The Blooming Heather

The first time that my parents visited Scotland, they brought me home a necklace. It is a very special kind of necklace. It’s called a heather gem. It is made from heather, that beautiful, purple plant that grows all over in that magical part of the world, and as such, each piece of jewelry is completely unique and individual.

all gems.jpgI was 14 years old.

It also happened that at that time in my life I was also in a very, very dark place. It was the first time I can remember feeling completely and utterly broken.

To make a long story short, my best friend decided one day that I wasn’t worth it. One day she was my best friend in the world. More of a sister to me than my own sisters. Closer to me than anybody in the world. In a way, she was my entire life. And then very quickly it was over. She was gone.

The story is long and not very complicated, but honestly, it was just hard. Plain and simple, it was so hard. I had to rethink my whole life in so many ways. We had been friends for so long and our lives were so tied together that I didn’t really know how to exist without her. To add to it, I didn’t really get any explanation. I didn’t get any discussion. She just turned off.

I remember my parents taking this trip to Scotland, and how excited our whole family was. Many of you will remember that my family is Scottish. It is something we’re very proud of. So when my parents finally took this trip, it was almost like the completion of something for our entire family. Even though we didn’t all get to go, we were all so happy about it.

I remember holding the necklace in it’s purple and white box. I looked at the shiny stone that had once been a plant. It was beautiful.

I wore that necklace every single day for years. It came to symbolize a lot of things for me. Mostly it helped me remember that I was more than the black moments. It helped me remember that there is something inside me that reaches further back and further forward than so many shattered pieces. It helped me remember every day that I didn’t need to be a different version of myself than I was. I only had to be me. And that was enough. heather in highlands

Years later, I got the amazing opportunity to visit England. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go to Scotland on my visit. But it was beautiful. If it were a poem, I’d say that my soul recognized the land.

And for some reason, I’ve had all of these thoughts on my mind tonight. I remembered the first time I learned what it feels like to be completely broken by the one person you thought you could trust. I remembered when I first got that necklace and the way it was somehow able to bring me back to life with all it symbolized.

Even though that time in my life was hard, I honestly don’t remember much of the hurt.

I just remember this incredible feeling of emerging. Of becoming somebody I could be proud of. I found dreams and let myself bask in the hope of them. I think that was the moment when I really started to become who I truly am.

And it was beautiful.

 

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Stop the Sun

stop the sun

i asked you to stop the sun
to keep it right there
before it left the dome sky
don’t let it touch the horizon yet
wait for me to cross the world
and stand with you beside the pond
where all the fireflies live
and then the cathedral colors
can fade into the indigo night
but it won’t matter that the
world is ready to dream
because i will be with you
underneath a blanket of stars
and there will be that soft
rightness of settling home
and that will be real

You’ll Bring Me Home

For the entirety of my university career, I have lived either three hours away from home or 30 minutes away from home. Neither of which is an exceedingly monstrous distance.

Interestingly enough, I actually went home much more often when I was three hours away than I do now when I’m 30 minutes away. I think that has to do with a combination of factors, age most likely being one of them.

It’s strange because as the black sheep of my family, I have most definitely spent a lot of time feeling like I don’t belong as a member of it. (Don’t tell anyone, but my family is so large that I usually refer to them as “the nation”, rather than “my family”.) Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of similarities with many of my siblings. I am very close with most of them. But I also happen to possess a lot of differences from the rest of my family. I won’t get into them here, because at the end of the day they really don’t matter. I am a member of my family and that is that.

Today I want to talk about home. And reality. And how they relate. I was going to do the thing where I write a huge post and make my point at the end, like always, but I’ll just tell you the point now:

Reality can be a very strange thing. And sometimes we have to realize that reality is different than we think it is.

I don’t have this experience every time I go visit my family, but it happens often enough that this observation has hit me again and again and again. So many times when I take a break from my crazy college life to return home and see my family, everything slows down. Everything stops to take a breath. And I realize something very important: that is REAL life.

The house a bit dusty at the end of the day because we live off a gravel road. My nieces and nephews raiding the pantry or begging for chocolate chip cookies because they know my mom always keeps them in a bag by the fruit. My younger sister playing with her dog before she makes him settle down for the evening. There is a stability and flow to the way things happen at home, no matter what different paths life takes us on.

And so often I get jolted out of my mindset. And I realize that so often the life I live at college isn’t real life. It isn’t what really matters. The acquaintances that come and go, the friends I may or may not know in years to come. So much of what makes up my life isn’t really real life. It isn’t the reality I’ll be living for the rest of my life.

And in many ways, that is what makes college special. It is a time for you to embrace that not-so-real reality you experience for a few years and see if you can get life a little figured out. It’s a chance for you to shake things up and see where you land.

But when all is said and done, and when all the dust settles, you’ll find yourself in real life. Experiencing what truly matters and what truly lasts.

Don’t See Me! I’m Sneaking!

In the days when my family was very young, my parents lived in a double-wide trailer on the family farm. I have vague memories of this house, which we now refer to lovingly as The Blue House. It was situated at the bottom of a hill which held two massive rock piles we aptly named The Big Rock Chuck and The Little Rock Chuck. Back then I thought they were completely massive. (Age and perspective, as well as later visits, have assured me that The Big Rock Chuck is, in fact, quite massive. The Little Rock Chuck, not so much.)

mountainsMy mother had a rule that we were never supposed to play on The Big Rock Chuck, which was a rule we obeyed most of the time. When I was that age I imagined that these huge rock piles had once been a medieval castle. The home of a great king who ruled the land with power and influence. I even imagined once, when I found a formation of rocks that looked rather like a chair, that I had found the ancient location of the throne room.

And this was the playground of my youth. In front of the house was a stunning view of the mountains and a wheat field that was brilliantly gold in July and August. It was absolutely stunning. A very rare place to have a very rare childhood, I now realize. But as beautiful as it could get in the summer, it was equally beautiful in the winter. The entire land is covered in a thick blanket of snow until you can’t really remember where one field ends and another starts, and every here and there telephone poles jut out of the blank canvas. It’s lovely.

But there were dangers.

In the summer, the biggest danger was always rattle snakes. Oh, we got super good and hearing them and running away really fast to get help. If they were far from the house we would leave them be, but if they were close to the house my dad would come home from work long enough to kill the snake and dispose of the head. (It’s still very venomous and dangerous even after being separated from the body.) It was something he’d been trained to do his whole life, as shown by the little green jar of rattles he now keeps on a shelf behind his desk.

But in the winter, the danger was the ice and snow. On the farm, the winter can get exceedingly brutal. Very high winds, unheard of low temperatures. You name it. Winter as epitomized in every “I’m-lost-on-a-mountain” movie ever made. Winter is kind of scary at the farm.

It is in this context that one of our very favorite family stories occurred. The characters of this narrative are my mother, angel that she is, and my older brother Jud. He was about two years old at the time, which means that I was not a being who yet lived upon the earth. However, this is one of my favorite stories that we bring up as a family.

One snowy day, my brother Jud wanted to go outside and play. However, my mother wouldn’t allow it for one reason or another. Probably because we lived in the North Pole, or close to it, anyway. I think the weather was particularly harsh that day, and so for obvious reasons my mother didn’t see fit to let her two-year-old go outside and play.

This, however, did not stop Jud.

One thing it is necessary to know about Jud is this: he gained the nickname Mowgli. mowgliSome of you may immediately recognize this name for the character in The Jungle Book. Jud became Mowgli early on in life, and to this day he still responds to it occasionally. Why was he named Mowgli, you may ask? Because he never, ever, ever kept his clothes on. He ran around in a diaper or his underwear until he was fairly old, but I’ll keep those details private for the sake of his modesty.

So, on this very snowy day when my mother informed Jud he wouldn’t be able to go outside and play in the snow, she discovered him only moments later at the back door trying to open it. Wearing a diaper, boots, scarf, and hat. At seeing this sight, my mother asked, “Honey, what are you doing?” Jud turned around, facing her with wild eyes as he responded:

“Mom! Don’t see me! I’m sneaking!”

When I was three years old my family built a house in town. We now lovingly refer to this residence as The Town House, even though it was not, in fact, a townhouse. Merely a house that was located in town. For many years we moved back and forth between The Blue House and The Town House. Blue House during summer and potato harvest, Town House during the school year.

When I was probably about eight years old we began living permanently in town, as we’d given the use of The Blue House to my aunt and uncle. That was hard for us, but a few years later we moved back to the farm permanently to a different house and have been very happy with that choice.

Now, in this time of life when we lived permanently at The Town House, I was what you might call a daddy’s girl. I spent as much time as possible with my dad. We were the very best of friends. Which also consequently means that I probably got away with more things than I should have.

One night I remember very clearly. My older siblings, rebellious teens that they were at the time, had all been banished to their rooms. For reasons I do not know and can only attribute to my status as the favorite daughter, I was not forced to go to bed. I was sitting by my dad’s chair watching a movie with him and my mom. When very suddenly, a major rule was broken.

audreyOne of the bedroom doors opened. And one of my siblings emerged.

Completely unheard of under the present circumstances of: go to your room and go to bed. Do not come out until morning.

It was my sister Jessie. Ever the bold one.

She emerged from her room wearing a huge, poofy blue parka with fur around the hood and a large pair of sunglasses (very Audrey Hepburn). In this disguise, she walked through the living room and into the kitchen, got a glass of water, and then went back to her room.

We. Laughed. So. Hard.

My dad literally could not be mad at her. Her disguise was everything she needed to gain access to the kitchen and a drink of cold water. Mission accomplished.

What I absolutely love about both of these stories is how blatantly obvious, and quite hilarious, the “rebellion” is. Jud was very clearly not going to last out in the snow in his diaper, boots, and hat, and Jessie was obviously recognizable despite the parka and sunglasses.

But they tried anyway. One successful, the other not. Both equally funny.

I’ve been thinking about these stories today, and what they mean in several different contexts. And interestingly enough, I have found a parallel between these stories and something else. Something that makes so much sense to me.

God knows us perfectly. Completely and perfectly.

It is like the story of Jonah and the whale in the Bible. Jonah legitimately thought he could hide from God. And while Jessie didn’t legitimately think she was fooling anyone in her disguise, but she knew she had humor on her side. In Jud’s case, he was just fiercely hoping he wouldn’t get caught.

I know that I have done similar things a million times.

Sometimes it can be so hard to understand that God knows and loves us perfectly. Sometimes we try to hide away from Him, disguise our lives, or sneak away. Sometimes we have experiences where we just want to move in our own direction, in our own way, and throw behind our shoulder, “Don’t see me! I’m sneaking!”

But even though we are intelligent beings with our own minds, our own plans for cherishedourselves are never as amazing or perfect as God’s plan for us. Surprisingly, though, it takes a fair amount of humility and courage to admit that we shouldn’t be sneaking into the snow storm.

I love that these stories brought me to this spiritual parallel because both of them are some of the funniest stories in the family repertoire. And when compared to our relationship with God, it helps me remember that He loves me completely and perfectly. And yes, He can see through my disguises and see me sneaking, but He always loves me.

He knows.

Perhaps that can be ominous, but for me, it is the biggest comfort in the world. I don’t have to hide anything from God. Because He knows me. I can be completely honest and transparent with Him because He understands. He gets it.

So while the world may be confusing at times, or even a place of turmoil, I never have to be afraid.

Palace Views

14375342_1898733117020628_440956483_oA year ago today, I set foot in London, England for the first time. And realized I was home.

I went to England for three weeks on a study abroad tour with the English department at my university. We spent the first several days in London, and continued from there. Each Sunday that we were there we attended church. On the last Sunday I remember sitting in the meeting and weeping. I remember silently praying, talking to God about a lot of different things.

I remember praying, “How can I do it? How can I leave here? I’ve never felt such a sense of belonging in my life. How can I leave, Father? How?”

Then I prayed, “And you’re probably so tired of hearing about my problems. You’re probably so done hearing about the same concern over and over again. Even though I’m here in England I’ve still been praying about it and I’m sorry.”

More tears just came pouring out of my eyes. I thought the woman next to me was going to have to pull out her umbrella. “Please,” I finished, “I can’t leave. I don’t know how to leave this behind.”

The thing was, even as I was caught up in this sorrow, I felt a peace I’d never experiencedPhone Pictures 707 before. To be honest, this peace settled over my heart the instant I arrived in England and never left the whole time I was there. But in this moment, I felt so much genuine sadness. I was so grateful to be there. So, so incredibly grateful. I had known that I would feel that way. In fact, much of my life my parents had been reluctant about letting me travel to England because, as my mother once said, “You’ll go there and realize it’s your home. And then you’ll never come back.”

She was right. Because a part of me is still there, and it’s never coming back.

But as I spoke this prayer, and felt this peace, I also heard something. Very distinctly.

“I’ll never get tired of hearing you speak to me about anything. I don’t care if you say the same prayer all day every day if that’s the prayer of your heart. And I know you’re sad. I know it’s hard. And I’m right here with you. Don’t worry. This isn’t the end.”

Phone Pictures 927My time in England was the happiest time of my life up to that point. It was so much more for me than just seeing things I’d always wanted to see. It was so much more than a great thing I got to experience.

It was the very first time in my life where I saw dreams coming true. It was the very first time in my life where I wasn’t just waiting for my turn. (What can I say, I grew up in a big family. Waiting my turn has always been and will always be the story of my life.) It was the very first time when something completely spectacular, something beautiful, something so, so incredibly good that fed my soul, happened to me.

It was the first time that I realized good things could actually happen to me. And not just to everyone else. I think that the combination of me being number 8 of 10 children and also a writer has doomed me to a life of observation. I have always just been a watcher. I’ve watched things happen to other people my whole life, with me just standing on the fringes.

My deepest held desire has always been that one day it would be my turn.

You see, when your time finally comes, it is so much more than just seeing the sights. It is about dreams you’ve had your whole life coming true. It is about prayers you’ve whispered through tears finally being answered. It is about finally inhabiting a place in the universe you’ve only seen others step into. It is about joy so pure and full that you think your heart will burst. Joy you’ve waited your turn for your entire life.

This last year has been a year of it finally being my turn for a lot of things.

And it all started with England. England welcoming my soul home. England teaching mePhone Pictures 843 that it is about so much more than just the surface of what’s happening to you. England teaching me that it is actually about dreams coming true, prayers being answered, long awaited joy bursting your heart. England letting me go in a very painful moment, but whispering that it wouldn’t be for long.

I remember standing in Hampton Court Palace, only a few days into the trip, looking around me in complete awe. My heart was so full, my head buzzing. I couldn’t get enough of the view.

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

I look at your colors,

and the way you shine in the dark

Each year at Christmas time

you begin the spirit with a spark

 

There you are, hanging upon the tree,

and blinking ever so bright

I look upon you as I sit alone,

bathed in Christmas tree light

 

This year I needed to ask for something,

something that is not for me

I need to be brave and try and help,

even though the way I cannot see

 

Christmas lights please light my way,

please shine for peace and hope

Christmas lights please help me to know,

what to do to help those in my home

 

Christmas lights please show me,

the path that I should take

Christmas lights please heal,

please brightly illuminate

 

For if anything can help,

then it is surely this time of year

If anything can fix this lack of peace,

this season will dry the tears

 

Christmas is the season

to heal and find peace and joy

When beautiful miracles happen

and the children receive special toys

 

Christmas is the time

when we celebrate His birth

When we remember what is important

and sing beside the hearth

 

Christmas is when magic returns

Christmas is when you find home again

So Christmas lights, in your symbolism,

please light my way again