Birthday Celebrations & Mother’s Day Musings

 

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This month has felt extra special and extra full. My mom turned fifty, and I pulled off a surprise weekend I’d been planning for months. I wanted to celebrate who she is, not just the numbers 5 and 0. I wanted to celebrate who she has been and who she still is today. I wanted to celebrate what has remained constant about her throughout these past five decades and who she will continue to be.

As I recollected memories of my mom, I realized that scads of them revolved around the kitchen with me sitting at the bar, conversing with her, possibly helping her roll peanut butter cookie dough. Whilst in college, I called my mom copious amounts of times with questions about a recipe. She would spout the ingredients, measurements and instructions from memory as she casually walked down the cereal aisle at Publix. She has oh so. many. recipes memorized. These recipes have been tried and tasted and tweaked and perfected over the years. They’ve fed and nourished our family and others, sustaining us through trials and celebrations.

Now, as a young adult, I have discovered that cooking and baking real things, nourishing things, from actual ingredients, not from an assemblage of processed boxes, T H R E E times a day, is much, much harder than my mother made it look. The magic she worked (and still works) in the kitchen remains an enigma to me. Through this process of reminiscing, I realized the kitchen, the meals, the recipes have been a quintessential characteristic of my mother. An idea quickly emerged on how to best celebrate and honor her.

My parents, having recently moved, said goodbye to many friends and family, but I wanted them to be with us on her special day, somehow. I finally envisioned a way to bring these family and friends to the table even though they were unable to be physically present: I asked them to write a birthday letter that included their favorite “Debbie Gregory Recipe.” Why? Because most likely she’s brought them meals when they had babies, taken them soup when they were sick, baked them birthday cakes, delivered them cookies in the hospital, or invited them into her home for dinner. She feeds people. It’s who she is and what she does and it’s what she will forever do. In fact, you’ll have to tell her to stop feeding you or food will just keep pouring out of the kitchen. I gathered the many letters that filled my inbox, categorizing them by recipe, assembling them into a scrapbook of sorts. I then presented her with this compendium full of birthday wishes and favorite dishes.

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Even though I’ve come a long way in my culinary skills since my college years, I’m still learning my way around a kitchen and I still frequently call my mom with questions. She’s demonstrated for me on multiple occasions how to bake a four layer cake and how to ice it, and it’s a skill I’ve yet to master. {For the record, I did not make my mother a cake for her birthday. I can think of nothing more intimidating.} I asked my aunt to do the honor for her sister and she baked the most beautiful toasted-coconut-raspberry cake I have ever seen. Give my aunt a spatula and she, too, knows how to work some magic. Wooden spoon as my chosen wand, I am still practicing the magic.

Thus, in honor of my mother’s recent birthday and Mother’s Day being a mere few days apart, my reflective self decided to pen a few things I’ve learned, from my mom, specifically in the kitchen:

1. She taught me how to make a pie crust, which has proved more useful than one would expect. It’s a highly underestimated component to an excellent pie, a rare known skill, comprised of four simple ingredients. If you need help this Thanksgiving, I got you.

2. She taught me how to make coffee, instilling within me the importance of freshly ground beans. I will never turn back. Not ever. Unless it’s Southern Pecan straight from Corner Bagel, then I will make an exception and purchase beans already ground because that’s the only way they sell it. Deplorable, I know.

3. She shared with me that the secret to an artisanal apple crumb pie is in the apples selectedthe crafted assortment of sweet to tart varieties. I cannot further elaborate because then it wouldn’t be a secret.

4. She introduced me to pound cake. A lesser known southern recipe that deserves a much better name, in my opinion. It’s always been a well loved staple in our family. I remember watching mom mix the batter, often doubling the recipe to make one for our family and one to take to the office. Note: Our family remains divided on pound cake. Half prefer it with blueberries and half prefer it in its purest form. We often ate it for breakfast, but it wasn’t unusual for mom to transform the cake into a dessert by topping it with juicy strawberries and fresh whipped cream. I have a confession: one time I made this certain pound cake and decided to throw in a frozen bag of triple berries. My family would be in an uproar if they knew I did this, but to be honest, it might be my new favorite way to serve it. If I give the recipe a twist, do I get to rename? I think so.

5. She modeled for me how to open one’s door. Our home hosted small groups and baby showers, brunches and dinners, birthdays and lunches. Our home was often filled, disregarding the fact that it wasn’t large or designed for any form of entertaining. Yet our home kept welcoming more and more family, friends, and even strangers. Mom has a special gift. She loves people by inviting them in and feeding them. It’s who she is and what she does.

I might not know my way around the kitchen as well as I’d like, but thanks to my mother, I know how to make a mean pound cake and a strong pot of coffee and I will open my door and share it with you. 

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Happy Birthday and Mother’s Day to the woman who will always open her front door, invite you in, serve you whatever freshly baked good resides on the counter with one hand and a cup of coffee with the other.

Goodbye with a side of Rhubarb

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.”

~ E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

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In January, I moved in with a group of women. From the get-go, I knew this was temporary. I was in the middle of what felt like a million different transitions and this was supposed to be a place to reside for a few months, five tops. I had every intention of rushing through spring and absolutely no intention of investing time, energy, and love into these women. However, four months later, despite my initial shameful intentions, I find myself teary every time I remember that goodbye is encroaching. These women have given me the gift of their friendship. They’ve walked with me through one of the most bittersweet seasons I’ve yet known. They’ve embraced me. They’ve given generously. They’ve listened carefully. They’ve extended grace. They’ve defended me when others judged me. They’ve fed me on occasion. They’ve found me late at night and sat on my bed with me, refusing to let me cry alone. They’ve invested in me, knowing full well that I was leaving. I remain astounded. They’ve been images of Christ to me, each in their own ways.

In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes about the passing of a friend and the impact this had on their group of friends. There is a certain side of his friends that he doesn’t see anymore, a side that only the now deceased friend could draw out. In this way, he says we are lights to each other and that each of us reflect God to each other in different ways:

“In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets…friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.” 

I found this to be true. We couldn’t be more different, these women and I. We, all of us, brought a unique vision that made us stronger somehow. Each of them found a special place in my heart that I’ll carry with me all my days. We’ll keep in touch and visit, I’m sure. But we’re all in varying seasons and going separate ways and, for now, we’re forced to say goodbye. Our lives unexpectedly collided for a semester, and, in retrospect, it was a beautiful gift. One that I wish I could put in a box with a giant bow so that I could reopen it.

I find solace in C.S. Lewis’s words when he describes this gift as not so unexpected:

“In friendship…for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.”

I couldn’t be more grateful our paths (un)expectedly crossed. In order to ceremoniously end this short season, these sweet souls asked what I wanted to do before I moved away. I smiled. What I really wanted was to have a rhubarb picnic. Please, allow me to explain.

It all started a few years ago when I stumbled across rhubarb as I was just learning how to eat seasonally. I fell in love with these tangy, hot pink stalks and I dreamt up a magical rhubarb themed picnican ode to the delightful, and often overlooked spring vegetable. In case you were wondering, The Huffington Post declared rhubarb “the crowning glory of spring’s fresh produce.” Food 52, a popular food blog, dubbed rhubarb “the sassiest of all vegetables” due to its raucous shade of magenta-red, showy leaves and lanky stalks. I’m always championing for this quirky plant, seeking to integrate it into my spring menu whenever possible. 

I knew that I was preparing to say goodbye during the quintessential part of springmeaning perfect picnic weather. Coincidentally, rhubarb was in season. The stars aligned. I’d yet to make my picnic dream a reality and this felt like the perfect opportunity. My dear friends chuckled, but they didn’t hesitate. “If that’s what you want to do, then we want to do that,” they said. True friends.

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We set aside a Sunday afternoon. I arranged plates and flowers. I folded napkins. I opened jars of cream and jam to be slathered on rhubarb-white-chocolate scones. Everything, of course, had to be pink. We drank tea on the front porch all afternoon, reminiscing about the last four months and all the unexpected happenings, the unwelcome and jarring surprises and also the delightful ones the changing winds blew through our house that spring. We mused about plans for the upcoming summer. We exchanged gifts, and letters, doleful of our parting, full of gratitude for the short season we had shared together. It may seem silly to say goodbye prior to one’s actual departure, but I’ve moved enough times to know that goodbyes on moving day are rushed at best and generally don’t happen. Between the chaos of the moving truck and the last minute vacuuming and the stuffing in all the things you forgot were yours in every side pocket and crevice you can find, it’s easier to give a quick hug or a wave and pretend it’s not really happening.

I hate saying goodbye, and I truly mean hate. I’m not about to linger long enough to feel the weight of sadness that comes from parting ways. Goodbyes feel so unnatural to me, so heavy, as if they’re not supposed to be. And of course, this got my brain whirring. I’ve been ruminating on this thought for awhile now, pressing into how uncomfortable goodbyes are to me. I wonder if this discomfort in my soul is perhaps good, maybe even right. Goodbyes serve as reminders to me that this life is not the end. They lead me to a place of longing for eternity, a time when goodbyes will cease.

Just last week, an old friend described to me a funeral she recently attended. She was lamenting that the entire funeral was a celebration. “There will come a day when our tears will be no more, but today is not that day,” she said. My friend was disappointed that the funeral didn’t allow space for the family to grieve, to feel their deep loss, however uncomfortable that might be. They were trying so hard to celebrate a life entering eternity that they failed to allot time to sit in the reality that is death, the reality that is goodbye, for now. Death is a painful reality of our lives and it is right to mourn. Goodbyes are painful. They taste a lot like death to me, but I believe it is right to say them. I realize there is Skype and FaceTime and plane tickets and road trips, but they are no substitute for living, learning, and growing alongside one another. There are no substitutes for random Saturday trips to buy succulents, impromptu Thai takeout dinners, copious afternoon tea sessions, and endless movie nights where we actually don’t watch a movie, rather, we stay up talking late into the night. 

These women and I, we’ll keep in touch, certainly, and one day we won’t have to say goodbye. But today is not that day. 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” ~Revelation 21:3-4

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I hoped saying goodbye this time wouldn’t be as difficult as in times past. I’d felt entirely unanchored over the last two years, a city girl who never quite found her place in a small southern town. I had hoped my lack of attachment to my geographical dwelling would make leaving easier. Alas, it did not. As I packed, I began to collect all the memories I’d made, all the lessons I’d learned, all the ways this place and the people I met had changed me, for the better. I began to mourn all the relationships I would missespecially these four ladies. We’d found solidarity in our shared desire to grow—to be more like Jesus, to be our best selves, to be brave in the face of death in all its various forms.

I believe something good has happened when we say goodbye and large, hot tears fall. They’re indicative of a willingness to open our hearts, to love deeply, to live fully. I want to be brave enough to live in such a way that goodbyes are painful. And then I want to be courageous enough to say goodbye when I leave. As I begin a new season, with the anticipation of new memories and friendships, I hope to be as good of a friend as these women have been to me. The kind of friend who says yes to a rhubarb picnic, no questions asked.

~

If you find yourself nearing the end of a season this spring, I challenge you to reach deep within and find the courage to say goodbye. Pack a picnic. I recommend rhubarb and white-chocolate blondies or rhubarb vanilla-bean scones. And let the tears fall. Goodbyes won’t always be, but, for today, they still are. It is right that they are painful and it is right to say them. Whenever I say goodbye I think of the quote by E.B. White, and I say a prayer of gratitude for the tremendous gift that is friendship. 

Self-Care + Worth

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I recently became a consultant for Rodan + Fields, the #1 acne & anti-aging line in premium skincare in the United States. It’s proven to be quite the fun side hobby and just the creative outlet I’ve needed this season. I’m having a blast sharing these products with other women and talking all things skincare and lashes. This experience has got me thinking, though, and I have a confession: I worry about the message I’m communicating. I worry that you’re hearing you should look younger. I worry that you’re hearing you need these products to make you look more beautiful, as if your beauty is lesser right now. I worry that I’m adding to the larger narrative that I’ve been hearing on repeat my entire lifethat aging is bad. That is never what I want to communicate.

Shauna Niequist is one of my very favorite authors. She tells her life story in all it’s raw, precious, bitter and glorious moments. In her most recent book, Present Over Perfect, she writes, “I used to put pajamas and night cream in the same fussy-fancy category as, you know, “self care.” But all my force and all my pushing brought me to the end of myself quite dramatically; brought me to poor health, isolation, exhaustion, resentment. So here I am, self care, pajamas, night cream, all of it” (177-178). She made a commitment to stop falling into bed in the yoga pants she’d been wearing all day and to stop sleeping with her makeup on. After completely exhausting herself, she decided it was time to start taking care of herself.

I’ve been there. Those seasons when taking care of myself is the last thing on my to-do list. Although Shauna and I have never met, she’s challenged me in more ways than one: namely to start taking care of myself before I reach the end of myself. This self-care thing is something I’m still learning and I’m finding that it changes a bit with each season. These days, it looks like making time to paint my nails. I feel like I can conquer the world with a bright, bold manicure and, on hard days, as silly as that sounds, the right polish can make all the difference. I’m currently re-reading some of my favorite authors—the ones who fill me with hope and inspiration, whose words I already know by heart but desperately need to hear again because they are the best balm to my currently weary soul. I’m also trying hard to eat real food. Right now, I deem it a successful week if I eat more cooked meals than takeout ones. Baby steps.

I haven’t reached thirty, not quite yet. Thus, I’m not too worried about my skin’s elasticity or crow’s feet. I’m not all that worried about sun damage or age spots either. Why, then, did I get involved with R+F? Because their skincare products are not about perfection, rather, they’re designed to provide you with the healthiest skin possible, whatever your age. Because self-care begins now. Because I believe that I’m worth it and that you are too. You’re worth taking care of. You’re worth quality products that will nourish the beautiful face you have. You’re worth the time it takes to follow a regimen that will rejuvenate your cells. You’re worth waking up and feeling refreshed. You deserve to love the skin you’re in. 

As I practice caring for myself, I’m finding that the rhythm of a skincare regimen is morphing into a song that sings over me. I look in the mirror and am reminded both morning and evening that I have a body worth taking caring of, that I have a soul worth tending. I used to run a makeup remover wipe across my face before falling into bed each night. It took approximately two seconds. Now, I wash my face and apply toner and eye and night cream, and it definitely takes more than five minutes. Sometimes I want to revert back to my old ways, but I try my best not to regress. I’m pretty sure that how I take care of myself tells the story of what I believe about myself. I get that skincare products aren’t always in the budget. I’ve been there too. I encourage you to find unique ways to take care of yourself in those seasons. How are you currently taking care of yourself? What does that say about what you believe about your worth? 

In BittersweetShauna writes, “Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it. I promise” (90). By connecting you with quality products, this is what I want to communicate: you are lovely and you’re oh so worth it.

Seeing Beauty

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“Beauty is to the spirit what food is to the flesh. It fills an emptiness in you that nothing else under the sun can. Unlike food, however, it is something you never get your fill of. It leaves you always aching with longing not so much for more of the same as for whatever it is, deep within and far beyond both it and yourself, that makes it beautiful.”

~ Frederick Buechner

We needed to see beauty. Our hearts needed it for differing reasons, but the need was there just the same. We needed to wander, to drink in pretty things. We picked a date. Saturday. We will go to Asheville together and we will see beauty. We awoke tired and distraught for various individual reasons, but collectively weary nonetheless. We wondered if we should cancel or perhaps reschedule. But we had set aside today, we had. We will go, we decided. 

The sky was luminous and clear, a perfect shade of blue that promised not to rain. We wandered through America’s largest home and imagined what it would have been like to live in a house that big—to wear fancy garments and headpieces, to read books in the library by the fireplace, to dine by candlelight late into the evening—our imaginations running wild.

We wandered through the conservatory observing, noting, and photographing all the shades and shapes, smelling all the fragrances. Although it’s not spring, not quite yet, we delighted in the sparse daffodils and the budding magnolia trees scattered about. We drank in the beauty, all of it. We walked the grounds—sometimes talking and sometimes not, sometimes laughing at one another, sometimes thinking deeply, and other times about nothing at all but the beauty before us as we let it do its work in us.

Smitten Kitten: an accidental cat lady

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetThe tale I’m about to tell is a true story. It unfolded in the summer of twenty-sixteen, shortly after I began a new job. I would often step outside in the afternoon to soak in the blueness of the sky and feel the sun on my face. Mostly I was escaping the office in a desperate act to recalibrate. My mind was exploding as I learned to navigate new databases and new policies and procedures. I was struggling to interpret out-of-state transcripts and grappling for more brain space to remember everything I needed to know about the college. I needed to memorize the majors and minors offered. I needed to know the enrollment and retention numbers and the student-to-faculty ratio. I needed to know the building names and their respective uses and also their historical significances. I needed those few minutes alone on the steps in the sunshine at midday if I was to successfully make it to five o’clock.

On one such afternoon, a grey, blue-eyed cat circled me. I’d apparently glossed over the litter of cats that resided beneath the bushes alongside the wrought iron fence that bordered the brick walkway where I often sat. I mean, I suppose I’d noticed a cat once or twice. I was stepping outside to concentrate on breathing in and out, though, not to scour the landscape for creatures. Blue Eyes stepped onto my legs and sprawled across my lap. He began to purr and I suddenly began to cry—tears that I could not explain as I’ve long since boasted my lack of attachment toward any animal, ever. I returned reluctantly to my office and didn’t see Blue Eyes when I left later that day. But the very next morning, as soon as my feet hit the pavement, Blue Eyes saw me from across the street and came running. He wove himself around my ankle and I bent down to stroke his grey fur. I could hear him purring and I could simultaneously feel my heart melting. I was bonding with a creature against my very own will. I wanted to be angry about it. But I also wanted to scoop him up and take him home to be with me forever.

I quickly discovered the college was trying to find homes for the stray cats. I told them I’d fallen for Blue Eyes but they informed me another staff member had dibs. They apologized that he wasn’t available for the taking. I almost cried, again. I thought about stealing him but decided against it. Instead, I went home and penned the most pathetic email I have ever written. No exaggeration. It was a pitiful plea—a complete act of desperation that was almost embarrassing. I’d rather not show you the email. It was a plaintive cry, but a sincere one. The aforementioned staff member, god bless her, must have sensed my deep fragility because she replied to my email and said I could have him. I brought him home that week and named him Dorian Grey—Grey with the ‘e’ because I like how the British spell things, and because he’s a Gregory. 😉

Let me tell you about Dorian Grey. He meows, a lot. For no reason at all. I’m certain he’s vain, like the character in Oscar Wilde’s novel, and that he simply likes to hear his own voice. Dorian can be audacious. Don’t let his adorable pink nose and his glimmering blue eyes fool you. He’s a brat, but he’s extremely affectionate, and, in my mind, that makes up for it. He normally hears me coming home and I can usually hear his greeting meow before I’ve even unlocked the door. He sleeps with me unless he’s riled up of course, in which case I confiscate all the squeaky and jingly toys and go to sleep without him. When he eventually joins me he prefers to curl up on top of my toes. He is an absolute snob regarding the proper softness of blankets. Some simply will not suffice. He has one ear that’s been clipped, and I adore this strange quirk. He’s missing practically half of his ear, and I don’t care. Being a feral cat, he’s a hunter. I found what I thought was a gnarly hairball one morning and upon further investigation identified a teeny, tiny nose with whiskers—remnants of a creature that he had annihilated at the throat in the middle of the night. No need to worry about mice, Dorian has that situation under control. And when there are no mice to chase, he chews through all his fake, feathery friends.

Sometimes I think he’d lay in my lap for as long as I would sit unmoving, completely still. I struggle to sit still for very long, though; feeling the demands of my self-inflicted goals. I need to do pilates, I need to unload the dishwasher, I need to make dinner, I need to call said friend back, I need to file my taxes. I struggle to live patiently, as previously mentioned. Dorian Grey sits, meowing, begging me simply to play.

I’m practicing allotting time for leisure these days—for playing with feathers and fake mice.

In her book Unseduced & Unshaken, Rosalie De Rosset explains: 

In Greek the term for leisure is skole and in Latin skola—from which we get our word “school.” Seen this way, leisure is part of the learning process. The spirit of leisure is actually the spirit of learning, of self-cultivation. Leisure provides the venue for the growth of a person’s whole being—for thinking about life’s great concerns, for activities that enrich the mind, strengthen the body, and restore the soul. Like education, leisure takes discipline, training, cultivation of habits and tastes, discriminating judgments…the God who ordained rest, who commanded a day of rest, cares about what we do with all our time.

Here is what a fury, quite vocal, and sassy feline is teaching me about slowing down, about leisure.

Play is Purposeful

Dorian sleeps well and behaves better if I give him the play and exercise he needs. Play is something I would have considered a waste of time not long ago, and some days I still struggle not to view it as such. But if leisure is a habit that must be cultivated, I am beginning when I come home from work each day and sit on the floor for as long as Dorian will purr and play.

Naps Are Permissible

I said for years that I could not nap. What I think I was really saying without realizing it was that I didn’t know how to quiet my mind, that I didn’t know how to set aside the anxiety and allow room for rest. If leisure strengthens the body and restores the soul, then I think naps qualify. Dorian naps with no remorse or regret, and I’m practicing curling up next to him and leisurely doing the same.

~

I am now a crazy cat lady. I am that lady you see in Target adding cat toys to her basket. I am that coworker with cat post-it notes on her desk. I am the woman who wears cat pajama pants and drinks coffee out of an Anthro cat mug. I became a cat lady by accident. Now I’m learning how to nap and how to play on purpose.

Charred Marshmallows

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“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Back in October, my sister gathered several of her friends to celebrate her 25th birthday. She wanted to go camping, of all things. I like camping. I do. I like sharing meals on picnic tables. I enjoy taking walks by the lake. I delight in afternoon reads in hammocks. I like being outdoors to watch the sunset. What I don’t like is earthy grit in my sleeping bag or when all my “clean” clothes smell like a tent tarp. My favorite part of camping is probably coming home and washing the campfire smell out of my hair and repainting my nails. Nevertheless. Anything for my dear sister. I know you’re supposed to rough it when you’re camping but, it being a birthday celebration and all, I asked for permission to dress it up a bit. Sister obliged and I packed my suitcase full of brown paper packages and burlap banners and twinkle lights. (Special thanks to the cute park ranger for not ruining my aesthetic and busting us for what was presumably a fire hazard).

It was a magical weekend in Michigan. The autumn leaves at Van Buren State Park were vibrant, striking. We gathered around the campfire that first evening to make s’mores. It was the evening of game four in the World Series and we could feel the city of Chicagoall the way across the lakeholding its breath. Our neighbors happened to be the epitome of traditional campers: brats, beer, and baseball. We were separated only by a few sparse trees on which I had strung twinkle lights—a comical barrier between us and our contrasting camping styles. The game sounded through their radio and the commentator’s voice became background noise to our evening as we ate White Chicken Chili and drank red wine by the fire and told stories and read poems. While our camping methods could not have been more different, we still found ourselves in the same woods, waiting, wondering if the Cubs would win.

It was also the weekend before the election and the whole world was waiting to see who the president-elect would be. We mused about the future: hopes and dreams, where our own lives were headed, what new adventures or hardships might be just around the bend. I reflected on my current season, how much my life has changed in the last year and how strange it still seems. I feel like I’m wearing a new sweater that hasn’t been worn-in yet. It remains a stiff and ever-so-slightly itchy garment. It possesses no nostalgia. It’s still simply a new sweater.  

I don’t generally like marshmallows, but in the woods, by a crackling fire, when fancy wafers and chocolate are involved, I make an exception. Everyone has marshmallow roasting preferences and I enjoy mine lightly browned, ever-so-slightly crisp on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside. I stuck my marshmallow too close to the flame and it caught fire. I blew it out and stared at the charred ball of sugar on the end of my stick. My patience level was waning.

Patience: noun | pa·tience | \ˈpā-shən(t)s\

-The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

-Calm, self-possessed waiting.

Time will tell who will win the World Series. Time will tell who the next President of the United States will be. Time will guide my life and show me what lies beyond the horizon.

I returned from camping and told a friend that I am the most impatient person I know. She looked at me and shook her head in disagreement. She pointed out all the ways I’ve been patient with her and with other people in my life this year. She helped me chronicle all the students I’ve cheered for, the family members I’ve supported, the friends I’ve encouraged. “You are a very patient person,” she said, “but you are not patient with yourself.”

{Sigh.} She was right.

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetPatience is an eight-letter word that I despise. It’s punchy. It’s mysterious, elusive. I wrestle with it and I always lose. I burned a marshmallow for lack of patience and this made me mad.

I speak discouraging things over myself like: you’re not working hard enough, you’re not learning fast enough, you’re not giving enough, you’re not doing enough. I berate myself for not reading more, for not writing more, for not knowing what I’m doing with my life, for not having a strategic plan for saving more money, for not exercising more frequently. The list goes on. I know this is dangerous and that what I should be speaking over myself are the realities laced in grace: I recently started a new job and I’m navigating an entirely different department in higher education. I moved to a new state just over a year ago and I’m still forming new friendships and I’m still planting seeds. I still don’t know what direction I hope for my career, but I think I’ve unveiled some passions in my soul this year and I’m well on my way to refining some hopes and dreams. 

Patience is confusing because it demands a posture of stillness but is not in any way passive. Henri Nouwen says, “A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.” If I’ve learned anything since undergrad it’s this: life doesn’t stop. Time doesn’t stop. It’s so much less about waiting for seasons to end. Rather, it’s learning how to live in the middle of the mess of them. They’ll change. They’ll ebb and flow, just like a river. A.A. Milne knew something about patience that I am still struggling to learn. Rushing, pushing, pulling; it doesn’t profit. I’m practicing not burning marshmallows 1) because charred sugar tastes horrible and 2) because I believe there is a way to live both patiently and purposefully. Here’s to speaking grace over ourselves and not living our lives in a perpetual hurry.

A Lesson in Shifting

image1There’s something you should know about me: I’m a learner. If I’m not being challenged I find a way to challenge myself. I have an insatiable desire to always be learning. This can cause trouble sometimes. I live in a state of fast-forwardlearning, learning, learning. It’s not unusual for me to sit myself down and give myself a serious talk about slowing down. And for a few days, or maybe a week I doslow down, that is. And then I inevitably buy five new books. I find three new recipes to try. I begin thorough research on a new place to travel and begin crafting a detailed itinerary for when I visit. I enroll in, (all my friends brace themselves) another class. I have a problem. I know.

I recently finished graduate school, to both my delight and dismay. I held my degree in my hands, so proud of how hard I worked. But my desire to learn remained as strong as ever. Before my time in school had ended I was already mourning the loss of lectures, and class discussions, and presentations, and research, and writing. My friends made me swear not to start my PhD until I’m AT LEAST thirty. I know they care about me and my sanity and I trust they want what’s best for me. I digress. Thirty it is. I have several years to go before I embark on that journey so in the meantime I decided to learn to drive stick. “Why?” you ask. No reason, per se. It was something I didn’t know how to do and, thus, it was a skill I wanted to learn and therefore determined to master. But there was one problem: I didn’t know anyone who was willing to risk their car and their life to teach me.

Last spring I assigned my Resident Advisors (RAs) the task of teaching me something during our weekly one-on-ones. It was a Tuesday, 10am. I was rushing to meet Madison for our usual coffee date. I’d just come from another meeting and I didn’t have my purse. I came into view, walking toward her, and she saw me: purseless.

“You need your license,” she said.

I tilted my head.

She grinned. “I’m gonna teach you how to drive stick.”

My eyes widened. I think I squealed. You’ll have to ask Madison. All I remember is rushing back to my apartment to grab my wallet. The rest is history. The proof is in the black Jetta with the manual transmission that now sits in my driveway. 

Disclaimer: I recognize that driving my RA’s car as an RD was not my best choice. The old “do as I say, not as I do” comes into play here. I do advise against driving your staff member’s vehicle.

Advisory warning: Resident Advisors, do not offer to let your boss drive your car. (But Madison, dear, I’m ever so glad you did.)

All rules and warnings completely disregarded, Madison drove us to the mall parking lot and talked me through the gears and the clutch before we switched places. I drove in rows, up and down, and then in circles, switching from 1st to 2nd, and back to 1st: stopping, starting, stalling, and starting all over again. I’m not a car person and what perhaps comes naturally to some didn’t come as easily to me. I had to pay very close attention: multitasking, watching the RPMs rise and fall, concentrating on the sound and feel of the engine. Every now and then the car would jolt to a terrifying halt followed by a horrible sound. I’d lock eyes with Madison, fear written on my face, amusement written on hers. She would assure me it was okay, that I’d simply shifted into the wrong gear and stalled. I had a bad habit of confusing 1st and 3rd and attempting to start in 3rd rather than 1st. Madison would grab the gear shift and instruct me to press the clutch and move me into 1st, gently saying, “Dear, you were in 3rd again.” Then we’d burst into laughter and I’d restart the engine.

It took copious amounts of laughter, stalling, and starting over, and then I finally got it. After that, Madison let me drive her car everywhereand I mean everywhere. I became her personal chauffeur. I drove us to get smoothies. I drove us to get coffee. I drove us to bookstores. I drove us to Target. And sometimes I just drove, no destination in mind, just driving to drive. Madison would update me on her life while I only half-listened.

Please note: It’s difficult for me to drive stick and engage in serious conversations at the same time. I simply cannot do it. My boyfriend can attest to this fact. I have instated a rule for everyone’s safety: when riding in my car you cannot ask me any hard questions or launch into a conversation on a serious subject. You can, however, be the DJ and have a dance party in the passenger seat, if you want.

Although I learned the basics rather quickly, it did take some time to iron out the skillto shift smoothly, to brake gracefully, to downshift gently. I told Madison she was brave to teach me. She told me my determination to learn amused her. It amused many, I think. Why was I so determined? I don’t know, exactly. Have you ever wanted to master something just for the sake of mastering it? Maybe that’s something only I do. Maybe that sounds silly to you. Also, why put the time and effort into learning something that’s a tad cumbersome and complicates driving in traffic? Especially when manual transmissions are going extinct. At least, they are in the US. Did you know only about 10% of cars currently in the US are manual transmissions, and that that number is decreasing each year? I know because I looked it up. An article in the The Guardian likened knowing how to drive stick to a noveltythe same type of novelty that lies in knowing how to solve a rubik’s cube. I think that’s a nice way of telling me that my newfound skill is practically useless. Crazy stick-shift lovers would disagree and give you 20 reasons we should all drive manual cars.

I am not here to make a case that you should learn how to drive stick. I am here to tell you that learning to drive stick taught me something, and it teaches me something still. If there’s something you want to learn, do it. If people look at you like you’re crazy, do it anyway. If someone tells you it’s a potentially useless skill, don’t listen. If it takes a few times to master, or maybe one hundred, keep at it. If we let it, the process of learning allows us to learn much more than whatever skill we’ve set out to master. Driving stick is not a calculated science and this proved bothersome to me. I wanted an instruction manual that told me when to shift and exactly how much gas to give the pedal and precisely how fast or slow to release the clutch. Sometimes I wish life came with an instruction manual. My new transmission definitely did not. Neither does life, I know. This is my encouragement to you: Can’t master the elusive dance between the clutch and the gas? Don’t give up. Keep trying. Stall out? It’s okay. You can restart and keep going. Shift into the wrong gear? Pause. Take a deep breath. Simply route yourself back to the correct gear. It’s a delicate maneuver, not a science. I’ve had to learn to listen to the engine, to trust my gut, to feel the road and let the skills I’ve learned guide me. I’m doing the same thing in my own life right now, holding fast to what I know to be true, what I’ve learned thus far, to who I am, who I know God to be, and also who I am in Him. Shifting gears on my drive to and from work these days is reminding me that it’s okay to let my life shift too. It’s okay that I don’t have a road map or an instruction manual. It’s okay that I don’t know where I’m going, that I can’t see what’s ahead. I’m learning to embrace life’s song, to listen to the words and to feel the rhythm, in the same way I learned the delicate maneuver and elusive dance that is driving stick. 

~

Pro Tips:

  1. Thankfully, I live in Anderson, SC where people don’t know how to use their horns. I hail from West Palm Beach where we use our horns and drive aggressively. If you decide to learn how to drive stick, may I suggest learning in a small town where people don’t know that horns are a thing? 
  2. When you begin, start in an empty parking lot.
  3. Don’t forget the emergency brakeit’s the equivalent to “park” for those of you who drive an automatic. Your car will roll away if you forget to use it.
  4. If you purchase a stick, no one will ask to borrow your car (or be tempted to steal it) because they won’t know how to drive it.
  5. If you want to drive a stick but are concerned about your ability to manage eating, or talking on the phone, or doing the unlawful thing of texting whilst shifting up and down, not to worry. You’ll learn quickly.