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Fall can be beautiful again.

While I will immediately claim many of my “basic white girl tendencies”, I have never been one to freak out about Fall, at least as much as many of my friends.  I remember my freshman year in college feeling like everyone around me was truly worshipping Fall, collecting leaves, putting pumpkin in every possible thing you could dream of, and wearing scarves while it would still reach 80 degrees each afternoon in Northwest Georgia.

 

 

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are so many things I love about Fall.  My favorite festival my sweet little town hosts takes place on a brisk weekend in October full of kettle corn, homemade fudge, beautiful pottery, jewelry, and precious familiar faces.  Each time I pull into the gravel parking lot and open my door to smell the kettle corn and hear the local music being played my heart jumps like I’m riding the ferry across the lake into Magic Kingdom.  Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  Each Thanksgiving I wake up, make my first cup of coffee and sit to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and typically cry due to just how much I love that day.

But I would never be the one in line the moment Starbucks opens on September 1 to get my first pumpkin spice latte.

Yet, this year the magic of Fall hit me.

I am a summer girl.  I love the beach, sandals, pineapple La Croix, watermelon, and just how much simpler and lighter all of life feels.  I love that anytime spent outside is typically spent on the water and I love that vacation is so encouraged.

September to me is usually a reminder the school year has fully set in and honestly since I was 10 been the mark of volleyball season being in full swing.  Somehow though, on labor day I found myself at Target (praise hands!) purchasing a new mustard cardigan, grey nail polish, and pieces to make my Fall table arrangement (I have a new fascination with my table being decorated appropriately for each season).  I bought a small pumpkin from the dollar section, a mustard felt leaf from the home section, and searched all around for whatever Fall pieces I could find.  I even considered buying a PSL from the Starbucks at the front of the store when I left.  WHO AM I?

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I remember how much Fall really felt like a punch in the gut last year.  It already felt like death was at the forefront of my mind, having just lost my Dad less than 6 months before September.  Then, death was everywhere.  So colorfully proclaiming on each and every limb of every tree on the 3 mile empty road I take to my office every morning, shouting how deeply death takes effect.  How intricately.  How it changes everything.  I just couldn’t celebrate it.

So I came home following my Target trip and put out my Fall decorations, even lighting a cinnamon candle.  But it hit again.  The death amidst it all.  No matter how much I loved the decorations on my table, it didn’t cover up the mess in the living room.  The wedding shower invitations I haven’t RSVPd to, the crumbs on the kitchen counter, the leftovers that need to be thrown out, the laundry that needs to be done.  Then, brokenness continued to set in throughout the week in the lives of my people.  How deeply death takes effect.  How intricately.


So last night I found myself determined to not let myself sit down unless I deep cleaned the entire house.  I was going absolutely insane to see death and darkness and brokenness be anywhere else in my life.  I was tired of everything feeling out of control.  If you know me well, you know how deep my deep cleaning can go.  And it did.

I began wiping off counters and putting dishes in the dish washer and soon found myself organizing every piece of Tupperware we have and making sure it had an appropriate lid, folding every blanket we own, and eventually take each and every cushion of our outdoor furniture on our screened in porch and giving it a bath.

I mean a deep bath.  When I told one of my best friends about this, she laughed until she cried.  And now that I’m sharing this, I’m sure so many of you will have ways I could have done this so much better, but it was 11:00pm and I was determined to get it done.  I filled my bath tub with water and laundry detergent, took each cushion one at a time and submerged it into the soapy water.  I pressed and pressed for it to absorb every bit of soap it could.  I held it against the wall and let the shower rinse it, applying more pressure to let the soap out.  Then, I drained the cushion, which was very heavy at this point, as best as I could.

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Somewhere along the way in this process, I was absolutely soaked, along with my bathroom floor, and pressing that cushion against the wall to get all the soap out became deeply spiritual.  I found myself working some anger out in that process that came from deep deep inside that I couldn’t even name.  But I leaned into it.  Eventually I was soaked and sweating with a disgusting bath tub, but let me assure you these cushions are CLEAN.

Clean.  Free of the death it had previously been filled with.

Death I know your sting.  I know your intricacy and I know your defeat. 
And I needed to feel that defeat.  To feel all of the anger in my body well up inside of me and get these cushions as clean as they every could be.

I hate death.

And last Fall as each leaf screamed to me of death’s fury I just felt powerless to it.  I felt like it won.  Read more about last fall for me here.

But last night I needed to win.  And I am sitting in my pristine house today, knowing in about 2 hours it won’t be perfect and I’m okay with that.  But celebrating that Fall is beautiful, that I love a cinnamon dulce latte, and that

DEATH HAS LOST ITS STING.

That as each little leaf so beautifully puts its innermost glory on display then falls to its death, as each tree lays barren over the winter, draped and dusted in snow, creation knows it hasn’t lost.  It isn’t defeated.  It is not scared to hope that new growth and new life will come when the first bird of Spring sings its song.

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Guest blog: Summer to Winter

My guest blogger today is my very own big brother.

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Michael is 6 years older than me and over 6 feet tall.  He has always been the big and strong brother, but in the past year has been brave in whole new ways.  I remember the very first night we were in the hospital together.  Michael and I got locked out getting something from the car and had to take a long way around to get back to the small room our family would be sleeping in that night.  Michael told me he was feeling the pressure to be the strong one, to be less emotional and more fearless, despite the fact that he was just as scared as the rest of us.  I was so proud of his openness and have only been overwhelmingly proud since of the courage he has taken to be angry, hurt, broken, and lost, because that’s the road grief walks you down.  Michael got all of the creative genes in our family as you’ll see in his writing style.

Thankful for you.


“Learning to weep, learning to vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

This summer – I was reeling from the loss of my father, but found myself having to still do my job. I had flown to California for our largest annual event and had been assigned to filming and conducting some really personal interviews.

In this process, and between interviews, I overheard a conversation begin with a gentleman I did not know, about how his mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. So early in the process that they had no action plan yet, no treatment arranged. Just the sudden weight of it.

By the time we actually introduced ourselves to each other, it was a hug and not a handshake. And we were both in tears.

He and I have kept in touch, often, since that day in the summer. Me to check on his mom and his family, and he to check on mine.

Thursday night, I found out his mom passed away.

I wept for a woman I had never met.

I wept for my friend and his family.

I walked to dinner with my head swirling, unable to be a part of the conversations around me.

And when I made it back to my bed I turned out the lights and typed this note on my phone.

How do you offer “hope” when you can be so certain it cannot yet be felt?

Perhaps “hope” in these moments, is that you don’t hurt alone.

And that maybe, hurting is such a deep part of being human.

——
Weep. Mourn. Wail.
Freely. Openly.
Let no man question you for this.
Let no man doubt your marrow.
There is so much strength – in coming undone.
I was told grief is love’s receipt.
And I let it wash over me. Still do.
Wave after wave.
Left rooms to weep in solitude.
Restaurants. Bathrooms. Hallways. Pulled over and bottomed out. Head on my steering wheel. 
Stood sobbing in the shower. 
Still do.
The friends that know that broken, will stand tall when you cannot. 
Texts. Calls. Dinner. Silent moments sitting. Pain filling their eyes. 
An overflow of their own.
These moments are pure. 
Be carried and baptized in their wholeness.
And throw your rocks at the moon. 
Every question and hurt and pain and doubt and fear hurled into the night sky. 
Full force. 
Core to extremity. 
Unleash. 
Til you collapse exhausted on a tear dotted pillow.
And wake up only to find the first fleeting moments of the day, where you actually have to remind yourself how much you have lost. 
And how much you hurt. 
And you sink back into your mattress…
To weep. Mourn. Wail. Freely. Openly.

-Michael James Dalton

Dust

Today, I opened  Microsoft Excel to do a project and soon found myself weeping angry angry tears on my couch.

It’s just not right.  It’s not right that my Dad isn’t on the other side to be able to call when I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do.  It’s funny how the small things seem to cut the deepest.  You prepare yourself and build up your defenses for the big ones, but the small ones catch you off guard and cut deeply.

I missed being able to call you when I was moving into a new house.  I missed you being here to get everything perfectly set up and organized.  I missed you when I held a baby and rocked him to sleep and thought about what an incredible grandpa you would have been.

Gosh, I hate it.

I hate that there are no answers and only tears and anger and hurt and gaps.

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Big giant gaps with your name written all over it that only you know how to fill with your easy going, steadfast, long-suffering presence.  Your presence that carried a peacefulness that put everyone around you at ease, yet you knew that if you needed the slightest thing you would move mountains without asking questions.

Grief doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t make sense that angry tears on a leather couch somehow mean progress.

I’ve found myself questioning and challenging everything I’ve ever believed, shaken to my core, and amidst all of it just missing you, your presence, your voice, and the way you saw and knew me.

Today is the start of November.  Another start to another month of another season that you won’t see and I hate it. I’m tired of trying to tell myself to look at the trees and tell myself that death is beautiful because it isn’t.  It’s painful and heart wrenching and it is a deep soul pain that I have felt in the most real and physical sense.

I wasn’t prepared for this.  Every book I read and movie that I watched was a story that involved some kind of conflict or difficulty or hurt but it always ended in resolution.  No one wants to go watch a story of a broken heart that just stays broken, a losing team that just keeps losing, or a Dad that fights with all of his strength for his life and dies a week later.

I’m tired of the mundane.  I’m tired of the clicks and ticks and noises that remind me that time keeps passing.  I hate the word passed.  I’m tired of telling people that you passed.  You did so much more.  You were so much more that you deserve a bigger and richer word.

I don’t get how to make sense of the lack of resolution, how to find a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children in the greyest of grey areas I have ever known.demolition

Even as the words are being formed from my mind to the tips of my fingers I’m telling myself these thoughts aren’t okay.  It’s not okay to not be okay and we aren’t okay with people that aren’t okay.  We aren’t okay with death, loss, grieving, and feelings.  We’re barely okay with someone responding “okay” instead of good when you ask them how they’re doing in the least sincere way.

But as much as stories with unhappy endings make us angry, we don’t know how to enter into our own, better yet the ones around us.  The loose ends confuse us and make us question what we believe and hold to be true.  So we stay away.

But You know my frame.  You remember that I am only dust.

I read these words in Psalm 103 and was honestly kind of offended at first.  Oh I’m only dust?  I am barely surviving by the 20 minute break that allowed me to rush to Starbucks and get an extra shot in my latte to do all that today asked of me and I’m only dust?!

But I am. I am only dust and the only context that my small, small frame has ever known and felt and believed is dust.  The dust that formed the world around me as You spoke it into existence.  The dust that you took to form a man to use his rib to create the woman who would become the mother of all creation, of all that I know, of all that I’ve loved, of all that I’ve lost.  Dust. 

Its make up makes it seem so very small, so minuscule, so inadequate of grieving, questioning, and beating up against all I have ever known.  But that is the very heart of the problem, that all I have ever known is dust.

But you are a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children enough to believe for them when they don’t have the framework that all we have ever seen and known and held dear is dust.  It’s vanishing, dissolving, frail, and messy.  You see us as the child C. S. Lewis describes satisfied making mud pies because she has never known a holiday at the sea.  You lead us by still waters.  You restore our souls because you have given them glimpses of more than the dust we have known.  Like the little pieces of asphalt that reflect and sparkle the light of the sun.  Amidst our mediocrity and inadequacy there are pieces of something more.

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So I’m done clinging to the old and the rugged.  I’m holding fast to believing that amidst the grey and the dust and the emptiness and my frailty, You understand that I am only dust.  But you know there is so much more.  And on the other side of dust and limited glimpses is resolution.  And in the dust, You are still creating.