Share your life with the people you love.

After our first year living above the Mason Dixon line I learned that making friends there required a different approach than making friends in the South. In the South even if someone isn’t interested in making new friends, if you invite them to hang out they’ll not only say yes, but will most likely offer to host. In the North if someone isn’t looking for new friends they’ll find a kind, but unmistakable way to say, "no thanks." The first time it happened to me I was flabbergasted. The third time I was enlightened.

There have been times in my life where I genuinely didn’t have the bandwidth to explore a new friendship and yet if I or we were invited to a dinner or an event we were obligated to say yes. Otherwise, it would be rude. Because making up excuses or passively avoiding follow-through or faking enjoyment for the sake of avoiding hurt feelings was far less rude. So the Southern way had taught me to believe.

Enter enlightenment.

After seven years living in the Midwest I not only adapted to, but adopted the “Northern way” of making friends. It’s far more efficient and once you’re invited into someone’s home you can pretty much bet you’re going to be lifelong friends.

We’ve now been back in Tennessee for two years and yet our friendships made during our seven years in Ohio have proven my theory that when a friendship is made it’s for life.

Last week one of those friends, Lisa, texted me saying she wanted to visit soon. I was working on homeschool stuff and sitting in front of my planner. It was a Thursday and Corey was working through the weekend. “What about this weekend?” I replied.

The following day she and her three kids pulled into our driveway and the following day, after a very lazy morning spent over coffee and avocado toast, we headed to the mountains for the day to swim in the cold mountain water, eat the best ice cream in all the land and hang out of the sunroof in search of bears. (We saw one!)

There are two types of people in this world: The “Here I am!” types and the “There you are!” types. Lisa is a "There you are!" friend. She always leaves me feeling refreshed when our time together is over.

Being with her this past weekend reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from the book Bittersweet:

Share your life with the people you love, even if it means saving up for a ticket and going without a few things for a while to make it work. If you let the routine steamroll your life, you’ll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends. You’ll wonder why all you share is Christmas cards, and why life feels bone-dry. We were made to live connected and close. You can try to go it alone because you don’t have time or because your house is too messy to have people over, or because making new friends is like the worst part of dating. But halfway through a hard day or a hard week, you’ll realize in a flash that you’re breathtaking lonely, and that the Christmas cards aren’t much company. So walk across the street, or drive across town, or fly across the country, but don’t let really intimate loving friendships become the last item on a long to-do list.
— Shauna Niequest

It never (ever ever) seems convenient to travel to keep connections strong with the people I love, but when I greet a Monday morning tired from a weekend spent opening my home to friends or driving far away to share air with someone I love I never regret it (ever ever).

Showing up and leaning in.

There's something that happens when two people experience a tragedy together. When both hearts are shattered into a million little pieces and the world no longer looks as it once did before.

As I get older and I experience peripherally what happens to couples when tragedy hits my respect and appreciation for my mom and dad deepens. 

When their third child and last -- due to complications and a mandatory hysterectomy -- breathed his last tragedy arrived unannounced and uninvited. All that was left behind was me and my older sister, an empty crib, shattered hearts that had to be pieced back together and an option to do it together or separate.

I now know that choosing to stay together as they both battled grief in their own unique ways is not something that is common. Yet they did. Every day they showed up and leaned in.

Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in.

For us girls, yes, but for each other as well. No longer showing up for each other was very possibly something that looked like the easy way out many days, but ultimately wasn't a road they chose to take. My parents never have been the type to take the easy way out.

I would choose infertility over losing a child every day, but regardless my own walk with grief has left me doing the only thing I have been shown to do: Show up and lean in. 

Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in. Show up and lean in.

I often wonder if it's my parents' combined personality types or the way their younger parenting years were marked by death that led them to raise us with such freedom. When I was growing up the outdoors were for exploring barefoot, beds were made for jumping on and washing your hands before grabbing a handful of grapes on your way back outside was optional. We lived with dogs and birds and a duck. I could successfully beat grown men at shooting pool when I was just ten years old. When we drove to our lodge in Western North Carolina my sister and I would "sit" in the back of dad's truck on a mattress. (It's a two and a half hour drive.) I learned young what the true feeling of adventure feels like - like your upper stomach is doing a somersault. It's my most favorite feeling ever and one that I consistently seek for myself and my girls still to this day.

I was raised believing that life was made for letting loose, seeking out reasons to laugh from the gut and exploring anything new.

Every day I continue this quest. If we're not actively on our way to our next adventure you can bet I'm daydreaming of one.

And for this reason I am most happy we returned to East Tennessee where the Smokies are a peaceful 45-minute drive away. Without planning I can clean up breakfast and decide on a whim that the mountains are calling. I throw loads of food in a cooler, grab bathing suits and towels and tell the girls we're heading to the mountains.

We always first find water and seek out fish and crawdads, bees and butterflies and river otters. We head to the campsite's shop for the best ice cream ever made (it's far more about the nostalgia than the taste, but still...) and then explore Cade's Cove seatbelt'less with arms and heads out the windows. We touch and we smell and we see different things every time we go.

Cell reception is lost upon arrival and perspective always regained.

I guess in a lot of ways our lives as a family of four has been branded by grief as well. With both of their births goodbyes were necessary and far more tears were shed in the beginning than smiles.

But I've learned that grief has this really wild way of changing people. I know for everyone it's a bit different, but for me the girls' births brought my life full-circle in a lot of ways. Life lost. Life gained. And the proof that we are but mortals with one, precious and wild life. 

Maybe it's my innate personality, maybe it's the mark my brother left on my life, maybe it's the way I was raised or maybe it's all of the above. There are all sorts of things I don't know, but what I do know is that this Earth is painfully beautiful and deserving of being noticed. Cold water felt, bees noticed, wind appreciated, sunroofs used for gaining a better view, and afternoons made for napping after tiring mornings spent exploring. Showing up and leaning in. Together.

Because God sees.

I heard a story this week of a man who went to visit a cathedral that was being built. He stopped to watch one of the workers who was meticulously carving a bird into a beam that would eventually be covered up by stone roofing. The man asked the worker why he was giving so much of his attention to something no one would see. The carver, without even looking up from his work, replied, "Because God sees."

Weekend at Bernie's and Jesus

I’ve officially decided that I’ve made writing feel like the most impossible task in all the world. Because there’s just too much to write about and when that rare spark hits me and I’m moved to write – in a way that is fueled by clarity and focus – I only have a very short window to get it all out before the kids are up or my brain is too fried from the day. They’re here and they’re young and as much of me that wants long days of quiet to write to my heart’s content I want just as much to be with them in all their loudness and learning. It’s hard to find a balance when you love two competing things -- quiet and chaos. The quiet fills my bucket, but the chaos is significantly more fun. We surpassed our one-year anniversary to our move home to Tennessee this past June. Which means it was just last summer that I never let the girls out of my sight for more than a few minutes to ensure they weren’t doing something that was dangerous or destructive. They still push the envelope every single day, but now – like right this very second as I write this – they can play together upstairs in their bedroom. It is being trashed, I’m sure, and the house is vibrating from their running and jumping, but still… I’m sitting in the living room all by myself while both of my kids are awake and I’m not worried at all that they may die.* This is huge.

We have a list of running jokes about all the ways Corey and I are different. He’s math and science and I’m arts and crafts. He’s data and research and I’m feelings. Lots of complex feelings.

When we were newly married and way less sophisticated we had this joke that if one of us was talking about something the other person didn’t care about (like science to me or art to him) the listener would just go to sleep, looking like Bernie from “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Nowadays, we’re way more mature so we don’t do that anymore. Instead, we only use “Bernie” when signing off on notes to each other and if you’re ever with him and there’s an emergency, call “Bernie” in his phone. You’ll reach me.

After my last post he texted me the following day from work and said, “I read your blog. I wish I understood more of what you go through and feel—it makes me feel like a robot.” And then added this GIF of two robots – one with a heart on its chest filled in with color and the other one with his heart empty of color. The empty hearted robot puts his hand on the girl robot and half of the color drains from her heart while his fills up half way. And then they start fighting unseen bad guys. It is quite possibly the greatest GIF I have ever seen because of its accuracy. I replied, “you’re my favorite robot.”

I’m sure there’s some fancy psychology research report on why it is that us humans tend to fall in love with people who are quite different than ourselves. My one and only theory is that what we lack we look for. And also intrigue… because what intrigues us excites us and what’s different to us intrigues us. And intrigue is fun and exciting. Until, of course, it becomes ordinary. Then you hit a rough patch and you either call it quits or you forge ahead. For us, we forged ahead and I think it’s past the bump-in-the-road-called-ordinary that you truly find extraordinary.

I’ve been writing a lot more in the last few weeks. I’ve got some good stuff to say, but I can’t figure out how to not sound quite so whiny.

A few days ago a girl I haven’t talked to in over a decade sent me a message through Facebook asking me to fill her in on my life because through my pictures it looks so diverse, fun and inspiring. I replied with this: "Wellllll… you have to find it hard to be home and have an insatiable appetite for all things new and open air." I should have also added that I have to work hard to feel happy and non-anxious and being outside in new places is one of the most straightforward ways I know to find it.

My sister and I got in a conversation the other day about women who have affairs. She can’t wrap her mind around how anyone who’s married with kids could possibly find the time. I told her I think that some people wake up to a life that’s the American Dream realized and every day feels a little like groundhog day and they forget that living an adventurous life takes work and so they accidentally fall into adventures that they didn’t mean to. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but for some people I believe it is. “It’s important you know your shortcomings,” I told her. “I mean I know there’s a lot about myself I’m still learning, but one thing I know for sure is that I’m always on the verge of crazy.” She laughed because she’s not literal like my husband. When I told him about our conversation that night he said, “do you really think you’re going crazy!?” He’s a doctor. He was picturing bi-polar or schizophrenia. Different, remember. We’re so very different.

Since we’re on the topic of medical conditions, earlier today I Googled “do I need an anti-depressant quiz.” If you’re curious to know of the results I scored a 35-52 which equaled yes, you absolutely do.

I told my girlfriends about this discovery tonight over dinner and wine and they said, “What!? You don’t look very depressed!” If any of us learn anything out of this ridiculous rant of a blog post let us learn that some of the most put together people parading through life are the most in need of help. That girl over there with her perfectly dressed self and kids and manicured nails and curled hair with a smile across her face? She’s at her lowest point. Be kind to her.

Listen, I’ve experienced being situationally depressed (new city in the winter with no friends and a husband that worked all the time and a sad sad case of unexplained infertility) so I know what it feels like to feel completely unable to get out of bed until well past lunchtime. And, I know what it feels like to have to muster up all the energy I had to smile at the girl that bagged my groceries at Kroger. I went home and unloaded said groceries and then laid down on the couch out of sheer exhaustion. I had to make eye contact and smile. More than once.

In high school I struggled with motivation and healthy sleep patterns and anxiety and low energy and being overweight and then I left for college and all of the above went with me. One day I had the same conversation I had had with my mother a hundred times before except for this time it made her wonder if we should talk to my OB about all the above things. And, so we did and he suggested I go on a low dose of Prozac and to sum up a very long story it changed my life entirely. The following year everything felt easier and I slept better and I lost nearly twenty pounds.

In short, I am a big big fan of anti-depressants.

If you need them, of course. Which I don’t believe any of us want to go on anti-depressants if we don’t think we need them. But, I really do think that people who are able to say out loud, “I think I need some help” are some of the bravest people in all the world.

The idea of being done with the baby stage has me torn right up the middle. (Time out: Remember how I said in paragraph #1 that I find it impossible to write these days because of my lack of big blocks of quiet time? These choppy rants are how I think I will write now because they’re the only way I can make it work. I hope you don’t judge me too much. I’m not on anything. Yet.) Because other people’s babies terrify me, but I LOVED having babies of my own. I was made to be an attachment parent, carrying them 75% of the day and sleeping right next to them at night. But, the lack of sleep and the crying and the spit-up and the being stuck at home for naps part is not a stage I miss. And, we’re leaving for Iceland next week for our family vacation and the girls are old enough to really enjoy it. But, there’s a baby missing from our family. A boy. I can practically see him. But, I’m obnoxiously unable to get pregnant. Like it just doesn’t happen. Ever.

Last week, I had an exceptionally emotional week about it all and one night after Corey and the girls were sleeping I felt so inside my head that I felt like I was going to explode. So, I wrote this super long, dramatic letter to my girlfriend living on the complete other side of the country. Here’s an excerpt for you:

"What a funny stage of life this is… the one where what I wanted when playing MASH in middle school is right here in real life sharing the same roof as me. Yet, I still find myself feeling so conflicted. Because I believe the Lord has more in store for me. And, one might say, 'well pray and journal and find scriptural confirmation and seek what it is He has in store for you,' but I find that impossible to do. So, instead I flounder and I look at everyone else and I write and study other people’s reactions and I drink too much and I stay up too late and I sleep in too long and I over-think pretty much everything and I feel way too much for pretty much everything. In a nutshell, I’ve pretty much grown into a narcissistic, emotional asshole.

Part of it is because infertility has made me slightly crazy. Unexplained infertility, mind you. The type where when you go – even 5 years after your last visit – you are told, yet again, that all of your $1,000 worth of blood work shows that you are perfectly healthy. So, you know what that means: more book reading and temperature taking and vitamins and acupuncturist and the newest, chiropractics. But, in the back of my mind constantly (constantly!) is this: where is Jesus in all of this?! Because I don’t believe that Jesus is formulaic. And, I don’t believe that Jesus has made us unable to conceive because he was waiting on us to hear that ONE podcast that wasn’t set to air until April 2015. I just can’t believe that any one thing is going to fix the problem."

That, mind you, was just a very small bit of a very long rant. And, I can tell you that it felt incredibly therapeutic to write that out to someone whom I trust deeply. To someone whom I know will get it and resonate with it and not judge me for any one thing and reply with understanding and hope. I think everyone needs someone like that in their life. Actually, I think everyone has that person in their life, they just have to be brave enough to be naked in front of them.

An excerpt from her reply which she addressed “To my favorite Narcissistic Emotional Asshole:”

"I had a moment of clarity the other day (like literally the first moment I've had like that in a couple years) where I was able to de-clutter my mind for just a few minutes, and it struck me how truly flaky EVERYTHING in this world is except for Jesus. Like even when I have a pretty good hold on reality (kids taking a sh#* on the carpet in the living room, two screaming babies, a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, 8 loads of laundry piled on the floor, etc.) even my reality is warped by a lack of clarity that comes from living in a sinful fallen world (and being the sinner I am). And man--as if Jesus wasn't refreshing enough in and of himself, when you put him up against the "reality" of this world, ahhhhhhhhh. It made me thirsty for him. Wonderful, perfect and true him. And lucky me.

I hear you saying you aren’t finding fulfillment in him and I’m right there with you. So I’m tempted to give you (and me) what we want and say something like “To be honest, most days, the bible is just too damn boring. And I have like a 30-second attention span, and there are no pictures” (truth). But we have to go somewhere from there. We can’t let ourselves off the hook that easily. We have to do something with the cross. Everything we feel or do or say or know relates back to the cross, and we have to keep taking this life up the ass to find that (Jesus hanging lifeless and bloodied, as you said awhile back in reference to my beer-in-the-teepee rant) in everything. Otherwise we’re just like everybody else. And we’ll never be satisfied. So here’s what I’ve been doing lately: envisioning Jesus’ arms held out in front of him like a cradle. And I crawl up into them and nuzzle my face against his broad chest and let him squeeze me tightly and listen to his lungs breathing air in and out and he runs his fingers through my hair and says to me “you are my beloved, woman. You are that because I made you, and not because of anything you can make or do in your life. You are beloved because of me, not because of you. You have nothing to offer me but your broken body and still I ask for it. If you will sit here with me like this always, I will be glorified by my enjoyment of you. You cannot be glorified until you are with me in heaven, so for now the closest you can get to that, the most genuine act you can perform (for all else you try to do is "filthy rags" to me), is this. Be still and know that I am God.

And half the time I can’t get to that point, but sometimes, I do. And he is warm, and beautiful, and strong, and he wants ME. I’m like that dorky band girl with glasses and he’s the star athlete and he looks into the crowd and points at me and says “I choose you. You’re the one I want.” 

I think one of the very smartest and conniving things Satan does is make us believe that we are alone in our struggles. Because there’s nothing more dangerous than believing that what we’re experiencing no one else will understand. Or even worse is experiencing fear or pain or heartache that we believe is so embarrassing because we shouldn’t have let ourselves get there in the first place that we make sure we never let anyone know.

I told my girlfriend while out on the lake last week that this world is overwhelming beautiful (“I mean look at this night… this weather… this water… it’s all so sacred.”), yet this world is overwhelmingly hard. And, we should never ever let ourselves believe that our pain is something no one else will understand. Doing so robs those around us the chance to say, “Yes… yes… me, too.”

So, I’m happy to announce that I think I’ve found a new way of writing. It will be in the form of super choppy, super tangled posts that are far more in a “dear diary” style than a typical blog post style. (as if this blog is even remotely typical – ha!)

Signing off with love…vulnerability and nakedness and so much love...

xoxo,

jc

*p.s. about half way through this post Charley came out of her room to tell me that Lola was “pouring water into the nightlight.” The nightlight is plugged into the wall. The nightlight was soaked with water and incredibly hot and the room smelled of smoke. I take back the line that I no longer have to worry that they’re going to kill themselves. In the future you can assume that all posts were written with my children duct taped to their beds. It's the only way, people.

My Time Interrupted

It’s after one in the morning and my favorite part of the movie has made its way to the room. I turn the sound up because the scene is only magnified by the emotionally inducing orchestrated music. She didn’t eat much for dinner so she’s sitting next to me with a bowl of sliced apples between her legs and her head resting on my arm. My girl. Half of the whole that leaves me feeling some days like I’m trapped and other days like I’m living my greatest adventure.

After my favorite scene she says, “again, again.” I laugh and text my girlfriend whose favorite movie is also Great Expectations and recount the scene. She writes back fully appreciating the moment.

This little thing is sitting next to me, sipping on a Cran-Raspberry Le Croix and repeatedly saying, “Mama, coke, coke.”

She gets up to get a book and asks me to read “Peak a Who” over and over while my movie finishes. Is she real? Sometimes I have to ask myself that.

I’ve learned that when you experience grief at the depth that you can’t get a full breath you never forget what it feels like. It changes you at your core. Grief changes us, that’s no doubt. And I know that sometimes it’s not for the better. But in my case it was.

I lean over and kiss her right where the corner of her eye meets her temple and she leans back. This is rarely the case, but tonight I’m so happy she woke up wanting me. She has reminded me yet again that God knows exactly what he’s doing.

The "small" secret we've been keeping ...

untitled-1

our entire lives changed in April when we got the call from the agency that a birth mom wanted to meet us. It was in that moment that I knew this story was meant to be ours. Two and a half months later we finally welcomed our baby girl into the world (this past Thursday, July 15th @ 6:15 pm). 6 lbs, 11 ounces and 19.5 inches long she is the most perfect little baby we have ever laid our eyes on. She has opened doors in our heart and filled our lives with more love than we thought possible.

Her name is Charlotte and we are calling her "Charley" for short.

Lots more photos and stories to share very soon. For now, we're just enjoying her every breath ....

xoxoxoxoxoxoxo!

jc

p.s. Business is on hold indefinitely.