A Note on Notes

I’ve been trying to be very intentional about writing notes and cards and letters. In fact, in the last month I’ve mailed seven. None for the sake of just sending a card – all because I wanted those seven people to know, “Hey. I’m thinking about you. This card is cute and so are you”. And there are certainly more to come. My personal goal is to send at least two a month, but the sky is the limit when it comes to something as important as postal love.

Screen Shot 2017-04-20 at 7.38.32 PM.pngI say all the time, AND IM NEVER JOKING WHEN I SAY IT, that my dream job would be to work in a stationary store. That’s it. Small dreams McGee over here. But I don’t know what I love if not letters. Timothy obviously, but besides him?! To me, letters are the best way of showing love. They’re how my mother showed love. When I first moved to Memphis and was so so lonely, my mother mailed me a card every single week. Sometimes nothing would be in it except a quick “love you!” sometimes it would be covered with her sweet handwriting hoping I’m okay. My stationary box (a yellow polkadot suitcase that Timothy gave me for our very first Christmas together – treasure holding treasure) very much resembles the secretary drawer that my mother had full of cards, all organized by occasion. For me it’s all of it: taking the time to pick out a particular card, to write a personalized letter with your own hand and pen, to tenderly add a stamp as you smile thinking of the cherished and loved person behind the name written across the front  – these things are so personal.

My hope is that when you, my friends, receive a card in the mail that you feel all my intention and love within that envelope. Adult friendships are so… weird, and I feel that there are so many people I am wild about – CRAZY EVEN – that I just so rarely see because life is so busy, and sometimes so hard. But when I write someone a card, when I think really hard about which stamp to use on the envelope, I feel connected to them. And that’s really all I ever want.

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Budget & Money Tips From a Middle Income Duo

My Mother taught me a lot growing up: how to plant tomatoes, how to pluck my eyebrows (bless her), how to write a proper thank you note, and how to be frugal as heck. My Mother couponed and made lists and constantly said “no, put that back it’s not on sale”. My clothes didn’t come from the mall till I could buy them  for myself and I only bought my school lunch on pizza day – otherwise it was a lunchbox full of food that had been BOGO at Publix.

My family simply didn’t have money to burn so it was spent very thoughtfully. I was given $3 allowance each week (then eventually in middle school I think it was bumped up to $5, big spender big spender) and the rule was I had to save one dollar, give one away at church or to the relief aid organization my mom supported, and then I could spend the other as I wanted. I remember counting my “savings” which was kept in a purple crayola crayon shaped bank and feeling like a millionaire. I saved up for my own bike, roller skates, a CD player – all the essentials for a kid born in 1990. This super basic rule really taught me important lessons about managing money. That simple guideline along with watching my mom has turned me into an adult who loves budgeting.

And I mean lovvvvvvvves budgeting. I eat it up. I’m constantly checking our accounts and spreadsheets to make sure that the money that Timothy and I make is working for us. At any given time I can tell you precisely how much we have in our checking and savings accounts and which bills come out this week and how much they’ll be. I’m by no means an accountant or financial expert, but when it comes to the finances of our little family, forgetaboutit #girlboss. And this is why I wanted to write a few posts about budgeting: because it’s one of my favorite nerdy-ass hobbies.

A few months ago I wrote a post about some of the ways we saved money on our wedding (Click here to read how we had our special day for $6k) and I wanted to do a few more likeminded posts. This space won’t turn into a budgeting blog (though hey, I know a good one by a super cute friend of mine), but I do want to write about it here and there.

fullsizerenderTo start, I wanted to just share some of the basic ways that Timothy and I budget and save our money. Easy Peasy.

And obviously, these are just things that have worked for us. I would never tell someone else how to budget their money because frankly, I’m not qualified  – but I hope you find a tip or two helpful or encouraging! 

what we’re working with:

IMG_1052.jpgThis is us: Kathryn and Timothy. Two Star Wars loving, late twenty year olds (sobbing over now having to add that “late” part) with some super “middle income” paying jobs. If you were to look on Wikipedia at the average American household income, you would basically see our exact yearly income. I don’t know what its like to do a budget with a six figure income, but I do know that even having just half of that, we’re able to work our money in a way that covers every single thing we need, and quite a bit of what we want (I’m looking at you, Disney annual passes).  If we are able to spend money wisely and stretch those dollars out, absolutely anybody can. We learned a lot from folks like Dave Ramsey and I definitely recommend reading a book or two of his or taking his Financial Peace University class. His jokes are corny as heck, but his money management tips are golden. We for sure follow his “baby steps” and have a 3 month emergency fund saved up (and we’ll bump that up to 6 months once we’re rid of our debt), we are majorly snowballing our debt (we were debt free, but we had to buy and finance a car in June of last year, but because we have thrown 1/3 of our income towards that debt every month we will pay it off next month! A six year lease paid off in just 10 months is pretty sweet – and is saving us several thousands by not having long term interest), and we are serious about the envelope system. So if you’re new to the money management game, Dave is a good place to start.

how we budget (in a teeny tiny nut shell):

I don’t want to get into super specifics in this post, but I want to share a teensy bit about how we budget. Basically, part of our money hangs out in the bank and the other we keep as cash in our envelope system. Our bills – like rent, utilities, and our car payment – are all paid online so the amount that we need to cover those (I could go a lot more in depth about this but I’m trying to be brief… its a challenge) we leave in the bank but the rest I take out every other Friday. These amounts were figured out by of course adding up all our bills and expenses (including things like donating to our church each month, which isn’t technically a bill but something we do monthly) and then allotting what was left towards different items. Because we’re working on paying off our car pretty aggressively, after we added up the necessities for each month, we basically took 70% of what was left for the car payment. The remaining 30% went to things like spending money, date nights, money we spend on hanging out with the child we’re mentoring through BBBS, etc.

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We have set amounts for everything in our budget and we don’t move the money around. For example: we budget $180 for groceries each month, so every two weeks I take out $90 and that is all I spend on groceries. Also, Timothy and I have a set amount that we each get for spending money every two weeks that we can use however we want: most of Timothy’s money goes towards coffee and most of mine goes to Target. We do $60/each every two weeks and once it gets spent… thats it. If we want to buy something that costs more than that $60 we save our spending money till we have enough. My haircuts cost about $50 so for the last few weeks I’ve been putting $10 aside each time I got my spending money so that when I have my appointment next week, I’ll have it covered and it won’t take all my money for those two weeks.

how we save:

Obviously the most important way to save money is by taking ownership of your money and spending / saving wisely, knowing exactly where all your money is going and having a good budget that you stick to. Blind spending is no bueno. But I wanted to share some of the things that I believe have helped Timothy and I save some of our green:

  • The Ancient Art of Cash: People hate it, but I really believe the reason we don’t overspend is because we use cash. Physically seeing how much money you have in your wallet keeps you accountable, and when that wallet is empty… you know to just go home. I hear a lot that people don’t want to have to go to the bank so often to get cash out and I feel you, but for us the hassle of going is nothing compared to how it has helped us spend smartly. I know exactly what I’m taking out when I go to the bank (I’m even specific down to number of each size bill I need) and an unexpected plus is that since I go every other Friday I have the same teller every time and we kind of have a friend thing going on. That doesn’t suck. She’s a cutie and doesn’t think I’m weird for needing such oddly specific withdrawal amounts. Or if she does she’s good at not showing it. That’s all I need in a friend.
  • Aldi: This is going to make some people laugh because folks know I’m obsessed with Aldi, but seriously shopping there has made a gigantic difference in our grocery budget. Like I mentioned above, we spend just $180 a month on groceries and that really isn’t very much. Obviously we don’t have children and that makes a big difference, but before I started shopping at Aldi I spent $150 a month on groceries for just myself. And the thing is, everything we get at Aldi is delicious. They have a more limited selection (and its true that they don’t carry all items – especially speciality items) (and its also true that some things I still prefer from Publix, like fresh deli meat and cheese) but we still get 90% of our groceries there and are 100% satisfied with the quality of what we get. They have LOTS of organic products too, so you don’t have to sacrifice quality. Yes, you need to bring your own bags and a quarter for the cart (which you get back) but I’m thrilled at the ways that Aldi saves money because it saves ME money. And I’m always looking out for #1.
  • Grocery Shop Smart: You’ve heard it before thumbnail_img_1530
    but I’ll say it again – the best way to grocery shop is with a list. And honestly I hate making lists. Its boring. I groan the whole time. But if you make a plan you will be able to stick to your budget. I personally only do one big shopping trip every two weeks so I really have to plan ahead so that I can get everything I need for a two week span in one trip. And, moreover, while I’m shopping I keep track of how much I’m spending. My grocery list turns into a mile long addition problem and I add every single thing I put into my cart. Does it take a little more time? Yep. Do I ever go over my budget? Nope, because once I start reaching that limit I know I’m done, or I know that I need to put some of those non necessity treats back (Oreos, how I love you).
  • Do a Cartwheel: Like many women my age, I have quite the love affair with Target going on. Because I’m there literally always, I use their Cartwheel app which is full of mobile coupons. Since getting the app back in February of 2015, I’ve saved $91. Not a ton of money considering its been two years, but every little bit counts. If I did grocery shopping at Target it would certainly be more: I have a friend who does all her grocery shopping (plus toiletries, clothes, etc) at Target for her family of 5 and she’s saved over $700 since May of 2014. So, it can add. Of course the thing about coupons is that if you buy something you wouldn’t normally buy just because you have a coupon… you aren’t saving money at all. So what I do is after I’m done shopping I pull out the app and search for what I have in my basket to see if the app has any coupons for the things I am already buying. Usually it does, even if its just a small 5% off coupon. Sometimes you’ll see a sign in the store for a Cartwheel coupon but not always so definitely take half a second to search in the app before checking out!
  • Car Insurance in Bulk: Not all car insurance companies do this, but we have our cars insured through Progressive and if we pay our premium 6 months at a time, we pay $297 less in total than if we paid monthly – which means saving nearly $50 a month (and $600 a year). This is actually easier to do than it sounds because we still budget for the insurance every month. We simply divided our total premium by 6 and each month I take out that amount and set it aside. Then, when it comes time to pay that premium again I simply deposit that money. It doesn’t feel like a big chunk is being taken from our account, because it’s not.
  • No Credit, No Problem: We do have a credit card but we only use it in very specific instances. We got a SouthWest card because they fly directly between Tampa and Memphis and that’s a flight we do often. So, we wanted to get some miles here and there for airline travel. First thing, of course, is we never use the credit card for something we don’t already have the money for in our bank account. We don’t use it as a loan by any means because paying interest is our nemesis. Our motto is, if we can’t afford it we don’t need it. For a while we were using the card for all of our gas purchases, but when we decided to switch things up and only use it for big things. It keeps us from getting used to using it a lot, and it gets us more miles. We only used the credit card once in January, but it was for a $500 table. We only used it once, but we still got 500 miles in that one transaction. And, we had saved for that table and had the money already so we paid the card off the very next day. fullsizerender
  • Count Every Dollar: Dave Ramsey has a money tracking website called Every Dollar that we also use (I’m mentioning Dave Ramsey a lot but I swear I’m not getting paid to) (but man that’d be cool). Its very similar to Mint, which I know a lot of people use – I just personally like the set up of Every Dollar better. It shows you different graphs and the percentages of how much of your monthly income goes towards different areas. There is a free option which is what we use (OBVIOUSLY, I mean have you not been reading my 2000+ word post on saving money?!) but you can also pay to have it track your bank transactions (Mint does this too but its free). Because we use cash, we don’t need our bank transactions tracked. We use it is because I’m a super visual person and I like feeling like a Queen in control of my kingdom, watching our money  go where we demand it to.

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Whew, I’m exhausted. I hope that something in this 2,400+ word post was helpful and encouraging for you! I’d love to hear from you if so, as well as from any other Kings and Queens out there ruling over their budgets!

I’m not sure what other budget themed posts I will do in the future, but if you have a suggestion feel free to let me know!

Do You Suppose She’s a Wildflower?

img_1520I grew up amongst wild flowers that rose up to my waist. My small fingers ran down their stems and picked the very best ones to bring to my Mother. I touched their leaves and
hummed as the wind blew my brown hair across my freckled cheeks.

I danced in the rain, sometimes with an umbrella but usually without one. I would let the rain pour over me and soak my hair as I jumped barefoot into puddles. I would sing while I danced, in the rain amongst the wildflowers. Today I still stand at the very edge of my porch when it rains, so that I can feel the splashes of the drops against my arms.

Smells always take us back to specific moments, specific memories. Things we hadn’t thought of in years, suddenly so present. I walked into a  bookstore in Nashville and suddenly I was in my Grandmother’s living room in California. The smell of fresh wood makes me think of my Dad – the first carpenter I ever knew – and the smell of dirt takes me home. To my backyard. To dirt under my small fingernails and my Mother’s whistles from the door, letting me know it was time to come in.

I made fairy homes out of branches and bark and leaves and cloth from old shirts while the  sweet smell of gardenias encircled me. We planted sunflowers that grew past my head and I thought they were the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I ran through them pretending I was Pocahontas and sang “Just Around The Riverbend” with the kind of abandon only little kids have.

I live in a city now, but I grew up with room to run. I grew up with trees and gardens and quiet. Quiet that was filled with my singing as I ran and planted and made bouquets. I plant my hyacinth bulbs and succulents and sweet potato vines because the dirt reminds me of home. It reminds me of when I didn’t feel bogged down by mean politics or when life didn’t feel really heavy on my small shoulders. It makes me feel connected to my parents who have always worked with their hands.

I pull on the stained and worn green gardening gloves that my husband bought me long before he was my husband and think about the children I hope I have one day. I’ll tell them they are wildflowers: free and beautiful and a little magic.

Glimpses to Cling to

Sometimes life is so complicated and cloudy that I can’t sleep. Sometimes when I pray I feel like I’m just talking to myself, so I exhale, shrug my shoulders and give up. “This is just the season I’m in right now,” I’ve been saying. But sometimes it feels like an awfully long season. Sometimes my inner voice is so mean she makes me doubt myself, my relationships, my abilities. She also refuses to let those extra pounds I’ve gained go unnoticed. Sometimes I spend an entire hour in a counseling session unashamedly crying as the pile of tissues in my lap gets bigger and bigger.

But then my counselor stops me. She tells me to breathe in deeply – as deep as I can till I can’t breathe in any more. And release.

But then I receive a note from a kind friend who describes me with words I wouldn’t have used for myself. Edifying words, words that build instead of break.

But then I look across the table and my eyes are met with Timothy’s eyes: eyes I love and want to look into forever. And I know that when I don’t know anything.. his love I can trust.

But then I go to a wedding and I watch a woman whom I have loved and respected and admired for a very long time marry a man who looks at her in a way that makes me cry silently, and happily, in my wooden pew. She’s a vision in her white, lace dress and I think about all the ways she has been so kind to me since I met her, and how her new husband is going to be loved so well and so.. big. I can’t sing along with the hymns because I’m distracted by the way he is holding her hand on the altar and looking at her like he doesn’t realize we are all there.

Glimpses of bigger, beautiful things. Heart, hold fast to these glimpses. To these things that make life worthwhile and full, because sometimes life doesn’t feel very full or even very kind. When its hard to breathe, remember the way he looked at her in her wedding dress. Remember Timothy – always Timothy – and the way his bearded cheek feels against yours. Remember that you’re loved by people who know you deeply, have seen you in your lowest.. and stayed.

Delicious Autumn

“I feel as if we love each other better in autumn”, I said on the blanket under the tree. “Maybe it’s because we fell in love in autumn and the air takes us back to those first new moments.”

We didn’t admit it till the winter, but we fell in love in the fall. And in Memphis, TN the landscape echoed the autumn crisp in the air – here in Florida it’s still green and brown, green and brown, but the cool air still sweeps over the water from time to time and feels like the most welcomed gift.

It feels like a pause. A pause from the intense heat – a pause from real life, even. Cool mornings are treated differently, almost ceremoniously: windows open, coffee cups clasped, sweaters dug out of the bottom drawer. “It’s beautiful today, we must go sit outside.”

Our living room curtains dance from the open windows and the candle flame on the coffee table flickers wildly, both enchanting to watch. The autumn breeze sends a small shiver down my back and makes the gathered hair around my neck dance.

As I listen to the breeze rush through the palm trees (a sound so full it almost mimics rain) I think about what this air means. It’s the first signal of holidays. It means that in a month or so my family will be gathered around the backyard I grew up in, eating vegetable medley and turkey, watching the little cousins run around the yard and remarking how much bigger they are than the year before. I was once one of the kids running around, but now I’m amazed at how quickly they’re growing.

This air is a signal that soon I will bake my grandmother’s pumpkin pie with my mom. A grandmother I never met, this is a small way I feel connected to her. I don’t know if autumn was her favorite season, but her most beloved dessert was pumpkin pie so in autumn I think of her. In this air I almost smell it. My mother and I don’t need to look at the recipe anymore, it’s memorized by our hands and heart.

These mornings always stir my restless legs. “How can we live so far away from mountains and colors? I need this air in my lungs every October morning!” Every autumn I threaten to run away from the flat lands of Florida and retreat to Tennessee or North Carolina. And with Timothy next to me, I bet one of these years we will.

A full day of work is ahead of me: phone calls and calendars and meeting with volunteers till 8pm. But right now, as the air is coming through my living room window and the sun has just started to peek over the buildings, life is still and rich.

Thursday Morning, 9am

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Random thoughts on a coffee shop:

The fabric on the chairs is different but my salted caramel latte, which I got the first time we came – and still get today – tastes the same. I suppose that over four years enough spills and blunders and stains collect that the chairs need to be reupholstered. They used to be a mustard yellow, now they’re blue like the sea. The chairs are the kind that go up past your head and almost form a cocoon around your conversation. Though you’re in the middle of a crowded coffee shop, you feel like all your words are safe.

We sat every Thursday morning in those chairs. It was so routine we didn’t have to confirm it with one another, we just both showed up. Thursday morning, 9am. You did forget a few times, arriving an hour late with sleepy eyes. I always waited. I made you buy me breakfast to make up for it, but I always waited. We sat and talked about God, but like the fabric of the chairs, that conversation has changed too. The ebb and flow of relationship; the letting go of dead things. Sarah Bessey wrote “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”

We don’t meet anymore, but whenever I find myself drinking a salted caramel latte on a Thursday I think of how much I needed those conversations in that strange season.

The mugs are the same, though, still white and warm. In four years they’ve been held by so many hands and like the chairs, heard so many conversations. A dear friend told me she was moving while sipping from those mugs. I fixated my eyes on the mug in my lap because I needed to concentrate on not crying and if I looked at her, sincere face tears would have been inevitable, even though I had known what she was going to tell me from the moment she asked me to meet. She had never really been home here. I can still recall the sweet smell of her mango tea as she sighed and said, “I knew you’d be the hardest person to tell”. I don’t think she said this because I was her dearest friend in Tampa, but rather I think she knew how much I had always needed her.

I’m seeing her get married this December which is unfathomable, beautiful proof that four years is a long time, and four years can change things.

Our book club met there once. We were reading “Persuasion” by Jane Austen and it felt an appropriate setting for our discussion on feminism and love and the words of Captain Wentworth.

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant.

Last month I was there too and I sat and watched my favorite little girl, Jo, walk her determined, new steps across the room. The same room that her mother and I sat in years prior, when her marriage was new and this little girl wasn’t yet a thought. Jo’s curls bounced along as she walked and I thought about how her presence – her very existence – has changed so many lives for the better. The girl I was four years ago sitting in that same coffee shop had no idea what it meant to a love a little person.

Jo walked up and down the staircase which is lined with portraits. Faces frozen in time by photographers and artists, still stationed in the same spot on the wall since opening day. They look out over a marble kingdom and I wonder if they would have come here if they were still alive. Would they have liked the local Tampa coffee culture, or would they have thought that the people here were snobs? It doesn’t much matter because here they are, in the background of a thousand staircase selfies.

I’ve written here, wrestled with God’s word here, cried here and laughed here. This room is a time capsule with memories scribbled on every wall. Today doesn’t look like four years ago, but the latte tastes the same.

Mothers, Scary Teachers, and Beyonce

Two weeks ago a friend asked me to write a few sentences about a moment that affected my life for part of an art project that she’s working on.

First, I sent her much more than a few sentences

Second, I was surprised at the moment that flooded to my memory.

I could have thought about my tales of unrequited love: the heartbreak, the listening to sad Avett Brothers songs on repeat, the walking around Paris on a semester abroad in tears over a boy  4,000 miles away.

I could have thought about meeting Tim, the moment that has come to be known as the-first-time-love-was-requited -and-thank-goodness-it-had-never-been-before-because-THIS-guy-was-worth-the-wait. Our wedding day, too, was certainly a life altering, things will never be the same again, type day.

Maybe even the day I realized how much of a happy feminist I am, because that certainly changed a lot about my life.

Instead, immediately upon reading her question, I thought about something kind my mother did for me in 4th grade.

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In 4th grade I had a teachermiss_nelsonr that books like Miss Viola Swamp are written about: mean ones who seem to hate children. She was short, had long nails that were often painted blue, yelled a lot, and on several scaring occasions snapped at me in front of the class to stop being so shy. This, by the way, is a terrible tactic and I feel confident in saying that it has never once worked on any shy student. If anything, it made the butterflies that fluttered around my stomach everytime I had to speak in front of the class turn into pterodactyls.

(this is the first time I have ever written out the word “pterodactyl”. It took a while and involved googling because my entire life I had been one thousand percent sure that it started with a “T”) 

I can remember two days when I pretended to be sick so that I wouldn’t have to go to school.. and both times it worked. I figured that I was a pretty stellar actress, though it didn’t occur to me that maybe this wasn’t the case, considering that my mom never fell for my lies any other time, ever. Many days I simply cried over going.

During Christmas break my mom told me that when school started back up I would no longer be in the same class. There was a switch, she said, and I would be going to Ms. C’s class instead. Life was good for 4th grade me after that: I never pretended to be sick to get out of school and even though passing my previous teacher in the hall was a nightmare and I would very nervously look at my feet while doing so, I was thrilled over the magical switch that had taken place.

The reason for this change in classrooms, of course, didn’t occur to me for quite some time. Truthfully I was just happy it happened: I didn’t care what prompted it. I didn’t realize that this convenient arrangement came by way of many meetings with the principal, paperwork, a hard conversation with my former teacher, and a lot of love.

My mother knew I wasn’t sick (after all, I was her 5th child: she’d seen her fair share of genuine sickness, and “nice try” sickness by the time I came along), and she also knew there was something wrong with her daughter dreading school so much – for the first time ever. Lots of kids don’t like going to school, but there’s a line between just not liking it and being terrified of it. My mother had been a volunteer in my classroom and she knew my teacher well. She liked her on certain levels, largely because my mother loves people in a way that I one day hope to, but she too wondered how a woman who seemed so unhappy teaching kids ended up teaching kids.

I know now that on the last day of school before Christmas break, while I was gathering up my christmas crafts to bring home, my mother nervously pulled my teacher aside and did something she didn’t want to do. My mother is the text book example of what it means to be loving. She loves the unloveable (which sometimes means me) and wishes nothing ill on anyone – even those others might say deserve it. She is always so careful to not offend or belittle other people, not because she’s passive (you obviously haven’t met my mother) but because she cares so deeply for the feelings of others. And yet, being this way and caring so much, even knowing that it would likely cause hurt, my mother told my teacher privately: “I am truly sorry if this hurts your feelings, and I will still help in your classroom if you need, but my most important job is protecting my daughter. She is going to be starting back in a new class after the break.”

This isn’t the kindest thing my parents have done for me. As a matter of fact, there are thousands of stories of love in my childhood and for that I am more grateful than I can say. Yet this is the one that came to my mind at the question: describe a moment that affected your life.

Why?

I think learning the truth of this simple story -the way my mother had basically fought for me – was the first time I had a taste of the weight of motherhood and the incredible, beautiful, and welcomed burden of protecting your child’s whole self. The business of parenting deals with all the facets: making sure your child has enough to eat, but also making sure their spirit doesn’t feel stepped on. Teaching your child to feel brave enough to speak what’s on her mind, but not allowing others to shame her shyness. And it means protecting all these facets even when it is wildly uncomfortable to do so.

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If you’re wondering, my teacher didn’t take the news very well. She was offended and she was upset and she wasn’t at all blamed for feeling as such. Some time later she ended up moving into our neighborhood and wouldn’t you know it, she and my mom were able to kind of sort of be friends. My mom has used this as a life lesson before: always be kind and gracious even when it’s difficult. You never know who is going to move to your street.

This is similar to Beyonce’s advice of “always be gracious, best revenge is your paper“, but it’s way better because the best revenge is being nice to people who don’t warrant your niceness.

Timothy, my husband.

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It feels like a crime – like I’m fighting against all that is right and good and natural – pulling away from the curve of your neck. That space where I rest my head. My forehead and nose cradle the line that rises from your shoulder to your beautiful jaw; that space where I fit. They say home is where you lay your heart – I think home is being nestled against you like two perfect puzzle pieces. Where I feel the warmth of your skin pressed against my face. Where your beard faintly rubs against my hair line as you speak. There’s never a good enough reason to leave this spot. No appointment so important or hour too late. For when we separate, my face feels cold away from your skin and my eyelashes beg to dance on your neck.

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Sometimes when I flutter awake in the middle of night I reach out and rest my hand on your back or your shoulder or your arm. Because you’re there: taking up space in the most private of spaces. Because I have you to reach out and touch. I reach for you because you’re mine, and I’m yours and we have vowed to always rest next to one another. I reach out for you while you’re so deep in your own sleep because I want to redeem all the nights I fell asleep so lonely. I think of those nights and my heart aches for my younger self, wishing she knew that you were coming. I think of the nights I cried myself to sleep, then I think of nights when we first met and I fell asleep thinking of you. Now you don’t just fill my thoughts, you fill my space. You’re there. I listen to you breathe, to your heart, and I thank God for your dependable lungs and heart and body. I ask Him to keep them working so hard and so long so that you and I have no shortage of these moments in our life together. I keep my hand on your back as I fall back asleep because you’re there, and I can.

___________

We often say to each other as we’re half out the door, “hey! you’re my best friend!” and you are. Wholly and truly, my best friend. You’re my safe space and home base and my true love. My heart was fragmented when I met you; tired and delicate, worn and used. I’ve seen you tenderly love so many people since I met you, and the first one I witnessed was me. You loved me like I had never been loved from the very start. You felt safe immediately, even when we introduced ourselves and laughed and told stories that very first night when you filled the only empty seat at your favorite Mexican restaurant, which happened to be next to me.

My heart rejoices at the thought of that empty seat next to me being filled by the man who would redeem every heartache. The curve of your neck is my safe space, your place next to me in bed is home, and you, undoubtedly, are my best friend.

 

The photo above is from a shoot we did with our super talented friends, Jake & Katie for Jordandene

 

 

 

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Collecting

 

Last month Timothy and I were perched at my embroidery booth at the Tampa Indie Flea. It’s a local art market that gathers once a month and on two occasions I’ve sold some hand embroidery there. Being an introverted vendor there is actually very exhausting because hundreds and hundreds of people come through and making small talk and answering the same questions (“how long did that take to make?”) over and over again is my literal nightmare. But many of those individuals are sweet and encouraging, so it’s worth the very real struggle.

One such shopper was a woman probably in her late 60’s. She walked up to us in bright colored sneakers and work out pants, a crochet vest with eclectic brooches pinned to it, big earrings and a big personality. She complimented my work and said “My husband and I are passed the point of collecting things now, so I can’t buy anything, as nice as they are. We spent 50 years gathering things and buying stuff we thought we absolutely needed and now we’re trying to get rid of it all! You both are young and probably knee deep in collecting still but boy does that change!”

Then she made a joke about how “snobby south Tampa richie rich’s” never stop collecting but that’s just one of their many problems. She was my spirit animal.

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Timothy and I were really struck with this idea. Seven months into marriage, we are DEFINITELY still collecting and building and piecing things together. Sometimes we’re collecting then returning and collecting something different (because those curtains were cool at first but we ‘collected’ a new rug and now they’ve gots to go). We’re searching yard sales and family closets and Home Goods (the homeland) and the Indie Flea trying to find the pieces that feel like home. Our apartment is about the size of a closet, but it feels no less loved than a mansion to us.

The quilt on our bed was made by my mom’s mom, who I never met. Her name was Charlotte and she loved the color purple, which is why purple stitches and fabric spill over the quilt. She died many years before I was born and certainly never knew of me, but I feel so connected to her when I pull up the quilt that she made with her sweet hands that might have looked kind of like mine.

On the bottom shelf of our living room bookcase is a soccer ball signed by Rod Stewart. Not exactly a piece I dreamed of having in my home one day, but a special souvenir of Timothy’s from when his step dad worked on Rod Stewarts tours. Few people know that Rod Stewart was a soccer player before becoming a singer (myself included before Timothy told me) and every time someone comes over and notices it they wonder out loud “… but why a soccer ball?”

For weeks we searched through craigslist looking for a couch that we could afford with our pittance of an income. One day a nice neutral couch in our budget popped up and we sprinted to go see it. On the way we set up signals to give to each other in case we didn’t like it. You know, in case the people seemed like the kind who definitely had sex on the couch (not sure how you can tell if someone is a do-it-on-the-couch kind of person) or something like that. We weren’t going to outright say no but instead settled on “we have other couches to go look at too so we’ll let you know.” Which was a lie. In the end the couple seemed very much like the kind who kept it in their bedroom (am I going too far?) and we bought the couch. Getting our new-to-us couch up the stairs to our apartment was the hardest thing we have ever done. Timothy yelled, I cussed. We scratched the legs and tour the back a little bit making it look infinitely less nice than when we bought it, but it was ours. It was the first big thing we bought together and remembering the insanity of bringing it up the stairs always makes me smile.

Two favorite items in our collection are custom portraits from two artists I love. The first portrait was one I ordered a month and a half early for Timothy’s birthday. The artist (Lauren Noel) only takes custom portrait orders a few times a year, and they always sell out fast (REAL fast, like I had so set a reminder on my phone and have her website up & ready to purchase). Coincidentally, it arrived on our wedding day. Our wedding was in the afternoon and when we arrived home – to officially our home for the first time – it was waiting at the door. In my excitement I made Tim open it that minute.

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My husband and I, in front of the Memphis bridge, painted by LadyNoelDesigns (LadyNoelDesigns.bigcartel.com)

For my birthday (which hey, is today) Timothy got me the second portrait in our collection. Extra special, this one was made by a personal friend I happen to adore for a thousand reasons. Though we’re the subject in both, they’re as different as the women who made them and each so special. Often I catch myself feeling all warm and fuzzy over the thought of our future kids (our maybe future kids) looking at them and remarking “I can’t believe how young you look!”

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My husband and I with all our favorite things painted by Kelly Hewitt (melodiousmonster.com)

To be sure, the best parts of our collections are the memories that we’re making as we learn how to be husband and wife. Dancing in our living room, taking walks in the first neighborhood (of most likely many) that we’re taking up space in together, getting in arguments that end in laughter.

Over the years we will add many things to our collections, maybe even people. And that sweet spirit at the indie flea may be right about one day wanting to cut our collection down, but for right now I’m loving the collecting.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day: a day to celebrate the achievements of women in all kinds of areas and to reflect on the movers and shakers who are fighting for equality and improvements for women. What a glorious thought! Indeed I quite wish my entire Tuesday could have been spent talking and learning about women who are fighting for all of us (instead half of my day was sitting at a cubicle and leaving voicemails for folks ignoring my calls – such is life). I wish I had been plopped on a couch with my favorite female friends, sharing our plights as women: the highs and the lows. Instead of listening to answering machine messages, I wish I had been listening to brave women talk about their hopes for our sisters and their fights against the injustices facing so many. But I’m thankful that those conversations still happen. Maybe they didn’t on International Women’s Day, but I hear brave things every day. I hear empowering things and heart breaking things and stories that make me so happy and proud to be a woman. So, I guess I can let it slide that I was in an office that looks like an office set straight out of a 90’s TV show instead.

 

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I took this photo from a friend on Instagram because the words were so overwhelmingly lovely to me 

And I am very proud to be a woman. I’m thrilled to be a daughter of Christ, a lady and a gal. My culture didn’t raise me to be proud of this (not with words like “girly” being an insult, and “running like a girl” being synonymous with running like an idiot) but Christ did, my parents did, and many others in my life did. And actually, they had to battle pretty hard against what my culture told me about being a woman because culture was (is) LOUD. And also wrong. From culture I heard that I was weaker than men, way too sensitive, too fat, too tall (someone told me once that I would have a hard time finding a husband because of my height #vomit. The joke is on them because I am 5 inches taller than my husband and he doesn’t give two whats about it), an object for men to enjoy, but also a whore for getting any attention from men. Culture wanted me to be held responsible for my own actions, and also the actions of men who couldn’t control their own.

I’m very thankful for the messages of truth I have continually been told that counters all this nonsense. The truth that was written to me in scripture, in letters from my mother, in hugs from my friends, in passionate conversations over cookie dough.

So today, on a day to celebrate the fact that women can now run for President (regardless if you want to vote for her or not) but to also acknowledge the big steps we still have to take for true equality and safety for women around the world, I want to simply write little love notes to the women who have made me proud to be in their club.

To my mother (and to my father, too): Pink may have been my favorite color when I was little, but instead of dressing me as a pink ballerina for Halloween, you made me a pink Power Ranger costume. Thanks for that. I felt things very deeply as a young girl and was so easily heart broken. You never once made me feel silly for tears. You told me that it meant I had a big heart and when I got older that would help me love other people well. You bought me dresses when I loved dresses and nothing but pants when I felt too self conscious to wear dresses in middle school. You never put me in a box labeled “YOU’RE A GIRL SO THIS IS WHAT THAT MEANS”. But more than that, you told me your stories very honestly. Your stories that devastate my heart, frankly: stories of abuse, stories of strength. Your stories of working hard to care for your children, no matter when that meant barely having time to rest and not allowing any junk food in the house because you couldn’t afford the doctor. You taught me to never ever believe that women aren’t as strong as men, because when I look at you (and so many of the mothers who I work with every day) I see nothing BUT strength. I am eternally grateful to you for not keeping these stories from me. Sad as they are, they have shaped me and the way I view my own gender. I remember in middle school I repeated the slang phrase “wife beater” referring to the white tank tops that guys wear (a very common slang term, something I had heard in school and didn’t even for a second consider the meaning) and calmly you said, “Don’t say that.” Why? “Because I was a beaten wife.” You didn’t point this out because it hurt your feelings, you pointed it out because domestic abuse isn’t funny and the fact that its so common is both unacceptable and a tragedy.

To women like Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey: Rachel, Sarah, darling friends who I have never ever met – the words in your blogs and books have brought such light into my soul. Truthfully I don’t think there are two authors who have been more impactful on my faith and my own self-awareness. You taught me that the F word (feminist – yikes!) isn’t a bad one. Actually, it aligns quite beautifully with the gospel and the teachings of Christ. You taught me that God loves me so individually and specifically as a woman. He didn’t call me to be a wife and a mother and a submissive little dear. Rather, He called me to be those things (perhaps differently than the church has sometimes taught) along with so many other things! He called me to make noise! To care about injustices! To marry a man who considers me his equal and partner in decision making! To sometimes submit and sometimes to stand firm! He may or may not have called me to be a mother (the jury is still out) but if He did, it’s so that I can build up my children to cherish the gifts and strengths of both men and women. You told me that men and women are both so complicated and intricate and necessary. Without knowing it, you spoke to all the hunches I’ve carried all my life that I kept quiet (“is being a wife really the highest calling for a woman?” “If so many women are such great teachers, could it be that God is actually cool with them.. teaching?”) and you put a megaphone in front of them. Rachel, you said you learned about feminism from Christ. Well, thank you for pointing out the way to allow me to do the same.

To my female friends: Thank you for being the greatest of community. A community of truth and encouragement that has never once rolled its eyes when I started yelling about how “ITS ABSOLUTELY INSANE HOW COMMON IT IS AROUND THE WORLD THAT WHEN A WOMAN IS RAPED ITS CONSIDERED HER FAULT. BEING SEXUALLY ABUSED AND TRAUMATIZED IS HER FAULT. HOW MESSED UP IS THAT!?” because you also care about those things. Because you care about God’s vision for our world, and you know this isn’t it. I owe much of my confidence to you. It’s a lot easier to have confidence when you have amazing, strong friends standing behind you, propping you up. I hope to always treat you all as valuable, capable, extraordinary beings. Because that’s what you are.

To my female friends who are doctors and engineers and tattoo artists and other professions not typically female: You’re amazing. You have told me stories of feeling like you have to work twice as hard as your peers just to earn the same respect. You’ve said that people have been surprised at your abilities entirely because you’re female. Once a patient of yours even complained to you about not having seen a doctor all day because they assumed you were a nurse, despite your white coat, ability to diagnose and answer questions, and you know, your name tag that says “Dr.” Thank you for not becoming angry over this. For not throwing in the towel. For working twice as hard when you needed to and for smiling and saying “thanks” even though being told “wow, I didn’t expect this from a girl” isn’t actually a compliment.

I am so proud to be complicated and sensitive and gentle and strong, and to know that these things aren’t contradictory. I am proud of my sisters who are taking stands for our tribe, and thankful for my brothers who are doing the same. Happy Women’s Day, friends, may we continue working to make our world even better for our daughters and sons.

A Letter for B:

A Letter to B:

You texted me two weeks ago and told me that I needed to write. You said, “Girl. It’s been 1.5 months since your last blog post. … Write. Thanks”. I told you that I hadn’t had any ideas! That my plate has been full! That I haven’t had the time to sit down and put words into sentences that mean sweet things!

But then I started thinking about you. And suddenly sweet sentences were easy.

You’re the person who always tells me to write. The person who always encourages me. The person who still takes the time out of the being the world’s busiest med student to read my blog and text me about it.
When I reflect honestly, I don’t feel that I have encouraged you the same way you have encouraged me. In my eyes you are always so capable and brilliant and throughout all these years of knowing you I knew that I needed you to cheer me on, but I may not have always stopped to see if you needed someone to stand on the sidelines cheering, too. You helped me study for exams and bought me pizza when I passed (because pizza has and will always be the perfect food for celebration and grief and sadness and boredom and literally every emotion). You made big deals out of things that could have fallen by the wayside. If our friendship has ever felt wonky and lop sided and uneven, I’m sorry.
Moving forward, I want to make sure that you are ALWAYS encouraged by me.
I hope you know that I carry you around with me always and when you text me and ask that I pray for an exam, I do. I always do. When you honor me by sharing your fears with me (and your tears), I don’t shove them away – I hold them carefully in my hands. I often forget to follow up with you and ask how your heart is doing, largely because I’m consumed with myself, but it’s never because it doesn’t matter to me. I think God has created such a wonder in you. He has gifted you so, so much. You work very hard and I never want to dismiss or make light of that, but please know that it was God who gave you a brain that understands genetics and medicine and muscles. And he’s going to use all that (that which is so foreign to me) for incredible good. You’ll see. Stay strong, darling. “.. knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
I cherish you for who God created you to be. I cherish you for the way you have sweetly loved me. I cherish you for allowing me to be in your inner circle. And maybe I shouldn’t, but I cherish your biting sarcasm and bitterness. Because I think you’re hilarious. And a babe. But I’m getting off topic.
B, I absolutely love you and more than that, I believe in you. Keep going, my darling friend.

Small Weddings and Big Feelings

I haven’t written anything in quite a while. This fact has been brought to my attention by several incredible friends. I am wildly appreciative of the people who say “Hey, you haven’t written anything lately. Write something.” Because I know they aren’t doing this because they’re bored and need something to read. Lawd knows there is an endless number of buzz feed articles about cats to keep us all entertained. They encourage and poke me because they know that writing is in my soul. And when something is in your soul, you need to do it. You need to connect with it. I need to work through all my feels with a keyboard and my friends know that. Therefore, thanks for the texts and facebook comments and the shoulder squeezes.

The reason I haven’t written in quite some time is because I’ve been having a hard time breathing lately. Metaphorically.

Reason number one that I haven’t been able to breathe: I was unemployed for the month of January. If you haven’t been unemployed before, it’s a lot of fun. You sit around waiting for friends who have jobs to get home, you try to find errands and outings to fill your time with, except you have no income coming into your dwindling bank account so there really isn’t much room for this, you submit application after application after application and make awkward phone calls to supervisors and associates who don’t care about hiring you, and if you’re like me, you watch the entire collection of “Friends” (which was conveniently uploaded to Netflix the week my place of work closed) and pretend to laugh when your roommates comment, “Watching Netflix AGAIN?!?!” when they arrive home from their jobs. It’s a riot. Except that it’s actually the worst. I’m very thankful that this period lasted only one month, as I know that many brave souls have had to endure the terrible unemployment season far longer than that. At the end of January God did something really cool and opened up a door for me at a particular non-profit that I had actually applied at months earlier when I had no idea the job I currently had would be ending. They hired me within a week. Thanks, God. Even though it’s been nearly 3 months, I still feel very “new”. I’m learning new things every day because there are so many different issues that can arise. And feeling on your toes 24/7 is exhausting.

Reason number two that I haven’t been able to breathe: Ya’ll, so many things are happening. Friends are getting married, friends are having babies (LITTLE ORANGE SEED IS HERE! If you remember, I wrote a letter to my favorite friend’s sweet baby-girl-to-be, who I call “little orange seed” because that’s how big she was when her sweet momma told me she was coming. Now she is here and beautiful and dainty and taking up space in a world that is so lucky to have her). Friends are getting promotions and writing books and creating things that blow me away. I’ve never had so many parties to go to and reasons to smile.

Reason number three that I haven’t been able to breathe: Reason number three is my favorite reason. On March 14, my sweet Timothy asked me to become his wife. There were tears. And all the feelings. Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 4.16.32 PM

As we started planning, everything came together surprisingly quickly. I found my dress (THE DRESS) on my first day looking, we had already known we wanted to get married at our church, and we knew that our budget was teeny tiny so making a guest list was easy. Easy in that we weren’t able to invite many people and didn’t have a lot of slots to fill, AWFUL FOR THE SAME REASON BECAUSE I LOVE SO MANY PEOPLE AND I WANT ALL OF YOU TO BE ABLE TO COME. As everything was getting decided within those first couple weeks of being engaged, we realized we didn’t need a long engagement. Nor did we want one because we are two anxious love struck Christians and let me tell you about love struck christians.. they have short engagements. But while all the big things had already been figured out, suddenly a million and three medium and small things came rushing to the top of our To Do Lists. You guys, planning a wedding is exhausting. Because it’s not just the wedding. Its the wedding, but it’s also finding a home and signing leases and setting up the rehearsal dinner and moving and registering (which yeah, is really fun) and figuring out how to get internet set up and reading about different bank accounts and doing engagement pictures and having doctor appointments and having confusing phone calls with printers and SO MANY OTHER THINGS. And I am not complaining about being engaged. I am ecstatic to be marrying Timothy. I wouldn’t trade this stress for anything. But it’s still a stress and it can still be stifling.

During the process of planning, we have decided to forgo many traditional wedding-y things. We are not having a bridal party. People are not watching us cut our cake. Guests aren’t getting favors (sorry not sorry). One reason for this is because, as I said, our budget is small. I mean, SMALL. And honestly, we couldn’t care less and that’s only because of the way God has worked in our hearts.

The bigger reason is pretty simple too: my path to Timothy was really hard. It involved tremendous heartbreak and entire summers spent crying myself to sleep. My “search for love” brought me my biggest scars and lowest moments. In fact, when I met Timothy I was a broken vessel. That’s why falling in love with him wasn’t sparks! and fireworks! and whirlwinds! It was a sigh of relief and the feeling of home. I am humbled to be with Timothy. I am overwhelmingly thankful. My God let me endure terrible things while waiting for Timothy, things that even caused me to doubt His goodness. Standing on the other side, I can see the ways that he was preparing me. God used those things to shape me into the person I needed to be before meeting Timothy. Because of this: because of the incredibly bumpy and painful road that I treaded to find him, I want our day to be the same sigh of relief that meeting him was. I don’t want it to be Timothy and I going through the motions of a wedding. I don’t want it to be a day that is designed to impress our guests. I want it to be he and I, standing in the church that changed my life, holding hands with tears in our eyes and experiencing something holy. I want to hug the friends who helped carry me to this place (oh, so many friends helped carry me with their words and embraces), I want to dance with my husband (my heart still speeds up a little whenever I say that), and I want to eat a taco (yep, tacos, because we are who we are).

I’m so excited for our day. I’m thankful to my Father who brought me to Timothy and who has helped he and I both to remain focused on what truly matters on that special day. I’m thankful for the ways both of our families have already helped us and for all the friends who are going to be called up to help with wedding crafts (ya’ll better get your crafting scissors ready..). I’m particularly and overwhelmingly thankful for the friends who have shared my joy even though they have their own painful things on their plates. You all have been a living, breathing picture of community.

And with that, I have to go call up our caterer because the list doesn’t end.

God is in the Mountains.

I was raised in a small, flat, Florida town that held quiet streets and familiar faces. Evenings were so often spent watching the sun settle in for the night over the water, reflecting so boldly on the waves that there seemed to be two great spheres of fire, not just one. The sun never seems brighter than it does in those last few moments, as it stares you in the eye as it leaves, covering your face with an orange glow. Then suddenly, gone. It’s like love that doesn’t last – it’s big and passionate and bright and the only thing that is lovely enough to hold your gaze, and then it just.. disappears. Once the sun finally dipped himself beyond the horizon line, the skies would dance like children sneaking out of bed to play once their parents were asleep. Cotton candy colors all across the sky that became more and more lovely as it became darker and darker, till finally the clouds fell asleep. It’s true what you’ve heard – those Florida sunsets are tops.

I was raised in a small, flat, Florida town with sunsets and sand… but my heart yearns for the mountains. For forests and trees and greens and browns. For scrapes on my arms from branches, for collected leaves and full lungs. My heart yearns for the mountains because my heart yearns for God, and my spirit never feels Him more than when the only thing above my head is a canopy of trees. When I look out beyond where I am standing and see woods, not buildings. We all feel God, see God, experience God so incredibly  differently. For me, I feel a little bit closer when I am standing amongst trees who are reaching their branches up to Him.

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This Thanksgiving I had the inconceivable joy of going to Natural Tunnel State park in Duffield, Virginia with my beautiful family. At 4am, Thanksgiving morning, I found myself awake. I peeked through the blinds to take in the Virginia mountains, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, it was snowing. I jumped out of bed, put on a coat, and ran to the door.

Standing outside, in my purple slippers and polar bear pajama pants, I felt taller – a fullness of my spirit. The air was cold and it chilled my lungs as I breathed it in. The sound of the snow as I walked was thick and crunchy. The smile on my face was from ear to ear. I have always loved the sound of rain, but the sound of snow settling on the ground and trees and cars was the most delicate and magical sound I had ever heard. After having watched flurries dance past street lights, I understand why Loreali Gilmore had such an affinity for snow.

As my little cousins and beautiful family awoke, the mountains were filled with laughter. We got trays and plastic bags and slid down hills, shrieking till we hit a flat plane. We built snowmen and drank hot chocolate and laughed as our fingers froze.  It was the most magical break from jobs and worries and troubles. Just us all together, nestled in a cabin while outside God created a winter wonderland.

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My love and I took walks together through the trails that traced the mountain. We held hands and searched the ground for pristine tulip tree leaves. Tulip tree leaves remind me of dainty little fox faces, poised and fierce. I had never seen them until autumn in Memphis and now my heart jumps when I see their faces because I’m reminded of the simple happiness finding them gave me when I was so lonely in a lovely city.

“You know what I love about winter trees?” I said to him as we walked along the trail of leaves.

“What’s that?” he replied.

“They stand so unapologetically. All their leaves are gone and now they’re just sticks but they still stand so confidently. They aren’t sorry the lovely bits of them are gone.”

“I think it’s because they belong to God. I mean, everything does and we do too – but trees are one of those things that man can’t claim. They were made before we were. They respond to the seasons that God creates. They don’t owe us anything because they aren’t ours.”

And that’s why I love him. And that’s why I love the forest. All of creation belongs to God – but my goodness, it’s so obvious that the mountains do. Undefiled land, just dirt and spirit. It’s as if the ground wanted to get as close to its creator as possible so it pulled itself up: creating slopes and peaks and walls of rock, trying to be as close to the Father as possible. And trees, too, pointing their branches up to the heavens. Nature knows who God is.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

God doesn’t always feel big to me when I am bustling around the city. When I am not focusing on Him as I should, He just fits amongst the buildings and cars – wedged like a tetris piece into the city design.  But when I am in the mountains, when I am shorter than every tree around me, I couldn’t ignore God if I wanted to.

Do The Hustle.

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[ typography from ryan hamrick ]
The first time I heard of Jon Acuff I was on a mission trip in Haiti and someone had a copy of “Stuff Christians Like”. A marvelous introduction to Jon’s literary work. He’s become one of the authors and speakers and people that I list when I say “I want to do things like what this person does.” So it was really cool when I was perusing instagram yesterday and saw that he was in Tampa! Doing a meet up! To talk about creativity and bravery! Solid.

I knew that part of the meet up was for people to come together and share their work. To bravely share (with strangers) those dreams that we’re working towards. And it’s interesting that this idea appealed to me because speaking to strangers about myself is literally my nightmare. I threw up before every public speaking assignment I’ve ever had, and once while studying fine art in college I had to present and defend my body of work (the meanest of all assignments) to my peers and professor. I decided to just skip it instead because dropping down a letter grade was easier on my soul than talking to my peers about myself and (THE MOST VULNERABLE THING OF ALL TIME) my art.

But hey, meet up with an author I admire and a room full of creative people who are probably all wiser than me and will most likely not stutter when they talk, as I most certainly will? Oh, sign me up!

We all know that when you’re getting ready to go somewhere – anywhere – the process includes picking out your clothes, brushing your teeth, and envisioning every conversation you’re going to have while you are at wherever you are going. I am always wildly hilarious and charming in these visions. Crackin’ jokes, not sweating, introducing myself to lots and lots of new people, and enjoying having non-frizzy hair. But none of these things ever come true, ever. Especially not the hair.

First of all, I was late. Not late late, but late enough that he had began speaking and I 100% missed the beforehand chit-chat. I live for beforehand chit chat. There aren’t a lot of people around so you’re able to introduce yourself in peace, plus you just proved that you have good time management skills and can arrive promptly so kudos to you. I was counting on this chit chat. Naturally, I woke up with a cold & I didn’t get myself ready at the speed I usually do, I missed a turn driving there and had to sit at one of Florida’s famous two hour red lights before I could turn around, etc.

The moment I walked in the room and saw I missed that chit chat, all of the anecdotes and witty remarks I had so thoroughly planned evaporated out of my brain and I remembered, “Oh yeah! I’m Kathryn and things like this are terrifying.”

Since this was a meet up and not a “hey come listen to me talk”, he didn’t speak for very long but I truly loved every moment that he did. He talked about bravery and jumps and hustling and working. He spoke right into my fears. Sharing this blog with people scares me. Writing a book scares me. Saying, “I write and I’m good at it” is the hardest sentence in the universe for me to utter (actually it’s the second – saying something nice about Kroger is most definitely the hardest) because I’m afraid it isn’t true. In fact, at first I added a “kind of” before the ‘good’ in that sentence just as a disclaimer in case anyone read this and thought “eh, you’re really not”.

A few posts ago I wrote about the lie: ‘its everybody else but us’. It’s still very much my biggest battle with myself. Jon said today that bravery has two parts: being brave enough to do the thing (whatever your thing is) and then being brave enough to tell others about the thing. I’m plenty brave to sit here in the corner and write quietly without anyone knowing, but the bravery tends to stop there. If it even began.

Sometimes I build up the idea that people who are doing what I wish I was doing are able to do them effortlessly. Sometimes I think that it must take Shauna Niequist all of ten minutes to pound out a book that makes me laugh, cry, and swoon. And admittedly I tend to bring it back to the idea that they’re doing it so well because they’re capable and I’m not. Everyone else but me. Pity party much? It was really fantastic to hear someone who I assume works effortlessly because he works so well say, “You want to do what I’m doing? Well this is what I’m doing: I’m working and I’m figuring and I’m learning and I’m hustling when it’s hard.” He may not have actually been aware that that is even what he was saying, but it was.

So the speaking part of this morning: perfection. Right to my soul.

The time-for-everyone-else-to-share part? Sweaty. That is, my hands were because I was so nervous (and also probably because I was wearing a long sleeve shirt, a jacket, a scarf, and boots because I’m a Floridan and it was 50 degrees this morning but it was definitely not 50 degrees in that church). I had to listen to seven other people share before I was able to  convince myself that no one would throw a tomato at me and it was safe to raise my hand to go. Naturally that was the same exact moment that we ran out of time.

I was lingering around (just like everybody else) afterwards to get a second chance at sharing my plight with Jon, but my tactic of not saying anything and letting everyone else do their thing before me wasn’t working. Which is weird, because prior to this morning “not doing anything” has had a 100% success rate. I had the chance to meet some other locals who are doing cool things – it wasn’t wasted time, but I didn’t do what I had hoped to do.

Because I didn’t make it happen.

And I realized that this is what I always do. This is how I live my life – passively and unassuming and waiting for everything to be perfect and clear and easy. It’s not a big deal that I didn’t assert myself to go up and meet Jon Acuff, but it will be a big deal if I never write the book that I want to write or say the things that I want to say. I need to hustle. Graciously, gently, and lovingly, but diligently. 

It will be a big deal if you don’t chase the dreams that are spilling from your heart and hands. It will be a terrible shame if the things in your brain stay there. We need to hustle.

What I Wish I Knew in Middle School.

Sometimes, before I remember how much I detested school, I miss still being a young student. Middle school may have had a lot of mean kids, but it didn’t have any bills. I always think that if I was to time travel back to the days of school (which by the way would not be my first choice if I had the chance to time travel, but I mean like if it was unavoidable to be a lanky high schooler again) I would be able to do it so much better. Probably not intellectually, if anything I’d probably be at a disadvantage because I haven’t thought about math or world war II or “To Kill a Mockingbird” in years. But academics aside? Much better.

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But I can’t. And ultimately I’m okay with that. But I do have some sweet young girlfriends who are just about to enter into the craziness that is middle and high school. And to these lovely ladies, I have just a few pieces of advice:

1. Despite what “scene” or “style” or “clique” you fit into, make friends with everyone who will have you. They don’t listen to the same music as you? So what. They’re athletes and you can’t be bothered with sports? Fair enough, find something else to laugh about with them and befriend them like crazy. I made it a point to only get to know the other students who wore the same band shirts as me and I know that I absolutely missed out on having lots more friends. And having more friends is always a good thing. Every single person won’t be your best friend, and you can have a group you hang out with every Friday but, still, meet and be nice to every single person you can.

2. “Cool” is absolutely 100% subjective. Those mean kids who roll their eyes at you? They don’t know anything. They’re mean because they’ve seen dozens of movies that teach the idea that to be on top, you have to put others down. They’re mean because they have to prove to their fair weathered friends that they’re indifferent to common human decency. Why is being rude a desirable trait? I have no idea. But for some reason during those years, it is. Don’t pay that nonsense any mind. After high school, no one in the entire world cares about how popular you were. No one cares who you did or did not date, if you went with the cutest boy in school to prom or just your friends (or if you didn’t’ want to go at all and stayed home with your mom), and they especially don’t care about what you wore or what music you listened to or how many sleepovers you went to. So I say, don’t waste your time caring about those things while in school! Take the classes you want to take (and push yourself to do well), wear things that you actually like (oh the myriad of clothing I bought that I didn’t even want…), and smile at everyone even if they scowl back at you. Ultimately, the person people want to be around is the one who smiles. To quote Gandhi, you do you (there’s no way in the world he said that but he might as well have – that’s some good advice). Don’t let the “politics” of cool kids and mean kids and weird kids affect you. I promise, not once in my adult life did someone wait to hire me or be-friend me till after they called up the kids who were popular at my high school to ask them what they thought of me (which is good because I’m sure the response would be, “Who? Kathy?”).

3. Take hard classes. Yes, they’ll fill up more of your time and require many many hours of studying, but doing things just because they’re easy won’t be rewarding. I seriously regret not taking advanced literature classes because that’s something that, now that I’m older, I wish I knew more about. At the time I felt I didn’t have time to read books in the evening, after all I had a very strict and filled schedule of stalking my crush on AIM (Pause: do you know what AIM is? Maybe that’s a mark of my age. Back before facebook and instagram and twitter and all the other stalking- I mean social- networks, we had AOL Instant Messenger. It was like texting, but at the computer and with a stupid screen name. I remember my first screen name was “lilangel” or something equally as lame, only I misspelled “angel” and it was actually “lilangle”. I can’t even. Anyway…). Sitting home at the computer waiting for him to log in, or thinking up a question to message him (so it looked like I needed to message him, it wasn’t that I wanted to) took up a lot of time. I couldn’t squeeze that in with reading “Pride and Prejudice”. But in hindsight, I see that the reading of great novels would have been much more fruitful. He and I didn’t get married anyway and at least I could have known more about Jane Austen.

4. And that brings me to another thing: you’re obviously going to  have crushes on boys. They’re cute and funny and you’ll like them and that’s fine. But don’t, under any circumstance, let having a crush control your life. Don’t schedule your classes around his, don’t spend all night stalking him on facebook, don’t spend hours figuring out the perfect way to word a text to him — real relationships aren’t that hard. Well, real relationships hardly exist at that age (sorry, but it’s true) but that’s beside the point. If a boy likes you, you won’t have to work that hard. And if he doesn’t, as was always the case for me, let that be okay. I liked the same boy for all four miserable years of high school and I shudder at the thought all of that I missed while I was distracted by someone who only ever wanted to be my friend. Instead of sitting around thinking about him, I could have still thought about him a little but also tried taking tennis lessons or joining drama. I should have shrugged it off and enjoyed being his friend instead of trying to trick him into liking me during all of our interactions. By all means, giggle at cute boys, but don’t let that be the biggest priority of your life.

5. Okay this one may be embarrassing, but I’m just being real here: at some point in middle school you’re going to start getting periods and it’s going to be the worst but you don’t need to be embarrassed about being a girl. Boys are going to make stupid jokes about it, but it’s only because they have no idea what is going on and they’re terrified so they’re trying to use humor as a defense. It’s a stupid defense but they don’t know better. Every single girl feels just as weird as you because it feels like everyone can tell what’s happening… but they can’t. Just keep extra things in your backpack, don’t wear white, and if something happens, I promise no one at the office will be grossed out or not let your mom drop off things for you (I speak from experience, real talk).

School is weird. And hard. And some days you’re really going to hate it. But other days you’re going to have so much fun. Just keep your head above the crazy, remember who you are in Christ, and smile at everyone. You’ll be great.