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.
I 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.
I 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.
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.
Typically my blog posts consist of me just emoting all over the place: talking about feelings and friends and wine and all that is lovely. I’m a feelings person – it’s what I do. But since Timothy and I got married a year and a half ago, I’ve wanted to do a post that shared how we saved money on our wedding. Saving money and budgeting is my life long hobby (mama didn’t raise no fool) and it was really thrilling to watch everything come together.. and under budget. So, this is how we had our wedding for (just under) $6,000.
I will say, this wasn’t our dream wedding. Our dream wedding would have been outside, mountainside, in a meadow of wildflowers. Unfortunately, living in Tampa, that would have meant oodles of money flying to said mountainside and expecting all our friends and family to also spend oodles of money flying to said mountainside. During the planning process I would say “If someone gave me $50,000 and said I HAD to use it on our wedding… I could easily use it on our wedding.” But we didn’t have $50,000. We had $6,000. And as our idol Tim Gunn says, we made it work. Having a budget friendly wedding can absolutely mean cutting back on some of your “dreams” but for Timothy and I, we chose not having any kind of financial burden (for us or our family) over having that wildflower wedding.
I will also say it is incredibly possible to have a wedding for a lot less than we spent too. We could have done more DIY, a potluck instead of catering, a cheaper wedding dress, etc. Our goal wasn’t to have the cheapest wedding in the world, but rather a wedding that fit into the budget we felt good about spending, and for us that number was 6k.
WHERE MOST OF OUR MONEY WENT: Three things took up about half of our budget – our venue, the food, and my dress. We chose to get married in our church here in Tampa, Watermark, entirely because of sentimental reasons. Watermark has been a big part of my life for about 7 years and getting married in that space (that space where so many other big things in my life had happened- good big and bad big) was really satisfying to my soul. We had both the ceremony and the reception there to save money, and to make it easier on us. We didn’t hire any kind of coordinator or staff to help with the transition, so we just set up the tables for the reception ahead of time and our guests just transitioned from the ceremony side of the church to the already decorated reception side of the church. The church (plus officiant) was $1,000.
We were originally going to do the food ourselves (seriously trying to save money) but my dad graciously offered to pay for catering from this local, delicious Mexican restaurant called Taco Bus. I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE THINKING… “Taco Bus” doesn’t sound very sophisticated. But the thing is, we’re not that sophisticated and we really love tacos. And so did our guests, it turns out, because folks were going up for thirds. It worked out to being $10 a person which is infinitely cheaper than most catering, but frankly it was also a lot more delicious than many catering options. And, it was a very “Tampa” decision. Half our guests weren’t from Tampa so they got to try a local delicacy… in the form of tacos. Friends made home made salsa & guac to go along with the tacos and we bought big bags of chips when they were BOGO. Drinks weren’t a big budget item – we didn’t do alcohol for personal reasons and we just stocked up drinks as they were on sale at Publix before the wedding. Since we didn’t pay servers, I had three detail oriented friends (and even one of their mothers!) come to the church before the ceremony when the food arrived and they put together the food tables and made those last minute set ups look lovely. We purchased some affordable drink dispensers and no one went thirsty. In total, we spent about $950 on food and drinks
I expected to spend $200 on a wedding dress. I spent more than that. By a lot. The wedding dress was easily the thing that was the most important to me – which was surprising because if you see how I dress normally, fashion is OBVI not my life blood. But for whatever reason, this dress was really important. Because of how important it was, Timothy and I agreed that we didn’t have to be set at $200. If I saw something I loved that cost more we could nix something else on our list. So, renting chairs and having flowers on every table, got nixed because the dress that I fell in love with was four times that measly $200. Everything about buying a dress surprised me: I found it the very first time I was out looking (I went out with two trusted friends who ended up being honest enough to say “yeah that dress makes you look Amish” and “you look extra pale in ivory”, bless them). I didn’t even like this dress when the girl at the store showed it to me, I only tried it on to be polite because blush and embroidered flowers? Too much. And then I put it on… and I kind of liked it. So I went out and showed my gal pals.. and they kind of liked it. And then I walked around in it … and we all kind of loved it. And the loving grew exponentially over the next half hour as I tried on other dresses that made me feel like I was wrapped in toilet paper. So I bought it. And we used chairs that were already at the church and didn’t put flowers on the reception tables. Additionally, since the dress was so pricey, I wore shoes I already owned. My dress was very billowy as it was so no one noticed I was wearing nude flats from Target I had owned for a year.
WHAT WE DIDN’T DO: There were several traditional wedding customs / expectations we decided weren’t worth our money and thus didn’t do.
We didn’t have favors because of one main reason: we have never cared about favors at any wedding we have ever attended. I have enough koozies already, I don’t like plastic ray ban sunglasses, and I really don’t need a mug with two names on it from a wedding I went to one time. Favors, I’m sorry, are unnecessary. And can seriously add up in cost. Because Timothy’s last name is Dills, we did think for about two minutes that it would be cute to have homemade pickles in small jars for people to take, but then we thought about the price, how half the guests wouldn’t take them – leaving us with more pickles than we would know what to do with.. OH, and also that we had never made pickles before and didn’t want our tiny apartment turned into a pickle factory.
We didn’t have a bridal party. This I think was the strangest to people (though I suspect no one missed watching people they didn’t know walk down the aisle) but there were a lot of reasons for this decision. Firstly, I wouldn’t have known how to pick just a few friends. I’m sentimental as heck and I would have wanted to include every friend who ever had even the slightest impact on my life.. and that’s a lot of friends. Basically my guest list. More over, I have had my feelings hurt on a few occasions when I wasn’t asked to be someone’s bridesmaid and I really didn’t want to accidentally do that too. There was also a money saving angle: bouquets, bridesmaid gifts (because apparently you have to give bridesmaid gifts), longer photography time… small things add up. Plus my friends would have also had to spend money on dresses and maybe even shoes. And to be honest, I don’t feel like I missed out on anything by not having bridesmaids. My closest friend still threw me a bridal shower and a bachelorette party, so many incredible friends helped with setting up and steaming table cloths and making home made salsa. They all understood the decision to not have bridesmaids, and they all knew that if I had had a bridal party.. they would have been it. Turns out they didn’t need to be in my wedding to know I loved them.
HOW WE SAVED $$$: There’s infinite ways to save money on your wedding but a few things that we did are as follows.
When we made our guest list we were really strict – more so than we wanted to be. We wanted to invite every single person we like, but the more people you have the more money you’re spending. So, we listed our families first then only the friends who we had actively spent time with the last year (or friends who I have known since first grade and had to be there). This was a bummer to do, but it was a good rule for us. Total we had about 75 guests attend.
I hunted the internet for fake peonies and found a bouquet I really liked for $13. I then got a bouquet of greenery from Trader Joes, put it together and had a bouquet I really loved for a grand total of $17. I had greenery on the reception tables as well, some from the same $4 Trader Joes bouquets, but also from a big pretty bush at my parents house. I had a floral garland on our altar (pictured below) that I made entirely from stems from my parents home, so it cost $0. Total, I spent $25 on flowers. Yet, according to a survey from The Knot, the average amount brides spend on a florist—including personal flowers, centerpieces and other decorations—was $2,141. So yeah, I like my number better.
Timothy isn’t a suit guy and I saw no reason to make him be one on his wedding day. We bought him a nice pair of Express pants and a button down he liked a lot when the store was having a 40% off everything type sale and he wore a pair of Clarks shoes he already had and loved. Easy, affordable, and he was really comfortable.
Our photographer, Sindy, was a friend of ours who we adored and she gave us a rate that she shouldn’t have because she’s incredibly talented. We only had her come for 4 hours because it was a few hundred dollars cheaper. That meant we had to be really particular with our time, so Timothy and I did our first looks before the ceremony and had pictures taken beforehand. This ended up being really sweet and intimate and I’m glad we did it. When we saw each other for the first time it was just us… and Sindy. We were able to cry and freak out “I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING” together, and we hugged a lot. The pictures from this moment are some of my favorite from the day.
We didn’t use a DJ and just made a playlist on our iPod. It was really fun picking out the songs with Timothy and deciding what order they should be. When we needed things to be announced (like time to eat, time for our first dance) we just asked a friend with a good speaking voice to grab the mic for a second and do it. If you give the people music – even on just an iPod – they will dance.
Our wedding invitations were actually free, besides printing. I found them as a free template online (from http://www.weddingchicks.com – but there are SO many sites with really nice free templates) and our friend who is wildly helpful and a designer tweaked them for us so they were perfect. She even coordinated them to be printed for us at a local print shop and I believe we only spent $40 to print them. Because we were only engaged for 5 months, we didn’t do Save The Dates which also saved us money. We sent out invitations out about three months in advanced (earlier than miss manners would say to send out invitations) but we did that to take the place of save the dates.
I really wanted to attempt our wedding cake myself.. but even I know my limits, so we decided to ask a friend who bakes to make it. We still paid for it, but it feels nicer paying a friend than someone at a bakery you don’t know. We didn’t pay for an extra top layer to bring home to save for our anniversary (freezer burn cake? Gee no thanks) and I had my sister who had worked in a bakery cut it when it came time to serve. Both choices saved us some green. Plus, my sister had strict instructions to bring me the first piece because I wasn’t going to be one of those brides who was so swept up in the day she didn’t get a piece of cake at her wedding. I wanted the cake. We spent $150 on a strawberry cake with buttercream frosting (drooling at the thought) that fed 80. And for those of you who remembered that we only had 75 people come.. yeah, we took home the leftovers from our wedding cake and ate it all week.
I paid $12 for hair and make up thanks to two kind friends. The hair style I wanted was really simple so one of my sweet friends came over that morning and helped me with it. The $12 was for a gold hair piece that I found online that I used in place of a veil (seen below). I was going to do my make up myself – even though I knew it wasn’t going to be amazing – because getting it done professionally seemed to be at least $100 (and remember my dress was over budget so other things got cut). A few weeks before my wedding, a caring friend and the wife of my pastor, told me that she wanted to do my makeup for me as a wedding present. I’m pretty sure I cried. This was particularly exciting because she is literally a make up artist by trade and someone I absolutely couldn’t have afforded. My mother and I went over to her house the morning of my wedding and she did my make up in the same room where I attended house church for years. “Sentimental” really was the theme of our wedding.
It took a lot of work (which wouldn’t have gotten done without our amazing support system called friends and family) and the closer to the wedding we got, the more my apartment looked like a storage unit with boxes full of sodas and decorations. But.. our day was our style, fun, free of financial burdens, and really full of love. Voila!
I felt a little bit like I had gotten beat up this morning when I woke up. I was worn out and disappointed and really exhausted. I didn’t sleep much on election night, which wasn’t something I expected. I hadn’t planned on staying up to watch any of the coverage – I knew what was going to happen so there was no need. But when the numbers kept changing and adding up differently than I or the newscasters I was watching expected, I couldn’t move off my couch. Timothy and I went to bed quite late, digesting what had happened. We were silent on our separate pillows till I said,
“This is really disappointing.”
A sentiment that my mother echoed when I called her this morning on my way to work. Her voice lacked its usual enthusiasm and her first words weren’t words at all, but a heavy sigh.
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
Because it is surprising to me how hate, division, and fear have ruled and won this election. I didn’t think it would end this way. I truly thought that it would be risen above and the betterment of our entire country would be the priority, not the betterment of a political party.
And moreover, to be so very honest, I couldn’t believe that a woman didn’t win this election. I wanted her to. I wanted that victory because it wouldn’t have only belonged to her. It would have belonged to the women who died fighting for the vote and the women who somehow – magically and beautifully – still believe they can do anything despite men like Donald Trump talking to them like garbage. I watched reports of 98 year old ladies who were born before suffrage crying as they held their ballots because they waited 96 years to vote for a woman. I cried with them. I read articles about Susan B. Anthony’s tombstone getting covered in “I Voted” stickers. I cried with them, too. And I cried this morning at my desk at work, which was wildly unexpected and rather embarrassing, because I wanted to see her: Hillary, a woman strong like the women in my family, there. For my great grandmother who lived to be 102 years old and never saw a woman get so far I wanted Hillary there, and for my niece who I hope never ever ever questions her potential as a woman, I wanted to see Hillary there.
I don’t think I realized how badly I had wanted her there till this morning.
This doesn’t discount the strides women have made and I feel so sure that it won’t take another 96 years to see a woman’s name on the ballot again (major hell to pay if it does, by the way). And this doesn’t weaken the incredible potential we have in our bones and our blood, and this certainly doesn’t make me any less thrilled to death to be part of the royal sisterhood. But friends, I was so very sad this morning.
Just ask my coworker who had the unlucky privilege of being at my desk when I started to cry.
This election has been disgusting. So angry and so, so mean. I haven’t been on Facebook all month because seeing post after post after post of anger made me tense all the time. Even articles that I agreed with wore me out. You’re right: I don’t think a person who disrespects women (and minorities and the disabled and the poor) so candidly should be our president, but I’m tired of thinking about the way this man disrespects everyone. I have never thought about politics 24 hours a day but it’s been impossible to escape. The worst of it was that I started viewing those who supported Donald Trump with anger. Every car that pulled in front of me with a Trump sticker elicited swearing and hate. Articles that I disagreed with weren’t just ignored, I stewed on their stupidity all day and wondered how the author or people who shared it could possibly be so foolish. And I don’t know why I’m speaking entirely in past tense: both of these happened this morning.
But I don’t want to think that way about other people. I don’t want to participate in division because that only drives the problem deeper. I don’t want to think of you as my enemy just because our focus isn’t in the same place. I want to celebrate the fact that we live in a country where we can all vote, even if that vote doesn’t go the way I feel is right. Man. Freedom, eh? Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
God and I have been in a weird place the last couple months. Honestly, it’s been a lot more than a couple at this point but “a couple” sounds better than “eight”. I think part of this has been my descent into election anger, though there are many factors for another blog post. But today I had peace.
I had peace because God cares about women no matter what office they hold. Moreover, God cares about the Muslims and refugees and blacks and Mexicans no matter who is in office, period. And as God’s people, we don’t need permission to love and to help. I had peace because God is a lot bigger than our president, our country, and us. And I had peace that God doesn’t care about your political party, or mine. I had peace because even if our president elect doesn’t want to open his arms to the poor, we still can. We can still fight for good.
We don’t need permission from anyone to love others. We don’t need permission to be kind or to be helpful or to be happy. I don’t need to wait for our country to close the divide to start loving people I don’t agree with. Its our duty as human beings to do that with passion that doesn’t cease. When we do, we transform our communities and country more than any politician ever could. Our love is more powerful than policies.
I don’t need a woman in office to continue fighting for equality, as much as I look forward to that day. And Donald Trump can sit in the oval office all day long as I tell my niece that her worth isn’t in her looks or body, beautiful as she is, but it’s her simple existence. It’s her brain and her actions and her furious passion. And one day I’ll tell my daughter how amazing it was to mark a woman’s name for the first time on a ballot. The first of many times.
I didn’t personally support the election of Donald Trump. I do, however, support the following wildly important things that I will turn my mind to when it wanders towards those things I can do nothing about:
I support dancing to Queen and Jimmy Eat World in the car and singing Adele really, REALLY loudly. I support drinking sangria with friends who are fiercely complex and exploding in laughter. I support writing letters for no reason except to write someone a letter. I support comfortable slippers and baggy t shirts. I support Project Runway. I support eating your feelings sometimes. I support ignoring political opinions and loving people anyway. I support being kind, because in a world where you can be anything.. be kind. Life is still such a gift even when it doesn’t go the way you really really want it to.
“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.
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.
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.
In 4th grade I had a teacherr 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.
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.
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.
We recently purchased a new computer that has the most updated version of GarageBand on it. For my husband, a very talented musician who has been without recording equipment for a very long time, this is very exciting.
“This is so perfect for demos!”
“These drum tracks are so intuitive – such a good stand in till my buddy can write the drums!”
We have had this computer for 6 days and I believe he has logged 10+ hours already working on ideas. In fact, right now as I use the computer he is sitting on the couch with headphones in listening to his drafts over and over again on his phone, finding ways to make them even better. Timothy loves music and it shows, because he’s very good at it. And even though he is talented enough for it to be, music isn’t his paycheck.
And this is something that he and I have been talking about a lot lately.
A few weeks ago I was home visiting my family, a little south of Tampa, down where breweries and coffee shops aren’t on every corner. I rubbed shoulders with my parents, my aunt, some cousins, some-not-actually-related-to -me-but-basically-cousins and at one point it occurred to me that none of us were really talking about our jobs. Looking around the room I saw Publix employees, a custodian, a lawn man, and people like me who worked at a company they liked but grew up dreaming of working somewhere that seemed more grand. All jobs that take as much hard work as anything else (maybe even more so – a lawn man in the Florida summer? yikes), but jobs that are kind of ordinary. Jobs none of us necessarily dreamed about. This felt vastly different from my life in Tampa where it seems jobs are your identity. And the cooler the better.
My family didn’t all talk about their jobs because their jobs aren’t the things they are most passionate about. And what a nice idea: our vocations aren’t our passion – other things are. For myself and the people in that room, our jobs are just a job. And to be honest, it felt really nice to not feel like a dummy for not having an edgy profession. Maybe it’s just me, but all the pro bloggers and coffee roasters and people who own their own businesses and those who make Instagram posts about hustling hard and “if you love your work you never work a day in your life”, just make me feel less-than because my job isn’t instagram worthy.
I’m not insulting those jobs, of course, but I’m insulting the idea that we are our jobs. That we’re only as cool as our jobs. That we must talk and dream and write about our jobs always because our jobs must be our biggest passion. Our jobs need to be unique. Our jobs need to be able to be done in coffee shops that we can take photos in of us doing our jobs. In our culture, selling things on Etsy, is infinitely more applaudable than working at Target. Should it be? They both take a lot of hard work, they both allow parents to provide for their families. Why is one better?
I work for a non profit that I believe in and where my participation brings me happiness, but it is not my dream job. It’s also not a glamorous job – my office building looks like the set of a 90’s sitcom with terrible art on the walls and most of the day I leave voicemails for people who have ignored my calls (My dear volunteers: I can tell when you have denied my call because no phone on earth rings twice and then goes to voicemail without being prompted to). But you know what? I don’t have a dream job. There isn’t one thing that, right now in my life, I envision myself doing and being so wildly joyful over. Other people feel this way (and they should follow those specific dreams if they have them), but I don’t, and so I am no longer letting myself think that makes me lazy, boring or stupid.
I have many passions. I spend my free time doing things that make me feel very content, very satisfied, and very happy… then I go to work because they’re separate, and that’s okay.
Timothy is still sitting on the couch listening to his demos and when he sets his headphones down and goes to work on Monday to do something not at all related to playing guitar, that’ll be okay too.
We should work hard at whatever it is we do. Every job has worth, but no job determines worth.
And also, your talented isn’t diminished if one person or four thousand celebrate it. The top (by a landslide) commenter on my blog is my mother and that’s a-okay with me.
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.
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.
“Well I don’t think there is a better time to struggle through something than tonight,” she said to me. “Life is hard, God is good. That’s all I know.”
It was Maundy Thursday and I was very broken. So much so that I didn’t have the ability or strength or wherewithal to notice the beautiful irony of feeling so heavy on the day that Christ felt the ultimate heaviness. I yelled at God in the middle of my living room much like Christ yelled in the garden two thousand years before me, also on a particular Thursday.
I always pictured Christ kneeling very elegantly, in the way we often see in paintings when I read that scripture. Even though it says he “fell on his face”, I still paint a much more “holy” picture in my mind. An image of Christ saying a holy prayer in a holy and tragic garden. Fearful, but in control. Worried, but still peaceful.
But maybe He wasn’t. He probably wasn’t. Falling on one’s face doesn’t indicate peace. Maybe Christ looked more like how I looked last Thursday. Stomping and pacing with clenched fist and clenched teeth and stinging tears and worrying a little bit about people overhearing but not enough to stop from yelling. Maybe he had a headache from crying like I did. Maybe he also counted on God to understand cries when He couldn’t think of words. He threw himself on the ground and I yelled in my living room.
She invited all of us from House Church to come to a Maundy Thursday service that night. She actually had invited us to come to services all throughout the Lent season but I never once gave the invitations a second thought, truth be told. I can always come up with excuses to not have to challenge myself.
When I sat back down at my desk, utterly defeated from yelling at God and hearing nothing in return, I saw her email and felt just broken enough to get out of my own way and attend a church I’ve never been to before. Really, I was hoping I would find Him there because He didn’t seem to be anywhere near me. I texted her that I was coming with a really bitter comment about feeling abandoned and broken and heavy. “Well I don’t think there is a better time to struggle through something than tonight,” she said to me. “Life is hard, God is good. That’s all I know.”
On top of feeling so wildly crummy from that afternoon, I was late and I hate being late. The door creaked really loudly when I opened it and some people looked at me and I hate when strangers look at me. I was wearing my purple work polo and I hate looking like a golfer. I wasn’t at my best. I sat in the very last pew even though she had saved a seat for me. I didn’t want to have to walk by anybody. The speaker was finishing up when I sank into my seat and ended with the words, “the table is ready”.
I cried as I watched people I didn’t know take communion. God had stripped away parts of me that day. I realized I had believed lies about myself for years and years and years and it hurt, deeply, to lose them even though they needed to be removed. I hadn’t earned the grace that was poured out on that table.
She took communion with her family and while walking back to her seat she saw me and walked back to me with her hand out and asked if I was ready for communion. She walked with me, put her hand on my back as I took it and sweetly laughed when I didn’t know what to do with the little plastic cup that we don’t use at our home church. She came back to my seat with me but quickly got up when she noticed another person (I honestly don’t know if she even knew him or not) sitting alone. I watched her walk with him to the table too. She gently touched his shoulder when he wiped tears from his eyes. That’s who she is: she’ll walk up to the communion table three times if it means that no one has to do it alone.
I’ve known this sweet woman for about 7 years, which is wild to think about. I met her very quickly after I started going to Watermark and she spoke truth and wisdom and beauty into my life in a way that no one except maybe my mother ever had. I loved her immediately. I loved the way she used her hands when she talked and the bold lipstick she wore and the way she talked about God.
When I look back honestly, I think I put her on a pedestal. To me she was perfect, and that’s always a dangerous way to feel about someone. Because she wasn’t, none of us are. Things broke a couple years into our friendship and because of how infallible I thought her, I handled it poorly. I was scared and honestly angry because it felt like my foundation cracked a little. Our foundation isn’t supposed to be built on other people, we know that we know that we know that, but sometimes we build it anyway. We expect mere humans to be Christ. That is simply always asking for trouble.
About a year after the break I moved to Memphis. I didn’t reach out to her when I was in town and her address was never one I wrote on letters back home (my heart weeps at the thought in hindsight). After I moved back I was too consumed with my own transitions and goings on to notice that weeks and months and then a year passed before I saw her on a Sunday morning. She was sitting two rows ahead of me and my heart stopped for a second when I saw her–I didn’t know why. I wasn’t afraid of her or angry at her. She had just become a sort of stranger to me. And maybe on some level I knew that I had been a terrible sister to her.
But there we were, sitting in a church I had never been in before on Maundy Thursday. I wept and spilled my soul to her. I told her about the lies I had accepted as truth for years and how awful it felt to realize that. And I told her about the parts inside of me (like my fear of not being capable or smart or passionate) that probably are lies, I’m told they’re lies, but feel completely like the truth. I told her about not hearing from God and I told her about being really angry. I counted on her to understand my cries when I couldn’t think of words.
This friend that I realized I had missed terribly prayed with me, for the first time in years. She again spoke truth and wisdom and beauty into me. She told me I could lean on her faith and that we’re bounded together in Christ. We apologized to each other and said “I love you” about 17 times and really really meant it. We stepped over the broken bits and were alive again.
I believe in resurrection because I believe that God brings things back from the dead every day. I believe He raised His son after three days in the tomb and has been raising things back from the dead ever since.
The church I attend every Sunday is called Watermark. It is the home of many young souls wild about Christ and old pews and lots of coffee. Our pastor teaches us about the incredible symbolism and intentionally of God in scripture and we sing songs about love and grace and trials. After service, children run through the aisles as parents gather together. Our building once held ugly carpet and a 1960’s baptismal and many loyal Baptists who sold their building to us for far less than it was worth. We said we wanted to raise our children in that building and learn about God together and though our offer was about half of those who wanted to knock the church over and build apartments, they picked us to fill the rooms.
I’ve attended this church for about 5 years and it’s precious to my heart. It is not, however, the only church I attend.
My other church is sometimes at the kitchen table, sometimes outside on a picnic blanket, sometimes in other states. Most recently, that church was gathered in my living room in the form of book club. Six of us, holding “Cold Tangerines” in our laps, talking about the ways that Shauna Niequist seemingly stole pages from our diaries and wrote the words of our heart. We remarked how relatable her words on celebration were and how jealous we were of her travels and how we need to stop living like we’re waiting. Life is here! It’s now! It’s exploding out of every clap of laughter!
Candle light bounced off our wine glasses and we ate more baked brie than our diets would have permitted. We unapologetically followed every rabbit trail that came up in conversation and somehow turned Shauna’s words on joy into sharing stories of embarrassing haircuts and outfits in middle school (think wayyy too short bangs and neon green overalls). We laughed so hard that we cried. We sat that day’s busyness and bothers at the door and were present for one another.
We didn’t talk all that much about God but I think that when His people are gathered together in friendship and joy and lightness, it’s still church. It’s still life giving and gorgeous.
I have decided that I will never ever again ask someone, “so how’s married life?!”
It isn’t a good question. It’s surface level and always asked in passing. It’s a feeler’s and introvert’s nightmare. Because what I want to say… is that it’s really good and so hard sometimes because you have to apologize a lot and often for things you have never had to apologize for in the past because you’ve never been married before and you were always able to make your own decisions and do things the moment you thought of them (that’s me to a T – I have to do everything the moment I think of it. My new husband, it turns out, does not share this crippling desire) and you always were able to watch whatever you wanted in the evenings and you never had to share your popcorn. But it’s all still really okay because now you have someone to help you wash the dishes and you get to lay down next to each other at the end of the day when the phones are put away and the blankets are pulled up to your chin and you talk about the silly bits of the day that had passed and those moments easily make up for every blunder.
Instead, though, I just respond with “Great!”
But it’s so much more layered than “Great”! It’s so much greater than that word does justice and it’s so much trickier than you expect! It’s allowing a colorful Star Wars pillow case to be on your all cream colored bed because your husband loved it, and it’s being the person who bought it for him in the first place – knowing that it would clash in every way- because life is more than keeping your home white on white on white (no matter what instagram says). It’s watching movies you don’t really care to watch (two weeks ago we watched both Braveheart and You Drive Me Crazy) (how good is Drive Me Crazy?) but who cares because you’re hanging out with your very best friend.
One of the best parts, to me, has been praying together. Sometimes we both pray, sometimes one of us prays the entire time if the other is feeling heavy. Sometimes it’s entirely about others and sometimes it’s entirely about our relationship. Every time, though, it’s good.
Last night, after devouring a sleeve of Saltine Crackers for dinner, we pulled two of our wobbly dining room chairs together. One of us was about to make a phone call to a family member and we weren’t excited about it because truth needed to be spoken and love needed to be given and Christ needed to be reflected. And that’s really intimidating sometimes. We knew that it had to be God speaking – that He had words to share with his beloved and our mouths were just going to be the vehicle that he would use. We asked God to get ourselves out of the way. We asked him to prepare the heart and the ears that were going to receive our phone call and to be oh so present.
Sometimes when I pray, particularly out loud, I start to realize things only as I am saying them. It’s the same as when I write – I don’t have the words ahead of time, God tosses them to me as we go and they usually are ones that I needed myself. Last night as we were praying, I heard myself say “God, let us remember that loving other people is the most important thing that we do. We get distracted with our hobbies and friends and the people we wish were our friends and our list of tasks, but all of that pales in comparison to the importance of loving other people.”
And now, an overheard conversation between Katie and her incredibly patient Heavenly Father:
“Hey, Katie. God here. Loving others is the most important thing you do. I noticed you were spending a lot of time doing the opposite of that.. so I just thought I would remind you. ”
“So true. Could you come back in like a second? I have to post on @choosetampa and like all the tagged pictures, it’s a whole big thing..”
“That’s not even importan- no. Listen, your time could be wiser spent. Loving others is the most important thing you do.”
“That makes so much sense, God, but I’ve only watched the entire series of Gilmore Girls seven times and I know I can make it eight*. Hey, while I have you, go ahead and bless Amy Sherman- Palladino because this show is just..”
“What? Just- Katie, for once in your life be cool. I’m telling you to do one thing. One thing. Love others. Write letters and cook a meal and help people move even though it’s hot (I hear you complain – I KNOW it’s hot) and make difficult phone calls and use your money for wiser things and, seriously, pay attention to the things that people are carrying because as my daughter and my love, I expect you help carry that weight right off their shoulders.”
*I have watched the entire series of Gilmore Girls WAY more than eight times. Way more. Embarrassingly more. Team Jess till the day I die.
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Loving others it the most important thing that we do. It’s the best use of our time and money and hearts. Friends, I’m going to try to love you so much better. Timothy, I will spend my whole life learning how to love you like Christ.
At this time last week I was fiddling with my rose gold hair pin in the bathroom. Timothy was on his way to come and see me for the first time in my wedding dress – the dress that had hung in my closet for 5 months, waiting and waiting for the day I could finally dance in it. Our day was everything we wanted it to be and this first week of marriage has been positively blissful.
Leading up to the wedding there were a few comments that were repeated over and over and over again by different people. The biggest one was that the day would be over before we knew it. That it would blur past us and at the end of the day we would find that we had missed things. “Don’t worry too much about the details”, they’d say, ” you won’t think clearly enough to even see them on the day of!”
Ultimately, I suppose this was true. I didn’t notice the center pieces on the reception tables, though it took an hour to put them together. I didn’t even think to look at the cake all assembled, though you must know I gave specific instructions to my sister to bring me a piece the MOMENT it was cut. Some dance songs played without my even hearing them and even some guests came and went without my getting the chance to see them. Try as I have this last week, I can’t even bring to my memory all the lovely words our pastor said during our ceremony.
I missed some things. But I would not say that it was a blur. I would not say the details hadn’t mattered. Maybe the aesthetic details didn’t impact the day very much, but details mattered. My wedding day didn’t zip past my eyes as quickly as people had said it might. I may have missed it when “Don’t Stop Believing” played during the reception, but the things that mattered the most are engraved into my soul.
I will always remember the most precious friend who spent the days before the wedding working at the church with me. With her beautiful baby strapped to her chest, she ironed table cloths and made my bouquet. She kept ladders sturdy and helped me create the altar at which I would be wed.
I will always remember the gathering in the kitchen of women I love putting together fruit kabobs the day before the wedding. I sat on the sill of a big bay window holding that sweet baby in my arms and watched my sisters and mother and aunt and friend laughing over bowls and bowls of fruit. Their joy, their willingness to serve, to help, was positively radiant. I’m thankful for their laughter that echoed through that kitchen and rested on my anxious heart.
I will always remember how I felt gathering up my wedding dress and beginning the walk towards a turned away Timothy. We saw each other before the ceremony because we wanted that moment to be just ours ; we had waited and counted and paced for that day and that moment was deserved by only us. I could tell even from looking at him from behind that he was nervous. I had heard him in the other room struggling to get his tie just right and the nervousness from his fingers seemed to have taken over his whole being. When our photographer told him to turn around, he did so slowly. When he saw me, his smile took over his entire face and the nerves he had been wrestling with turned into the most lovely laugh. I picked my dress up a little higher and shuffled as quickly as I could into his arms. The arms in which I have always felt safe and loved. That day more than ever, those arms were my home.
I will never forget the moment right before the doors opened for me to walk down the aisle. It was the most real thing I have ever felt. It was similar to the feeling you get when you’re at the top of a roller coaster, or when someone holds your hand for the first time. It reminded me of when I said goodbye to my parents the first time I moved away, or when I loaded up all my things and drove away from people I loved and moved to Memphis. Those moments when you’re about to do something that scares you, but you’ve been led there by God so you know that it’s good and right and true. I walked down the aisle with both of my parents because the three of us have always done everything together. They’re my people. My best friends and my foundation. Standing there in the hall, with my mother on my left and my father on my right, all the nerves that I had some how avoided leading up to that moment ransacked my heart. “Saturn” by Sleeping at Last started playing, my mother put her hand on my back, and the doors were opened. I was scared, so I did what I had alway done when I was scared: I squeezed my father’s arm. He cupped my hand with his giant, familiar hands, and led me through the doors.
I will never forget the sight that awaited me once I began walking down the long aisle to Timothy. Looking back at me with such love where the faces of almost everyone I love. The face of a friend who traveled down from Atlanta to be part of this day. The face of a friend that I have known since first grade. The friend who prayed with me when I needed it the most, the friend who traveled to memphis to visit me when I lived there and was so lonely. I saw friends who were carrying burdens and brokenness. Friends who sat aside their own hurt in order to be joyous with me – what exceptional community. I saw my family. Family who had to travel a long way to come but came anyway. I saw my nephews who were more like my bothers when we were growing up. I have looked into their faces a million times before this day but seeing them in that moment was the most important of all. I saw the precious woman who gave birth to me – our matching blue eyes filling up with tears.
I will always remember serving communion to all of our guests. Timothy held the wine, I held the bread and we asked all those who loved Christ to join in with us. God was so present in that moment. I saw Him in every person who came to us and partook in the body and blood of Christ. I saw Him in every shoulder squeeze and hug that were snuck in. The last thing Christ did with his people before he was crucified was take communion. The first thing Timothy and I did in our marriage was the same.
I will always remember the fullness of hearing Timothy say his vows to me. Words I had wondered if I would ever hear, words I don’t deserve to hear. I looked into the eyes of the man that I love. The man who God used to change my life. The man who has taught me grace and love and how the gospel plays out in our lives. The man that I prayed for before I knew him.
These are the things that really count in a wedding day. These are the things that matter… period. Community and love and grace and Christ. These details mattered. It mattered that the people who were part of my day weren’t strangers, but those who had made big impacts in my life. Anyone could have done my hair, but it mattered that it was one of the most lovely girls I have ever known. A friend who had loved me out of some heart break and who shared my joy on this day so authentically. It was important that the friend who did my make up had allowed me to intrude a day at the park years ago because my heart was so sad. She had been at the park with her children when I texted her. She brushed my hair out of face and poured wisdom into my heart as her kids played in the background.
Centerpieces and bouquets and favors don’t mean anything. Those are the things that blurred past. What lingers are the things that I wouldn’t dare forget.
Some time ago I sat down in Oxford Exchange and began writing a book. A book about the things that I have learned from the beautiful men and women I have rubbed shoulders with and embraced over the years. This task will take ages but I am not letting myself be flustered by that. The truth is, I do work full time at a non profit that takes an emotional toll sometimes, and I am planning a wedding and trying to cling to God as my life is about to change. The writing is slow. It’s slow, but it’s good. To my soul, I mean. I was revisiting some of the first essays I wrote out – still very rough, just like me – and I decided to share one. This last week brought along a rockslide. Fear and the slamming of doors. Now more than ever, I need to remember the importance of celebration.
This particular lesson was taught to me by a beautiful blonde, who, states away, is still celebrating with me.
I guess the real first thing she ever taught me was to cook dinner for people you love. Get yourself a round table* and sit at it with new faces and old faces and beloved faces. The first time she invited me over for dinner at her round table she made a light and fresh and healthy homemade meal. It was delicious and made more so by being followed with giant bowls of ice cream. We sat crisscross, knee to knee, with our mountain sized bowls of delicious frozen calories in our laps. We chatted and laughed on a day bed she had in her living room, which was being used as a couch until a cheap one could be acquired. Some time later I would sleep on that very bed while temporarily living with her after returning to Tampa from a year in Memphis, TN with no home. But I’m jumping ahead.
That evening was the first of many times I was impressed with her. Her eyes sparkled when she spoke about the friends she had moved away from and the city that was engraved in her heart. She told me about the life celebrations her community would have back home. They celebrated everything together. “Why should only people who are getting married and having babies get presents and parties in their honor?!” they questioned, and so new jobs and new homes and new attitudes and all exciting moments received acknowledgement. How beautiful.
I think that’s the way it should be: everything should be celebrated. Everyone should receive photo books and love letters. Everyone should have his or her name on a banner every now and then – especially if it’s homemade bunting. While the old saying ‘too much of a good thing is a bad thing’ can be true in certain circumstances (I’m looking at you, Target), I do not believe it applies to celebrations. Or dessert. Yes, I am quite certain that the authenticity of lifting one another up will never grow out-of-date.
And the why of it is very simple: there are plenty of things in every one of our lives that are heavy. There is no shortage of worry and stress and heartache and fear in my life or in yours. If the weights on our shoulders were literal and not metaphorical, chiropractors would be the busiest people in the world. We’ve all got really heavy things. We’ve all cried ourselves to sleep, snapped at our loved ones because of stress, wandered away from God through the misconception that we have to handle things ourselves. With heaviness often comes loneliness and the feeling that we’re the only ones who have experienced such garbage.
I’ve felt this way a million times: right now as work has thrown for a scary loop, when I was feeling the weight of the seventy thousand emotions that came with moving to a new state alone, I believed that no one on earth could have possibly felt the turmoil that I was feeling. I was wrong, of course. As we always tend to be when we think we’re the only ones.
This is a really basic example, but some months ago I met up with an acquaintance from high school for drinks. She was the one who asked me about meeting up because I wouldn’t have asked her if my life depended on it. Suffice it to say, we weren’t in the same social group back in high school. And by that I mean she was IN a social group and I spent my Friday nights eating Chinese food with my parents and watching “My Best Friends Wedding” every single week (no regrets – Rupert Everett is a peach, plus I can probably lip sync “I Say a Little Prayer for You” better than most as a result of so many rewatchings of that film).
She was beautiful when everyone else was an awkward teenager, and she was confident in a way I could have only ever dreamed of being. She was always very kind, but her friends tended to be… well, not so nice. They weren’t outrageously impressed with the tall gangly girl who wore a lot of band t-shirts and skinny jeans and stammered every time she talked. And they were not subtle about it (y’all, be nice to every single person you have the chance to be nice to. Even if it kills you… which it won’t, because being nice isn’t that difficult. Don’t be the mean person that quiet people like me grow up to write about).
Essentially, she was out of my friend league. Imagine my surprise when six years later we both found ourselves living in Tampa and she asks me for drinks. I tried on three different outfits and ventured downtown to see her. My, was it a lovely evening. We talked about traveling and flirtatious elderly Italian men, had cocktails I couldn’t really afford, and laughed about high school. In talking with her I learned something very important, something everyone in high school needs to understand: the people who seem to have it all together and also crushed when someone doesn’t like them back, also feel weird in their skin, and are figuring it all out as they go, just like you.
I’m finding the same concept to be true in adulthood as well. Every time I shake my fist at the air and yell “I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING AND EVERYONE ELSE IS GOING TO MEDICAL SCHOOL AND MOVING TO LONDON AND RUNNING THEIR OWN BUSINESSES AND I’M MAD ABOUT IT”, I very quickly come across a friend who shares the same sentiment. Turns out most adults don’t know what they’re doing. Who knew? I am stumbling through life as I go, reaching for God spastically like a cat that just fell in water, half listening to His instruction but also kind of panicking. And so is everyone else, at least for a season. That, my dear reader, is the most concise definition of adulthood I can muster.
Therefore, because everyone feels weird and life is hard and sometimes we feel so terrifyingly alone, and because we’re all submerged cats panicking (is this the best metaphor I could use? Probably not), those moments of getting on dry land, temporary as it will certainly be, need to be acknowledged. More than that, they need to be celebrated. In celebrating together, we will be lifting one another up in beautiful community that will refresh our own souls as well as whoever’s name is on the banner.
So what I would like you and I to do next time someone finds himself on dry land is to not just send a text about it or leave an encouraging emoji filled comment on their instagram. Make them a banner, invite just a few lovely souls over, pour some wine, and celebrate. No matter how busy you are, no matter how underwater you yourself are feeling at the moment, praise Jesus when someone else has come out of the waves.
If life is going to be hard and heavy anyway (and it will be), we might as well walk through it hand in hand and really celebrate the heck out of anything and everything we’re able.
* A note about tables: I’m no craftsman or designer, but I am here to say that there is a reason King Arthur’s knights sat at a round table. When you get your own home or apartment, get a nice set of white dishes (they’ll match every cool and colorful and eclectic thing you bring home from a thrift store) and a sturdy round table. Here’s why: it is much more conducive to seeing the candlelight dance in everyone’s eyes when you’re in a circle, the support is in the middle so there isn’t any awkward banging of knees as you sit hip to hip (I’m 5’10 and nearly all leg so I feel I have the authority to say that wrestling with a leg on every table corner is unacceptable), and it’s easier to cram a whole gaggle of loved ones in a circle than a square. Seriously, get yourself a round table. Go to thrift stores, go to garage sales, go wherever you need to go that fits into your budget, but get one.
That’s an order. **
** A note about my note: my handsome fiancé read this while I was writing and he said, “Well, you know there really WAS a significant reason that the knights sat in a circle. And it had nothing to do with dancing candlelight”. So, okay, sure: if you’re going to be a history snob about it, the candlelight probably had nothing to do with King Arthur’s design intentions. But it should have.
I was sitting in a kitchen I had been in a thousand times before. A kitchen in which I’ve laughed so hard I cried, a kitchen in which I’ve yelled and endured yelling, a kitchen in which I shared meals and blueberry crumble with people I loved. The blue curtains were letting in perfect sunlight as I watched her freckled hands slice a green pepper as she spoke. The glide of the knife moving in rhythm with her words. Her movements were graceful and methodic, but the story she was telling was beautiful. It was a story of redemption and resurrection and grace, a combination that can give you goosebumps. She moved her long hair away from her face as she told me about the very real ways that God has led her out of a wilderness. She had been like a small sparrow unable to break through the canopy, seeing rays of light but not the fullness. Now she was basking in the light of her Father and she was radiant. People seem lighter when they’re so entangled in their Heavenly Father. There’s no mistaking it. She shone in a way that only those who know how deeply they are loved by Christ can shine.
She had read through some of her old journals earlier that day and she said that all she could do was cry. Old journals are the most raw of biographies; they sit stately on the shelf, with worn pages pressed together carrying secrets and heart break and memories that had to be remembered. Journals hold all the questions that couldn’t be answered and authenticity we are afraid to show people we love. Sometimes journal pages are love letters to God, sometimes they demand His response. For those who put pen to paper, a journal is a piece of their heart. Journals can be time machines filled with old wounds. Journals are proof that God does what He says He will do. My precious friend recalled the very deep things she had felt and cried the tears of a loved daughter when she realized how God had led her away from the deep and dark wilderness.
He said, “These are the things that I do, I will not forsake them.”
Isn’t God so big when you’re hearing things like that? He doesn’t even fit in the room with you – He’s positively overwhelming. No matter how often it’s easy to not notice His presence, I feel it is impossible to not see his calloused hands working alongside yours when someone is speaking of redemption. It’s an honor to hear these stories, to be trusted with truth and vulnerability. Oh God of second chances and new beginnings, I pray for a million more afternoons like this one. A million more stories of praise, a million more faces to look upon with love, a million more interactions with a God who doesn’t leave us in the wilderness.
Four years ago it felt like the city was ours. Running around with wide eyes and backpacks slung over our shoulders, doing our best to assimilate but still gawking over the cafes that the Fitzgeralds wrote in and the streets where our favorite films were filmed. Remember when we were sitting in a park and suddenly realized it was the same park from 24e Arrondissmenet, the short film from Paris, je T’aime? Or when we very-much-on-purpose found ourselves in the same Café that Amelie had been filmed in? I had my first Crème Brulee there and cracked the top the very same way. We were all young, students immersed in our studies of art and culture and humanity, devouring museums and baguettes. We walked on the edges of fountains, wrote our names on locks that would remain forever (sighed four years later when “forever” found an expiration date), drank wine by the Eiffel Tower, and pretended to be French students for discounted Louvre tickets.
Four years ago it felt like the city was ours. As if the streets had been paved for our footprints, the lamps installed to light our late night walks, the art curated to feed our souls. Didn’t it somehow feel that we were the only ones there? Amongst all the crowded metros, didn’t it still feel like ours? Paris has a way of doing that; of making every traveler feel like she belongs to them. What a saucy little minx, that Paris. Even knowing that four tourist filled summers have passed, I still feel as if those streets were mine. Those croissants were mine, the glorified Rembrandt paintings were mine, and the city was mine.
There’s something about being an art student in Paris. You already know that the Mona Lisa is much smaller than most people realize. You also know that the reason it was such an important piece of work at the time it was created was because of the painting technique DaVinci used – not because the subject was some mysterious woman. You don’t crowd around to see her. Incredible as she is, you know there’s much else to see. After all, there are Titian works to be found and a particular Oath of the Horatii to look in on. Paintings looked at in text books for years – paintings you wrote essays on and copied for practice – suddenly in front of your face. You can see the brush strokes. The brush strokes! Indeed, being an art student in Paris must feel similarly to how normal people feel when they see celebrities
Time really paused four years ago. Our normal lives didn’t exist much in Paris and perhaps that’s why she is so easy a city to fall in love with. Paris tosses your heaviness aside and grabs you by the hand, whirling you around and around in a dance as dizzy as the Moulin Rouge.
Our fearless leader and program director quoted A Moveable Feast to us before we left for Paris. He said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”. Friends, we feasted indeed.
My knees were shivering and my hands were trying to keep warm in my pockets as I wiped tears away from my eyes with my mustard yellow scarf. We were standing together in the empty parking lot of a college whose students had long gone home. “I don’t want to leave just yet, he might still come. Can we just pray for him and wait a few more minutes? I know that feels stupid. I don’t know what else to do.”
I had first encountered him several months ago at the restaurant I worked at. He came in with an elderly woman who obviously did not know him but wanted to help him out. She bought him a few tacos and before she left, with tears in her eyes, she told me to be kind to him. I meandered over to talk to him while he shyly ate his food. “Are you from Tampa?” I asked, not knowing what else to say and feeling so aware of how loud I sounded in the small and empty restaurant. He looked at me with sad, deep brown eyes. His eyes were so familiar to my heart. My precious nephew has looked at me a million times before with eyes so similar. He looked so young – certainly not as old as I was. He shook his head no. I asked a few more questions and he politely answered as he ate. He asked me if the place where I worked was hiring but because he had several tattoos on his face, I knew that there was no way he would ever be hired by the uppity and judgmental management I worked for. He thanked me for the food and left. And while watching him go, I cried. Because I didn’t know a single bit of his story yet my heart still felt the weight of it. Because Christ called me to love those in need and I didn’t know how to.
A few weeks ago we were out to celebrate. Timothy was offered a job we had been praying for for a long time and margaritas with friends seemed the most perfect way to cap off a day of exciting news. He and I both had a very hard season of hunting for jobs and feeling like “less thans”, and within the same week our God brought us to beautifully open doors. An honor we truly do not deserve. We were nearly to the restaurant.
We had just gotten off the highway and were stopped at a light that almost always included a homeless man at the corner with a sign. Usually it’s awkward and sad but forgettable as soon as the light turns green. But tonight, when I glanced over, I saw a pair of familiar eyes. “It’s him!” I yelled as we drove away. It was that sweet boy. That sweet, young, weighed down boy that I had met months earlier. We drove around the block, parked on a bumpy brick street, and walked over to him. He remembered me nearly instantly and I felt more humbled than I have ever felt in my life. We told him that we didn’t have anything with us, and we had to be somewhere in just a few minutes, but we wanted very much to buy him dinner. We made plans to meet him back in the same spot in two hours.
We hoped to bring him to a shelter and we knew we needed more room than Timothy’s tiny kia. A kind and creative and wonderful friend who had been at dinner with us agreed before the question was even out of my mouth to come with us.
He didn’t come. And he didn’t come. Over and over I asked God for wisdom. Do we dare leave and miss him? Maybe someone else helped him out and took him to a shelter? He had told us that he slept in the park so any kind of shelter, especially on a cold evening, would be such a blessing. I didn’t know what to do.
So we prayed. We bowed our heads and we asked God to reveal Himself so fully to this man He created and loves so deeply. This man who has infinite value, this man who is in no way lesser than us. We asked God to stir in us, to give us divine insight to know what to do.
I felt so small and entirely helpless.
I felt angry at the pastor whose phone number we had been given as someone who may be able to help. He told us that “they were all crooks” and to not waste our time. I felt disappointed in myself for not knowing of safe and loving homeless shelters in the city I live in.
I felt thankful for the men standing on either side of me. On the left, a dear friend who offered to help us with no questions asked. On the right, my sweet Timothy. Men who prayed alongside me and who cared that I was cold.
I kept my eyes opened as we prayed, every so often scanning the sidewalks, hoping that he had just been late. I looked down at our feet and recalled how I had imagined this night playing out: there would be laughter, salted rim margarita glasses, a blatant ignoring of the clock growing later. I was so suddenly overwhelmed with the sense that nothing I have is mine.
Nothing in my life was my doing. The new job that I am so excited to have? I didn’t deserve it any more than this boy deserves such a job. And you don’t either. Nothing we have is truly ours and nothing we have gives us more value than the people who are sleeping in the park.
I started @choosetampa because I believe in this city. I believe in the people and the creativity and the vibrancy. And I very much believe in the brokenness that is held within our city walls. We must be kind to one another. We must love and give and build.
Our circle dissipated and our cars were started with heavy hearts. We pulled out of the parking lot to head to the homes we all felt very unworthy of having when I saw him. Walking down the street with sad and heavy and familiar eyes.