The Thing About Losing Weight That Everyone Says But You Don’t Really Believe

I have never been a skinny girl. For as long as I can remember, I have known about my good birthing hips and how much I loved hanging out by the fridge on lonely days after school. While all of my friends were transitioning out of the awkward years and getting boyfriends, I was melding in to the crowd with wit and humor, and a smoking hot…brain. I had a group of friends who I trusted, but they were my buddies and beyond that, I wasn’t asked to school dances, no one delivered carnations to my desk and by the time I was 17, I journaled frequently that maybe “if I just lost weight” then I’d have a chance at getting a lead in the school play (because nobody casts the short, chubby girl as the heroine). The world was free for the taking for those who could shop at Abercrombie. This didn’t destroy me, but it did cement things in my mind that society said to me. Things I didn’t want to believe were true. My weight became my arch-nemesis. My greatest threat to happiness was my own body.

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I come from good Irish and Polish stock; from a long line of curvaceous women who loved fiercely, and worked hard carrying baskets and babies on their hips for generations. When I graduated high school, the freshman 40 hit me. I kid you not, I gained 40 lbs in the course of a couple months. Chalk it up to late night meals of fettuccine alfredo, my first boyfriend, and being away from home, but I didn’t even realize it was happening until I literally couldn’t fit into any of my clothes. This pattern continued through my 20s. Lose 5, gain 10, lose 5, gain 10. By the age of 25, just six years ago, I was 80 lbs above my highest weight in high school and I hated myself.

I knew that my self-worth issues went deeper than the size of my jeans, but I honestly figured the two were at least in some kind of tandem, proportional relationship. Last year, I stood in front of my mirror, looked in my own tear-filled eyes and spoke all the things out loud.

“You’re worthless,” I told my curly-haired reflection. “No one will ever love you. Everyone is lying to you. Look at you. You’re hideous. You’re ugly. You’re worthless.” And then I laid down on my bed and cried a whole lot of tears. The girl in the mirror is the one who didn’t attend her best friend’s bachelorette weekend because she didn’t want them to see her in a bathing suit. She’s the girl who hides whenever someone pulls out a camera and is scared to death of getting tagged on Facebook. She’s the girl who used to run and play sports, but now is scared to mention it because someone will say, “YOU used to run?”

A few weeks after that night, I signed up for Weight Watchers. While I don’t like to admit that I do things out of sheer panic, that’s why I did it. Not a lot of forethought. A good deal of nudging from family. And utter panic.

Since last March, I’ve lost around 50 lbs. I weigh less now than I did in High School. I’m back to my pre-fettucine alfredo size and I feel healthier than I ever have in my entire life. I’ve learned a little about myself and I’ve realized that I can love cake AND lose weight, and this has been some kind of unexpected joy.

But can I be honest? Like, whispering this low and telling you with a little bit of tears in my eyes …that kind of honest?

In my heart, nothing has changed. I still see the girl in the mirror who I learned to hate. I have shed the weight of my body, but the weight of self-loathing feels the heaviest. When I see photos of myself, I see no difference now. I see the same girl. Even my mother will hold up a photo and say, “WOW! Look how much you’ve lost.” I shrug and say, “I look exactly the same.”

And I’m starting to think that maybe it’s because when I see pictures of myself, I don’t see grace and victories. I see numbers and the ways I’m not measuring up. I see a girl I don’t really like. I see her mistakes. I see her fears. I see her ugliness, her selfishness, her broken heart, her weariness. That’s who I see and I don’t like her.

“Oh mom,” my daughter says with a big sigh. “YOU ARE JUST LOVELY.” She shouts this to me from the living room.

I half believe her because just last week, one her friends in Kindergarten said to me, “Remember when your daughter said you were fat? You’re not! You’re not fat!”

“I was talking about your WATER BOTTLE,” my daughter shouts across the room, and I’m laughing and a little sad. Sad that this is a thing at 5. Sad that this is a thing in me. Sad that again I feel a deep fear that maybe no one is telling me the truth, not even my own child.

I fear I’m being lied to when someone gives me a medium shirt, and in my thrill of it fitting perfectly, she replies, “Oh I must have bought it too big. I’m so glad it fits you.” This is when I want to pull my arms in closer and inside, I agree, because there’s no way I can actually fit into this.

Everyone tells you that losing weight will not change anything about the way you feel inside. They say beauty is skin deep, but self worth is at your core; the size of your jeans has nothing to do with feeling beautiful. I kinda sorta believed them. I nodded and agreed, but eagerly awaited this day when I could shop in the “medium” section of a store and even, on occasion, snap up something sized “small”, and I hoped that when day that day came, it would be the one I’d feel amazing, powerful and loved.

This is what they tell you, but you never believe. That it really doesn’t matter how much you weigh. The scale, the size, the measurements, the miles. You can earn them, lose them, work for them and feel proud at attained goals. But that moment of “having arrived”? It never comes with those things. No amount of compliments, affirmations or items bought on a size rack will change that haunting feeling that follows around the girl who doesn’t believe she’s worth anything. 

As I mark a year of weight loss and start working toward a new set of summer goals, I’m also going to stop saying things to myself that I would never say to another person. 

No more scathing mirror speeches.  It’s time to speak gently. Somehow it’s time to start making peace with the girl I am now — in size, in heart, in goals, in dreams. And it’s time to cheer on the girl I will become. Who I was, in so many ways, is gone. And who I was, in so many ways, I wish to never find again. But the earth is new this spring and I feel it in my bones, and as I pass the mirror today, I turn my head to say “Enough.”

The thing about losing weight that people tell you but you don’t really believe? You are not that number on the scale. High or low, large or small, up or down, that is not who you are.

Let’s speak kindly, seasoning our words with gentleness. And that darkness that looms where self-hatred grows? Light a candle of Grace and dive into it. It has no size limit and no measurable weight, and it might feel like a dark vacuum, stealing every thing good thing you have, even your lightweight light. But there are no bottomless black holes in the Kingdom. Only places, (and as John Legend sings) “curves and edges”, that the immeasurable light has not yet touched.

In Defense of Pink Legos

When I was 11 years old, I hated the color pink. In fact, I went as far as creating a mini-vlog (before vlogs were even a thing) and I ranted about the atrocious salmon hue. Ironically, I did the whole thing in a pink sweater, which my grandmother had knitted for me. I’m not sure if that was a genius, tongue-in-cheek move as a kid, or if I didn’t realize how bizarre it would make the whole thing, but I digress.

I hated the color. I feel like 20 years is enough time lapsed for me to definitely call these my MAJ awkward years. Pre-braces, awful hair, chubs all over, and carrying the *ahem* “class” of any opinionated 11-year-old girl before the world shakes her up a bit. Don’t believe me? Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to me, 20 years ago:

I’ve seen a few people up-in-arms about the latest pink, girl-focused Lego fad. If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would’ve shouted right along with them. The absurdity. The stomach-churning. OH THE HUMANITY. Little girls can play with things that aren’t colored pink and purple, AMIRITE? Stop marketing to us ladies as if we’re all rolling around in vaults of glitter glue and princess dresses.

But then I had a daughter. And not just a girl, but a GIRLY girl. Ask anyone who knows me well, they’ll tell you I don’t know how to do girly-girl. I mean, I can. I get it to some extent. But I’ve never been classified this way. I’m the girl that girlfriends call to help them de-bling their wardrobe. So I can tell you with all confidence, my little girl came into the world this way. She loves pink. And purple. And tutus. And sparkles and ruffles and flowers and dresses and it never stops. I encourage her to love everything, but she is drawn to that stuff. I can pick out 25 outfits and she wants the ones that sparkle, shine, glimmer and reflect the rosy colors. I don’t know why, but it’s her and it’s her through and through.

So when Lego started marketing a line of their product to little girls, I didn’t get angry. I wasn’t offended that the itty bitty pieces were pink and purple, and that the characters are selling ice cream and playing with puppies. I didn’t feel like they were implying little girls need to be treated differently than little boys. Honestly? I was relieved. What was once detestable to my little spark of sunshine was now accessible. This company saw a niche for my little girl.

My girl who loves dreaming, creating and building. Who loves math, science and the great outdoors. The girl who will slip on pink leggings, a sparkle sweatshirt and purple boots and will then go pounce in the deepest mud puddle she can find. She who turns up her nose at blue and red Duplos, and wouldn’t touch the solid wood building blocks is suddenly an obsessed Lego fan. She is building, creating, dreaming, all in pink and purple.

So can girls build with blue and orange blocks? Absolutely! But is pink and purple that awful? *Deep breath* No. Not from this mom’s point of view. And I’d even take my 11 year old self to the table for this one.

Live or Die By Routine, Sometimes.

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All this talk of routine and schedule had me thinking — my plate is always full. Whether it’s parenting, writing, designing, creating, I am never short of ideas for the limited time we’re given. I haven’t always lived and died by a schedule, but in the last year, I realized that if I wanted to have any semblance of happiness in my career and energy expenditures, I needed a frame of a routine.

Here’s how my routine used to look:

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I’ve switched things up a bunch and to keep the machine running more smoothly around here, this is how it looks most days now (Monday-Friday):

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I’m also learning that I do a REAL terrible job at taking of myself in the midst of all the crazy. I don’t say “no” easily, I feel guilty when I do, and try to do way too much. (My third grade teacher once sent a concerned letter home to my parents that I had too high expectations of myself and that I was an overachiever. LOOKS LIKE I’M HOLDING STRONG SINCE THIRD GRADE, Y’ALL.) So somewhere in all this schedule, I’m learning that if I don’t rest, enjoy life, talk to people I love, say “no”, purposefully write in the margins what makes me happy, I will forget. I won’t do those things. I will shuffle them off as not important and pay the awful, emotional, depressing price weeks later.

1. Mornings. We take our mornings very seriously around here. Routine is king. I sing wake up songs to rise the living dead, coffee is brewed in a mega-sized french press, breakfast table conversations, bus watch, hugs, kisses, music, and the day is rolling.

2. I get dressed. Whether it’s work clothes or running clothes, I get OUT of my pajamas. I realize one of the perks to working for myself, from home, is that I could lounge around in my skivvies all day and no one would care. (Ok, maybe my parents would, but…you know.) But when I consciously change up day from lounge to active mode, it helps my brain go “Oh yeah. We do things besides lay in bed and read Harry Potter all day, don’t we?”

3. I keep a list of things that I can do immediately to relax. I call it my self-care list. It might be as simple as reading poetry, walking around a bookstore, take a 15 minute nap or putting on my favorite music as loud as I can stand it. But when overwhelmed during the day, I resort to that. It keeps me sane. It reminds me that I am not superwoman. I cannot possibly do it all, even if I want to.

4. Also, since my last conversation with the amazing Claire Burge, I use Wunderlist for every random thought. For book ideas, marketing, summer plans, house plans, future fears, entrepreneurial ideas, financial goals. It’s all collected there. The kind of peace that comes knowing my endless thought stream is somewhat captured somewhere is such relief.

My friend Alle and I are going to read this book, Daily Rituals, together and if anyone else is interested in reading along and talking about this with us, let me know. Already I can tell that this book reminds me that every creative person is different, somewhat eccentric, and needs some kind of routine (even if it’s the strangest routine you’ve ever heard of).

So here’s to the end of the “work week”. Cheers to the weekend!

When My Voice Feels Simple

When it comes to writing, there seems to be a big, big pond of words and voices, and I sometimes find myself wanting to just stand on the shoreline. I don’t always know how to categorize myself. While I hit the occasional wit, I don’t always feel funny. I’m not doing crazy things with my life these days. I don’t have an angle or a soapbox. I don’t carry a heavy thought of theology on my shoulders like a backpack of knowledge and insight. I’m not crazy opinionated and in some things (*cough* most things), I’m still undecided.

I traveled to Africa years ago, before it was the in-thing to live blog it. Years ago, my home had an open door policy and we kept company with homeless and middle-class Americans, but it was before books were being written and I didn’t document any of it with tweets or status updates. When these things come up in the internet world these days, I feel like my voice is late to the party, or irrelevant now. I don’t know how to talk about it.

These days, I’m a single mom and a freelancer, and my days pretty much look all the same. I wake up at the same time, prepare school snacks, volunteer as a room parent, and I end my days reading Harry Potter or watching Mindy Kaling win America’s hearts.

In all this work of working on my book proposal with my agent, I have realized one thing. My voice doesn’t have a special, designated market, per se. I don’t appeal to a certain type, belief, theology, ideal. I feel like I bleed everywhere when I’m cut and I couldn’t tell you for certain which way it’s supposed to go.

When the Twitter and positioning wars begin, and writers and readers alike take up arms in theological dissent, I just close my laptop. When it comes to hot topics, I don’t know how to say what I believe without whipping out my sharp-tongue and lancing a few people, and last I was told, I’m supposed to keep my tongue under control because it’s steering my ship. So I just tell that baby to hush and sink deeper into the waters of Grace because I don’t know. I hash out my beliefs in small living rooms and sometimes with a beer in one hand, because I want to see faces and hear voices when we disagree.

But I love words. I have loved words since I was five years old and I realized I could take my thoughts into my fingers and scribble them out in forms and rhymes. I waxed poetic about Somalia and death, and poetry and fiction became the ocean I steered my ship through. The Psalms on tape put me to sleep at night, and I grew up repeating the entire first chapter of David’s poetry in a slow and steady cadence. Words have always been my companion. When I can’t say things with my mouth, I write them with ink. When I feel cornered, my words because my weapons and I dangerously cut close to the heart.

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My story is my story, and my voice is my voice, but sometimes at night, when the world is quiet and the house creaks with settling, my voice becomes nothing but a breath into the darkness. How do I keep my voice when it seems I cannot find my niche, or rather, maybe I do not want to carve out a niche because I want to spill and sink with words, in every which way.

I live a mostly quiet life — keeping at work, raising my daughter, telling my story, learning through relationships that there are no easy answers, theology is complicated and Jesus is everything. I live a routine life — paying the bills, kissing and shaping the life of a five-year-old girl, investing in community and sleeping under feathered blankets at night.

I am learning how to love, but I screw it up a lot. 

Words are not my launch pad to stardom. Words are my stars and in them I dive because without them, I’m just silence under these skies. Words are the light that breaks through my skin. They’re how I find the Gospel again, and I use them to tell what I know and what I don’t, and to light tiny candles here and there. So if I don’t speak up, stand out, or if I steer clear, it’s because I’m not trying to make myself out to be someone I’m not these days. 

And well, honestly? That has to be ok right now.

A Chocolate Cake to Die For

Yesterday Mads wanted to have a tea party with cake. I don’t always oblige her imagination whims, but sometimes it’s fun to say “Ok!” and then figure it out. So when she begged me for cake, I said, “Why not?” After wrapping up my day of handlettering almost 200 wedding envelopes (not for me, but for a client), I switched my office from the computer to the kitchen.

We’ve been trying to get creative in the kitchen lately because of some gluten intolerance in the house. I searched all over Pinterest and the web and pooled together a couple different recipes to arrive at this one. Enjoy :)

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What you’ll need:

7 eggs
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (semisweet)
6 TBS of water
3/4 c. sugar
A tablespoon of cocoa
Whipped cream
Two round cake pans
Parchment paper

How to do it:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Prep your pans by lining them with parchment paper. To get the bottom of the parchment paper to stick to the bottom of the round pans, I spray a tiny bit of cooking spray.

First, melt the chocolate chips down with 6TB of water over very, very low heat. This took about 5-7 minutes, so keep an eye on them! You want the chocolate creamy. Mads LOVED measuring out the chocolate chips into the metal pan. And of course, I let her sneak a few! Once it’s melted, remove from heat and keep it ready for the next step!

Second, separate the eggs. (I do not recommend child participation on this step!)

Third, blend the yolks + 1/2 c. of sugar until the mixture is a pale yellow. This takes about 3-5 minutes for completion. Once you’ve achieved a lovely pastel yellow, add the (now cooled down) melted chocolate and blend completely.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Mads really enjoyed watching the egg whites transform here! It felt a little like magic. Once stiff peaks form, add the remaining sugar. Whip the egg whites again back to stiff peaks. I took a little longer this time to make sure the egg whites were completely firm. My little helper eagerly stood on the step stool to watch this whole process.

Now, slowly fold in the egg whites. I did this slowly and carefully, leaving some chunks of the firm egg whites in the chocolate mix. (Once it’s cooked, it’s almost like marshmallows are in the cake.)

Once this is all mixed, separate the mix into the round pans evenly. Be gently with this batter! Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, or until it’s not jiggly anymore.

Remove them from the oven and sprinkle the tops with the cocoa. Once the pans are cooled, flip the cakes out of the pan onto cookie sheets and then FREEZE THE CAKES for an hour or so. After the cakes are cooled in the freezer, take them out to layer and stack with whipped cream and voila… a chocolate cake to die for!

Ours was gone in under 24 hours *looks around guiltily*. I don’t know who ate it.

Friday’s Faves

:: Reading ::

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“If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty — nothing is insignificant or unimportant. Even if you were in a prison whose walls would shut out from your senses the sounds of the outer world, would you not then still have your childhood, this precious wealth, this treasure house of memories? Direct your attention to that. Attempt to resurrect these sunken sensations of a distant past. You will gain assuredness. Your aloneness will expand and will become your home, greeting you like the quiet dawn.” — “Letter One”, Letters to a Young Poet, Rilke

2004 Athens Olympics Abandoned Olympics Venues: “A number of Greek officials admitted to the AFP that there was a lack of planning, and no one considered what they would be used for after the Games.”

This political move in Scotland creeps me out. Also, I don’t understand how a country could afford this, unless it’s Scotland.

:: Listening ::

Noah Gundersen, “Ledges”

John Mark McMillan, “Future/Past”

:: Other ::

How Wolves Change Rivers

This knock-knock joke really is the cutest thing ever.

I just like staring at this photo.

Striking photos challenge the way we see blackness.

Kinship with the Fire

Screenshot 2014-02-19 11.27.02It is still winter here in upstate New York, in every direction. Winter is a constant houseguest and topic of conversation and so I continue to make fire after fire after fire, because when it’s cold outside, what else is there to do but build a fire, make heat, draw close.

Some nights friends are here, and we spend long evenings watching Rick and Carl fend off zombies, Lady Mary navigate a life without Matthew, and Sherlock be his amazing self and tease us to wait another 24 months before we can see his face again. Or we sit still and talk for hours about how life is changing and we cannot stop it, and the fire roars quietly behind us, the wood snapping and popping with each new rise of flame. Some evenings it’s just myself, the quiet of a book, the lazy sounds of Billie Holiday and a red and black flannel blanket covering every appendage.

But every night, it ends the same. It’s part of shutting down the house in the winter. Pull apart the smoldering logs. Shake out the flames. Listen to the coals as they settle on the cool brick. I cannot help but notice, most nights as I follow this routine, there is music in the fire. I hear it in the wood coals when I’m kneeling close to the logs. The small red chunks of wood are glowing bright, and they ring with the sound of glass bells.

George Meredith said, “Not till the fire is dying in the grate, look we for any kinship with the stars.” And yes, quite right, I say. As the fire is dying, it feels a bit like the heavens here on earth. I think I begin to understand the end of things and other mysteries glow red in my living room.

Maybe that’s why I am so taken with the fire, the dying ones at that (which really, aren’t all fires living and breathing, then dying in some way?). The sound of the heat. The breaking of the tinder. The music of the consummation. The story of life lived and warmed through the heat. The soundtrack of time. The color of caretaking and story nurturing. It’s all here, fireside.

Screenshot 2014-02-19 11.27.14Last night, my daughter and I stood in the snow-covered driveway and stared at the stars. All of these billions of tiny lights, dying fires, shining toward our small planet. She pulls at my arm to just stop and look up, so I do. While the cold bites at my cheeks, I know my place here. I know my place under this sky. I know that millions of people sit under these stars, and that makes us all the same in so many ways. I can say what I want about theology, doctrine, justice, right and wrong and so on, but at the end of the day, when the fires are dying, it’s clear we were all created by One and placed on one earth, under one sky, on one planet. Not one of us will ever have the upper hand in knowledge, in insight, in truth. The perspective of the Heavens levels our playing field, indefinitely. There is only one man who came to this earth, and was not entirely made up of the stuff of this earth, and it’s Him that I want to get my fire from. It’s His light I want to see in the stars; his stories that were told fireside that I want to find in my own.

In the stars, I see story.
In the fire, I feel kinship.

Wasn’t it just last summer, when we sat around the fire pit and our voices disappeared into the dark blue sky, along with the orange sparks that splashed into the star-lit ocean? Wasn’t it the Adirondack pines that sheltered us as we listened to music and he laughed, and she sighed, and they drew closer, and we let the flames simmer down until sleep called us? Wasn’t it the heat of August when we circled around and asked big questions, knocked sticks against the stone and pulled out some pieces of ourselves there under the arc of earth? Hasn’t it always been the fire we surround, the fire within us that draws us to each other, that burns us, that reveals us, that rings within us the fragile bells of need, love, fear and doubt with one another?

I’m carrying a story within me today. Stacking wood, crumpling up words, lighting kindling, and breathing into the places where it’s starting to get hot. I told a friend recently that sometimes I feel less-than because I don’t write about theology, major cultural issues, or hot topics that bring the “traffic”.

“I don’t know how to be that kind of writer,” I told her over breakfast. I snapped my bacon in half and shrugged, feeling defeated by the whole thing. “I only know how to tell stories — my stories, the ones I see, the ones I hear. That’s all I know.”

She shrugged, “You’ve never endeavored to be any other kind of writer. I don’t know why that suddenly bothers you now.” And it’s true. I feel the fire in me come alive only when I sit knee to knee with friends and strangers and share the things that are common to all of us. Fireside, whether under this sky or by the pit, is where we’re all the same and we’re all in need of the One who lives between both worlds.

Maybe the best stories and things we can tell and write are not unlike the hottest flames. The truest ones burn hot and clear. The ones that go in deepest and catch us on fire with them are the ones that have been tended, stoked, watched. Patiently built, they catch and beg for community and someone to draw near to share. They reach toward the heavens and find that Heaven has been sending the same fire back for countless ages, and we find in the middle the perfect place to be. We find here that the best and truest things are the ones made of dust and Heaven and in that, I see Jesus and the Gospel.

In Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle wrote: “A friend of mine, a fine story-teller, remarked to me, “Jesus was not a theologian. He was God who told stories.”

And maybe this is where I find my place. Not trying to figure it all out, but finding Jesus under this sky of fire and at the fireside.

 

The Meaning of a Name

307153_10150791327310343_885320342_20684177_3818302_nWhen I was a few months pregnant, I  remember one night at a loud restaurant in downtown Denton, Texas where we hashed out names for the girl whose heart was beating within me with our close friends. Across the table from us sat a young couple and the young woman’s excitement about the growing baby in my body was palpable. Lindsay was bright and young, and would reach toward my growing baby bump with excitement and squeals. She was there the first time I uttered the name “Madeleine”. All of us raised our eyebrows when the name fell out on to the restaurant table.

“Huh, I like it,” I said. Everyone agreed.

A few months later, in a tragic turn of events, we would all stand graveside as Lindsay was laid to rest after a car accident. On the way to the funeral, I told my then-husband I wanted to name our baby after her. After her sparks of life and excitement. I wanted to forever remember the young teenage girl whose eyes sparkled when we talked about a baby; whose hands reached for mine in eager excitement.

And so my daughter’s name was decided. Madeleine Lindsay. And I waited for the October date to come when I’d finally hold her in my arms.

My daughter is five now, and it seems a common question, “Why did you choose that name?” Lindsay is an easy explanation. Everyone understands and nods when I tell the story about the brunette who I will always remember as young and free.

But Madeleine? That was just pretty to me. I was always a fan of Madeleine L’Engle and I loved the spelling because it was unique and didn’t remind me of the tiny bobbed French girl everyone seemed to adore so much. But as naming goes, after you name your child, everyone wants to know why. I can never give a straight reason. “I liked it,” never seems good enough for curious minds. They want scriptures, stories, epiphany moments and sparkly notes of revelation for how us parents arrived at a baby name. Maybe they want to hear about the endless hunt and baby naming parties, the arguments and family history. But I don’t have any of that.

“It just felt right,” I told a friend once. “We said it once over dinner to friends, and as soon as it came out, it felt right. It was her name.

After our divorce, when Madeleine was two and danced around our living room in tutus with curls bouncing wildly on top of her head, I felt guilty about her name. I felt bad that I didn’t have a scripture for her. I felt bad that, as far as I knew, her name didn’t have some deep meaning. At least that’s not why we chose it. Would she feel cheated? Would she not have something to talk about when she’s spinning a keychain rack with her friends, looking for something with her name on it?

A name is important. A name is a gift. And did I carelessly give it? Did I absent-mindedly give her something without good cause? Without even trying, did I pass on to her a feeling of an aloof parent?

(These are the kind of thoughts that can spin an already anxiety-prone mother into some kind of silly madness, let me tell you.)

So it’s taken more than five years for me to sit down and seek this out. I know her now — more than I even did then. She is the baby who I cradled after my marriage fell to bits and pieces over a years time. She is the daughter who kept me moving and motivated when all I wanted to do was stay in bed and hide. She is the spark of life that reminded me life is good and that God leaves nothing unredeemed. She is the continual reminder that even in our sin and wandering, God still sees us and chooses to give life when we least deserve it.

And as it turns out, Madeleine has its roots in the name Magdalene, the city on the coast of the sea of Galilee. And Magdalene? It means high tower, coming from the Hebrew word “Migdal”. The same word that is used in Proverbs 18:10 — “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and he is safe.”

When I read these words the other night, I felt Jesus near. I’m writing this book these days about all of my worst mistakes and it has me on my knees daily — revisiting memories I’ve been trying to forget, stories I never wrote out with my own words, choices that fractured families, churches, friendships. I’m writing and rehashing all over again when I left my family, ran off with a married man, ignored correction, gave up trying to be a “good Christian”. Chapter after chapter of telling the story of how that man became my husband, how we had a child, and then how our own marriage fell apart under the same weight of infidelity and sin. I spent years pushing God away and rejecting his truth and correction, and I pursued sin and pleasure like it was my right and privilege. I reaped disappointment and heartbreak. In the darkest of my days, when I was trying so desperately to save myself, I wondered if God still saw me. I wondered if I was beyond the ever-present Grace of Heaven.

Yet, even in my own child, when I thought I had absent-mindedly selected a name, God breathed that He is near. When I was breaking relationship with family and ignoring the work of redemption, I have no doubt that He whispered to me in the chaos of that busy restaurant and gave me a name for her that would one day show me that He was always near.

I see His provision in her. I see Him in the provision of new life in the midst of death. I see Him in the way she dives into the deep of my heart and I am the one who is drowning in love. I see God reminding me in her, that His name is a tower too. And in Him, we are safe, no matter what. Every glimpse into the past shows this to me. That even when I tried to make my bed in hell, He was with me.

And when I tried to run away from Him, He created a tower, a Migdal, for me to find Him again.

Parties, the Work of Grace, and Missing the Point

 

PART ONE

A few weeks ago it was my birthday. It was a lovely little day, full of bright winter sunlight and the sweetest moments from family. A small group of dear friends gave me a dinner party, and in true style to our friendship, my friend who was hosting, texted me hours before it was to begin and said, “Come whenever today. Come now. I just want to see you.”

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I arrived an hour before the dinner party was supposed to begin and sat in her kitchen while she busied herself with braised short ribs and piles of steaming mashed potatoes. (OMG)

“How’s the book coming?” she asked.

“It’s coming,” I shrugged. ”It’s amazing to me how when you finally start doing and achieving things that once upon a time were only a dream, the feeling of ‘having arrived’ at all disappears immediately.”

As I say this, her husband is pouring me one of our signature cocktails of the evening. “Autumn Winds” he’s called it, and I like that name because it makes me think of that golden tune “Autumn Leaves” which I once attempted to croon out with a legit basement jazz band with a bass player whose dreads were longer than my hair, and they smoked weed while I stepped outside to call my mom because I was 18 and I didn’t know what I was doing with my life…. but I digress.

The cocktail is sweet and spicy, and something about having signature cocktails at my own birthday dinner party feels unbelievably magical.

“So, your book,” she says again,”It’s hard work?”

“No…er, yes,” I say while the cinnamon dances on my tongue. “It’s going just fine. It’s just that I’m realizing that I’m still not happy, you know? There’s still this gaping hole in me. As soon as I reach or find something I’ve always hoped for, that feeling just disappears as fast as it comes. I’m still left with that feeling that I’m missing something. Totally normal, right?”

She rolls her eyes, because she knows me and I can’t even begin to put into words the value of someone who just gets you. “Of course, Dre,” she says my nickname like I’ve had it for 31 years. But it’s just this past year I’ve been given it and what may have started as a joke has now stuck, which I don’t mind one bit. She slathers on some sarcasm as she says, “You mean to tell me that the purpose of this life is not writing books or whatever fill-in-the-blank dream there is?” I laugh because exactly. Of course not. But somehow, I always fall for it.

Life seems to be full of these things — moment after moment, dream after dream, hope after hope, that I’m convinced will be the thing to finally fix that ache in me — to be successful, complete, at ease, at peace, self-accepting, loved, beautiful, whatever. I am the first one to buy into the lie. I’m also the first one to not be surprised when I wave my hand into the watercolor hues and find the oasis wash away into my peripheral vision. Doesn’t this hint at something? Doesn’t this reveal to me in my words and stories and dreams and hopes — that I have yet to fully understand and comprehend what this work of Grace actually does to me and the way I respond to the world? My only life lived is a memoir for me to read and I’m realizing mid-chapter, I’m missing the whole point of it all.

The feelings that come and go through my soul, hinting at joy, suggesting satisfaction, are not to be ignored. It’s like standing outside of a house while a giant party is happening indoors. I know the party is close. I know being here is not wrong. There is a joy to come and I want to be in it. I can hear glasses clinking and people laughing. But standing outside of the house is not the same as being in. I feel as though every moment I’m living is pregnant with purpose and meaning, and I’m too busy, too self-focused, too busy wandering around outside the party to actually go in and just enjoy. The Gospel and all of its implications is Shakespeare and I’m a five-year-old. The party is flowing with Grace and only the drunks are welcome. I’m too temporal. I’m waiting for the party with an invitation in my hands. I’m far too interested in the doorbells and outside lights and wondering where I’m going to park my car, and will I know anywhere there, will anyone know me, or will I be the awkward kid standing in the corner the whole time.

If you’re still with me, hi.

—–

PART TWO

I’m grappling with the madness of words these days. All of the things we say. The stories we tell. The things I write. Page after page, story after story, and there is never a moment in which I don’t feel acutely aware of my shortcomings. Something about writing a memoir will do that. Gladys Taber said “What most memoirs do for me, however, is to illuminate the personality of the writer, for this always comes through.” (The irony that her general distrust of memoirs was discussed in her own memoir is not lost on me.) But, I’m daily writing, most of which does not get posted here, but instead makes its way into paragraphs and prose in the manuscript that will eventually be red-marked and hacked to bits and bundled up and called a book at the end of this road.

So if I can, I’m going to confess here that I’m determined to be as real as my heart can possibly withstand. I’m going to talk about the book — because it keeps my mind on the work and the reality that I’m writing something today because my heart was strung out on sin almost 10 years ago and I want to help someone else in case they’re in the same place today. I’m not writing to create another oasis for my aching heart to find a false refuge in. I’m going to talk about my real life and it’s not always going to be tweetable or linkworthy or even something you’ll want to share with your friends. I’m just going to keep writing and hope that here and there something will come out that is decent.

I’m going to tweet and write about whiskey and pipes, worship and the Gospel, parenting and design. I want to try and smash some presuppositions now, while I can. I’m telling myself it’s ok to not fit into any boxes. It’s ok to not create a dream that I know will only disappoint me if and when I arrive there. I’m all for dreaming, as long as my heart is at rest in the Gospel. If it’s not, then my dream is a kite and my heart, the key on the end of Benjamin Franklin’s kite, and it’s just a matter of time until we’re both fried in the process. If my hopes are on anything but Christ, I’m just sitting in my car outside of the party and moping about how it all feels empty.

I need to keep my eyes and head clear to see beyond my own oasis-driven hopes. I need eyes to see beyond the mirror, even beyond my hungry soul and through the incandescent veil that is between us and eternity, because ultimately, that is what He has put in my heart and I never want to forget I’m longing for things I cannot even call by name.

 PART THREE

We are 30 minutes from the party beginning. I’m aging again, (it keeps happening just like all things), and I’ve given up making any grand announcements for my year to come. This is not defeat. This is grace. I am not painting any watercolor scenes in my head. I want something more. The more is not the stuff, or the failures. It’s not the contracts or the stage. The more isn’t even the parenting wins or the well-tidied living room. The work of Grace is invisible, and it’s magnetic and pulling on me in every moment and thought.

The dinner is served, family style, and I feel whole and life is sweet among this collection of hearts and souls who know me better than anyone else in the world these days. I count this a grace. A glimpse of what is to come. A shadow of perfection. I feel the rise and fall of all beautiful things in one evening and this? This is not an oasis. This is a breadcrumb leading to the feast of Home.

 

Moving on from 20

One of my closest friends recently had to put up with my bemoaning that I’m about to turn 31.

“THIRTY ONE,” I tell her. “That’s like…in my thirties now.”

She tells me it’s no big deal. Then says “30 is the new 20, right?” and I say something to the effect of “Yes, let’s go with that.”

And then one night we were all stretched out by her fireplace. Her husband had just poured each of us a small glass of his best Irish whiskey and we were knee deep in stories. They had a friend in from out of town and after my friend said again “30 is the new 20″ when I began to grumble about my upcoming birthday, this out of town friend piped in.

“Oh no way,” he says, his whiskey spins slightly in his glass as he emphatically demands this. “No way. 30 is 30. 30 is awesome. I don’t want to be 20 again. Who wants to be 20 again?”

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI keep thinking about this. Because you know what? I, for sure don’t want to be 20 again. I had no idea who I was at 20. Well, I had an idea. But then I changed my mind again. And again. And again and again and again. I wore pride and arrogance without any real knowledge all the time.

30 is awesome.

I finally know that I don’t know a lot. I will willingly and freely admit when I know nothing about something. I’m not trying to prove myself to the “great big world” anymore. I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am a bleeding heart. I cry at sappy commercials. I get fiery angry when I feel an injustice has been done. I wear my heart on my sleeve and love big and hurt big and feel big and I’m finally ok with this. 

I love a good Irish whiskey. I like slow-cooked meals. When my friends and I hang out, we’re not talking about people as much as we’re talking about ideas and plans. I have friends who have PhDs and I’m not completely intimidated by them. I know I’m a creative mess. I like it. I’m probably not ever going to become a rockstar, and I’m ok with that. And not only am I ok with that, but I’m actually relieved. Now I can just love music because I love music. I don’t feel embarrassed reading Harry Potter. And I’ll still awkwardly rock out to pop tunes. If I look like an idiot, I don’t really mind.

I’m starting to care less about all those awkward photos. As a friend said recently about a less-than-flattering photo of herself, “Hey. That’s what I look like sometimes. Oh well.”

Being a mom is the most incredible experience of my life. I have this mini-person under my care and I think she’s amazing. I wouldn’t trade her in for being 20 if my life was on the line. Not for anything.

I also realize that age really is just a number. You don’t really get this in your 20s so much. Everyone older says that and you think they’re just saying that to make themselves feel better, until you hit 30. Then you realize you feel exactly the same as you did last week. And two years ago. Suddenly my parents don’t look as old. They’re not just my parents; they’re books I want to know and read. Their stories of raising us suddenly have a place in my mind. When my dad says, “at your age” it feel less like a parental finger-wagging and more like a window into understanding the world in a clearer way.

I don’t care what the fashion magazines say. I’m gonna wear whatever I want.
I think celebrity culture is weird. It’s just weird.
I’m undecided about things still. I don’t feel a need to position myself all the time. I’m ok with being undecided because I still really love learning. It’s a fun place to be.
People finally get that marriage and sex and babies, while incredible things, are not the point of life.
I know how to do my makeup! I know how to do my hair! I know where to shop! I know how to find a bargain! I have a good auto shop on speed dial. I have the grocery store mapped out in my brain for maximum productivity. I know what to order at the bar.

When I fall flat on my face (literally, as in…off of a stage), I laugh. Because I’m tired of taking it all so seriously. I have friends who I’m not competing with. And there’s no weird “accountability” or unnecessary arguments… we just love each other. We fight for each other and push against each other but at the end of the day, realize that friendship is better when we’re in it for each other.

I’ve managed to be a moderately successful entrepreneur for almost four years now. At 20, I was clueless and unwilling to learn things. Now I know that I’m a student of life.

At 20, I still wore t-shirts from when I was 15. I didn’t know how to pluck my eyebrows. I didn’t understand why earrings were a thing. My hair was curly and that was the end of the conversation. I didn’t know how to disagree. I didn’t know how to express my own opinion about things that don’t really matter. I didn’t know how to admit that I liked pop music AND indie music. I thought I had to have different versions of myself for different friends.

I tried hard and failed a lot. Which is not unlike who I am today. But at least now, when I try hard and fail, I’m not devastated by it. I have found that in the Gospel and in the grace of Jesus I am found, not judged. I’ve found that when I confess and share and break open my heart at 30, I’m made new again. That’s better than being 20 again.

So 30 is not the new 20. I hope it’s not. I don’t want to go back to that girl. 30 is the new 30. So here’s hoping 31 is the new 31, because I think I’m ready. Just let me get in my leggings first.