Last First Day

Dear Charisse,

Man. Just typing that sentence puts tears in my eyes. Tomorrow will be my ninth first day with you — and it will also be my last.

How was in eight years ago that mama, daddy, and I all meet at Starbucks and then took you to kindergarten? It’s been the fastest blink of an eye, faster than I ever imagined. And here you are today, starting the first day of your last year of middle school. Heck, it feels like yesterday you were starting your first day of 6th grade, and now you’re about to wrap it all up. I am praying that I savor all the days of this year with you because June will come so fast and you will be high school-bound.

Watching you grow over the last few years has been amazing. Seeing you blossom and find your people, your niche in the world, your passion — well, what more could any big sister hope for? I have watched you figure out to have young adult friends. I have seen you try this activity and that only to settle on the thing that brings you great joy: musical theatre. It’s fun to come full circle and watch you prepare for Les Mis — two years ago you were also preparing for Les Mis and for 6th grade. You’re the same person, but you are entirely different.

I am remembering those years past, when you wanted to hold a hand as you walked into a classroom, when you needed help waking up and getting dressed and making breakfast. This year, you set your clothes out the night before, you asked for Noah’s Bagels and Starbucks for breakfast, and I’ll drop you off at the cross walk. You will probably slam my car door when you leave, and maybe for the first time I won’t get mad, because there are fewer and fewer trips you’ll take in my car — you’ll be in high school next year, and so quickly you’ll be driving a car of your own.

My wishes and hopes and prayers for you this year aren’t all that different than the years past: Be authentically you. Be hilariously you (because honestly, you are so funny and quick-witted that it freaks me out). Be kind and generous and welcoming. Don’t be who you aren’t not. I’ve always admired that you are who you are, and I hope in eighth grade you continue to march to the beat of your own quirky drum.

Something I’m praying for you this year is that you have the perseverance to carry on when you face adversity — when you don’t like a teacher or you’re having a hard time with mastery of content or when something rubs you the wrong way in general, I’m praying you dig down deep, show up, and give it everything you’ve got.

Take risks — do not be afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes and try again. Failure is inevitable but you can rise strong. Build character in this area now so it comes easier as you get older.

Laugh often. Cry as needed. Live every second of your beautiful, marvelous life this year.

I am cheering you on: today, this year, and always.

I’m so proud and thankful to be your big sister.

All my love for all my days,

Sissy

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Endings and Beginnings

We read a book for work recently called The Emotionally Healthy Leader and I’ve been thinking about it a lot. The final chapter in the book is about endings and beginnings, and while it applies specifically to leaders in the church, the concepts in that chapter as a whole feel so relevant to my life right now. As the author discussed transitioning out of the senior pastor role in his church, I couldn’t help but reflect on my life and this current season.

 

For so long, I thought that endings and beginnings were back-to-back kinds of things. Something ended, and then and only then did something new begin. But I am learning right now that isn’t always how it works.

I know this because I am standing inside of an ending.

I know this because I am standing inside of a beginning.

If the old thing was blue and the new thing is yellow, where I am right now is green.

I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday, someone I meet with regularly but haven’t had a deeper conversation with in a month because of vacations an other life stuff. The first thing she asked me about was my transition to Texas and how I was feeling about it.

It felt good to be honest with her. I told her that right now, I’m so glad I started telling people a whole year in advance that I am leaving because I need to grieve this ending as I embrace the new beginning. The way I am wired, I need to process the many emotions I’m feeling right now.

I mean, I am beyond excited for what I see in front of me. So many opportunities that will open up, so many friendships to deepen, so much that God can and will do in and with my life.

But I can’t ignore the things I’m leaving behind. I mean, literally my whole life has been in the same small area. For the majority of my life, I’ve lived in the same county. At most, I’ve lived 120 miles away, and only for a few years. My friendships are here. All my good childhood memories and treasured friendships happened here. I earned three college degrees here. I wrote a book in this place. I got my first real job, and then my second, here. I because a big sister here. My family lives here. My dogs are here. Leaving here means leaving all of that behind, and I can’t lie — that is really hard for me.

So for now, I am saying out loud that this ending is also a beginning, and that it’s both exciting and joyful as well as hard and sad. I’m okay with it being both, and I am okay with God using the process to refine me.

Austin felt like home

I’ve been writing this post in my heart for so many months so it’s surprising to me that I don’t actually know where to even begin now that I am writing it in real life. I want to say all the best and right words to convey what I’ve been praying about and mulling over for 21 months.

Just a little less than two years ago, I went to Texas for the first time. I was part of a book launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s book For the Love. Through the launch team, I met some of the most amazing people and made some lifelong friends. Texas was hot, so very hot, and whenever I talk about that trip I inevitably tell stories about being car sick or throwing up in the bushes outside our Airbnb and then going inside and eating a cupcake. I was hot, sweaty, and sticky for all three days I was there.

But I loved every second of it.

The people I was with made it the most incredible experience. We stayed in an incredible refurbished barn and crammed 15 or 16 people each day and night into impossibly tiny places where we at bacon, prayed for our friends, cried together, and laughed so hard. When I left Texas, I burst into tears as soon as my plane began to taxi and continued to cry so hard that when we reached cruising altitude, a flight attendant came over to make sure I was okay.

What can I say? I feel everything very, very deeply.

I was ready to move to Austin then and there. I mean, I was ready. I got this little bitty idea in my head and I was ready to see it through.

I not only feel everything very deeply, but I’m about as Type A as they come. Get an idea in my head? I’m ready to stay awake for 5,931 hours to see the project to completion.

Nothing happened. I prayed that if I wasn’t meant to live there, that God would take away that yearning from my heart. I asked my mentor Deeann to pray for that, too. God didn’t take away the desire, but He slowly began to help me understand that it was a someday dream, not a “right now” dream.

I went to Austin again just a few months after that first trip. This time it was February and it was significantly colder. Again, I loved it. I made a friend at the church I was visiting that day — a friendship that began because a stranger obeyed God and came over to pray for me. We talked for a few minutes after church and I told her all these random things, like how I wanted to move to Austin but I didn’t know when or why. She had a similar story of leaving California and coming to Austin.

As I left that weekend, I spent more time on the plane crying. I emailed Jaclyn, my friend who I’d met at church a few days before, to thank her for her time and prayers. I also friended her on social media. She wrote me back and said, “My husband also said we’ve got two extra room so if you make it out here and need a place to stay while you get started you know where to find us.”

I WAS SO READY. I even applied for a few random jobs, but none of them felt right, and even thought I couldn’t shake wanting to go to Austin and to be present, I also couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t the right now.

That is a hard thing for me to feel. I mean, HELLO I AM SO TYPE A. By this point, I’d already been waiting about six months and it felt like a lifetime. I had dinner with a friend not long after I returned from this February trip and she said, “Did you love Texas or did you love the experience?” Her words were so wise and they really made me pray even more about it.

Yes, I loved the experience.

But for a girl who spent a lifetime saying she could never leave California, I sure wanted to be in Texas badly.

I identified the main thing holding me back: I have always gotten to take Charisse to school on the first day and I’ve picked her up on the last day. It’s been one of the most special gifts of my life, to have those days with her, and I know it’s coming to an end when she starts high school and rides with mama. My heart was so sad at the thought of leaving before she finished middle school and not being able to come back and do drop off and pick up on the first and last days of 8th grade.

And then I had this epiphany a few months ago:

I could begin to see that hesitation, that very specific desire to be here for my sister-girl, as a timeline from God.

I could begin to plan on moving to Austin after Charisse finishes 8th grade.

You guys. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I could have both, I saw. Both! One wouldn’t be more important that the other.

So I kept my little secret to myself. I began to pray about it, and the more I prayed the more God gave me the peace that this was the right thing to do.

I went to Texas last week for another book launch party. I hung out with these amazing women all weekend.

Me, Michelle, Annaliese, and Kate. Never have I felt so tall in my life.

Some of my best people

We stayed up obscenely late and laughed so hard that I felt sick. We cried and prayed together again. We kayaked and ate lunch in the city and I realized: Austin felt like home.

Journaling in a Texas rainstorm

My friend Jen, who started it all

So I made a decision: it was time to let my secret out of the bag. I came home from an incredible, God-filled weekend and I started telling people.

I am moving to Austin.

I have my boss my 14 months’ notice.

I’m moving to Austin next summer.

I told my family.

I made a decision — next summer is when I plan on moving.

And my heart feels so light.

There’s a lot I don’t know — and the Type A in me is crippled at that thought — but I’m moving to Austin in the summer of 2018.

Few things in life have felt so right. It definitely feels scary, but right.

I wanted to share this with you because I want to share about the experience and the process. So many things I don’t yet have the answers to, but I am trusting God, who has walked with me through this whole journey.

I’ll find a job.
I’ll find a home.
I’ll find a way to come back for friends and for every single important thing Charisse does.
I’ll make friends.
I’ll figure Texas life out.

Y’all, I’m moving to Austin. And there is such freedom in telling you and saying it out loud after 21 months of having those words trapped inside of me.

#FourLetterWordsBook Launch Party Recap!

I can’t believe I haven’t done this yet, but my friend Lauren just posted about her own book launch party from last April (she wrote Where Did My Sweet Grandma Go? which is available now; her companion book about grandpas will be available soon!) and it reminded me I need to write about my own launch party in August. It was eight months ago but still feels like just moments ago, really. So… without further ado, let’s walk through that day. This is pretty long, but I want to remember it down the road!

I was a nervous wreck the whole week leading up to the party. Not so much because of the content of the party (a celebration of a book about sexual assault), but because I wanted everything to be perfect. I had worked so hard for so long on the book, and even though the number of stupid typos in the book drove me crazy, I wanted the party itself to be this beautiful, amazing celebration of what God had done.

I had all kinds of lists and lists and lists and finally I sat down at my “second office” (aka Starbucks) and wrote all of those lists in one notebook that I carried everywhere with me all week. As soon as I thought of something that needed to be done or bought, into the notebook it went. That helped me tremendously. Plus it was super-satisfying to cross things off as they were completed!

My “launch party Bible” (and my fuel)

I (smartly) took off the day before the party. It was a last-minute decision, and I don’t know how I thought I could do everything I needed to do if I’d worked a full 8-hour day! I went to Costco and Smart and Final and got fruits, veggies, stuff for finger foods, water, and lemonade, then headed home to put together the trays of veggies and stuff I had with me.

Fruits and veggies and lists, oh my!

My friend Shannon, who edited the book (typos are all on me, not her!), very graciously offered to host the party and her beautiful house, so after I had my stuff ready, I took all of the food and drinks to her house to store until the party the next day. Shannon was cooking some of the stuff I’d bought, plus making cookies. I’d like to emphasize how gracious and generous she was (and is!)

I was dog sitting that weekend (I know, I know — I couldn’t just do my party; I had to add an extra element to the weekend!) so I went back to the house for a few hours of work because there was a scheduled power outage that night and I had to get work done before the lights went out. I loaded my car, made sure I had double- and triple-checked my lists, and finally called it a night. Except I slept horribly. The party wasn’t until the afternoon, but I was afraid I’d sleep too late so I woke up every.single.hour.

How I felt all day — tired but elated.

Morning came, I got some Starbucks, and I drove to Shannon’s house. I had these beautiful flowers that one of my high school friends, Becca, donated (and actually she didn’t just buy them; she invited me over to her house and let me hold her amazing baby Caleb while she create the flower bouquets!). I love the yellow with pops of other colosr. I also love that I spilled half the Sprite/water combo in the mason jars on my drive to Shannon’s house.

Not just flowers — flowers and friendship.

Once I got to Shannon’s house, I began setting up. She was cooking and I was decorating. This was honestly one of the hardest parts for me. How did I decorate for this party? I wanted to keep it simple but special and very reflective of me. The flowers helped; yellow is my favorite color and Becca nailed it. We had them all over the house and yard and they were just the most perfect touch. My friend Karen was the event photographer and I am SO glad she was there to documents these pictures (and so many more!). I’ve looked at them so many times over the last eight months and they make me feel like I was there. She also got a few that are super-candid that are so special to me because she caught some moments of real, special emotion.

You saw these everywhere!

Eventually, I decided that since Four Letter Words is a memoir, I wanted to share pictures of Krista at all ages and stages — the Krista people read about in the book. I don’t have a ton of baby pictures of myself, so I was able to visit my grandma with my friend Megan and get copies of pictures. I printed these at Target and used them to decorate.

Lots of little Krista!

I also wanted to incorporate color into the party because I am a bright color fiend. One of the things that I love looking back at all of these pictures is how colorful I was in so many of them. I don’t think anyone intentionally dressed me in bright colors as a toddler, but I love that somehow, the pictures reflect that. They reflect the brightness and joy of God in me as I grew up. I even wrote about this in the chapter “Blue” in the book:

For a little while, I had blue to walk beside me, but He has given me something much greater than a single color; He gave me blue and as I grew He gave me eyes that could see and love so many more colors than I could as a child: yellow, and red, and purple, and a million colors too beautiful and complicated to name. He gave me the whole of the rainbow.

To add pops of color, I took a ton of picture frames from my bedroom and used them to display some of the pictures (you can see silver, yellow, green, aqua, and pink frames above). Because I love books, and books were such a saving grace for me (I wrote a chapter about this, too, called “Read”), I wanted to display some of my favorites through the years, so I brought boxes with me full of the books that shaped me. I wanted people to see the books themselves, not just a list. There’s something about holding books in your hands that is so special! You can kind of see some of the books above and below as well.

Check out looks books on the right.

Some of the guests were in pictures with me — Steph is in four of the pictures she’s looking at!

I used some of my favorite quotes from the book to make prints and those were displayed as decorations, too.

That four letter word was part of Shannon’s decor — it was a perfect addition!

So fun to see these words.

The last thing I did was create an area with my writing through the years — creative writing including poems, short stories, and non-fiction that I’d written. I have copies of all the lit mags I’ve been in since high school, plus I copied short stories and poems from my journals and from my creative writing classes in college. It was fun to see people out there reading throughout the course of the party!

The writing station

Yellow flowers everywhere!

The party was very unstructured — people came and went as they wanted. The only structured thing was that I spoke for about 20 minutes in the middle of the party. Everyone gathered together in the formal living room of the house and I got to share about grief and how that is really what this book did for me — it allowed me to begin to fully grieve.

I just need to insert a moment of levity here. It was August, and we were in Somis, and it was HOT. Standing in front of that window was my second-biggest party regret. I was sweating like crazy and kept forgetting to drink the cold water I’d brought in the room with me. “But what,” you’re asking, “was your biggest party regret?” Oh, let me tell you. It was WEARING THAT DRESS WITHOUT LEGGINGS. Oh my gosh. Oh my word. It is so short! I was so hot getting ready I could not think straight.

I loved looking out into the room of about 30 people — representing every season of my life, from high school to college to family to church and work and everything in between — and knowing that they were (and still are!) all gifts God gave me. That was the best part. I could have looked at them with gratitude for hours.

My people!

After I spoke there was lots of talking, eating, and laughing together. It brought me so much joy to celebrate God’s faithfulness!

Overwhelmed in the best kind of way.

GIMME ALL THE BABIES.

This is one of my favorite pictures. I love seeing women ahead of me enjoying rich friendships.

It was really cool and exciting to see my different sets of friends sit down and talk together. I’d see high school friends talking with college friends, and college friends hanging out at the same table as my church friends. What a blessing to remember that God gifted me with these people through the years and they gave me the earthy means to make it this far!

I had a “guest book” — my copy of Four Letter Words — that people could sign. I encouraged them to find a part they loved, or to just write me a message in the book. I saw people signing it throughout the party. When I got home that night, I was so grateful to take my shoes off, open a bottle of wine someone had given me as a gift, and read through the words people had written throughout the book. It is something I will treasure forever.

Eva signing my book.

Lindsay, who lives in San Diego, got to be at the party and I was so happy she was there (with her baby, too)!

My friend Jaimie also printed out the cover of the book and put it in a frame with a mat people could sign. This is such a precious and special gift to me! I kept in my office at work and just packed it up this week as we begin work remodels. I reread the words people had written and it made my heart so full.

My picture frame from Jaimie.

And then there was lots of this: hanging out with people and enjoying their company!

Talking to Deeann right after I spoke. This is one of my favorite candid shots from the day!

I am not really sure what’s happening in the middle picture, but it was apparently very funny!

I had so much fun getting to introduce Charisse to so many people, and so much fun take pictures with my friends and favorite people!

Lots of college love in these photos.

Babies and friends — two of the best things in life.

I was able to sign books in person, which was really surreal! (And definitely much easier than signing 150 books within three days when I first received copies and mailed them out a few months before the party! Man, that sure gave me hand cramps!)

Colorful down to the nail polish.

I went home that night exhausted but amazed and feeling so full of love. Many people at the party I expected to be there (they RSVPed), but some guests surprised me by showing up. I was surrounded by the people God has given me over the years, and that was exactly what I wanted to celebrate — not a book, really, when it came down to it, but the story God has written and is still writing in my life. And that story very much includes every person who blessed me with their time that day!

The incredible view over the fields as the sun began to set — I marvel at God’s creation.

And even cooler still, the party wasn’t just for me. Because books were so important to me growing up (and still are), I asked my guests to bring a book to donate to an elementary school or middle school. I was able to donate 29 books, which was beyond incredible.

Books to donate!

Flowers and gifts from my friends. What a community of love I have!

Blood and Guts and Skin and Bones

I have very two distinct memories when it comes to my weight as a teenager and an adult. In one memory, I’m about 15 or 16 years old. I’m wearing white shorts, probably a size seven or nine in juniors. I’ve got on a red college t-shirt and (this is probably the worst part), I’m wearing red-and-white striped toe socks that went to my knees, like Where’s Waldo was hiding himself in my skinny calves. I have a picture of me in this outfit, standing in my grandma’s living room. I’m grinning at whoever was taking the picture. My hair was black (this was a really unfortunately fashion phase for me when you think about black hair and those Where’s Waldo socks!) and pulled up in a messy knot, and on my left wrist I wore two jelly bracelets. I was so, so thin — not unhealthy, just normal teenage thin.

The other memory that can hold my mind captive for hours is the first time I discovered a stretch mark on my belly. I wasn’t a newbie to stretch marks when I discovered the one on my belly, but all of the other ones I had were on my breasts and thighs. When I was 20 I began to gain weight, but it wasn’t significant, not at first anyway. One afternoon when I was about 25, I stood in front of the mirror while I changed my pants. I’d taken a nap wearing a pair of jeans and I was changing to go out to dinner with a friend. My pants had left a deep red mark on my belly near my belly button and I rubbed the spot, trying to make it go away. But it didn’t, I realized with horror a few days later, actually disappear. It was a stretch mark. On the formerly flat and smooth skin of my belly. And I gained more weight and saw more of those marks weave their way into my skin, ruts in my flesh that I wished would go away but would not.

I remember both of these things with the same weird emotion: I never once looked at my body and felt like the girl I saw reflected in the mirror or the picture matched the girl in my brain. As a teenage, I felt so big, like my body filled up far more of a chair or room or personal space than it did. I wasn’t; it didn’t. I had some very, very thin friends, but I definitely was normal, maybe even slightly thinner than normal. And as a 25-year-old, I felt, finally, like that thin girl, even as the weight piled on against my will. At both times, I sometimes looked into the mirror and felt shocked, the face of the girl reflected not the person I pictured myself to be.

The weight gain I experienced in my 20s was the result of many things. It was when I really started to address the feelings I’d been repressing for years after being sexually assaulted at 18 and sexually abused for most of my childhood. I also began to experience problems related to my hormones that made weight gain so simple and weight loss impossibly hard, but I wouldn’t have any idea that my body was betraying me from the inside, making my skin stretch and distort even as I tried so hard to make healthy choices, until I was in my 30s.

My 30s brought some stability and some answers to the question of why I gained weight the way I did, but it also brought some new physical challenges with it. My brain felt extra-sharp, alert and ready for anything. That clarity didn’t stop me from taking one wrong step during one of those runs where you get colored paint thrown at you. We were running through a campground, over tree stumps, and I tripped. I caught myself but the next morning, I woke up with a horrible pain in my back, around my left hip. I stretched and used fancy phrases like “I really hurt my hip flexor” because it sounded better than “I tripped over a tree and jacked my back up.” Months went by and my doctor gave me muscle relaxers, which didn’t actually help much, and non-narcotic pain medications, which also didn’t help and made my stomach hurt. Finally I realized I had sciatica and was able to get the help I needed to heal it. And wouldn’t you know, maybe two weeks after I woke up for the first time in months with no pain in my back, I had this horrible, debilitating pain in the arch of my left foot. (Apparently I hate the left side of my body.) It got worse and nothing helped. I iced it (brrr!), I rolled a lacrosse ball under it (which honestly made me wish I was dead because the pain was that bad), I wore different shoes that supported my very high arches, and eventually, I used this stuff that I called “voodoo tape,” which is what actually fixed the problem. It was stretchy tape adhered to my skin, pulling the muscles and letting the blood flow more freely and also maybe there was some magic involved. All that to say, this was how I spend the spring and summer months of 31, my body betraying my brain’s desire to get up and do stuff and have fun.

I am 33 now and sometimes, when I’m getting dressed or when I’m out shopping for new clothes, I feel waves of sadness wash over me when I look at my body. I think the feelings are two-fold. One, this isn’t the body I imagined I’d have, especially when I think about my body as a teenager. And two, I am sad for all of the shame and indignity I heaped upon myself for not looking a certain way whether it was at 15 or 25. I think back to those agonizingly difficult years between 17 and 23 when so much anger and sadness filled my heart that I felt like the only thing I could do was slice deep lines into the skin on my arms with a razor blade. I feel so broken and sorry for what I have subjected this body of mine to, whether in word or in deed.

I just want to whisper, “I’m sorry, body, for the lies I’ve told you and believed about you. I’m sorry for all the times I believed you weren’t good enough. I’m sorry, God, that I doubted that you knew this body when you made it. I’m sorry I have spent so long doubting the strength and dignity you’ve given to me in these bones.” So often I believed that my body had failed me or that I had failed it, but when I actually stop and look at what I have done with this achy, breaky body of mine, I am left speechless. This body has done so much.

bloodgutsblogpost

I’ve traveled the world and I’ve traveled my country. I’ve been to tiny, dirty villages in El Salvador and I’ve walked through beautiful historical buildings in South Africa. I’ve flown to Europe and walked around the streets of Rome and Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I’ve had coffee in Turkey and stood in the oceans of Greece. I have flown to many states to visit my friends and adventured with them. I’ve driven 16 hours and a thousand miles in a car with a friend and her two kids, stretching my legs when we got gas, flexing my back in the seat when it was my turn to drive. I’ve slept on beds and couches and floors, rolling my bones loose in the morning.

I’ve picnicked at parks, my bare legs stretched out on the grass, itchy bumps rising on my skin. I’ve felt the sun scorch my skin bright pink and peely in the summer and I’ve shivered in the coldest months, feeling snow numb the tips of my fingers and soak through my boots.

I’ve held babies and shushed them to sleep. I’ve kissed sweet little cheeks and wiped away snot and tears. I’ve chased these tinies across playgrounds and parks. I’ve swung high and pushed littles into the sky, their shrieks and giggles filling the air. I have loved so deeply because of these tiny people who fill my life.

This body has run races, no matter how slow the clock might read, and it has walked miles down sandy beaches in beautiful places. I’ve paddled a surfboard in the icy parts of the Pacific and I have snorkeled, eyes big and bold with wonder, in the warm waters of Hawaii. I’ve hiked up mountains and swam to waterfalls and lifted my feet through piles of cold, bright snow.

I’ve been brave in times of great fear. I have laughed in times of great rejoicing. I’ve allowed grief and sorrow to burrow deep within my skin and I have allowed my heart and my body and even my skin to heal and to be rebuilt. I have traced the scars that line my arm in wonder and in sadness, thankful for hope that has healed me and shattered that I ever felt an anguish deeply enough to do that to myself.

My body has made tears for me to cry, both the wounded tears and and the kind that come when you laugh so hard you can barely breathe. My body has felt its heart race in anticipation and with regret. I have stood on stages and told people hard things, shining light into dark and bitter places. I have shared the truth about Who I believe in and what I love, even when faced with losing things. I have a backbone that has made me proud of stand up for myself.

Maybe my body doesn’t look like I imagined it would or like I think it should, but oh my goodness, it has done and does everything I’ve wished for. Who am I to look at it and think it is anything but good? Some days lately I wake up and I think, “Man, God, my body isn’t like I imagined, but neither is my life, and look how good everything is! So thanks for it. Thank You more than I will ever be able to express for the blood and guts and skin and bones.” Some of the years in the body have been difficult, but I’ve lived loudly and laughed hard and loved well, and I will praise God for the body He gave me that has survived so far in this wild and full life.

 

Oceans (when my feet do fail)

I have a confession to make.

I am the worst Southern California girl in the history of ever.

Why, you ask?

Let me tell you. I have lived almost all of my life, for 30+ years, within 15 minutes of the beach.

I don’t actually like the beach that much.

Listen. In my defense, I grew up with some pretty gross beaches. The sand is gritty, the water is icy cold, even when it’s warm and sunny inland the beaches near me are usually overcast and cold (not to mention windy), you can’t see the bottom through the murky mix of sand and seaweed and foam, and there are so many brave and obnoxious seagulls that I’d rather just chill out at a swimming pool. I have curly hair and and even when it’s pulled back tightly, little frizzy curls escape and I look like I’ve been moderately electrocuted when I spend time at the beach, its heavy and wet air messing with me. Even if it’s cool, walking in sand is practically the more difficult exercise on the planet and by the time I get back to my car, I am sweaty and clammy and my legs and lungs burn. It doesn’t help, either, that I am fair and freckled and red haired with blue eyes. I’m like a billboard for sunblock. A doctor once told me, “Your body was made for a cloudy island called the United Kingdom.”

I was just not built for the ocean.

Now, if we had beaches like they have in Hawaii, I would be all over them. But we do not so mostly I avoid them. And I’m okay with that.

I have classmates from high school who would go surfing or bodyboarding before first period. That means they’d have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, before the sun came up, to get a good spot in the water. And then they had to sit through a full day of classes. That seems like basically the worst thing I could ever do, but more power to them. These are the same classmates who have kids now, and they post pictures of their families smiling outside their RV at a beach campground. I love nature and find myself in awe of trees and bright blue skies and mountains and flowers, and I even like looking at pictures of the ocean, but I just don’t love going to the beach.

Sometimes, though, I find myself longing for the beach in ways that seem illogical, considering I don’t actually like it most of the time. It calls to me to the point where I don’t want to be anywhere else and I have to make a way in my busy day to get there.

When I was a kid, we went to the beach pretty often. As an adult, I find the beach no bueno (please reread the last few paragraphs if that wasn’t clear), but when I was a little girl, I love beach days. The city where I grew up wasn’t nearly as developed and so many lots that have big houses down near the ocean today were just air and sky and sandy parking spots 20 years ago. We’d pack up a cooler and grab towels and head down the beach, driving slowly down the alleyways of side streets until we found an open spot on an undeveloped lot, and then we’d lug everything we brought down to the sand. The kids would race to the water, so very cold, and shriek with joy as it splashed up against our legs and torsos.

When I wasn’t in the water, testing how far the adults would let me go without one of them shouting for me to turn around, I sat in the sun-warmed sand drinking Orange Crush sodas from the can and eating bbq potatoes chips gritty from the sand sticking to my fingers. I built sand castles and yelled in disgust when I saw the tell-tale air bubbles of sand crabs. My hair curled and tangled up as it dried, the salt making it sticky. I picked at the tar stuck on my feet.

Finally, we’d pack everything up and make our way back to the car. We’d try to brush off all of the sand, but sand is very clinky and the floor of the car would be covered with it before we got home. What I loved best about leaving was getting into the hot car. Sweat would bead along my hairline and the warm, stuffy air would make me drowsy. Usually we’d get ice cream cones on the way home and I’d drift off to sleep for a few minutes in the car before coming home and cleaning up.

Somewhere along the way, these things lost their appeal and the beach became a chore, not a fun visit. I realize lives change and people’s likes change, and so I became the Southern California girl who preferred to stay home from the ocean.

As I get older, I’m discovering there is something curative in the ocean. Surely you’ve heard the quote that goes, “The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea.” I hate being cliche, and it feels like every girl who’s grown into a woman around me has posted some pretty version of this quote at least once, but I think maybe it’s cliche because it’s true. I cry a lot (I’m the self-proclaimed “most cryiest person ever”). Sweating and physical activity, while not fun, always makes me feel better. That’s science or something.

And lately, the sea has been healing me and my heart beyond what I could ever expect it to do.

Maybe it’s the water that most days seems so cold, the water that makes my bones shiver with ache. Every once in awhile, the waves that slash and froth around me don’t seem unwelcoming with their chill – they seem refreshing, like I’ve been panting and I’m hot and scorched, and they cool me and satisfy my thirst. The extinguish the burning, yearning of my heart, heat that I can’t bear to carry on my own anymore.

Maybe the solace I find on these hard days is in the sound of the ocean. I hear so many things, but they all blend so perfectly together into one noise when I stop and just listen. Apart, it might sound like a cacophony, but together the noise rises in perfect harmony as the waves crash and the gulls squawk and the children shriek and laugh. It’s a lullaby to a mind roaring with words and big, passionate feelings.

Perhaps it’s the sand. Mostly it’s the sand, I think. All that sand, whether it’s the soft, fine sand of a Hawaiian beach or the rough sand of my local beaches: it was once rocks, big and small and medium, and the ocean pounded those rocks together for hundreds of years until they broke, broke, broke into smaller and smaller pieces that now line the shore. I see myself in that sand, the breaking apart into pieces too small to count, yet moldable like clay when the conditions are right.

And if it isn’t any of those things (though I’m hedging my bets on the sand), it’s the scope. The ocean makes me feel so small. When I went to Hawaii for the first time, I went snorkeling with my family. The entire time we were on the boat, our hotel was within sight. It was how I figured out where we were; the hotel was my constant point of reference. The first time we were able to get into the water, we snorkeled above huge underground caves. Fish and sea turtles swam below and around us. Flowers and plants grew in the water, things we could never see from above the ocean. At one point I looked down and swimming into the cave far beneath me was an enormous stingray. I couldn’t shout for anyone to look with me, so I just watched, in the cushioned silence of the ocean, as it glided into the cave. The waves moved my body up and down, gently, as I pushed my hands through the clear water.

When I came home from Hawaii, everyone asked me about our trip, and that day in the ocean was the thing I talked about the most. “It made me feel so small,” I said. “Not small, like insignificant. But small, like I understand better how big and huge God is. All I see is what’s above, but there’s a whole world of life below. I’m just one tiny piece of it His creation.” And that was just one part of it. There are hundreds of thousands of miles I’ll never see. There is a whole world underneath the sea out of the sight of my Hawaiian hotel.

That is really it, then: the scope. When I am filled big with fear, when my emotions seem to multiply to the point where everything feels uncontrollable, when I fall asleep and wake up crying with sorrow and even with joy, that is when my bones hunger for the ocean. When I begin to feel big in my power to control things, when I want to take charge and when grief takes me over, I feel like that giant ocean calls to me, just like a magnet, to humble me and give me perspective. I need to go and sit on a blanket on sand that clings to my legs. I need to stand in water that makes me shiver as it rises up my calves and thighs, soaking the hem of my shorts with salt and foam. I need to hear the sounds rise and mix together.

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Mostly I need to sit, cross-legged with a Bible and journal on my lap, the Psalms opened in front of me, with no cell phone reception, no way to Instagram the moment. I need the time to cry and weep and be still with God and let Him speak to me. The last time I spent a morning at the beach, feeling utterly wrecked with sorrow, I flipped the Psalms open and read these words:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
(Psalm 62:5-7, ESV)

He is the rock Who made that beach, Who made those waves, Who made my tiny wild heart that beats with passion, Who shattered giant rocks into miniscule grains of sand, and Who ultimately calms and quiets everything big in me by taking me to a place that will, so quickly, remind me of the beauty of my smallness.

“Read, my child. Read.”

33booksracialinequality

Today, as I watched Donald Trump be sworn in as the President, I felt an ache inside of me grow — it threatened to envelope my heart. And then someone shared this beautiful video of John Lewis receiving a National Book award and the tears poured down my face as I heard him say, his own voice catching, that a teacher one told him, “Read, my child. Read.”

In that moment, I thought, “I am gonna be okay. We are gonna be okay.” I have spent my whole life fighting the very things that held me down with books and Lewis’s words reminded me that my battle doesn’t have to end today.

We are a country torn apart. I was texting some friends later in the day and one friend pointed out that people didn’t suddenly become racist because Trump became the President; they simply of the freedom now to voice their racist beliefs without restraint. Do I believe we’re better off than 50 years ago?

I don’t know.

But no matter what, there’s work to be done. And as I have always done, my solace in learning how to fight injustice comes from other people’s words. The words of others have always inspired me and pushed me past my comfort zone. The next four years will be no different.

I asked people on social media today to share with me their recommendations for books that will help me grow. I’m sharing that list with you below. Most of these books I have not yet read, so I can’t vouch for them, but I have respect for those sharing. The people commenting represent a truly diverse representation of my friends: liberal, conservative, moderate; religious and not religious; parents and childless. Please join me in reading them, working through our biases, and learning to love people for every part of who they are.

I hope this list makes you uncomfortable.
I hope it is hard for you to read and watch these things.
I hope this list makes you put all of your beliefs on the table.
I hope it makes you sort through them, seeing what you’ve never seen before.

I hope the same things for myself.

I don’t want to remain unchanged. I don’t want to pretend this isn’t a problem. I want to safe, comfortable, white world shaken up so I might not just know better, but be and do better.

If there are books that you want to recommend, I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments. I also welcome other forms of media for growing in my understand of racial (in)equality! (Books are listed alphabetically by title — no order reason for their order!) This list certainly isn’t comprehensive. I’ve bolded books I’ve read.

Non-fiction
A Call to Conscience by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (a complication of his speeches)
America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley***
Between the World and Me 
by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black Boy
by Richard Wright
Bloodlines by John Piper
The Color of Water by James McBride
Colorblind by Tim Wise
Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
March trilogy by John Lewis
Negroland by Margo Jefferson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Race Matters by Cornel West
Racist America by Joe Feagin
Roots by Alex Haley
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals
White Like Me by Tim Wise
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Yellow by Frank Wu

*** I want to point out that I do not advocate for violence. However, I think hearing about what made Malcolm X do the things he did is relevant and important as we engage in this conversation.

Fiction
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Brown Girl Dreaming
by Jacqueline Woodson
Home Going by Yaa Gyasi
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The Kitchen House
 by Kathleen Grissom
Native Son by Richard Wright
Small Great Things
by Jodi Picoult
The Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Other resources
Be the Bridge

I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about those who’ve participated in Be the Bridge groups! I heard LaTasha Morrison speak at the IF:Gathering last year and she really made my heart beat faster at the thought of racial reconciliation.

13th (link to trailer on YouTube; available exclusively on Netflix)
This documentary is about the 13th amendment. I started watching it and it’s really thought-provoking.

“Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We all have heard Dr. King’s “I have A Dream” speech. But until this year — yes, 2017 — I’d never read this letter. Whoa. It’s lengthy but good. So good. Read it. Print it. Take notes. (If you’d rather listen, you can do so here.)

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Big thank yous go out to my friends on social media: Bethany Beams (Bethany’s list is long and I didn’t include every book from in here so I recommend checking it out!), Rachel Mueller Hill, Kodi DeBevlle, Diana Cherry, Jaclyn Snyder, Lindsay Neveu Hufford, Rachael Jordan, Kristen Bulgrien, Corie Gibbs, Tanya Stanley, Karen Rodrigues, Claire Thompson Mummert, Karin Harrington, Jessica Wolfe, Bryan Carver, Tenease Ramirez, Liz Grant, and Tasha K. I’m excited to dive in to your suggestions!