House keys

210977249_da533e62a4_mI’ve had a lot of people in the last few weeks tell me how much they believe in me, and it’s been lovely really. It’s not like I don’t know that I have really spectacular cheerleaders, because a lot of them have been cheering me on in one thing or another for almost twenty years, but still…it’s especially nice to hear while I’m walking a new path that is chock full of creativity and vulnerability and the very real reality that I have no idea what I’m doing.

If I’m being honest, I wouldn’t even be on this path if my BFF hadn’t told me really pointedly that she believed in me and in my writing almost five years ago. She handed me a back a book that I loved and said that I needed to be doing what that author was doing – sharing and writing about what God was teaching her. So, I started a blog.

I wrote about what I was learning in my graduate classes and about how I saw God in the client-therapist relationship. I wrote about being a bridesmaid a whole bunch of times, and about how the Church can do better by single people. I wrote about my friends and about how they loved me so well I saw Jesus.

A couple of years ago, an editor-friend took notice of my blog and sent me a long email about how she was tired of working with authors whose ideas she couldn’t engage with, and about how she liked my writing and how she thought I had ideas that were good, and about how she thought I probably had a book in me. She said that she believed in me and this hypothetical book, and she said that it didn’t matter what the book ended up being about, she wanted in. So, I started writing a book.

I borrowed from their belief in me, and I started chasing a dream. And the more this dream becomes real, the more borrowing I find myself doing from them and from the other people who keep sending encouraging texts, Facebook messages, and emails. I borrow from my friend Melissa every time she won’t make day plans with me, so I can’t avoid writing in the afternoons. I borrow from Nickie every time we’re talking and she suggests that I write about whatever it is. And I borrow from Jesse, the one who suggested I start writing about what God is teaching me, every time we’re talking about my book and she says, “Can you believe we’re here?”   Yes, I can believe we’re here. Because in the same way it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to write a book.

And my village is awesome, and gracious, and continues to love me so well that I see Jesus.

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Sometimes that comes by email:

Ok, so this might seem weird, but I am offering my house to you as a haven where you can come if you need to get totally away from all of the “normal” places to write or whatever.  The cats will probably want to snuggle and Tornado might bite you.  It’s messy, sometimes a little bit dirty, we don’t have TV, but we do have internet!  And a swing on the back patio.  A coffee machine.  Always pizza in the freezer.  Am I missing anything?!?  Like I said, I don’t know if you’ll even want to take me up on that, but I can give you a key.

I emailed my friend Maggie back and took her up on it because the heartbeat of my life and my writing is friendship and community and making intentional choices to see God in both, and here He was right in front of me holding out a house key.

Yeah. I’ll borrow that too.

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I think sometimes people will tell you that they believe in you, and I think other times people will find a way to show you that they do. And I think both have a really important place.

We need to tell each other to chase those crazy dreams that maybe aren’t so crazy. We need to say out loud that we’re not in this life alone. We need to speak words of life and affirmation and love to one another, because we never know what God is going to stir in someone else’s heart with those words.

But, we need to give our words feet and hands every once in awhile. We need to clean houses, or buy groceries, or change diapers. We need to cook standing next each other, then sit down at dinner together and eat. We need to offer kindness as much as we offer kind words. We need to do for each other as much as we need to hear from each other.

Because sometimes love sounds like, “I believe in you” and sometimes it looks an awful lot like a set of house keys.

The Treehouse

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We set off yesterday afternoon in search of a coffee shop in Duck, North Carolina. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a week on the beach when Beth’s friends asked her to come with them on family vacation and told her to bring a friend. (Who has two thumbs and is that friend? This chick.) But, both Beth and I have impending deadlines and an inability to not work at least a little bit, so we stole away with our laptops and books as the thunderstorms rolled in. And I feel like this may be what rainy vacation days were made for.

Finding a coffee shop in these Outer Banks beach towns isn’t hard, but finding one that will let you linger proved near impossible. It’s almost like these beach towns expect you to be on the beach or something.

And then we found The Treehouse. It’s tucked in the back corner of a shopping center, but nothing about this place reminds me of the sprawling suburban plazas back home. The center itself is planked and wooden, aged but not broken down, much like the people who run the boutiques and bookstores and galleries.

When we walked in, we were greeted by a thin guy with graying hair, almost bald but not quite. His face gives away his age, wrinkled and sun-worn, but he carried himself with joviality that told us he is not through enjoying his life.

“Welcome, ladies! How are we doing?”

“Wet,” Beth said, as we walked in from the rain. Our hair was dripping and we were soaked to the bone, my gray Toms squished with every step I took into the shop. They wouldn’t dry quickly, and I resigned myself to spending the rest of the night in wet shoes.

“Well, let me give you a towel to dry off with!” He handed it to me, the wettest of the bunch, and I tried to deny it, but he insisted. I ordered a latte, but all at once I was more grateful for his kindness than I was for his coffee.

He handed me my coffee and said, “Make yourself at home, okay?”

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I’ve started making note of moments like this. I’m not sure if it says more about me or the world or just the way of things lately, but meanness seems far too prevalent and I lose faith in mankind if I don’t catalog the niceties every once in awhile.

I think maybe it started, this note taking, about the same time I started looking for grace moments, probably because in my mind the two can’t be separated. Nice can feel a lot like grace. And after the mess of leaving church and finding a new church and changing careers and deciding whether or not to move again – I’m still craving grace.

I’m craving connection to people who don’t care that I feel messy and complicated and confused, that can look past it or right into it and say, with words or not, “It’s alright. You’re gonna be okay. Here, have some coffee. You can talk if you want to.”

Maybe, if you’re as lucky as I am, you get it more on the regular. Maybe you come home to parents who are the kind of people who, even though you’re a grown-up, still call to see if you’re coming home for dinner, because if you are, they want to be sure there is something you like on the table. Maybe you share a bedroom wall with a brother who, when you have the flu, will run up the street to the grocery store just for Gatorade, the orange kind, because it’s your favorite when you’re sick. Maybe you go to Bible study with a group of women who really believe that you’re being a writer is not a crazy idea, and they offer their homes as “havens” and “writing spaces” to help you finish this crazy book you’re working on.   Maybe you have parents of friends sending emails and inviting you for dinners and making space for you in their homes, just because you’re someone important to their kids. Maybe you have a niece and a nephews, of blood or of choice, who squeal and shriek and hug you around the knees every time you walk into a room. (I hope most especially you have the last one.)

Maybe for you finding nice isn’t all that difficult. But, maybe sometimes the world starts to feel a little off kilter with every news story about a missing plane or missing child. Or maybe your world is saturated with unkindness at work or school or home or church. Maybe you’re bullied. Maybe your kids are bullied. Maybe you’re just world-weary and tired, because life is just hard sometimes.

So maybe you need to be reminded that there are genuinely nice people out there, shining a little light in the darkness, going about their day as they run boutiques and bookstores and coffee shops. Because sometimes you get caught in the rain, and you need a place that feels even a little bit like home.

And if you find yourself in Duck, North Carolina then make sure you stop in at The Treehouse. If you come in from the rain, Larry will even give you a towel.

Being happy

When I was dating someone at the beginning of the year, I didn’t tell my parents about it for three months. Even though I was living with them and seeing them every day, on date nights I would run down the stairs and out the front door and I wouldn’t even tell them goodbye sometimes. Admittedly, it wasn’t my best plan.

I figured I was an adult and didn’t have to answer to anyone about where I was going or who I was spending my time with. It turns out that’s actually a pretty juvenile way of thinking.

My friend Beth yelled at me about it one night, and made it clear that she thought my inability to talk about dating, not just with my parents but in my life, was a major problem. She said that I was getting in my own way, that I wasn’t being fair to the guy I was seeing, and that I was going to destruct my relationship by hiding him. She said that she was mad at me because I’m a smart person, but I was being so stupid. And then she yelled, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST LET YOURSELF BE HAPPY?!”

My friend Amy simply told me I was being a child and threatened to tell my mom if I didn’t.

I told my parents at lunch the very next day.

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Even though my relationship ended, my wrestling with Beth’s question hasn’t. Trying to find the answer has actually led me to make conscious, pro-active decisions about my life that have nothing to do with dating. And I think for the first time I’m beginning to understand what it is to be happy.

How I came to be someone who believed her happiness irrelevant, I’m not sure. But, I think a lot of it starts with being raised with a theology that emphasized saving souls and serving others. My whole faith system became based on others – making sure they were cared for, listened to, carried, and saved. The result, I think, is that my relationship with Jesus suffered a bit. Because I feel guilty if I take time for myself, even if that self time is spent in the Word or prayer or being quiet all alone. Because don’t I know that there is work to be done? Don’t I know that people needed to hear about the Lord? Don’t I know there are people going to hell from Harford County?

The truth is, I know. I know there are people in my county that don’t believe in God, and I suspect that there are people in this coffee shop I’m sitting in right now who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. But, I also know that I can’t save their souls.

I can share with them all I want to, and open up my Bible with them, and read them all the verses about how God loves them and sent His Son to die for them and offers them eternal life if they believe in Him. I can hand them tracts and invite them to church and I can do all the things I’ve been told to do to bring them into the Christian faith, and they might say no. Or like the rich young ruler, they may just walk away.

So then, this is what I’m coming to know: God alone is the soul-saver. And I think that it makes God happy when I acknowledge that He is I AM and that I am not.

And this means, then, I’m in a position to build human-to-human relationships with everybody else. And in those relationships, what I share about God is rooted in my experience with Him – as sinner saved by grace, convinced of the truth of Scripture, and humbled by my inability to save myself.

And this, I know, is where my happiness lies. Not in working so damn hard to make sure everybody else is okay, but in a surrendered relationship with Christ, where what is “required” is to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Because the truth of the matter, friends, is that talking about God makes me really happy. And sharing stories about how He’s making Himself known to my friends and to me and in our relationships together makes me happy. And drinking coffee, and reading, and learning blog design make me happy. And writing makes me happy.

And if I keep doing these things, for as long as God calls me to them, then maybe, just maybe, I have a shot at answering Beth’s question.

Why can’t I let myself be happy?

I can. And it starts now.

What I’m Into – June 2014

What I'm IntoHoly hotness, Batman! It’s summer time, good and officially. And while I don’t love the rising temps and constant sweating, June was cool enough that sitting on the porch with my pals didn’t feel akin to sitting wrapped up in a warm towel. So, I’m chalking the month up to a win.

 

Doing

My friend Sarah turned 26 in April, and we were finally able to get together to celebrate the awesomeness that she is. We all donned tiaras and wore fake tattoos and had a proper Disney Princess themed party, because apparently that sort of thing is just as fun when you turn 26 as when you turn 6. And maybe it’s even a little bit better because you can play Candy Land *and* drink beer. (Photo creds to my pal Amy.)

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Belle didn't make it to the ball. She quit.

Belle and I had similar feelings about Disney Princess Candy Land.

This is the face of a Candy Land winner.

This is the face of a winner.

This is my "I can't even princess anymore" face.

This is my “I can’t even princess anymore” face.

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Watching

The Playing House finale on USA was a great ending to the ten-episode first season. It was funny and poignant and all the things I love about TV.

Also, my pals and I went to see a couple of movies because doings things outside means sweating too much. So, I recommend Maleficent if you’re at all into pretty cinematography or Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones. Both are prominent.

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The Fault in Our Stars brought me to tears. I’m not giving anything away by saying this, but there’s a great line at the end of the film about being deeply loved, about how that’s more important than being widely loved, and this is a theme that I’m starting to dig on big time.

Fault_in_our_stars

Reading

First, Addie Zierman wrote a helpful, insightful, smart series on blogging, and it is chock full of resources. If you’re a blogger on any kind of level, spend some time there. I’m a sporadic blogger at best, and it’s inspired me to take it more seriously and to make some good changes. Stay tuned for all that.

Second, summer time is novel time, let’s just make that clear.

Jamie Ford’s 2009 debut, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, chronicles the friendship between Henry and Keiko, a Chinese boy and Japanese girl, in Seattle after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the U.S.’s entrance into World War II. It’s interestingly done as Ford alternates between the 1940s and the 1980s, where we meet Henry as an old man telling stories about Keiko and his childhood to his son.

I’m only about halfway through, but Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible is becoming one of my favorites. The story about an overzealous Baptist preacher who drags his family on mission to the Congo is intense, but in all the right ways. It’s a book to sit with, not blow through.

In contrast, Lauren Graham’s Someday, Someday Maybe I finished in a couple of days. Graham, perhaps better known for her roles as Lorelai Gilmore and Sarah Braverman, tells the story of an actress trying to beat a self-imposed deadline for success in New York City. Predictable and cheesy, Graham’s voice comes through as the main character, Franny, and you can’t help but enjoy it and laugh along. It’s pretty much the perfect summer beach book.

Listening

Andy Grammer’s Back Home is summer on the radio.

And I find myself now a major fan of Tyler Stenson, a singer/songwriter out of Portland, Oregon. Good words and an acoustic guitar is pretty much all it takes for me.

Large Coffee To-Go

I write in coffee shops for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I can’t seem to get any work done at home. Inevitably, my dog will find me and drop his ball in my lap and want to play. He’s kind of like a toddler, except it’s legally okay for me to leave him alone in the house. So, I go to coffee shops.

I like writing in coffee shops for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I have become a regular at a couple of places in my hometown. Being a regular is like being famous, except instead of people taking your picture, they serve you coffee. Which I think is maybe better.

I like being a regular for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it gives me a chance to get to know the other regulars. We don’t always know each other by name, but we often know each other by drink, and that feels like an essential thing to know about each other in this coffee shop life. Maybe because it’s a detail, a tiny personal thing that says something about who we are. For example, I can’t offer any scientific or statistical analysis to back this up, but my experience says that people who like icy frappe-type drinks really are more chill in real life than those of us who tend toward lattes.

I suppose, then, I shouldn’t be surprised when random conversations pop up that allows us to drop into deeper levels of familiarity with one another.

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''Life is too short not to enjoy great coffee'' photo (c) 2009, Ginny - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Large Coffee To-Go has a kind face and some kind of military ball cap on. It looks like one of the ones my dad wears now that he’s retired. I can’t tell what unit Large Coffee To-Go served in because the lettering is too small, but there’s no mistaking that this guy was Army and proud of it. His mustache twitches a bit when he talks and his smile is kind of crooked when he asks, “You were sitting in that seat studying six months ago. Is studying all you ever do?”

I tell him no, but kind of yes because I’m writing a book. His face doesn’t change, he holds his smile, and he asks me what it’s about. I tell him that it’s about church life because I’m finding that’s the easiest thing to say, so that I don’t bore people with too many details too fast. Large Coffee To-Go never loses his smile and says, “Good for you! I think everybody’s got a book in them, but few people have the courage to write it. What’s your name?”

I tell him, and he says that he’s going to keep an eye out for my book. He says that he’s been a reader his whole life, that he started reading when he was three, and he gives me some absurd number of books that he’s read in his sixty-some years. And then he says he thinks the world needs more really good books.

“Let me ask you this,” I say to Large Coffee To-Go. “In your estimation, given all those books you’ve read, what makes a really great book?”

He leans on the back of the chair across of me and tells me, “You have to tell the truth. Even if it’s fiction, you have to ground it in some simple truth. And it has to be written simply. You can’t be long-winded. People can tell when you’re bullshitting.”

I tell him that I agree, and I thank him for answering my question. He says, “No, thank you. There aren’t enough readers and writers your age, and literate people rule the world.” He rises from the chair he was leaning on and walks toward the exit again. His hand on the door handle, he turns and winks at me, “Keep writing.”

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Choosing a creative vocation isn’t easy. People don’t get it when you’re willing to give up a regular schedule and benefits and a 401k to sit in a coffee shop and write all the time. When people ask you what you do, they don’t always know how to respond when you tell them that you take photos or sculpt or paint or play guitar. And that’s okay, because I don’t think it means that they don’t respect the art of it all.

I think most people think like Large Coffee To-Go, actually. I think that most people respect the hell out of the art of it all, and I think most people are excited to talk to people who are spending their lives pouring out creatively. I think most people wish for the courage to publish a book, or show their paintings in a gallery, or sing on a stage and I think that talking to us about our creative vocations reminds them that are people out there who do. And I think most people genuinely want to know what it’s like to take a risk and live life with such exposed vulnerability.

If you are someone who writes or paints or sculpts or plays an instrument – keep doing it. Do it if it’s your vocation or not. Write if you can spend hours at a coffee shop or if you have to steal an hour from somewhere else if your day. Paint if you have a studio or if you have to spread out next to your kids at the kitchen table. Make music in your garage or at church or alone in your living room. Just do it. Do it for the art of it all. Do it because you have a truth to tell.

Do it for you, and do it for me, and do it for Large Coffee To-Go.

Pleather pants

“Hi, friend!” she yells across the coffee shop as she walks in. We haven’t seen each other in five years, but I don’t think the baristas would’ve guessed that as easily as we hug, order coffee, and fall into conversation.

She immediately shows me a picture of her nephew, born when we were fifteen, and the other nephews who have come along since. She tells me about her work and her dogs and her house, scrolling through the camera roll on her phone. She shows me her tattoos, the most obvious one on her left forearm, silhouettes of Peter Pan, Wendy, and the Lost Boys flying across a banner that reads “never grow up.” I love that tattoo because it sums her up perfectly.

Because she was always the friend that I got into trouble with, in the best sense. We share those memories with each other again, out loud, laughing at the same places in the stories that we’ve laughed at for almost twenty years.

“My mom still swears we went walking in Mooringsport that one night the sheriff called,” she chuckles. We were seventeen, visiting her grandparents in their small Louisiana town, the two of us sharing a camping trailer on their property for a week. “I keep telling her that we didn’t, even though we did sneak out to make sandwiches in Granny’s kitchen. Do you remember that?” We laugh, and I remember. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were never so sweet.

Later that summer, she went with me to visit my grandparents in their small town in New York. The one stop-light town didn’t offer much, but the next town over had an Ames and we occupied an afternoon wandering the aisles, daring each other to try on the most ridiculous clothes we could find.

We were never ones to say no to a dare, which is probably how we always wound up in trouble and is definitely how we ended up in pleather pants.

In a lot of ways, I think we’re still those same kids. She still twirls her hair when she’s nervous, and I still have a hard time making eye contact when I’m talking about something serious. She still stops mid-conversation with a “Wait, what was I talking about?” when her ADD gets the better of her, and I still bite my nails unthinkingly when I’m listening. And we still laugh a lot and too loudly when we’re together.

But, in a lot of other ways we’re different. We’ve each gotten some new edges and some new wounds we didn’t have when we were seventeen. We have different stories to tell about faith, about how we lost it for a little while and then God met us again. We go to different churches, live in different states, and like to do different things in our free time.  Whether we like to admit it or not, we have grown up.

And through it all, we have stayed friends. Because some people just stick to you, like peanut butter and jelly or a pair of pleather pants.

What I’m Into – May 2014

WhatWhen Leigh posted that link-up time was upon us, I was surprised at how quickly the end of May sneaked up on me. What a weirdo month it’s been. But, it’s been a full month too, with lots of good times with lots of good friends, some who I don’t get to see very often.

Let’s start there…

Doing

My high school pal Becca came to visit at the beginning of the month, and I love when she’s in town. We’ve been friends since we were sixteen and there’s something comforting in just sitting with someone who’s known you through all the crazy changes life brings in the decade between kid and adult. We spent an afternoon doing “Maryland things,” which basically means we sat by the water and ate seafood.

At the end of the month, my friends Claire and Dave came to town all the way from London. To be fair, they’re my friends by extension – because Claire and my oldest pal Beth studied together at St Andrews and then became the  best of pals, and Beth likes me enough to share them with me. I think this is how some of the best friendships are made, when you like each other enough to share.

Beth, Me, Dave, and Claire - proof of the best kind of sharing.

Beth, Me, Dave, and Claire. The best kind of sharing.

My friend Danielle is a friend I made through Beth too, because Danielle lived with Beth in college and then Beth moved away for her doctoral studies and Danielle and I kept hanging without her. So, last weekend Danielle’s daughter had a birthday and I got invited to the bowling party, where I hung in the back and with the grown-ups and drank juice boxes and chewed bubble gum because I’m not about relinquishing all childhood things.

Kids at heart.

Kids at heart.

Like eating ice cream at the newest local joint and riding the plastic tractor.

On top of  tractor

And then I held a gun when my friend Matt and my dad and Matt’s dad and my mom went to the local gun range to shoot clays with 12-gauge shotguns. I’ll tell you why I’m a fan of this activity, because it always is a good time with Matt, my pal who knows me really well and still has a thing or two to teach me. At one point I was over-thinking my movements, as I’m prone to do, and Matt leaned over the from the clay launcher and said, “If you’re not smiling, you have no business shooting,” which was his way of reminding me that the point of going to the gun range was to have fun, not to be the best shot. Lord love Matt, I think that’s a lesson that’ll transfer off the range.

Reading

Love DoesMy Bible study, after a mini-break, is back to things this week with Beth Moore’s Esther. When the BFF and I ran to get our new books, the bookstore had Bob Goff’s Love Does on sale, and I grabbed it on impulse heading for the counter. I think it’s probably the best impulse decision I’ve ever made. Because this is a book that met me in a place where I needed to meet it and it’s a book I’m going to live with, just like Anne Lamott’s Grace Eventually and Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet and Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God and Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Biblical Womanhood. Bob’s point, I think, is that knowing God makes love the whole point, and it’s not enough to sit and think about how to love people well, you have to get off your butt and love. He then offers that getting off our butt is going to always be an adventure with Jesus:

You don’t need to know everything when you’re with someone you trust. That’s probably why Jesus’ disciples never said they were on a mission trip. I think they knew love already had a name and they didn’t need a program or anything else to define it. We don’t either. The kind of adventure Jesus has invited us on doesn’t require an application or prerequisites. It’s just about deciding to take up an offer made by a father who wants us to come (pg. 136).

I want to live in a new normal where I can reach out to people who are different from me and just be friends. I remember hearing in elementary school that we could be pen pals with someone far away. That was great and all, but there’s a big difference between being pen pals and being real pals. To make an impact you have to go there and start a friendship. Friends do – they don’t just think about it (pg. 74).

I think I found similar kind of themes – about going on an adventures with Jesus – in the blogosphere this month:

Listening

I’ve been a Damien Rice fan for a long time, but this month my friend introduced me to a great used music/book store and I bought his O album (the one with the greats like “Cannonball” and “Delicate”) again because I lost my copy years ago. And I forgot how much I love him, and how much his music feels like the best parts of falling in love.

 

Watching

It never occurred to me that people watch things not to be entertained, but because they want to learn something. This explains why my dad is always watching the dang History channel and why we got into a small conversation about it when he asked me about the new X-Men movie and I said that it was “interesting.” He said that he’d never heard a consumer movie described as “interesting,” and I said I didn’t know what a consumer movie was. He explained that it’s just created to be consumed, just to be entertaining, and I said I didn’t understand the problem. And I didn’t have the words at the moment, but I’m okay with entertainment for entertainment’s sake or art for art’s sake, even when said art reveals Hugh Jackman’s backside.

Most TV shows are on summer hiatus after big finales (Is Castle alive?? Bye Cristina! What will become of Danny and Mindy now?!), so I’ve had to find other things to watch. I wasn’t going to give USA’s Playing House a chance, even though it’s about best friends and I’m a sucker for those kind of shows, but then I read an interview with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, who are the creators and the leads and real life BFFs. And I’m obsessed! I texted Joy right away and I made her watch it, because I couldn’t stand her not watching something I loved anymore than Jess can’t stand that Lennon has never watch Gilmore Girls. And it’s worth noting that this show purposefully has a Stars Hollow/Lorelai and Rory style to it, but with more improv and adult humor.

And as someone who doesn’t love summer, at least laughing at a new show is something.