Delicious Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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God is in the Mountains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

Please, no Christmas Business until November 29th.

I’m listening to Tegan & Sara and eating an embarrassingly large number of Hershey Kisses (sorry not sorry) while the most precious of little boys naps next to me. I don’t hate it. This is one of the few chunks of my day where I’m not following a one and half year old around saying things I never thought I’d have say to another human being. For example, “you can’t eat your shoe” and ” don’t put your hands in your poop”.

Very soon I shall be boarding a plane (annoyingly early in the morning) back to the home in which I grew up for yet another beautiful Thanksgiving. There will be pumpkin pie, endless hugs, and probably — definitely — dancing in the kitchen. Thanksgiving doesn’t get enough credit. People who know me at all know that I may be pretty passive when it comes to lots of things, but I am at the front lines in the war against starting Christmas too early. You know, because I pick important battles. Listening to Christmas music / watching Christmas movies / putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving enrages me. Thanksgiving is a beautiful holiday, and gosh darn it,  give it some space! Sure, Christmas is the bee’s knees. I get it. I love Christmas just as much as the next tall redhead, but because I love it I don’t want it’s season to get soiled! And the fact that Christmas is awesome doesn’t mean that Thanksgiving can’t be! Ya’ll, we can have more than one enjoyable holiday. Starting Christmas in November is ludicrous. It overshadows Thanksgiving and it makes me exhausted of carols way too soon. I can only deduce that if you’re in a rush to get Thanksgiving over and done with, you never had a slice of my Grandmother Charlotte’s pumpkin pie. Let me brag a little: my family does Thanksgiving right, ya’ll. A bonfire with s’mores the night before as we all arrive from out of town, an early morning Thanksgiving 5k complete with turkey hats I am too embarrassed to wear, cooking together, chowing down together, plotting our Black Friday excursion, disagreeing about which movie we’re going to all go see Thanksgiving evening (you can’t know how happy I am that the “Twilight” series is over – I’m exhausted from dramatically declaring, “I WOULD RATHER BE PUNCHED IN THE FACE THAN GO SEE TWILIGHT” — yes, sisters, this is directed at you), a 5am Black Friday start time, auntie anne pretzels, punching clingy and obnoxious employees at Bath & Body Works (this has never actually happened but every year I’m amazed it doesn’t), an Olive Garden lunch, a nap, etc.

My beautiful mother preparing a Thanksgiving feast 2011
My beautiful mother preparing a Thanksgiving feast; 2011

This year in particular I AM SO EXCITED FOR THANKSGIVING I CAN NOT SEE STRAIGHT, and I think it’s because of all of those little traditions. I know what to expect at Thanksgiving. It’s familiar. It’s count-on-able. Thanksgiving is my longest and most consistent relationship. It’s with the people I have known most deeply. The people who know me better than anyone else. And because I’ve spent the last few months being the new person in a city that confuses me, familiarity sounds amazing. Instead of attending a gathering where I only know three people and have to introduce myself over and over and over again (uggggghaskdfakuweh), I will instead be attending a gathering where every attendee has known me for twenty three years. Ahhhh, to be known.

To be really really known and understood. To end a day in conversation with a friend who knows your backstory because she lived it with you. A friend who knows the reasons behind your quirks. Most often what I find I miss about Florida is simply the time that has already been invested there. By that I mean the fact that my friendships aren’t a few months old, but years. When I tell my mother or one of my old roommates something, we’ll call this hypothetical something “IT”, they consider it in the context of who I am and what I have experienced. Because they know my backstory they know how IT will affect me / how IT makes me feel / how wonderful IT is / how terrible IT is without my having to say so. And maybe even more lovely, they know how to show me love. Ask any Christian female, we all have “love languages” and it’s the most marvelous thing for yours to be known and met by others. For instance, this is a freebie for anyone interested, one of the languages that communicates love to me is hand written letters. Okay, I will grant you this is not one of the 5 technical languages, but it’s mine. Letters and words and stationary sets and pressed leaves. I eat that up. The fact that I have people who know this and send me notes mean more than anything. It has been so exciting to make new friends in Memphis, and frankly I am crazy about the ones I’ve met. But we don’t fully know each other yet simply because we’ve had only a few months and not years and years to laugh and dance and argue together. This will come (even the arguing), and I’m looking forward to knowing them and being known fully.

Till then, I am thankful for my aunt’s delicious turkey stuffing and being known.