the light that lives

It is 10:26 pm on Tuesday night before Thanksgiving. I am alone in my house, and my eyelids are heavy, and it feels so good. I am allowed to say that, right? The best kept secret of single motherhood is that once you break through the painful, awkward first few times of being alone, it is such a welcome respite. In my case, it is only 4 days a month and a few extra days on holidays, and I crave it if I’m being honest. Just a little break. I need this solace so badly when it comes around, especially right now.

I attended a memorial service two days ago hosted by the hospice organization that cared for my grandmother. It was a sweet and thoughtful way to recognize those lost this year, and it is always comforting to be in a room surrounded by those on a similar walk with you. Grief is so particular for each of us, yet so universal for all of us.

As I drove home, it struck me how crazy the second half of 2016 has been for me. I can even see it looking back at this journal as well. My grandmother died. The world spun in that way it does in the weeks afterwards. Then schedules picked up and the whirlwind began. My ceiling fell in. The election happened. And here we are on November 22nd wondering how we got here and where the past 5 months of my life went.

We ate so much frozen pizza this month and went a full 9 days with my refrigerator in my living room as the kitchen was renovated. North Georgia wildfires have been raging for weeks, and on some days, there is a hazy smoke in the air here at home that leaves everything hazy and smelling of ash. It’s been such a surreal time.

I should have been grounding myself in yoga and meditation and prayer, but instead I have been soldiering on with one foot in front of the other and using the 15 minutes of story time at night to collapse into bed and  watch their little faces when they talk and sniff their heads as they fall asleep, and I still insist that is the best anti-anxiety medication I know.

I am here now. And I am surviving. And that is all I can do right now. Treading water with my head barely above the waves.

Life happens like this, doesn’t it? Or that is what I hear. A blog reader weeks ago passed along a Zora Neale Hurston quote that insists that “there are years that ask questions and years that answer,” and I am holding my faith there. This is a questioning year. So many questions.

I have so few answers, but I have a lot of gratitude. For the influence of my grandmother, the undying love that still hums in my chest. I’m grateful for it even as it illuminates the grief that results from what is left of love. Gratitude for these two kids who remind me of what is important every day and serve as that fixed center point and a counter to all my anxiety as they bring me to the here and now. Thankful for a warm house on windy November nights. For soup. For chats with girlfriends who know me as well as I know myself. Thankful for words to read and music to hear. Thankful for being here.

And I am thankful for this space and what it shows me about my own path in the past few years. It shows me that I have been here before, that I have seen nothing but questions everywhere I look but that a little ways down the road, I will look behind me to see answers, too.

I’m thankful for the light that lives in my chest and dims occasionally but never goes out. We might rest for a season, but we glow brighter later as a result.

More soon as I promise to return to this space and make time for it again. For now, I am holding my head above water, and I can see the faintest outline of what is ahead. More space, more room to breathe, more to hold in the next season.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

 

still reeling

It has been two full weeks of silence in this space. I’ve come here once or twice this week but always leave it blank and unsure of what to say.

Like everyone else, I am still reeling from the election results. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say or that I am rendered speechless. It’s that I have so much to say that I don’t know where to begin.

I have learned volumes in this past 5 days. I have read and read and performed an autopsy of sorts on the Democratic party and the American political process to try and understand what happened. I have read a lot of enlightening things, and I am listing them at the end of this post for anyone who is as hungry for answers and information as I am.

I have learned that not everyone who voted for Trump is racist or misogynistic. They just turned their heads to it in efforts to champion their one or two issues that he represented – guns and abortion are at the top of that list here in the south, but healthcare and steel mills and immigration are on the list elsewhere in the country. I learned that there is a huge divide in this nation between rural and urban. An enormous distaste for the elite and even a bitterness toward academics and higher education that I never knew existed. Until now. The Democratic party will have to fix this to move on. My eyes have been opened this week for certain.

I have been called mean and condescending and accused of enthusiastically “killing babies” because of my major reservations about Trump’s promises. People probably wish I would shut up about it, but I am frightened.

To normalize this election as though it is no different than a usual pendulum swing is not okay. Trump is not a typical Republican, and we all know this. Would I be writing this if Rubio or Kasich won? Absolutely not. The pendulum swings, and I am okay with that. Donald Trump is not a typical pendulum swing. He’s not a typical anything.

Never before have we elected a President with absolutely no experience in public office. None. One who claims if we have nuclear weapons we should use them. Who asserts that he will deport 11 million immigrants, including young students who have never known any other home, and that he will do this swiftly and with force without any regard for how it will upset the civil peace or economy of our nation. A man who has not only been accused of sexual assault but claims that bragging about it is “locker room talk” to be excused. A man who humiliated Meghan Kelly on television and bullied Ted Cruz by publicly threatening to “spill the beans” about his wife’s personal medical struggle with depression. A man who wants more than three million Muslims living in the US to register themselves with the government to be tracked in a database. A man who is currently considering a leader of the Alt-Right movement to be his Chief of Staff. A man who claims global warming is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese and wants to handle the delicate balance of trade by taxing goods that come from there without regard for what implications a trade war will have on this nation.

To pretend we have done this before is laughable. To tell people to shut up and stop being scared is dangerous.

I think the most disappointing thing to me in this election is to watch how the Evangelical Church has handled it. Being a southerner, I am surrounded by those who hold that blend of faith closely, but their silence on these issues is deafening. And their support of him is shocking. I understand that the vast majority of them voted on abortion only and will always vote Republican on that issue. But I guess I was expecting them to have more open conversations on this – to explain that they voted on one issue but are appalled by other things he’s said and most importantly to hold him accountable. Now is the time they could stand up and have their voices heard and be a welcoming voice for the church and a comforting voice to those hurt and scared by Trump’s campaign, and yet I’m not hearing it at all. As someone who grew up surrounded by the church and still respecting and holding dear a lot of people who are part of that movement, it breaks my heart. And it saddens me because I see so clearly that history will look back to see that their silent support of Trump and refusal to openly denounce his hatred will be the end of their relevance and positive influence in modern America. There are voices within the church that are working hard to redeem it – Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Glennon Doyle Melton, Rachel Held Evans – but whether they can speak loudly enough, I don’t know. The whole thing breaks my heart.

I’m reaching the point where I am tired of hand-wringing and sadness and fear though. I want to act. I thought I’d leave you with a link on how to contact your local representative to voice your concerns. I hear phone calls and snail mail is best, so if you are concerned, then have your voice heard.

I also wanted to pass along these few essays which have bubbled to the surface of all I have combed through this week. They are worth a read if you have time.

Christian Blogger Shannon Dingle’s I Want to Help You to Understand My Lament

Harvard Business Review’s What So Many People Don’t Get About the US Working Class

NPR’s Fact Check of Trump’s First 100 Days (calmed me down a bit actually)

Voted For Trump? I Have Only One Plea

The New Yorker’s An American Tragedy 

Video of Christoph Walz speaking on normalizing Trump

 

Last night’s SNL aired past my bedtime, but I did see the opening song this morning, and Leonard Cohen’s words echoed in a way that brought me tears. There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter which you heard the holy or the broken hallelujah. Even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before he Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah. 

This has been on my mind almost constantly since Tuesday night, and I know it will calm a little in the weeks to come. I’m trying hard to make space for peace and stillness at home. I will do what I have always done but with more conviction and dedication than before: read, teach my students to think critically, model strength for my own children, call out hatred and misogyny when I see it, write, laugh with my colleagues, teach my children kindness, and pray for a culture that has grown so used to sexism and anti-intellectualism that we prefer a spectacle over substance.

I pray that his outrageous promises were just false words to gain momentum and get voters and that it will be like any other Republican presidency. But if we take him at his word, it is a very scary thought.

I’m not giving up. Instead, I’m using this to wake up. No matter how you voted, let’s stop sleeping. Pay attention. Do good. Have your voice heard.

 

anything like a story

It is 6:30 pm, and the kids are gone this weekend. The dryer is humming with the week’s laundry and it’s pouring outside. That summer rain that comes down in buckets through the August heat and washes everything away for a while.

Tomorrow marks 8 weeks that my grandmother has been gone. When my phone rang just after 5am that morning, I knew. I didn’t have to hear what was coming next when I answered my mother’s voice. When I drove over to her house, it was a couple hours later. Mid-morning after a Sunday sunrise, and I listened to Patty Griffin sing all the way there. I can never hear that song again without my eyes stinging and my throat tightening. Open your eyes, boy, we made it through the night. Let’s take a walk on the bridge, right over this mess. 

It always feels like you’ve made it through the night. For a minute. But then you see another one on the horizon, another bridge you have to scale. Grief ebbs and flows. I’m missing her today.

One day, I will stop writing about this. But not today. Not on day 55. I can remember years ago, someone I knew lost her brother to a brain tumor, and her friend said to me that she was hard to talk to anymore. It’s like it’s all she wants to talk about, but eventually, you just have to get over it, you know? But do you? What does “get over it” even mean?

In Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood says, “When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it to yourself or someone else.” 

I’m in the middle of my story, and I cannot see my way out yet. But I can see the narrative forming already. I know a day is coming when I will look back and think, remember that time when I was alone and writing, writing, writing my way out of some hole like words were a shovel? Loss after loss and unfamiliar terrain everywhere. Remember that time when I spent Saturday mornings alone in bed with books and words in front of me and ate alone and slept alone and ran my hands along the walls of my unfamiliar grief until I found a light switch?

We are still sorting through her things, little bits at a time. I had an empty afternoon today, so I went to see my Grandad and cleaned a few closets of her clothing. I found my wedding dress in the back of a closet left from a time when I was a newlywed in a little house learning to cook from the back of a Campbell’s soup can, and she had more storage than I did, so I left it there. It seems like some unfamiliar relic when I take a close look at it. All I can think as I see it is if I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.

Today I found, among folded sheets and towels, one of the gowns she wore while home on hospice. It is gray with pink flowers and a slit cut straight up the back so that we could easily keep her clean and comfortable. It still smells like her. If I knew then what I know now. If I knew then what I know now.

But we never know now what we will one day see in retrospect, do we? Some days, I still can’t believe that this is my life, that these are my hours. That this place is where it’s led me.

I miss her so much, but as I look through her things and think about the 35 years I spent with her, I also find myself doing that thing humans always do, missing the way it used to be – all of it. I miss childhood and barefoot summers with afternoons spent in front of the oscillating fan on her living room floor. I miss knowing that she was there in the periphery of my life, like a permanent piece, though of course she was never meant to stay. None of us are. Once you break, you can’t go back. But it’s easy to miss what it felt like to be clean and whole.

I’ve seen art made from shattered pieces of glass, and it’s incredible. It glints and shines and takes a new form so much more interesting and beautiful than something solid and flawless and predictable. I think people are the same way. After you break and put it all back together to something new, you glint and shine in an entirely new way. I’m getting pretty good at knowing if someone has broken before and put themselves back together in a more beautiful way. It’s an obvious glimmer like no other when you learn how to recognize it. My grandmother had it. She broke and put herself back together again and again, and now I get it.

In that same Patty Griffin song, she also sings, It’s hard to live. But I still think it’s the best bet. It’s hard to live. It’s okay that it’s hard. It’s okay to not be okay. I know all these things, I do. But I’ll be glad when this becomes a story.

Love Day

Happy Love Day, readers.

So many times in this stretch of the year, I think I will look back and see how far I’ve come.  My “this time last year” reflections are moving from when I was attached to when I was newly single. They are showing how much I’ve changed, no doubt.

Last Valentine’s Day found me at a car dealership trading in what was once the most expensive gift I’ve ever been given but soon became a financial burden I didn’t want anymore. It was also the first time my kids would meet their new step-mom, though my divorce papers were sitting on an attorney’s desk with wet ink.

I can remember flipping the pages of an outdated magazine as I waited on the financing to be approved in the used car dealership, knowing that my kids were out of my control and confused in that moment. I texted a close friend while feeling exhausted and sad, asking when my chance would come – when I would feel some sense of happiness and reward instead of just heartbreak.

I was happy to drive home in my own car, one I’d signed for and chosen myself. But I remember crawling in my big empty bed in the vast house that no longer felt like home, feeling like I might have taken one small step on my own, but it was still a long way from becoming my own life. My future seemed like a distant idea that I couldn’t quite see making shape on the horizon. Something I wanted but didn’t know how to grasp.

Today felt so much stronger, so much better.

Jude picked out a gift for me with my mom recently, but I didn’t know about this at all until he begged me to open it last night – not wanting me to wait until the morning. It was a set of small pots and seeds: parsley, chives, and basil. We planted them this weekend and placed them in the windowsill in the kitchen.

Waiting, watching, knowing something is emerging soon. I feel like this so often in my life lately.

I haven’t given up on love. I am broken and wiser, but I’m not bitter. I know far more about how to judge one’s character. I am not scared to pass on what’s in front of me if it doesn’t feel exactly right or if I think it has had its time and run its course … because I know what’s in my own core. I know much more about my own value.

I ran across an Instagram caption that made me nod today. “I make sure to reflect on how wonderful it feels to live my life on my own terms, and how grateful I am for that time I had sans partnership to figure out what these terms actually meant to me without the influence of someone else. The times we have to ourselves are precious. We have our entire lives to be surrounded by other people in whatever capacity we choose, whether a passing romance or a fleeting fling. .. It’s a liberating feeling when you realize the one constant in your life – yourself – is someone you’ve grown to love more than you thought was possible.”

Jude wished me “Happy Valentime’s Day” at least five times this weekend with his missing front teeth and his excited grin. He made me a picture yesterday that included tiny lettering, drawn as small as he could manage and spelled phonetically, and he handed it to me with a plastic magnifying glass we have. He told me it was a “secret code message” for my eyes only.

I’m grateful for every bit of it – for the time alone, the messages hidden along the way, the space to breathe and experiment and ponder what is next, the love in front of me, and what is yet to be.

 

 

 

Advent

Thanksgiving came and went, and Christmas time is here. I know this is cliche, but how is 2015 nearly over already? I can hardly believe tomorrow begins December.

My mom indulged my kids and all their little cousins with a pretty fun surprise on Thanksgiving night as we celebrated at my grandparents’ house.

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My normally energetic boy got pretty shy when it was his turn to talk to Santa.

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But Norah talked his ear off as expected. Like most siblings, my two are opposite in so many ways.

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We drove home in the dark seeing a few houses already lit up, and they talked a mile a minute – about Christmas and Santa and a million other things. I thought for sure they’d be asleep by the time we got home, but they weren’t. The holidays bring so much wonder and excitement for kids. It brings it all back in the best way.

They spent the next couple of days with their dad, and I got to use the time to wrap up some grading piles and get out the decor. When they arrived home on Sunday morning, we got started on the tree. It’s little and covered with kid-crafted things and nothing is symmetrical, but it’s ours. Our little tree and our little house. And a house never feels as cozy as when it’s twinkling inside with Christmas lights.

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We finished the afternoon with hot chocolate and a movie, and they were content and happy.

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Tonight I’m filling the Advent calendar with our little activities for the month of December, gems we can enjoy everyday for the next few weeks…. make cards for your teachers, eat pancakes for dinner, wrap a present, go driving in pj’s and look at Christmas lights…. The smallest things can make them so happy. And me, too.

I see the value of tradition during the holidays more than ever. These are the moments they will remember as they grow, and that idea of creating memories for your kids is both the heaviest and the most beautiful part of motherhood to me. I’m creating the soundtrack and images that will replay for them in moments of nostalgia decades from now. And truthfully I don’t even know what will stick, what will survive the years and emerge as the things they love the most.

It’s the smallest things that they seem to remember so far – never the gifts under the tree. It’s the moments shared among the three of us that are creating a home and a life for them.

I hope I can calm myself for a few sacred minutes everyday in this last stretch of 2015 to remember that. I look around and see so much comfort and abundance. This is it. Not a year into the future and certainly not my past. This is life as it’s really happening and not a stepping stone to something else. I’m grateful for all of it  – for the two little people I get to share these traditions with and for all the magic that December holds.

2am rambling

It’s 2 am, and I can’t sleep. Norah is next to me, and her little tummy is moving up and down. In and out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

 

So many times these past few weeks, I have relied on my own breath to get me through a moment.

 

My mother always tells me a story about when my dad died in an accident and she had a 5 year old and a 2 year old. She couldn’t sleep or eat or imagine what to do the next day. She would repeat Psalm 46:10. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God. It’s all I can do in these nighttime hours lately. I repeat it to myself like a chant and drift back to sleep for a moment.

 

I am not religious in the traditional sense. But I know someone is out there listening to me. I know there is a method to any madness we experience here. I know life is crazy and full of surprises, and something bigger than you carries you through.  I know pain is wasted if you don’t evolve. Become bigger and stronger.

 

Sometimes I feel that presence lately. And sometimes I don’t.  It’s so easy to be blinded by fear, doubt, sadness. It’s so easy to forget that there is a master plan involved.

 

I pray every night that my little life will look just the same in a year as it did two months ago. But I just don’t know. I feel it in my bones that the train is barreling out of the station, and a new destination is there. I don’t want to go, but it’s there for me – whether I choose it or not. But this life? This one has been so perfect in so many ways. It’s hard to see the past few years as anything other than the best of my life.  But life doesn’t always ask our permission before moving to a new chapter.

 

Friends, if you are the praying type, I want to you pray for peace in my heart and in the heart of others. For love to prevail.  And forgiveness and hope. And gratitude for the blessings I have.

 

 

 

 

 

officially holiday’ing!

On Friday, I graded my last exam as I  hurriedly inhaled a sandwich at my desk.  As I began my position in August, it felt like SO MUCH  desk time and many office hours compared to my previous teaching days in a high school setting.  I thought I’d always be caught-up and that grading would never feel like a push.  It hasn’t turned out that way entirely though.  Between Writing Center tasks and other odds and ends that come up, it still feels like a push to get all the grading done at the end of the semester.  And when that last one was finished?  Such a feeling of relief.  I am staring at four full weeks of a break, and I’m excited to slow down and do a little bit of nothing and keep whatever pace we feel up to.  As always, I can’t help but keep a list of goals in my head and consider all the things that need attention right now – specifically house projects that never happened after the move.  But really, they are not essential and whatever gets done will be.  Whatever doesn’t, doesn’t.  I’m just ready to relax and enjoy the last bit of the year with my little family.

We had a great Thanksgiving, and Jude helped – truly helped – with a few kitchen tasks as I prepared a ton of food for family.  He has always loved helping in the kitchen, but recently it really is a true help unlike the “help” a toddler can give.  I’ll give him a bowl and a spoon and he can stir something while I move on to another dish.  Or the other night we made muffins for his teachers, and he actually portioned out all the muffin liners and the batter on his own.  It’s so fun to watch, and he is ridiculously proud when he makes something.  I love his interest in food and his genuine desire to help.

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We also saw a great production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with some friends at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta last weekend. It was awesome, and I definitely suggest it to anyone with kids in Atlanta.  Norah was squirmy as expected, but Jude loved it.  I know next year she’ll follow it more closely, and I’d love to make it an annual tradition.  We got to follow the production with a workshop making puppets.  This snow monster has been played with constantly since, and Jude even wrote “puppets” on his Santa list earlier this week.

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Other than that, the last week has been mostly full of Elf on a Shelf shenanigans (so fun this year!) and time spent at home.

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I’m looking forward to more of that in the days and weeks to come. Cookie baking, present wrapping, Santa planning, and reflecting on the year that’s passed. There’s so much to enjoy in the Advent season – especially with kids these ages. Magic is so real to them, and it’s a joy to watch.