On getting fired

I write sometimes on the Facebook page for this blog, and for whatever reason that was the space where I decided to put words to my complicated feelings about losing my job a couple of months ago.

So, this is the beginning of that story in 2 Facebook posts:

#1 – March 21, 2016

So, okay.

It’s been more than a month since I’ve put any kind of words on the internet that weren’t reduced to a 140 character tweet. Because there’s safety in 140 characters. I can share snippets, the good stuff. The funny things my friends have said. Or the photo of my nephew in the fort of couch cushions, or my niece in her Minnie Mouse dress.

You can’t deal with the hard stuff in 140 characters. The hard stuff deserves more than that.

So, okay. Here it is:

A little over a month ago, I was called into my HR office early on a Wednesday morning and I was let go from my position as a social media specialist. I guess technically I was “downsized,” but when you’re reorganized right out of your job, technically is hogwash. The reality is that I was fired.

When one of my friend’s mom’s heard what happened her reaction echoed my own: “What?! Amber doesn’t get fired!”

Amber doesn’t get fired. And yet she was. On a Wednesday morning in the middle of February. And Amber is still dealing the emotional aftermath of all of that.

Although, really, before you ask, I’m doing okay. Really and truly. My head is mostly above water, and I’m getting out of bed every morning. I’m eating regularly, and I’m sleeping about as well as I was when I had a job. So, you know, lots of victories there.

And also, I’m not worried that it’s not going to be okay.

I came to Grand Rapids as an act of faith. I came because my prayers and the prayers of my best people led us all to the same point of clarity – it was time for me to get up and follow God to a new place. I still believe that.

In the first couple of weeks I was in my job, one of my co-workers who has since become the pastor of my soul and a friend in the realest ways, said, “You know, I think you’re in Grand Rapids for a reason, but I don’t think it’s for this job.”

Of course, two weeks into a job I really loved, I didn’t want to hear that. Six months since then, I’m thinking it was more than a little prophetic.

So, okay.

I don’t know what comes next. I’m in some kind of vocational middle. Again.

And it’s just whatever, man. Because I absolutely will not let this be a reason for me to distrust God’s good hand. I absolutely will not let this be a reason for me to give up on church or ministry or the way that God has called us to take care of each other.

I will not let this be a reason to give up on the vision of creating a community online and in the world for people who are in the middle – the middle of a faith crisis, the middle of vocational change, the middle of a struggling marriage, the middle of a lot of questions, the middle of confusion, the middle of doubt.

Most of life is a middle.

And those of us in the middle, we’re a tribe. Each and every one of us.

So, okay. Let’s help each other through it. Let’s offer patience and encouragement to the middle. Let’s text and call and pray for each other.

Because if I have learned only one thing in the last month, it’s this: when you have a tribe and Jesus, you have everything.

#2 – March 22, 2016

The responses to my post yesterday have been so kind, and I’m as always am, so grateful for you people. You people who keep hanging with me in the messy middles, who keep thinking the words I have to share are good ones, who keep telling me to just keep writing.

I was talking to the BFF yesterday for a hot minute and I asked her a couple of the questions I have about this middle place. I asked her if writing from the middle was okay really, because I don’t know what I think about a lot things right now. I said, “I’m committed to writing from the place of the here-and-now of what God and I are working through, but I don’t have clarity. I have questions and prayer and my people. That’s all I’ve got.”

To which the BFF said only, “What’s wrong with that?”

Of course, the answer is that there’s nothing wrong with that. Faith is, I think, a fluid thing. It adapts and changes as our experiences with church, ministries, each other, and the world adds layers of complexity to our understanding of God. It would be silly then to think that anyone is ever going to have all the answers, and it seems to me that it would silly to pretend that any writer worth respecting is writing NOT from the middle of their own faith life.

But I say that knowing full well that there are things of which we can be certain.

I can be certain that God is good and loving. I can be certain that he is faithful, and that means he’s caretaking me through this messy middle. I can be certain even in the darkest moments there is going to be someone or something that inspires hope in my ugly, cynical heart. I can be certain that gratitude and grace are the wagons I want to hitch myself to even as the bottom falls out.

And I can be certain, thanks to you people who keep showing up in the messy middles, that there are more cheerleaders and encouragers and peacemakers in the world than there are not.

Fear not; Ugh, fine

“I read your last post.”

I always get a little nervous when conversations in real life start with these words, because I’m never quite sure where they’re going to go. There was a time when these words were a catalyst to conversations that often dragged me and my faith journey through the mud. People who knew me, who had for many years trusted me as a youth leader and a Bible teacher, were speaking hatefully and spewing venom. Retrospectively, I know that those conversations happened with people in the middle of their own wounding, their own questions, with their own thoughts about church and God and friendships unraveling at the edges. But, of course, that’s easy to see looking back. At the time, it made writing hard and blogging scary, and I think I’m still unpacking pieces of that and digging deep, more often than not, to hit publish.

Every time I sit down to write, it is an act of courage. And I’m learning to be brave.

And with that, I’m learning that most people aren’t jerks. Most people are looking to vent their own questions, or frustrations, or hopes. They want to share their own stories about how they see God moving in their world, in church or otherwise. They want to tell me the things that their friends have said to them that have mattered, and that have helped them stay buoyant when they felt like they were drowning.

These days when people say to me “I read your last post,” they are looking for the conversation. They aren’t actually all that interested in dragging me through the mud. They just want to talk to someone about church and God and dating and friendship and whatever thoughts are rolling around in their head about all of it. Most people, I think, are desperate to simply feel less alone.

Writing lets that happen, and I think that’s my favorite thing about being a writer.

Every time that I show up and have a little courage and say something real, I have the opportunity to connect with someone who is struggling through, or excited about, or pushing up against the same things that are making me just a little bit crazy. And so now, what I’m finding is that when someone says, “I read your latest post,” I take a breath and prepare myself for some real talk, and whether that’s good or bad is kind of irrelevant. The point, I think, is that it’s real.

Last week, I met my friend Katie for lunch on the day after my last post went live. She started with those words – “I read your latest post” – and I took a big breath and I waited to hear what followed.

“You didn’t go where I thought you were going to. You started saying how you missed your person and I wasn’t expecting you to say that you were taking a break from dating. “

I laughed a bit and I told my friend that I wasn’t expecting it either, but that I had been praying a lot about this area of my life and that it felt like the right next thing to do. I told her that there are a lot of fears in dating for me, and that it felt like those fears had dictated more of my love life than they should have. I told her that I picked guys who were safe, in the sense that I knew they probably weren’t good long-term matches, and I told her that in the end I dated because it was fun to be taken out for a meal or a baseball game or a movie, but that I wasn’t dating hoping that someone would stick around and be a husband.

“I guess I didn’t know that,” my friend Katie said. “I didn’t know you weren’t looking for your person.”

I confessed that I didn’t know that either, not until recently, not until I started thinking seriously about wanting to be married and not until I started looking at my fears. And I said that the pause in dating was just some space for me to figure out what I want and to grow up in some ways that I need to in order to get that.

My friend Katie said she understood, then we talked a few minutes more about dating, but mostly we talked about the ways that God is growing us up.

In my world, that can be summed up in two words – “Fear not.” And probably – “It sucks.”

I’m not sure yet all the ways that God is going to drill this lesson into my life, but right now, in the last week, I know that it’s happening in my writing life and it’s happening in my dating life. And I know that what I’m supposed to do is trudge forward anyway, in obedience, believing that what the Bible tells me about God is true:

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)

And:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

And:

“David also said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the LORD is finished.’” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

So, here’s two more words – Ugh. Fine.

As much as I don’t want to do this particular work, as much as I’m going to balk and fight and flail, I do want to be someone who trusts God from the depths of who I am. Because I learned back when people were being nasty and dragging me through the mud that I really believe that God is good and is in the business of wanting good for His people. And if I really believe that, then why shouldn’t I also believe that He’s going to make good out of the fear?

“Fear not.”

Ugh. Fine.

Being happy

happiness from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Dawn Ashley, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

When I was dating someone at the beginning of the year, I didn’t tell my parents about it for three months. Even though I was living with them and seeing them every day, on date nights I would run down the stairs and out the front door and I wouldn’t even tell them goodbye sometimes. Admittedly, it wasn’t my best plan.

I figured I was an adult and didn’t have to answer to anyone about where I was going or who I was spending my time with. It turns out that’s actually a pretty juvenile way of thinking.

My friend Beth yelled at me about it one night, and made it clear that she thought my inability to talk about dating, not just with my parents but in my life, was a major problem. She said that I was getting in my own way, that I wasn’t being fair to the guy I was seeing, and that I was going to destruct my relationship by hiding him. She said that she was mad at me because I’m a smart person, but I was being so stupid. And then she yelled, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET YOURSELF BE HAPPY?!”

My friend Amy simply told me I was being a child and threatened to tell my mom if I didn’t.

I told my parents at lunch the very next day.

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Even though my relationship ended, my wrestling with Beth’s question hasn’t. Trying to find the answer has actually led me to make conscious, pro-active decisions about my life that have nothing to do with dating. And I think for the first time I’m beginning to understand what it is to be happy.

How I came to be someone who believed her happiness irrelevant, I’m not sure. But, I think a lot of it starts with being raised with a theology that emphasized saving souls and serving others. My whole faith system became based on others – making sure they were cared for, listened to, carried, and saved. The result, I think, is that my relationship with Jesus suffered a bit. Because I feel guilty if I take time for myself, even if that self time is spent in the Word or prayer or being quiet all alone. Because don’t I know that there is work to be done? Don’t I know that people needed to hear about the Lord? Don’t I know there are people going to hell from Harford County?

The truth is, I know. I know there are people in my county that don’t believe in God, and I suspect that there are people in this coffee shop I’m sitting in right now who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. But, I also know that I can’t save their souls.

I can share with them all I want to, and open up my Bible with them, and read them all the verses about how God loves them and sent His Son to die for them and offers them eternal life if they believe in Him. I can hand them tracts and invite them to church and I can do all the things I’ve been told to do to bring them into the Christian faith, and they might say no. Or like the rich young ruler, they may just walk away.

So then, this is what I’m coming to know: God alone is the soul-saver. And I think that it makes God happy when I acknowledge that He is I AM and that I am not.

And this means, then, I’m in a position to build human-to-human relationships with everybody else. And in those relationships, what I share about God is rooted in my experience with Him – as sinner saved by grace, convinced of the truth of Scripture, and humbled by my inability to save myself.

And this, I know, is where my happiness lies. Not in working so damn hard to make sure everybody else is okay, but in a surrendered relationship with Christ, where what is “required” is to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Because the truth of the matter, friends, is that talking about God makes me really happy. And sharing stories about how He’s making Himself known to my friends and to me and in our relationships together makes me happy. And drinking coffee, and reading, and learning blog design make me happy. And writing makes me happy.

And if I keep doing these things, for as long as God calls me to them, then maybe, just maybe, I have a shot at answering Beth’s question.

Why can’t I let myself be happy?

I can. And it starts now.

Unlearning

Last week, I found an old journal at the bottom of a stack of books. It’s holding together with packing tape, and I realize now how hard I was on that black faux Moleskin in the two years I used it.

I took that black faux Moleskin with me when I still went to the small church, and I took it with me when I started attending the big church. And scanning the pages front to back, I can see the ways God was working on me, sometimes even at me, changing me and maturing my faith.

Somewhere in the early part of 2011, I stopped taking sermon notes for awhile. Or I’d start taking sermon notes, get distracted by a question I had about what was being taught, and wrestle on the rest of the page about what wasn’t sitting so well with me.

Looking back, I know that God was leading me away from the way I had always done things and prompting me to open myself up to the greater ways He could work and maneuver and move in the world. He was guiding me into deeper faith, into greater knowledge of who He is, and into better ways of loving.

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I told one of my Bible study girls not too long ago that I feel like I’m in a season of un-learning. I told her that I think this way we were raised in church with the sense of “right-ness” hadn’t opened me up to experiencing people who were different than me, because I was so concerned that they were “wrong” in their sin and needed to get back on the “right” path. I told her that what I know now is that those were never really my calls to make, and that probably all Jesus wants me to do is listen to them, and extend a little love, and let them know they aren’t alone.

I told her that I can’t get the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman out of my head, and that I think maybe I should follow His example a bit more. She said that following Jesus’ example is probably always going to be the right call.

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'Rat Hunting - Kalasin drinking = shot + water' photo (c) 2007, Marshall Astor - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

This is what keeps sticking with me about the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman – He never calls her a sinner. He never once tells her that she’s going down the “wrong” road, and He never tells her that if she doesn’t start doing things the “right” way that she’s going to Hell. What He does instead, it seems to me, is listen and offer another way of doing things:

You can keep pulling water from this well that you’ve always been pulling from and you can keep being thirsty, or you can let me give you living water.

The woman, of course, knows that her life could be counted by her failed relationships. She knows that she’s marked as an outsider by her race and her gender, and she knows that she’s connecting to men in a desperate attempt to feel not so alone in the world. She knows what’s up, and she doesn’t need another man on his religious high-horse telling her how screwed up she is. It seems that what she needs is someone to sit down and recognize her pain. What she needs is someone to get that she gets that she’s a mess, and she needs someone to look her in the eye and offer real help. What she needs is someone to give her a drink.

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I was raised in church and I wouldn’t want to change that, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I told my dad the other day that being in youth group in high school saved me, that having friends probably kept me from making a lot of reckless decisions in a desperate attempt to feel not so alone in the world. And for that I will always be grateful.

But…

I’ve spent most of my life in the church and I’ve spent most of my life feeling small, and those aren’t two things you want anyone to experience at the same time. So, I’m thinking that there’s got to be a better way, a more Jesus-like way of being in the world. And I’m thinking that probably starts with letting Jesus be Jesus and giving myself permission to just be me, and then getting on with the work He’s called me to do.

And that work, I think, starts with sitting down, listening to people, hearing their pain, and offering them a drink of water.

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” –John 4:13-14

A good fail

'step 1' photo (c) 2009, Robert Couse-Baker - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/The year after I graduated from college, I moved back home and my dad deployed to the Middle East for the third or fourth time. Things in the house always went wonky when Dad was gone, because that was just the way of things. So, when our garbage disposal started gurgling things back up into the sink, none of us were surprised. I convinced my mom that she should let me handle it, and I promised to call the plumber if I couldn’t fish the crud out of the pipes. Of course, I couldn’t fish the crud out of the pipes and I didn’t call the plumber. I called my friend Sarah and we went to Home Depot and we bought a new disposal, and after bit of fidgeting and a small incident where I took some moldy gunk to the face, we took out the old disposal, installed a new disposal, and ground up an orange peel with no problem.

It was, if I’m being honest, one of the more empowering moments of my life. And it absolutely convinced me that I could do these kinds of physical labored tasks without the aid of professionals.

This is, eight years later, how I found myself in my drive way this morning trying to change my own brake pads.

And it was such a fail.

I managed to get the car jacked up (because my dad did it for me with his hydraulic jack) and get the wheel off. But, that was the easy part. Getting the piston to compress to get the caliper off to get to the brake pads that needed to be changed is not as easy as the YouTube videos make it look, just for the record. After three hours and two trips to Sears, I was the proud owner of a new set of sockets and a couple of c-clamps, but the piston refused to budge and the bolts refused to loosen.

And like any self-respecting grown woman, I took to Twitter and bemoaned the rain and my crappy brakes. Because Wednesday, I was over you.

Over. You.

But then my friend called, and he asked a couple of questions and he said, “Well, it sounds like you know what you’re doing. For what it’s worth, this was a good fail.”

And those were exactly the words I needed to hear.

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At the conference last month, one of the writers said that what gave him the freedom to be a writer was the realization that if he failed at it, it didn’t change that God is still God. He said that even if his book never sold or never found a publisher, at least he knew he took a risk to tell a story that was important to him and to God.

Then he wrote a book about poverty and war and children in Africa, and Oprah really liked it and made it one of her Book Club selections in 2009. And a lot of people read that book and started thinking about poverty and war and children in Africa.

I wouldn’t exactly call that a fail.

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I wonder sometimes if I have an expectation problem. I read and I study and I research and I buy the right tools and I lay everything out, and the stupid piston should compress and the stupid bolt should loosen. I read and study and bust my tail in school for a Master’s degree and the stupid state of Maryland should give me my license and a job. I say hi to cute boys in Barnes & Noble and Starbucks and church and I even put up an online dating profile, so one of those stupid nice boys should want to take me out to dinner and then stick around for the rest of his life.

I mean, isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? We do all we can do to make things happen, and then isn’t God or the universe or life or whatever supposed to give us treats for putting ourselves out there? Aren’t there supposed to be rewards for all the freaking risks we have to take?

*Sigh*

No. That’s not really how it works at all. Sometimes the pistons don’t compress, the bolts don’t loosen, the jobs don’t come, the nice boys don’t call, and the books don’t sell. And there’s nothing you can do to change this.

Sometimes it’s just a fail, and sometimes the only solace you get is that you took a risk, tried something new, and gave it your best shot.

And that’s okay. Because between you and me, for what it’s worth, that’s a good fail.

 “…and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

-2 Corinthians 2: 9-10, The Message

Lesson from a virus

'Day 57/365' photo (c) 2011, Nicole Abalde - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/For almost the entirety of the month of March I was in bed. This is what happens when you pick up a virus at the beginning of a month, keep up with your regular schedule for a couple of weeks even though you feel a little “off,” and ultimately find yourself at the end of the month too fatigued to even think about taking a shower. You find yourself unclean, in bed, and forced to rest. This is what happens.

This is a pattern now, even though I hate to admit it. With far too much frequency, I run myself ragged until I get really, really sick and have to spend a week or more in bed resting.

Several years ago, I came back from a week-long mission-camp with the youth group fearful that I had strep throat like so many of the students had gotten while we were serving in Philadelphia. When I went to the doctors to get things checked, he sent me on my way with strict instructions to rest and a lidocaine throat gargle to use if my throat bothered me too much. Because I didn’t have strep throat, I had a random virus that just had to run its course. It took me 3 weeks and a lot of sleep to feel like myself again.

This time, the same thing happened again. And it took me a month to feel like myself again.

You would think I would know by now. You would think that I would be able to pick up on the triggers, to sense when I’m running too hard and staying too busy. You would think I would listen to the people who love me and know me – my parents, my best friends, my girls – and slow down when they tell me that I don’t seem like myself and they’re getting worried. You would think I would stop before I get really, really sick.

And yet…

I have a hard time stopping, slowing down, and resting. I spend a lot of time meeting this person for coffee and that person for lunch and this person dinner and that person for frozen yogurt after dinner. And I do this because these coffee and lunch and dinner and frozen yogurt dates usually revive my soul a little bit and help me to see God moving in the world a little more clearly. And I do these things because I like my people, and I don’t want to miss anything.

But, maybe I should work on saying no to occasional coffee or frozen yogurt, so that it doesn’t all catch up to me and I’m forced to miss a whole month’s worth of things because I have to sleep off a random virus.

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This makes me think that maybe this is why Genesis is so clear that God rested after He created everything. Because rest has an important place in God’s story from the very beginning, and we need to know that it’s important. And we need to know that if we’re modeled in the image of God, then we need to give ourselves permission to find time to stop moving and creating and just be still.

And if we don’t, if we get really stubborn about it, my experience is that God might just strike you down with a plague.

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I’m happy to report that April finds me well-rested, without plague, and feeling like myself again. Thank goodness! Because this week also finds me in West Michigan, catching up with my college buddies and attending the Festival of Faith and Writing in good ol’ Grand Rapids. It will be the best kind of busy for the next week. I will be with people more than I’m alone, I’ll be awake more than I’m asleep, and I’ll be in a perpetual bounce of one thing to the next. And truly, I wouldn’t want this week to be any different.

However, I promise to rest when I get home next week. Because it’s important.

For the love of Fall

'Cute Kids in Children's Costumes' photo (c) 2009, epSos .de - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

*If my friends and I were these kids, I’d be the one with the bow.

I realize it’s October.  It’s not lost on me that Halloween is next week.  Tonight even, my friends decided that the four of us needed to dress up and go out to dinner as characters from popular kids’ books this year. Nickie said she’d cover herself in body glitter and call herself a vampire.  Beth said she’d wear her graduation robes, a striped tie, and call herself a student of Hogwarts.  They said our friend Melissa could wear a flowing dress, strap on some pointed ears, and say she’s from Middle Earth.  And they said I could carry our friend’s hunting bow, put my hair in a braid, and be Katniss.  Lucky me.  I don’t really do the dress-up thing so we’ll see if it happens, but I appreciate that they know me well enough to give me the bow and not the pointy ears.

So, yes, it’s October and it’s Halloween time, and the air outside is finally cold enough that you can see your breath at night.  Beer and coffee come flavored like pumpkin, and my clogs have become my everyday footwear.  Everything’s popping with yellows and oranges and reds, and the leaves that fall crunch when you step on them.   This is, hands down, my favorite time of year.

And I’ll be honest, I’m especially happy to see it come this year.  And I’m making every stride to soak in the season for as long as I can, before Fall gives way to Winter and falling leaves give way to falling snow.

I didn’t have the greatest summer, and I think anyone who’s walked any kind of close to me this year would echo that.  My friend’s mom said it best when she said that I seemed distracted all summer.  She said it was like I wasn’t necessarily in a bad place, but that I was always someplace other than where I was.

And when she said that, it was as if she gave words to what I couldn’t say for the last couple of months.  Because I was always someplace other than where I was, because I was always in my own head, always sorting through something, always trying to surrender some part of what I was thinking and feeling to prayer.   Because there was a lot for me to think and feel my way through this summer – like, the ending of things with the nice boy; like, the hard conversation with the BFF that had us on different pages for most the summer; like, the ending of the youth leading part of my life when all my girls left for colleges across the East Coast; like, the continued unemployment; like, the turning 30 and still living with my parents; like, the starting at another new church; or, you know, things like that.

So, I’m convinced that for me this Fall is really about things falling away.  It’s about not feeling any kind of bad feelings about loving someone who wasn’t ready to love me in return. It’s about remembering that hard conversations birth real friendships, and having a real friendship with someone who really believes in you is always going to be worth the fight. It’s about embracing a new kind of relationship with these women now in college, that’s less about leading and more about walking alongside.  It’s about enjoying my parents and the closeness that comes with sharing meals and with sharing a bathroom, as much as I hate the shaving ick my dad leaves in the sink every day.  It’s about believing and hoping and praying that the God who began a good work in my career will finish it through to completion, even if every hiring manager these days seems to think I’m overqualified for every job on the planet in the history of forever.

But mostly, this Fall is about a new season in so many ways. And I’m waking up every day making my very best attempts to pay attention to what it has to offer – like, conversations at dinner tables with hands wrapped around mugs of hot tea; like, pumpkin spice lattes and Pumpkin Harvest Blue Moon ales; like, afternoons spent at apple orchards and pumpkin patches; like, walks through town bundled in hoodies and thick socks; like…dressing up with three of my favorite girlfriends to go out to dinner on Halloween?

Hand me my bow and call me Katniss!

…or maybe not that last one. I’ll let you know next week.