I have a new favorite holiday

Well, actually, that’s a lie.

Christmas will always be my favorite holiday.

Sorry every other holiday.

Except not really.

Because Christmas gets cold weather and family and delicious guilt-free food and Jimmy Stewart and presents and twinkle lights and sparkly-warm-nuggy everything and White Christmas and candle light services and more family and puzzles and hot chocolate and maybe snow and this Christmas I even get to be married.

So the rest of you never really stood a chance.

Except now, I super love Labor Day. Because for the first time ever, it’s actually going to be a holiday instead of a day I confuse with Memorial Day.

So in honor of my three day weekend I might make this or this or this or even this.

Oh, the possibilities.

Apparently, I’m from the North

One of the guys I work with just walked by and said something to the effect of:

“We don’t have those in Texas. Oh yeah, but you’re not from Texas.”

It took me all of .005 seconds to correct him. Resoundingly.

To which he replied:

“I thought you were from New York (four syllables).”

“No. I’m from Dallas.”

“Well, I guess we’ll count you as a Texan. It’s still kinda The North.”

.

.

Hmph. I blame my Yankee mother.

Today, I bring you something different

The board of managers is meeting today, so after the initial flurry of filling carafes with coffee and cleaning boardroom tables, things have been very quiet. Most of the people who tell me what to do are locked behind glass doors, so I’ve been oscillating between working on long-term projects and making up stories to keep myself entertained.

So, if you’d like to read one, here you go.

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I am the angel in the asking tree.

I have been hanging form its branches for a long time. Though I couldn’t tell you how long since it is not in the design of crafted angels to mark the passing of months and years. But in the intervening time the cracks in my porcelain surface have grown deep and the eroding winds have worn away the softly painted features of my face, taking my sight along  with my eyes.

But there was a time when I shared these branches with hundreds of tokens and figurines: talismans hung by weary pilgrims, embodying great, soul-spun, unanswered questions and ornaments swinging from the lowest branches, carried in tiny hands just before the first frost, by the more preternatural children who preferred wishing trees to postage when it came to communicating with jolly, mystical gift-givers.

We made quite a sight, filling the branches of this great tree: small orbs made of colored glass and large plastic squares emblazoned with the long forgotten images of saints, soft knitted articles containing a single stitched name or formed into the pastel shape of a tiny baby’s sock. We covered every branch the way an over-eager child decorates a Christmas tree, unevenly distributed and bumping into each other, until we stopped completely at some line defined by the reaches of human height. From a distance I imagine it looked like a tree whose bottom two-thirds bloomed with bright unnatural flowers.

The tree became the resting place for even a few immoderate novelties, from suppliants so desperate that they imputed their petition with a costlier sacrifice. A large pendant set with an amethyst, the same deep purple as the bruise that shone under the rich brown eyes of its deliverer, hung from a delicate gold chain. After all these many years I can still picture that girl in all her finery, boots sinking into the mud as she trudged toward us.

Thundering rains had scoured the countryside for days and days, pulling us into the flow of an inescapable river and burying even the memory of dry, warm air. But a short time before her smooth head appeared over the crest of the hill, the rain finally ceased. The clouds, having apparently grown tired of pouring themselves out over a soggy piece of earth, dissipated. The coming night felt like a crisp, freshly laundered blanket, wrapping itself around our hill and our tree and the small town that fell asleep below us.

And suddenly she appeared, a slogging, determined woman clutching a small red traveling case and a bejeweled necklace. She stopped at the top of the rise and exhaling deeply, looked up, taking in the small patch of stars breaking through the veil. The faint pinpricks of light were enough to illuminate the sadness in her knitted brows and the certain set of her slight mouth. Every so often the breeze blew a strand of brown curls across her vision. Carefully, she picked her way through the grass, stepping around the scattered offerings that had been brought down to earth by the storm.

She placed her contribution upon an insubstantial branch and knelt down, sitting back on her feet. And as the moon rose, she sat there, like a patient student waiting for instruction. She looked altogether like a child, despite her height and age. Except for her eyes. The woman contained within those wizened, pleading chasms might have lived a thousand years. Eventually she stood, picked up her valise, and walked out of our world without a backward glance.

Her pendant was carried away sometime later by a youngish man with unshaven cheeks and a patched jacket, who made the journey to our tree in the orange afternoon light of early fall. He gathered two sticks from the ground and fastened them together with a prayer before setting them in the crook of a large branch.  He turned then to see a shiny gem swinging in the wind. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he lifted it from its wooden hook.

But all that was a long time ago. Even the tree looks different, its bark stripped away and the trunk bleached bone white. I have been alone here so long that most of the people I’ve watched have been lost in back of my muddled memory, merging into an indefinite mass of need and prayer and love and desperation. My only company for the longest time was the occasional singing sparrow and the wind.

That is, of course, until Clara appeared.

Today, I work on thankful

You know those days that are just long? Like looooonnnnnnggggg long? Like when you get home, it feels like it’s been 84 1/2 hours since you begrudgingly extricated yourself from your bed long?

Yeah, today was one of those.

It was a lot of things. But mostly, I was just really sad not to be in school today.

I know, I know, you can just award me the nerd gold medal now. I’ll stand atop the dais, clutching my Greek lexicon in one hand and Harry Potter in the other, standing between the kid who memorized 107 digits of pi and the red-mohawked NASA engineer, while the Dr. Who theme song fills the air. And I will be proud.

Seriously though, after a lifetime of getting to think and read and learn and write and study all the time, work feels really anti-climactic.


But in an effort to replace my melancholic musings with something more reflective of my enormously blessed life, here are a few things for which I am thankful:

  • My job. I have a job, with people that I really like. I can pay my rent and student loans and buy food without having to worry, and that is such a blessing.
  • My fantastic friends who research cake bakers and price decorations, who drive three hours to spend the weekend helping me and offer assistance from hundreds of miles away. You guys make me feel so loved.
  • I got to spend 18 years in school, where I could study art history and chemistry and OT devotional lit and Greek, just because I wanted to and it fascinated me. How many people in the world get that kind of opportunity?
  • I now have a built-in best friend that I always get to move with, so I don’t ever have to start completely over. And when I’ve had a long day, I can just go over to his apartment and make dinner and sit on his couch and be home.
  • Highland puts their podcasts on iTunes, so I don’t have to miss Jonathan’s sermons. (PS if anyone was at Highland a week from yesterday, and remembers what made Jonathan laugh hysterically for like a full minute, I really want to know what is was. Please share.)
  • God, in his wisdom, gave us coffee beans, full of caffeine, so that when I stay up too late reading, I can still function the next day. And I am thankful.

Here’s where I should add a lovely quote about gratitude by Ann Voskamp, but I’m tired, and I have to be at work early tomorrow, so you can just substitute whatever you would like to read here.

This will shock you

But I can be the teensiest bit melodramatic.

And occasionally I find myself beating you over the head with my nostalgic sentimentality.

But four years after the start of my first week of college, and on the precipice of a very different chapter in my life, I’m feeling nostalgically sentimental.

You’ve been warned.

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Freshman Year: Day 1

I woke up in a room that was both disquietingly familiar, having spent summer camp in these rooms just a month ago, and utterly unknown.

I swung my legs over the side of the bed, expecting to feel solid ground, but finding only air. That tingly, edge-of-a-cliff feeling shot up from my feet, and I sat up. My bed was officially too high. I searched with my toes until I found the faux velvet doo-dad I had used to get up the night before, one of those weird furniture pieces people have created solely for dorm rooms, the kind that can be step ladder, chair, table, nightstand, and storage container simultaneously.

I looked over at my coffee maker, both unsure how to work it, and unsure about whether or not I liked coffee. So instead, I settled for making some instant oatmeal in my  firey-red microwave. Sitting down on the floor with my disposable bowl, I looked around the room: my desk lamp was there, along with my clothes and pictures. But it all seemed foreign in the stuffed, unsustainably organized, overly bright caricature of my bedroom.

I ran my fingers through my tangled hair, absentmindedly, still surprised when it ended just below my ears. The College Cut. I was one cliche down already.

Just before two, I grabbed the lanyard that held my name tag/ schedule (because I am someone who believes in name tags and, especially, in schedules), and set off across the rain-soaked pavement, forced-friendly smile firmly in place. I met the swell of freshmen bottlenecking outside the doors of Moody, and waited as the tide carried me inside.

I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t the cacophony awaiting us inside the coliseum: the aisle of cheering student leaders, the pounding music, the upperclassmen celebrating pep-rally style from the stands. The excitement was contagious and the noise, palpable. Purple and white balloons rained down on us, forming puddles around our feet as we looked up, searching for the sign that matched our name tag.

And there it was, H3, half way up the stands, held up in the air by a man wearing an orange jumpsuit and a gorilla mask*.

And so began Welcome Week.

That night I would skip the freshman movie and return to room 315, feeling profoundly lonely, wondering how everyone seemed to have friends already.

I had no idea that the guy in the argyle sweater I had hugged during the “give someone a hug, give a hug next to you”** song would be a groomsman in my wedding. Or that the goofy boy who sat across from me in our Mentor Group circle (and introduced himself as Duper Dave) would be the one to slip a ring on my finger. I didn’t know that I would finally see the movie I had skipped, three years later with a group of precious middle schoolers near the Mexico border. And I didn’t know that two of my future roommates were just down the hall.

I couldn’t have guessed that I wouldn’t find a church that felt like home for another year and half. And I had no idea how good and how sweet and how gracious that place would be when I found it.

No, I sat in my small bright room, next to a coffee maker I couldn’t work, across from a roommate I didn’t yet know, and I think I read my chemistry textbook, nerd that I am. With so many good, beautiful, painful, grace-filled, theology-changing, world view-shifting moments waiting just beyond the edge of my sight.

*It has been pointed out to me by said goofy boy that he was actually wearing a red jumpsuit and an Optimus Prime mask. Memory is a tricky, tricky thing.

**Has anyone ever written out the words to that song before? They make no sense.

Free lunch & great books

Yesterday, I started feeling that itch: a longing to get swept up in a story, the desire for a fast and furious love affair with a really great novel.

I’m trying to read 30 books this year. It’s not a ton, but I liked the idea of having a goal, and it’s totally manageable with moving, wedding planning, and starting a new job. But it’s been about a month since I finished my last book (Fahrenheit 451), so last night, I downloaded a book I’d heard great things about: Gone Girl. Big mistake.

I stayed up two hours past my bed time reading it. It’s the kind of book I would have carried to school and read blatantly in the middle of class. Because it’s that good.

I’m new at this employment thing, but I figured I probably couldn’t get away with sitting at my desk and refusing to work while I lost myself in the glowing pages. (Not that the thought didn’t cross my mind.) So, this morning I decided to forgo my usual lunch trip, and eat a granola bar at my desk in  order to take full advantage of what is now reading hour.

My favorite diet: a book so engrossing that eating no longer seems worth the time.

But then the news circulated around the office that one of our vendors bought lunch for the office. There is definitely such a thing as a free lunch. It comes in the form of corporate schmoozing, and it’s a great thing.

And on top of that, one of the lab guys brought these cookies. Oh. My. Gosh. They tasted like thin mints, except thicker and chewier and chocolaty-er*. They tasted like heaven. If I see him up here, I’m going to tie him up and demand the recipe. Because asking nicely is for people who are way less serious about their cookies.

Obviously, my granola bar was destined to lay forgotten, but I had been looking forward to reading my book all morning. So while everyone else gathered in the conference room, I channeled my middle school self, and took my plate back to my desk where I could read in peace. I do not regret it.

On an unrelated note, I just dropped my headset and apologized to my phone in front of one of the IT guys. (What? You don’t ask the forgiveness of inanimate objects? Just me?) He was nice enough to pretend not to hear me.

*According to spell-check, that is a real word. And that is how it is spelled. Sans the “e” that I think belongs there.

Can my heart sit down, too?

When I was a little girl I used to have these paralyzing almost panic attacks when my parents were late to pick me up (which is completely weird considering they were almost always late, so you’d think I would have expected it).

But no, I’d be standing beside the curb, as long lines of cars idled forward, doors slid open,  children piled in, and off they went. Until it was just me, the lone sentinel, standing before an empty concrete expanse…at least that’s how it feels to a melodramatic nine year old.

And in ten seconds flat I’d go from bereft child with late parents to inconsolable orphan: They were dead. I was convinced. They’d gotten in some horrible accident on their way to get me, and I’d never speak to them again. What was the last thing I said to them? How long would I be left here? What would I tell my sister?

I’d be fighting back tears before I got control of my own mind and started walking back from the edge of the cliff. They’re probably fine. You can’t change anything by worrying about it. They’re fine.

And then I’d see their head lights round the corner, and I could really breathe again.

When I took my psychological exam for junior acceptance into the bible program at ACU, my results came back as “normal, but with heightened levels of anxiety” – color me surprised. I blame my family; we are an anxious and emotional people.

All that to say that I’ve spent my whole life unlearning that instant panic.

And then, around 12:30 this afternoon:

The air conditioning blasted away the stifling heat as I sang my way back to work with Fun. playing from my iPhone. I was forming dinner plans when I approached the intersection of Wellbourn & George Bush* and noticed something amiss: a man stood on the median with a camera, police had the road blocked off, their cars casting a frantic red-blue-red-blue light over the scene. I counted two, three, four flashing vehicles before I turned right and continued to work. I’m pretty sure the ideas really, really bad car accident and that’s the road to David’s house flashed through my mind as I processed the scene. 

I sent him a quick text message, super casual, hey, how’s your day going? (Read subtext: Just making sure you’re alive, only mild panic happening over here.)

He replied quickly: His day was fine, but there was a shooter on** campus. Be careful.

Associated Press Photo. Click for link to source article.

Really? A week ago in Wisconsin. The week before in Colorado. How bad will it be this time? Do we not get a break? How many more days will we have to lower our flags?

And now there are three more caskets to fill.

And Sarah Bessey wrote this beautiful piece last week: It was like my heart just sat down. And I think maybe my heart needs to sit down, too.

I know in some ways those three incidents are so different, and we don’t know much about what happened in College Station today, but I’m so sick of the shooting. Because unlike earthquakes and illness, we could just stop shooting each other. I’m not naive enough to think that will ever happen. But, seriously, we could all, right now, just not pick up a gun. And we would never have to have this discussion again.

But the world doesn’t work that way. We will all face our own mortality. And sometimes that will be at the hand of another person, a person filled with hate or fear or hopelessness. We aren’t promised that the people we love will always be there to pick us up.

So tonight after work, I’m going to go over to David’s apartment and cook something delicious out of this wonderful Homesick Texan Cookbook that my dear friend gave me for Christmas.

And then I’ll go home and stay up too late catching up with another one of my precious friends who is finally back in town, if only for 24 hours.

And I will be so incredibly grateful, because they are alive and I am alive. And I get another day to spend with them.

And I will say a prayer, however cliche that may sound, for three families grieving tonight. Because three people won’t be coming home, and someone was probably waiting for them.

*Incidentally, this is the very intersection where those who received alerts were told not to go, because I would go driving straight into a crime scene.

**The shooter turned out to be near campus, not on campus. The difference was only four lanes wide, however. So I think the motive inherent in those words matters more than the geography.