The Spirituality of Raspberries

My dad once told me, while looking up at the tops of the Georgia pines in our front yard, that the green-on-blue combination of trees against sky is proof of God’s existence. He said it could not possibly have happened by coincidence.

It’s too thoughtful. Too beautiful. Too perfect.

Raspberries are my proof. If you’ve ever picked one off a wild bush in summertime and plucked it in your mouth, you know: something like that doesn’t just happen. It’s intended.

I’m sure my dad would agree.

From a young age, Dad raised me to experience the world around me. He showed me how to appreciate the smell of snowfall. To love the constricted feeling in my lungs when I breathe in my first blast of winter air each year. He offered me the bird names. The bird songs.

Because of him, I can tell you the difference between a blue jay and a bluebird and an indigo bunting. And what the temperature high is for Anchorage, Alaska on any given day.

As we chat on the phone during my commute, Dad asks how the jonquils he planted at my first home are doing. Have they come up yet? And he’ll make an extra call in the evening just to tell me to go outside and look at the full moon. Does it look as yellow in Charleston as it does here?

Because of him, I love the warmth of a fire. The sound of fat raindrops pounding a tool shed. The soul-cleansing that is wading chest-deep in a clear stream. The subtle sweetness of nectar from a honeysuckle flower. The intricacy and wonder of seashells.

Of his two daughters, I’m the baby. I’m the carefree spirit. I’m the keeper of the bird songs.

In my 30 years, he’s shaped the gentlest corners of my being. He’s molded me into someone who laments the passing of orchids. Someone who stops halfway through her run to take in a marsh view or a fading sunset or a grazing deer. Someone who’s thankful for every clear starry night, every low-hanging moon, every first frost, every last jonquil. Someone who can’t imagine seeing the world without her father’s eyes.

Someone who finds faith in the treetops. And raspberries fresh off the bush.

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When One Door Closes

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When I was a little girl—all blonde curls and elbow dirt and sugary smiles—I believed in love. I believed it was possible. I believed it would happen to me. I believed it was the greatest magic the world had ever known.

When I was a teenage girl—all nerves and self-consciousness and anxiety—I found love. A boy with a perfect smile and confident stride and eyes of two different colors. I let him kiss me. I let him claim me. I swung the doors to my soul wide open, and welcomed him inside.

When I was a college girl—all independence and self-discovery and experimentation—I found heartbreak. That boy with the perfect smile and confident stride decided he didn’t want me anymore. But he didn’t know how to let me go. And so he pushed me away with infidelity and secrets and callousness. Until I couldn’t remember what love had ever felt like. Until I closed and locked the doors to my soul. And then boarded them shut for good.

When I was just 23—all newfound freedom and confidence and charisma—I searched for love again. I found a new boy with olive skin and deep feelings and dark corners in his past. I found safety in how he adored me. And when all I wanted was to not be lied to anymore, I found honesty in his eyes. I hoped it would be enough—that he would be enough—to take down the locks and chains and boards and bolts that guarded the doors to my soul.

When I turned 29—all fire and ferocity and fabulousness—I realized that despite his efforts, the boy with the olive skin and the deep feelings never did find a way into my soul. Without meaning to, I’d kept it just out of his reach. And somewhere along the way, he stopped striving for it. He stopped caring about it. And though our hearts would beat side by side on the same bed in the same room of the same house, I felt only alone. An anchor sinking slowly to the bottom of the sea.

When I let go of him—all tears and apologies and words left too long unsaid—I found you. A man with kind eyes and a gentle spirit and a touch that sends quivers down my spine. I found the love I’d believed in as a little girl—just as magical as I’d ever dreamed it could be.

Locked in your arms, I’ve felt the chains around the doors to my soul fall softly away. Caught in your stare, I’ve sensed the boards loosen, bolts tumble to the ground. Frozen by your kiss, I’ve heard the unmistakable sound of those doors creaking slowly open.

And that’s when my heart, peering out hesitantly from inside, found the welcome mat you laid down. And you—standing behind it, flowers in hand—waiting patiently for me to open the doors.

So to you, the man with the kind eyes and gentle spirit, I would like to say, “Won’t you please come in and stay for a while?”

 

Image Source: DelSolFineArt via Etsy

No Time for Now

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“Alone not Lonely,” an oil painting by ColournCanvas via Etsy

I was 22 years old when I totaled my Mustang while parking.

That cherry-red ’96 sported a perpetually lit check engine light on her dashboard and a colorful lei from Party City on her rear-view mirror. What I remember most about driving Ol’ Red is how stinkin’ cute I felt behind the wheel.

What I did not remember that fateful Friday morning—as I swung coolly into an open parking space en route to my internship at a Charleston ad agency—was which pedal controlled the gas and which controlled the brake.

And just like that, I drove my baby straight into a wall.

Both airbags deployed on impact. The doors jammed, trapping me inside, shaky hands still gripping the wheel. A 20-something Asian woman looked on with horror but did nothing; asked no questions, offered no assistance.

I wish I could say some awesome song on the radio diverted my attention that morning. That I had been applying mascara or sending a text message at the time of the crash.

Truthfully, the only thing I was doing was driving. And even then, I wasn’t paying attention.

As that hot, smoky airbag exploded in my face, I saw my days zipping by like mile markers and me, an absent passenger cruising through life without living it.

Nearly a year and half later, I met a guy online through a shared connection on Facebook. David lived five hours away, near my hometown in Georgia. Our social media flirts evolved to text messages. Our text messages grew to late-night phone calls until one Friday in early November, when he drove the 300-mile trek to meet me in person.

I fell for his honesty. His earnestness. His eagerness. We said “I love you” after a few weeks. And after a year of falling asleep over Facetime, he moved to my Holy City, and we got an apartment together.

Even then, I knew he wasn’t the one.

As a young man who never lived on his own, David lacked maturity and independence. His short temper flared with little notice, leaving me edgy and nervous. When I told him my love language was physical touch, he countered flatly that it wasn’t his own. He read comic books and played video games and waged wars on Twitter and waited for me to place a dinner plate in his lap.

Even as we drifted apart, I refused to stop that relationship from accelerating. I knew if we could just reach the next stop on our journey together, we would be happy. And I could finally lift my foot off the gas.

Three years into living with David and five days before Christmas, my mom died from pneumonia. Suddenly, all the next steps and finish lines and brake pedals and totaled cars and forlorn relationships vanished. As I stood by her bloated, comatose body in that buzzing hospital room, I discovered that time offers no promises except this one: there will come a time when you must let go.

After losing my mom, I became acutely aware of the ruthless and unpredictable clock ticking in my head. I scrutinized my relationship with David: the happiness it gave me and the happiness it did not. I tossed the good and the bad on the scales of emotional justice and realized our love too crashed long ago.

Once again, I was stuck inside.

This year—at the end of June–I figured out how to put that car in park and walk away.

Now I’m living alone for the first time in seven years. I read. I write. I run. I cook the foods I enjoy and drink red wine. I watch the leaves fall from the sweetgum trees in my backyard. It’s a strange and unfamiliar sensation but, for once in my life, I’m finally behind the wheel.

Occasionally, I catch myself slipping back into bad habits and just speeding through the days. In those moments, I can almost hear Mom’s voice nudging a gentle reminder of one of the greatest lessons she left behind: how to use the brake.

This post was written as part of an online blogging course with the incredible Cindy Reed. Many thanks to Cindy for her thoughtful critiques and abundant encouragement on this piece, which ended up in a significantly stronger place than it began.

christmas confessions (it won’t be the same this year…)

As a general rule, I start listening to Christmas music each year around September 15th. That’s exactly 100 days before December 25th, and in my opinion, it’s totally fair game.

In all the places I’ve lived and worked, the people around me have taken note: this chick loves her some Christmastime. I deck the halls with dedication and purpose, send holiday greetings the good ol’ fashioned way, and am notorious for my extensive Christmas music expertise. You could call me the sommelier of sleigh-worthy songs.

I’m the one to whom my friends confess when they sneak a listen to few carols before Thanksgiving. I’m who they call when they’re blaring “Run Rudolph Run” when it’s 75 degrees and sunny.

Yes, I’m that girl.

And yet, this year, somehow I’m not.

It was this time last year—December 16—when I got the phone call. I was told that Mom is not okay. Her pneumonia is worse than we thought. There’s a 50% chance she won’t make it.

And it was five days from now—December 20—that we lost her.

It was two days after that—on the eve of Christmas Eve—when I sat in a black turtle neck dress on the front row of the United Methodist church in Pulaski, Tennessee at her funeral. Surrounded by advent wreaths and Poinsettias and manger scenes.

This year, I kept waiting to get the unmistakable, relentless urge to listen to Christmas music. September 15th rolled around and nothing happened. Halloween passed, and I still wasn’t ready. Then Thanksgiving—the day when the rest of the world starts feeling festive—came and went. And I just felt numb. And empty. And lost.

Even the first of December didn’t offer a magic spark. Instead, I felt nothing.

And I knew then that Christmas had changed for me.

One of my favorite Christmas albums growing up was Vince Gill’s Let There Be Peace on Earth. For reasons I could never explain, my favorite song on the album was titled “It Won’t Be the Same This Year.” Written as a tribute to Vince’s brother who died from a car crash, this melancholy tune showcases how at the core of the holiday season are the relationships and memories we have with the ones we love:

“It’s time to pack our bags and hit the highway.

And head on out for Christmas holiday.

I’ll fall apart when I pull in the driveway.

It’s my first time home since brother passed away.

His favorite time of year was always Christmas.

We’ll reminisce about the days gone by.

Oh, how I wish that he was still here with us.

My memories of him will never die.

Losin’ my big brother hurt so badly.

It’s helped me learn what Christmas really means.

There’s nothing more important than your family.

We’re all the children of the King of Kings.”

Now, approaching the first anniversary of Mom’s death, I understand the words of this song. The pain of this loss. The power of this sadness.

And despite those feelings, I’ve decided to turn on my Merry-mas playlist on my iPod. I listen every chance I get, even though I’m never quite in the mood. I’ve decided to decorate. My first tree at my new house–with many of Mom’s sweet, beautiful Christmas touches scattered throughout. I’ve decided to buy the presents, to splurge on the good wrapping paper with real ribbon, to send the cards, to bake the snickerdoodles, to watch The Grinch, and to embrace the joys of the season.

Because even if Christmas won’t be the same this year, I’ve decided I still can be.

this is the story of how we begin to remember

You probably didn’t know, when you forced me out of you, when you squeezed and contracted and pushed…You probably didn’t know that screaming ball of hot pink flesh, who grew in your womb for nine months and two insufferable weeks…You probably didn’t know that little hungry, demanding child would grow into a woman who wanted to be nothing more than a reflection of your energy, who longed to sway beneath the shadows of you and breathe you in.

You probably didn’t know, when I was two and hooked up to tubes and monitors in a hospital emergency room…When one of my organs wasn’t formed quite perfectly and the surgeons offered no promises what the next moment would bring…And you held my tiny, soft hands and stood by my bed and whispered gentle lullabies in my ear…You probably didn’t know that I would return the favor 25 and a half years later…And stand guard alongside your hospital bed…And sing you songs and tell you jokes and pray, and pray that you would stay a little while longer.

You probably didn’t know, when you brushed my hair and pulled it into a taught, perfectly smooth ponytail, when you pinned a giant bow to the very top – one with glitter or buttons or polka dots…When you tied my shoelaces and smoothed my ruffled skirt hems and wiped the dirt off my elbows and told me I was brilliant and beautiful and could be whatever I wanted to be…You probably didn’t know that I believed every single word…And never let doubt or fear settle anywhere near my dreams.

You probably didn’t know, when you tucked me in at night, and we read A Wrinkle in Time or Mr. Popper’s Penguins…When we said prayers out loud in that intimate space, when you kissed my forehead and pushed play on the cassette tape so I could fall asleep…You probably didn’t know how hard it was not to follow at your heels when you turned to go. How I longed for you to come back to me before you even left the room.

You probably didn’t know, when you planned my elaborate birthday parties – with goodie bags and piñatas and birthday cakes thick with sweet cream frosting…When I inhaled until my lungs felt as light as the balloons tied to the back of my chair and blew forcefully at the candles, trying to extinguish those melting time bombs before the wax collided with the cake below…You probably didn’t know every wish I made was for us to be healthy and happy and together forever…Every flame held the promise of a long life…Or so I believed as watched their reflection flicker in your endless brown eyes.

And I guess I didn’t know, when I talked to you 10 days before Christmas, and heard your hoarse voice on the other end of the phone telling me it sounded worse than it really was…And I told you to rest and carried on buying coffee mugs and goat’s milk soap and chocolate covered cashews for your stocking…I guess I didn’t know that would be my last, “I love you.” And there was so much more to say.

And I guess I didn’t know, when we sang the hymns and hugged and wept, when we called it a celebration even though we all knew it was a funeral…When we sat on the rows marked “reserved,” the rows that no one ever wants to be waiting for them…I guess I didn’t know how broken my heart would be.

And how much we all need our mothers. And how I would still need you.

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One of my mom’s angel paintings.

the difference between hating and healing

You’d never believe it, but the thing I had confused my entire life, the thing that I couldn’t get straight – left to right, up and down – the thing I was so wrong about I would’ve sworn to death I was right, that thing was the difference between hating myself and healing myself.

And I know what you’re thinking. Those two things are nothing alike. Even a complete twat would know the difference between hating and healing. But I’m here to tell you this complete twat was damn wrong about it. For a long time, too.

Every time I picked up a cupcake or a French fry or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked Fro Yo, I thought of it as a treat to myself. A little splurge just for me. Because I was having a tough week or I had gotten a promotion. Because I deserved it.

And every time I laced up my running shoes and dragged my tired butt to the gym and moved myself round and round on the elliptical like a hamster on a wheel, well that was my punishment. Punishment for looking like a linebacker instead of a lady, punishment for not fitting into a single pair of pants, punishment for not going to punishment the day before.

And just like that, the lines were not just blurred, they were completely wrong. And I was lost in a world where I healed myself with hatred and hated myself as I healed.

I probably would have gone until I was a 45-year old obese, depressed, and real-damn-confused divorcee before I figured it out. But instead, my mom died. Right before Christmas.

And I swam around in a fuzzy world of grief and denial and numbness for a few weeks. Then one Sunday evening, after a zombie-like day spent walking around my apartment aimlessly holding onto a can of Pledge and an unused dust rag, I decided I should go to the gym.

But it wasn’t like every other time I went to the gym. Because I wasn’t being punished. In fact, just the opposite, I was going to try and heal.

So I went and pounded my feet on a treadmill for 45 minutes until my cheeks were red and I’d sweated so much my nipples were hard from the dampness of my shirt. But the whole time I was there I repeated five words in my head: “THIS. IS. HOW. YOU. HEAL.”

And the next day I went back. And I didn’t look at how many calories I burned. And I didn’t think about how I wanted to look in a bikini. And for once, for once in my entire life, I wasn’t there to change me. I was there to heal me.

It didn’t take long for the food revelation to follow suit. I think I was in the shower when I realized how ass-backwards I’d been my whole life in the way I thought about eating and exercise.

I finally figured out that healing yourself is about putting good things in your body. And taking care of yourself. And spending the time to do the things your body needs.

Every day, I make decisions focused on healing – first, from the loss of my mother, but also from the years and years of hate I inflicted on my body.

I don’t obsess about food or constantly day-dream about my next meal. I don’t dread going to the gym. And I don’t think about how I want to change myself.

Healing is based in love. And I’m finally healing myself. And I’m finally loving myself. And there’s this peace in my world that I can confidently say has never existed before. And I’ll tell you what, it’s quite beautiful.

how to say goodbye

Saying goodbye. It may be the hardest thing we ever have to do. Relationships end. Jobs end. Lives end. Love ends. We practice it our whole lives through. Yet it never gets any easier to say goodbye.

In high school we did it right. With yearbooks that gave us the opportunity to say the things we’d been too shy to admit. To confess to crushes we’d held onto secretly for years. To give the highest compliments and make promises to stay friends forever and keep in touch and never forget. Then we put on matching caps and gowns and go out ceremoniously, with nothing but exuberance and high expectation.

Why can’t all goodbyes be so uplifting? On the verge of the end, why can’t we just exchange notebooks, and write down how we feel. Give the notebooks back and walk away.

You were great and I was great and we were great together. But you changed and I changed and we changed. Now we’re not so great anymore. We’re holding each other back from being great. I think it’s time we both find greatness again.

Seems like a nice way to go if you ask me.

Instead we draw out the goodbyes. Ripping off the bandage over hours and days and weeks and years. We don’t know how to let go. So we hold on like an anchor that doesn’t quite understand its purpose.

Saying goodbye requires a few things. It requires forgiveness. Of all wrongdoings. All past transgressions. It cannot start with here are all the reasons I’m saying goodbye. It has to start with here are all the reasons I’ve stayed for so long, but now it’s time for me to go.

It requires honesty. With yourself and with your words. No sugar-coating, but no brutality either.

We’ve grown apart. Drifted far away. I think I’m not as happy as I could be. And I think, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize you’re not as happy either. You’ll probably agree our best days are behind us; it’s time to move on.

And lastly, goodbyes require forward perspective. It’s not about the past. It’s not even about the present. And it’s not about the next few weeks or months which will likely be difficult and scary and sometimes sad. It’s about the future. The distant glow of a life you ought to be living, a life you could be living, a life that begins when another one ends. A life that starts with a goodbye.