration but gratefulness for a sunrise some eleven years ago now, seen from the shore of Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas, a tiny island dotted with little candy-colored houses and the sweetest people and ex-pats you could ever hope to meet. I can still remember the rocks digging into my back and the way the ocean smelled that day. How I snuggled into my sweater in the morning chill and waited desperately for the sun to beat the clouds. How the Lord’s voice sounded in my heart as I heard the words I waited 23 years for, to know simply that I was loved in spite of myself. How the rest of the day is a blur because I was eating key lime pie and laughing and sailing and soaking in the ocean that had become my life and all the while, trying to process the discovery of love like an ocean that drowned out the lies I had come to believe.

It was the best and worst day of my life, forever etched in my memory and in a small tattoo on my wrist as a daily reminder of all that I have been rescued from and the implications of that on how I engage with my fellow travelers. I have written words on it for years, waxed poetic about it in conversations, and cried over it again and again and again, still in awe of what the Lord has done.

What I have been thinking on this year, though, is the evening before. When I laid my head down on my arm on the trampoline of the boat that night and watched the stars dance as they can only do when you are anchored in the middle of the ocean, I was excited for my birthday as I have always been, but I had no idea that it would be the last night I would go to sleep not knowing/believing in/acting in love. I did not know how hard and beautiful and holy the sunrise would be when I watched the sunset that night. I could not have possibly fathomed how incredibly my life was about to change.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to love not only that sunrise, but that sunset the night before. Much like my life, I needed the dark in order to appreciate the light. I need my hard memories because they make my beautiful memories that much more so. I needed years of struggle so I could dwell in times of rest. I needed my questioning years so that the answering years sunk deep in my bones. I needed human moments of hatred in order to embrace heavenly moments of love. I love sunrises. I love the daily promise of how I have been made to love. And I love sunsets, too. Because joy comes in the morning. This morning, in fact. And every morning after.