love burrito.

four years ago today, mommy and i brought you home, enamored and in awe of our little love burrito, after the three of us spent two sleepless nights in the hospital.

every time you cried, we would change you and feed you and walk you and rock you.

and we would just look at you and hold you and love you and kiss you all over.

because we had no idea what we were doing, but we knew exactly what to do.

you dropped out of heaven and into our arms and we get to hold you forever, for now.

you were then as you are now so easy to love.

you come by your personality honestly, but the thing is…

you had one long before we could ever give one to you.

you are your very own strong and independent girl, so brave and courageous.

daily you amaze with the questions you ask. you are just. so. smart. you ask such good questions, hannah grace. really good, smart questions.

and i know you don’t like being called cute (except when you do) because big girls are pretty and not cute but one day, you will appreciate the value of being both cute and pretty, because you are very much both.

you are beautiful, though, because of who jesus is on the inside of you, hanners. you are so gracious and kind and compassionate and generous. you have such a lovely, tender and precious heart.

you are wildly creative, incredibly funny and you come up with great ideas!

you are encouraging and inspiring.

you are already your best self, just as you are. 

and as we continue figuring out how to build up and esteem your larger-than-life, sweet, pretty-and-cute self, hannah grace, and help you navigate life…

just enjoy being four for now. it’s your only job.

you’ll be a teenager soon enough. no need to rush becoming a grownie, even though i, of course, understand because your kk was once four.

i love you more than my own life, princess strawbarellatinkerbelle.

you are my very favorite part of every day.

happy birthday, hannah grace!

{february 4, 2008}

all things leigh.

when i told you about some of my best friends last month, i was remiss to leave out one friend in particular but it was because she deserves a post all to herself. i also knew there was no way i could sum up in 500 words or less all the reasons i love leigh and am so thankful for her. because i don’t see her on a regular basis but we are in constant contact, i didn’t have a single anecdote to summarize the nature of our friendship like i can do with some of my more local friends.

and so, today, in grand celebration of your 32nd year, i present to you All Things Leigh, a comprehensive list (in no particular order) of everything there is to love about my bloggy-bff-turned-one of my bff’s IRL, leigh kramer.

* * * * * * * * * *

i wish i could tell you just how badly my eyebrows bother me here. but wait, this is a post about leigh. nevermind.

1. the very nature of this list is a direct result of knowing leigh. i learned about the birthday bucket from her. (take note you might not be able to find a new one for me this year. decided i’d take this year off. or something.) actually…come to think of it…she had ‘meet mary kathryn’ on her bucket list and she came to alabama when i was there last spring in order to make that happen. gosh, i adore her for doing that.

2. leigh is one of those folks who actually (ahem) crosses off things on her birthday bucket list, which is to say she follows through – with…life. i love that about her. she doesn’t let fear or insecurities hold her back – in fact, she’s pretty fearless – instead, she uses them to propel her forward. leigh inspires.

3. leigh values her relationships more than just about anyone i know. she is so committed to her friendships and the people in her life. as such, she creates an ode to friendship mix that she sends out to her friends at the end of each year of all the cool music she’s found over the course of the year, which means she’s perpetually thinking of the people in her lifewhat would they like? oh! she would love this song! 

4. speaking of which, she still collects and keeps cd’s. who does that anymore? leigh does. a relic in her own right, she keeps a perfect balance in life of what’s good about the old while inviting in the new & different.

5. in general, leigh is very, very balanced. she’s also fairly unassuming. she has a bounce about her, she spills life. she doesn’t draw attention to herself with a boisterous personality; rather, she invites others in by drawing them out.

6. leigh is hysterical to boot! i knew just from reading a few of her words that we would immediately get along. i love a quick wit and a sharp sense-of-humor and leigh defies both. we spent our very first, in-person conversation analyzing the life and times of gilligan’s island. i enjoy myself when i am around leigh.

heatherly, leigh & mk at she speaks, 2011

7. one can’t really anticipate the outcome of meeting someone from the blogosphere in real life, much less share a room with them for a weekend, but i had a feeling everything would turn out just fine for me and leigh. (and it did.) but what i didn’t expect was just how comfortable we would be with each other. our friendship, though new, fits like my first pair of cowboy boots that i will never, ever get rid of or outgrow no matter how many times i have them re-soled because they are just that sacred and only get better with time.

8. especially in these last months, leigh has been at the ready, phone in hand for me. she has been more than gracious to talk me down off a few ledges in recent months (related to circumstantial situations moreso than my depression, though there’s that, too). leigh is one of the most committed friends i have ever had. ever. hands down.

9. leigh listens and advises without giving advice, if that makes sense. mostly she listens, and only responds with such grace and understanding. she always and only ever says to me, you are normal, and there have been so many days when i didn’t know that was what i needed to hear. a social worker by nature, her exposure to the hearts and minds of people have made her a compassionate, tender and empathetic friend. 

10. leigh has got to be one of the most emotionally balanced & mentally healthy persons i know, truly. she may be affected by life for a moment, but she is confident in who she is and what she brings to the table, and knows there’s always room for growth, too. her security in herself helps others feel more secure in themselves.

11. when i was in nashville for my cousin’s wedding, i let leigh come with my family to brunch. i say ‘let’ because, well…well, let’s just say it makes me nervous to expose anyone to certain members of my family lest there be any semblance. i usually wait a while to make certain introductions, especially in the case of a friend i mostly know virtually, anyway. but she came with grace and ease – not only that, she came just for love of me. because she wanted to see and spend time with me. and, even though i did lose my cool at a certain point, leigh didn’t judge or think less of me.

12. we spent the rest of the day at her favorite dessertery, drinking cup after cup of fruit tea. i know she social-worked me that day, but we sat and talked for hours and probably could have stayed for hours longer. leigh is my favorite kind of friend, of the comfy couch variety. 

13. did y’all know leigh’s written a book? a novel. her first. she set a goal of starting & finishing a book by the end of 2011, laid out the timeline of how to make it happen, and then…well, she did it. (again with the follow-through.) she even quit her job in order to expedite the process. leigh is just. so. cool.

14. additionally, she uprooted herself from her homeland of chicago to make a new life for herself down south in nashville. leigh is bold, confident, and moves in the direction of her dreams. this girl who gets paralyzed by fear so admires that about her.

15. our friendship has hit a few bumps in the road, as friendships tend to do over time, where either we’ve disappointed each other or offered an apology for words (mis)spoken, but our friendship has not been threatened. in each case, leigh facilitates an open, honest dialogue that is real and respectful. 

16. leigh is steady as a rock and does not waiver in who she is or in her confidence in the lord. she teaches me daily how to use my feet. and my thumbs. :)

17. leigh is just…good. and she is honest. and kind. and fair. i never wonder if she is going to hold back or spare my feelings. i trust her judgment implicitly.

18. true to her name, leigh offers hope and is a glass-halfull person. ever the optimist, she encourages without blowing sunshine up your arse. she lives her best self from the inside out and, in so doing, calls that forth in those around her.

19. and this is kinda random, but i love watching her weave her way through the internets. in addition to crafting words to perfection on her own blog, she is always guest-posting here or writing for this collaboration or that. i read everyone else’s best stuff based on her recommendation. fostering relationships comes so naturally for her, even through our virtual society. i’m really not sure how she does it with such flexibility, but it’s probably because she has better time management skills than i have.

20. leigh is FUN! i get so sad and jealous when she tells me of all the shows she’s seeing in nashville and where she’s been and what she’s doing and with whom. she truly lives an adventurous life and fun happens wherever leigh is.

in short, leigh is awesome. everyone should be so fortunate to have a friend like her.

* * * * * * * * * *

sweet home alabama 2011, where we first met in real life

leigh, in what seems like a not very long amount of time, you have become one of my truest, deepest, dearest sister-friends of the heart. thank you for daily teaching me how to be a friend. for spicing up my life with your banter, for all the hours you have spent listening and for each ledge off of which you have talked me down, i could not repay.

but, the thing is, you wouldn’t ask me to. because you teach me that it’s just what friends do.

my heart is full of gratitude for you, on this and every day, leigh.

but especially on this day, especially on the day of your birth, my heart is celebrating your life and thanking jesus for you.

i pray this year more than any other is full of hope, wonder and magic for you…

that dreams come true and wishes are realized…

and each day is full of sparkle and shine…

because that is what you bring into this world each day. 

i love you so much, my dear, sweet friend.

what a pleasure it is to do life and walk this journey with you.

thank you for the privilege of being your friend.

do you know leigh? (you should if you don’t.)

what would you add to this list?

what do you love about leigh?

my dumpster dog.

princess zella-bella boo-fella tyson was 10 months old when i adopted her from the orange county animal shelter in my hometown.

it was my sister‘s idea. i should have realized when she said, you need a dog, she really meant, i want a dog but i don’t want to take care of it, so you get one so she’s your responsibility and not mine. we were living together at the time and i had only just started therapy, else i might have had a different response than to agree with and want to please her before heading right out the door to find one.

turns out, though, she was right (but just this one time).

i went to the shelter and filled out a wish list and answered an extensive questionnaire. i want a toto-dog, i said. i had no idea what kind of dog, as in what breed, that was exactly. i just knew that i wanted a dog that looked like toto. (because who doesn’t, right? small dog. cute. compact. lapdog. throw her in the car and go. eats everything in sight and thinks she’s a person and gets these wild, crazy eyes and sharp fangs about her when she knows she can’t have something and gets uninvited to family gatherings and certain homes. WHO DOESN’T WANT A DOG LIKE THAT.)

i worked at the ‘duct at the time, so i also indicated that i could bring my dog to work with me. you know, because we needed a wild dog-child running around there greeting guests and digging in their purses for lipstick and bubble gum.

i took a tour of all the orphan-dogs and would have adopted all of them if i could have, but did not find The One with whom my heart connected.

so, they told me to check back in every week-to-ten days as new ones were always coming in.

it would seem i was set as flint to get one because i went back two weeks later and a girl who worked there pulled me aside. she said they found a dog behind the dumpster at wal-mart three months earlier, which she adopted. only, it turned out she couldn’t give it the life it needed. ‘bina’ (short for ‘sabrina’ – i know, let’s not talk about it. her name has been changed.) spent most of her days in a crate while this young girl balanced school and work.

i read your profile, she told me. she’s exactly what you want and you can give her a better life than i can. if you’ll agree to it, i’ll surrender her back to the shelter so that you can adopt her.

so we arranged for me to meet the dog later in the week.

she was right. ‘bina’ was just what i said i wanted but, to look at her, i just wasn’t that…moved…by her.

to be honest with you, i felt bad for the girl but i also felt bad for this dog. mostly, i just thought how selfless this girl must be to want to give this sweet dog -her dog- a better life.

it never even crossed my mind that this dog might have just been too much for her to handle.

call it a guilt complex or maybe it was because i was a people pleaser trying to save the world, but i agreed to adopt the crying girl’s dog. i picked her up from the shelter a few days later.

the truth is, i didn’t really think ‘bina’ was all that cute when i brought her home with me that day. none of us did. and now…look what love has done, my sisters and i laugh now. because she is absolutely, positively The Cutest Dog in the World to me now, even if age hasn’t calmed her crazy.

we changed her name, too. i had already picked it, but there isn’t another that fits her more perfectly. my grandma’s first name, which she was never called, was zella. i loved that name but couldn’t guarantee a.) that i would ever have children, and b.) that whomever i may or may not have children with would love that name like i did, so i named my dog that instead.

i had no idea what i was getting into, when i a.) adopted a dog, period, and b.) adopted a terrier. (by the way, i had no idea at the time that toto was a cairn terrier, or that zella actually was the same breed.) had i known, i might have thought twice. and then a third time. and probably a fourth. SO IT’S A GOOD THING I DIDN’T KNOW.

and now, this month, she is eight years old. this love of my life, sweet cuddle-bug child of mine who both calms my crazy and makes me a tiny bit more insane.

* * * * * * * * * *

my zella-grrrl, you are the light and love of my life. i want to laugh and cry each time i look at you with your playful spirit and sad eyes. you have been the greatest comfort and most fun/tiresome part of my day for the last seven years and two months.

i can’t do life without you, and i wouldn’t want to.

thank you for being excited to see me every time i come to the door and for making me get out of bed each day because sometimes your urges are the only thing that does.

you are My Very Favorite Part of Life, princess zella-bella boo-fella, and i wouldn’t have picked out a different dog had i been given the chance or known any better.

thank you for choosing me. 

princess zella-bella boo-fella tyson

{born sometime in january, 2004}

on getting it.

there have been times in my life when i have wanted -nay, needed- a man, a brother, to step up in my defense to say, ‘no more. this ends here. now.’ sometimes that has happened. other times, i have had to stand up for myself. sometimes the latter is necessary in order to realize my own strength and stand in the confidence of who god has created me to be.

on other occasions, the former matters most.

i love it when a man – a man’s man, one of god – gets it. he just…gets it. gets a woman. gets a woman born of the same god.

preston gets it. 

thank you for getting it, preston. for wrapping words around strong women who fit a proverbs 32 model, or no real model at all, except that our heart’s desire is to become and look more like jesus in his entirety and to love god more fully. i needed for a man to get it.

thank you for getting it, preston. truly. 

alternately, sarah also gets it.

it’s a different kind of ‘it’ sarah gets, but it compliments what preston gets. she gets the struggle but also won’t relent to it and instead just wants to be about her father’s business.

sarah, thank you for this.

and my best heart-of-my-own-heart, sister-friend of my soul amy gets it. she has always gotten it but, like her own best friend, has taken the long road to getting it, one that neither of us would trade for any shortcut.

at the end of her first book, messy faith, amy states on page 203,

i don’t know how messy your faith is. i just know that god is there. i have no eloquent words to help you on your journey other than to tell you he is right beside you. he longs for you. he wants you. he has not given up on you. he has not forgotten about you. and no matter what the picture of your unique road of trusting in god looks like, know that he is right there. his presence unchanging and eternal. 

faith is not just messy. it is not only an experience of struggle, despair, and hard times. so much beauty and joy and peace and comfort are intertwined even in the darkest of places. sometimes we just have to do a better job of paying attention to them…

friends, thanks for getting it. and for putting words to what you’ve got. you inspire and encourage me. i’m thankful for you. xo

that kind of friend.

harvest on the hill o4

many years ago, i told tiffany that she was teaching me how to be and have a friend. over ten years, a husband who i respect tremendously, four babies i adore, several miles plus the years of my crazy between us, she remains one of my best and most committed friends. our love for one another has not once wavered, even if our time together has.

when we first became friends, we would sneak into our “office”, which was more like a military bunker, and we would giggle and gossip about things we couldn’t say out loud at work.

she and i created the princess plan of physical perfection together. (it worked for me, too, let me tell you…)

she was the first friend i had who moved away, if only temporarily, and stayed in touch. we spoke almost, if not, every day while she lived in california.

market on the hill spring o4

she hostessed my going-away party when i left for new york. she was my first cheerleader going and then coming home, even when no one knew i had come back. we started a business together that spring and she squealed for my vision every morning as we woke up with new ideas.

about a year later, god made it clear it was time to sever the most important relationships in my life (outside of my family), three to be exact. (for the sake of brevity, i won’t get into the who and the what and the why.) i couldn’t even give words to it when i broke up with tiffany, and it happened awkwardly over lunch. it was incredibly painful for both of us.

that summer, i said ‘yes’ and then i said ‘no’ when she asked me to be in her wedding.

and then, in the fall, we went out for our birthday lunch as we had in previous years.

and do you know what that precious girl said to me? she said she understood why there had been space between us. that jesus and charles showed her why even when i couldn’t.

and in a moment, god wrapped our hearts around each other again and we reconciled.

it was too late then to be a bridesmaid in her wedding a month later, but i did get to sing for them and was a part of all of the festivities. no role in any wedding has meant more to me than that, when i would have been happy to have just received an invitation by then.

it was even after that when my brain took a sabbatical from my body and yet she remained loyal even when i couldn’t be open with her then about my crazy.

only she and i can know the cost of our friendship over so many years. tif is a friend of the truest kind, who empathizes in both joy and sorrow. she has been and is the friend i want standing next to me on the most beautiful and wretched of days, when i am my best and my worst. because i know she and our friendship can take it because we already have.

she is that kind of friend.

superbowl 2o1o

and then there’s karen and mel, or k-cobb and mel-p as i like to call them. (actually, mel, i’ve never called you that before, but i’m going to start now, okay?) karen & mel are my heart’s dearest and truest friends here in the town where i live.

we only met two-ish years ago. i know this because i remember karen started showing up to our bible study around the time that my dad died.

we laugh now because, for a while, i thought she was too clean to be friends with me. i thought i was too colorful for her. and…that’s all i’ll say about that. (i’m not saying but i’m saying.)

i remember my first conversation with her as we stood in leslie’s living room. rather, i don’t remember what we talked about but i remember what she was wearing and that we hugged for a long time and it was precious, even though i still thought she would be too conservative for the likes of me.

no, caroline, i'm not speaking today.

we prayed into being her baby who i love as if he is my own child. 

you have heard me call her and her husband my co-spouses. when we talk about ben getting a job after he achieves his mba (this week!), we talk about where we’re all going to move together and what color to paint my room.

and then one day i ended up with her and ben at mel’s house to “watch the superbowl” and it was all over after that. we were bff’s from that moment on. (their husbands were roommates in college so they were friends long before me. in fact, mel had also been roommates in college with one of my oldest family friends.)

they are the kind of friends who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it, no matter what. they are fiercely loyal, without question.

like tif, they teach me how to be and have friends.

for my birthday this year, karen invited our besties around her fire-pit where we made s’mores and told stories and laughed hysterically and i cried because there, they each shared stories of my friendship with them. they reminded me why anyone has friends at all. 

out on a pass.

there was one particularly difficult weekend in the fall when i was on big myra-duty. i had a brief respite that saturday morning after not sleeping at all for two nights and i. was. so. exhausted. like, the crying, can’t-make-sense-of-anything-at-all kind of exhausted. they found me unnerved at our church yard sale and despite my most polite southern efforts to insist they not come, they left their families to show up at bedtime, made a pallet in the living room and helped me throughout the night – to the point i had to just sleep and let them take over. some of my favorite memories of my life were made with them that night.

yesterday, karen said she wants to have an mk-revival at the beach around the first of the year. i asked her if she meant she wants me to preach or if she means to bring me back to life, which the latter would make more sense than the first anymore.

they are that kind of friend.

the kind of friend i hope i am, the kind i want to be.

that i would ever have that kind of friend? i couldn’t ask for more than the gift of each of these women in my life. i am stronger, softer and more beautiful because of them. my friends are the reason my heart beats and i haven’t even gotten around to telling you yet about amy, leigh & het, kim, catherine, jenny, annya, the other girls who sat around karen’s bonfire, the chapel hill social club or why kel is the reason i am funny, if ever i am funny at all. there will definitely be a part two post. and a part three.

for now, for today, i honor these three women in my life, and the jesus who shines so purely through them.

tif, karen & mel, thank you for the gift of…you. for living so completely, totally and honestly into who god has created you to be. for showing up, for laughing and crying…and laughing til we cry, for just being present.

my life is richer, fuller, and certainly more fun, because of you.

do you have that kind of friend?

blue christmas.

UGH.

i.

dread.

christmas.

when het sent an email to a group of us asking to fill guest-spots about ‘preparing for advent’ my honest reaction was,

oh, holy night, het. (see what i did there? only that’s not what i actually said.)seriously? you really want me to tell our friends that my depression only worsens around the holidays and that i ‘prepare the way’ for the newborn king by hiding under my covers from thanksgiving to new year’s hoping that i can make it that long without breathing or saying the wrong thing?

(have i mentioned i was a theatre major?)

but here’s the honest truth: if i can get out of my own way, i really do love christmas.

(except when i don’t.)

i promise by the end of this post i do, in fact, get over myself but you have to head on over to heatherly’s house to find out the who, what, how and why. go on over, i’ll meet you there.

if you’ve jumped over here from our friend heatherly’s page, i am so glad you’re here. you are welcome, just as you are. there is always and only grace for you.

i hope you’ll come back here on monday where i’ll announce a Best Christmas Ever plan for this space.

(maybe i’ll have one figured out by then.)

squirrel stoltzfus.

My friend Shawn, already an accomplished author, was asked by a family member to record their Amish history. In My Amish Roots, Shawn beautifully and respectfully does just that. More, he tells a piece of each our stories, too.

I think the beautiful part about knowing our family history is that sometimes the things we don’t like about ourselves become explained, perhaps even cherished, when we see the root. (p.15)

Our stories are important. The land in which we are rooted is rich. The people who berthed us matter. We belong to these.

Upon the death of Mummi, his great-grandmother around which many of his stories are bound, and being approached by his family, Shawn relocated his family to the land from which he hails in Lancaster, Pa. or “Amish Country”, if you will. As a grown man, with a family of his own now, Shawn set out to be told – to remember – his family lore.

The significance of Shawn’s book hits close to home for me for many reasons, one being because my sister is wrapping up a book of my granddad’s teachings from 50+ years of ministry, which is every bit my own history. I now drive the country roads to and from work each day, the same roads trod by generations of Hart’s and Tyson’s before me. I understand Shawn’s need for remembering his story.

I’m sharing this with you because I’ve learned through this process that we are not isolated beings. We have not been born into this world as only a piece of matter unto ourselves. We are connected. (p. 14)

Never have I learned so much -if anything, really- about the Pennsylvania Dutch community. (Have you?) It is, in short, fascinating. For example, there is a family wig-maker in Shawn’s family, which is custom. They still ride horse & buggy. It is also tradition for Amish women to make their own funeral gown, as in the case of Mummi. Names are passed through the generations, even among women, because names are important. Other people recognize your family name. They know to whom you belong when they know your name, and there is great honor in this.

The discovery of Shawn’s family both through story and his extensive research is riveting. He brilliantly shares with his readers his findings through records kept for centuries on both the times and the times of the people whose name he bears. While Shawn’s own family of origin is no longer Amish, there is clearly a deep appreciation for their heritage.

Shawn also weaves a poignant yet innocent humor throughout, as in the case of the Mast twins who pulled a switch on the men they were seeing, respectively, and ended up marrying, thus altering the course of Shawn’s family line.

Our stories do not end with our death – they continue on, long into the future…Our stories do not begin with our birth – so much comes before. (p. 28)

From tragedy to triumph, as with all story, My Amish Roots is both moving and inspiring. One gift it gave me, other than an even greater appreciation of excellent storytelling with such vivid imagery of the Pennsylvania Dutch community, is the avid pursuit of my own family history from those who are still around to tell it.

Another reason Shawn’s story is important is because it offers a keen insight into a piece of our own American history (and beyond). Shawn’s tales are not just about his family; in a way, they are about all of ours.

In that instant I was more thankful than I have ever been. For my heritage. For my culture. For my family. There is something hidden in the middle of those cornfields that will always be inside of me, no matter where I live. I have to believe that even if my children would move away, even if my great-great grandchildren return to Lancaster someday as tourists, that their spirits will be inexplicably drawn to this place. That it will hold a curious feeling of melancholic nostalgia for them. That it will cause such a strange paradox of emotions to rise in them: emptiness and fulfillment, longing and satisfaction, sadness and joy. (p. 156)

May we all have a porch to sit on and reflect in this way one summer day.

* * * * * * * * * *

Shawn, it was a true honor to be entrusted with your wonderful story. Thank you for such privy, and for letting me share it in this space.

* * * * * * * * * *

Shawn is a master storyteller. I love the pictures Shawn draws with words. One of my favorite things to do with a real book is to circle and underline and highlight another’s words as if they were my own. My one regret is that I read his story electronically and wasn’t able to do that. And while I didn’t have a hard copy in hand, you can.

Today, Shawn is generously giving away a copy of My Amish Roots to a member of the Beauty for Ashes community. You can be entered to win for any/all of the following ways:

1. Leave a comment here, telling us a brief story of your own roots.

2. Do you know Squirrel Stoltzfus? http://wp.me/pfE4s-Nr – Tweet or FB that as your status and come let us know (or include my Twitter handle so it comes back to me).

3. Follow Shawn on Twitter and/or Facebook, then come back and tell me. (He’s great. You’ll be glad you followed him.)

Simple, no? For every entry, I will throw your name in the jar and will announce the winner tomorrow morning.

Shawn lives in Paradise, Pennsylvania with his wife, four children, four chickens, and a rabbit named Rosie. HIs most recent book, My Amish Roots, explores the roles of family, death, life, tradition, and legacy against the backdrop of his Amish ancestry. He blogs daily at shawnsmucker.com about writing, the strange things his children say, and postmodern Christianity. You can also find him here on twitter.

special brand of crazy.

over the last week, i’ve had several moments of hearing exactly what i needed to hear at exactly the time i needed to hear it. i figured if these nuggets helped me, then they’d probably help some of you, too.

p.s. once written, i knew i could make these anecdotes flow better than this, but now it’s requiring too much juice in my brain to figure it out so just go with it.

* * * * * * * * * *

i learned last week that my oldest childhood friend is expecting twins.

she got married…let’s see…pre-sober…so…in 2005?…and is expecting her first child(ren) next summer.

she may not remember this, and i’m certainly not going to remind her (i’ll just, you know…tell you all instead…), but she told me once that they didn’t really want to have children, which i get. i myself go back and forth on the matter, which is…well, since, you know…IT DOESN’T MATTER RIGHT NOW, ANYWAY.

but it gave me hope to know that one can change her mind even on a decision as big as having babies.

it’s never too late to make a different choice.

* * * * * * * * * *

and while i’m indifferent about the matter of growing people inside my body who would be little versions of my own heart running around in the world and calling me mom, my bff-karen told me the other day that she pictures my 3-4 {future} rambunctious children with dark, curly hair and i’m barefoot in the kitchen laughing at a carton of broken eggs on the floor.

my children, whom i can’t recall ever picturing myself.

(although i’m sure she was spot on about the broken eggs because. well.)

sometimes it takes someone else sharing vision for a piece of your life before you have one of your own.

(and in mine, i’m skinny, too.)

* * * * * * * * * *

i may or may not have told a small, little, tiny white lie a few days ago to get out of a commitment, one that i should have just said ‘no’ to when i was first approached for various and sundry reasons which, if i were trying to justify myself, i’d tell you that piece of the story and you’d understand. but the fact of the matter is, i wasn’t in my right mind when i committed myself but when you’re a pleaser and, well, a martyr, saying ‘no’ doesn’t come so naturally.

so i said ‘yes’.

and then i lied about saying ‘no’.

my co-spouse said, ‘we’ve all done that before’.

my sister said, ‘well, you did need a mental health day’.

and it doesn’t take away from the part that i wasn’t truthful but it sure was a relief to know that i’m not the only one who has done that before and that mental health days are easily sick days.

y’all, i know i was wrong. i judge myself. i was planning to delete this story because, well, i like letting you…ahem…think i’m…well…a perfect christian. the truth is, i am actually a very bad christian, like anne lamott says. and if you’re only as sick as your secrets, then i’m not doing anyone any favors by not sharing it, least of all myself. plus, if it helped me to hear it, it might help someone else.  

* * * * * * * * * *

my bff-karen and i somehow ended up in a conversation the other night about relationships. i told her that my last three major relationships (and each one before those) were so completely dysfunctional, codependent and unhealthy that i wouldn’t recognize a healthy one if it were staring at me in the face.

she disagreed with me because, yes, i would. especially because it’s now been over two years since i’ve seriously dated anyone and i know better because i’m better. changed. old(er).

sometimes all it takes is one word from a soul-sister of the heart to dispel a lie with truth when we forget who we are.

she also pointed out that, while our healthiest relationships should be easy and drama-free, it’s easy to mistake health for boredom. don’t know if that’s a word for someone or not the way it was for me.

* * * * * * * * * *

i asked my cousin to have lunch with me the day after big myra died because i thought i was slightly traumatized by the night’s events. i’ve been with folks just after they died, but never with someone while they actually died, and i have most assuredly never been The Only Person Who Was With Someone As They Died.

so, i needed to process that.

my nerves were put back together again when my very smart and wise clergy-cousin said, this was but one event of many, many special ones you have had with her in your life, especially over these last few months. in an instant, the pendulum swung back to center and i gained perspective.

our relationships do not culminate in one major event, for better or worse. those most precious to us are defined by moments and milestones, both heart and hard conversations, and special glances and sweet touches along the way.

also, perspectives can change in an instant when shared with the right person.

* * * * * * * * * *

after it happened, i realize now i was in such shock that it took what felt like 30 minutes to tell the story to her daughters of how big myra died which, really, was very uneventful and isn’t a long story to tell at all.

by the time i repeated it to another daughter, my sweet sister-friend who i recruited as another of her caregivers and is also a nurse was then present.

she said, you did all the right things.

because sometimes all you need to hear is you did everything right, even on days when it seems like  you didn’t.

* * * * * * * * * *

jane lynch was on live with kelly on friday (regis retired, you know). she was talking about her new book happy accidents (which, incidentally, i am neither pushing nor promoting, neither am i not pushing or promoting it – i haven’t read it and i’m not getting anything for mentioning it). i don’t know who she is or what she stands for except that she plays sue sylvester on glee, which is neither here nor there, because i really haven’t gotten into that show not for any reason at all other than i just haven’t.

anywho.

she said in passing she was intentional not to ‘take anyone else’s inventory’ in her book, which is a practice i learned early in my recovery as it is the fourth step: to take a searching and fearless moral inventory of one’s self.

not someone else’s self, just my own.

but i forget that part sometimes and i was thankful for the reminder. that, on a daily basis, it is my responsibility to be honest and truthful with myself and with others about myself. it is not, however, my responsibility to do that for anyone else no matter how justified i feel in doing so. that’s when resentments form and i get arrogant in my ways and that is a dangerous place for anyone to be.

* * * * * * * * * *

speaking of not taking anyone else’s inventory, i hesitate to tell this story, too, because it could sound like that’s what i’m doing. if anything, i’m just sharing my own brand of crazy.

my very…ahem“special” dog was explicitly uninvited to my parents’ beach condo for thanksgiving weekend; however, as i just lost a job last week, i couldn’t afford alternate plans for her.

but i cannot tell you that my feelings weren’t incredibly hurt by what was my mom and stepdad’s right to make this decision. and while my dog does require special attention, which i am used to giving after 7 almost 8 years, my sister’s family-dog was not uninvited to come.

as in, there is not a general policy on the matter, just as it relates to my dog.

even though they said it wasn’t personal, it felt very personal to me. as if they were rejecting my very, extremely, incredibly sweet but ill-mannered and hyperactive child who can’t be tamed.

so i reluctantly drove down to the beach on thanksgiving day to be with my family at my granddad’s home, resolving the whole way that i would be kind and loving as i could be and that i would turn around and leave if i just couldn’t get over myself.

zella came along for the ride and would have been content to stay in the car all day. but when i got there and saw my about seven of my cousins’ dogs, i let her spend the day outside with them.

and do you know what happened?

mine was The Only Dog Who Did Not Get Into Trouble All Day Long.

just, you knowFOR THE RECORD.

my co-spouses said their feelings would have been hurt, too, and they understood why i didn’t want to go. they also said my dog is welcome in their home any time.

some days all i need is for my closest friends to validate my crazy. (other days, i need to be called out.)

some days a girl and her dog just need to be accepted. (other days, they both need to be sent home.)

also, my dog is The Most Clever Dog In The World. clearly.

* * * * * * * * * *

my blog-friends katie & tony got married about 2 months ago. if we lived in the same town, we would totally live on the same cul de sac. i adore them, both separately and as a couple.

i really love reading about their journey and all they’re learning about marriage, probably because i recognize myself in their story. of all my married friends IRL (and there are many; in fact, most are), i probably relate most to katie’s belief systems and broken (and redeemed) path that led her to tony, whose integrity i admire tremendously.

katie’s thoughts about settling down have been sitting on me since i read them the other day. i think because i didn’t know her points are what i have falsely believed about marriage.

as much as i needed to be told i was wrong, i also needed to know i wasn’t the only one.

i woke up this morning thinking the one thing i’d add to her list also is the lie about ‘my life began the day i married…’ because…WHAT.

* * * * * * * * * *

i was catching up with katy’s blog (different katy. see? names are spelled differently. that’s how you can tell.) this morning and especially loved her most recent one, featuring special pins she’s recently found on pinterest. i was especially encouraged by some of them and thought you would be, too.

* * * * * * * * * *

and in katy’s reflections (same katy) about the women of faith conference, i was struck by something henry cloud said:

Happy people are givers—BUT there are some of you who have been giving and giving and you’re held captive by controlling people and you’re being stolen from these people who aren’t facing their issues.

i want to be a giver, don’t you? and i want to be someone who recognizes her issues so that i don’t rob other people of their own happiness. (again with the inventory.)

lord, help my happy.

and help me get away from any thieves.

* * * * * * * * * *

last week i tweeted about not being able to sleep and how i was looking forward to being awesome the next day.

catherine said, you will be awesome because you are awesome.

sometimes you just need to hear that you’re awesome.

* * * * * * * * * *

lastly, my special friend alece has said to me a couple of times over the last few weeks, i  believe in you big time.

doesn’t it do you a world of good to hear that? me too.

* * * * * * * * * *

you?

are awesome.

and i believe in you BIG time.

and you are definitely

definitely

DEFINITELY

not the only one.

(ever.)

cinco de sober.

i’ve now been sober for five years and three days. 

this is an email i sent to a group of friends exactly five years ago today, three days after i attended aa for the first time.

wednesday, november 8, 2006

the last time i lost my power to choose. and my shoes. {11/4/06}

i’m not sure how to start this.  well, first, {bride}, to you, especially – i know i don’t have the power to have ruined your entire wedding, but you must know how deeply sorry -not to mention embarassed- i am about the attention i drew to myself at your reception and afterward at the hotel.  i was mortified to hear how horrible it – i - was.

i really have no idea what i would have done if l & c hadn’t been there to take care of me and i’m sorry to them that they had to do it.  i’m also grateful that it was l & c because i know that it would have been easy for anyone else to say, “it’s okay, mare.  it happens to the best of us.”  i have really appreciated that in the past but, the truth is, we all know i have a drinking problem and it’s time i address it head-on.

l, in tough love and all the grace i’m sure she could muster, said, “i can’t sugar-coat this.  you were horrible.”

after a certain point in the evening – i’m not sure which point, but a certain point – i have no memory AT ALL of anything.  i remember dancing…and then trying to take someone’s grilled cheese sandwich (good idea, by the way, having grilled cheese sandwiches)…and then i…ugh…remember watching this girl at the hotel in the chair throwing up everywhere in front of everyone.  i know i was that girl and so i’m not trying to say that it wasn’t but the only way i know to explain it is that i don’t remember experiencing it but i know what i looked like doing it.  and then i woke up and laura told me all of these stories.

i wept like a baby in the shower, just crying my heart out, utterly MORTIFIED that y’all had seen me like that; rather, that i was like that in front of everyone i grew up with, including my parents’ friends who know my family history of alcohol abuse.  sadly, i know some of you have seen me in a similar condition before.

apparently, i put my head on the table while talking to s and just passed out.  i have a scrape on my chin and a big bruise and scratch on my leg from falling, apparently.  and then i lost my shoes?  i really have no memory of any of this which i’m sort of thankful for but i’m glad to know the truth of the story and that laura didn’t sugar-coat it.  it doesn’t sound like there was anything redeeming or cute or funny at all about any of it.  even though i can’t remember it, i hope i always remember l’s stories -and any that you want to tell me about myself, i can handle it- so that i don’t forget the path that led me to recovery.

on the way home, i called most of you on this list and then some.  i was a sad, sad sight to behold, i’m sure.  i kept thinking if the people in the cars around me were worried about the girl crying in the car next to them or behind them.  to be totally honest, it wasn’t until after i got home and took a nap that i realized i was still drunk on the way home yesterday morning, which is why -i’m sure- my messages were so pitiful to some of you.  i mean, it was the truth, but now on this side i could have told you all the same things without being so upset and sounding so crazy.  maybe not, actually.  i’m not sure.  it doesn’t matter, i guess.

anyway, i called another family member who’s recently been to rehab and she was so, so wonderful and gracious and knew all the right things to say after having gone through it herself.  she suggested, though, that since i’m identifying this so early, that i try going to meetings first before rehab.  she said that rehab was like a prison for her, that she really gets more out of her meetings than she did from rehab.  i know it’s different for everyone.  i do think – and i am so, so thankful – that i’m identifying this early enough that i think i can do this with meetings.  it really is true what they say – the hardest part is admitting it.  i kept practicing in my mirror, in the car, “i’m mary kathryn and i’m an alcoholic.”  from now on, i call “designated driver”.

in the shower when i felt the weight of it all -and had the worst headache ever and still wanted to throw up- i didn’t feel guilty, or ashamed, or condemned.  mortified and humiliated, yes.  but i felt God in my spirit saying, “it’s okay, mary kathryn!  i only love you more!  you can do this!  let’s just take care of it!”  in His tenderness and in l’s tough love-ness, i knew it was time to take care of business.  and then later, after i took my nap and woke up, i understood probably for the first time what it means that “His mercies are new every morning.”  that no matter what had happened the night before, each day is a new one and God’s love for me doesn’t change.  i was reminded of it again this morning.  He’s not embarrassed by me, just championing me to live fully and completely and to be the best me i can be, even in my shortcomings and my failures.  my life is my ministry and i know that God will use this.  in the meantime, i know i was a terrible witness the other night and i’m just sorry about that.

i got my first chip last night at my first aa meeting.  the first chip is the white one and it’s the one you get when you first admit you have a problem and want to set the course of your life in a new direction.  everyone was so tender and loving and they all cheered for me and the one other woman who was there for the first time.  when the guy called the first chip, i couldn’t understand what he said but i asked the guy next to me if it was for first-timers and he said, “go for it!”  and so i did.  several members afterward came and spoke to me.  i knew some people there and thought about where i could go where i wouldn’t know anyone.  but, let’s face it, i mean – a.) there’s nowhere i can go within a 30 mile radius where i don’t run into people i know and b.) who cares?  we’re all there for the same reason and it’s disarming and refreshing to be in a place where everyone has a common problem and a common goal.  it’s such a supportive and encouraging place.  church should be more like an aa-meeting, i think.

i’ve been to enough recovery meetings and family rehab and in my own personal counseling with karen to recognize that i have an issue with alcohol.  at this point, i don’t drink every day and i don’t crave it -that’s not true.  sometimes i do crave it, truth be told and now that the cat’s out of the bag.  mostly, though, i have these binges once in a while -my birthday, heba’s wedding- and i know that’s how it begins for a lot of people.  given the family history of alcoholism on both sides of my family, and due to some concern that’s been expressed to me especially over the last year, i was able to see in myself the pattern of the disease taking effect and the direction in which i was headed.  i don’t want to end up in rehab when i’m 50 and i’ve spent half my life drunk and depressed.  i recognize it now in the early stages and i want to take care of it now while i’m aware and have the power to make different choices.

i know this list seems random.  this is the group i would end up telling, anyway – if i didn’t already talk to you about yesterday – and so i just thought i’d go on and make it all-inclusive.  you don’t have to say anything, i just wanted you to know.  i know the list is long but, if you will, please -PLEASE- respect my anonymity in this.  i will tell people that i want to tell, but that’s my business and my job and not yours.  i really appreciate your support but i don’t want to hear it from others that i haven’t told.  i haven’t even told my parents yet.  i will, but not yet.  my sisters know – anyway, the people who need to know are on this list but please don’t talk about it with each other or anyone else.  if you want to talk about it with me, then obviously i’m totally open to that.

i feel like i have a healthy balance of humiliation and grace for myself in this.  i’m not beating myself up over it but i know how bad it is or how bad it would become if i don’t seek help for it now.  i know that the drunk girl throwing up in the chair really isn’t me, or at least not who i want to be.  i know the journey will be long and not-so-easy sometimes.  i’ve been encouraged to go to 90 meetings in 90 days, so i’m going back today at 5:30.  one day at a time, i know.

so, thanks for your support and your encouragement, your thoughts and your prayers.  you will never know how sorry or embarassed i am for anything i’ve said or done and had no control over because of my drinking.  if i have ever hurt or embarassed any of you in ANY way, please, PLEASE, forgive me.  and feel free to tell me stories that you think would be important for me to know about any of my behavior.  i can handle it.  mostly, thanks for loving me.  you wouldn’t be on this list if i didn’t know that your love was without measure or condition for me.  i love you very much and i thank God for each of you.

mary kathryn

 thank you, god, that with your help i have managed to not drink, even on days i wanted to and could have, one day at a time for 1828 days. there is not one thing i have done in my own power but through yours only. for this, i give thanks. xo

the best parts.

big myra told me the other day that i have a soft touch. 

when my own grandma was dying you came in like a warm breeze and cared for her like none of the rest of us could and she said you have a soft touch, too.

i get my soft touch from you.

i’ve got my dad’s bones but i’m petite like you are petite.

i look at my hands which have always been small like his, but my fingers are long and slender like yours.

you spy obscure treasures that i also see and love that others overlook, which…i suppose is also true of us outside of tj maxx and antique stores.

i cry with ease from a tender heart that you gave me.

and i am resilient and strong, which i also got from you.

i didn’t get all of my creativity from dad; i inherited some of it from you who {others may not realize} is equally creative.

i {used to} have teacher-handwriting like yours, til mine became sloppy and fast.

as i get older, i hear more frequently that i’m starting to look like my pretty momma (which, for the girl who has always looked like her dad, is pretty well-pleased not to be compared to a man).

and if i have the best and worst parts of him, i only have the best parts of you.

because there are only best parts of you.

i continue to learn so much from you, mom, about being and becoming a softer, better version of myself.

today, i celebrate your life and thank god that i get to be your daughter.

i wouldn’t want it any other way.

(plus, i’m not sure anyone else could handle me like you can.)

hApPy BiRtHdAy, MaRm!

i love you very, very much.

xo

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