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Stripping the Altar

Stripping the Altar

Last year, I wrote this piece during Holy Week after attending a Maundy Thursday service. It was a hard week for me, filled with a lot of emotional turmoil. In an effort to find community, I went to a church service hosted by a friend, bringing a chocolate cream pie which met a tragic end all over the interior of my car.

This year, I’ve prepared for the season by spending some time with the resurrection story and writing meditations which paired with Alicia Heater’s lovely art. I’ve realized that my sorrow, my wondering, my anxiety are all very much at home in Holy Week and the Easter season.

I’ve spoken to many people who are struggling with Easter this year. Certainly we are Easter people, and we celebrate the resurrection. But being Easter people, I’m realizing, is about more than just celebrating, it is about long, dark nights wondering what will happen. It is about the morning which rises with the knowledge that everything we’ve hoped for has been snatched from us. It is about huddling in a locked room in fear, sharing in grief. It is about not recognizing the one we love, standing right in front of us.

If any of this sounds like your Holy Week, I hope you’ll find a home in these words.

:::

I went to church last night, for the first time since Advent. We have a cathedral in my town, which sits high on a hill. Those who built it wanted the highest point of the city to be the spire of a church.

It is a respectable cathedral, cold and weighty.

My liturgy is rusty, it’s been so long since I’ve flipped the pages of the prayer book, and I stumble over the words.

Sometimes, I am just silent.

:::

This year, Holy Week is the bearer of news of transition. I respond to transition, usually, with exuberance or weeping. Sometimes, both.

I can’t stop the tears as they fall during the reading of the Old Testament passage. The reader tells us the commandment of the Lord, that a family which is too small to have a lamb on their own should join with a close neighbor.

I am that small family. But I don’t know who I would turn to, as a close neighbor.

:::

The time for the Eucharist draws near. This church has a high altar and a long aisle to walk before I come to kneel. I am conscious of every footfall, and of every bride who has walked this same path.

I kneel at the rail, hands outstretched, and the priest presses Jesus’ Body into them. I catch the faintest scent of lavender. I sip the wine, practicing that delicate dance between overflowing and not getting any.

:::

I wanted the service to be healing, a cup of cool water turning slowly into wine. I wanted the heaviness of the cathedral to steady my nerves. I wanted to be able to breathe deeply under high ceilings.

Outside, the rain poured. I could hear the sound, light on the roof.

It’s been wet here, lately.

There is no miraculous formula for healing. There is nothing that cures the pain, or removes the sting all at once.

:::

I watch the altar guild remove all of the trappings, the candlesticks and the cloths. They are stripping the altar, getting ready to mourn all day on Good Friday.

I feel guilty that my tears are not falling because I am struck by how much Jesus loves me, but because I feel like that altar, wondering why she’s being stripped. I feel like Martha, huddled with her sister Mary, watching her brother die and wondering why Jesus hasn’t come in response to her cries for help.

Martha knew about resurrection, but she didn’t know what it would look like. She still wept out of her broken heart.

I am right there with her, today.


{photo credit}

Sharelines:

My liturgy is rusty, it’s been so long since I’ve flipped the pages of the prayer book, and I stumble over the words.

"I feel like Martha, huddled with her sister Mary, watching her brother die"

"There is no miraculous formula for healing. There is nothing that cures the pain, or removes the sting all at once."

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25

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de(tales): incense

Emily is one of my real life friends. We connected when I was just beginning to ask questions about women in leadership. I knew that she was using her pastoral gifts. It’s been a joy to walk beside her in this journey. 

de(tales): incense

It was the smell of incense, strong and overpowering, that without warning transported me to another time and place.

Suddenly, I am back in a crowded Catholic church in Guatemala. The exact location of this particular church escapes me. A haze of smoky, sweet incense clouds my memory. Icons all around and bright, colorful feathers decorate the inside of the church.

Seven years ago, I was only a week or two into four months of study in Central America. This semester would become one of the most intensely painful, beautiful, and formative experiences of my life. Over the course of that semester, I would have the pleasure of visiting countless Catholic churches throughout the region, and yet this one stands out in my mind.

Central America’s history is one marred by colonization, power grabs, and extreme violence. This particular church is colonization’s prototype: make the people succumb to your control through religious jargon and the desecration of their holy sites. Built atop an indigenous altar, the construction of this church literally destroyed the indigenous peoples’ ability to worship in the ways of their tradition.

What, then, would the indigenous people do? Sneak the forms of their worship into the church, one feather at a time, slowly reclaiming their sacred place. Today, this church is a portrait of syncretism, the place where two cultures, two ways of worship, collide. And it is all the more beautiful and rich because of this painful collision.

I still struggle to identify why this particular memory is so visceral. Why is this smell so powerful, so deeply ingrained upon my memory? Perhaps it has something to do with the painful collision that that semester would prove to be in my own life.

Although at the time I could never know or recognize it, that church was a symbol of hope. I was just embarking on what would be an extremely raw, painful journey. This church stood as a witness to the beauty that can emerge from pain and struggle. And though it would take me years to fully see it, this is Central America’s heritage: new hope, new life and beauty rising up out of the ashes of destruction, over and over again.

In many ways, that semester would destroy me. Emotionally, physically, spiritually. But before I really even began the journey, I was gifted this beacon of hope, a testament to the strength of the Central American people. Although it was, and continues to be, a long process of seeking restoration and wholeness, like that church, I trust and hope that I am emerging from it better than before.

[This piece is dedicated to all alumni of Whitworth University’s Central America Study Program, particularly the CASPers of 2008.]


headshot 3Emily Dufault is a pastor, candle maker, and novice swing dancer. She left Whitworth University in 2010 with bachelor’s degrees in Peace Studies & Cross Cultural Studies, but has since returned for graduate studies in Theology. Currently serving at The Porch in West Central, Spokane, she spends what free time she has walking the Centennial Trail, enjoying the beauty of the Spokane Falls.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.


 

There’s still time to order my Easter art and meditation calendar. It’s a 50 print set of cards with words by me, and art by Alicia Heater of Slightly Stationary. It’s beautiful, and meant to draw you into a meaningful Easter season. I’d be honored to have you purchase it, for yourself or for a gift. International shipping is now available. Thursday is the last day to get the special pre-order price, on Friday it goes up, so if you’ve been waiting, this is your time.

Pre-order here.

{photo credit}

Sharelines:

"Although at the time I could never know or recognize it, that church was a symbol of hope."

A new de(tale) about incense and how the past creeps in.

"Why is this smell so powerful, so deeply ingrained upon my memory?"

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18

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de(tales): mask

Kimberly and I met in an online writing community. It’s been a delight to get to know her across the distance. As a woman who has worn a few masks in my day (and is learning to walk in my life barefaced) I appreciated this story of Kimberly and her daughter. 

Enjoy, friends. 

de(tales): mask

They filled storefront windows down each canal and street. Most were cheap copies, a garish rainbow of colors with fake feathers dyed to match. The outdoor carts strung them along lengths of ribbon, and each time we passed the masks, my daughter snuck behind them and tried one on.

“What do you think of this one, Mommy?” She said. “Which one is the prettiest?” Glitter rubbed off and clung to her face. I tried to explain the masks were just a tourist trap, an ugly blight on the authentic face of this floating city.

She wanted to spend her pocket money, and I convinced her to wait until we visited a real shop—one where the proprietor had mastered the craft of mask-making. We wandered and discovered one just off the main tourist path, tucked away in a quiet corner of Venice.

She couldn’t afford anything in the place, but I wanted her to see the contrast, to touch and feel a mask of superior quality. I wanted her to run her fingers along the ribbons and the seams, to learn the difference between a knock-off and a work of great artistry and beauty.

She was seven, and she liked bubble gum pink and she liked glitter. The more, the better.

She walked around the shop and found a mirror. Holding the masks carefully up to her face, she posed this way and that. Her eyes stood out, the only part of her face that looked familiar. I can see her now, big brown eyes hiding behind papier maché and a painted face.

As she put on mask after mask, I imagined her ten years older. I thought of her as an almost-woman, and how the world will teach her to hide, to never show a true face. The world will tell her to master the art of the masquerade, and I fear this so much, I want to rip the masks from her hands and show her the beauty of an open, uncovered face.

Other people will try to become the mirror in which she sees herself. They will try to tell her who she is, and give her masks of every shape and color to try on. But I, I want to be her true mirror, the one she gazes into and in doing so, recognizes her authentic self. Where she sees herself as anything but false. Where masks hold no purpose, but to use as decoration on a wall.

She never bought one. Despite all the trying on, she decided to purchase a tiny ceramic mask painted in shades of blue. It fits perfectly in the palm of her hand, and now sits on a shelf in her bedroom next to photos of herself, smiling, barefaced, true.


Kimberly CoyleKimberly Coyle is a writer, mother, and gypsy at heart. She tells stories of everyday life while raising a family and her faith at her blog, kimberlyanncoyle.com. She writes from the suburbs of New Jersey, where she is learning how to put down roots that stretch further than the nearest airport. Connect with her on Twitter @KimberlyACoyle

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

There’s still time to order my Easter art and meditation calendar. It’s a 50 print set of cards with words by me, and art by Alicia Heater of Slightly Stationary. It’s beautiful, and meant to draw you into a meaningful Easter season. I’d be honored to have you purchase it, for yourself or for a gift. International shipping is now available.

Pre-order here.

Sharelines:

"As she put on mask after mask, I imagined her ten years older." - @KimberlyACoyle

"Most were cheap copies, a garish rainbow of colors with fake feathers dyed to match." - @KimberlyACoyle

"I can see her now, big brown eyes hiding behind papier maché and a painted face. " - @KimberlyACoyle

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16

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Biblical Baggage

Biblical Baggage

Yesterday morning, I pulled my pastor aside during coffee hour and asked to borrow a Bible.

It felt a little strange as I did it. I own several Bibles, one in particular has my name engraved on it in gold. I don’t truly need to borrow one of the church loaner copies.

But since Heather Caliri wrote her de(tale) about her baggage with her Bible, I’ve been thinking about my own. My green bonded leather Bible, the one with my name on it, sits on my bookcase. I don’t open it much. Most of the time, I read the Bible at church, or look up what I need on my computer. It’s taken me a while to understand why that is.

Just today, during that same coffee hour, I was talking to a friend and Biblical scholar about writing in the Bible. “I don’t write in books,” she said. “But I can understand the idea. The Bible is passed from person to person. It’s like reading in community.”

“Yes,” I said. “And when I open my Bible, I’m face to face with my sixteen-year-old self.”

“That wouldn’t be my preference,” she said, smiling.

When I got home, I took my Bible off the bookshelf. On a quick flip-through, I see several colors of highlighter. There is underlining, sometimes at the same places as the highlighting. There are notes written in my girlish handwriting. They say things like: “I want to be like that” and “depression is not too strong for God!” and “our society!” I want to take myself into my arms as I read: “shame can be useful.” I am reading in community with my younger self, but I don’t want to. I don’t want my past distracting me as I read this heartbreakingly beautiful, complicated, confusing book. There is already enough to do, and to have done.

My pastor hands me a copy of the New Revised Standard Version. I am not just choosing it because it’s what we read from in our lectionary, but because I like the way it only uses gendered pronouns when expressly needed. I don’t have to look as hard to find myself in those verses which used to reference “mankind.”

I want to walk into the Bible without the glasses of my youth group self. I want to develop a new relationship with scripture, one with less colors and exclamation points. This note-free Bible seems like a good way to begin.


You can order my collaborative Easter art calendar now. It’s a 50 print set of cards with words by me, and art by Alicia Heater of Slightly Stationary. It’s a bit of a devotional (but hopefully unlike ones you’ve used before). It’s beautiful, and meant to draw you into a meaningful Easter season. I’d be honored to have you purchase it, for yourself or for a gift. International shipping is now available.

Pre-order here.

Sharelines:

"I want to walk into the Bible without the glasses of my youth group self." - @littledidcknow

"I don’t have to look as hard to find myself in those verses which used to reference “mankind.” - @littledidcknow

"when I open my Bible, I’m face to face with my sixteen-year-old self." - @littledidcknow

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13

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On Settling In

On Settling In

Just as I walk in the door at the Temple, where I work, there is a whiteboard with an orderly row of magnets to represent the people who work there. The idea is that each person moves their magnet to the “in” position when they arrive, and to the “out” position when they leave.

This seemed like a simple thing when my colleague explained it to me as part of my orientation. I wrote it down in my ever-present notebook, along with a list of other things I needed to remember, such as the location of the copy machine.

The next morning, I went to work and slid in through the front door, walking past the white board without a second thought. I didn’t think of it again until I went out to do an errand. It seemed too late at that point. I reminded myself to move my magnet on the way back in. But I didn’t.

This went on for a while. My notebook grew full, as did my calendar and my inbox. Slowly, I began to lean into the curves of a new job. My magnet remained (mostly) in the “out” position.

A couple of weeks ago, entered the front doors and remembered to move myself to “in.” I walked upstairs and announced this fact to my colleague. While he was glad to hear it (if perhaps puzzled by my excitement), it didn’t mean to him what it did to me: I was settling in.

Since then, I haven’t missed a day moving my magnet from “out” to “in” and back. I don’t think about the movement, it’s second nature. I am not quite so new. I’m settling in.


There’s still time to order my Easter art and meditation calendar. It’s a 50 print set of cards with words by me, and art by Alicia Heater of Slightly Stationary. It’s beautiful, and meant to draw you into a meaningful Easter season. I’d be honored to have you purchase it, for yourself or for a gift. International shipping is now available.

Pre-order here.

Sharelines:

A few words about settling in.

"I am not quite so new. I’m settling in."

Thoughts on the process of going from not belonging, to belonging.

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11

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de(tales): green sweatshirt

Khristi is a fellow contributor over at The Junia Project, and a supportive and encouraging friend over the internet. I love stories which throw something or someone into sharp relief, and this de(tale) does just that. 

Enjoy, friends. 

de(tales): green sweatshirt

The first thing I noticed when the elevator doors opened was just how gray and bland everything looked. Walking over to the waiting room, where everyone was sitting, all I saw were sad and somber faces.

Their clothes? Perhaps they had color. My memory, however, says they were gray. When I walked into the hospital room, I saw my god-brother lying there underneath white sheets with a pale face. It was so hard for my mind process exactly what was happening. I wanted to have more faith.

“More Faith,” that idea which suggests that if you are somehow able to obtain it, the situation would change.

But I just couldn’t seem to tap into it. I couldn’t seem to get “more faith.” What I could tap into however was my connection and friendship with my god-brother’s wife who was also one of my best friends. If nothing else, I could be there for her. I shadowed her, sat with her, cried with her, and watched as people surround her with the love that they knew would fall short of exactly what it was that she needed: her husband. There was a moment where she could barely breathe without him. She literally hyperventilated. We were all merely fillers to stand in those gaps, helping her to breathe while we waited for something to happen, for what we knew was going to happen.

A pastor gathered us all around to take communion. If I can recall, there were about 50 of us all in one tiny space. A sea of gray faces and bland clothing to match the white walls that were around us. It was at that moment that a tall man walked in wearing a bright green sweatshirt with yellow writing, and a matching baseball cap.

“Who’s that?” I asked my god-brother’s wife.

She was able to respond, even in her grief. “That’s Alex Pineda, Carolyn’s husband,” she said, looking up.

Carolyn had passed away six months prior, after a long illness. Alex was doing more than coming to pay his respects, he was coming to do something that a good majority of the people in that room would be unable to achieve for my friend. He was coming to be a true source understanding because he had gone through something similar.

Alex and his green sweatshirt did not stay long. I didn’t expect him to. But the time he was there was very important. He was calm for all of us. I watched him interact very minimally with my friend, I watched him walk into the hospital room and share a quiet moment with my god-brother, and then I watched him and his green sweatshirt leave. When my god-brother finally passed away that evening, it was quiet and it was dark. There were no colors. For his funeral we all wore white. Alex was there in the back, no green sweater this time, but I remembered him very vividly.

Fast forward seven years.

My god-brother’s wife is now re-married to the man in the green sweatshirt. Whenever I’m over at their house visiting, every now and then he wears that green sweatshirt and I smile. It brings back all of those bittersweet memories: bitter ones because I miss my god-brother, and sweet ones because that bitter moment brought this wonderful man into our lives. I wish that I had time to share their new journey with you, but instead I wanted to give you an idea of where it all began. Death looming, a hospital, white walls, broken hearts, and a man in a green sweatshirt walking into the midst of a colorless situation. Little did we know would soon bring color to us all.


Khristi AdamsKhristi Adams is an Author, Pastor, Youth Advocate & Filmmaker currently residing in Washington, DC.. She is the author of the book The Misinterpreted Gospel of Singleness: a cultural critique of myths surrounding singleness in the Christian community. Connect with her on Twitter, here.

You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

 

 


There’s still time to order my Easter art and meditation calendar. It’s a 50 print set of cards with words by me, and art by Alicia Heater of Slightly Stationary. It’s beautiful, and meant to draw you into a meaningful Easter season. I’d be honored to have you purchase it, for yourself or for a gift.

Pre-order here.

{photo credit}

Sharelines:

A bittersweet de(tale) from @KhristiLauren about endings and beginnings.

The lovely @KhristiLauren writes about a spot of green in the midst of gray.

A spring de(tale) about death, and regeneration.

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Something Special For Easter

I’ve been sitting on my hands for a while, waiting to share something exciting with you all. Finally, the time is here.

Over Advent I tried out a new calendar made up of daily prints. I fell in love with the ritual of taking out each one, hanging it on a string with little clothespins, counting down the days until Christmas. After Advent was over, I didn’t want to stop.

An idea began percolating, and I reached out to Alicia Heater, of Slightly Stationary. Together we began to cook up a calendar which would combine her lovely illustrations with my short meditations for the season of Easter.

I got lost in Easter as Epiphany turned to Lent, writing small thoughts intended to guide the reader into a thoughtful, joyous Easter season (and Alicia has done the same with her art).

There are 50 cards, spanning the days from Easter to Pentecost (in no particular order). You can string them up like I did, or flip them like a deck of cards with your morning cup of something warm.

I am delighted to share this collection of work with you, and to give you the opportunity to pre-order it now. You’ll receive it in time for Easter, (as will anyone you might want to give it to as a gift).

I’m a little nervous about this, honestly. I’m holding this offering in my hands, hoping that you’ll want to take it into your home, heart, and season of Easter. You always meet me halfway, friends. Thank you for being along on this journey.

eastermeditations-3

Sharelines:

Celebrate the season of Easter with @littledidcknow and @aliciaheat

Pre-order this devotional Easter calendar from @littledidcknow and @aliciaheat

Meditations from @littledidcknow and artwork from @aliciaheat, what could be better?

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de(tales): lucky charms

Tania Runyan is a lovely poet. I met her through mutual internet friends, and in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I have come to know her better online since, and so enjoy her humor and wit. 

I hope you’ll enjoy this winsome, lucky story. 

de(tales): lucky charms

During the summer of 1993, before my senior year of college, some friends and I took a mission trip to Appalachia. As other teams from our fellowship group prepared to travel to India and Russia, we identified ourselves as the gritty, “share the gospel in our own backyard” group, the ones who would shine the light of hope straight into the dirt-streaked faces of the hollers.

In truth, we were glorified counselors at a Christian camp for local kids. No, scratch that. We weren’t glorified at all.

The trip is a smudge of memory. Fitful nights on the Greyhound bus from California to Kentucky. Waiting for a pay phone late at night to talk to my fiancé. The sugary, headachy edge brought on by cases of donated Snapple. I don’t remember the names of any of the other counselors and kids, and I don’t remember a thing about the curriculum or activities aside from experiencing fireflies, humidity, and terrifying thunderstorms for the first time in my life.

The one real-time scene I remember, the one snapshot preserved from those sweltering, rolling hills? Sweaty, grubby Lucky Charms marshmallows stuck to the face of a child.

The boy in question (Joey?) caused trouble. I don’t remember what kind, but he wasn’t one of the “easy ones.” A shaved head and a sneer. If I knew about his background at all, I’ve forgotten it. I do know that most of the children attended camp for free, the coagulated meals the best nutrition they’d receive all summer. There was unemployment, alcohol, abuse. Some of the campers were acquiescent to their lot. Some were angry. Joey was one of the angry ones.

One afternoon I decided I’d better take some pictures so I had something to show my friends and fiancé when I returned to California.

“Why don’t you sit on that bench, Joey?”

He raised an eyebrow. “Why?”

“I want to remember you.”

“Ha-ell no.” Then: “Wait! Wait!” He scampered over to the bench while I advanced the film.

Joey pulled a bag of Lucky Charms out of his shorts pocket and began to pick out the marshmallows. He touched the tip of his tongue to each blue moon, green clover, orange star,   and pink heart and stuck them to his face. Soon, he glowed pastel. Marshmallows stuck to his forehead, chin, earlobes, and the crease between his nose and cheekbone.

I didn’t want to ruin one of Joey’s few sweet moments by asking questions, so I lifted the camera.

He tried to sneer but smiled with his eyes, pulling his knees up to his chest so that his big sneakers stuck out over the edge of the bench. For once he was at home with himself, in the center of my viewfinder, forging a positive identity with a face painted with sugar. Click.

For many years, whenever I remembered this picture of Joey, I did the math in my head. When I graduated with my masters, I envisioned a teenager with marshmallows on his hardening cheekbones. When the new millennium arrived, I thought of a young man smirking with blue diamonds on his stubbly face. When my child was born in 2003, he was twenty. Was he in school, working? Or was he, I hoped, sitting on a bench speckled with cereal dust? Eventually, this all became too difficult. I lost track, forgot the years, and just remembered him as forever a troubled boy brightened by a spontaneous moment.

Until writing this, that is. He’s 32 now, most likely with children of his own. I pray they are having an easier time of it, chasing after fireflies with bellies full of food.

Maybe I didn’t ignite  the world that summer but tore a small hole in a thundercloud to let in a little bit of light. Maybe I watched and listened just long enough to create a moment a boy would remember for the rest of his life: when he felt sweet, loved, and lucky.


Tania RunyanTania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky, A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her book How to Read a Poem, an instructional guide based on Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry,” was released in 2014. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Christian Century, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, Willow Springs, Nimrod, and the anthology A Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011.

(Find her on Twitter here).


You can check out the other de(tales) (so far) here.

{photo credit}

Sharelines:

A lucky de(tale) by @TaniaRunyan

"For once he was at home with himself...forging a positive identity with a face painted with sugar." @TaniaRunyan

A sweet new de(tale) about luck, cereal, and a moment in time.

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What I’m Into {a snapshot of February 2015}

What I'm Into February 2015

After months of telling you that it’s been difficult, and that I’m putting one foot in front of the other, it’s like a dam has burst. Everything is transitioning; not in the way that fall transitions to winter, but in the way winter transitions into spring.

These are the moments when ice melts and begins to run into the rivers. These are the moments when a Narnian witch has to leave her sledge behind and walk.

I know that there will be more snowy days ahead. The thaw made give weigh to another frost or two, before summer bursts forth.

But after many days of hoping in the darkness, I feel like I am finally stepping into a pool of light.

Reading

Reading

Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

I began reading this book last year during my trip to Luxembourg for my birthday. As sometimes happens with books that are begun, but not finished, on vacation, I allowed my time to be taken up with library books upon my return and allowed this book to sit on my shelf half read.

This month, in the rhythms of remembering my trip, I picked it up again and finished it. It is a book that reminds me that people travel for different reasons and in different ways. I enjoyed living vicariously through Alice on a trip that I would never want to take.

I cheered for her love story, as I am wont to do, and I sighed deeply at the end. Perhaps it is not the worst thing to take a year to read a book.

Watching

In my newly part-time life, I caught up with New Girl, The Big Bang Theory, and The Mindy Project.

I also watched season one of Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23, and am finding it cute, if silly.

Love abounds

Living

After a month of a restrictive diet, I slowly began to ease back into more normal eating in February. However, over the course of January, I picked up the habit of cooking every meal, simply because I had to. It’s certainly been nice not to need to prepare every meal myself, but it’s also become a rhythm, and I’m enjoying it.

After months of working full time, I had a short break where I wasn’t working. Friends came out of the woodwork to have coffee, lunch, and just catch up. I knew that there were things I wanted to do between jobs, but I didn’t realize how many of those things were relational. It’s been a month of reconnecting, building, and growing in relationships.

I began a new work adventure as the Assistant Director of our local Jewish Family Services. I’m still pinching myself that my job includes hearing stories and becoming friends with people in the Jewish community (as well as some paperwork). This part-time job is giving me the extra space I need for writing, relationships, and margin. It’s been an amazing transition.

January was spent going out on lots of first dates. February has been spent going out on second, third, fourth, and fifth dates. Although I’m still a little surprised by the series of events, I did meet someone lovely, and now we’re wading through the beginnings of a fledgling relationship.

Birthday daft

My birthday was on the 20th, and I spent it surrounded by good friends. It’s taken me a long time to be honest about the ways I truly want to celebrate. I’m better now about knowing what’s really important to me. It’s not what we eat, or drink, or what we do. It’s who I’m with. I felt spoiled by all the great people who went out of their way to celebrate, or to reach out if they couldn’t be there in person. Of course, I also didn’t limit my birthday celebration to one day (I am my father’s daughter. He likes to take the whole month). I had the opportunity to spend time with several groups of people, including my family, and soak up all the love.

Clicking

I only have one recommendation this month. This article reminded me so much of my youth, and all of what I’m unlearning, slowly, trying to sort the harmful from the good.

3 Things We Need To Stop Saying To Youth Group Kids by Addie Zierman

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Writing

I had posts in many places in February.

I wrote my story about Reclaiming Eve for Suzanne Burden as part of her series. It was scary, but the fruit of those realizations have begun to transform my year, and my life.

I wrote about dating, being myself and learning that I am a good idea that God had for the Junia Project.

I wrote about my complicated thoughts about weddings for You Are Here.

I told some of my church love story for Ed Cyzewski as part of his Denomination Derby series.

I wrote for Cara Meredith about one of my rituals, it’s a little outside the box.

I wrote a little about the resolutions that chose me in January for The Mudroom.

I shared stories from all the dates I went on in January at the request of Tim Fall.

It was an honor to curate The Single Perspective series this month. There were four entries, each including many different responses to a single question, all from unmarried people. The questions ranged from what types of experiences these individuals have had in church, to the things they would tell their married friends. I held each post tenderly in my hands before publishing. I have felt the weight of holding and presenting these words.

I reviewed Erin Lane’s wonderful book, Lessons in Belonging. I know that the year has scarcely started, but it’s already a favorite for best book of the year (and I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting it long after this year is over).

In the de(tales) series, I hosted Thom Caraway, writing about a lobster, Kristin Tennant wrote about her daughter’s red mary janes, Hope Lyda wrote about mystery, and a bit about our mysteriously beautiful friendship, and Laura Lynn Brown wrote about a father, a daughter, and a key chain.


Once again, I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer for What I’m Into (check out the rest over at her site).

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Here's what @littledidcknow is into in February

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Wednesday

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de(tales)
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de(tales): orange keychain

Laura Lynn Brown was introduced to me through a lovely essay she wrote about her mother, which still haunts me. Since then, we have connected through the internet, and I’m so looking forward to meeting her in person in the future. 

Her writing is always luminous, and stays with me long after I’ve finished reading the last line. This piece is no exception. Enjoy, friends. 

keychain

I didn’t have a car. I didn’t even have keys. I drove a gold single-speed Schwinn with coaster brakes and sparkly handlebar tassels. But I coveted a keychain at the local department store for two reasons: It was orange, and it had my name on it.

I can still see where it was in Harts Family Center, on a carousel atop a small square display island next to the glass bunker where they sold watches and jewelry. I never looked at the jewelry, but I passed it on my way to my second favorite department, sporting goods. (School supplies was first.)

I was probably nine when I led Dad to the keychains and showed it to him. He asked why I needed a keychain. I would have taken that as an invitation to persuade. Start with the obvious: I would need keys someday, and this one was perfect because it was my favorite color and said “Laura.” And if we waited, it might be gone. And it was only $1.29, or whatever the price was. Then I looked him in the eye and grinned a little.

He smiled the weakened smile of dads everywhere, sapped by the kryptonite of a daughter’s petition.

::

For my sixteenth birthday, Dad’s gift to me was in a small white cardboard box, the right size for a bracelet. Inside was a key fob, a heavy black disk with the Buick logo atop a larger, teardrop-shaped piece of thick red suede. Its ring held a key to the family Skylark.

We went to the Hartz parking lot for my first drive, early on a Saturday morning before the store opened. I was surprised at how easily the car rolled when I took my foot off the brake, how far it could go and how fast on flat ground without any gas at all. Dad was calm and anticipated my surprise.

Not long after I was driving on the streets, Dad had me drive up the alley behind our house and turn right on the road we simply called County Road. There was a blind curve, and a huge white pickup came around the corner at us. I over-corrected toward someone’s hedges; Dad grabbed the steering wheel and kept us on the road. He yelled at me, called me stupid.

We took that road all the way out to St. Clairsville, a country drive I normally enjoyed, but I was smarting from his anger, and repaying it with silence, looking straight ahead. We returned home on the highway. I slammed the screen door and stomped through the kitchen toward my room, muttering about Dad in answer to Mom’s “How was it?” moments before he came in muttering to her about me.

::

I passed the road portion of my first driving test, but flunked the maneuverability portion. It tested, in essence, the ability to parallel park, but in a strange way. I had to approach five traffic cones set up in the shape of an inverted house, drive around the first cone into the corridor, back through the cones in whichever direction the instructor told me, then drive forward again. During the backing part, I ran over a cone.

Dad grinned, the kind where the mouth says “That’s funny” but the eyes say, “Oh, honey.” Poor flat cone. Poor deflated daughter.

He built five stakes on wooden bases, each about four feet tall, with orange paper napkins staple-gunned to the top. These were our practice traffic cones. Evening after evening that summer, after supper I’d drive us the four miles to the empty parking lot of Scott Lumber and park. He would set the stakes out at the same distance apart as the traffic cones. I’d practice the maneuver, over and over again, sometimes backing left, sometimes backing right.

One night he said something that frustrated me. I think he was telling me something I knew, therefore from my teenage point of view, unnecessary to speak. It was distracting. I looked him in the eye, told him to get out and I’d do it myself.

Ten times each way with perfection. That was my goal. He stood to the side with his hands in his pockets, grinning as I backed my way out around that last stake and drove through the gauntlet again. One. Two. Four. Five. Ten. Twelve. Twenty.

Later Mom told me that Dad felt like he got to know me in those evening drives. What did we talk about? I don’t know. I’m sure I did most of the talking and he mostly listened. I guess I felt comfortable enough with him to be myself.

::

A few days before he died of lung cancer, Dad was having mild hallucinations in the hospital. He kept asking where everyone’s car was and when it would be time to go. One morning he gestured toward a closet I hadn’t even noticed and asked me to get his pants and shoes. Not time yet, Dad, I said. Not time yet.

He seemed almost satisfied just to know where all our cars were.

I have no idea what happened to the Buick key ring. The Skylark key eventually got transferred to the Laura ring. It carried the keys to my first car, the brown Chevette I inherited when his father died. It dangled from the ignition in my gray Dodge Omni, and then my white Toyota Corolla, and now my blue Toyota Matrix.

A few years before he died, we started having a weekly phone date. Sometimes his call came while I was driving. He would rather I didn’t, but he stopped chiding me about it. Eventually he traded in “Are you driving?” for “Where are you headed?” I’d steer one-handed, the orange tab swinging with the rhythms of the road, his words and his attentive silence coming to me from the direction of the passenger seat.


Laura Lynn BrownLaura Lynn Brown’s writing has appeared in Slate, the Iowa Review, Cimarron Review, Every Day Poems, Art House America, The Curator, and elsewhere. She is the author of Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories and the publisher of MakesYouMom.com, a new multi-author website. She works for a daily newspaper. More of her writing can be found at lauralynnbrown.com.

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A father, a daughter, and a keychain. A new de(tale) from @lauralynn_brown

A beautiful de(tale) from @lauralynn_brown

The lovely @lauralynn_brown writes a de(tale) about her dad

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