broken open

Fall is over in a blink in Georgia, so I’m trying to take it all in. We are sleeping with the windows open, but I always wake in the middle of the night to feel a chill and then close the window pane and spread the extra blanket over the bed. I made our favorite soup last week, and I’m already craving it again. My school days are busy with the frantic pace of midterms and the grading pile that ebbs and flows, but I live for the afternoon light everyday. What is it about October light just before dinner that makes it so perfect? I wish I could bottle it up for January’s darkness.

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Saturday brought a soccer game followed by a visit to a local pumpkin farm. It’s a small family operation just down the road from where I grew up, and our families have known of each other for ages. On the way over, I texted my cousin that we were headed there, and she walked over from her house next door to the farm. It feels good to belong somewhere with a long history, but autumn makes you crave it even further. We all settle in a little more snugly, I think. In whatever ways we can.
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We ate popcorn and boiled peanuts, and I watched cousins get lost and found again in a corn maze. We took the hayride around the pond like we do every year and followed that with the long and important task of picking out the perfect pumpkin.

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My grandad came with us as he works pretty steadily lately to stay busy and occupied when he can. There is still a hollow spot in the space where she has always been, that lull in the conversation. It is so stark at their house especially, where Norah will wander upstairs when we’re there and say it’s because certain rooms “still smell like Grandmother.” And they do. The scent lingering everywhere – literally and metaphorically.

On the other hand, I’m also finding moments when it’s getting more comfortable in ways as well; her absence is a little more predictable and familiar now – which is always a scary moment in the grieving process. It almost seems like the person lingers and hovers for a while in a very real way. You can feel their touch and see their belongings and hear the voice and smell the scent. They are close for a while to gently ease us out of the solid presence we are so used to, and then they fade a bit so that the haze wears away from your vision, and you can handle what life is sending you next as you create space and possibility instead of loss. Everything she taught me is still here and even somehow distilled to a cleaner and more concentrated form. But her physical self isn’t hovering in the way it first was.

This is life. This is how it goes. Seasons change and leaves fall and people fade from our lives in that way they are made to do. Mary Oliver says, “to live in this world you must be able to do three things — to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.” That is so much easier said than done. But here we are, four months after her passing, in the midst of a new season she has never seen. It looks both terrifyingly unfamiliar and newly beautiful all at once.

It’s also Mary Oliver who claims it is worthwhile “to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the world.”

As I look back, heartbreak has broken me open again and again. It is never happiness and assurance and predictability that get you someplace new, is it? A decade spent in the classroom – first high school kids and eventually university students – gives me a special glimpse into that phase of life when you feel so sure about everything and everyone. When you assume that the path in front of you will unfold exactly like you see it in your mind’s eye. How funny that loss is what actually moves us on the path if you let it happen and feel it honestly.

Here I am in the thirty-fifth October of my life, and I’m seeing that you really are not capable of understanding that without a few decades on this earth. Life chisels away all the rough edges when we let it. It makes me look forward to the Octobers ahead as I will undoubtedly deepen and soften in ways I don’t yet understand.

Leaves fall and seasons change, and autumn is here to remind me again that nothing is permanent. It’s hard to wait on the hand of time to reveal the treasure to you, but it always does eventually.

increments

Last week crawled along at the slowest possible pace. We’ve had weeks and weeks of steady rain in Georgia, and I’d forgotten what the sun looks like. It’s back this week though, and I can hardly believe tomorrow is already Thursday. It’s amazing how many little factors can influence your outlook.

We discovered a little trail in the woods behind our neighborhood yesterday, and Jude wanted to go for a quick walk again today the minute we walked in the door. I ignored any other nagging responsibilities, and we took off. Norah and I followed behind him, and he felt proud to lead the way. We ended up at a little pond before turning around to head back home just before sunset.

UntitledLittle gifts are stored for me along the way when I have eyes to see them. I listen to Rob Bell’s podcast every week, and the episode I heard this week was titled “Increments and Explosions.” He discussed the secrets of people who, as he put it, grow younger instead of older. Grow lighter instead of heavier, softer instead of harder. The key as he sees it, and I agree, is personal growth. And this growth sometimes happens in increments when we create the little habits that shape our perspectives and lend us room to grow. It’s the result of daily work. Then, of course, we have the explosions – the moments life explodes the experiences set forth to give us growth even if they are painful and we don’t quite feel ready for them.

November is a big month for me, a huge marker in 2015. The first year following any tragedy or hardship is rough, as anyone will tell you. And when you can pass all of those reminders, watch the four seasons come and go again, and know that you survived, it feels like you’re finally able to exhale. I’ve still got a few markers and reminders left in front of me in the weeks ahead, but I am almost there. I’ve almost arrived at the clean slate marking a full year alone.

I look back at this entry from last November and cry a little for that person. I felt so scared of what was ahead. I had no idea how bright the sun was shining on the other side.

I’ve grown in explosions since the night I wrote that entry – the initial one, of course, plus some other big moments. But so much of it has been in little increments, too. I’m so glad, as I near the end of this instrumental year for me, that I have this journal to look back on. I think gratitude (as a true daily practice, not just the concept) has been the driving force behind my incremental expansion. And also pause and insight. And truly feeling the painful discomfort that has unfolded sometimes as I’ve broken in this new skin, no matter how much I wanted to numb it. All of those things have lended me growth.

And most of all, writing has become such a guidepost for me. I’m not certain how I would have survived the year with clarity if I didn’t have this space and this practice of putting words together without an aim or destination.

I feel fearless in a way I never have. I think that’s what happens when you spend time in “no man’s land” as Pema Chodron calls it. What you previously thought was the worst thing that could happen has already happened, and you survived. Not only survived but grew bigger. I’m not scared of much of anything now. Life ahead is a vast empty space, and I have no idea where I will go or what I will do, but as I look back at the past year of my life and increments and explosions that landed me here, I think I’m meant for something that could only happen on this path.

catching up and settling in

It’s been a couple of weeks since I posted, so Halloween feels like old news now.  But considering I use this as a journal of sorts… a few pictures of my Minnie Mouse and Luke Skywalker trick-or-treating around campus on Halloween morning.

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And then we did it all over again on Halloween night and invited a few cousins to join us.  It was unseasonably cold and eventually started drizzling a bit, so I was glad we headed out to the neighborhood earlier rather than later.

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Life is settling down, and fall is settling in. The colors are perfect right now, and I finally got around to putting out the last of my pansies yesterday afternoon in the backyard. I had a couple helpers using their own little fingers to get flowers in the dirt.

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I walked inside to fill the watering can, and when I returned to the back again, Jude was singing something I didn’t recognize. I asked him what it was and he said a “lullaby for the plants, mama.” It is never still with these two lately, but I do hope I can remember some of their little quirks and sweet comments. This journal helps me to stop and take notice. Jude has a favorite tree, he says. And he loves to study leaves this year.

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The kids have been learning all about autumn and the details of the season lately at school, and everyday I drive home with turkey crafts or pumpkins or pilgrim hats. Early sunsets and chilly mornings feel inspiring instead of tiresome right now. Soup is on the menu at least twice a week. I love November.

fall fun

This time of year is always busy, but this year is crazier than ever.  On the one hand, I really want to take advantage of all the fun stuff going on around us, but at the same time, I resent it when life gets so busy you can’t catch your breath.  Weekends are flying by faster than weekdays lately.  Work is busy among piles of midterm grading, but it almost feels like the few hours I have at my quiet work desk are the only times I can focus and breathe a bit.

Jude started playing soccer this year, so that accounts for some of this. He LOVES it, and the fields are less than two miles from our house, so I obliged.  It is cute to watch, and I love seeing him get the hang of a real team sport and cheer on his teammates.  But this whole be at practice an hour a week and a game every weekend stage of parenthood is very new for us.  It’s like the second you stop potty training and dressing them and waking up at night, you reach a new kind of busy.  It’s not easier – or harder. Just different.

first game ever!

In addition to early morning soccer games, we’ve had fall fairs and pumpkin patches to enjoy.

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Finally, our craziness is coming to a slower pace after this weekend closed with a preschool fall carnival and a neighborhood festival as well. The amount of face paint, cotton candy, bounce houses, and plastic prizes over the past few weeks might have lost its luster for me, but not for these two.

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I’m looking forward the the revelry of Halloween, of course.  But I’m most looking forward to the slower pace of November.  The season is settling in, and even Georgia weather will resign itself to soup and sweaters in the next few weeks.  My favorite vegetables are in season and the calendar is fast approaching Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.  I’m hoping I can work on a little more mindfulness in the weeks ahead.

Happy week to you and yours. Fall is in full swing.

Birthday at the Farm

Jude’s birthday is still a few days away, but we managed to snag an October Sunday afternoon at a local farm, so we celebrated a little early. The weather has been up and down and often rainy lately, so I worried a little. But Georgia fall delivered in all its splendor, and it was perfect.

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Jude enjoyed the day with cousins and friends, plus lots of wide open spaces and fall fun.

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a corn pit!

The kids got to enjoy a “corn pit” which was basically a sandbox with dried corn instead of sand. There were also a few bounce houses, playgrounds, and a small petting zoo. It made for such a memorable day. (Make the trip to Warbington Farms if you are in metro Atlanta. They are great!)

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The highlight was a tractor ride where the driver had Jude stand up for a birthday serenade and took us on a scenic drive around the farm, stopping to call for and feed the cows.

tractor birthday song.

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mooooooooo.

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We followed that up with some birthday cake under the tent and a little more playtime.

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making a wish!!

sneaky fingers

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It was a perfect fall day to celebrate Jude’s fifth birthday. Five! I can hardly believe it. His actual birthday is another nine days away, so I’m sure the celebrations will continue this month. There’s so much to celebrate this season anyway. Apples, cooler mornings, pumpkin carving, local fairs, and Halloween dress-up around the corner. I am grateful for all of it – and for the people I get to share it with.

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Happy October, friends! Thanks for reading.