Friday, January 29, 2016

What I Learned in January

The first month of the year, poof, GONE. I'm thankful January is over because, while it was the start of a new year, February brings the start of life as normal. And, while I love celebrations and weddings and funerals and love and grief, I also love normal. 

Because your brother's wedding will be over in a flash and you'l never have such a wonderful occasion to wear a gold sequin dress for again and so DANCE. Because your little brother will be your date since your husband is the best man and who knows when you'll run into each other on a dance floor again so DANCE. Because people die and nights end and songs change but your body will always feel the beat.  

I blame the Amazon app and our Prime membership for how easy it is to shop, but lately I've had this shift in my heart where I order things, they show up at our house and I decide I don't really want them anymore. Two books to add to my shelf that's already busting at the seams -no thank you. Booties that I like, but certainly don't need -nope, but thanks. I've noticed the pattern, now I've got to do the work on the front end so the purchases don't happen in the first place!

I made a custom globe for a friend (hey girl!) on a rainy day. The paint didn't dry right and messed the surface of the globe up. I tried so hard to resurrect it, but I am not a miracle worker and the globe was wrong. So, I called it a mess and scrapped it. Then I started over. The second worked out beautifully, but I just kept thinking about how hard it is to say, this is messy and wrong. 

This is, in fact, not a recent discovery for the world. Jason has mentioned the weird way she smells like a hamster to me previously, but I've always vehemently denied him. But, this last month has been chilly so I've been leaving a small space heater on under my desk where Hazel sleeps for the day. Sure enough, small puffs of hamster-smelling air come floating up from under my desk. It takes me back to her puppy days when she smelled warm and cozy in her too big of fur coat and so, deep breath in

It's really, really easy for me to decide I have too many things to do for Hazel to get a walk in the afternoon. And, quite honestly, I skip her walking more often than I really want to admit. But gosh those walks. I adore the time with her, letting her walk quiet and determined at my side. I adore the way my heart feels less rushed and chaotic after we pace up and down the street. I adore the adoration she earns from passersby. So, I'm going to walk more.

I haven't been doing much marketing for the shop because, well, life. And I planned on January being a slow, boring month over there. But that's not been the case. I've received a few orders and opportunities that are mind-bogglingly cool to have on my plate. they're small and special to me, not in comparison or competition, but in the context of my life. And that is enough to know people believe in me. 

I hope that not everyone has to learn this by death's graces. But we're hard on ourselves aren't we? Rigorous schedules of blogging and reading and working out and family and friends and all the other things. Rigorous schedules that don't keep the world turning, but do make us feel special and important and productive. I'm learning it's a balance between hard work and calm rest. A balance that's challenging and convicting and (sometimes) frustrating, but is also vital. 
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Linking up with Emily P. Freeman.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Season in Which We Try

A few months ago, before dying and weddings and celebrations and Christmas, I mentioned we were trying to make Mr. Thomas and me more than a party of two. I mentioned it'd been many 28-day long cycles of waiting and hope and disappointment. I wanted to say I've received all kinds of sweet advice and unwarranted opinion and showered myself in a thick wash of frustration. I wished I could say I know 2016 holds our babe.

We're trying.

That's the way we answer those when are you going to have kids already? questions. That's how we name this season of our life -because how we love to give our seasons a name. Trying is what we call our wishes and dreams and desires in short. With the word trying, we summarize childhood dreams, thousands of conversations, a gaggle of thoughts about what it would mean to be called mama.

How often are we willing to try for our dreams?

Because, we call ourselves holy and we pray, we encourage each other into still solitary reflections on the future. We make it a mysterious place that exists only in abstract. We ask for others to slow down beside us, to embrace a stilled pace, to stop. We want to talk about far away futures, about then and not now, about whats to come. But what if your life needs you to try in this season? What if the answer to your prayers is a movement in any direction so He can bless your path?

What if you're being called to try? 

That art shop, the novel buried deep in your soul, the blog you're ignoring, the friendship that feels too far away, the community for which you ache, the marriage that needs revamping, the home you can't stand to call your own. It's haunting you, bringing you to your knees with unrealized potential, and so, you need to give it a try.

Some seasons are try-hard.

The bible is full of try hard lives. Peter, Paul, Joshua, Jesus. Calling, purpose, try. Try, try, try with all their God-loving, dream-making, soul-thirsting might. A pastor told my eighteen-year-old self that picking my college was far easier than I was making it. He said, "pick your direction and then take Him with you." And He followed me there to fraternity parties and dorm rooms, to office jobs and food halls. Then He followed me home.

He knew I tried as an honor to Him.

Sometimes waiting on our dream doesn't call for stillness, but instead begs us to try with the whole of our hearts. And we can, we can try, try again. We can try for babies and for businesses and for blogs. We can try for community and for church and for cars to drive. We can try for justice and for jobs and for joy. We can try for marriages and for meal plans and for so much more.

Go on, give it a try. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

#Collaboreads: The Buddhist Walks Into a Bar

BOOKS. Books, books, books. Books and more books with a side of books. That is what we're talking about today. Because what is good in life if there isn't a book about it? Nothing. Welcome back for another month of #Collaboreads! Rachel and I are thrilled you're here, but first:

If you missed what #Collaboreads is, you can familiarize yourself here.

Short version: Rachel and I pick a random criteria for the book (i.e. Takes Place in Summertime). You pick your book and read it. Then the last Monday of the month we meet up and talk about our choices.

There's a R.E.A.D.S. review format that we've shared for suggestion's sake (shared in this post), but feel free to review however you're comfortable!

So, I've started to realize that I allow #Collaboreads books to serendipitously fall into my lap each month. I somehow believe there's some part of God that cares enough about me to hear what Rachel and I randomly decide on for the criteria and then BOOM, my book just falls from the sky (or from Audible) into my life (or my email).

Either way, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar was a random daily deal on on a day I happened upon their site and I bought it for $1.97. I decided nothing like learning about meditation and Buddhism for a month. And, quite honestly, I'm thankful I did.

I did a report on Buddhism when I was in sixth grade. My dad happened to have an employee who used to be a monk in a Buddhist temple and was now working concrete while learning to tattoo. He was fascinating (to be very casual with words) and I was intimidated beyond belief to interview him. He loaned me his saffron robes, let me see his Buddhsit tattoos, and shared with me about alms. I loved every second of it.

This reminded me of those preteen years, where I sat in the conference room with David and asked awkward questions about meditation and reincarnation. Rinzler couldn't be a more unassuming, humble narrator. He was just what I imagined of a very interesting meditation master while reminding me of a few guys from my freshman year dorm. He was easy to listen to, to relate with, and to wish I could sit down to interview.

The "relationship" this time around was different because Rinzler is a person -real and walking the earth- unlike so much of the fiction I enjoy and read. I guess, I found myself fascinated by him because he seems young like someone I'd recognize as a part of my own age group by looks, but who is wise in a way only a strong spirit can be. I wanted to interview him, to ask him more about the particulars of Buddhism, to get into the nitty gritty in a way that would be entirely too boring for a book.

And this is where I have to admit, parts of the book were boring. There were pieces that I just wanted to fast forward through because I just couldn't this time. Instead, I shut him down for a while and let myself decompress. I'd always be thankful to welcome Rinzler and his wisdom back the next time.

This is where I'm going to be controversial.

I think Christians need this book. I think we won't agree with everything (specifically the conversation about sex), but we need the meditative techniques for our prayer lives. We need to examine our motivations and intentions and emotions in the ways that Rinzler outlines -not because Buddhism is smarter than us, but because the conversation about such examinations is rich and plentiful. I have found my prayer life restored in a different, new, beautiful way as a result of Rinzler's meditation tips.

And, then, this SO OBVIOUSLY correlates with Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. I'd be highly questionable if I didn't make the connection. But, after reading about Gilbert's adventures in India, I found myself fascinated by meditation and the way it might be helpful to our American culture because of the way it requires a slowness about our minds.


I mean, loved the cover. Simple, sleek, and sassy with the Buddha on a bar shelf. Red and yellow were perfect matches for one another and, well, yes. 



And now, it's your turn to talk about all the books that filled your month!

Next month, we're linking up on February 29th and we're reading 
A Literary Classic
Whoa, this shall be a challenge for me! Here's a list of approved classics for you!
See you in a month!

Friday, January 22, 2016

On Toasts and Tears: A Marriage Letter

This letter is one in a series of letters I write to remember mundane moments of my marriage that would otherwise slip away. I write with a dedication to hold tight to him and to remember how life looks right now at this very moment. The chance for these letters to shed light on our marriage before children for our children because they won't know us as newlyweds is a much loved and added bonus.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dear Jason,

Whoa, the last month. Whoa to the day my dad died and I skipped out on a marriage letter because I needed time cuddled up close to your warm self on the cold nights of winter's depths. Whoa to the endless pairs of flannel pajamas we used as a balm for sad souls. Whoa to the stock in Kleenex and Nyquil and family days we've managed to run through over the last month.

You are the whoa to my wondrous life. A whoa I'm so thankful to call my very own.

Whoa to standing in my periphery during the funeral. We stared at one another with tears in our eyes and a casket in our midst. We've kept our talk about dying careful because we keep feeling the same tension: one day we will be one without the other. I do not relish those days because you are the better half of my life. I can't imagine evenings without your wise smile, weekends without your morning slowness, and meals without your wild appetite.

You are the whoa to top off my wondrous life. A whoa I'm so undeserving to call my very own.

Whoa to watching you stand tight beside my little brother during his wedding. Your pride as your carried the rings and that bible down was only outdone by the bow ties you spent nights mastering. And your speech, what a dream it was to watch the man I love toast the man I grew beside. The way you two love each other is almost as special to me as the love we share. You were the best man to Bub and you are the best man to me.

You are the whoa to amidst my wondrous life. A whoa I'm so excited to call my very own.

Whoa to sitting front and center during the memorial service. You asked for my eulogy over and over and over again. You patiently encouraged me through the tears and shared your confidence in my words. You listened carefully, added bits kindly, and told me it was perfect more times than I deserved to hear. Then the day came and you sat with a kind, encouraging smile in your eyes despite the heartbreak we were all feeling.

You are the whoa in my wondrous life. A whoa I'm so blessed to call my very own.

You are the twinkle in my dullest of days,

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Memories like Rainbow Fish Scales

We have made it a month. Thirty-one days without dad here with us. He was buried. He was remembered at my brother's wedding. And then, last Friday, we celebrated him with three hundred people who loved him so. I had the chance to share some words and, while they don't all belong here, I've continued to think on a single sentence.
I know he wanted a million things for each of us -his dreams were almost as vibrant as the crowd here now.
I said those words to a crowd gathered because of him. I said them with meaning and conviction. I said them because I know them to be true. But today, as I look over the full to the brim picture of his celebration of life, I wonder what they mean to me, for me, about me.

He left a mark on the lives of three hundred people -plus more- with his people-loving, dream-chasing heart. He tattooed a forever in our souls with the way he ceaselessly pursued his people. And so, we miss him deeply, but we know that -like Rainbow Fish sharing his metallic scales- he's left a small piece of himself within our hearts.

And so, I find myself wondering what piece he'd have set apart for me. I know he wouldn't worry about my humor or wit -those I have in abundance-, he'd say I've got plenty of dreams and ambition to boost. The scale would be gold and scarlet with its abundance of bravery. He'd leave me with a message of sureness, a vote of confidence, reminding me to pursue those vibrant hopes with a hair of pure madness.

He'd leave me the sentence I spoke out of my very own mouth. He'd say he wants a million things for me, that his wishes for me are as vibrant as my art. He'd tell me to leave behind the thinking and to head out on a quest for the people who make every ounce of my work and my living feel like a dream.

Not only would he gift these words to me, but he'd say them to you too. He'd charge you with a double dog dare to go and do the things that make your heart sing. He'd make sure you're doing those dreamy things with people you love. And then, he'd pat you on the back and say "well done." 

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In celebration of the man that he was and the artist I want to be, I've started putting together (free) wallpapers for your phone. I'm hoping to share a new download for you once a week in an effort to push my creativity further. So, here's a peak at your freebie for this week:
Download it HERE

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ten Ways to Offer Your Condolences (That are Affordable & Meaningful)

One of the things I've heard more times than I can count over the last month is how desperately people want to offer comfort when your family member dies, but how hard defining comfort can be for us. It's awkward when someone dies and hearts are broken and loss is searing. There is no comfort for the awkward. But there is comfort for souls and bodies and minds.

It is the physical, spiritual, emotional comfort that becomes a precious and treasured commodity -even when death has been expected (as was with our case). I've never walked beside a family who's lost someone. Until this point, death has been a stranger to me -with thanks I say that. So, I didn't understand, know, or comprehend the way it's hard to offer comfort and condolences in the awkwardness that is death.

Today I offer you ten ways to offer condolences that are simple, affordable, and deeply meaningful. There's no need to be extravagant or overwhelming; in fact, I encourage you to keep your condolences simple and practical.

1. Write down a heartfelt memory you share with the deceased. 
We didn't know so many of the amazing memories other people shared with my dad until after he passed. People felt awkward talking to us about him while he was alive, but sick; so upon his passing we received an outpouring of hilarious and touching memories people had of him. Please share these memories with the family. Extra points if you do it on paper or via email so they can look back on it.

2. Make a thoughtful (SIMPLE) gift. 
My mom's best friend made us the mugs in the above picture. She was at church the morning my dad died and the sermon was on peace. She said she wept with joy for all of us and she wanted us to have these mugs as commemorations of the most important morning of our lives. And, it's beloved.

3. Baked goods make everything better. 
A dear friend of mine brought by a card and basket for me shortly after my dad died. She wrote "when there aren't words, there are cookies" in the card and forever warmed my heart. Plus, her cookies were phenomenal.

4. Send a link to a song or book or YouTube video or picture that brings up memories. 
There's nothing like waking up to an unexpected text that says, "made me think of your dad" and the link to the "I Like Big Butts" music video. But anyone who knew him knew the way he loved to try and rap to that song when karaoke was available. It's so healthy and helpful and important to drudge up the great memories when the loss is fresh.

5. Bring over a meal.
Mourning takes a lot of energy. Tears seem to zap and mental power one might possess, so easing dinner time is so, so helpful. This is often the idea most people jump to and it's perfectly wonderful, BUT lots of food is being brought over so make sure whatever you make is freezer friendly. This ensures that your lasagna can be frozen while the soup the other neighbor dropped off is consumed.

6. If you're not a cook, give a gift card to a restaurant that delivers. 
My dad died on December 20th. It was cold, dark and rainy for most of the first month after his passing. This equated to an exorbitant amount of flannel pajama wearing. If we could stay home and enjoy our dinner by the fire, we did. Help your friend out by enabling that homebody feeling. (There's also GubHub and Eat24 and a million other amazing food ordering apps that you can "gift" through!)

7. Remember the whole family. 
I received a few condolence cards from my mom's friends. I shouldn't be surprised because her people are amazing people, but it was such a blessing to receive thoughtful condolences from unexpected sources. Your kind words will be a healing balm -I promise.

8. Ask about flowers or donations, then do what they suggest. 
My family opted donations to two of the companies that did phenomenal jobs providing care to my dad over the last three years because flowers will die and my dad believed in investing in the lives of others. If you're interested in spending some money to support the family but don't know how to appropriately do so, ask. Families will always have an answer and will be flattered to know you want to support their lost one's memory.

9. Offer practical help. 
Mow the lawn, feed the dog, prune the roses, dust the book shelves, water the plants, vacuum the floors.Sometimes the hardest part of life after someone dies is the way things continue and dust settles all over and messes are made and grass grows. Some of the chores of living can feel overwhelming to manage.

10. Send a card that you wrote in. 
The most comforting (to me) part of all of this was receiving cards that people went to the store and bought just with me in mind. Some were funny and others were kind, but all of them had words that were tailored just to warm my heart. Your handwriting is like a hug for our eyes, your words are a band-aid on aching souls, so don't hesitate to send something sweet.

My biggest advice is this: when you offer something, do it with a time attached or it'll fall by the wayside. For example: "Amber, I'm going to bring dinner to you on Wednesday night. Should I drop it off before I get my kid from school at 3:00 or after? And is anyone allergic to dairy?"

This way of framing the question with two time options ensures you are still considerate, but also doesn't make me feel like I am going to have to ask you to make me that dinner you offered to make on December 21st when you found out my dad died. Help is always welcome, but it's not always easy to request. 

So, now you're prepared to offer condolences. Or at least you have a jumping point.

Questions? Other suggestions? 
You know where to leave them. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

coffee date | 20

If we were on a coffee date, I'd be drinking something HOT because California has decided to dive deep, deep, deep into winter and I'm cold to my sun loving bones. We might be meeting as a group this time -just for variety's sake- and clog up the Starbucks line as a result, but we're kind and patient and not in a hurry because the big table in the corner is just waiting for our presence.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd recommend you install PostalPix on your phone. I love pictures, take them often and am really dedicated to having them around our house. But I'm not good at getting them printed. So, when I want to do an overhaul of the framed pictures in our house, I place an order and they arrive in my mailbox. Then I have a fun fifteen minutes of changing out all the pictures all over our home.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd admit that I wonder if I'm going to write too much about his passing and the way it's changed me. I am nearly unrecognizable in the way I love Him because His glory touched my heart in it's deepest, angriest of places on December 20th and, while I'm thankful and awed, I'm working out what that all means through the words here. (I feel like the guy that talks mid-song in this video, so I'm watching it on a nonstop basis.)

If we were on a coffee date, I'd encourage you to start watching Nightwatch. It's on A&E. It's the new Cops for all you diehard fans who grew up on Bad Boys, Bad Boys watcha' gonna' do when they come for you. Thursday nights, it's on and it's an hour of fail proof TV date for Jason and I.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd want to pray for you. I'm not the praying type, not like that. But I realize we were blanketed in prayer for the many years that we endured and by His grace, those prayers brought us an unreal amount of hope and comfort. So, I'd want you to know that I'm better at praying now, that I hear your requests, and I want to do them honorably.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd ask you about black eyeliner. I've used two different drug store kinds and loved one, but hated the other. I'm keeping on in my eyeliner trials but need your recommendations first! So, tell me, what eyeliner do you love?

If we were on a coffee date, I'd tell you that worry transmutes. I thought when my dad passed away peace would just arrive as a permanent resident in my heart. Not true. Worry is a mindset that we grow comfortable with; an itchy wool blanket that's got to be thrown off our bodies so something cozier -maybe faith?- can come over us.

If we were on a coffee date, I'd squeeze you tight at the end. I'm not the mushy type so I'd probably tell you a joke or make a borderline creepy remark while we embraced, but I'd squeeze you because I've became the hugging kind of person lately.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Learning to say Thank You.

I'm learning how to say thank you over again.

I approach Him with joy in my heart, but the missing comes in and scares me. It comes in and overtakes the way I'm profoundly thankful, deeply changed, almost unrecognizable in my gratitude. I'm practicing thanks instead of fear, hoping joy will win out the battle between broken pieces of my heart.

I feel like a child with a Mother soul inside of me that asks if I said thank you over and over again. Sometimes my answer is sometimes shy, diverted eye contact that means no. And other times, I nod with much excitement because I did.

But saying thank you is hard to remember to do after so many years of begging please.

I talked about this in October, talked about my desperate need for a timeline, for an end, for the happily ever after that Jesus promised my Dad on that horrible wooden cross. I talked about how we needed an end to the suffering for all of us. The end came in December -in all it's grit and glory- and my please prayers vanished.

It was simple to say thank you then. Simple to remember the goodness, to see the bow He'd tied so delicately around our battle, to think on the beautiful things done and said as he passed. But now, now there's a challenge, an emptiness that blares bright in my soul without him.

I'm learning to say thank you for the missing and the promise and the reunion that faces us one day.

But I'm guarded in saying those words to Him. I'm guarded because I want no more loss, no more disappointment, no rock to hit my fragile, porcelain self. This too shall pass; this feeling and worry, this struggle and story, but for now, I'm learning to manage a tenuous thank you.

I'm learning to say thank you for the death and the life, the disease and the losing.

I hate the word dementia from its beginning to its end. I shatter inside to know families will continue to face this disease and their loss will be as searing as ours. My strength is in shambles imagining this plight on any person. And yet, the glory He revealed in those last days sang a lullaby of purpose over us. It reminded us that every person -no matter how ill- is doing Kingdom work; my dad is no exception. And so, I'm learning to manage a bold, yet careful thank you.

I'm learning to say thank you.

A thank you for the words from his caregivers in those last few days. Words that expressed the way they loved him, tears the dripped from their eyes onto his face, hands that reached out for him despite his ailing state. Those words will be diamonds forever guarded in the safety of my heart.

A thank you for the bowls of soup -some literal, others not so- dropped in our kitchens and our hearts in the wake of his passing. They warmed the coldest parts of us, parts that were dormant and quiet in the face of dementia. They sustained us, removed responsibility from us, and allowed for real mourning.

A thank you for the man who fought with strength and charm from the very first days to the last quiet moments. A man who was always the Super kind to me, but only grew more so in his later days. A man who couldn't have changed my life any more had he tried.

A thank you for provision only a Good, Good Father could provide. Free venti coffees, trays of bagels, scripture readings, John 10:10, Kleenex and its softness, Ginger Ale, morphine, blankets, and oversized chairs. He was there with us, listening to our minute needs and tending to them. He is real, He is good, and He is more than any words I can manage.

For that, that and so much more, thank you. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Collecting the Buts and Keeping the Faith

When the twinkle lights of Christmas fade, the world seems infinitely darker doesn't it? Tonight I write to you while sitting on the oversized chair in our front room and our neighborhood seems so dark. I miss the lights that trimmed the rooflines and made each house magical.

I thoroughly enjoy taking down the tree and cleaning all the surfaces of their sparkly decor, but I miss the lights. I desperately miss the sparkly, white lights in all of their stringy, hopeful goodness Right now, some of you are in that season of life; the one just beyond the twinkle lights where it's dark and scary and you just need some sparkle. You're there and you wonder if you can weather another moment beyond the reach of those beautiful bulbs.

You're there and faith seems the furthest point. 

You're right. You're right that it's terrifying and hurtful and dark. You're right that it's challenging and the walk is long and there's no good, solid timeline for your journey. You're right to miss those lights with their promise of guidance and beauty. You're right to wonder and doubt and wish. You're right.

But hope.

Hope is here in my own story. It's here and available to you because light sneaks into even the darkest, grimmest of moments. It's the cracks and bumps that broke through seven years of impossibly bleak memories. The spots where darkness prepared to overwhelm me, the light creeped in. Seek the cracks and the bumped edges because there the light will pour through in fragile, wondrous beams.

Hope is weaved throughout the braid of this tale. The end will come and the braid will be undone and the waves that result promise to rock your soul in their beauty. Seven years of the untwinkling season ended in the most glorious firework show a heart could fathom.

You're right to question the timing and to wonder why not now. You're right to wish the learning was done, the trials wrapped up, and the finish line in sight. You're right to lash out and beg and sob and hate and love. You're right to ache and break and hurt and wish. You're right.

But mercy. 

You need. You need help and friends and safety nets and back-up plans and Kleenex. You need a lot of Kleenex because you're going to dehydrate from all these messy, crumple-face tears. Emotions are blended so far they're a chilled smoothie inside your soul and where does one even start when attempting to sort such a concoction?

Mercy arrives in those messy moments. Mercy is the Mama part of your soul that pats your heart on the back and says, be strong and keep on. Mercy serves you steaming soup and a glass of white wine before you even knew you were hungry. She'll come and she'll wrap her arms around you through friends and food and let it be. Don't fight Mercy, she's kind and comforting.

You're right to wish He'd written some part of this down on a tablet for you. You're right to scream at the top of your lungs while you drive down the freeway to yet another appointment that holds bad news. You're right when you scribble terminal into paper so hard it starts to dent the desktop. You're right.

But faith. 

Let those emotions be, live them out and write them all over every last thing. But let them be. Because -while they're important to name and understand- they're nothing. They're nothing that'll scare off the King who cares for you deeper than those seas He made. They're nothing that'll cast you out or toss you aside because you, sweet soul, are the prize He seeks.

Faith is what felt to be constantly alluding me. Faith kept the hairs on the back of my neck standing and chilly. Faith played the role of sticking point from the early days. And yet, faith kept close, tight, and sure despite all my feelings. It pursued me, provided me, held me, when it seemed there was nothing left.

So, you're right in all the ways you feel and hurt and wish and dream. You're right to mourn and love and live and die. You're right to keep. Keep the hope. Keep the mercy. Keep the faith. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

my favorite reads from 2015

I'm not sure how to talk about life yet. The most comforting about life in the wake of death is the way it continues, the world spins still, and air remains sustaining to my soul. With life comes reading and last year I read some amazing books. So, let me tell you about them in two sentences or less.

Columbine by Dave Cullen
This was the original school shooting in my personal history. It was the first big tragedy I could (somewhat) comprehend, but I didn't know the least of it or so this book taught me. These shootings and the suspects are many layered, multi-faceted, and important to talk through; Cullen sheds light in every dark corner and crevice while remaining neutral and engaging.

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
I pray this is read in schools one day. The depiction of race relations and social pressures on a black-white romance nearly split my heart in two. You owe it to yourself to grapple with the devastating aches and beautiful moments contained within this novel.

The Martian by Andy Weir
If science fiction isn't your thing, listen to this on audiobook because the narrator is amazing and the life of the novel is done all the kinds of justice you wish for when picking out a good listen. Mark Watney, the main character, is dry and wonderful, the plot is engaging, and somehow the two work to bring you through every ounce of dry science necessary to understand Watney's plight on Mars.

P.S. The movie is SO GOOD too.

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Ooph. I have not enough kind things to say about this novel. The poignancy of the words and events within these pages grows deeper and greater with each passing day and each added refugee on the world stage.

The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
This is a zombie novel -I did not know that-, but not in the way you would expect. In fact, you'll find yourself loving, caring, and dreaming on behalf of said zombie while simultaneously wondering if you -a living, healthy human- would risk your life to save the very being that could kill you.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Prepare to be enlightened on part of America's history that is dark and secret. The world needs more historical fiction like this: honest, heart-wrenching, hurting and yet, hopeful.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman 
Morality and legality are at a crossroads here. Do you honor the woman you love with her misguided, but good intentions or admit she's illegally harboring a child? The answers aren't clear, the ending isn't as you expect, and you certainly will not be able to close this book before you finish it.

Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay
A tale of two sisters that remind me so much of  my own relationship with my own, Reay explores how sickness and desperation bring us together. Like all of her novels, Reay peppers the piece with Jane Austen references; again tempting me to pick up the classics for one final try.

I'm still pulling together books that I want to read in 2016.
Hit me with your recommendations!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Embracing the Whoa

I am changing my word for 2016 because of the way the last days of 2015 changed me.

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On December 17th, we got the call. It came unexpectedly and contained two words we were shocked to hear: "active dying". It is here, we said. Here, through sloppy, bittersweet tears. For this day, we so tirelessly prayed, and here it is so suddenly. Here it is dropped on our heads and holidays like an anvil.

Three days of rare sleep, nervous bellies, caffeine jitters, and tearful good-byes came to a peaceful, glorious close in the early morning hours of December 20th. It was just as he'd have asked, just how He planned, just what we needed. The details are still blurry, but beautiful. Sacred and special, something that will one day pour forth.

He died as the sun rose, as we transitioned from night to day. Those blessed twilight hours granted us a gentle, kind light after another night of nervous darkness. Rain danced down the closed window of his room. His hands were held, head rubbed, words passed. And then there, in that room He closed our book on dementia. There in the bottom floor of a kind facility, He said it is done.

We gathered together, cried, embraced while he was welcomed, a good and faithful servant received Home. The kind of party that awaited him, I can only imagine. And us there -two blonde women, small and sad- celebrated his release from the throes of one of life's most terrible diseases. The juxtaposition brings me to my God-loving knees in thanks.

- - - - - - - - - -

This is a tale I'm thankful has ended. It's last pieces are wrapping up tight and safe around our souls. There has been much sadness as we work through the last bits of losing him; a process so arduous we didn't know the weight we've bared for the last seven years.

In our grief, we look to one another and see provision. We see the way He shows up, gives much, and asks for naught. We glance around the room and celebrate the way done feels so sure, so peaceful, so good.

We miss him. We will miss him always. But he's now preparing a place for us in His presence and that peace is grand. He's joined those who went before him -the shocking deaths and the sure ones. And we know he's there, planning tricks and making messes just as he did here.

- - - - - - - - - -

In those three last days, as details and hurdles unfolded before us, I found myself saying whoa. Laps walked, tears shed, tissues crumpled, coffees consumed in a state of constant wonder. Because when it's hard and it hurts and it's scary, we revel. And, as the last bits of my loss heal, I worry the wonder will dissipate. So, whoa.

My word is whoa.

Because our story continues despite the story of my dad being closed. His tale, beloved and dear, sits wrapped tight and safe, on Hand-bound pages between pieces of cognac leather, secured by a beautiful chord. Mine, raw and wild, and mostly blank, waits for the next words to write.

Whoa, this story of mine.

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