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Monday, April 29, 2013

on violet lane

In my new apartment complex, there is a street named Violet. I sort of smirked at the name all through the winter. That's kind of how I get sometimes. Sarcastic, and eye-rolly. It seemed like some sort of tribute to a little girl’s dollhouse dream. Like, Strawberry Shortcake was living among us, or something. 

But then spring arrived in Virginia Beach and I understood.

The rain here leaves the air lingering over the ground in a thick sprawl of green. And one bright, April morning--in the emerald haze of new life and springtime--Violet Lane was suddenly the home of hundreds of hot pink violets that peeked through the bushy nests of the swarm of green, everywhere. 

I’m not a botanist, and every plant I’ve ever owned has suffered the fate of either overwatering (I’m a recovering overachiever), or under-watering (I’m good at some stuff, just not plant upkeep, okay?).

But, whenever I’m running the late-for-work mad dash from the house every morning; or whenever I’m doing the single-girl-juggling-act with my keys, purse and lipstick all the while trying to keep my coffee safe from spilling out of my Newsies tumbler, I find rest in these violets. 

Their vibrance reminds me that I’m alive. And that in the midst of the business and the hypnotics of the nine-to-five routine, it's nice to know that that some things stay put. There is something clinging to the earth with its powerful little roots.

Then, a few days ago, as I was absentmindedly walking to my car, heels clacking keys jingling, I stopped short. There was my neighbor rummaging, and wading through the thick, green bushes with a plastic grocery bag by his side.

He was ravaging the flowers with his bare hands, plucking them, disturbing their roots and shoving them away into a plastic grocery bag.

He smiled as he noticed he had an audience, and gave a guilty little wave. I narrowed my eyes at him, angered by his selfishness. 

Because I hate it when things like beauty and purpose are needlessly destroyed.

Ladies, it's taken me a while, but I'm finally beginning to come clean with my friends and family about an abusive relationship I fell into my first year of grad school. A few weeks ago, I wrote this response to this Slate article.

And I'm a little overwhelmed, because so many of you responded with stories similar to mine. So many of you sent messages and wrote comments, or told me in person about how you were treated. About the pain that you've kept, like mine, a secret. And that horrifies me. 

Sweet sisters, if your story is like mine, I'm sorry that your beauty was ruptured. I'm sorry you were taken from the ground for a spell. I'm angered that you were plucked from where you were rooted to be left rotting on a windowsill.

I love you. I'm here. And when you say things like: 

"It's not fair. Or, "It's not important." 

I'll be there to say, "You're right, it's totally not fair." And, "Actually, yes, it's extremely important."

I'll also be there to help you, if I can, see that there's hope. Violets uprooted can be planted again. And beauty can be found in other places. Like where grace and justice is found. Beauty is found in boldness in the midst of the emerald green film. 

Beauty ravaged is not gone.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

the hardest commandment you'll ever have to follow

The bravest man in the New Testament is the one who picked up his mat.

John 5 gives a snapshot into the lives of the people living near a healing pool named Bethesda in Jerusalem. It was a place of healing.

And on the blistery, stormy April-in-Virginia-Beach days (like today) I like to picture Bethesda as a little glimpse of Eden. Paradise-rewritten. Vibrant, tall trees, crispy-fresh fruit, and a waxy-crayola-colored green grass shooting up by the banks. 

Apparently, getting healed by this pool was like some sort of relay race. The waters would stir, and a pack of people would run. First-come-first-serve. Whoever reached the pool first would be healed. 

I'm sure there were mad-dash days, like children, the sick would run in a pack toward the moving water screaming: C'mon, guys! First one in gets healed of their infirmities!

But there was always one man left behind. A man who had been sitting by the water for over 30 years, unable to walk. 

Then, one day, Jesus noticed him and asked him if he would like to be healed. He replied with a complaint (not even a yes), explaining that he was never able to reach the water first. 

To this, Jesus replied, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk!" (John 5:8). 

Then, the 38-year invalid decidedly stood, picked up his mat and shuffled along. I like to picture him walking away while his little flip-flops made a rhythm of exaggerated thwacks! behind him as he took his first few steps by the muddy banks of the Bethesda community pool.

And right now, as I sit in my own little corner, on my own little mat, I think this man has the greatest faith in the whole world. Because a random man by a pool told him to stand. And then he did.

Honestly, there are some things in my life that I need healing from. That I need to be released from. I want to be able to reach Bethesda, to stand and walk again after being emotionally paralyzed.

And when I pray---or complain, more like---about these things, I distinctly hear a calling. A voice tells me to just pick up my mat and walk. 

But, I can't just yet.

The thing is, we all have our mats. We all have the paralyzing places of hurt and insecurity that we perpetually return to. I wish I knew why. Maybe it's because it feels so good to hurt. It feels justified to complain and set up half-hearted camp by a place that is rumored to heal. 

Maybe we're scared to leave our scars behind, because if we're ever released from them, it would unravel our sense of knowing exactly who we are.

I don't know about you ladies, but I don't want to be stuck by a supposed place of healing, complaining that I can never be first in the water. I believe in a God that says that healing is a straight-forward as obeying a simple commandment. 

Pick up your mat and walk. 


Sunday, April 21, 2013

from outside the cyclone

I have a few very good girlfriends---some of the best sisters in the world---who are in the midst of a Godly whirlwind.

I've only really witnessed them from afar. They become absorbed, tossed and turned about in a stunning cyclone of changes. God says "go," and those who love him are carried quickly, opposite of the wind. 

When they land, they're so "not in Kansas anymore." 

They come out of the cyclone, abandoning the black and white world they once lived in, and are released into the world of technicolor. And munchkins. And women with wands traveling by bubble. 

(Okay, sorry, I'll stop.)

But, it's like they step out of the cyclone and into Oz, into a life with incredible job offers, new houses, spouses, children, CD-releases, stunning  artwork portfolios, and yes, even book deals.

It's a time for utter celebration. Hard celebration. For clinking bubbling champagne glasses. For kicking off your heels and running with abandon. Fleeing to Christ. Fleeing to him. Like a horse running out of the starting gate in a race.

I've watched them all do this with complete admiration. From outside the cyclone. On the outside looking in at these beautiful, absolutely deserving of all happiness sisters caught in this whirlwind. Caught in the current of Christ.

And I think---Lord? Could there ever be a whirlwind coming for me?

I'm talking about an absolute, life-changing whirlwind. Something that swarms over you and never lets you be the same. I'm not talking about just romance or jobs---I'm talking about a full clear and present storm of being shuffled through the mix, all the while being able to see where you'll land.

Because when you're caught in the Godly whirlwind, you're sure to land where your purpose is. And I just haven't a clue where mine is.

To me, it seems like the weathervane has been rusted over tenfold. The winds aren't carrying me. 

Please, don't misunderstand: I am so thankful for this season. But, life just feels a little slow. I'm living day-to-day like a lecture that will never end. Or the last half hour of work on a Friday afternoon.

Wishing, praying, writing for my whirlwind. Whatever it may be. 

And, as tricky as it is to not compare, to not count the blessings of others instead of my own, I want to be there for my girlfriends. I want to challenge myself to become absorbed in their happiness. 

With my feet planted firmly on the ground, I will wait for my whirlwind and cheer for those already in theirs.

I honestly have no idea if any of this makes sense at all. Or if I'm just talking to the wind. Either way, if you're in a stagnant, rusty weathervane season like me, just know you're not alone...

Anyone out there feel the same and want to work on counting your time on the ground as a blessing with me?  


Monday, April 8, 2013

on my knees for these

Twice I have fallen to my knees in desperation prayers.

First semester of freshman year at James Madison University, I pretty much kept to the confines of my four-person dorm room in Frederickson Hall. Separated from my long-term boyfriend, who I loved dearly. Disappointed by my lack of friends--or even prospects of friends--who did anything other than drink scads and scads of Natty Lite on the weekends.

So, I auditioned for a Christian a cappella group.

I was the very end of a very long line of girls to audition. I sang Blessed Be Your Name. And I forgot every stinkin' word, I was so nervous. But, once I met those girls, heard them sing and learned their stories, I knew I needed in. I fell to my knees in a desperate prayer after my late-night audition:

Lord, please. I can't do this college-thing anymore. Not without these sisters. 

At around 3 a.m. the next day, I was stirred awake by my phone buzzing.

"Get up, and come outside, Bdub!" I heard Brett Baker's sweet voice say to me from the other end of my phone. She had rung me out of a deep sleep. But I was wide awake, and (thankfully) in matching pajamas I had picked earlier that evening...just in case.

I was then blindfolded and inducted into the sweetest sisterhood of my life. Thank God.

I made a similar sort of flare-gun prayer request a few months ago after I sent in a few--okay, dozens--of applications, resumes and cover letters to local writing employers. I had spent the last two years working for a local inn as I made my way through graduate school.

It was 1 a.m., my guests had gone to their respective rooms in the inn, and my staff had gone home. I was locking up the pub area, feeling just as alone as I did freshman year. A hot-yellow glow peaked in through the windows leading from the hallway, and I could get lost in the shadows along the room's dark green walls. 

One of my servers forgot to sweep the floors and I sighed as I picked up the broom and dustpan to clean up the mess they had left behind.This feeling of you'll-never-amount-to-more-than-this swept over me. I felt like I, perhaps, I was what belonged in the dustpan. I was tired. I was discouraged. And I was desperately afraid that the rest of my life would be consumed by shouts from short-order cooks, and wearing a salty-smelling black blazer with a frayed gold name tag.

So, there in dark, in the middle of my little dirt pile, I got on my knees. That same prayer I prayed the night of Into Hymn auditions echoed from my lips.

Lord, please. I seriously can't do this anymore. 

I dusted my gritty knees off, and swept the remaining dregs of the evening's meals into the dustpan. And a few months later, I was ushered into my current job. A writing job.

(People pay me to write, y'all. I still find the whole thing a little ridiculous. A little too good, like a love story--but one that you know is true.) 

But, if I'm being completely honest, I'm still a mess. Lately, there have been a few things I've wanted to get on my knees about. To ask God to change. Finances, loneliness, relationships, and these little essays I'm trying to string together into a novel that simply aren't coming together very well anymore...

And my first instinct is to fall to my knees. To make them gritty again. To admit weakness. To stretch out my hands, searching hard enough to make them sore. 

Didn't Christ do the same thing when he was sweating blood from his brow? 

And I really thought that this is what humility looked like. I thought humility happened when you made your knees raw by falling on them with prayer.  And it does, I suppose. 

But, I think humility might also happen with an acceptance to a particular stage you're living in; and not asking to be delivered from your hardships, but to learn from them. 

Because after he prayed asking that this "cup would be taken" from him, Christ brushed the dirt from his knees, scarred his hands and finished the task he was sent to do.

And I think we have to do the same thing. 

So, I didn't fall to my knees in defeat. Or in discouragement. Or in a pitiful, last attempt plea bargain.  Not this time. For once, I didn't ask God for a change in my situation. Instead, I made my throat raw while praising Him for this season, and asking him to teach me all He can through the struggles He's allowed in my life.

I'm on my knees, but not in desperation. I'm on my knees in thankfulness, in the beauty of this season, and in awe that God cares enough to teach me lessons the hard way. 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I'm Unmarried at 24: Here's Exactly What I'm Waiting For

MMMMMMMmmmmmmkay. So. There was this ghastly article Slate  published on April Fool's Day. I honestly thought it was a joke. It was titled, I'm 23 and Married: What are the Rest of You Waiting For? 

Of course, a slew of angry, accusatory comments generated beneath the article almost immediately after it was posted. A very political, anti-Conservative response appeared the next day. Which, honestly, really did nothing but affirm, perhaps, some reasons why that particular author was single.
I, too, am part of the population that grew up in a red state—Virginia was still red when I was a little girl—where marriage was certainly esteemed. My wise and loving parents infused the positive aspects of marriage into my young heart. Questions I would ask as a young woman would not be if I got married, but when.

My wise parents also infused another idea into my young mind:

"If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

I certainly don't have anything nice to say about the implications of this article by Mrs. Julia Shaw. But, see, I couldn't say nothing at all about it. So, here is my response, an attempt to say something strong and lovely, instead, about being 24
, and very unmarried.

Two years ago, I met a man I would have gladly married. He was tall, funny and had facial hair (my three absolutes when it comes to marriage-worthy qualities). He had a thick, Southern drawl. He was quite boyish, the way he stole kisses, and the way he danced with me in my apartment.
Shortly after I made the decision to love him, he changed. He began telling me what to wear. He became jealous, and violent. He gave me a new identity, frequently naming me a "liar" and a "whore." And since he had a Biblical reason for every carousel ride his abusive words and actions threw me aboard, I believed him. Wholeheartedly.

He would frequently tell me that women belong in the kitchen, and not the workforce. He habitually checked my Facebook, my texts and phone logs. Ultimately, the year I spent as his quasi-girlfriend (because, he didn't like labels, or want to be tied down), I was secluded from my friends and family who love me.

My romance with this young man (without getting into too much detail) ends with my joining the ranks of the statistical one-in-three women who will be assaulted in their lifetime. One in three, Mrs. Shaw.

Your article would imply that I made a mistake by not emptying my pockets of my single-girl disposable income to purchase a white, fluffy ball gown to don in order to marry this man. This man who did not cherish me, my soul, or the unique talents and relentless love I've been given. Your article would say that I should have abandoned what was dwindling of my self-worth, and marched heel-to-toe down the aisle on the arm of my blue-eyed father.

And, sister, you're one hundred percent wrong.

So, Mrs. Shaw, I'm thankful that your experience with your relationship has been a positive one. I'm thankful that you're not one of the one-in-three who has experienced abuse in your lifetime. But I would urge you to remember that for every married woman, there is a single woman who is putting on a brave face in a world that continually tells her that if she's not in a relationship, she is not good enough.

That is an absolute lie.

Yes, I have a dream to one day be married. But, being married is just one facet of the many dreams I have for my time on earth. During the time I spent healing from the end of that bad relationship, I pursued hard after my master's degree in journalism. I began writing the first draft of my first novel. I began a job that I love.

On top of that, I've kicked off my heels and danced at the weddings of my dear friends and family members who were ready (and consequentially, also 23 or younger) to make that commitment to their partners. Their marriages are beautiful and healthy. They're supportive. They're what I dream of.

They're what I'm waiting for.

In the meantime, I've been a bridesmaid. I've been a maid of honor. In a few weeks, I'll be a godparent to a yet-to-be-born Boston baby, who I already love with all of my heart. Are these things void because I am a woman who is patient for healing? Am I living life poorly, because I'm waiting for a man who cherishes me? Am I stupid, because I don't date men who do not honor or respect me?

Allow me to answer on your behalf with a resounding, emphatic, NO!

While the purpose of your writing may be to encourage our generation to rush to their "I-dos," the purpose of mine is to encourage single ladies. Women, like me, who have been deeply, repeatedly hurt in the pursuit of their dream of marriage.

I am waiting for God to work on my heart, so that I will be a woman worthy of being a wife. And I am waiting for a man who will treat me like he would treat his one-day wife. I'm waiting for a man who can't wait to start an adventure. Who will choose me. Who will invite me to coffee, and let me support, respect and honor him too.

Until then, I'll write for the women who are 24 and know exactly what they're waiting for.

photo credit: MightyBoyBrian via photopin cc
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