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.