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

Cheers | 3.24

Cheers is a weekly toast to celebrate the people, places and things that helped us make it to Friday.

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Without fail, my high school biology teacher would begin the last class of the week with the same greeting: “Congratulations, you made it to Friday.” And while he’d probably hope that my takeaways from his class were more about plant cells and punnett squares, I’ve hopped out of bed on Fridays ready to throw confetti ever since.

This week has brought a welcome change of pace, full of slow mornings that allow me to work in my PJS and simmer my favorite oatmeal. I think I’ve been able to enjoy it even more knowing that it won’t last forever and I’ll be back to my daily commute and afterthought granola bars very soon. So for now, I’m toasting allll of the cheer from this week and counting it as fuel for next.

To you, GAMECOCKS, FOR BEATING DUKE. (!!!!) I’m usually a football girl through and through, but now that USC’s still in, times are a-changin’.

I’m also 1 million percent proud of the social media interactions that were happening during this game. USC brought it, and even People magazine thinks so. #ForeverToTweetscreen-shot-2017-03-24-at-10-16-13-am

To you, “end of March 2017”, for finally arriving and bringing with you the launch of the She Reads Truth Bible. You guys, this project perfectly captures the beauty, goodness and truth of the gospel, and I’m so honored to have been a contributing writer. It releases on April 15, but it’s now available for preorder at SheReadsTruthBible.comimg_4349

To you, spring, for springing! Sprunging? I don’t know, but THANKS FOR SHOWING UP AND BRINGING THAT DAYLIGHT. Holler.

To you, Jon Acuff, for reminding us of this:

We’ve always believed “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence,” but now social media shows us 10 million backyards. Ignore them.

To you, Harvey Dent, for making your first Nashville appearance and not getting carsick on the way. This is a serious accomplishment. You guys don’t even know.img_4278

 

To you, dental hygienist, for picking up what I was throwing down and not asking me any questions during my 7:00 am cleaning. I have a strict “No talking before 8:30 am” rule, and you played along quite well. Bravo.

To you, spell check, for teaching me how to spell hygienist.

To you, Isaiah, for still being my favorite hardest book of the Bible to read. I always need the reminder that God is our only help. (Read my post for SRT this week here.)

To you, self, for getting back out there in your workout routine after a discouraging week.

To you, reader, for always making me feel less alone in my crazy and my celebrations. You are the actual best.

I’d like to thank all of the clickety-clicks of your mouse and tippity-taps of my keyboard that got me to this point: You!

Oh, and one more thing: Congratulations, you made it to Friday.  

Cheers | 3.17

Cheers is a weekly toast to celebrate the people, places and things that helped us make it to Friday.

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Well, this post started with, as many of them do, a potato. A sweet one.

Last Monday, I decided I would make mashed sweet potatoes for the first time. (I know. I know.) And now, I can proudly declare that the past 25 YEARS WERE NULL AND VOID AND EMPTY UNTIL THIS: the savory sweet potato.

You guys. They were delicious. They were also Paleo, which may be some kind of cult I don’t subscribe to, but could also mean that this is healthy. This is a big deal. I’m trying really hard to be cool and not type all of this in caps-lock. Either get the recipe here or just boil then blend peeled sweet potatoes together with coconut milk and ginger. And now, I’d like to propose a toast:

To you, savory sweet potato.

To you, kick-in-the-pants quote from Hannah Brencher:

“Be the person you imagined you would be before fear gave you other agendas.”

To you, guy who replaced his sister’s fish tank with carrots to see if she noticed.

To you, friends who go running with me, even when we can’t feel our faces.

To you, hope, for always showing up when I least expect you. Like in this little Italian snapshot Facebook reminded me of:  (See the full story on Instagram.)

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To you, kids who set leprechaun traps last night. (To you, parents, for teaching us to do this growing up and helping us catch leprechaun shoes and chocolate coins 😉 )

To you, Chobani, for sending me free coupons and swift customer service after this hangry tweet:fullsizerender-jpg

To you, Oxford comma, for making it in the New York Times this week, and winning the hearts of nerds, editors and writers everywhere. (But I don’t think you should comma-round more often and won’t be using you here. #sorrynotsorry)

To you, self, for going to that get-together alone and meeting new people (and having a really great time!!), when it would have been easy to make up an excuse or check in to the Introvert Oasis. (aka my couch)

To you, reader, for making it to Friday. Congratulations—we did it! Also, green is your color. Remember this. Happy St. Patty’s!

I’d like to thank all of the clickety-clicks of your mouse and tippity-taps of my keyboard that got me to this point: You!

Cheers!

The Song in My Head

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Pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’ berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries.
It is his kindergarten play. He is, hilariously, the lead—Old MacDonald. He is, diligently, the one picking (pickin’) berries—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries. He is, bashfully, facing the gymnasium filled with parents. He is, heroically, recalling his lines and playing the part. He is, decidedly, never going to be in a play, much less a musical, again.

And that’s all there is to it.

Pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’ berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries.
It is his 16th birthday. He is, begrudgingly, indulging us with home videos. He is, traditionally, trying to fast-forward through Old MacDonald. He is, secretly, loving it. He is, of course, singing along. We are, decidedly, doing this more often.

And that’s all there is to it.

Pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’ berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries.
It is yesterday. The song is, strangely, stuck in my head. He is, of course, not singing along. I, surprisingly, remember every word.

That’s not all there is to it.

Pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’ berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries.
It is today. I, accidentally, sing the words out loud. I, quickly, cover them up. I, traditionally, am not quick enough. I, awkwardly, must explain about this song.

There’s a lot to it, it turns out.

But, for the first time, I do not feel guilty about not telling it all.

“It’s a song that reminds me of my brother,” I say, unable to hold back my grin.

I am supposed to be sad. I am sad. But today, I choose to pick the berries, and they are more sweet than bitter.

Pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’, pickin’ berries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries.
It is tomorrow. I, of course, do not know how I will feel.

But there’s more to love than that, isn’t there?

 

Running

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He was always a runner. I remember the way the living room would shake as he dribbled that mostly-deflated plastic ball up and down its center, aiming at invisible targets above the door frame. Kendall would play basketball and tag in the cul-de-sac with the neighborhood boys, which, as they grew, turned into soccer teams and cross country meets. They’d load up on spaghetti the night before a long run, the team calling him “Kev” even though I’m still not quite sure why. And long after the season was over, when school was stressful or he’d been indoors too long, he’d lace up his shoes and choose to run up and down the steepest hills in the neighborhood.

I have never been a runner. On the first day of high school PE, the coach said, “You have the legs, you just don’t know how to use them.” As if I hadn’t been, oh you know, using them EVERY DAY OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. While I was busy trying to catch some kind of sickness (Once I overachieved and got mono, but success because the doctor’s orders were literally ‘no physical activity.’) before the bi-annual 5Ks my family ran together, Kendall would win his division. It’s a good thing I loved my brother so much, because otherwise, I would have had a serious jealousy problem. Okay, maybe I did a little bit anyway.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to save onlookers from my (lack of) athletic ability. And in turn, I’ve spent a lot of time hiding from the shame that stems from it. As long as the attention was on someone else, I was thrilled to be the spectator cheering in the stands. When Kendall was running, I always had the satisfaction of being a fan of the winning team. But now, I don’t have anyone to cheer for.

The past few months, I’ve been angry. Angry that all of my gut reactions to cheer for him are still dead ends. Angry that I cannot just force someone else to take up his place. Angry about how quiet it is to sit in the stands and realize I’m still alone. Angry about feeling unseen. Angry about the concept of long-suffering. Angry about saying even more goodbyes. Angry that I can’t remember him like I used to. Angry about feeling like my family can’t catch a break and the hurt keeps coming, pounding, again and again.

So I did the thing I swore I’d never do. I started running. But this time, it wasn’t for my shame or the PE coach. It was for my brother. One clumsy, slow step at a time, I lost my breath in prayers that ached to learn why he loved it. I wanted to unveil the mystery of his enjoyment of running, but really, I just wanted to feel close to him again. I wished to take back all of the times he’d gone running alone and make sure we did it together. And as I prayed these shallow prayers, asking God to help me remember things I’ve forgotten and endure the next tenth of a mile, I wasn’t alone. The steps kept coming, pounding, again and again. Mile after mile, it didn’t matter whether I liked it or not, just that I did whatever I could to not stop.

I began to crave it–not the running, but the newness. For so long, the grief has felt so old and inescapable, and I cannot shake the fear that it will always feel this way. I grieve knowing that a brother-shaped void will be in every future memory, accomplishment and milestone. Nothing can happen that will be purely sweet without bitterness. But when I lace up the shoes I never thought I’d use, it’s the kind of sweet I never expected to taste again, like considering that when God says He makes all things new, He may actually mean all things. All of the time I’ve spent trying to hide it–the shame, the doubt, the fear, the grief–hasn’t prevented Him from tending to it. It doesn’t resolve or relieve my hurt, but for the first time, I’m noticing something beautiful sprout next to it, up from the ground I thought was fruitless. Beauty from ashes.

As I run, it’s nothing fancy and mostly still a struggle, but the pounding on the pavement remains the same:
I miss you. I love you. I miss you.

This weekend I ran the farthest I’ve ever run, a distance I cannot even believe is true. I completely feel like an imposter, but I did it. Seven miles.

And while I don’t think I’ve exactly nailed down why he loved running yet, I’ve been reminded of something he loved more, something I think I’d pushed aside:
He misses me too. He misses me too. He misses me too.
He loves me back. He loves me back. He loves me back.

Beauty from ashes.
I don’t know if running is something I’ll keep up or not, but I think I hear cheering coming from the stands. I’ve always hoped it was still there, I just never expected it to be for me.

What I Learned: Winter

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Well, this is just a huge victory. We made it to the part where we actually get to start talking about winter in past tense. COME AT ME, March 20. Emily Freeman’s seasonal “Things I Learned” linkup is my favorite way to bookend months that, at times, can seem never-ending. Who’s with me?

  1. Change still makes me feel like a middle schooler.
    In the spirit of beginning this list with optimistic flair, change hurts. It’s hard. It’s lonely and makes me feel like the frizzy-haired girl sitting by herself on the school bus. I will never stop learning this. (But at least I wear less Aeropostale graphic tees now, so that’s some kind of progress.) Sometimes change is good, like my favorite new kicks: 
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  2. Pre-made + delivered smoothies and soups are genius lifesavers for the underachiever.
    I’ll be the first to admit smoothies and soups are not that hard to make on my own, but I’m all about simplifying and ridding my life of the produce-gone-bad situation. I subscribed to Daily Harvest this month, and it’s delightful. It’s probably not for you if you get your jollies from using a frying pan and/or like to chew your food. Otherwise, I’m obsessed with the carrot coconut soup and think you need it in your life.
  3. I genuinely believe that throwing away something a stranger gave me will hurt their feelings.
    Areas I struggle with this: restaurant leftovers, business flyers, pieces of gum. I am filled with so much guilt. Please don’t tell them. I need an intervention.
  4. Danielle Bennett is a boss. I discovered her through the Story podcast and can’t shake her spoken word poetry.

    “She doesn’t know she will always walk in and kill it, but she knows there is no room that can tell her what she is and isn’t made of.”-Danielle Bennett

  5. My family’s goldendoodle, Harvey Dent, can catch a frisbee.
    He also can’t quit his Christmas sweater. This is big news on the homefront.

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  6. “Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” WHOOSH. -Ecclesiastes 4:6; whoosh mine.
  7. I am not above a little email correspondence. 
    One of my BFFs lives in Mississippi (Anyone else say each letter out loud when spelling that?) and our email thread is currently 63 emails deep. The words packed in it are some of the most life-giving and are the best lunch break pick-me-up.
  8. Chasing Slow is my favorite book of the year so far.
    Yes, I get that it’s only February, but it’s going to be hard to beat.

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  9. Mean girls get what they want when it comes to AT&T internet installation.
    I hate this truth. I really do. I am repenting and ashamed, but at least I have internet.
  10. Cake bath bombs.
    Have your cake and soak in it, too. Cutest company run by two sisters. I didn’t know I needed rainbow sprinkles in my bathtub until it happened. I got mine at Target!

It’s Fat Tuesday, which is the best because that means pancakes for dinner. Excited to be reading through Isaiah this Lenten season with She Reads Truth. It’s my favorite book of the Bible, and I’m looking forward to digging in deeper this time around. What are you learning this winter? Anything about climate change? Can you explain this weather to me?

 

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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when the holidays feel broken

photo-1463569643904-4fbae71ed917A table, four chairs, three bodies—this is what the holidays are to us now.

Our best china is overflowing with oranges and cranberries, turkey and dressing, potatoes and stuffing. We use cloth napkins and stemmed glasses, untying red aprons and warming serving trays. We sing songs and pray prayers, sharing knowing looks while holding shaking hands. This is what celebration is now.

Winter will blow her best winds—A cool, crisp gust signaling the start of gathering season. The breeze teases tradition and hope, whistling through our newfound holes and gaps. Its chill bites our wounds, echoing loudly against the empty chair. The table is full, but the chair remains unoccupied.

This year, we’ll listen to old recordings of Charlie Brown songs instead of a live performance on the piano. We’ll decide against hanging stockings, but maybe make Christmas morning cinnamon rolls if we’re feeling brave. Neighbors will visit and family will call, some avoiding the empty chair while others call it out, both serving as acknowledgments to us. We are thankful, and we are hurting.

The thing I remember most about past holidays, those with four filled chairs, is the raisin bread. It was and is our favorite, a holiday staple and familiar smell. We’d pass it around the table, the basket barely making it around the table once before needing to be refilled. It was a joyful, steady communion.

Now, we sit in a different arrangement than we used to—three at one end of the table, the gap moving to the end. I’m not sure if we do it to be closer or for the empty chair to be less pronounced, but my guess is certainly both. Yet, we still pass a basket of raisin bread during the holidays, our arms passing it through the empty space, but not around it. There’s no forgetting, no levity, no distracting, but there’s a steady communion nonetheless.

I wonder if Jesus’ disciples felt this way at the Last Supper, knowing their brother’s chair would soon be empty.

“And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”
-1 Corinthians 11:24

We are called to remember the festive things, the joyful things, and, especially, the broken things. We do not hide away the empty chair, but rather, pull it closer to the table. Because, friends, once we allow it to sit amongst us, fellowshipping with the shattered holes we can’t cover any longer, we remember—we too, are broken. Yes, we are broken, but so is the bread. So was His body. All so that we may be whole once again. This is what celebration is now.

Lord, help us remember.
Be with the empty chairs and empty hearts this season.
Sit at our tables and show us the hope of Your wholeness.
May we partake in steady communion with Your presence.
We have walked in darkness; point us to your Great Light.
Amen.