what bold means

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I’ll always remember the night we saw
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. With popcorn kernels stuck in our teeth and drowsiness in our eyes, I slumped into the passenger seat of his gold Jeep, counting down the minutes until I could cannonball into my bed.

Kendall, on the other had, had another idea. Many of them, in fact.

To me, this movie starring Ben Stiller had been an enjoyable summer late-night activity. It soon became clear that to my little brother, it had been 90 minutes of complete life change.

“KAIT!”, he exclaimed. “It’s just that…I don’t have to do things the way I thought I did. We don’t have to! How did I not see this before!”

With freedom in his lungs and determination in his eyes, he began devising a plan and I realized we weren’t going to call it a night anytime soon. These moments happened frequently with Kendall. No one could catch inspiration quite like he could. Except for his sister, that is.

Although I’m usually a New Year’s resolutions kind of girl through and through, this year was different. This year, I chose one word: Bold.

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I wasn’t sure what it would be like to lean into one word for all of 2017. Would it be an excuse for me to get away with off-the-wall antics? Was it too vague to execute realistically?

What began as a wild hair idea for my word of the year quickly turned into a much more intense personal challenge. When everything began to change around me, it was a hearty joke. And then, as things tend to do, it became spiritual.

After years of life happening to me, I wanted to happen to my life. I would reclaim myself in the “family of things,” as Mary Oliver would say, grabbing the reins of my favorite role, bossy big sis.

“Bold” wasn’t the motivation behind running a half-marathon, starting a new job, pursuing writing full-time or moving into a new home; Bold is, however, my own personal Walter Mitty–a permission slip to see and experience each of these differently than I had before.

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Bold is my year-long experiment in being brave enough to find what lies beneath a thick blanket of grief. It’s calling joy by name unashamedly and reclaiming the uninhibited concept of fun. It’s noticing the muscles that have become stronger and the backbone grief has grown and counting myself better because of it. It’s knowing that in doing these things, I don’t miss Kendall any less, but I can release myself from performing my grief to convince others I am still sad.

Bold is a no-pressure first draft of rewriting my narrative and brainstorming what genre it may live under next. And at the same time, it’s all just reclaiming the freedom and grace that has been mine for the taking all along. Yes, it’s a process of reinventing, but in doing so, I think I’m coming home to myself. I’m so happy that, after all this time, she’s right where I left her.

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Photos by Simon and Moose

I Ran A Half-Marathon (!!!)

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“Pusher Love Girl”: The Backstory

I’ve listened to “Pusher Love Girl” four times since Kendall passed away. The first, on the way to visit the cemetery the first time by myself, when flowers didn’t seem to suffice. The second, it becoming my little tradition, the next time I visited the cemetery alone. Although I do usually bring flowers, I feel like they are more for myself—Justin Timberlake seems a better offering to a 20-year-old brother than tulips ever will.

Both the third and fourth rounds of “Pusher Love Girl” happened Saturday.

The song was never officially dubbed “ours” or “his” persay, but it’s the most current reminder I have of him in my head. I imagine others who have unexpected loss may feel the same way about a cereal they saw their loved one eat before leaving home or the reading glasses left on the bedside table. “Pusher Love Girl” is my favorite because, well, it’s slightly explicit and full of pop, and a memory that is solely mine.

The last summer we had together, both back in our childhood rooms across the hall from one another, he’d listen to it in the mornings, his electric razor buzzing and falsetto voice unashamedly belting. I was the only one who ever woke to a voice-cracking “I’m just a j-j-j-junkie for your love” from the next room. Unlike the heaviness of tombstones and obituaries, this song reminds me of life. The song is full and peppy, just like those mornings filled with spritzes of cologne and scents of waffles. It’s the unscathed joy we didn’t know to savor from our side-by-side life, the one before we became separated by tragedy. The safe and sound version of us.

My running was not motivated by reminders of his death, but of his life. And that half marathon? I did the dang thing.

In Which We Talk About The Race and Not “Pusher Love Girl”:

Saturday morning brought a 4:30 am wake-up call and the hottest morning Nashville’s seen in quite a while. I’d never trained in this kind of heat, in addition to never before wearing the knee brace and tank top I decided to wear on race day. AKA I basically broke all of the “running world” violations before getting out of the car, watching the odds stack up against me before my eyes. Anxious runners filled Broadway, pushing through the crowds to locate their running corrals. I was supposed to be in corral 38, but in a blackout moment of sheer naivety, I made the oh-so-obvious determination that I AM NOT A CORRAL 38 KIND OF GIRL. And thus, my corral 10 career was born. Split seconds after making that decision, I heard the announcer say the number 10 and FELT MY LEGS MOVING WITHOUT MY BRAIN. Like, hello? Stretching? What’s that? Beyonce? Is that you?

It wasn’t until the end of Broadway that I realized I hadn’t started my music or running app and remembered to take a beginning-of-the-race selfie. With expletives dancing in my head, I rounded the country music- filled corner with flashback memories of all the 5Ks I’ve ever hated filling my steps with angst. And then, the Space Jam theme song came on and I WAS BUGS BUNNY WITH THE ALLEY-OOP. “Welcome to your jam,” the honky-tonk heavens sang. (Don’t quote me on this theology, but I BELIEVE THEY EXIST, OK?)

The angst was gone and the first five miles were like Christmas morning. I passed the 5K mark with a confident scoff at my formerly-lacking self with internal shouts of YOU ARE DOING THE THING, GIRL. GET IT. I had no chill, and why yes, I sang all the songs that were blasting in my earbuds with complete choreography while running, loving my life. I decided that since I had already set a personal record of “showing up to a half-marathon,” I was going to also have the most fun ever. And I did.

But did I mention it was hot? And there were hills? It was entirely, hilariously toasty, and I downed unidentified glucose packets and running goo all along the way. On mile 10, they gave out wet sponges and it was a definite highlight. (Did I just say that mile TEN was a highlight? You guys. I think I’ve been hacked.)

I’m not going to tell you that it was all butterflies and roses, except, in retrospect, it was. I did the thing I didn’t ever ever ever think I could possibly do. It was HARD and it was HOLY and it was life-altering.

Post-glorious sponge distribution, I’m starting to feel like I will not live to see the finish line. Until this point, I have diligently timed my run/walk ratios, but with three miles to go, my body takes over and I do everything I can to just keep going. I’m delirious and see ambulances and stretchers occupied with runners in the distance. NOT TODAY, I tell myself. NOT TODAY.

In the midst of my delirium, I hear someone in the crowd shout, “Last mile! You can do it!,” and suddenly wonder if I’ve lost track of the mileage or a true marathon miracle has occurred. Although I thought I was just beginning mile 11, I am terrible at geography and am extremely gullible, thus whipping out my last mile playlist like I was born for this moment.

Back to “Pusher Love Girl”

I am wearing a wristband that says “Make Him Proud,” a reminder of the brother I started running for. Because I was unable to emotionally prepare for the last mile, I was suddenly overcome with emotion at the start of “Pusher Love Girl.” The buzzing, the falsetto, the waffles, my brother–it was all there, aching into my muscles. I sped up, ready to finish strong, but the song kept going and going, with no finish line in sight. The tears were streaming, and for the first time, my physical pain matched the brokenness I’ve felt all along. My feet were bleeding, my knees throbbing, and my patience thinning.

And then I began the actual last mile. I’d run mile twelve as if it were my last, with nothing left for mile thirteen. Pro tip: Don’t listen to spectators, friends. With my heart set on the playlist, I clicked “play” again, but this round was different. I was slower, softer, exhausted. I was weak, I was out of control, and by grace, I was straight-up joyful. I fist-pumped and sang my own falsetto to “I’m just a j-j-junkie for your love.” Steadying myself, I crossed the real, genuine finish line, in complete and total shock. It wasn’t just victory; it was redemption.

Death isn’t the end. Sadness isn’t the end. In Christ, we cross the finish line stripped of our own strength, with joy renewed and darkness removed. He will play back the sad songs we’ve written and show us their worth. This is our story. This is our song.

I am overwhelmed. He has overcome.

I can barely walk today, but it was worth it. The training, the blisters, the soreness, it was all so, very worth it. And I wonder if this can help me navigate suffering, this in-between life that feels like a never-ending race without my brother. Maybe healing begins when we intentionally show up to our brokenness, expecting it to be hard and pushing forward anyway. I walked away Saturday feeling a little more whole, a little more

Kendall, I hope I made you proud, buddy. See you at the finish line.

“Do not let it cross your mind that you do not have what it takes to pursue your dreams.”
-Kendall Wernet

s.o.s | half marathon

We’ve started a little Friday “Cheers” tradition around here, but today, we’re going to call it something a little more fitting: “S.O.S.”jon-tyson-232630

I’m running a half marathon tomorrow. Save my freaking soul.

Tomorrow’s headlines: Kaitlin Wernet, 25, resident of Nashville, TN, innocent bystander in most cases (except this one), is hesitant to announce that she has officially gone INSANE. IN-SAY-NE. She’s currently seeking intensive counseling, serious hydration, and warm baths.

Here are the things you need to know:

I am an emotional wreck. I started running in January, hoping to explore something my brother loved—a productive, empowering way to grieve. I wanted blood pumping in my dry, tired bones, giving life to the sad narrative I’ve been living. And that’s exactly what happened. It’s come to life—all of it, wholly,—and I think tomorrow will be 13.1 miles of reliving the story. I’ve learned that it’s hard to run and cry at the same time, but my goal is to run toward and through the feelings instead of away from them. Endurance is a mental game I’ve been learning for two-and-a-half years.

Kendall did not run 13.1 miles. (To my knowledge.) In case I needed one, this is an indication that I am a high-functioning fool. But I also kind of love this, because I know that if he were here, he would be doing it. This is uncharted territory, and when I think about how crazy of an idea it is, I know his dimples would be beaming.

The most I’ve run is 10.5 miles. And I limped back to my car (and everywhere else for the next two days) when that happened.

I do not think I can do this. But I cannot wait to do it anyway.

Tonight, I’m eating pasta for dinner. Because that’s all I know to do. Obviously, I’m really good at this. I’ll be qualifying for Boston any moment now.

Tomorrow, I’m eating running goo every forty-five minutes. You probably know more about this than I do. Carry on.

I’m running with a fanny pack. Speaks for itself, really.

My knees are weak. They kneed prayer. (Sorry not sorry.) But really, they haven’t been strong since a few minor knee surgeries I had in high school, and this distance will be pushing it.

I made a running playlist filled with songs I’m too embarrassed to show you, but you can see my “Final Mile” playlist:

These are all songs that remind me of Kendall, and if they can’t get me through the last mile, go ahead and call the stretcher.

  1. “Brother” by NeedToBreathe and Gavin DeGraw
  2. “Rather Be” by Clean Bandit
  3. “Pusher Love Girl” by Justin Timberlake

I’ll (hopefully) cross that finish line listening to Justin sing lyrics about drugs I don’t know about and a brother I miss more than anything. When it plays, I hear Kendall’s silly falsetto voice and electric razor buzzing in the background. It was his morning getting ready song, and I can’t wait for it to be our half-marathon finishing song. We will discuss these things in heaven, I’m quite sure of it.

All in all, I’m ecstatic. I’m confident. I also feel like I’m going to throw up. I’m trusting. I’m thankful.

S.O.S.

Cheers.

You guys are the best cheerleaders around. See you on the other side of the finish line, I hope. xo

counting goodness, a.k.a the one about nashville

img_1457I always loved stopping in Nashville. Growing up, it was an overnight stay or quick dinner on the way to our grandparents’ home in Memphis, but I always looked forward to the city on the other side of the Tennessee gorge.

Then, Nashville to me was Opryland Christmas lights and Demo’s steak and spaghetti, and, if we were lucky, line dancing at the Wild Horse Saloon. It was usually the week after Christmas, and the streets of Broadway were bare, the locals traveling to see their families. (Not that the locals would frequent Broadway anyway 😉 ).

But although I loved visiting, I never considered that Nashville could be more than a stopover. It was an in-between but never the destination, and definitely not home. Until I found myself signing a job offer and apartment lease. In Nashville.

And then not even four weeks after moving in, I was driving back to North Carolina after receiving the worst news of my life. I decided I was going back home, where I would stay, with my parents, forever. But that’s not what happened, either. I went back.

I say all this to explain that the odds were stacked up against Nashville.
I didn’t have a magic moment that told me to return to this city full of strangers.
I feared that my choice would make my parents’ lives even more lonely and painful.
While I hoped the job I was taking was the right choice, most people thought the risk was too big.
I didn’t know what it would be like to return to a city who’d never met the brother I just lost.
I hated the idea of slipping my family’s tragedy into every new introduction and small talk that came my way.
I thought I’d never form true friendships or let anyone in to because my story was too sad.

Over two years later, I’m still here. I don’t have a formula for making friends in a new city or tips to making a decision about a big life-change, and I can’t even tell you that I’m always confident I made the right decision. But I can count the goodness.

There’s goodness in the families who took me in and made me feel like a sister who belonged. They were with me when I received the news about my brother, drove me home to my parents, and haven’t left me alone since.

There’s goodness in trying community and the equally awkward and amazing results. This week, I sat with a group of friends at church, and we laughed at inside jokes and made plans together for the week. On my way out, I remembered last year’s weeks-turned-months of church hopping and sitting alone. Isn’t it funny how we miss the way seasons change and fruit grows?

There’s goodness in the ways exploring this city feels a little bit like church. My current visitor recommendations include brunch at Josephine’s (skillet cinnamon sugar donuts, you guys.), coffee at Crema (sip the Tennessee Pride with their almond/coconut milk. Thank me later.), and burgers at The Pharmacy. My favorite writing spot is Barista Parlor Germantown, and I’m always popping in at Vinnie Louise in 12 South.

There’s goodness in letting new friends into your old story. Maybe they’ll shrink back in horror, but maybe they’ll be exactly what you need. Over chips and salsa, someone recently asked me, “So I’ve gathered that your brother is a big part of your story. What do you need me to know about him so I can be a better friend to you?” I mean, ANGEL FROM HEAVEN, you guys. Still weeping over this for real.

There’s goodness in taking risks and meeting up with someone’s friend’s cousin’s brother-in-law’s ex-wife’s daughter who just moved to Nashville. You’re either in for a best friend forever or a good story later.

There’s goodness in giving yourself grace to stay home sometimes, because in doing so, you might just realize that home is in a different place than where you left it last. It’s Nashville, my stopover city. And I may just stay a while.

I’m finding that counting the goodness may not solve problems or provide answers, but it sure does bring us home. Hoping the same for you today. xo

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let us make art

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Every time I wear a dress, someone asks about the scar on my knee. It’s a pretty good one, as far as scars go, spreading across my left kneecap with little dots where the stitches used to be.

I had three knee surgeries in high school for—what we didn’t know at the time was— a benign tumor.(Don’t worry—the medical talk stops here because #squeamish). Anyway, all you need to know is that I’m totally fine, I got to wear hot pink bandages, and the doctor assured me the scar would be gone within a year.

It’s still here. But oddly, I love that scar. It represents the awkward eleventh grader who had to sit on the sidelines of marching practice with the most uncool “injury” of all time. (I was already in marching band, so I’m being very serious when I emphasize my steadily-increasing level of uncool.) It reminds me of the self-conscious girl who’d cover the healing yet unfading scar with a fresh Band-Aid each morning. And oddly, I love that girl, too.

Now, after getting over the fact that my kneecap will never be cute (I mean. It truly had potential.), I mostly have forgotten about the scar until someone else points it out. When they do, I love to tell a good battle wound story. However, there are things that I’m afraid someone will notice that I’m less proud of—wounds that will take longer to become scars, brokenness that may never become whole. I hide them with my own Band-Aids of “I’m fine, you?” and “Oh, good. Busy, but good.”

I was once sitting on a place next to a woman in her mid-thirties. She had a designer purse and blonde locks, both of which I envied. She asked where I was headed.

“Florida,” I said. “Disney World. You?”
“New York,” she said. “Rehab.”

She didn’t justify, just stated. There I was, sitting next to her in 12B, on a trip I’d planned with my brother, without him. I’d spent the day before—his birthday—at the cemetery, and I’d been unable to eat solid food for a few days. Yet, all she knew about me was EVERYTHING WAS GREAT AND I WAS HEADED FOR DISNEY WORLD. YIPEE!!

I was a jerk. A jerk who didn’t know what to say.

Seeing my surprised reaction, she explained that it was a good thing. She was relieved. The only bad part, she explained, was that she wasn’t allowed to bring her paintbrushes.

Her paintbrushes. I clung to this detail like a sentence from my own story. It was sacred.

She was going to rehab and she wanted to make art.

And while she could have easily just said she was going to New York, she was doing more than that. She was making beauty from broken. Better yet, she was giving me permission to do the same.

Although I don’t know her name, I think about my friend sitting in 12A a lot. I pray for her and wonder how she’s doing, but most of all, I dream about the day she returns home—whole and healed, paintbrush in hand. In this dream, a crowd of her closest people are celebrating, for they know what the paintbrush means. She will make art. She already has.

And then I think about who would be in the crowd at my own celebration.
If I say “I’m fine” and keep the scars-in-progress hidden, would anyone be there?

What if hiding our broken places means withholding our best art?

Maybe we don’t have to shrink away when someone notices our brokenness.
Maybe we won’t have to be alone the first time we pick up a paintbrush.

We will make art. You already have.