Two Years (For James)

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“It’s an honor to be in grief. It’s an honor to feel that much, to have loved that much.”  – Liz Gilbert

Tomorrow marks 2 years you slipped away in your sleep. Cancer drained you of your essence only months after we gave the strange sickness a name. Treatment made you tired. But you fought until you couldn’t. It all happened so quickly, I never once thought that we were actually losing you until we had lost you. But none of us are really ready for goodbye, are we?

I will choose to focus on the numerous subtleties that I loved about you. Like the millions of tiny stars that make up a clear night sky, you weren’t just one piece. One role. You weren’t just dad to me.

I see remnants of you planted in my eye’s glimmer. Where I once didn’t recognize it as you, I could smile and give a nod to my reflection.

“Yep. That’s my dad alright.”

It’s a softness; whereas I obtained much of my fire from my mother….it was you that gave me the other part. The capability to tread softly through another person; leaving a small thank you card behind. Even in your periods of absence in my life, you were felt and known.

But I still feel too much space today. Since the day you slipped away in your sleep. That’s the only way I can describe it: too much space. As subtle and soft as you were in my life, your absence is painful and obvious. And I’ve had to double take at my reflection some days.

I…we…are left to mainly reflect and mourn. Instinctively reach out and remember no one will necessarily reach back. Not tangibly, at least. We can reach out to one another; mimicking your touch as a small way to keep you living. Even if only in our hearts.

I love you, dad. I miss you.

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33.

Today is the first day of what is known as my “Jesus Year“.

Jesus Christ spent His entire life fulfilling His purpose. However, His Ministry culminated with His Death, Burial, & Resurrection during his 33rd year on earth. So, many believers place emphasis on turning 33. Odd, and a little superstitious, sure. But, I’m confident that the path I am on is becoming less and less randomized and appearing more like a Grand Design.

I still do not know a whole lot. I admit I have much to learn. A funny trend in my 30s, though, has been a repetitiveness of core lessons. What is MOST important to me about Love, Life, Purpose, and Faith has been fortified inside of me through the same lesson that is wrapped in different circumstances. I am reminded of a few things over and over:

1. Everything happens for a reason. Not only are life’s events, no matter how small, packed with inherent meaning, but people are inextricably connected. No matter how much we run from one another, or attempt to classify ourselves into demographics or ideals, God’s Original Design that “It is not good for man to be alone” never goes away. We were made for community. We were made as one people.

2. Because all things have Purpose, that means Someone came up with The Blueprint. The Design for Life. Which means: God exists. But we have done more harm by using Him as a weapon against one another. We cease being students of the Divine and take, what is merely a mirrored image of Divinity, and use it to oppress and violate. I think the saddest fact about most religions is that instead of it being used to offer Hope, it force-feeds Hopelessness.

3. There is nothing that the Human Heart cannot overcome. Look throughout history and see that Human Beings are both fragile, and yet simultaneously resilient. We were created to withstand all of the atrocities that can be thrown at us, seen and unseen. The breath in our lungs is miraculous, because it was originally provided by the very Glory of God. That is our Source.

4. Love does not belong to you. You belong to It. Because it predates all of us. Before the first man was made, God is Love. In fact, our Creation was an act of Love. You disrespect your very existence when you opt out of receiving or giving Love. And I think if we had more reverence towards Love then we would honor each other more. To Love is to Live!

So, here’s to the next 365 days. May I grow roots deeper into the soil that will nourish both my weakened and hardened places. I desire to grow in grace, above all.

(My) Truth on Marriage

Not to sound totally self-depreciating, but I am not an easy woman to be married to. Combine my usual contentment with being alone and a learned ability to emotionally detach when tired or vulnerable; you can say that the mental and psychological calisthenics needed to keep up cannot be overstated. We have been married 6 years and together (more or less) for 11 years. I can say with confidence that I have given him more than enough reasons to give up.

My husband is a good man, through and through. Even the spark of his temper only glows when provoked. And I will admit that I have not always been gracious, patient, or selfless. I have manipulated him, used him, and disrespected him.

On the flip side, I do remember times when he has left emotional scars. He has been selfish and thoughtless. I have cried more tears than were necessary because of him. He has not always been a good leader.

Here’s one thing that I have learned:

Superficially, Nick and I have a marriage that we have been told is enviable. Our well-shot candid photos and joint resume of community service places us in a certain light. And it isn’t that these things aren’t genuine. It’s just that they tell a small part of our story.

If I’m combating semantics, I would say that we do NOT have a solid marriage. We have struggled throughout most of it. Been on differing wavelengths at least part of the time. We’ve looped around the same arguments and reopened the same wounds in each other purposefully.

I wish I could say that we have prayed when we needed to. Consulted God together more often than not. But, after 6 years, I can simply say that we have a marriage that has been filled to the brim with Grace. I cannot stake it on any individual or joint effort made by either of us, only that God has carried us this entire time.

If one must face his/her’s total depravity prior to accepting Grace, then this is true for a relationship. Joining together with another person does not ultimately add to your piety. You need Grace even more now.

What about the Love?

Oh yes. That is there. Though this statement is overused, Nick is my best friend. Truly. We enjoy doing things together and have a bond that can exist outside of a romantic one. He makes me laugh everyday. He seeks out my input and cares about my opinion. We encourage one another’s dreams and will sacrifice for one another. I know that at the end of the day, Nick will support me.

So, this extremely vulnerable post is to describe a very real, growing, & determined bond between a tall country girl and a nerdy poet from Newark.

**Photo taken by the Lovely Meridith De Avila Khan. Check out more of her work (or better yet, BOOK HER) HERE !

The Gift of Suffering.

I truly feel like one of the greatest gifts a person can give is to sit together with another inside of their suffering. With no agenda. No reciprocity, even. Just the silent act of empathy, wrapped in genuine human connection. We all suffer, at one point or another. We all experience grief of various forms and severities. Pain is our great unifier.

Yet, we are so uncomfortable with someone else’s pain. We will fill gaps in conversations with awkward, well-intentioned cliches. Or avoid all together. Others will become hypervigilant from guilt or for appearances sake. Wracked with self-doubt or fear, we are afraid of getting too close to the sufferer.

Maybe we remember how suffering changes you. Snatches you from proximity with our superficial worries; instead focusing our attention on the abstract. The unknown and inexplicable. It is easier to pacify ones self with everyday cares.

Despite that fact that suffering tends to have nearly lethal devastations attached, the glory that can come from it is significant. Can we ponder on how this occurrence multiplies when communities mourn together? Can you imagine it?

What happens when you take your eyes off of your own pain for a moment & join hands with your neighborhood, family, and community concerning a hurt that we all may be able to relate to? And what happens when you lend ears to someone’s story that you have NO connections with, or a superficial awareness of?

Glory happens. Heaven is depicted. We are living out part of our best & purest selves when we join together. Humans are capable of great hatred and malice. But I don’t believe that’s our True Nature. That’s not our Origin. We are most like our Creator when we lay our own lives down.

So, I have a reason to be thankful today. Even for the pain I feel. Because I’m not carrying this weight alone. I have family and loved ones who are shouldering this with me. Let us do that for one another, especially in these days.

#GIVINGTUESDAY

This isn’t an attempt to make you feel guilty about Black Friday shopping, but since we’re discussing money, it’s good to have a reminder that we actually have options for how we’d like to spend our hard-earned incomes.  It’s refreshing to know that not ALL of my paycheck have to be held hostage by car repairs, credit card debt, and overpriced internet service.

I noticed this year that the #GIVINGTUESDAY efforts are much more streamlined and intentional this year, so I wanted to do my part by compiling a list of my Top 10 (which was SUPER DIFFICULT to do) Favorite Local organizations who are so deserving of contributions this Tuesday.

(Please note that this are based in Central VA, with a photo/quoted blurb from their FB pages along with the applicable link, and the list is in no particular order.)

 

Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation, Inc.

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“The Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation, Inc. supports the Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum, the historic home of Harlem-Renaissance poet, civil rights activist, wife, mother, gardener, librarian and educator, Anne Spencer.

Your tax deductible contribution will help The Anne Spencer Memorial Foundation to fund education, community outreach, and preservation of the 100+ year old historic home, cottage, and garden.”

Make sure and look over their FB page, as well as their website, for more information and direct access to donation opportunities. This foundation also have a #GIVINGTUESDAY FB event, which can be found here!

 

The Listening, Inc.

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“The idea was that people could still get together and create art and memories while also engaging with each other and learning about one another. Throughout that year, a small community began to take form, joining the creative renaissance already taking place within the city of Lynchburg, Virginia. Using the open mic format, they discussed themes like “Confessions” and “Classics”.

After a brief hiatus, The Listening returned in 2014 with the theme “Legacy”. Since then, the concept of creating art with intentionality and performing with passion and purpose has grown. A far cry from what it looked like in a loft-style living room session, the pursuit is still the same: to engage with people, to change people’s perceptions of what performance art can do and look like, and to save lives with our stories.

We’ve officially moved from a big idea to a powerful, community-based movement.”

Please check out the TLI’s website, as well as their FB page for ways to learn more, volunteer, get involved, and donate!

STITCH After-school Tutorial Program

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“The Stitch After-School Program is a non-profit organization sponsored by the Stacia Nicole Anderson Memorial Fund. This program is designed to provide free tutoring services for students in the local community, all in memory of the beautiful daughter of Dr. Keith and Mrs. Renee Anderson.”

Please mail all monetary gifts to the address provided:

Bank of the James

Stacia Anderson Memorial Fund

5204 Fort Avenue

Lynchburg, VA. 24502

 

The Motherhood Collective

19113953_1373382902710029_5101366169759340612_n“Specializing in walking with women from preconception through preschool. With immense value placed on peer-to-peer support we find that offering women a place to belong results in deeper connection to her community and increased opportunities for education. Our programs serve both the dark and sunshiny days of motherhood; recognizing that not all roads to motherhood look the same.”

TMC is actually having an All-Day LIVE STREAMING Party on #GIVINGTUESDAY, which can be found here. If you’d like a bookmark for early/late donations, check out their website!

Lynchburg Beacon of Hope

14732137_543466295859275_676909801217671345_n“What is the purpose of the Beacon of Hope?

To instill in ALL Lynchburg City Public School students the aspiration to pursue AND to provide them with the tools and resources to attain a post-secondary education.

To provide college opportunities for those would not be able to attend college otherwise

To change the culture in the Lynchburg community to a PreK-16 division

To create a stream of qualified/educationally prepared talent for the greater Lynchburg workforce

To ensure that all children who graduate from Lynchburg City Schools are prepared for the next step in life: 4 year college, 2 year college, technical / community/trade school, industry certification

To improve the quality of life in our community by investing in our most precious resource—our children—who are our future

To compile and disseminate data on current and continuing post-secondary education of Lynchburg’s student

What are the components the Beacon of Hope?

FUTURE CENTERS housed in both LCS High Schools (staffed, maintained, and funded by the Beacon of Hope) which provide resources on financial aid and college admissions for ALL LCS students, guidance on local and federal financial aid.

MENTORING PROGRAMS which diligently work to encourage students to apply AND leverage all available resources.

Programs in the Elementary and Middle Schools that plant the seeds of COLLEGE ATTAINABILITY for younger students.

Ultimately, SCHOLARSHIP opportunities above and beyond last dollar earned to level the playing field and get students onto post secondary education.

PARTNERSHIPS with our local businesses to provide funding and internship opportunities, so that the intellectual capital that is created through the Beacon does not “leak away” from Lynchburg after students earn post-secondary degrees.”

What an amazing opportunity to support this effort. Please go to their website to see just where your future donations are going towards.

 

Jubilee Family Development Center

11855626_1143502818997682_6483896979668992849_n“Our Programs provide opportunities for young people that center on educational enrichment and academic assistance, athletic programs and occupational training. Three are described below.
After School Tutorial Program- 90% of students participating demonstrated academic improvement by one letter grade.

Mentoring Program- Improves self-esteem, exposes youth to positive role models, increases social awareness and teaches problem solving skills.

Summer Enrichment Camp- Provides a disciplined and structured environment where children take part in high quality summer programs that blend academics, art, sports and technology which stave off summer learning loss.”

Check out their website to seek more of what they are doing in the community, and also check out their FB page where you can donate to their amazing cause.

 

Kids’ Haven

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“Kids’ Haven was founded as a community outreach project of the Junior League of Lynchburg. In 1998 we were chartered as an independent not-for-profit organization with the sole mission of serving, through the provision of support and educational programming, the unique needs of children grieving the death of a person who was significant in their lives. Kids Haven is a local non profit dedicated to providing peer support to grieving children, ages 3-18, and their families.”
You can visit their website, as well as look for them on Facebook in order to make a donation.

YWCA of Central Virginia

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“The YWCA of Central Virginia is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

Please visit the YWCA FB website, as well as their full website, for much more information and direct access to donation opportunities!

Miriam’s House

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“Miriam’s House is designed to end homelessness for women and families by providing them with stability and the skills to succeed in permanent housing.
All of the programs and services offered at Miriam’s House are based on the Housing First model, rooted in the belief that ending a client’s homelessness quickly and providing for her most basic needs will empower her to achieve goals in other areas including mental health, substance use, money management and parenting. Miriam’s House staff provides intensive case management and works in partnership with each client to build upon her strengths and resiliency. Miriam’s House coordinates referrals to therapists, mental health support workers, recovery services, job coaches, and social workers to ensure that ongoing, comprehensive services are available to clients even after they complete their program at Miriam’s House.”
Visit the Miriam’s House website, or their FB page to see more info & hit the “Donate” button!

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg

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“The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg provides a positive, fun and stable environment for youth that produces winners, leaders and role models who make a lasting impact within our community. BE GREAT!”

 

Please visit Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg & HERE to donate!

38. (A Letter)

You’d be 38 today.

If you were still here, I’d probably call and poke fun at how old you were getting. Make plans to have you come over to have dinner with me, Nick, and the kids. I’m positive my mom would come, too.

…maybe you’d bring your wife and kids too. I’m sure my daughter would be excited to see you. After dinner, you and my husband would most likely argue about New York Hip Hop being better than Southern Rap. I’d smile at how you’re just as overprotective of me like when we were kids.

We’d retell the same jokes. Laugh about the same stories. I can actually hear your laugh in my mind. It never changed.

These images have made me sad before. But not today.

Because today is your birthday. Today is, and will always be, special.

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I miss you, Mike. Happy Birthday.

Love, Your Little Sister

Mommy Brain

Super strange phenomenon.

And it’s only happened to me less than a handful of times. I am sitting with or near one of my kids, they will be gabbing away about something…persistant in getting my attention, of course.

I’m usually super distracted and will try as hard as I can to master the parenting art of Multitasking. Parenting is 99.9% multitasking, mind you. After a few minutes, my annoyance level peaks on about a 3 on the 1 – 5 “Why Did I Have Kids Again?” scale. I break my attention on whatever I was doing and end up looking in my kid’s direction.

My eyes sweep past their tiny frame and I manage to lock eyes with them as they excitedly tell or show me something, seemingly insignificant to me, but they find fascinating. And then I notice it.

The spark of personality. A growing personhood that, in this millisecond, appears complete and whole. And I feel like I didn’t realize that I had a child like them UNTIL THAT VERY MOMENT.

I think, “Holy crap. I’m actually a mom. This is my daughter! Oh, wow. She is so beautiful. Look at her little face!!”

It’s feels like I’ve been away for awhile or in a coma and I’ve only been a mom for a day, actually. Once my emotions catch up with reality, I do realize that I’ve been active and present for many, many more moments. My heart is flooded with images of their births, first feedings, funny and frustrating moments. I relive it all as if my life is flashing before my eyes…but in a good way.