Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year of Adjustments

Today is the last Sunday of 2014.

In typical fashion, I am sitting here mulling over the last twelve months, thinking about what I want to tell you.  And how I want to tell it.  The summation of the year means a great deal to me.  As a stories go, it's important to connect the dots and create path and vision for the upcoming year.  Part of me believes it's a shame I put so much stock in the new year holiday.  But I like clean starting points, I suppose.  It's the only way I know to move forward -- to create a foundation out of the old, to use it as a ladder.

I am encouraged tonight by my Kentucky-girl-turned-City-girl, dear friend Miranda who came to visit me today.  Her quiet year in the City just tied up nicely with an engagement ring and a foreshadowing of a busy and magical (and stressful) 2015.  She and I stood in my kitchen and talked for a while today about resting seasons and harvest seasons.  About communities who died and the friendships, which survived.  About abiding and pendulums and listening.  About the resting we have to do before we can be productive.  The abiding we have to do before we can engage.

Perhaps a year shouldn't be measured up by its Major Live Events, which occur within a twelve month span of time.  This may be my first error.  From January 1 to December... whatever today is... only a few significant things happened.  Not enough to constitute a "big year", not enough to get overwhelmingly excited about.

I changed jobs.  Twice.

I quit my safety-net job where I learned how to argue and speak up and advocate. The job, which allowed me time and space to change my body.  I quit and I took a leap of faith in May and landed in a nightmare of a working situation.  Consequently, I learned stepping stones are wonderful tools used by God to strengthen our faith; unfortunately, I am still rectifying the damage the state job did to my body.  Still reconciling my body with some long term solutions.  I've been working out at home since then and have opened the door to a world of holistic healing, natural remedies, and the healing power (or poison) of food.  But it's been a slow journey and healing has taken its time coming.  The journey includes a lot of error, juicing, chiropractic medicine, and a pull up bar in my bathroom threshold.

Judah learned to swim this summer.  We visited the children's museum, the aquarium, and celebrated his second birthday.  In the spring we got a family pet, who Judah named JoJo.  She has too much energy and wouldn't hurt a flea.  But she makes us feel safe and Judah helps me take care of her every day. She's taught him some two-year-old responsibility and how to be gentle.  Right now she's snoring at my feet.

I changed jobs again in August, this time accepting an opportunity dripping with evidence of God's provision.  The hospital job has been my Next Right Move and I have settled in for a while here, learning every day about the medical world and ironically, about geriatric care.  We end up in weird places sometimes.  And I've learned to talk loud without yelling and when to just keep holding someone's hand.

Rachel got married.  It was the longest of hard years for my best, but we celebrated her as many times as possible; celebrating the privilege it is to do life together.  And we drank a little and danced a lot and I slept in a bed with a stranger named Bear.

Brigid had a wedding. I didn't get to go but I have watched from as close as I can get while God writes a new story with her life. So many promises being fulfilled. This year has been a lot of missing her.

Labor Day weekend, after a warm summer rain shower, I wrecked our car.  We hit a wall, in every sense of the word, and if I had ever questioned my protective capacity I no longer do.  This inciting incident rattled my mother-heart and I walked away with bruises and sore hips and Judah left unscathed.  I replaced the car and worked extra hard to secure the new car seat in the backseat.  Marveling, quietly, at how He continues to protect us.

I went on dates.  Does that surprise you?  So many dead end dates and phone numbers and fruitless everythings. It's taking a lot of gall for me to dig back to last January and remember, recall the fiery throes of Online Dating and the rejection and the oddity of attraction.  Companionship, the desire for it, makes us weird.  I met men online.  I met men in the bars.  I met men at work.  I met men at the gym.  (I met a lot of men at the gym.  I don't think it's a coincidence the place I was most comfortable and the most confident was the place I attracted the most attention.)  But all were dead ends.  For so many different reasons.  I won't go so far as to say all men are the same, because they are not.  But for those who've questioned my methods, I'll say firmly: all men are capable of being the same.  And I'm ending the year in the same relational space as I ended 2013.  Kind of.

I learned a vital, necessary lesson late in 2014.

About the kind of man I want in our life.  About qualities, over the years, I had forgotten about or disregarded as no longer important.  Recently I allowed my eyes to be opened again to characteristics and qualities I desire in a man, but had felt I no longer deserved.  False hope, in all it's spite, kept me from opening my heart to the possibility of a man with depth of character.  With an artist's heart.  With exceptional intelligence.  I still believe he's out there, and I have a better idea of what he looks like now.

I've struggled the last few days with feeling as though this year had been wasted.  I came into 2014 thinking the resting season was over.  Thinking big things were around the corner, thinking change was coming.

But the abiding season wasn't over.  Fruit, harvest, wasn't to be had this year.  Not in the fulfilling sense.  But what gives me hope is I am not who I was.  I resonate strongly with Viktor Frankl's words tonight: "When we are no longer able to change a situation we are challenged to change ourselves."  

If I am honest with myself, there were some key moves made this year, but even more internal change.  A moving around of parts.  A strategic set up for a comeback, if you will.  2014 will not be measured by Major Life Events, but by Adjustments.

The day to day challenges of life in this household are enough to change us.  How to budget, how to parent, how to provide, how to protect.  When to shut doors, where to draw lines, when to stand up and fight and when to pick over a battle.  The daily growth and love and adventure, which happens on a daily basis cannot be discredited.

So as the year wraps up, there's so much I want to leave behind.  There's so much I want to lay to rest here.  But what we will focus on is what is ahead.  Because, at the risk of jinxing it, I believe what's coming is great.  Great in the: great, transformative, plot changing, great-soundtrack-scene in the movie kind of great.

And one of the Adjustments, one of the lessons I have learned in these two years of resting and preparing, is resolutions are not to be made.  We don't make promises around here.  But we do set goals.  I set goals.  Viktor Frankl also said, "Even when it is not fully attained, we become better by striving for a higher goal".  We aim, set a goal or a target, to determine our trajectory.

Vague is safe because it creates room for error and makes accountability difficult.  Vague also leaves room for interpretation, leaves room for creative license.  The target is vague, for this very reason.  The target is also vague because as I sit here sharing with you, I realize for the first time in many years I don't know what comes next.  I haven't a single clue.

So this year I am making no promises.

I am setting targets, making declarations, instead.

Goodbye 2014 and all your heartache and passivity.  Goodbye to the pain you caused and may you keep with you the people who don't belong in my world anymore.  With you I leave an old voice, old insecurities, old beliefs about myself.  From you I take memories of my sweet Judah, but little else.

And in the coming year, I will aim to:

Show up
Not give up easily
Pay off debt
Be Ok with Good Enough
Build community
Rebuild my body
Limit expectations
Take no shit

I will do better, as I always declare I will.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Magic

Th dishwasher is running and I have a pile of boxes and wrapping paper almost as tall as me sitting next to the door.  Running on about three hours of sleep, I'm resting for a moment while Judah naps.  It's Christmas.

I've been stirring up memories of past Christmases for a while.  Wondering where magic came from, how to recreate it, and mostly how to beat the blues.  Christmas is a difficult time for me, with its long, anticipatory build up.  The let down has nothing to do with presents.  I'm not some spoiled child who thinks Christmas is better the higher the pile of presents.  I think Christmas is better when it feels like Christmas.  And the formula for creating a feeling is just forever elusive.

The magic for parents on Christmas is the power to create the magic.  I'm starting to exercise this super power and reap a return.  As my sister said the other night, there's nothing more gratifying than knowing what someone wants and being able to provide it for them.  A lot of pressure maybe, but I am responsible for Judah's Christmas magic for at least another decade.  Hopefully two.

Ironically... Katherine's the same sister who knew I would wake up this morning and gladly, delightfully give my son presents, but not open any of my own.  She knew this and handed me two packages yesterday at our Long Avenue Christmas.  Packages labeled "from Judah to Mommy" and that was that.

The magic for grown ups on Christmas is also in identifying a need and helping fill the empty spaces.

The magic is in the intentionality.  In the small choices we make on these Big Days to help set them apart.  But as I spend my eighth Christmas Alone, as an adult and out of my parents' house, I find myself with more and more of a desire to not restrict Christmas to one day.

I had to work yesterday.  The first time I've ever had to work on any holiday, which was more significant than the 4th of July.  I worked almost a full day while my family cooked and baked and listened to Ray Charles and the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. Walking into a patient's room on Christmas Eve and knowing they'll spend Christmas in that bed, will do nothing if not humble you.  Nothing if not make you thankful that in order to leave this place, all I had to do was swipe a badge.

I talked to a family just moments before they lost a loved one yesterday.  And walked away hoping my face, their memory of me, would fade with the pain of their loss.  All their Christmas Eve's from now on wouldn't ache with sadness.

I swiped my badge yesterday and left that place and we had Christmas.  As we have grown older, the sisters and I, we have accumulated people as well as an excellent gift giving ability.  The Rehnborg-Rector-McCarty-Vaughan family draws names due to our increasing number of family members.  Ironically yesterday, we each drew each other.  I drew Noni, Noni drew me, and so forth. The thoughtfulness and the intentionality behind each gift was overwhelming and my favorite part was gift exchanging was the shortest part of our day.

As true Vaughan boys do, Judah cried.  Overwhelmed by his love for his new toys and the offering of still-wrapped presents, he just couldn't hardly handle it and he would repeatedly remove himself from the room in hysterics. Wailing pitifully about presents and "no, no, no".  I walked out of the room with him at one point and looked at Noni, muttering something about how this was the rest of our Christmases, if he got that gene.  The Christmas blues.

Truthfully, I thought I would be more sad than I am.

You know, life right now isn't how it should be.  It's not exactly operating smoothly.  And the Holidays shine a spotlight on those shadowy corners and missing pieces.  I feel a little sad at night, when things slow down and I remember I don't have cable anymore and Judah's asleep and the Christmas tree is twinkling and it's just me.

But sad certainly isn't the overwhelming emotion this year.  It's there, but it's staying quiet.

I am just thinking about magic.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

full circle

I was nineteen years old.  I was in a place where community was just desperately lacking.  Ironically in community college, working in an office with middle aged women, and recovering from the first real heart break.  It all started so simply, without me realizing it.  Later a suppressed memory of seeing him sitting on a stool with one of my hometown friends would surface.  But for the longest I just didn't even remember how the rest of my life got started.

We built a community.  We did meals together, played music, and celebrated holidays.  We waded our way into the poorest hubs of the city and settled there, sinking and settling in a way only people who love people can do.  We took trips and we made church, practically wherever we went.  I remember late nights in the backwoods of rural counties. I would be dragged, practically against my will, down to a veteran's memorial park in the center of the city.  I would be taught how to see.  How to feed the hungry and how to protect myself.  Learn when to walk away.  I would make statements I already have renounced -- about where I wanted my story to take me, the way I would raise my family.  Life just began there.  In the simplest way.  And the lessons learned, I took with me when the chapter folded over on itself.

I looked for community again for years.

I lived in a corner of a room in a small apartment by the park and one autumn a group of twenty-somethings serendipitously gathered together within walking distance.  We'd talk about risk.  I would show up for one reason, walk through the door, and know certainly I'd stay for another.  I would make best friends and learn how to pray.  And we would feed each other.  And we would serve together.  We would go to church together; in essence, it would never be as organic as my first community experience.  But they were my family and we protected each other.  I got my heart broken there, because protection doesn't mean we don't get hurt.  And I left, to return to the poor.

Obviously, I am the most stubborn.  And I was dragged, practically against my will, back to the hub.  To the streets lined with shotgun houses and forgotten trash cans and downed power lines and broken concrete.  Chained up dogs and plastic lawn chairs on front porches and dirty windows covered with sheets.

To gifted loaves of bread and kickball games and an overabundance of hot dogs and pizzas.  Dirty faces and braided hair and greasy hands.  And the most joy and purpose I had known.

I had traveled, laterally and slowly, from barns with bluegrass music and campfires and flannel shirts and church in kitchens, to the deepest ghettos I could find.  To spoken word and tight beats.  To line ups and a brand new perspective on what diversity means, what trust means, what competency and leadership means.  What it means to give well, to invest, to listen, and to make the bold, brave decisions.  To protect each other.

But listen.

Life happens and with it comes so much hurt.  And a broken heart stayed broken for a while.  And people I trusted to be trustworthy hurt me.  Secrets were revealed.  And I was chased down dark streets and pinned up against cars.  I gave up on what I knew because what I knew had failed me.

And we are here now.

Living in one of these hubs of poverty and violence and grayness.  Raising my little boy and working with the elderly and navigating relationships, which have failed to flourish.  There's a lot of emptiness here, yet so much growth and more trust than I had ever known I could muster.

There are words and scripture intertwined throughout my entire story.  A common thread, winding through each chapter, providing the sense and congruency I need to keep pressing.  There's a church sign.  And there's Don.  There's words about Boaz, words about Esther.  And a word on the fringe of my memory, about trusting God to do what He said he would.

The common message is serving and culture and I just have to get myself back to a place where I can begin building again.

And I've been praying about where.

I've been praying about the man who will one day join our family.  

I've been praying about the culture in which I will raise Judah.  

And while I was praying, I was connecting dots.  My heart craves the simplicity.  The minimalism.  The art.  The artist I am has been starved.  But the last few years have not been wasted.  As I pick up the rocks, the bricks, to build what comes next I know I have been equipped.

I have been rounded out, fleshed out, built up in the ways of community and culture.  I have something new to give, because of my experience.  

Thinking about reaching out has my palms sweaty.

I require a lot of grace. Might even demand it, because I know the truth.  We all require grace.  I want to teach people to serve, to create, to love unconditionally.  I want outreach to look like all the meals I've cooked and like a village helping to raise my child, among others.  I want community to look like music and beer and no street in this city left unloved.  Like reconciliation, integration, partnership, and development.  

Today, positive steps toward this include blocked telephone numbers and sitting down to write out these words under the lit Christmas tree while Judah naps on the couch.  It looks like asking for help and showing up, especially when it scares me.  It looks a hell of a lot like purging and about speaking worth over myself and my gifts and the family I have.  And looking for the people who don't have to be convinced.

But, it also looks a lot like the simple sharing of meals.  Recognizing my gift of hospitality looks different than the perfect housewives'.  The ability to open my home, my heart, and share.  I've come home, in my heart, to this place.

"Everybody has to leave, everybody has to leave their home and come back so they can love it again for all new reasons." DM

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Last year when Judah and I bought our townhouse, we didn't have to do much downsizing.  We only moved in order to have a washer and dryer with a lower monthly housing bill.  We bought this townhouse and moved laterally into an owned space with two floors instead of one.  And less closet space.

I kept all of Judah's clothes from when he was a baby.  I put them in totes, boxes, and bags and gave away some of the ones he never wore at all.  But I held on tight to the little sleepers and onesies and baby jeans.

Just before it was time to move to our new home, a friend offered to help pack up some of our belongings at the house while I was at work one day.  I put her on the task of sorting Judah's baby clothes and vacuum packing them in Ziploc storage bags.  When it was all said and done, there were probably five or six huge sealed bags.  And those bags made the move with us to the new house.

Some people made fun of me for this.  But I couldn't bring myself to part with the clothes.  I felt like these clothes, and the holding onto them, symbolized my hope in a growing family.  These clothes, and the saving them, meant I was speaking more children into my future.  I would have another baby one day, those five or six bags said.

Some people made fun of me for it and said, "well what if your next child is a girl?" And everyone said, "well of course you'll have more children".  Still I am baffled by their certainty. Because I don't know this to be the truth at all.  Im paralyzingly afraid it's not.

We stored those bags in Judah's closet until about four months ago.  Each bag weighs upwards of 20 pounds and their weight was too much for the wire storage shelves.  I was afraid the bags would fall on Judah or break something on the way down, so I sent all of the bags home with Judah's dad.

I'll kill you if you lose these, I threatened him.  I watched him take them to his friend's car and repeated myself.  If you give these away, I'll destroy you.

He knew I was serious.  But he had more storage space than I did.  I had to let them go.

It's December now.  And we haven't seen or heard from Judah's dad in six weeks or so.  That's a long story I don't care to tell you, except for: fatherlessness is a cycle my heart is devoted to breaking.  Biology doesn't make you a father, and the cycle will be broken my fatherless sons who don't abandon their children because of the men who chose them.  And those men in our society who will be asked to step up to father children who are not their own: to those men, my heart and all my respect extends.


My sister and her husband are having another baby boy in April.  She will need more baby boy clothes.  And as I thought about this the other day, my stomach dropped.

Literally.  Gut wrenched.

I didn't have them anymore.

Non-communication burns a bridge.  Cavernous space is created every day you fail to communicate with someone, and in this case, the particular space created is healthy and needed and will be to our benefit.

But he has our clothes.

My mind tried to wrap around this simple fact, because bigger than the baby clothes, I couldn't believe I had trusted him with my hope.

I had given him the symbol of my trust and hope of a growing family and let him drive away with it in someone else's car.  And now to get it back, my only option would be to bridge the gap created by a gracious God who knows all we needed was the distance.

And I've just never felt so materialistic in my life.

I damn near panicked.

What had I done.

I struggle a lot with the life I've built for my boy.  For the lack of structure and role models, and the making-ends-meet-survival-mentality we've both seemed to adopt.  I can't buy real Christmas presents this year.  And it took me four months to figure out how to get him to sleep again.  We have temper tantrums, strange eating patterns, and still no family photos. Now I've lost his baby clothes.

Now, when he's six and a half feet tall, grown, graduating college, or when he has babies of his own, I may not have the tiny clothes he wore when I brought him home.

And that feels like a failure.

It's not worth closing the distance, however.  And had you laid the decision out for me on paper, asked for space in exchange for clothes, I'd give them to you ten fold.  But ... I didn't willingly or knowingly make this choice.  This decision.

And I'm trying to come to grips with it: the loss of my metaphor.  Hold on to threads of hope, which if we are being honest, were frayed anyway.  Weather worn and thin from the pulling.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Friday Morning

I am in the business of people.

Of protection and advocacy and fighting for life.

Sometimes the only way to get me to do a hard thing, is to not give me an option.

The only way, ever, is to not give me an option.

I grew up sheltered from the tragedy of death.  I remember two funerals as a child.

Then there was a funeral when I wasn't really a child anymore.

One of those gatherings you can't even call the celebration of a life.  Listen.  Some people are taken too soon.  Some people make choices, which end it all before it should have been over.  Sometimes the young die.

I just don't go to funerals, ok?  I don't do visitations, wakes.  I am in the business of making sure people are safe.

But I remember my sister and my roommate being nurses.  And I remember stories.  I remember the hours after the twelve hour shifts in the ED ended.  I remember thinking, I am so glad I don't have their job.

So when I got my new job a little over three months ago, there was just a fleeting thought about how I had just opened the floodgates.  I was no longer safe.

Most of my days are spent problem solving with people.  Fighting with them to make choices to keep them safe.  My love for the elderly has grown exponentially and my poker face is stronger than it's ever been.  I can reason with the best of them and I am a favorite among the old men.

But every morning we run a census and a new patient shows up with a hospice code.  Every day, there are names we no longer see on the census.  And it's not because they got to go home.  I've stood in rooms with caring and uncaring families.  With scared and impatient families.  And talked to them about what it means to be actively dying.  I've helped fill out living wills and DNRs and helped sons become their mother's Power of Attorney.

But I'm not there when the dying happens.  I'm just the transition person, as I have always been, helping people get from where they are to where they need to be next.

Friday morning was Friday morning.  I forgot to pack lunch and I didn't have my thermos for coffee.  I strolled into the office, and as is my routine I checked my email and I sorted through the mess from the day before.  We waited for the census to print.  Multiple people poked their head into our suite and said certain family members were looking for me.  I got ready for a busy day... and then my coworker's extension rang.

I can always tell when they're calling for me.

"I'll send her right down" they said.  Repeating which triage room I needed to go to.

The Emergency Department never calls me.

All anyone said was that the ambulance was there and so was a distraught family and the person in the hospital who's best at this job hadn't come in yet.  That's all anyone said.  But I didn't have an option.

For those of you who have lost loved ones tragically, I don't even know what to say to you.  I am sorry?  How can I help?  Let me give you some space.  I'm still learning.  But the last one seems the most appropriate.

My job was to make sure an impossible situation was handled.  Really what it felt like was, "Anna, make sure the grieving stays contained.  We have a job to do down here."  Because my job is to keep people safe.  And their job is to save people's lives.

But they couldn't Friday morning.  Save the life.

And the next thing I knew my job became something more like, help them say goodbye.

I've been trying to process ever since.

After it was all over, I felt the gracious heaviness, which comes when you have a job to do and must remain grounded.  Kept my breathing steady.  Head down, one foot in front of the other, I walked back to the case management suite and grabbed my thermos.  All eyes were on me.

I've never seen a dead body before, I told them as a matter of factly as I could.

There wasn't enough coffee in the world.

The pity in their eyes was more about them remembering than it was about me.  Like when you ask someone about when they fell in love the first time.  They have to dig back in the recesses of their memories, through a lot of pain and grit and years and everything they've suppressed.  You are making them remember something they forgot out of self protection.

Oh, they say somberly.

Go get your coffee...

And I left the room.

I am, and will always be, in the business of keeping people safe.

I suppose sometimes this means standing in front of a lifeless body and holding someone close -- someone who is still full enough of life to acutely feel everything happening.  Safe doesn't mean shielded from pain.  Safe doesn't mean no bad will come.  Safe just means they're alive and pointed gently in the right direction.

Growing up, he called it the Island.  A place where people came, alive and pointed in the wrong direction.  A place people came, voluntarily or not, to get redirected.  And when death happened, the Island experienced an imbalance.  The day death happened, we always knew because life is always hard, but is especially hard on the days it ends. And he ate a lot of cheese sandwiches in his sleep the nights after.

Perhaps it takes looking at a body, no longer alive, to understand how deeply you are passionate about keeping people safe.

To understand how sacred and fragile life is and how sheltered you have been.

The prayer right now is a fearful one.

But I would imagine when we are allowed to experience the end of another's life, not only is it a privilege, but it is also an opportunity to grow.  To grow in respect for our own lives.  An opportunity to grow in our passion for those still living.  My guess is the intention, the plan, is not for us to live in fear.

But at this point, I'm still having a hard time closing my eyes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

pile of good things

We forget sometimes we're not doing this alone.  Which may be why we reach out with our art in the first place, for resonance.  When we speak and cry and express what we feel, we aren't looking to be the only one.  We don't want our experiences belittled or demeaned by the group, but we want a "me too".  A genuine "I understand", from the bravest of voices who know... we just have to tell the truth sometimes.

And so when what I say, suggest, argue, represent stirs up even just small ripples, I  am encouraged.

My heart hurts for you, because I know how you feel.  But I know how you feel.

Today I posted a simple quote on my Instagram page.  Mostly because I'm trying to eliminate excess (weight, belongings, accounts with balances, electricity bills, contacts in my phone) in an attempt to solve some problems.  Problems are popping up everywhere.  I am a solver of problems.

I am a solution finder.

But I read these words today, about piling up good things.  And it sounded an awful lot like building to me.  Sounded an awful like the accumulation of life, which I so often feel called to do.

It's not stuff we want to pile up.

It's firsts.

And recipes.

The constants of holidays and family traditions, for those of us who are lucky enough to have those remain the same this year.

We know what's hard.  We don't want to think about it, but we do.  We know how much money is in the bank account to last us until payday.  We know about the behavior of our children that has our patience tested.  We know how the sickness has broken our body down.  We know the stressors of houses on the market.  And rings given back.  And paying for new, small people.  About the aftermath of car accidents and uncertain prognoses.  Being the one who cares for everyone else, first. We know.

But contrary to what society would have us believe, those things do not have to define our daily life.  They must be handled.  No sweeping under the rug around here.  Handle it.  With grace and consciousness and a large dose of, "I don't like this" and keep it moving.  But the way the hard things are do not, in any way, define us.  They are our circumstances, not our story, creating the tension we need to grow.  Creating the resistance required to rise, and strengthen.

So.  What about these good things?

Just from a few responses today on the internet, I know I am not alone in feeling all these feelings.  The idea of growing and building, of shaping our lives and making things different overwhelms us.  I was reading another friend's blog yesterday and resonated so deeply when she says, "I have to change my days".  Not your whole life.  Your days.  And days are dramatically impacted more by the good you pour in, than the less than good we whittle out.

You're not alone.  Not in the fear, not in the overwhelmedness, not in the underwhelmedness you're feeling.  And to build good things, we can't be.  Alone, that is.

I want to know about your good things.

Tell me what your pile looks like.  Tell me what you're going to add, how I can be a part of the good.  I want to share that with you.


Turns out, I think I don't believe I deserve the life I want.

This was a mentality drilled into me from the first phone calls when I told my family I was pregnant.  Actually, long before that, when I married off my younger sister to our sweet brother.  It's no one's fault.  But the mentality is there.  That I don't deserve what others have.

I remember watching one of my sisters get married and thinking, a second family wedding for an older sister won't be this important.  There was some embarrassment in not being the first and the lie crept in: because no one picked you, you are less worthy of celebration.  I danced and laughed and cried and applauded at my sister's wedding because I love her and I love my brother.  And didn't feel a tinge of jealousy until the white tents came down and I stood there in my black, sheath dress and thought, will I get a turn?

When I told my family I was having a baby... well, to rehash this experience would cause me more post traumatic stress than the story's worth.  But let's just say I spent my entire pregnancy walking on eggshells.  Hoping I didn't seem too excited for this sweet baby no one thought I should have.  Dodging the nosy questions, hiding my belly, throwing up on my way to undergrad classes, learning how to graciously respond to less than gracious remarks.  I was thrown wonderful baby showers, where I felt awkward.  Like I was not something, someone, who should be celebrated.  As if unconventionalism trumps the celebration.  

I felt this way when I was asked to take maternity pictures.

And I felt this way when I drove myself to the hospital.

Yes, of course there were many many people who responded negatively to my life's events.  People with crude, ungracious, judgmental commentary.  I was shunned and people turned their back's on us, and I sent people packing who were nothing short of toxic to my small family.  But they were not the majority.  So I am not entirely sure where these deep-seated feelings come from.

But it just always feels like embarrassment.

Please don't take too close of a look at my life, lest you find it lacking.

Once Judah got here, I felt even more confused.  I didn't have the luxury to decorate a nursery.  I barely felt entitled to decorating my own home.  I still don't.  We still have bare walls and our bedrooms have nothing hanging on the walls.  For whatever reason.  We celebrated his first birthday in the park with cake and pizza and a lot less glitz and glamor than most moms plan for their children's first year celebration.  Not because I don't think Judah deserves it.

But because I felt like I didn't have permission to be ... normal.  And I have limitations, then and now, which means we don't celebrate in gigantic ways.

To celebrate in the way every one else around me did.  To declare to the world: we are a family, despite what you see.

We need family pictures taken.  Terribly.  And I'm afraid to ask for them.

Most of the time, usually, I override these insecurities for Judah's sake.  We will put up Christmas trees and we will open presents and I am looking for special Christmas stockings for him.  I want to start Advent this year with him, so he can learn about what Christmas really means while he is still young.  We bake cookies and clean up our messes and have a family pet.

But in so many's eyes, we are incomplete.  And I would be lying if I don't feel the same sometimes.

I do slip up sometimes and think about my wedding, though.

The thought dovetailed with one that sounds like, if I ever get married.  In the unlikely event I ever get married.  If anyone would ever choose us.

And I realize it's not that I don't believe I'll get married.  I think I will.  But I wonder... do I deserve a wedding?

What about engagement pictures?  Or an engagement ring for that matter.  Or a wedding registry?  Or a white, long dress?

People don't want to see those things, celebrate these events, with someone like me.  Do they?

I would want to.  For you.

But I don't think I deserve it.  In the weirdest, deepest sense.  And not at all because I feel ashamed, or because I think I've done anything wrong.  There are those who want me to feel that way, even after all these years they still say things.  But that's just not it.  Perhaps I have these feelings because I assume people would find it odd.  Or because there are better things to spend money on.  Or because it feels like playing dress up, when you've done everything else so backwards.

Maybe because I can't imagine myself marrying a man willing to do this stuff.  I still don't know how you all talk these boys into some of the stuff you talk them into.

I know, if I ever get the chance to have another child, it will come with the great big guilt.  Because I will surely feel more freedom to celebrate.  To be excited. To look others in the face who've scorned us before, and point out there's no "but" to this congratulations.  There will be no "I guess".  Or "where's daddy?" Or the hateful, "God uses mistakes all the time..."

I love Judah.  He is my family and the love of my life.  And I celebrate him in my own way, in ways I never tell any of you.  And now he is smart and loved and handsome and the center of my world.  Interesting enough, even those of you who cautiously celebrated his birth before, condemn my desire for a bigger family now.  Saying I have Judah and he's all I need.

I wish y'all would make up your minds.

But here's what I know:

This needed fleshing out.

The roots of this are deep and look an awful lot like so much false hope.  Being hesitant to want will curb the pain of not getting.  I don't think any of you, any of the good of you, would do anything but dance and celebrate if I said... I found him.  The one I'll call husband and Judah will call daddy and we are a family now and he picks us and we picked him.

I chuckled a little just now, knowing one of you at least would.  You'd have something to say.  Probably about settling.  Or protecting Judah.  Or whether or not this man loves Jesus.

For crying out loud, don't make me go there.

But the majority of you would dance right along with me at a wedding, with white dresses and lights hung from trees and left hand rings.

I wonder then, why I still feel like I would never ask for it.

Want it, deeply.  But never ask for it.

Monday, November 3, 2014


I sincerely thought I would come back here, overflowing.

I haven't been here in four months.

Haven't written a word.

And I pretended it was because I didn't have a way to post here, because a seven year old, refurbished Macbook was finally fried and I couldn't get here.

But that's not why.

I haven't written a word because I haven't had a word.

Because my writing requires an examination of self I wasn't willing to commit to.  Because when I looked into my life, I saw a skeleton and we don't share our skeletons.

I have just survived, am currently surviving, a season of stripping.

Of reduction.

A desert season when and where I've been tested in what feels like every way possible (this statement is not a challenge, by any means, and should not be interpreted as such).

I have lost friends, I have lost comfort, I have lost my security, I have lost relationships, I have lost time.

I have changed jobs twice, I have lost and regained my good health, I have said goodbye a good number of times and hollowed out places, which have not been refilled.  I have read some.  Still have written none.  I have trusted and been betrayed, I have tried to problem solve.  I have researched and I have chopped all my hair off.

Judah has learned his ABCs and a few of his numbers and he knows the color blue.  He has formed opinions I did not teach him and we have struggled severely with a number of family crises, which I pray have long been laid to rest.  He was Mickey Mouse for Halloween and after two solid months of no sleep, he's sleeping through the night again.  Thank you, melatonin and coffee.

None of this did I want to glorify by naming it.  I have been rip roaring mad and so sunk deep in loneliness I couldn't see out.  And none of it made sense because I couldn't connect the dots.  The first job change in May sent me reeling into a situational depression I couldn't quite make sense of, leading me to copious amounts of research, homeopathic medicines, problem solving and desperate prayers sounding a lot like what I've prayed in the past.

Prayers I've prayed before, which were answered.  Prayers which set everything in motion.

Prayers about risk and next right moves and discernment.

And one application filled out randomly over my phone, which landed me in my current job: the North He was drawing me to.

My story is compartmentalized into seasons; as I look out the window at my childhood Starbucks I see the leaves have turned red and people are coming in and out of these doors wearing scarves and tall boots and I know fall is here.

Fall is here and I am speaking newness into our lives.

I speaking goodness into our lives.

And movement.

Coming back here feels a lot like coming back home empty handed. The prodigal son, I come back having thought I could make it on my own.  Thinking without this place, I would be okay.  But here I come, over the hill.  Knowing these words will not have been missed by many of you.  Knowing they will go unread and the story laid out here will be worth reading, if I can get it right.

And knowing as the old season quietly turns into the new, I'll want to be here.  I'll want witnesses.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

gracious incompetency

I got embarrassed today.  I explained something, to an uncomfortably large group of people, and said something not entirely appropriate.

Later, someone said something.

They brought it up.  In front of everyone.

I sat there, quietly.  But my mind raced a thousand miles every second.

I didn't have all the right language.

But when someone said something about it, I got angry.

I wanted to say, "the way to educate is not to shame... someone..."

I live with this little brown eyed boy with coarse curls and full lips and daily I wonder how I will teach him how to handle other people who don't understand.

And there are a lot of people who don't understand, but I do not ever want to be one of them.

I didn't have the grace or the humility to apologize to the woman who shamed me today.  But I reached out to my friend, whom I knew would understand.  A woman who's dedicated her life to education on this particular topic, and I apologized to her.  Mostly because an apology to my classmate wouldn't have been genuine.  But my apology to my friend was.

And I didn't like how embarrassed I felt to be wrong.

I'm wrong a lot.  And in a lot of public ways.

But in this moment, I thought about all the times I have reacted with less than patience about someone else's particular ignorance.  Using inappropriate language, or believing generalizations and stereotypes.  I think about the times I have failed myself, when I have been less than I'm capable of being.

We have to learn to be gracious with our incompetencies.

Not dismissive.  Not permissive.

But gracious.

In those ways we fail, out of exhaustion and ignorance or miseducation, we must be able to find the grace.  For each other, but also for ourselves.

In those moments when I recognize all my stagnancy, all the ways I've strayed from my dreams; the windy path we've followed, which has led us here.  Failure like windows thrown open, light and temperature and moisture, waking us up.

We can be wrong and still shrouded in the grace.  We can stand still, knee deep in all the mud, and it's grace reaching for us.

Grace allows us to be wrong and learn from it.  To learn and grow and fight the complacency we often find ourselves in.  Because we are supposed to get better.

We are not supposed to stay this way.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

what's been goin on

I just want to write. And I was trying to be poetic and insightful and damn, that's harder than it sounds.

So y'all get a list.

Because lists knock things loose.

-I have been thinking a lot about balance lately. What balance looks like for my family and how I will achieve it as an individual. What keeps the scales balanced in your life?

-I've been introduced to the Barreamped method. I've been taking classes at a local studio for a few months now and it's been a total change of pace from the heavy lifting I've been doing for the past year. Check out ElleFitness here, and come take a class with me one Tuesday night!

-The change in my physical activity regimen really threw my body for a loop. I've been researching food as medicine, as a result, and I don't just mean dieting. Check out my Pinterest board for what I've found so far... And give me any tips or share any knowledge you may have about juicing, supplementals, essential oils and anti-inflammatory diets.

-I started a new job almost two months ago. That's all I really care to say about that.

-Judah has grown in a very handsome little boy, if I do say so myself. I'm on the look out for new books to keep him interested and local activities he can participate in. Here's what we did on Saturday.

-This is my favorite new recipe.  It's not difficult, or clean, but it's good

-new favorite blog

-I got Olivia hooked on this component of my skin care regimen.  It's simple.  Not organic or expensive or all natural, but it has saved my skin.

-But for those days when my hair or skin, especially my stretch marks, need some extra love here is a DIY skin care recipe I just tried.  And love.  I also use this on Judah after bathtime: sweet, brown baby love.

-This is the local event I plan to attend on the 4th of July.  Lexington is coming ALIVE with creativity, entrepreneurs and a true sense of community.  I plan to experience a little of all of that here: Night Market

- Have any of you ever used a shampoo bar?  Tell me about it.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Change is Gonna Come: Pt 1/Getting Fit at Home

Remember Anne Hathaway's debut?

The Princess Diaries?  The invisible girl with a retainer and unmanageable hair, who had never been kissed?

Remember the transformation scene?  When she suddenly realized she was beautiful (had been all along) and now everyone else saw it too.

That's what the gym did for me.

Last May, I hit the ground running.  I studied, without realizing it, and learned how to transform my body.  I studied form and muscle groups and I asked questions and practiced in mirrors.  I noticed plateaus and burst through them.  I added plyos when needed and one day I remember I walked into that big gym and it didn't scare me anymore.

I arranged my day around my gym session.  Only one hour at a time, I went it to do work and got it done.  On bad days I made myself venture out onto the main floor, outside of the crossfit room.  Where the heavy weights were.  Where the men were. And worse, the sports bra clad women.

I didn't see a significant change on the scale, but I did in my clothes.  Suddenly, my quad was cut.  And so were my delts.  And I knew what that meant.

My knee started popping so I did some research and realized I was overworking my quad and underworking my hamstring, and so I increased my deadlifts.

Which killed my lower back.

So I dropped weight, increased reps and bought a foam roller.

Guys, this made my heart beat.  This was how I took care of myself.

I had a few run ins with the trainers out there.  And by run-ins I mean: I, the invisible Mia Thermopolis, Anne Hathaway, Audrey Hepburn circa Sabrina, 1954, caught the eye of the trainers.  I only mention this because they were who I was scared of.  The ones who were supposed to know what they're doing.  I needed to stay away from them, just in case I messed up.

We don't mess up publicly around here.  No sir.

We mess up privately and then correct ourselves, so when we debut in public no one ever knows.  No one ever knows.

(Yeah.  Um.  Except for the unwed pregnancy bit.  But we won't talk about that.)

But they saw me.  Over the course of the year there were more than a few, actually.  Saw me, approached me, praised me.  It made me proud to know they thought I worked hard.  And that out of all the people they might notice, I was one of them.

There was one day, a few weeks ago, when Larry and Emily came and watched Judah for one Sunday afternoon while I hit the gym.  And I hit it hard.  When I got there I realized the place was almost empty.  An athlete's mecca, if you will.  I thrive in the emptiness because (see above) I don't have to hide.

And there was the sled.  Already loaded with about 100 lbs.  Already tied to a battle rope.

Just asking to be pulled.

That was the day I knew I had transformed.

Feet braced, hand over hand, pulling that sled across the gym floor.  Engaging muscles to pull faster.  Tossing rope length to the side.

Then April come along, and I quit my job.

It was a necessary move, I believe, but that one letter of resignation has sent our little world into true upheaval.

There's much more to tell, much more serious aspects of this change.  But the one, which is bothering me most tonight is I had to quit the gym.

The new job is out of county and so mine and Judah's day increased by upwards of two or three hours each work day.  My gas bill doubled.  And this will all barely be absorbed by the pay increase.  I am away from Judah 10 hours every day and when I say that out loud it makes my stomach hurt.

There is no time for the gym.

And even if there was "time", I still wouldn't pick Judah up after a ten hour work day and stick him in a daycare with girls who in the past have let him cry for 45 minutes straight.  No sir.

So I've been problem solving.

Seriously.  This is causing me anxiety and the way I deal with anxiety is by going to the gym and now I can't go to the gym and... phew.  The cycle is exhausting.

My first thought is: I've lost my means of self care.  My second thought is: I don't want to get fat again. And my third thought is: WHY DID I QUIT MY JOB.

Good news is I know how outlandish all three statements are.  I also know how much power I have over all three concepts.  And here, I will document my journey to finding the solutions.

Initially, here are my thoughts.

1. Self care is self care and if your means of achieving it don't adapt to a lifestyle change, it's probably not as effective as I think.  My self care is my alone time when I accomplish something.  When I move shit.  A gym membership owns no rights to that concept.  Also, I'm creative.  So over the past few weeks, as the budget has allowed, I have accrued some at-home work out tools.  Including resistance bands, jump rope, slam balls, and ab rollers.  I need to acquire some heavier weights -- which means I should probably be perusing some yard sales.  But for now, burpees it is.

2. I have been fat.  I have.  I look back on pictures now and I almost don't want them to exist, because I am not that person anymore.  Just this Friday night, after an evening of celebrating birthdays and graduations, I walked up on an old friend I hadn't seen in six months or so.  And she said, "it's so good to see you.  You are so SKINNY!"  The face I made was probably atrocious.   Because, I am not fat.  But I am NOT skinny.  But that was her perception of me.  Who I am now is not the same as who I was before.  Also, this fear completely denounces the power behind diet and the foods we choose.  Diet (as in, lifestyle of eating) has always been my weakness.  Now, when my strength cannot be as conveniently utilized, it's time to clean up my kitchen.  To make the harder choices so that the little bit of exercise I accomplish will be effective.

3. I still don't know the answer to this one.

So, if there are any of you who have thought to yourself "I need to work out", or "I should get to the gym" or even said to me, "I wish I had your motivation"... take a deep breath.  You don't need to do anything.  I would recommend it.  And as I embark on this journey of staying fit at home, maybe we will find some motivation together.

Once I started training my posture changed, my skin changed, my body composition changed, my sleeping changed.  Overall, the way I viewed myself changed.  Like a year long transformation scene.

I'm still choosing my theme music.  

In conclusion.  I had a wild hair the other day and started researching the simplest way to get certified as a personal trainer.  I have some pipe dreams I'm entertaining.

Question is: would you let me train you?

Monday, May 12, 2014

six months ago

November 13, 2013
There are so very few witnesses. 

So very few who see, understand.  Who know without me saying.

I am trying, but my thoughts are spinning and I know if I don’t flesh them out, they will just lose momentum.  And come crashing down.

We have to choose, the movie told us, to live each day like we were getting a second chance.  Like we were given the opportunity to do it all over again. 

We thought it was going to be a sappy, Christmas-time chick flick.  And it ended up being a movie about family.  About second chances and the consequences of our choices.  The things we value too much to ever change.  The time we so often take for granted.

So I woke up this morning and deliberately chose.  I asked for help telling a better story.  To do better.  And I just don’t know if it was the asking or the choosing, but today has been better.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately ignoring some anger.  Or, rather, pretending I’m angry instead of sad.  Because there’s this big, gaping hole.  Hollowed out, not so smoothly.  And I really only notice it at night and when the wind blows and it hurts… not at all unlike the gap from a lost tooth.  Or the place where your coat folds away from your neck. 

Light would catch this abyss and be lost in it, drawing my attention.  But you can’t think on something too long, too hard, without beckoning it; and so I would just shake it off.  Blink.  Keep going.  To beckon it, would be to beckon the sadness.

And not just the sadness.  The embarrassment.

Do you know what I mean?  Heartbreak doesn’t just make you sad.  It doesn’t just make you angry.  It embarrasses you.  Me.  Because heartbreak means someone cared less than you did.  Once again, maybe for the hundredth time, you invested yourself poorly.  You loved and they found you unlovable. 

This should be a testament to them—those who don’t reciprocate.  But it never is.  It’s a reflection of you.  Me.  And all that is not worthy and all that was wasted and all that still hurts.

But just like everything else, it’s not the only thing that hurts.  It’s just what people ask about. 

And I’m choosing to forgive and slowly, daily, the hollow place is shrinking.  We are learning to do it this way.

But what I want, despite hollow places and heart break and embarrassment and achy loneliness, is to live a good story.  To create magic and moments and build a family regardless of our demographic.  Despite our missing pieces. 

I miss being part of solutions.  I miss big hugs and teaching boys how to shake hands and I miss fractions and sight words.  I miss feeling bold and brave and being the one who loves those embarrassed and unloved.

I didn’t stop loving. 

But I am still searching. 

Trying to find coveted balance.  Trying to grow myself.

I am a builder and I feel like I ran out of bricks.

And all I want is to build a life where Judah knows how to love others and never questions that he too is loved.  I want to be patient and creative and considerate and to use the pain from these hollow spaces to propel us forward into bigger, better things.

But some days, I just sit.  I don’t know what else to do.
I don't want to depend on anyone else.  On charity or child support or hand outs or favors.  I've worked too hard and too long and built our way out of rented rooms and food service jobs to this, where we are now.  
But today... on the days I sit, thinking about how unless someone thought to ask, all of this goes unwitnessed...
I just pray for a witness. 
Wherever he is.  Whatever he's doing. 

May 12, 2014

Sometimes words are meant for later.  They're built and constructed for a later time and are meant to sit and wait.  Age and ripen.  Until we (I am) are ready.

Until I am ready to say them, own them.  Until I am ready to make them real, in the open space breathing on their own.

So some night, when I sit down in desperate need, the words are already there.

I have not been able to expel them, because they're sitting, waiting patiently to be retrieved.

They've been whispered, only to be owned.

And I sit at my kitchen table, in the dark with the baby in bed and the fan whirring and the hollow sound of a slightly deflated basketball hitting the pavement outside my door, and find what I needed to say has already been said.

And I take a deep breath, ready to share.  You're ready to hear it now, the words from six months ago.

I feel some sadness.  The words from six months ago, ringing painfully true tonight.

There's little, if anything to add.  Except that the sadness is tinged with delight at knowing the life, which exists in the words I've been given.

Only something truly alive could wait so patiently.

I wrote this morning: I feel as though I am staring at a pile of bricks.  Not broken or destructed, just a pile.  And how I build from this point forward will make all the difference.

So.  It's time to build again.

I am a builder.
And all I want is to build a life where Judah knows how to love others and never questions that he too is loved.  I want to be patient and creative and considerate and to use the pain from these hollow spaces to propel us forward into bigger, better things.

Friday, February 28, 2014

last day of February

The harsh reality set in this morning that all while people are encouraging me to not give up hope, or give up all together, there's not a lot right now within my control.

I tell people constantly, pseudo-professionally and personally, to control what they can control.  There are so many variables and often we get so hung up on the ones we have no power over.  Namely, other people

I tell my foster parents to pick their battles.  To watch their proximity and to reward good behavior.  To them, this feels like relinquishing power.  To me, it means creating peace and restoring control.  I tell them not to raise their voice just because a child does.  This concept is lost on them.  I tell them to watch how they express feelings, to watch for triggers, and to pick the non-negotiables.  Operate from there.  A good, solid, healthy baseline.  They don't listen

This is why I go to the gym.  Because I can control my body.  There are parts of my body I cannot control -- like the curvature of my spine, stretch marks, the one leg and arm longer than the other.   But the gym, and the work I put in there, helps me overcome.  I should be controlling what is in my refrigerator, because I can control that too.  But I feel less triumphant after a healthy meal than I do after an hour long workout, so if I'm going only going to pick one battle to fight... I always pick the one that makes me sweat.

Yesterday, I was treated pretty poorly at my gym.  Nothing so bad I would talk to management about.  But enough to make me skip my morning session today out of disdain and/or embarrassment.  I was disregarded and misinterpreted and scoffed at; so many uncontrollable variables all at once my safe place suddenly became a place where I lacked any control again.  I left with my tail tucked between my legs.

Last night I was told, for probably the hundredth time: I was great, but it just wasn't going to work out.  

I was so proud of myself for the casual way I responded and the coolness with which I ended the conversation.  I tricked myself into thinking this week that a lack of attachment will help with all this emotional turmoil.  But man.  Is that against my nature.  So this morning, the tears came.

Not because of him -- the variable and his rejection.  It was a silly conversation and a try-again attempt, which we were both right in believing would have probably wasted our time.

Before this emotionally tumultuous week, in which I cancelled interviews and had corporate arguments and quit grad school, I had a few more difficult conversations with uncaring, unimportant people.  Which went a little something like...

"Anna, you are not.... fill in the blank."

Enough, basically.

Then I tumbled into this emotional train wreck of a week, and I started blocking phone numbers. 

Left and right.  All for good reason, all personally validated, all justified and very much warranted.  I began to use the hard and fast rule Larry always taught us: if I cannot benefit you and you are not benefitting me, there's no need for a relationship.

And I had a hey day.  Cleaned the proverbial house.  And was free from stupid boys for all of a week before the latest one flipped the switch on me.  He doesn't need his number blocked.  But I didn't allow for any lack of clarity.

But it took all the way until this morning.  When I was actively avoiding the gym because of a variable.  To realize how much energy I was spending worrying about those uncontrollable variables.  And not taking my own advice.

I am still sad.  Don't get me wrong.  I walked down the stairs this morning and saw signs of comfort, of family, of belonging sitting huge and glaringly obvious at the foot of my stairs.  Gut wrenching.  The lack of safety of the most craved space. 
People tell me to choose better.  I've been on this soapbox for years now.  I don't do the choosing.  I know how to choose well.  I can pick a good man, a good woman, a good human out of a crowd.  It's my gift.  I'm sensitive to goodness.  But as I sat back today and thought back, I realized I have not been actively pursued by a good human being since before I was 20 years old. 
I have picked a half dozen fine, good, handsome men of character.  Who all ended up with fine, good, beautiful woman of integrity.  But in seven years almost there's not been one worth trusting.
I cannot control that variable.  If I could, I would have a long time ago.  I would have constructed the right man out of thin air and we would not be here right now, dammit.  But here we are.  And I'm not so sure anymore he exists at all. 
The integrity is in the details, you see.  You see the big picture.  Judah and I need a good man.  With a job.  Who loves Jesus.  Maybe you're insightful enough to know we need a man who isn't racist.  But most of you aren't. 

I see the minute details of every day and I know the man who fits here, if he exists, will be one of a kind. 
But I can't control that.  He may not know who he is any more than I do.
He, or the lack of him, is my uncontrollable variable. 

All this to say... I have a new mantra.  I am not sure how it will manifest in the day to day.  But it sounds something like, I am not responsible for them.  I am not responsible for the trainer's arrogance, or his moodiness, or how he interpreted what I had to say.  I am not responsible for another man's insensitivity.  I am not responsible for another man's lack of motivation or the decisions they choose to make.

All I am responsible for is me.  And Judah.  And how we carry ourselves, conduct ourselves, respond to others, reach out to others.  I am responsible for what we choose to ignore.  What I choose to address and how.  My proximity to the chaos.  But only sometimes the chaos itself. 

This goes right along with a thousand other mantras, which get me through my day.  Including "they don't care about you", which is in fact one of the most comforting one-liners to get a social anxious creature like myself through the day.  

And so I went home on lunch and packed a gym bag.  I'll go back to the gym tonight and I will nod and smile like I always do.  I will reclaim my safe spot.  My last courageous act of February.      

Monday, February 10, 2014


Currently I'm living in this weird state of mind, where I am never fully present anywhere.  I just realized this, because I haven't been fully present enough to assess the situation and give this strange mood a name.

But that's it.  I am disengaged. 

Which was not part of the plan.  At all. 

And by "just realized this" I mean I recognized it at the beginning of the year when I reviewed the past year.  So I've been mulling over this idea for a while, but it's February 10th and it's time to fix it.

When I watch a suspenseful movie, the storyteller (and movie goer and human) in me knows when it's about to get scary.  The music changes, so does the camera angle.  A character does something stupid, goes somewhere alone, meets someone dangerous.  You know what I do then?  I squint my eyes.  I let my vision go blurry because things are less scary if you don't really acknowledge them.  Because a lot of us aren't afraid of what we can't see.  And if a monster is going to jump out of my peripheral, at least I've eliminated one of my senses.

This is not good practice, guys.

About six weeks ago I realized I was doing this in real life.

Mine and Judah's life is kind of scary.  We teeter precariously on edges I wish we could distance ourselves from.  We scrape bottoms of barrels and stretch to make ends meet and we fight monsters on a daily basis.  A lot of monsters who pretend not to be monsters.

So I was walking around with squinted eyes.  I let my vision go blurry so that the chaos was a mess of colors and sounds but I was not overstimulated.

But then you miss it.  You risk missing it all.  Being blindsided by time and life and growth and all the dangerous things that sneak up silently.

I was trying to be a mommy, a social worker, a homemaker, a daddy, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a graduate student, an athlete and someone's (I don't know who?) girlfriend all at the same time. 

I'm imagining life right now like an old school game of Mario Brothers we used to play at Granddad's house.  Where Mario or Luigi would navigate a haunted mansion or castle and be bombarded by bombs and rolling stones and explosive fires and collapsing bridges.  That has been our life. 

I was (am) trying to be good at all of it.  But at the end of the day I kept looking at that grad school course load and dipping into my well for whatever was left... and coming up dry.

Which would result in starting out the next day with less than I needed to do well at anything else.  Which cut into story time and meant the dishes were piled up and in my attempt to ignore all things scary... none of it was getting done.  In an attempt to do it all well, I was mediocre at everything.

It took the clogged bathtub drain to help me realize.

Judah and I moved into the house in September and the bathtub upstairs already drained slowly.  Fast forward to February and it just hardly drained at all until the water stopped running, so I hated showering, hated cleaning the tub.  But the drain is not like any I'm used to, so I wasn't really sure how to clean it or unclog it.  So I just dealt with the clogged tub.  And spent additional time cleaning it after the bath water drained out.  And spent additional time being grossed out.  But no additional time resolving the issue.

Until last week.  When I sent Larry upstairs to check on a sink handle and asked him to take a look at the drain in the tub.  How could I unclog this drain, I asked for the first time, out loud. 


Simplest answer.  Logical answer.  Really, an answer I already knew and had explored but hadn't implemented.

Not too long after, I drew the parallel.  I always, eventually, draw the parallel.  Of simple solutions and asking the right questions and using energy wisely.

It's time to fix some things.  Namely, my expectations for myself.

And I start by opening my eyes.  Clearing my vision and allowing my senses to open up.

Because regardless of what I've led myself to believe, the most scary of all monsters are the monsters who have no name.  Who sneak up from behind, who you did not anticipate.  I have been doing myself a disservice and made us very vulnerable.

I feel like a failure, most days.  Maybe I want to justify all the ways I am shitty by saying I do a lot.  Maybe my mediocrity has been justified by the load I carry.  Maybe I've expected too much of myself and believed the lies.

But I didn't do that on purpose.  And I don't want to do it anymore. 

You know what I want to do?  Right now, in this season, for this leg of the journey?

I want to play with blocks with Judah.  And make homemade play dough.  I want to do well at my job while I'm here.  I want to read books I enjoy and I want to write more.  I want to help others again, in some form or fashion.  I want to keep washing my dishes.  I want to cook and I want to share my food and I want to double my back squat.

I turned twenty six in less than three months.  I've set a new goal for myself, because I finally addressed another clogged drain I had chosen to ignore.  Another issue of mediocrity, held together by fear.  Fear of failure, but also a fear of succeeding.  Hiding behind old facades and leaning on old crutches.  I don't want to do that anymore either. 

I want to challenge myself.  Not burden myself. 

And if I am only a few things to a few people, rather than a lot of things to a lot of people, I want to be excellent.  I want to be proud again. 

So, then, it's not quitting after all. 

It's improving.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

I Don't Go to Church Very Often ... Either

I wanted to write about this.  And I wanted even more to write about it when I was no longer mad.  Out of the overflow of the mouth, the heart speaks.  Right?  So maybe it's not that we say things we don't mean when we're mad.  It's just we say them the wrong way.

I will preface this with what you already know.  Just to be clear.

I grew up in church.

I've done the "in church every time the doors were opened" thing and I've been there when the vacuums were running and the lights were off.

I grew up in youth groups and on summer camps with curfews and dress codes.  I knew the motions to the songs and didn't participate in games.

For a good long while, I did a lot of consistent tithing too.

I dated two worship leaders.  Was assaulted by a third.

I've left the country four times in the name of "missions".

I memorized scripture.

I was baptized when I was nine with my sisters.  By my dad.  Top ten most vivid, most precious, memories.

So there's the basics.  I know what I'm talking about.  Maybe I'm not right.  Maybe I didn't go to Bible college.  But I am not without experience, exposure, or educated opinion.


I remember going to visit a new church once, when I was halfway through my pregnancy.  And no one knew me.  I was there to watch one of my best friends sing, so my mind was open and I had very little expectations.  But what they did (or didn't do) kept me from ever going back.

Not a single person said hello.  But they looked at my belly.  Then they looked at my left hand.  Back at my belly.  And then kept moving.

So the other day when Don posted a blog about how he doesn't go to church very often, my ears perked.  His post rallied the pitchfork mobs, as most non-traditional ideas do.  And the poor guy, who was just trying to be transparent, has raked over the coals.  He responded, albeit much more defensively than I've ever seen him respond before.  But maintained his opinion and invited the opinions of others, while calling out the ones who had chosen to be so hateful.

Gosh.  You all can be so damn hateful.

Funny.  John Calipari mentioned how personal people take things on Facebook the other day; called us a pack of yelping dogs.  No one got mad at him.  But he's a pretty successful basketball coach who attends Catholic mass.  Not a pretty famous writer who claims to love Jesus.  So I guess that's the difference.

But what gets me, is these writers are being condescending.  Not just hateful.  The undertone of every responsive blog has been "I'm a Christian, I love Jesus, I have to love Don so I won't outright say it.  But quit threatening my way of life, sinner."

Anyway.  One man in particular posted a "Dear Don" letter on his blog.  And I read it.  Thoroughly.  Not unbiasedly, however, since even the URL irritated me.  But, I'll say this upfront.  It appeared to me, this man wasn't trying to talk to Don.  He was trying to defend his beliefs.

But as we saw with the Evolution vs. Creation debate earlier this week... people don't give a damn about much else but authority and publicity.  We defend only when we feel threatened, so the voices who agree with us will get louder.  (Notice, I said "much else".  There's the margin.  Put whomever you'd like in that margin, if that makes you feel better.  But this week's debate was nothing short of tax collectors in the temple.)

So I felt a need to sort through my thoughts this way, in this public forum.  But it is not addressed to Mr. Gospel Coalition dude.  It's addressed to myself (a former, current, unfaithful church go-er) and you.

Here's why**:

1) Churches get lots of teenage girls to volunteer in the nursery.  I leave my child 40-50 hours a week while I go to work.  The weekends are precious to us.  And even though church is an hour long, it's a two or three hour ordeal at the end of the day.  And if I'm going to leave my baby, AGAIN, I am not going to leave him with someone who doesn't reach for him when it's time for me to go.  I got to church a few Sundays ago and immediately left because the highschool student working J's room stared at him like he was a rabid dog when he started crying.  Um.  No.

2) when I don't show up, no one misses me.  If I show back up, they croon and hug and smile and say "where have you been?  We've MISSED YOU."  With lots of side hugs and back pats.

3) people, either directly or indirectly, refer to Judah as a sin or a mistake.  And imply because he is biracial, he is either inferior or it "makes sense" I am parenting alone.

4) sermons are boring.  I hardly ever learn anything new or leaving feeling encouraged, convicted, or moved. You know why?  Because I haven't heard a minister talk about hard things in years.  I know a few ministers in Lexington very personally and very well, trust their leadership and love their hearts.  But I can't hear one more sermon about how God loves us and doesn't want us to cuss or have sex.  I guess there are still people who haven't heard that.  Right?  Has the message that the "church" is anti-premarital sex reached the masses yet?  No?  Ok.  Let's keep talking about that.  And not greed.  Not pride.  Because those things aren't a big deal.

5) (addendum to #3) people i know from church pretty consistently say stupid shit like, "i bet that's good birth control", or, "I bet you won't make THAT mistake again", or "I hope you know God has forgiven you", or refer to my shame and guilt.

oops.  Should I not have worked through that so quickly?  I don't know.  The martyrdom of holding onto shame just doesn't suit me.  I am not strong enough to carry that around.

6) church is political and talks about money a lot.  end of discussion.

7) people say things like "hate the sin, love the sinner".

8) people talk about you and yours whether you're there or not.  And will weasel their way into your life as long as they think there are juicy details.  And when the drama dies down, no one is anywhere to be found.

So there it is.  Eight isn't really a glorious number, but I was getting mad again so I decided to cut myself off.

Let's get serious for a minute and take an honest look at this.

I was checking out Mr. Gospel Coalition's blog and trying to be objective, unsuccessfully.  But my tipping point was a paragraph at the end of his pretty lengthy blog, where he makes a statement I think he intended to drive all other points home.  Obviously he was sure he'd hit the nail on the head with this one.  "And here's where the rubber meets the road: I don't know how we can say we love and belong to the church without loving and belonging to a church.  Or saying we want to connect with God, but we won't listen to God's word for only 45 minutes out of all minutes of the week."

Oh man.

I tried so hard, guys.  So freaking hard.

But you know what I heard when I read that?  And if I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, maybe Mr. Coalition guy meant in order to belong to the church we need to identify with people who also belong.  But you know what?  I really don't think that's what he meant.  I really think he meant a Sunday morning service.  With three songs and gold communion trays and nasty red carpet and a really liberal and edgy drum kit.  With a sermon taught by a Christian college graduate and a really good prayer at the end.  Accountability and community and repentance.  That good stuff.

I think he meant the church, which (not who) becomes part of our identity when we choose to attend.  Like our alma mater.  Our graduating class.  Our neighborhood.  Our career.  "Where do you go to church?"

So I felt more sorry for him than anything.  And I really just wanted to tell him stories.  Stories I have told all of you.  Stories you have told me.

About fires on mountainsides in Africa.  About flour mills.  About shoes and quiet boys in Haiti.  About wind blowing and doves and afternoons spent reading and three squeezes.  About foster care referrals.  About storms, delayed.  About hot dogs, multiplied.  About dodge ball and tornadoes and crack cocaine deals gone bad.  About camping in caves with crank radios.  About taking thoughts captive and peace beyond understanding.

And let me tell you what.  Not one of those moments, those numinous, holy, unexplainable, spiritual, God-filled moments happened in a church building.  Not.  One.

Ok.  So the hot dog thing happened in a church.  And so did the shoe thing.  Actually, a red headdress thing did too.  But not on a Sunday morning.  Not during a service.  But they WERE church.  In your entire lifetime you couldn't convince me otherwise.

They happened when our hearts were in the right place.  When we move beyond ourselves to the point where we are willing to see and hear, where we are aware of shortcomings and desperately aware of our need.  And He was there.  Right there, just like always, waiting on us to see.

I pray for Judah before he falls asleep at night.  Well.  I pray for that kid a ton, because he jumps off high things and locks me out of the house and he had that calcium deposit in his heart and doesn't have a daddy.  I pray for him without ceasing, to be honest.  But I pray for him out loud at night, when he's sleepy enough to sit still.  He lets me because he likes it when we whisper in his ear.  And I swear to you I cry every night.

You don't think that's church?

You don't think Jesus hears that?

The point is there is absolutely nothing wrong with the church service on Sunday morning.It has a sweet way of tying things together.  And is a privilege, friends I know in other countries don't have.  It's just sometimes the church doesn't look much like Jesus.  And most of us have reasons we don't go.

And the sad reality is those reasons are usually the people who do.

Someone else posted ANOTHER responsive blog last night.  Poor Don.  Another blog defending lifestyle and why they choose to go to church and why that's the right choice and they are better for it.  This particular blog drove home the fact the writer would "never leave church".  And I just sighed and made cookies, because now I was mad again.

We don't plan to "leave the church", guys.  Trust me.  You don't need to know how I know this.  But I know it.  It's never part of the five year plan.  Also, Don didn't say he left the church.  He did use some weird language about graduating, and I want to look more into that.  But leaving implies separating yourself.  And this imperfect man has committed his life to helping you live a better story within your relationship with God.  If you try to look at his statement as objectively as I looked at Mr. Gospel Coalition's... I'm wondering what you'd see.

But this second blog, by a guy called Geoff, specifically said this:

"Without the local church I tend to only associate with people I like.  People who are like me.  Within the context of the local church I am forced to love people who are unattractive, unlovable, and unkind."

Objective, Anna.  Be objective.  

Damn, it's just not working for me today.

THAT, guys, did me in.

I really hope Geoff is attractive, lovable, and kind.  Always.

I know I am not.  And neither are my friends.  

Neither are 99% of the people I run into every single day.  

Every.  Single.  Day.


I won't pretend I know the history or background of Mr. Coalition or Mr. Geoff.  My guess is their story isn't "out there" quite like Don's is, and even if it was, it might be a little more tidy.  So I won't assume they haven't been rejected by the church yet.  Or hurt by it.  I won't assume they've haven't trusted the church with their whole heart and found only hypocrites.  I won't assume they don't have gay cousins or sisters who aren't married with babies or uncles who are addicts.  Stuff like that will shake it all out, my friends.

There's a reason people don't seek sanctuary in the church.

There's always a reason.

So if you are part of the church and you meet someone who loves Jesus, but is afraid to walk through your doors, it's time to ask the questions.

Not point the fingers.  Not defend your lifestyle.  Not worry someone is cross examining your belief and the choices you've made.  Those things don't invite Jesus into the mix.  They just don't.  You don't owe us those answers.  

I have never been a part of a large, healthy church.  Ever.

I have been a part of two, very beautiful house churches over the last ten years.  Both, which tried to become a lot more like a big church and fell apart.  Same with a ministry I was wildly devoted to.  Politics and  money and rules weaseled their way in.  Now it ceases to exist, for all intents and purposes.  

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the mega church.  Truth be told when I choose to attend a service it's at the biggest mega church in this area.  But I know what goes on there, when the vacuums are being run and the doors are locked.  The popularity contest which lives and breathes in that space.  That's what slows me down.

Corporate worship, suddenly doesn't mean collective and together and unified.  It means business.


There are a few of you, belonging to "a church", who help me love Jesus more.  Who have been around, unfailingly, for Judah and me.  Who have pursued us relentlessly, even when I didn't want you to.  Who have loved us, not despite anything, but because you valued us.  You don't use jargon or quote scripture.  You just live it.  I know who you are because of the way you love.  (Not because of the service you attend.)  You've been generous and given lots of hugs and asked for no recognition and pried for no details.  But you've asked the good questions and the hard ones.

Thank you for that.

One day I hope to find a Sunday morning gathering Judah and I can join again.  I want him to learn from people, other than me, about Noah and the Resurrection and Joshua and David.  I want to hang those coloring pages on my refrigerator and for Judah to learn there are lots of others who know this Jesus we talk to, who loves us.

But when we do start going regularly again, it won't be what makes us more holy.  It won't be what makes us right with God.  It won't be because we are getting back on the right path.  We won't be "going back to church".   It won't be out of obligation, either.

I'm sure you're biggest argument is that church isn't about me.  Which you're very right.  But I'll let you simmer in that statement; I won't bother to point out the disparities.  Here's the difference: Jesus doesn't need us.  He doesn't need us to worship Him, to love Him, to obey Him.  We don't earn any points, right any wrongs, prove a single thing just because we show up in a building.  Or by singing or reading or memorizing or maintaining appropriate relationships with the opposite sex.

He just loves us and fights for us.  He asks us to love and fight for others.

And how well are you doing that?