As the weather is slowly (ever, ever so slowly) warming back up, I find myself crawling out of my hibernation winter skin, where I want nothing more than to eat roast potatoes and watch entire TV series in shockingly short amounts of time. I am finding more craving for music and books and much less for the glare of a silver screen. I sat outside the other day, soaking up sunshine and reading Bon Appetit and I felt as if the world might split from the joy of it.
Today, I’m spending a morning off with a stack of books, cup of coffee, and OneRepublic’s new album “Native” on repeat. (Though if I’m honest, it’s been on repeat for about two weeks now. Really. I cannot, physically stop pressing ‘play’. It is actually that good.) I have found myself in the midst of a few books that are really just blowing my hat off (if I was wearing a hat) and I wanted to share.
Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon
“To be sure, food keeps us alive, but that is only its smallest and most temporary work. Its eternal purpose is to furnish our sensibilities against the day when we shall sit down at the heavenly banquet and see how gracious the Lord is. Nourishment is necessary only for a while; what we shall need forever is taste. Food is the daily sacrament of unnecessary goodness, ordained for a continual remembrance that the world will always be more delicious than it is useful. Necessity is the mother only of cliches. It takes playfulness to make poetry.”
Evidence by Mary Oliver
“Sometimes I need only
wherever I am
to be blessed”
Firstlight: The Early Inspirational Writings by Sue Monk Kidd
“Humans, I discovered, need stories the way we need air.”
What are you reading this spring?
In waning months, my words have been largely scattered. Scribbled journal notes late at night, when my favorite Sharpie pen is running out of ink and I know I should be sleeping, have comprised most of what I’ve written down. The others find themselves in conversations with friends, enveloping us around a fireplace and a bottle of wine, or devoured over tables and meals. My words have usually tumbled out quickly, without much thought or order; a mass exodus from a head that is too often too full. Instead of focusing on the substance behind the words, I found myself trying feverishly to empty out, to slow the thoughts, too frequently wondering how I might use them in order to be thought quick or witty or quirky.
But today, in the simple act of hand-writing a few cards to friends far away, I decided to stop and think before just writing words to fill white space. What is it that I’m REALLY saying? How can I reach past cliches or phrases that are losing ground and find a way to say something that truly speaks? How can I be a channel of love and honesty and affirmation, not for my own sake, but for the sake of those for whom I desire love, truth, and affirmation?
And I found myself thinking about this blog.
I thought about the multitude of entries, paragraphs, and words, many of them left in the past quiet of other years. In the last six months, I think I can count my entries here on one hand: a scattering of Instagram photos and a few musings. My words became fewer the more that I thought, “What you write isn’t life-changing. It’s not like anyone is really counting on you, hoping you’ll write, waiting for it.” And I’m sure to a large extent, that is true.
But I had forgotten what well-crafted words do to me and for me. In a medium in which I have become accustomed to hurry and bustle, taking time to sit down and write something more than a text or a 140 character Tweet — it forces me to slow down and honor the words which I give life. It brings about an awareness that there is more going on inside a human mind and heart than I acknowledge; a sacred rhythm which is deep and needs tending to and nurturing, not just expelling. As one who values well-spoken and well-written words, I felt stricken with the responsibility of returning to taking my own seriously.
So in that, I tentatively begin to ask myself if I might consider writing again. Not in order to be thought quick, witty, or quirky. Not in order to further Instagram my entire life, so I might keep a filter over the things that maybe aren’t so cute. But because our stories deserve to be told with intention, depth, and beauty. Because as much as I don’t always believe it, my story is not too unimportant or too small.
There’s a line from a favorite film of mine that seems to often sum up how I feel:
“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void.”
Perhaps my life is small. Perhaps it is not so important in the grand scheme of the world. But it is a good, brave life. It is a good, brave story. And it deserves good, brave words. Maybe it’s about time I started writing them again.
Though this may seem like an ironic punch against what I just wrote, but I recently joined the rest of the human race on Twitter. I’d like to connect to new people, so look me up. I’d love to see and hear a little of your story.
As a single adult woman, I’m not sure there is any less encouraging phrase in the English language to hear than this:
“Oh don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll meet someone.”
It has all the intention and wording of encouragement, yet none of the zing or warmth. Instead, what is usually (hopefully) meant to be a kind word of confidence has always sounded unbearably patronizing and left me feeling rather deflated and retroactively pathetic. The defensive part of me wants to shout, “I’m not worried! Seriously! And maybe I will meet someone. And maybe I won’t. But I’m fine! Really! I’M NOT WORRIED. WHY DO YOU THINK I’M SO WORRIED?” Since this is perhaps a slight overreaction, I’ve decided on a better, less verbally aggressive course of action.
I’ve decided the next time some dear, well-meaning person says that to me, I have a simple response.
“Oh I have met someone. Several someones, actually. Mostly women.”
(Cue blank stares and looks of confusion.)
No, I have not reevaluated my sexuality or my stance on polygamy. I haven’t thrown all hope of being romanced by a man to the winds and joined a convent or some kind of progressive lady commune.
But I’ve realized how much I’ve rather fallen in love with my tribe.
“Your tribe?” you ask. “What is a tribe?”
Well, thank you for asking. And I’d love to tell you.
My tribe is simply a term to describe the community of people who I live life alongside every day; the people who so often hold me up; whose texts are never a nuisance and whose requests for prayers or advice are enough of a reason to stop what I’m doing and pray or advise. For me, these are the women who never tire of encouraging me time and time again, as I encounter what seem like the same stumbling blocks on this long, long road; whose affirmations, Postagrams, cards, letters, emails, texts, time, and silly links on Facebook remind me that I am never forgotten, never alone, never “without”, never “the other”. They are those who insist on champagne to celebrate new jobs and new years; those who tell you if that dress actually isn’t flattering on you; those who trespass with you into a park so you can sled down giant hills while holding sparklers in the air; those who let you tell your stories over and over again and you know that they are still listening and caring.
These are women who have sustained great loss but whose spirits glow with the hope and experience of grace, and grace, and grace again. Some are single, some are married, some are divorced or widowed or currently sorting through new relationships that scare and provoke. Some are here and some are there; some are seeing and serving the world, going back to school, learning to build a home, learning to survive a job, learning to be a wife or a mother or alone. Some I have known for years, others I have known for only months.
These women are fighters, wild and fearsome in their love for this tribe; they are wonderfully tender and equally strong; endlessly forgiving, and often the first to cry when I cry (and sometimes when I can’t). They are my truth-tellers and challengers and guardians. We toast one another with fancy, overpriced martinis and pick each other up when our cars break down. We don red lipstick for pure confidence, winking at the guys walking past us from the bar next door as we can’t stop laughing (mostly because we secretly believe no one else is nearly as hilarious as we are). We speak to one another in unfailing honesty, no matter what it costs; honesty of ourselves, of each other, and of the God many of us have collectively chosen to love and serve. We aren’t sugar-coaters or bullshitters, but we speak to one another in love, even when that love requires giving or receiving difficult words.
But most of all, we are are protectors of each others’ stories.
Because it is a sacred and holy thing to trust another person with your story. Not only with your past, but with your present, with your future. We hold that privilege closely, guarding it ferociously like we were mother lions stalking in front of our dens. These stories are gifts we earned; gifts we listened for, cried for, laughed for, road tripped for, walked through months and years of friendship for, and we treat them as such. We hold in reverence that this story we are living together is now a part of everyone’s stories and, most wholly, part of the Great Story. We are ultimately for each other without doubt and it is that that weaves a common thread through the stories of us all; that binds us together, that writes the names of each of these women on my arms and on my heart and I on theirs.
And this tribe is why my loneliness that once felt like a vibrating loudspeaker now seems more like an occasional soft hum. It is why being single no longer feels like being alone. These women are why there is a part of me that isn’t sure I want to meet a man at all, because I can’t imagine giving up time with these amazing people for anyone else. (Though I grant you, if a man extraordinary enough comes along, I would consider it. But oh sister, would he have to be worth it.) These women are why if I do meet a fellow some day, I’m not so worried anymore that my eternal optimism and questionable tendency to believe the best in everyone won’t handicap my ability to judge wisely.
Because they will be there alongside me. Because what I once had to do falteringly and mostly on my own is now something that others have a stake in, for better or worse. Because when I said “yes” to life with these women, I said “yes” to them stepping into my story, to them having a right and a responsibility to speak truth into my relationships and decisions and problems.
So yes, I have met someone.
And they’re absolutely amazing.
(P.S. As a note to all my wonderful, amazing, supportive, and truly loved male friends, I’m sorry if the gender pronouns in this post left you out. Be assured; you are important and necessary and precious to me. I’ve just been feeling a particular surge of lady love for the women in my life recently and wanted to express it.)
Hi, guys! Remember me? I’m still here! Still baking, photo-ing, snort-laughing, eating, friends-hanging-out-ing, and wistfully brooding about all things English.
So it turns out that I’ve become irrepressibly lazy in my free time, and watching “New Girl” and eating toast is a more important occupation than keeping up with a blog or doing other things, like vacuuming or taking off my wonky toenail polish from two months ago. I’m learning about the important things in life and sometimes, it includes Netflix and going an extended amount of time without leaving the house…or the couch. It’s tucking my leggings into my socks and wearing crazy reading glasses that make me look like Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom” and devouring new books that make me whoop and cheer. It’s watching four Tom Hanks movies in two days and wondering how Meg Ryan pulls off mom pants and is still cute. It’s eating Thanksgiving dinner and promptly rolling onto the couch and sleeping for two hours while drooling a little, because I worked 27 hours in the two days leading up to Thanksgiving and because I ate too much stuffing.
But as I was sorting through photos from the last few months, trying to find something for my sister, I found a few that made me smile and thought I’d share them. Not that my life is all that interesting, but I think it’s a good and necessary thing to find the little things in life and celebrate the heck out of them.
Small things like PBJ cupcakes for birthdays (strawberry jam! crushed salted peanuts!) and decorating the Christmas tree even when it’s freakishly 60 degrees outside (before it proceeds to snow the next day). Let’s hear it for woodsy walks with gorgeous ladies and finally finishing books you started nearly a year ago; for painting your nails on Skype with friends far away from home, and for building twinkly blanket forts with the friends who are nearby. It’s baking cakes for no reason and making pancakes for every reason; it’s surprise mail and an ever-expanding collection of colored tights. As the rush of the holidays whooshes over the heads of all, let’s just take a minute to cheer for all things merry and bright.
“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.”
― Michael Law
In my rare free evening tonight, I began digging through my 600+ item Google Reader list, plowing through entry after entry, mostly recipes and creative whatnots that get my brain a-stirring. So here I am, Pinning this and noting that, craving doughnuts and getting the itch to make a big pot of soup and take photos of it.
And then I see this quote on Not Without Salt and I felt the breath constrict in my chest. How did this person know? How did they call me out? Oh crap, this is true, isn’t it. I’m a fear addict with a zesty and compulsive desire to organize and order things; not a thing perfect about it.
I am a perfectionist.
Let’s start with that.
I am a keep-everything-organized, people-pleasing, fear-stricken, I-can-evolve-past-mistakes perfectionist.
The past few weeks, I’ve felt the fear end of that bargain really, really strongly and have been wrestling with it pretty intentionally. There have been days where I win and days where fear does. It’s a push and pull, a give and take, and I know this will be a lifelong routine for me, hard as that is to accept. This will be a constant battle for the rest of my days. It’s the reality I live in and I am learning to sit in that tension without holding it inside.
Last winter, when I visited England with my dear friend, we spent a day in rainy Winchester, wandering around the cobblestone streets, popping in the cathedral to pay our respects to Jane Austen and going bananas when we found cute Union Jack pillows from a local shop to take home. Along with this, we met our friend Chris and his friend Jim for coffee. Jim heads up an organization in Scotland called Cantle and has an uncanny gift to sense and name people’s personalities within seconds of meeting them. I was a bit skeptical of this, but after two minutes in his company, I felt stripped to the barest bones and wasn’t entirely sure I wasn’t in the Twilight Zone. It actually was a bit spooky, truth be told. Among other things (which I honestly can’t remember it all, I was too in shock), he told me that I’m a perfectionist and always fear asking people for anything, for I’m always afraid it’s too much. He noted that when I am able to move past this fear, I am actually able to access a remarkable level of creativity.
I had no idea what to say to that. Not only was it entirely true, but it was something revolutionary and stunning that I had never really pinpointed before. But since then, those concepts have floated around in my head, challenging me to move forward beyond this barrier of fear and live more fully into the creativity that I feel bouncing around within those walls. It seems that only by making mistakes and allowing disappointment, those walls can be dismantled brick by brick.
This week has been one of mistakes. I forgot to note that we needed to order bread enzymes at work and thanks to my mistake, we had to throw out 32 pans of vegan buns that deflated and came out flat as hockey pucks. I couldn’t stop apologizing and felt like the world’s hugest idiot all week. That empty enzyme container taunted me and I felt like crawling under a rock. This mistake wasn’t just a small one; it was one that cost the business money. It’s one that can’t be apologized away or quickly fixed. It’s a mistake I’ve had to sit in and ask for grace in, both to my boss and co-workers, and to myself. I don’t think any of them were nearly as hard on me as I was on myself. It was an experience that taught in a big way, both in specifics for my job and in the larger life sense.
We let go. We move on and learn and let ourselves feel through what we need to feel. And life continues.
So I’m taking small steps, one at a time, to dismantle these fears, so deceptively glazed over with a more attractive perfectionist veneer. I know that as I do this, my appreciation for order and attention to detail will better flourish in an inner environment that isn’t so constrictive and fearful. I pray that as I can call these things out and name them and speak them out loud, the less power the fear will hold and the more I may grow, being open to being a broken person who will always be so, who can never be entirely fixed, and who might allow people to love me as such, without apology, and only with grace.
You’re 28 now! Congratulations, friend; I bet it feels good. When I think about to how you thought 28 would be ten years ago, when you were a tender-faced 18 year old, getting ready to finish high school and dreaming about the big world out there, I have to laugh. I’m pretty sure by 28, you thought life would be like a cleaned-up version of “Sex and the City”. You’d be living in some impossibly cool city, striding around in high heels, going for Cosmos with your inevitably charming and cute husband, and working the day away in some hip office where you’d use your PR skills to save the world.
Oh, how disappointed 18 year old you would be to found out that you’re more akin to some bohemian vagabond, whose life Carrie Bradshaw would never write a column about; who never wears high heels, who prefers craft beer to Cosmos, who works at an organic farm, and whose love life is an occasional blip on the radar instead of the heartbeat by which everything else keeps time.
Actually, the love bit is what I really wanted to speak to in this letter, for it’s been on my mind.
If you recall at 18, you were frozen with insecurities when it came to boys. Your first boyfriend left you for your best friend and you spent months pinpointing all the ways you weren’t enough. You wrecked your brain believing that if you had only been exactly what he wanted, he wouldn’t have left. This set you in a pattern of thinking that has foolishly persisted over the years.
Let us remember your crushed, confused heart at 19. And 20. And 22. And 25.
What I want to say is this: I know there are wounds that will always have that ghost pain; a never-fully-healed quality, where those weaknesses and insecurities build a stronghold that our own humanity will never be able to fully conquer. I know you will spend the rest of your life fighting against those thoughts that speak so pervasively and poisonously, telling you that you will never be enough for anyone unless you become exactly what they want.
But I want to remind you that this is simply a bold-faced lie.
Did you hear me?
That. Is. A. Lie.
You do not have to ever feel like you must change for anyone to love you. Though you didn’t know this ten years ago, I can tell you now that you are, without hesitation, an extraordinary, intelligent, and wholly loved person just as you are, and most importantly, you are finally in a place where you believe that (well, most of the time). You’ve stopped allowing other people write out your worth and speak to you as if your value is for them to decide. This has been the lesson that has cost the most to learn and one you will keep learning over and over again.
In the words of Ezekiel,
“You became mine…You grew more and more beautiful, and became fit for royalty. Your beauty won you fame among the nations, for it was perfected by the splendor which I set upon you, declares the LORD.”
This beauty is something no one can take from you, because it’s nothing that they gave. It’s the kind that was woven into you by your Creator, was written into your skin, your bones, and your very marrow and soul. It’s the kind of beauty that nourishes you with real, honest life, that reminds you who you are on days when you feel small and worthless; the beauty that ripens with time, that has nothing to do with whether or not your thighs feel huge or if your hair looks cute today or if the guy wearing the hipster glasses at the coffee shop notices you or not.
I know the temptation is unbearably strong sometimes to believe that you have to arrange yourself in certain ways for someone to notice and love you. I know that when you consistently fall for those rugged guys whose hands are smeared with dirt and whose adventurous spirit thrills you, you immediately feel embarrassed about your lack of outdoor panache and hemp pants. You want to hide your tangerine nail polish and piles of cute Anthropologie dishes and pretend like, of course I want to sell everything I own and bike across the country and be everything you want me to be because you have a beard and smell like mown grass and clean t-shirts and I’m lonely.
Well, simply put, don’t do that.
Rock your nail polish.
Dig in the dirt anyway, but do it because you like it.
Enjoy your yellow kitchen timer and IKEA bookcases and funky vintage artwork.
Don’t be ashamed of valuing beauty and whimsy. It’s not worthless.
Live in the loneliness when it arrives and don’t fear it. (And maybe go buy some cute underwear.)
Dance to Rihanna and Usher even when indie folk seems cooler (it’s okay to love both).
And remember that if it turns out that you aren’t exactly what this man wants or needs, there’s a fair chance he probably isn’t what you want or need, either.
I’m so proud of where you’re arrived in these last ten years. I know it’s been a rough journey and that it will continue to be as the years press on. But you aren’t alone and never will be.
Thank you for learning to love yourself, exactly as you are, and keep believing with that characteristic, relentless optimism that you will always find people who do, too.
I’ll be seeing you,
[photos from weheartit.com]