A mood

I woke up this morning in a mood. The kind of mood that made me shoo away my dog when he popped the lock on my bedroom door just to get to me, and snap at my dad when he asked if I wanted anything from the grocery store, and ignore my brother when he offered to make me a root beer float. (Yes, root beer floats are a breakfast food. Don’t question it, just accept it. It will make your world better.)

But I know when I am responding unkindly to my dog, who is my favorite person on the planet, and offers of food, I’m off kilter and I should probably get to praying, like, right that second.

I’m not sure always where these moods come from, but I know they sneak up on me now. They used to be much more frequent, as in all the time, as in the state in which I lived my life. I was an angry kid and an angrier young adult, and it took a lot of in-with-Jesus work to get to this place where I don’t think people suck all the time.

Now, I only think people suck some of the time. (I include myself in this. I am people.) And this is no small thing.

And luckily, as if God knows what He’s doing, He’s given me some really good friends. The kind of friends who truly don’t suck most of the time, because they are quick to show up, and because they keep their promises as much as they’re able, and because they say nice things to me even when I don’t deserve it. They are the kind of friends who read my blog and give me permission to use their real names when I tell our stories. They’re the kind of friends who fight with me and for me, and they’re the kind of people who aren’t afraid to ask for what they need and with whom I have complete permission to ask for what I need. They’re the kind of people who show me a little bit of Jesus’ love every day.

Which is why I text them when I get into a mood. Because they remind me at every turn that people don’t really suck. And because I tend a little bit too much toward isolation and festering, and one of the things all that in-with-Jesus work during my twenties has shown me is exactly this, and the only combat to this is to reach out to someone anyway. The only cure is community.

So today, my friend Nickie was the lucky recipient of my Ugly Text about how people suck and I suck and the only thing I want to do is get in the car and drive until I hit Michigan. Michigan, because I go there only to play with my college pals, has a pull on my heart when I’m craving only fun, only to laugh, only to play. This, of course, is often a good thing, but like all good things, it can go sour when I use Michigan as a place to avoid the hard. And Lord have mercy, today I want to avoid the hard work of writing and forgiving and being with people. (I’m an introvert. Please let me sit in my favorite red chair with a book and leave me the hell alone.)

Nickie, who is also an introvert and who is also going through the hard right now, responded with a text I couldn’t capture in one screen shot. (Lord love a wordy girl, for she is my people.)

People do suck. I second that! But you don’t. And God doesn’t (although every now and again I waiver on that), so at least there are two beings that are suckless. I’m so sorry you’re stressed though. That is the worst place to be stuck in. I know it doesn’t help, but I believe so hard in what you’re doing. I’m so proud of how you’ve let God tell your story and how much your heart is in this. I believe God is going to use your brokenness and imperfection to change lives. All He needs from you this next month is you and your willing heart. You were placed here and are who you are “for such a time as this.” Satan is all up your butt right now, but I know that you are not able to fail. Nothing that you do, or don’t do, or screw up is something that God did not account for. You cannot throw Him off His stride. You cannot ruin anything. It’s impossible. So just breathe my beautiful and amazing sister, and let yourself rest in a perfect God just for a second. You are so crazy loved.”

If that’s not a good word, I don’t know what is.

Then she adds:

Aside from that I’m feeling pretty shitty myself, so we can be cranky and quiet together tonight. You don’t know how much an impromptu road trip to someplace remote is appealing right now. I’m ready to blow this Popsicle stand and just start fresh. Cabin on a mountain overlooking the beach? You can write and I’ll paint.

Now, I’m not saying I started Googling cheap cabin getaways, but Nickie should probably start gathering her brushes.

Because when you’re in a mood – when the stress is high, and everything feels hard, and all your people are kind of sucking – remember that not all of them do all of the time. Give a little grace to your people and to yourself. Text a pal anyway. Because she might not get it right one hundred percent of the time, but she’ll probably get it when you need it.

She’ll get it, and she’ll remind you – your mood doesn’t change God, and it doesn’t make your people love you any less.  And she’ll probably still want to take a ride with you.

And that seems to me to be an awful lot like Jesus. Lord love Him.

 

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House keys

210977249_da533e62a4_mI’ve had a lot of people in the last few weeks tell me how much they believe in me, and it’s been lovely really. It’s not like I don’t know that I have really spectacular cheerleaders, because a lot of them have been cheering me on in one thing or another for almost twenty years, but still…it’s especially nice to hear while I’m walking a new path that is chock full of creativity and vulnerability and the very real reality that I have no idea what I’m doing.

If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t even be on this path if my BFF hadn’t told me really pointedly that she believed in me and in my writing almost five years ago. She handed me a back a book that I loved and said that I needed to be doing what that author was doing – sharing and writing about what God was teaching her. So, I started a blog.

I wrote about what I was learning in my graduate classes and about how I saw God in the client-therapist relationship. I wrote about being a bridesmaid a whole bunch of times, and about how the Church can do better by single people. I wrote about my friends and about how they loved me so well I saw Jesus.

A couple of years ago, an editor-friend took notice of my blog and sent me a long email about how she was tired of working with authors whose ideas she couldn’t engage with, and about how she liked my writing and how she thought I had ideas that were good, and about how she thought I probably had a book in me. She said that she believed in me and this hypothetical book, and she said that it didn’t matter what the book ended up being about, she wanted in. So, I started writing a book.

I borrowed from their belief in me, and I started chasing a dream. And the more this dream becomes real, the more borrowing I find myself doing from them and from the other people who keep sending encouraging texts, Facebook messages, and emails. I borrow from my friend Melissa every time she won’t make day plans with me, so I can’t avoid writing in the afternoons. I borrow from Nickie every time we’re talking and she suggests that I write about whatever it is. And I borrow from Jesse, the one who suggested I start writing about what God is teaching me, every time we’re talking about my book and she says, “Can you believe we’re here?”   Yes, I can believe we’re here. Because in the same way it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to write a book.

And my village is awesome, and gracious, and continues to love me so well that I see Jesus.

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Sometimes that comes by email:

Ok, so this might seem weird, but I am offering my house to you as a haven where you can come if you need to get totally away from all of the “normal” places to write or whatever.  The cats will probably want to snuggle and Tornado might bite you.  It’s messy, sometimes a little bit dirty, we don’t have TV, but we do have internet!  And a swing on the back patio.  A coffee machine.  Always pizza in the freezer.  Am I missing anything?!?  Like I said, I don’t know if you’ll even want to take me up on that, but I can give you a key.

I emailed my friend Maggie back and took her up on it because the heartbeat of my life and my writing is friendship and community and making intentional choices to see God in both, and here He was right in front of me holding out a house key.

Yeah. I’ll borrow that too.

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I think sometimes people will tell you that they believe in you, and I think other times people will find a way to show you that they do. And I think both have a really important place.

We need to tell each other to chase those crazy dreams that maybe aren’t so crazy. We need to say out loud that we’re not in this life alone. We need to speak words of life and affirmation and love to one another, because we never know what God is going to stir in someone else’s heart with those words.

But, we need to give our words feet and hands every once in awhile. We need to clean houses, or buy groceries, or change diapers. We need to cook standing next each other, then sit down at dinner together and eat. We need to offer kindness as much as we offer kind words. We need to do for each other as much as we need to hear from each other.

Because sometimes love sounds like “I believe in you” and sometimes it looks an awful lot like a set of house keys.

The Treehouse

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We set off yesterday afternoon in search of a coffee shop in Duck, North Carolina. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a week on the beach when Beth’s friends asked her to come with them on family vacation and told her to bring a friend. (Who has two thumbs and is that friend? This chick.) But, both Beth and I have impending deadlines and an inability to not work at least a little bit, so we stole away with our laptops and books as the thunderstorms rolled in. And I feel like this may be what rainy vacation days were made for.

Finding a coffee shop in these Outer Banks beach towns isn’t hard, but finding one that will let you linger proved near impossible. It’s almost like these beach towns expect you to be on the beach or something.

And then we found The Treehouse. It’s tucked in the back corner of a shopping center, but nothing about this place reminds me of the sprawling suburban plazas back home. The center itself is planked and wooden, aged but not broken down, much like the people who run the boutiques and bookstores and galleries.

When we walked in, we were greeted by a thin guy with graying hair, almost bald but not quite. His face gave away his age, wrinkled and sun-worn, but he carried himself with joviality that told us he is not through enjoying his life.

“Welcome, ladies! How are we doing?”

“Wet,” Beth said, as we walked in from the rain. Our hair was dripping and we were soaked to the bone, my gray Toms squished with every step I took into the shop. They wouldn’t dry quickly, and I resigned myself to spending the rest of the night in wet shoes.

“Well, let me give you a towel to dry off with!” He handed it to me, the wettest of the bunch, and I tried to deny it, but he insisted. I ordered a latte, but all at once I was more grateful for his kindness than I was for his coffee.

He handed me my coffee and said, “Make yourself at home, okay?”

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I’ve started making note of moments like this. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the world or just the way of things lately, but meanness seems far too prevalent and I lose faith in mankind if I don’t catalog the niceties every once in awhile.

I think maybe it started, this note taking, about the same time I started looking for grace moments, probably because in my mind the two can’t be separated. Nice can feel a lot like grace. And after the mess of leaving church and finding a new church and changing careers and deciding whether or not to move again – I’m still craving grace.

I’m craving connection to people who don’t care that I feel messy and complicated and confused, that can look past it or right into it and say, with words or not, “It’s alright. You’re gonna be okay. Here, have some coffee. You can talk if you want to.”

Maybe, if you’re as lucky as I am, you get it more on the regular. Maybe you come home to parents who are the kind of people who, even though you’re a grown-up, still call to see if you’re coming home for dinner, because if you are, they want to be sure there is something you like on the table. Maybe you share a bedroom wall with a brother who, when you have the flu, will run up the street to the grocery store just for Gatorade, the orange kind, because it’s your favorite when you’re sick. Maybe you go to Bible study with a group of women who really believe that you’re being a writer is not a crazy idea, and they offer their homes as “havens” and “writing spaces” to help you finish this crazy book you’re working on.   Maybe you have parents of friends sending emails and inviting you for dinners and making space for you in their homes, just because you’re someone important to their kids. Maybe you have a niece and a nephew, of blood or of choice, who squeal and shriek and hug you around the knees every time you walk into a room. (I hope most especially you have the last one.)

Maybe for you finding nice isn’t all that difficult. But, maybe sometimes the world starts to feel a little off kilter with every news story about a missing plane or missing child. Or maybe your world is saturated with unkindness at work or school or home or church. Maybe you’re bullied. Maybe your kids are bullied. Maybe you’re just world-weary and tired, because life is just hard sometimes.

So maybe you need to be reminded that there are genuinely nice people out there, shining a little light in the darkness, going about their day as they run boutiques and bookstores and coffee shops. Because sometimes you get caught in the rain, and you need a place that feels even a little bit like home.

And if you find yourself in Duck, North Carolina then make sure you stop in at The Treehouse. If you come in from the rain, Larry will even give you a towel.

Large Coffee To-Go

I write in coffee shops for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I can’t seem to get any work done at home. Inevitably, my dog will find me and drop his ball in my lap and want to play. He’s kind of like a toddler, except it’s legally okay for me to leave him alone in the house. So, I go to coffee shops.

I like writing in coffee shops for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I have become a regular at a couple of places in my hometown. Being a regular is like being famous, except instead of people taking your picture, they serve you coffee. Which I think is maybe better.

I like being a regular for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it gives me a chance to get to know the other regulars. We don’t always know each other by name, but we often know each other by drink, and that feels like an essential thing to know about each other in this coffee shop life. Maybe because it’s a detail, a tiny personal thing that says something about who we are. For example, I can’t offer any scientific or statistical analysis to back this up, but my experience says that people who like icy frappe-type drinks really are more chill in real life than those of us who tend toward lattes.

I suppose, then, I shouldn’t be surprised when random conversations pop up that allows us to drop into deeper levels of familiarity with one another.

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''Life is too short not to enjoy great coffee'' photo (c) 2009, Ginny - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Large Coffee To-Go has a kind face and some kind of military ball cap on. It looks like one of the ones my dad wears now that he’s retired. I can’t tell what unit Large Coffee To-Go served in because the lettering is too small, but there’s no mistaking that this guy was Army and proud of it. His mustache twitches a bit when he talks and his smile is kind of crooked when he asks, “You were sitting in that seat studying six months ago. Is studying all you ever do?”

I tell him no, but kind of yes because I’m writing a book. His face doesn’t change, he holds his smile, and he asks me what it’s about. I tell him that it’s about church life because I’m finding that’s the easiest thing to say, so that I don’t bore people with too many details too fast. Large Coffee To-Go never loses his smile and says, “Good for you! I think everybody’s got a book in them, but few people have the courage to write it. What’s your name?”

I tell him, and he says that he’s going to keep an eye out for my book. He says that he’s been a reader his whole life, that he started reading when he was three, and he gives me some absurd number of books that he’s read in his sixty-some years. And then he says he thinks the world needs more really good books.

“Let me ask you this,” I say to Large Coffee To-Go. “In your estimation, given all those books you’ve read, what makes a really great book?”

He leans on the back of the chair across of me and tells me, “You have to tell the truth. Even if it’s fiction, you have to ground it in some simple truth. And it has to be written simply. You can’t be long-winded. People can tell when you’re bullshitting.”

I tell him that I agree, and I thank him for answering my question. He says, “No, thank you. There aren’t enough readers and writers your age, and literate people rule the world.” He rises from the chair he was leaning on and walks toward the exit again. His hand on the door handle, he turns and winks at me, “Keep writing.”

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Choosing a creative vocation isn’t easy. People don’t get it when you’re willing to give up a regular schedule and benefits and a 401k to sit in a coffee shop and write all the time. When people ask you what you do, they don’t always know how to respond when you tell them that you take photos or sculpt or paint or play guitar. And that’s okay, because I don’t think it means that they don’t respect the art of it all.

I think most people think like Large Coffee To-Go, actually. I think that most people respect the hell out of the art of it all, and I think most people are excited to talk to people who are spending their lives pouring out creatively. I think most people wish for the courage to publish a book, or show their paintings in a gallery, or sing on a stage and I think that talking to us about our creative vocations reminds them that are people out there who do. And I think most people genuinely want to know what it’s like to take a risk and live life with such exposed vulnerability.

If you are someone who writes or paints or sculpts or plays an instrument – keep doing it. Do it if it’s your vocation or not. Write if you can spend hours at a coffee shop or if you have to steal an hour from somewhere else if your day. Paint if you have a studio or if you have to spread out next to your kids at the kitchen table. Make music in your garage or at church or alone in your living room. Just do it. Do it for the art of it all. Do it because you have a truth to tell.

Do it for you, and do it for me, and do it for Large Coffee To-Go.

Moving the tire

'Jack Katz Memorial Stron Man Competition' photo (c) 2010, stu_spivack - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve found myself in a bad place the last couple of weeks.  Writing has been hard, and forcing myself to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard has been a battle of self-discipline. Writers say this, of course, that you just have to show up and do the work if you really want to be a writer, but I’m getting it on a soul level that I couldn’t when I was just dabbling at it, pretending to be a writer while I did other things like counseling and youth ministry. It was easier when I could distract myself with other people’s problems.

I don’t have the same distractions anymore, and now I have to sit and write and do the work that God’s been preparing me to do since I was a little kid. My dad, actually, is the one who reminds me of that all the time. Whether he does it on purpose or not, I don’t know, but he talks to me about these articles he’s reading about other people who are writers, which he wouldn’t be reading if I weren’t writing, and somehow he manages to tell me every time that I’m a writer and I couldn’t do anything else if I wanted to.

It’s true, of course, I’m a writer because writing is how I put the pieces together. It’s how I make sense of God and the world and myself. But, I think that’s part of why I’m in the bad place. Sometimes it’s hard work to live with yourself every day, and even harder work to look fear in the face and hit “publish” anyway.

And this bad places doesn’t mean I’m dark or sad, and I’m not even thinking that everyone else in the world is a turdface. But, I am a little bit sick of myself and a little bit tired of my own neuroses, and I am wondering how everyone else is the world doesn’t think I’m a turdface.

I think Anne Lammot is right and when you sit down to write all your psychiatric issues sit down next to you, and they have some feelings. And I am having some feelings.

One of my girls texted me last week to get coffee, and it always throws me off a bit when they’re not afraid to tell me the truth about who I am, but no sooner had she sat down than she said, “I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty, but I know you haven’t been yourself and it’s all over your face, and I know you’re having some feelings, and I just want you to know that they’re valid. Whatever your feelings are, they are valid. Now please work through them because I miss you.”

If I ever want to know what they truth looks like said in love, I have coffee with my girls.

Last week after Bible study I told my friend Nickie about the bad place, about what my girl had told me, about being sick of myself and how I was afraid that everyone around me was sick of me too. She said that she can’t speak for everybody else but that she’s not sick of me. And then she suggested that maybe I didn’t have to work so hard to be together all the time, because she got a lot from being with me in my not-together moments, and that my raw, in-with-Jesus moments were the ones that made her think the most.

Then she said, “It’s like you’re in one of those Strong Man competitions in those moments. Like, you’re moving a tire and all you’re energy is spent on digging in and putting one foot in front of the other. And when you’re energy is on other places, you can’t move the tire. So, maybe you need to just be in with Jesus. Dig in and write about it.”

If I ever want to know what the truth looks like said in analogies, I have coffee with Nickie.

I suspect that she’s right, too. I suspect that writing a book, or writing anything for that matter, is like moving a tire. It takes energy and focus, and sometimes you’re just gritting your teeth to put one foot in front of the other. And sometimes it all feels pretty pointless.

But, I have to wonder about what happens when the tire moves, even just a little bit. I have to wonder about the work that can get done when we just dig in with Him. And I have to wonder about what happens when I sit down with my psychiatric issues, and feel my feelings, and put fingers to keyboard. I suspect it’s the way that I find my way out of the bad places.

Because I’m a writer, and I couldn’t do anything else if I wanted to.

Pulled together

This will come as a shock to no one who knows me, but I’m not much of a jewelry person, unless you count the hair tie that’s always on my right wrist. I don’t try to coordinate jewelry with my outfits because I don’t really have “outfits.” I have jeans and t-shirts and Toms or Chucks, and the hair tie matches all of it.

I’m exaggerating a bit, but truly not by much. I have pieces I wear all the time and never take off, that’s my “thing.” I wear one bracelet, one necklace, and one ring – and the ring I don’t even wear because it’s too big, and so I put it on my key ring and carry it around with me everywhere.

My dad bought that ring in Afghanistan during one of his deployments, and since he didn’t often come back from deployments with trinkets for us, that ring is special. It’s silver and flaked with some kind on blue stone. It looks painted on, the blue, but if you look you can see a hole where one of the stones fell out. It was hand-crafted by an Afghan jeweler, and I think it’s pretty for that reason alone. But, I have narrow fingers and it’s just too big and when I almost lost it walking across the Target parking lot, I slipped it on my key ring and there it remains.

I find that ring sometimes when I’m twirling my keys standing in line at Starbucks or at the movies or wherever, and I always send up a prayer when I do. I pray for the dads and moms that are deployed, and I pray for the daughters that are home. Because I think the soldiers and marines and sailors and airman need all the prayer they can get while they’re away, and because I know the daughters do. Because it’s not easy when your dad’s away, even if you know he needs to be there, doing the job he’s doing, even if you’re super proud of him for being away. It’s just not easy.

The bracelet I wear, it’s from Haiti and it’s been on my wrist for two years. It’s just braided cord now because the bead fell off at a softball practice last summer and I never found it despite the time I spent searching. It doesn’t matter though, I still won’t take it off. It reminds me of Joel, one of our translators, who tied it there as the team and I were packing up our things, minutes from leaving for the airport to head back to the States. “For you,” he said in English thick with Creole, a wide smile on his face that left me no choice but to smile back. “You come back, please?” And then he hugged me, and I cried a little. Because Joel and Haiti and God had woven their way into my heart deeply that week, to the point that I can’t think about one without thinking about the others, and now I have that braided bracelet to remind me. And I pray almost constantly, “I go back, please?”

Scottish crossThose pieces are special to me, but I love my necklace the most. I’ve worn it every day since I bought it for 40 pounds on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. It was the only thing I’ve ever gotten for myself on any trip I’ve taken overseas, and at the time it felt like a splurge. I was a new college grad taking a year off before going to grad school and every penny mattered, but I was on a trip with my best pals and it was an important week and I wanted to mark it for myself somehow. So, on the Royal Mile I bought a Celtic cross that looked like one of the crosses in one of the cemeteries in the town we stayed, and now it reminds me of that trip and the way that God can turn your friends into your family if you open yourself up to the possibility.

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Clearly, I don’t wear jewelry for the sake of wearing jewelry or for the sake of making an outfit, though I knew people who do and I envy the way that they are so pulled together. But, I don’t really do “pulled together” well at all. I don’t do it in dress and I certainly don’t do it in life, because I think and process and analyze too much to make “pulled together” happen. All this thinking, though, gets me connected and intentional and purposed. It gets me my dad’s ring, and Joel’s bracelet, and my Celtic necklace. And those are things I can live with every day.

Family places

I often tell stories about my Tuesday Night Bible Study. Not about the things we talk about together, because that is sacred, but about those women and what we have come to mean to each other over the years.

We’ve been Church for each other when being in the local church has been disheartening, and when we’ve wanted to walk away from it altogether. We’ve been prayer warriors when the days have been hard and the nights rocking babies or writing papers have been even longer. We’ve been cupcake bakers celebrating birthdays, and casserole makers mourning losses. We’ve cried and laughed and hugged, and have logged more hours together than we’ve logged with some of our oldest friends.

We are each other’s people. We are community.

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“When you walk with someone, listen to their story, carry their burden, play with their kids, that’s community. When you pray for them in the middle of the night because their face popped into your mind, when you find yourself learning from them and inviting them more and more often into the family places in your life, that’s community, and wherever you find it, it’s always a gift.” –Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

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Part gym, part reception hall, all fun.
Part gym, part reception hall, all fun.

The thing about being somebody’s people is that it means sometimes being in the family places means you are literally in the family places, like a wedding.

It means that sometimes you spend a Friday night hanging stars and laying out place cards with table numbers, helping to turn an elementary school gym into a reception hall. It means that you sit down with your friend’s Aunt Pat and you listen to stories about Buffalo, New York and growing up in the projects. It means you put on a sundress and a pair of flats, and you use your Saturday helping your friend’s sister’s wedding be an unforgettable time of celebration, making sure the champagne stays cold and the tea and lemonade containers stay full. It means you stay long after most the other guests have left, stacking chairs and taking down stars and mopping floors to turn the reception hall back into a gym. And it means that after your friend’s sister has finished opening her gifts with her new husband, you hear your friend when she talks about how quiet life is about to get now that her sister has moved out.

Because this is a family place, and family places are sacred. They are as sacred as the Tuesday night time we spend together with our Bibles open.

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I think maybe the blurry line of what is sacred is the gift of community, because I can’t tell anymore when I’m with these friends when one holy moment ends and another one starts. I think maybe God has met us more in moments when we’re sitting on the floor knee-to-knee talking about our days then He has in some of the forced conversations we’ve had following the questions in some book. And I know He was with us in that gym-reception hall this weekend when we mopped and talked and showed up for one of our own.

This is community. This is a family place.  And even if you find it in an elementary school gym, it is a gift.