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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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Review of Love Lives Here by Maria Goff

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I read Love Does a couple years ago and very quickly fell in love with Bob’s writing style.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover Maria employs the same style, sharing a story and example and tying it to a deeply profound truth that resonates deeper than you realize in the moment.

Since reading Love Does, I’ve found myself telling the stories Bob shared in lessons I teach and conversations I have.  I have already found myself doing the same with Maria’s stories and examples of Love Lives Here.

I think the best way to explain Maria’s focus of “Finding what you need in a world telling you what you want” is in a metaphor she uses.  Bob is known for bringing balloons to events all over the world.  He is a big, audacious, whimsical personality that I was shocked to find also works as an attorney.  Maria shared that whenever they go places Bob brings balloons and she brings string.  Maria does not similarly share of huge, crazy adventures.  Instead, she shares of loving her neighbors, friends, and family really well.  Maria talks about crafting a home where everyone who enters senses and feels the home and safety she has found in Christ.

“His plan from the beginning of time was that love wouldn’t be traded among the noises in our lives; it would be understood in the places of peace.  Sometimes when we’re asking Him for an answer, He sends a friend.”

Over the first few pages I found myself writing hearts all over the margins, underlining, and writing the phrase “DON’T SKIP THIS” before the foreword and introduction.

“Faith doesn’t eliminate fears in my life; it lets me know I had someone I could bring them to.”

Maria also offers great insight into walking into your own story and scars in order to truly love people well.

“What I’m learning is that the good news of our faith isn’t found in avoiding the pain, but in living through the loss, walking through the ashes, and stacking back up what we know could burn down again.”


“Preparing soil that someone can grow in is hard work, but it’s not all the work.  Preparing your own soil is where the most important tilling is done.”

As I read this book, I quickly began making a list of person after person to give this book to that I love in my life.  So if you’re reading this, go ahead and click here to purchase Love Lives Here.

Home.

There’s something about the Holiday season that makes us treasure home a little more.  While the summer is filled with plans after plans to get as far away from home as possible or spend the most amount of time outside or at a friend’s house, the holidays bring us back.  We decorate, adorn, nestle in, and find a cozy spot on the couch next to the tree.  The holidays make us recognize what’s around us, sometimes reflecting on what’s changed in the year, sometimes being grateful for another year.  It makes us see home as a place and a part of us, rather than just part of the mundane of life.  It sheds a little light on why our ordinary is actually special.

This idea of home, especially around the holidays has changed for me a good deal in my lifetime.  I grew up in one house I can barely remember until I turned 4 then we moved into what I consider my “childhood home”.  It was an old house built in 1900 on a street in southern Virginia where trees that filled the median were each dedicated to local WWII heroes.  There was even a cannon at the end of that road, Mount Vernon Avenue.  Our house was brick, three bricks deep actually in each and every wall.  It had blue shutters and lots of little quirks because of its age that were just normal to me like having a small kitchen attached to the kitchen called a “butler’s kitchen” and an extra cellar attached to the unfinished basement (note: this was where we stored our gallons and gallons of water to prepare for Y2K, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what that was.)  The upstairs hallway of that house was so wide we called it “bowling ally” and we loved to run and slide down it in our socks.  Occasionally, though, nails would come up out of the boards in the floor, yet at only 6 or 7 years old this didn’t phase me.  It was normal for me to pick up the hammer we kept at the top of the stairs for this very reason and hammer that nail back down.

221 Mount Vernon Avenue in all of its quirkiness and grandeur was home.  It was where parents of friends dropped me off and I never had to give them directions.  All of our neighbors called it “the Dalton house” and it was.  It was the porch where I took pictures before my first dance recital dressed as a bumble bee, it was the back yard where I learned how to play basketball, it was the driveway where my brother infamously made it onto America’s Funniest Home Videos, it was the back deck where my birthday parties were held, it was the laundry room where I learned how to do laundry.  It was home.  But then it wasn’t.

Then there were moving trucks and boxes.  There was newness and change and so much to be done.  That was November and Christmas came quickly.  That Christmas just felt different and I knew all the ones to follow would be different.  I didn’t live at home anymore.  I didn’t really know what home was anymore.  We transitioned from that house full of history to a brand new one and as I think about that was pretty symbolic of the move my family was taking.  Both my mom and dad’s families had lived in that small town of Danville, Virginia for as long as anyone could remember.  My parents and their parents and theirs had a deep history in that town, a name for themselves, deep deep roots, and we were beginning totally new.  It was kind of earth shattering for my little 11 year old heart.  That Christmas was the hardest.

I went up to Virginia a week early to spend time with friends to muster up the closest feeling of home I could find, but it just felt like it was gone. I remember deeply resonating with Cindy-Lou-who on How the Grinch Stole Christmas singing, “Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t I find you?  Why have you turned away?  My world is changing.  I’m rearranging.  Does that mean Christmas changes too?”

Yes, Cindy-Lou-who.  It does.

It felt like Christmas lost its magic and in a way it had.  Because when you don’t have a sense of home, you don’t have a place to wake up excited for the magic of a special day.  We were barely even sure which room to have our tree in.  It didn’t feel right to not have my cousins who lived around the corner come over around lunch so we could all play with each other’s toys.  If anything, Christmas just made it all the more real that the home I had always known would be gone.


But somehow things changed as they have a way of doing.  And the new house in South Carolina became home.  I missed having the comfort of being known and having grown up with people my whole life, but I began to feel at home.  Somewhere between club volleyball tournaments, chorus performances at school, mission trips at church, and all the times in between, the friends I made here became home for me.  The small group of girls I met with each Sunday night from 7th-12th grade on a couch where someone was always drinking coffee. Home.  The school where I became friends on my first day with a girl who had cried and prayed for a best friend the night before.  Home.  The girls ministry associate at my church who I soon realized I had everything in common with and soon became my sister.  Home.

But as things have a way of doing, it was time for change.  So I found myself again moving south to a tiny little town called Rome, Georgia.  The largest college campus tucked far up in the hills of Georgia had captivated my heart.  There were building that looked like castles and I knew I would one day call it home.  But that scared me.  I knew what it was like for home to change.  But once I was there touring on campus, my fears of college went away and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

I quickly made friends on campus and loved my school but  never imagined the way that little town could wrap its way around my heart.  Rome doesn’t have too much to it and it’s often hard to find a place if you haven’t been there forever, but I love it so very deeply to the point I have to stop myself from reading the Newspaper in line at the local coffee shop when its my turn to order.  In my first few years, I always imagined Rome to just be a transition.  I knew it would always be special to me, but I never knew what it would become.  Home.

I began working with girls at my Church and my advisor from Berry also went to my Church.  I remember the first time I went to an event with other girls at that church.  It felt like the first time I could stop being a student, stop trying to be cool, and just let my guard down.  Though it was my very first time in that beautiful loft apartment downtown that once belonged to Mary Magoni I knew the feeling that met me there- home. And it hasn’t left.

Last week I hosted a baby shower full of ladies from that very church.  I sat in my living room- the living room of a house I am able to rent because a couple from that church moved to Kenya to be missionaries that own that house and all of the ladies filled my home.  Ladies whose daughters I had known while I worked in youth and would often see as I would sit by myself in church, but ladies in the past few months who have come to feel like family to me.  The room was full of laughter and celebration that my friend Mary who first made me feel at home was about to welcome baby Claire into the world.  There was food and coffee and games but I was just overwhelmed with that feeling.  That familiarity.  That fullness.  That sense of home.

I’ve known since I was 11 that home isn’t a place.  I think I got it when I learned that the “Church” wasn’t a building.  And that feeling has met me in the oddest of places.

One in particular is in my favorite TV Show- Gilmore Girls.  I remember the first time I ever watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.  It was the episode when Lorelai is making Rory’s prom dress and the mannequin she is working on falls on top of her.  It was one of the first times I found myself instantly lost in a show.  I had seen 2 minutes of it, but I was instantly laughing out loud and deeply invested.  This love continued on a daily basis.  I would come home from school and work on homework while watching Full House, but at 5:00 I knew Gilmore Girls would come on.  I started receiving the DVD sets for each Christmas and would watch all the episodes in order as I was falling asleep every night.  I sometimes feel like I know Lorelai and Rory’s stories better than my own, as I would revisit them every day and spend any sick days or mental health days doing the same- watching Gilmore Girls.  I remember when I first came to interview for the WinShape College Program at Berry and I walked into the room where I would stay for the night with a girl that would later become my small group leader.  “You have Gilmore girls!” was maybe the fist thing I said.  And I knew I could be at home with them.

This year, 8 years after the show’s last season, Gilmore Girls came back together to make 4 episodes.  As the music played, the sights shown of Stars Hollow, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s banter became audible, and cups of coffee were poured I began to cry because something about those seven seasons in Stars Hollow and the bond between Lorelai and Rory were that very thing for me- home.  They had seen me through the transition from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to college, and through my life crumpling to pieces for the last year.  That’s what home is. It’s constant.  And in an ever changing world sometimes home takes on a very strange from- like a TV Show.

But this sense of home met me in an even stranger place.  In a hospital waiting room on what I think was a Monday night.  We were sitting in the Critical Cardiac Unit lobby and most of the other patient’s families had gone home or been transferred to the heart floor but we were still there and had been since the Wednesday before when my Dad had his heart attack.  He had been unconscious all week and we had stayed closely by his side, praying for his every breath, pulse, rhythm, blood pressure, and whatever I could muster up the strength to understand and pray for.  It was traumatic, exhausting, heart wrenching, and just made it feel like time had stopped.  We had tried to take him off sedation and wake him up the day before, but it didn’t work.  So on this day, we were doing brain scans to hear back essentially whether or not I had my Daddy anymore, if it was just a responding body on a ventilator with no brain activity or if it was a long road of recovery ahead if my Daddy’s brain was in tact.  They had done the tests and we were waiting for a neurologist to come and tell us the results.  This honestly should have been the hardest time of waiting in my whole life, but that feeling met me there again.

We sat in the lobby as the sun set outside the window, a window I hadn’t really noticed at all before that week.  Someone had brought us dinner and we ate well.  We had been so blessed that week.  I watched as friends who are really family from our church and various other friends sat around with us in various pockets.  I was with my friend Emily Wyatt and our friend Tonya Bryson.  Our youth pastor was there.  Andrew’s high school best friend was there.  Countless people.  People we didn’t have to be anything with but just loved us and the air was light.  It just felt warm.  My youth pastor took a video panning the rom because there was just something about it.  I kept saying it felt like Sunday lunch after church with all of your family because that was really what it was like.  It was a little piece of home.

If I have learned anything, it’s that home isn’t a place or a person and it’s not just one place or one person.  It’s not a place where everything is right or magical or easy.  It’s a feeling and a presence.  It’s a warmth amidst the hardest days and a safe place amidst the scariest.  A real home isn’t somewhere you post on Pinterest about how well it’s decorated.  A real home is somewhere you are always met with undeserved warmth and love of being seen and known.  A real home is a sense that you belong, you’re safe, and things will be just like this for a little while, amidst a world where our plans disappoint us and let us down.  And that home becomes real for us, when we first allow ourselves to need it.