James Taylor, Cranberry Sauce, & the Bengay

Many folks are slowing their lives down this week to remember a few things that they find beautiful and for which they are thankful. It seems like we all need a break. The dust has settled and we are exhausted from a hurricane and a long, emotional presidential election. We need a day where we recall some happiness even if it isn’t quite as vivid today as it might have been in the past.

I was sitting next to a classmate this week and we were discussing Thanksgiving food schedules and family endeavors. After going through a family situation that had left him estranged, he decided that Thanksgiving didn’t do much for him. Rather than bringing him joyful reunions, this time of year was a painful reminder of what he once had. Thankfully, he had plans to spend the holiday with friends who didn’t seem to get the memo that holidays must be spent with blood kin.

The conversation forced me to think about what Thanksgiving really means. It can’t solely mean time spent with relatives because lots of folks, like this friend, don’t have the opportunity to feast with family. It can’t solely mean eating great food because lots of folks don’t have that either and you know, some of us, may actually be allergic to turkey! It can’t solely mean celebrating traditions because new ones are made each year.

No, I suspect the meaning of Thanksgiving cannot be so easily defined. Perhaps at its most basic element, it means just what it says. Thanks giving. Gratitude. A time to reflect on the folks who make our lives beautiful. The ones who stir our souls and make us giddy inside. Many times these folks aren’t blood relatives, but they are, in every way, our family… because family are the folks that surround and love us at our best and at our worst. And celebrating those people today… well… that’s Thanksgiving to me.

As I was cooking a squash casserole yesterday, James Taylor’s classic, “You’ve Got a Friend” came on, the lyrics seemed pretty appropriate:

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am,
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call,
and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

So as I celebrate this Thanksgiving with some Bengay on my hip and cranberry sauce between my teeth, I’m a grateful girl for the folks that consistently show me what love and grace look like. Some are related by blood, but most have somehow worked their way past my walls and into my heart.

So a very happy day to you as you read this. May the day live up to everything you define Thanksgiving as. And most of all, may you have a friend today.

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Something Unpredictable

Inevitably life comes in seasons. Much like the four seasons that greet us at the door each year, we journey through a sectioned life. Seasons in our lives change. Change perpetuates more change. It’s not all bad… because we need that change to grow. People enter and leave our lives for seasons. And sometimes that’s ok… and sometimes it hurts terribly.

So how do you endure… how do you persist?

First, knowing who you are is key. You have to understand your passions, your personality, your body and then sanction all of the above. Learning to be kind to yourself is a necessity. You have to know that when you are on your knees praying, your voice matters. You matter.

Next, it helps to understand the following helpful (rather painful) lesson. Some people who you have given your heart to and love deeply just can’t give that back to you. Maybe it’s because they don’t have it to give. Maybe they still don’t know who they are. Maybe they are just stretched too thin. Maybe they are fighting a bigger battle than you can compete with. Or maybe you just aren’t their person (Grey’s Anatomy reference). Here’s the thing: you can’t force that relationship… as much as you want it to happen, you have to let them go. As painful as it is, you have to release them.

You have to let them go so they can be. Let them be. And be kind to yourself, knowing you’ve just created more room for the right person for you. Or just room for you to breathe again and keep growing.

Often when you let something go, something that matters greatly, you get it back again. Maybe it’s time to let someone go.

And last, you focus on those people in your life who do not change with the seasons. The ones who will hold you in bed when you are exhausted and the ones who will sit down at the kitchen table after their busy day to hear about yours. The ones who let you double dip. The ones who plop down next to you while you cry or confess your deepest insecurities. The ones who you can call 24/7. The ones who look into your eyes, and without speaking, tell you they’ll love you forever.

The ones who would be crushed if you weren’t in their lives tomorrow.

So thank those people in your life today because it takes a lot of bravery to love you like that.

For an INFP like me, this lesson may be one of the hardest I ever have to learn. But the learning of it, is also the path to freedom and hopefully, on the other side of the cloud, the sun’s just waiting to shine.

Have you had to let people go? How do you show those who love you that you appreciate them?

What Does Fall Mean to You?

Let’s just be honest, out of the four seasons, fall is the most dramatic. She is the loudest and most vibrant. She takes up all the space in the room. You just have to pay attention to fall. She’s the one at the party who’s had a little too much punch and is graciously singing Celine Dion to everyone. Her fancy name is autumn equinox (Sept. 22) and in her honor, I’m blogging about what she means to me. And I’d really love to know what she means to you!

When I think of fall, I think of school deadlines, pumpkin- scented candles, mulled cider, camping, chilly nights, over-sized sweaters, long bike rides in state parks, eating waxy candy corn, chili with sour cream, long prayers during the sunset, little fellas dressed up in handmade or store-bought costumes. I remember each year that my grandmother showed up at my family’s front door with a scary Halloween mask on, magically changing her sweet voice to something wretched. I think about couch cuddling, scraping the frost off my car, smelling the wood burning in the fireplace, and jumping up and down in place for warmth. I think about cute scarves and hot, homemade casseroles. I think about the excitement of the upcoming holiday season and all the traditions accompanying it.

I think about fall funerals and fall birthdays. As I think about the changing of summer to fall, I think about how people come and go for certain seasons of life, making me even more grateful for those that persist, walking with me season after season. I think about how leaves are actually the organs of the tree and even though the trees lose such vital appendages, they still survive, even thrive come spring.

What does fall mean to you? What fall traditions are you looking forward to?

If you are reading this, know that I’m sending you love this fall. Hoping that you’ll be kind to yourself this season, hoping that you’ll do things to fill yourself up and make you remember that your story matters, hoping you have conversations with inspiring friends that help you believe in yourself again.

Be sure to let me know some of your fall traditions!

A City Girl in a Farmer’s World

Recently, I embarked upon a northern road trip to the Land of Lincoln…the Prairie State… the Midwest… Illinois. A cousin’s yellow-and-orange-misty-eyed wedding instigated the journey north. My mother, grandmother, and I decided to make this last minute trip with the eager anticipation of hugging dearly missed relatives. Fellowship was the goal here. And it was one that was met with great fervor.

Crossing the state line, we were welcomed into IL with the gracious hospitality of my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Sherman and Aunt Sue. These two are quite the pair and I can very honestly say, some of my favorite people in the world. Sherman is the quintessential Great American Prairie farmer. He was born on southern IL soil and has farmed the same soil for 70 years. He has a relationship with that land that I can only gaze at from afar with my city girl eyes. He’s got to be the most patient man and teacher I know; people always remember meeting Sherman because they immediately notice the kindness in his eyes. He married a beautiful woman named Sue; she truly is his better half. Sue has the uncanny ability to make anyone she converses with feel as if they are extremely important and their story matters. She really just cares. And she cooks a mean butterscotch cookie.

Disembarking the interstate, country roads led us to Sue and Sherman’s farm. We passed through small towns that made me feel like I had gone back five decades to the days of yesteryear America. Let me tell you, I got a great view of the town square, since I had to circle it multiple times after we spotted a much needed post-office box. I later learned that for Sherman’s 50th birthday, Sue and company kidnapped him, robing him in one of her lovely shawls, and paraded him around the square in an antique wheelchair. Apparently the square has multiple uses as grooms used to push their new brides around the square in a wheelbarrow. Boy if that doesn’t speak romance, I don’t know what does.

Waking up at Sue and Sherman’s is quite the experience. After a sufficient amount of coffee, I was met by Butch the pet turkey. He looked at me as if I was the species who was out of place; I decided he was right and quickly maneuvered myself to a different part of the barn. Don’t get me wrong– I have a great appreciation for the avian species, I just figured I’d appreciate from afar.

About that time, I heard the approaching roar of loud machinery coming into the front yard. I grabbed my camera and ran over to see a large John Deere combine. Now, you may know what a combine is, but let me tell you, I did not. So I’ll explain. This is a massive piece of machinery that is used to harvest six rows of corn at a time. Sherman spotted my wide eyes and asked if I wanted to ride with him. Naturally inquisitive, I did. As I ascended the combine ladder, all I could think about was how I should be tweeting this memorable moment.

As it turns out, I didn’t have the time because we immediately set off to harvest the corn. In his infinite patience, he explained to me how the combine cuts and thrashes grain; he also lent me much insight into a farmer’s world. As he was driving, I noticed the sun spots on his tan, calloused hands. Hands that had farmed for years. Hands that made corn grow. Hands that made love grow.

After half an hour of talking, Sherman pulled the big combine brake and announced that it was my turn to drive this baby. I was pretty sure I heard him incorrectly, but when he started to switch seats with me, I knew he wasn’t kidding. I thought about explaining to him that I can barely work a toaster or that just last week, I managed to break a toilet handle at work.

As it turned out, I didn’t have time to explain any of this as I took the pilot’s seat. I figured this was kind of how life goes– it forces you into something, you aren’t qualified or even quite ready for. With much trepidation, I let the brake off and began aligning the combine to harvest the next six rows of corn. Sherman believed I could do it, so I did too. With his patient voice guiding, I farmed. And as it turned out, I had no time to tweet. Life was happening and I was busy.

About halfway through the weekend, I started to get wrapped up in the 80 items on my to-do list and the internet access that I didn’t have. I started to worry about deadlines and the busy week ahead. But then the night wrapped up with a long-time family friend coming over to extend hugs and lots of laughter. As we sat close laughing about old family mishaps, I realized that this was my to-do list. This moment. And I needed to be present.

Sometimes we are so caught up with the future, that we fail to live presently.

Sometimes we need to slow down and say, this person matters. These people matter. I need to give them the dignity of my full attention. I need to be in this moment because this moment will never come again. I need to embrace this love, this laughter, this joy. Because if I’m not careful, the life I am so eagerly awaiting will pass me by without my noticing and all I’ll have to show for it is a marked off to-do list.

As we finished up the weekend singing hymns at the old country church down the road and to the right, I realized, the Land of Lincoln taught this city girl a lot more about life than just how to drive a combine.

So tell me, what life lessons have you been learning this September?

A New Life.

Almost four months into the new year… and I am in love with it.

Today I rested….well after I got home from classes and obligations… I rested. I soaked the sunshine in that was so generous to come. I walked around outside… I saw the beginnings of blooms…of new grass covering the old, dead. I heard birds chirping songs of spring. And I couldn’t remove my mind from the Creator of it all. It is the Creator who gives new life, Jesus.
There is a verse in 2 Corinthians 5…and it says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation, the old is gone. The new has come.”
Do I believe that? That the old is gone. The new has come. Today I am becoming new.

There is nothing that both humbles and excites me more. I don’t want to be who I was yesterday, rather, I am becoming new. Just as the spring has come… new life is given when we are in Christ. I am not my own anymore… my hope is not in this world, neither is my joy, or my peace. It is in Christ. I am in Christ, a new creation. It is the most beautiful thing that I have ever experienced. Life anew.

Taking it a step further, I refer to an earlier blog post. How can we be a new creation if we don’t know who gives life?
Jesus speaks, saying… “I have come that they may have LIFE and have it to the full.” The word life there is a Greek word and its Hebrew equivalent used in Ezekiel 37, where the Ezekiel stands in a valley of dry bones of what was once a vast mighty army. The LORD asks him: “Can these dry bones come alive?” Ezekiel replies, “O Sovereign Lord, You alone know the answer to that.” ……The Lord replied, “I will put breath into you and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.” Then Ezekiel watched as the Lord raised the bones and breathed LIFE into them.
The words “life and alive” are used several times here both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. We even see this same Greek word again in the New Testament in Ephesians 2 where Paul writes that “though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life…for it is by grace we have been saved.” So…

Can God bring that which is dead back to life? A dead marriage, a dead friendship, a dead soul, a dead city, a dead church? Without a doubt. “Then breath came into them, they stood on their feet, a great army.” (Ezekiel 37:10) Christ… the giver of Life. And when we are in Christ, we are a new creation. The old is gone, the has come. Life has been breathed into us. We are no longer dead. We are alive. Hallelujah.