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.

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Familiar Eyes

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.”

___________________

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In the interest of full disclosure, I stole this picture from Timothy’s instagram. But hey, whats his is mine.

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.

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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.

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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.

Where I Was Five Years Ago

I believe Time Hop is one of the most incredible iPhone apps of all time because it is a marriage between three of my very favorite things: sentimentalism, nostalgia, and memories of myself. If you aren’t familiar, each day time hop will show you pictures you saved on your phone and posts you made on facebook and Instagram years passed on that same day. So today is January 17th, 2015: on time hop I see what I posted on January 17th, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010. Every day is a new walk down memory lane. I have remembered beautiful things that I have slipped my mind, I have seen Instagram posts long forgotten that now sting a little with painful memories, and I have looked upon my words and photos and the people in the photos with some serious hindsight. I’ve become fully aware of how little I knew in the years passed.

five years ago

This morning was a glorious Saturday because no alarm was set. No errands or obligations awaited me this morning as I watched the shadows dance on my wall while the sun delicately covered my room. I picked up my phone from the nightstand, scrolled through instagram quickly, and clicked on Time Hop.

One year ago today I shared a precious painting the little I had been a nanny for created. Two years ago I kindly shared a buzz feed article ranking Mary Kate and Ashely movies – you’re welcome, all. I was reminded that four years ago I spent a Sunday afternoon with sweet friends making homemade burritos. In the photo are three friends: two of those faces are married today (and one is pregnant!) and the third friend is engaged to marry someone he had no idea he loved four years ago.

Five years ago flooded me with memories:

IMG_3103Five years ago today I was standing in a brand new dorm room. I had just transferred to USF and it felt like the first real thing I had ever done. The first step towards something. The first bloom of a magnolia tree. That day was so full of promise and mystery and excitement and loneliness. I didn’t know that my love for photography would wane – that this degree I was working on so diligently would one day just be a line on my resume and not the passion of my heart. You can never know such things ahead of time. Instead, I stood there in that dorm room dreaming of all that I would be. I put up my polaroids, bought myself some flowers, and went to a dorm meeting that proved to be a waste of time.

Five years ago today I was standing in a brand new dorm room, smitten with a boy from home with whom I had spent many late nights at IHOP. Nights filled with pancakes and life stories and butterflies fluttering around my heart. Our friendship was true and deep – void of any shallowness. His authenticity got me in a moment. I moved to USF before finding out if those pesky butterflies were mutual: if there was any hidden agenda behind our long and easy conversations. I worried the two hours between our new respective schools would feel more like the atlantic ocean than a manageable drive. About a month into my time at USF he and I were not messaging and laughing nearly as much as we had prior, but still he and a mutual friend of ours visited Tampa for a show at my favorite used book store. There was a lot of weight on this visit as we shuffled through the rows and rows of books. We pulled out books from the shelves, remarking how great of a read this book was and how too self-aware that one was, flipping through pages and allowing that that unequivocal smell of old paper to fill the air. All the while I knew we were ebbing away from one another. I changed clothes four times before meeting them and ultimately I regretted the outfit I chose. It included a waist belt with a bow that I was fiddling with the moment he mentioned this cool girl he was working on a paper with. A few weeks later he started dating her and I ate a lot of ben and jerry’s in my dorm room while I watched Modern Family. 

Five years ago today I was standing in a brand new dorm room of a school at which I had one friend. A friend who I felt understood my soul. A friend I thought would be mine for ever and ever. Nights without studying were spent in one another’s rooms watching Will and Grace and When Harry Met Sally and speaking in dramatics. We talked about love with an authority we did not possess – so sure we understood this vast, impossible idea. We would decide, “We should play tennis. We would probably be really good at tennis if we tried” only to play once and spend most of the match standing at the net talking about the crazy stories people wrote in her creative writing class. Then we would decide, “We should start running. We would probably be really good at it” and then we would run a few times, sign up for some 5k’s, and then eat pancakes at home instead of going to the race. We were very much in our own bubble, a characteristic of our friendship I now know was not beneficial. I relied too heavily on her for all of my community needs. Plus, when you’re in your own bubble you tend to be far too harsh on those not part of it. We spoke very bitterly of others and it was poison to our hearts – the exact opposite of how God calls us to handle other people. Our friendship began five years ago and only lasted for three despite how strong I believed it to be. There is a wedding coming up in a few months for some mutual friends of ours and she may be there. I imagine us seeing each other through a crowd of well dressed wedding goers, and if that truly happens it will be the first time seeing each other in over two years. I shared homes with this friend and all of my heart, and now we tend to only text each other when a new David Beckham commercial comes on during the Super Bowl. I believe there are 83 reasons why our friendship didn’t endure, but each one of them makes me heavy hearted.

Five years ago today, as I stood in that brand new dorm room, I had no idea of what would await me. I didn’t know the next five years would include finding a church that would help me fall more and more and more in love with Christ. The Kathryn in that picture didn’t know the fullness of her God. I didn’t know my value was from Him and not from my weight or degree or how artistic I could be. I didn’t know my heart would be crushed so many times in the years to come, by friends and by guys. I didn’t know the sins I would fall into, the sicknesses that would disrupt my family, or the way God would resurrect all of that. I didn’t know the books that would come to change my life, the art that I would create, the way writing would speak to my soul. I didn’t know I would move to Memphis for a year and I didn’t know that there I would fall in love with a man who is shorter than me (the Kathryn in that picture was far too insecure about being 5’10”) and my very very best friend.

Maybe on January 17th, 2020 I’ll click on time hop and remember the words that I’ve written today. I’ll smile and lovingly shake my head as I remember everything that I am feeling this Saturday morning. Everything that today feels big and important will feel as small as the crush I had back in 2010. I will have endured more pains and hardships and love and light and I will think how 2015 Kathryn had no idea what was coming for her.

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.

That Time Eugene Cho Read My Diary: A Review of “Overrated”

I was asked to review this book to join in a conversation about changing the world and social justice and to assist in promoting the book by sharing my thoughts and what have you. That’s the reason I was asked. However, that wasn’t actually the reason I was given this book. Fly By Productions thought it was, but it wasn’t. Turns out, it has nothing to do with them, with Eugene Cho (sorry, man) or anyone else who had a part in the book. It had only to do with me. God put this book in my hands because I needed to read it. God put this book in my hands because it’s about the same exact subject matter that I have been conflicted by for months. Out of all the blogs on the internet (literally a trillion million), mine was one of the few that received a comment asking if I’d take the time to read this book? Reeeeeeal subtle, God. I am of course still going to share my thoughts and participate in this conversation as I was asked to do, but you should know that wasn’t actually why God wanted me to read this book.

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Eugene Cho’s “Overrated: Are We More in Love With the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World?” is perhaps one of the most pleasant books that has ever made me feel like I had been slapped in the face. The slap was so subtle through his gentle language that I barely noticed it until my heart was massively heavy over the things that I had read. A ‘ninja slap’, if you will.

He writes boldly and bravely about one of the truths we don’t like to listen to. Seriously, tell me how much God loves me all day long and I won’t stop you once, but start talking about the poverty in other parts of the world (and our part) and how indifference to such things can not coexist with gospel and I’ll squirm nervously in my seat and pretend to have to go to the bathroom.

The issue of social justice is hard. It just is. It’s hard because it demands so so much of us. It demands action – putting your money where you mouth is, walking the walk instead of just talking the talk… on instagram and facebook and every other soap box we clamber on top of to shout about trendy movements. Social justice screws up our selfishness. And in our culture that is maddening. The only reason, I feel, that Eugene Cho is qualified to write such a book is because of his honest confrontation with selfishness. Praise the Lord for an author who includes so much of his heart and honesty in the pages. He shares moments when saying no to others would have been easier than saying yes. Stories of feeling heavy and angry and pulled.

I wrote earlier that this subject is one I have been wrestling a lot in the last few months, and I truly meant that. I have been trying to get myself out of my own way and allow God to teach me how to love, with little success. I have been searching my heart and horrified, often, at what I have found. To receive this book was not a coincidence, it was an act of my heavenly Father who isn’t giving up on me yet. Even though he has never met me, there were parts of this book that felt like Eugene was writing about me. Like he had gotten a hold of my diary and was addressing all the sins and struggles that needed addressing, ninja-slap style.

When I was in college I went on several different trips to several different poor countries and the way I viewed them then, vs. the way I view them now, is incredibly different. I was asked to go on several of these trips so that I could photograph the work that was being done by different organizations. I felt amazing. I was getting to play with beautiful children, I was taking photographs of said beautiful kids, and I was making a difference. But I wasn’t, really. I wasn’t at all. Those trips didn’t benefit the children and people that I was meeting. They benefited me and my ego, but nobody else. I shake my head when I think about the facebook posts I made about these trips and the talks that I was asked to give at church about the importance of loving others. I didn’t know anything about loving others – I knew only that these trips would make me look interesting on facebook. What I was practicing is what Eugene would call doing unjust justice. In chapter 9 he writes,

“I don’t want to question somebody’s motivation, or the heart behind why he or she wants to act. But having a good heart is not enough. It’s not enough when our actions affect the lives of others… especially people who are already vulnerable. At times we choose to help others in a way that makes us feel as good as possible. When I say “we”, I’m including you and me. Perhaps we help others so that we can have a good experience, get good photos, or tell good stories later. This is not enough.”

*gulp* I haven’t done enough. And you may not have either. But praise Jesus, our Father hasn’t given up on us. He hasn’t been too disgusted by our pride and selfishness and laziness to call us into His kingdom and to participate in furthering justice. We are called, and “Overrated” affirms that on every page. This book is both empowering and humbling. It is Eugene’s confession of favoring the idea of changing the world more so than actually changing it so that we can, in turn, confess the same thing. We were not called to hashtag, we were called to help and love and move. But we are called to help and love and move wisely and intentionally. If you feel stirred to help wisely and intentionally, I highly recommend this book. Even if you don’t feel that stirring yet, I highly recommend this book. Essentially, if you are a believer in Christ, I highly recommend this book. But a fair warning: you’re going to get ninja-slapped. 

“When we are faithful to what God wants us to do, beautiful things happen. No, I am not suggesting that everything we will do must appear successful by the world’s standards of success. Our work may not be huge. It may not grow to a massive size and scale. It may not garner the attention and affection of media. It doesn’t have to be about those things. It will likely not be easy… but it will be beautiful nevertheless because we will have been faithful to the Lord’s call.”

To make it even easier for you to read his book, I’m having a giveaway! I really loved what Eugene Cho had to share and I truly want others to be able to read his thoughts as well. All you need to do is comment on this post by Saturday October 11th to be entered in the giveaway! I will pick a comment at random on Sunday the 12th.

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 225: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choise of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

 

Pay Attention to Who is in Your Midst.

The thing I loved most about the house in which I use to live was obviously that beautiful, big, bodacious doberman.

(I couldn't help myself)
(I couldn’t help myself)

But the women that I lived with were definitely a close second. And the corner of the countertop that was always filled with baked goods and snickity snacks to share was a strong third.

The women that occupied that space alongside me taught me so many lessons. Lessons about loving God, loving neighbors, loving each other. They are exceptional individuals and frankly, I can’t wait to live near them again soon. The year that I spent with them was a very… tricky year in my life. And looking back I’m so thankful that God put them next to me during those trials so that I would have friends to cry with and laugh with and eat ice cream with. We entered into that house together because we all happened to need a place to live, but we entered into each others lives because God creates beautiful things.

Because what’s even more lovely is the fact that I really wasn’t active friends with these ladies before living together. I had met some of them almost immediately after moving to Tampa back in college, but I was too distracted by other friendships and school and trying to figure out how to be funny to pay them much attention. I was very selfish with my time and did not invest in others well. I was too preoccupied with myself to get to know girls who would one day become some of my closest friends. One girl in fact I actively disliked, and man – did she dislike me too. This disdain for one another was based off of nothing. Misunderstanding the other. Jumping to conclusions. Thinking, “Well she doesn’t like me, so fine. I don’t like her either”. And I’m here to say, that kind of thinking is nonsense and there isn’t room in the Kingdom for it. I adore her now. Seeing God redeem our relationship was so so beautiful.

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And that’s the thing – I wouldn’t have picked any of those women to live with on my own. I would have never felt up to the task of living with a girl I knew didn’t like me and I didn’t like either. But God is so much bigger than we are. He knew how much my life would be touched by that group of women. He made me go with my tail in-between my legs and learn that I was, in fact, very wrong in my judgements.  Praise God.

Now, as I’m getting ready to move back to Tampa, I am going to be living with a new group of ladies. Ladies who I, again, don’t know very well. Ladies who, once again, have been in my church and life and friend group for quite some time but I have never taken the time to know well. I feel really blessed to be given another chance to rub shoulders with daughters of God who I have, by my own admission, never made it a point to know. I’m anxious for the lessons they have for me – to see God in them. I’m thankful that I worship an intentional God  who doesn’t just provide a house and roommates to help with rent, but stitches lives and souls and paths together to unite the Kingdom.

He is doing this always. I’ve learned and am learning that the people in our midsts – our roommates, our classmates, our peers at work, our next door neighbors – are placed in our lives by our Father who desires to see relationships and love and care. We need to pay attention to the people next to us, and we need to love them. And moreover, we need to ditch the bad attitudes. Like I said earlier, God showed me that there isn’t room in His Kingdom for cattiness and biting remarks and tossing others aside. There is too much to do for us to waste our time disapproving of others. I wish with my entire being that I had spent my years in college with those girls I eventually came to love. I would have been so enriched by their friendship much earlier on. Don’t miss the opportunity to be blessed and bless those currently in your midst.

New Space.

They say that moving to a new place is the second biggest cause of stress, second only to losing a loved one. And when I say “they”, I mostly mean my mother because she’s the only one I’ve ever heard say this and I couldn’t find anything on the internet to support such a claim. But that woman was dead right when she told me one day I would care about coupon clipping, or that when I got older I would be happy I hadn’t been allowed to get my eyebrow pierced, so I have no reason to doubt her now. Plus, having made a big solo move, I can attest that IT IS SO STRESSFUL AND HARD AND AGH.

Last year I moved to Memphis, TN and I didn’t… I didn’t handle it very well a lot of the time. Let’s just say, I discovered that I am a massive homebody.  I love Memphis – truly. It is a way cool city. But even way cool cities are hard when they’re new. Or when they don’t hold familiar faces. Or grocery stores you love like mad (ahem, Publix).  I remember my first weeks of Memphis being very lonely ones. I moved to be a nanny so I wasn’t working in an environment where I was meeting lots of new people. No one that I worked with said “Hey! You’re new here! Let’s go get drinks and get to know each other!” because I was caring for a 2 year old and that would be wildly inappropriate. Though quite impressive if he had articulated such a sentence.

I spent a lot of time wandering around Target (OH, the money that I spent at Target when I had nothing else to do in Memphis) (OH, the money I spend at Target anyway…) just to be around other people and be busy. I was nervous speaking to people because I felt like I wasn’t invited to Memphis yet. I was half expecting the people I approached to jerk their heads in my direction and shriek “YOU CAN’T SIT WITH US” Gretchen Wieners style. My biggest source of comfort was a dear friend who I had only met a few months earlier. She had moved to Tampa from a city that she loved deeply and because of this, she was able to show me love really well. Care packages, pieces of home, asking me the right questions. Because I discovered that moving is a unique kind of hard. It takes specific questions — it requires validation. I know that this isn’t always the case; sometimes when people move it’s for new jobs or marriages or exciting things. Maybe home was never amazing so a new space is the most enchanting idea of all. For people in those “happy to be moving” situations, congrats. I can not relate to you at all.

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Because in my experience, new space is hard. Feeling like you’ve been broken up with by your home and church and familiar streets is the worst. Feeling like life and God picked up and went ahead without you is dreadful. Are there really lovely fruits from following Christ and meeting new people and eating new foods (Memphis BBQ though..)? Duh. But that doesn’t make Mother’s Day less hard when your mother is 1,000 miles away from you.

And now, I’m about to enter new space again. A space that I have occupied before – a space that does include friends that I’ve known for years and a church that I adore. But it’s still a new chapter, a new space, and it will still be hard. I will yet again have to find where I fit. I’ve had to be really purposeful in keeping myself from thinking that I am just moving back to continue where I left off. Things just don’t work that way. Instead, I must treat this season with tenderness and care and patience. I must be kind to myself as I begin occupying this new, familiar and wonderful but still challenging, space.

So, as someone who has been “new” – as someone who has sat alone in 5 different church services till someone said ‘hello”, I have some advice:

WHEN YOU MEET SOMEONE WHO JUST ENTERED “NEW SPACE”:

  • Don’t make them approach you. If you notice someone new in your familiar stomping grounds, don’t assume that they’ll be bold enough to introduce themselves to you. More over, even if they are comfortable with such things, don’t make them need to. I can tell you that when I moved to Memphis and no one came up to me at the different churches I tried, I just left. I didn’t start the ball rolling myself. I was already so worn emotionally that the thought of having to be the instigator was too much.
  • Ask them about the space that they left. I believe I lit up every time someone asked me about Tampa and the friends I left behind. It was my joy to bring pieces of my old space into my new one — always provide the opportunity for that to happen.
  • Don’t promise hang outs and coffee dates and over dinner conversations if you aren’t going to deliver. I have so many numbers in my phone from people who insisted they would text me soon that I never ever heard from. Again, could I have texted them myself? Yes, but as the new person handling what felt like a life crisis… it wasn’t my job.
  • If the person is a member of the opposite sex, HEAVEN ALMIGHTY, don’t try to date them the minute they walk in the door. Seriously give them a minute. I think it is a mighty and terrible disservice, especially in the church, to not allow someone the opportunity to be known individually before being known as part of a couple. Maybe God didn’t send them to your job so you could pursue them like crazy. I know that christians love dating and loveeeee marriage, but calm down. Let them breathe. Let them make friends. Sheesh. (Case in point: I met my boyfriend very soon after moving to Memphis, but he didn’t ask me on a date till more than four months later. He purposefully gave me space because of my situation. And that’s just one of the wonderful things about him)
  • Show them what makes their new space great. Show them the parts of your city that are awesome. Feed them good food, show them good sunsets.

I’m beyond thankful for the Memphians that did these things for me. Without realizing it, they were lifting gigantic loads off my shoulders. Because of this, I want to try my hardest to do all of these things for fragile people in new spaces. I pray that you and I will both be brave enough to love new people well.

 

Not So Secret Love Letter [3]

You are beautiful. You are tall and proud and stately. You are loving, you are warm, you are welcoming. I love you for the way you are quirky and pleasantly awkward and gorgeously imperfect. With you we had the most glorious of dance parties (I think you’re quite the fan of Daft Punk, Passion Pit, MGMT, and The Wobble) and the most bitter sweet of pity parties (thank you for always being well stocked with ice cream). You witnessed exciting conversations and heart breaking conversations and you never once butted in and told us to grow up and stop crying. You kept your door wide open to neighbors and friends and all the dogs and I love you for your hospitality and that your arms are big enough to hug all of them at once. Remember last Easter and how we crammed 40+ people and 4 dogs into one big beautiful messy group? It was crowded and lovely and full of laughter and delicious food and you never once complained that there were too many people. You just kept your arms open.

You are the home that I love.

You are still doing all of those things even though your residents have switched around a little bit. Your porch still stands strong, for the most part, and it is still the most wonderful place to sit during a rainy afternoon. Your tree branches are still begging for a swing to be tied to them and who knows, maybe this year will be the year. Your wood floors still carry the echo of the barks and whimpers from the most beautiful dog to ever exist as well as the laughter from some of the most beautiful women to ever exist. Your kitchen still cooks pancakes and cookies and your refrigerator is still displaying funny baby pictures of all who reside within your walls. Thanks for keeping mine up there even though I’m 700 miles away from you. You make me still feel like I’m as much a part of the house as the wood and nails it took to build you.

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If you can’t tell, my shirt says “Sweetest Angel”. Which is still true.

You were just what we were looking for and you became ours right when we needed you.We made a list of things we HAD to have in a home (wood floors made the list but for some reason having more than 1 bathroom didn’t) and you were our perfect fit. We knew it from the moment we first drove down Louisiana Ave and saw you for the first time. We peeked through windows and imagined kickball games in the backyard and figured out how we could get so many cars in your teeny driveway all before the landlord came to show you to us.

“What should we call it?”

“How about The Louisiana Purchase?”

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When I think of Tampa, I think of you. You and the most wonderful friends that still live in your embracing arms. You hold my fondest and heaviest memories and a big goofy doberman that I’m crazy about.

On Bookends and Mournful Things.

True friendship is demonstrated on my bookshelves: Pride and Prejudice, The Great Divorce, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and Freaken’ Fabulous can only stand sure & tall because of the bookends holding them up. Vases with flowers, framed photographs of my parents, old Ybor City cigar boxes – a myriad of objects and trinkets have been employed as bookends. If my books were the Notre Dame, the bookends would be the flying buttresses.

(I’m really glad I spent that semester studying in Paris so I could make that parallel)

Of course the word “Bookends” references something else too – it’s the title of a really really sad song by Simon and Garfunkel (a band I love entirely for sentimental reasons – my beautiful mother sings their songs while in the kitchen and always has funny commentary during the song “Cecelia” because no man should be wasting his time on her) (but I digress). Bookends as a title never made specific sense to me, not-so-interestingly enough, prior to this weekend.

Okay, hold that thought. We’re going to start talking about something seemingly unrelated but we’ll loop back.

Ya’ll know by now that I am crazy about the church I attended in Tampa. What won me over to Watermark initially was the incredible worship music. I’m not a singer nor am I a musician so how I praise God doesn’t usually involve music. There’s a misconception that “worship” means “music”, but they’re not synonymous. There’s a lot of contemporary generic worship songs out there and because I grew up in the church, I’ve heard them lots and lots and lots of times. Honestly, I find them slightly uninspired and a lot of the time I’m just singing words that mean nothing to me. They don’t make me think. They don’t explore multiple facets of our complex God. I don’t suggest that this indicates the songs are useless – God has taught me well that the way I experience Him does not mean it’s how everyone will experience Him, nor is it the most nobel of ways. Because I don’t necessarily feel connected to God while singing “You Are Good” doesn’t mean that no one should.

My very first Sunday at Watermark, three and a half years ago, the band played a song called Mournful Things. Immediately – before the teaching even began and before I met anyone in the church – I loved this church.

I mentioned this before – Watermark’s pastor is also a talented musician and song writer and if you love poetic verses that make you think, then you should immediately get his albums (almost all for free!) here. Even if you don’t, you should really listen to Mournful Things because 1. it’s one of my favorite songs ever written and 2. it’ll give you better insight into what I am writing about. Admittedly, I love this song most when it’s sung in congregation – shouts and claps and tears make everything more real – but it’s great on it’s own. Click here & listen.

Did you listen to it? Okay, great. Thanks for being so compliant, I appreciate it.

This past weekend I was visiting Tampa and it wasn’t at all the trip I was expecting. Without going into lots of detail, suffice it to say God showed me a lot of closed doors in Tampa. At least for the year, I’m not going to be heading back to Tampa. I have so many mixed feelings about this I’m exhausted just thinking about it. But God did something really cool in showing me that Tampa was a finished season. This Sunday was much.. heavier for me than the one before I moved to Memphis because suddenly I knew this was actually my last Sunday. There will be visits of course, I’m sure I’ll be back in the beautiful building, but God is taking me away for awhile. I cried through each of the firs three songs we sang… and then Tommy played Mournful Things. And I was overwhelmed with the idea of bookends. That song started my time at Watermark and it helped end my time at Watermark. It’s my bookends. And in between those bookends there has been so so much: so much learning about God, His word, and myself / so much laughter and joy and dancing with lovely souls / so many tearful communion tables / so many wonderful meals with a house church community I consider family / so many beautiful evenings spent with the women’s house church talking about difficult things and praying together / and yes, a fair share of sadness and some heartbreak – community is messy and hard things come with the good.

It’s so appropriate this song is used as my “bookends” because the title line depicts my leaving so well. It’s a joyous song of mournful things. I’m mournful to leave Tampa, but I’m joyous (most of the time) in following Christ. At the very least, I’m very joyous to have a God who is intentional in leading me. And a God who cares about little things, like a song I really really love.

After church at lunch I was told by a friend who works the sound that the band didn’t even plan on playing Mournful Things – Tommy last minute decided to play it. I like to think that God inclined Tommy to play that song, knowing how sentimental I am and what it would mean to me to have a nice bookend to hold up my chapters of my time at Watermark. Bookends.

sing sing sing! a joyous song of mournful things.