When Our Cathedrals Burn

The title of this post came to me weeks before I knew what the content would be. I thought I’d be writing about Notre Dame and the collective response to it, but I was wrong. While we were all glued to the news and watching the fire, a woman I’d never met was fighting for her life. I say I’d never met her, but I feel like I did. Her writing and social media engagement made many of us feel as though we knew her. For weeks, I checked twitter several times a day for her health updates, praying for good news. She had to recover. We needed her to keep writing, to keep questioning, to keep inspiring us toward openness.

…and then suddenly she was gone.

I was helping with a youth retreat and didn’t look at my phone until late at night. When I saw the news of her death, I found myself sitting in a bunk crying and grieving for someone I’d never spoken to.

The community Rachel Held Evans fostered online and through her writing was one of my cathedrals. It was a safe space where I felt welcome to work through my questions, doubts, and misunderstandings.  It was a place where I found other people who felt the same way. Once she passed, it became evident how many thousands of people are at a loss now. It was all so sudden…and so many strangers are part of this bereft family.

Rachel went public with her questions and her journey to find a faith that addressed the very real problems in this world. She articulated things I couldn’t put into words, but had felt for years. She did not shy away from expressing her views even when she knew the critics would vehemently attack. She was not afraid to be wrong. And she was not afraid to apologize. She fought tirelessly to encourage people to keep their faith…because God was bigger than any human construct or behavior. She gave the outcasts a place to feel loved and welcome. She used her success to lift up and draw attention to other voices who needed to be heard.

When our cathedrals burn, we don’t abandon the cause. We rebuild.  

I’ve written and deleted so many posts over the years because I didn’t want to be misunderstood. No more. I’m ok being misunderstood by hundreds of people if it means one person feels known. I will be vulnerable with my thoughts and writing…and if it means I have to apologize for getting things wrong along the way, so be it. Rachel may be gone, but she influenced thousands of us who need to carry on the cause.

I’ve dreamed of being a writer for my entire life. The fact is: I am a writer. I don’t get paid for it, but I have a voice. I will use my voice to draw attention to issues that matter, to encourage people to think about new perspectives…and to build cathedrals where all are welcome.

Puddle-Wonderful Spring

Bonus cool points if you know the reference in the title of this post. 🙂

No matter how hard I try, every year there’s a posting gap on this site after my February 27th post.  This time it was only a month so I guess that’s progress. You’d probably think it’s because the post about my grandma takes a lot out of me and robs me of the ability to write. In actuality, I’ve been writing quite a bit…but in a notebook rather than on the internet. Emerging from the end of February is an awakening of sorts for me every year.

In the spring, I take time to enjoy the life I have. Choosing to spend my free time with friends or exploring new things is fulfilling. I pick up a book before I pick up a screen. It is freeing to enjoy the sunshine and laugh with people who matter to me.  I didn’t give up social media for Lent or even intend to step back from it, but focusing on other parts of life resulted in a natural reduction.

It’s important to remember that digital quietness does not equal dormancy. I have many projects in the works and goals I’m working toward. There are also posts for this site waiting in the wings…they’re just not quite ready yet. For now, you get this little update.

Do you have any traditions or routines you pick up in the spring?

Until my next post, on nice weather days you’ll probably find me outside somewhere soaking up the sunshine.

The Fourth February 27th

I wrote my grandmother a letter on her birthday in 2016 – the first birthday after her death. It has since become a tradition. It’s a way for me to honor her memory and document the evolution of my grief.

Recently found this photo…

It’s been an eventful year, and there were moments where I felt your presence in the midst of it all.

You would’ve loved this year’s family wedding because it was a beautiful reflection of love. I made a fool of myself on the dance floor in your honor. We all did.

I shaved my head…again. You’d be thrilled at the fact that I raised so much money for a good cause, but I know you’d still say, “Your beautiful hair is gone!” You’d laugh-cry about it.

I got a tattoo. I know you would’ve thrown a fit because I remember how you reacted when Mom got one. I can imagine the scene: I would tell you I got it and you would start lecturing about how they’re permanent and I’m probably going to regret it, and what if it’s in a spot I can’t hide. But then I’d remove the bandage and you’d smile and cry. Because you see, I chose to permanently mark myself with the name you gave me at birth. You said you couldn’t remember life before I was born, and I can’t imagine living life without an external representation of the truth you spoke into my soul.

The tattoo on my left arm.

I have roommates now. You’d approve of them and our house. It has lots of natural light, and I catch myself staring out the window and thinking about how much you loved the sun. Your Michelangelo print hangs in my hallway. I spent so many hours staring at that frame in your house, and now it hangs in mine. Maybe next year I’ll finally get to see the original in Italy.

Proof that I used to stare at the art prints in Grandma’s house. The print in the top left corner is the one I have now. She framed it soon after this photo was taken.

We had a very warm day a few weeks ago. You know if it’s warm in February I drive to your park and spend some time. Since my last letter, I’ve taken a lot of photos in that park. It seems my clients enjoy the setting as much as you did. But on this warm, February day I did not bring my camera. I stood barefoot at the edge of the lake and absorbed the peace. I thanked God for the honor of sharing life with you. You gave me the privilege of being and feeling known; you fully saw me in a way I can’t explain to others. Even if I never feel that way again on this earth, I had it in the formative years when I needed it most. You helped instill resilience, and I’m ever grateful for the lasting effects.

I had a moment the other day. Those moments are fewer and further between with each passing year, but they still catch me every so often. This one transported me back to the last time we spoke. After several rounds of singing your favorite hymns and quoting from Tombstone, you saw us and we had you back for a few minutes. You grabbed my hands and I’ll never forget the look in your eyes – you knew you’d been freed from your prison and were on borrowed time. With an urgency as you held my hands you said, “I love you so much. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

In that moment, I couldn’t argue. It really wasn’t supposed to be like this. Silly me, I thought you’d be here in my 30s and 40s because you’d only be in your 70s and 80s. You weren’t supposed to die in your 60s. That amazing mind of yours wasn’t supposed to wither and rob us of precious time. I guess that’s the whole point: we aren’t promised any amount of time – regardless of our expectations.

One of our last photos. She always preferred making silly faces rather than smiling.

I started writing your story, and in a way, my own. It’s still in progress, but it’s been very healing for me. One day the world will know your story…or at least your life through my eyes. What a wild and redemptive ride.

Until next year, Sunshine loves you – infinity plus 72.

My Experience with Public Goods

A few years ago, I made the conscious decision to pay attention to the ingredients in the products I use. I started with food, and I do my best to buy natural and minimally processed items whenever possible.

Then I moved to medicines and cleaning supplies. I’ve found all-natural laundry detergents and household cleaners that smell great and actually work. It took some time to find the right items for me – there’s no perfect product for everyone. I use essential oils to help with headaches, allergies, and the occasional stomach issue…thus reducing my use of over the counter medicines. I’m not a doctor and I still firmly believe in modern medicine. I just don’t use as much Tylenol, Benadryl, or Pepto as I used to.

My last holdout for chemicals was hygiene. I love the effectiveness of aluminum-filled antiperspirant. Nothing ever got my hair feeling as squeaky clean as those sulfate-laden shampoos. (That feels terrible to write, but it’s true).

It took me close to a year to find an aluminum-free deodorant that actually worked. I’m still on a journey to find the perfect one, but I’ve at least found one that is adequate. The market is flooded with natural alternatives and this is, again, something that varies by person.

When it came to shampoo and conditioner, I could not find a sulfate-free alternative that didn’t make my hair feel gross. Until…

I heard about Public Goods on a YouTube channel, and signed up for a free 30 day trial. The whole idea is that you pay a yearly (or lifetime) membership fee and you can buy natural and sustainable products at-cost. I placed my first order quickly because I wanted to receive it in time to test things before my trial ended.

They had shampoo and conditioner for less than $5 each. I knew I had to try them because I couldn’t find any natural products in store for that price. My hair feels clean and I have zero build-up after several weeks of using the same products!

I loved every product I tried in that first shipment. I particularly loved the packaging. Aside from the simple aesthetic, the bottles are bio-degradable and they sell refills so you can re-use your bottles. They also have plenty of household products. Their glass cleaner, kitchen towels, and the ayate washcloth are all great.

I did the math and decided that even with the yearly subscription, I’ll save money by continuing to use Public Goods. I might even convert to a lifetime subscription. It’s sort of a Costco membership for home and body products.

If you’re curious, I highly recommend that you try the 30 free trial. I’m super glad I tested it. They even have travel size items, so I’ll be using them when I go on my next adventure!

Reflecting on a Habit

My planner for 2018 included monthly, weekly, and daily pages. I used the monthly and weekly spreads for actual planning and decided to use the daily pages for journaling. My method was more “document what you did and who you did it with” rather than “this is how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking.” It started as a goal to improve my cursive handwriting. I wrote the majority of my entries in cursive…but my handwriting is no better than it was a year ago. Still, I enjoyed having a reason to write in cursive. I still use the second grade rules, so my script is very generic and rigid. No one will ever hire me as a calligrapher!

Sample pages from my year of journaling.

 I missed less than ten days of journaling for the entire year. I’ve written in journals throughout my life, but this was the first time for a daily practice. At times, it felt like a chore that I was just doing to fulfill a commitment, and some of the entries were very bland.

But you know what? When I switched planners in 2019 to one without daily pages, I realized I missed journaling. It was neat to look back on all the things I did in a year, and to look at all the days spent with various people. The practice forced me to examine my days and find something to document. Every day I found something to say.

I’m not journaling daily in 2019, but I am making an effort to write notes on my weekly pages when I spend time with people or when interesting things happen. I had a very complete picture of my 2018 experiences – many things I would have forgotten by year-end if I hadn’t written them down. The process helped me reflect with gratefulness on things I would normally forget. My year was full of people, places, and memories I loved. Maybe someday, decades from now, someone will find my planner documenting an ordinary life in 2018…and get a glimpse of my world.

Are you trying something new in 2019?  Do you have a practice/habit that surprised you with its usefulness?

Books I Read in 2018

For the last few years I’ve tracked the books I read and the movies I watched. In the beginning of 2018 I posted my reading list of 20 books on this site. I ended up reading 10 of those books…plus 25 more. I’m not great at sticking to what I intend to read because if something catches my interest I’ll drop everything I planned and read it.  In the last quarter of the year I got on a biography/autobiography kick, which you will notice in the lists. I’ll put an asterisk next to the books I highly recommend, but I enjoyed 99% of what I read in 2018. I averaged 3 books a month, which was great considering the busy-ness of my year. What did you read last year?

Fiction:
Harry Potter (7 books) – J.K Rowling
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
The Visitors – Sally Beauman
The Hellfire Club – Jake Tapper
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
The Commonwealth – Ann Patchett
The Masterpiece – Francine Rivers
The 49th Mystic – Ted Dekker


Non-Fiction:
Braving the Wilderness* – Brene Brown
Laugh it Up – Candace Payne
Love Does* – Bob Goff
Waco: A Survivor’s Story – David Thibodeau
I’ll be Gone in the Dark – Michelle McNamara
The Very Worst Missionary* – Jamie Wright
Everybody Always – Bob Goff
I’m Still Here* – Austin Channing Brown
Inspired* – Rachel Held Evans
Work Rules -Lazlo Bock
What She Ate – Laura Shapiro
Nevertheless – Alec Baldwin
Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick
The Andy Cohen Diaries – Andy Cohen
The Rainbow Comes and Goes – Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper
This Life I Live – Rory Feek
Sully – Chesley Sullenberger
A Life in Parts – Bryan Cranston
In Such Good Company – Carol Burnett
Stories I Only Tell my Friends – Rob Lowe
What Happened – Hillary Clinton

Pageants and Purpose

The memories of my childhood Christmases include nighttime family gatherings, fancy dress coats, candlelight…and Christmas pageants.

The Christian school I attended had a pageant every year. No matter the theme of the show, the evening concluded with the entire elementary school singing excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. Quite an ambitious piece for 5 to 11 year olds with no formal training! Each grade was assigned a section (I remember loving the year I was old enough to sing the “wonderful counselor” portion) and we all came together to finish with the hallelujah chorus.

There was always a pause before the final hallelujah. We collectively held our breath until the director signaled it was time for the dramatic finale. That pause felt like an eternity, but it was maybe a couple seconds.

Then it was time. We drew in a gasp of air as the director raised his hands…and we let loose.

HAL-LE-LU-JAH!!!!!!!!!

We left it all on the stage. I remember being exhausted at the end as if I’d used up all my energy singing that one word.

It seems Advent is a lot like that pause. We’re holding our breath, waiting.

Christmas is that moment we inhale as the director’s eyes light up and we realize he’s about to give us the freedom to reach our full potential. It is the imbuing – the indwelling of love, grace, peace, and trust.

And then? For the rest of our lives we open the floodgates. We pour out of ourselves every bit of love and gratitude: for what has been done for us, for what we’ve done for others, and what we believe others can do. We finish the song of our lives spent, exhausted because we held nothing back. We loved fiercely, we celebrated unashamedly, we served tirelessly, and we journeyed collectively.

I wish I had a recording of one of those elementary pageants. I’m sure it did not sound as glorious to the audience as it did in my own ears. I bet it sounded like a bunch of kids projecting at the top of their lungs: a little off-key, but full of zeal. It wasn’t perfect, but I know it was heartfelt. That’s the way I want to live.

So maybe this year when you hear the hallelujah chorus you will think of this story and smile…and maybe you will be encouraged to live and love well.

Ode to a House

On a crisp November day six years ago, you became a shelter for a weary family held together by a thread. We were hurting, exhausted, and needed a place to live. We had very little steady income and just a bunch of promises that we’d pay the rent on time, but the landlord said yes. Signing that lease coincided with my first deep breath in many months.

We began the healing process while living within your walls. We’ve grieved, laughed, played, and grown while calling you home. You housed us through two high school graduations, two and a half bachelor’s degrees, two engagements and weddings, career launches, and so many other memories.

You are the last house the four of us siblings collectively called home.

As I removed the last of my stuff a few weeks ago, it was bittersweet. I never intended to stay as long as I did – I had plans to move years ago…but it turns out I stayed for exactly the right amount of time.

You, townhouse with all your quirks and flaws, gave us a place to find our strengths. Hope was reborn and we all began to thrive again inside your walls.

An era is over…and the future is bright.

Moving is change and change is life

I moved last month – hence why I announced my return to blogging and then did not post for nearly two months. I’ve never met a person who said moving was easy, but there were plenty of things I could’ve done to make the process easier.

Here are a few things I figured out during the process (disclaimer, I’m a single individual with a full-time job and roommates – these tips might not work for you):

Pre-pack when you start thinking about moving

I started entertaining the idea of moving a few months before I actually moved. I packed a few boxes and stacked them in a corner long before I found a new place to live. In hindsight, I wished I’d packed even more. There are plenty of things in our homes that we can live without for awhile, so when you start thinking about moving, pack up all the things you don’t need for everyday survival. Worst case, if you pack up a bunch of stuff and don’t end up moving, you know you can live without the stuff and might consider getting rid of it. Best case, you have a lot less work to do when you actually find a new place.

Get rid of stuff

We have too much stuff. When packing, I found stuff in the back of my closet that I hadn’t seen in four years. It went straight to the donate pile. If I hadn’t touched it in four years, I didn’t need to keep it. I also got rid of six boxes of books. If you know me, you know books are like personal friends. But in this digital age, I chose to discard a bunch of old text books that I thought I’d save for future reference. If I need to reference something, I can most likely find it on the Internet. Don’t be fooled though, I still have six boxes of my FAVORITE books.

Move when you actually have time

I’m a renter and rentals move fast. Thus, when my roommates and I found a place we all liked, we jumped on it. The problem was that we signed a lease during the busiest month of my year. I literally did not have a free weekend or very many free weeknights to actually move my stuff. To make matters worse, my job was incredibly busy and I could not take a day off. It was exhausting to spend every free moment packing and moving for weeks on end. If you have the option, pick a time to move when you actually have space in your calendar to get things done.

Make use of your commute

Since I did not have a dedicated moving day, I opted to take many trips in my car to move stuff rather than renting a truck. I borrowed a pick-up truck one time to move my big furniture, but everything else fit in my little hatchback. I would load up my car at the old house in the evening, sleep, and then unload the stuff the next morning on my way to work or over my lunch break. I tried my best to avoid extraneous driving/wasting gas. In an area where traffic can be a nightmare, this plan worked well. I never drove past my old house or the new one without loading or unloading for several weeks.

 

I’m sure I’ll have more posts related to moving/living with roommates, and I’ll be sure to share.