i want a house with a crowded table.

so, i’ve mentioned once or a hundred times now that i am actively pursuing my own mental well-being. i’m just knee deep in therapy, in self-talk, inner child work, rewiring work, shadow work, work work (work work work work) by rihanna. i’ll say yes to ice baths and essential oils and calm.com and the trauma prayer and sitting over open fires roasting hotdogs and airing out old wounds with kindness together. i’m in, ya’ll. i’m all in. now we’re adding some heeeeavy grief to the mix, so you know i’m passing out the ashwaganda shots one at a time, night-after-night.

so, in this healing work, there’s this thing that happens for me, and i’m thinking i’m not unique in it. i’ll say or hear a sentence in a conversation, and something in my brain says, “hey! can we keep that? it means a lot to us. that makes everything feel super aligned in our mind and heart and body. please don’t forget that.” and i try hard to remember the exact thing because my sweet brain kindly spoke up and said it was the Next Thing We Needed™️

one of the latest NWTN™️ was something i wrote a few weeks back. how, in healing, it’s now my job to make God’s name synonymous with love. every. single. time i write or hear or speak that sentence, another piece of my puzzle falls into place. i cannot explain it. i just feel it in my bones how deeply THAT is now my purpose. it’s my purpose in my own mind, and it’s my purpose in every relationship, big or small, that i encounter. make His name synonymous with Love. God IS love. why is this always somehow new news to me?

because we’re hard-wired to find fault. because it’s too simple. because it’s too risky. because we’re on the defense from an early, early age. because trauma of all shapes and sizes. because fear. because it’s easier to stay on the surface instead of climbing down in The Trenches where the broken and beautiful are limping across their finish lines before another day and race begins. because it hurts a lot, a whole lot, to feel the heartbreaking empathy of another’s suffering when there’s nothing you can do but sit in it with them.

but oh! Jesus sat with people. He did. and it was radical and controversial and the people that He came to save turned against Him because He didn’t have enough rules and regulations. give me a ballpark, Jesus, of who my neighbor is. give me the exact number i need to tithe every month, and not a penny more. tell me how far i have to go to make it into Your kingdom without getting my hands dirty.

and instead Christ stooped down and used His hands to pick up dust and dirt and breadand broken people and children and widows and prostitutes and tax collectors and wood and nails and mud and wine and called it all Love. and THAT is the story i get to tell every day. that my God IS Love. that’s the miracle and the mystery and the grace of it all.

and if something in your life cannot believe that His name is synonymous with love, i deeply believe you. i was you and still have to actively accept the fresh wineskins i’m given as i heal. i’m so sorry it happened the way it did for you. you are loved and seen as you are. you don’t have to change a second of your story to sit with us. whenever you’re ready, there’s an open seat at a table made for all by a God that is love. there really is more room here. room to be loved, room to rest, and room to heal alongside all of us other misfit toys.

that’s all for today. i’ll always save you a seat.

and for hours you’re just gentle on my mind.

hi, my sweet friends. being your far-less-than-tech-savvy pal, i didn’t know google docs existed. juuuust had no clue. so, i typed out my funeral speech on my blog. and now that’s a sweet gift to revisit all the times i need to remember my friend and brother and cousin and buddy. i miss him. the grief is heavy. but these are my words, and this is a small glimpse of what i will carry with me always:

“i love when someone that has been through hell comes out of the flames carrying buckets of water for those still consumed by the fire.”

that quote defines jason motley for me. anyone that really knew his story knew he had been through a lot. arguably more than anyone should ever have to go through in one lifetime. and, still, he lived his life in a way that drew people in, held them close, and pointed them back home. his life, by daily example, WAS that bucket of water for so many of us. i’m sure i could sit down with each of you, and you could tell me a story about how he made you feel important. he was a good listener. it felt like he saw people the way God sees them. and he truly, truly made you feel like you mattered. you DID matter to him. even when he couldn’t always put out his own fire, he was always willing to try and help you douse your flames.

i don’t know about you, but i have felt a little bit aimless this past week. i don’t know where to put all this grief. i landed in anger for a while. that felt good to not have to feel the depth of this sadness. i have played out all of these scenarios and what if’s. that’s a little bit of mental torture for me. i can’t stay there for too long. and then i finally have just settled into a profound state of deeply missing him. and i guess i’ll feel that way for the rest of my life. he was, and is, such a miss-able person.

my relationship with jas was just a joyful mess. it really was. ya’ll called him Caveman, but i think that we called each other “dummy” more than we ever used our actual names. we thought of him as the brother we never had, and we never had to explain much to each other. speaking for my sister and myself, we both feel like we’re burying “our person.” in a lot of ways. he was the phone call that could always talk you off an emotional ledge. he could recognize the lies of the enemy in your head far more than he could in his own. he would point us back into the truth of God’s word consistently. i can hear his deep voice telling me “there is no condemnation for those of us who are in Christ Jesus.” he told me that so many times.

Jason believed in the redemptive love of Christ. he couldn’t always love himself. and that hurts to say out loud. he couldn’t usually see the goodness he possessed inside of him or the beauty we all saw. (and then i realized the absolute absurdity of that typed sentence. of COURSE he could see his beauty. we all could! he was a beautiful person. he KNEW he was a beautiful person. so, i audibly retracted that sentence from my speech, trying not to lie in church and whatnot.) but he could settle into the idea that Someone bigger than his faults loved him fiercely. and while i hate that he is not here, and i deeply, deeply hate it. he should be here with us. i rest knowing that the One who loved him more than any of us was the very first face he saw. his pain was no more. his battle was over. and God had the final victory over his life. that’s what’s carrying me. and that’s where Jason would point me back when i inevitably fall and fail and wonder why in the coming months.

i’ll close with the prayer of st. francis. jason loved it, and he lived it.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

we love you, dummy. we’ll keep fighting for light until we see you again. and we’ll carry these buckets of water forever in memory of you.

worthy of love. worthy of light. worthy of saying no when something don’t feel right.

i had a panic attack last summer. i think one day it will end up being one of the best things to ever happen to me. what followed has taught me the sweetest, best lessons in self-talk, mental boundaries, and God’s true love for me.

it was your standard attack in the middle of the night. that thing where your mind races and it feels like you’ll never breathe a normal breath again and all you feel is the weight of the world and condemnation and you can’t make anything stop and it’s just one massive spiral. yay! FUN. HAPPY TIMES, YALL. i couldn’t tell you how long it lasted, but it couldn’t have been much more than a few awful minutes.

when the worst of it was over, i told my husband (as he literally fed me sips of water. that image still makes me cry.) that i couldn’t get three sentences out of my head. it was like the emotional earthquake i had just endured had unearthed them, and they were there, lying ugly on my earth, in plain sight. three lies. three sentences that i had never consciously thought but that had driven my subconscious for who knows how long. 

i have to. 

i’m not able to. 

i don’t have a choice. 

over and over. my entire brain was quietly repeating this condemning mantra. relieved it was finally out in the open. needing me to do something with them. what do you do with that kind of info? when something in you finally wakes up and says, “hello, hi, yes, please help.” and you feel both very awake and also like you’re dreaming.

the amazing part was that it was in response to something i said, post-panic. johnboy had the next day off, a very coveted and celebrated commodity in our home, and i was mad mad that i was gonna be all funky the next day. i can’t even remember my exact vent, but it was something like, “i’m so frustrated that i have to be all catatonic now. we had fun plans. now i have to be all withdrawn and shut down, and i don’t want to. it’s so frustrating. i just want to live life, and i don’t want to stay in bed all day or be miserable.” and that’s how my mind responded, by showing me the lie weeds. “heyyyyy, we actually don’t want to either! you just got these lies trapped in here that make it feel like we don’t have a choice about anything. can you take them for us? yeah? great! also, figure out why they’re there. sure no give it time! whenever you’re ready! we can actually figure out that part together later. but for now could we just stop watering them so they’ll quit growing? wonderful. oh! by the way, we’ve planted some great seeds in their place. gonna be beautiful come spring.” 

a pastor told me once that the voice of God will never push you down. it only draws you in. anything other than that voice is His enemy, condemning us and reminding us of what we’ve done and will never be able to do. as a loving Parent to a child, it will never be a voice that doesn’t love me wholly. so, with that knowledge in mind, i began to compare my thoughts and actions within the filter of these three lies. and i found repeated limiting beliefs that lined up with them. let me tell you, when you hold up your life’s work (picture rafiki holding baby simba for the full effect) to the light of Truth, (i DON’T have to! i DO have a choice! i AM able to!) what you find is both life-giving and lots of old grief. i hold space for both lots of days. there’s room within me for all of it. as i’m clearing out lies that don’t serve me or line up with God’s view of me, i find i have much more space than i used to. 

as for the lies themselves, i take it one day at a time and carefully measure where my thoughts are coming from. that’s something i’ve learned to do with time and really wonderful, productive therapy. i have to work, daily, to consciously believe some form of opposite of my old beliefs. some days that feels next to impossible. other days, i can feel my whole self gravitating there without effort. ultimately it is really healing and sweet to encourage my own mind to move forward into more and more love and peace and acceptance. when it comes down to it, i’ve just decided to treat myself the way i want to treat others. isn’t that beautifully backwards? we have been told for so long to treat others the way we want to be treated. somewhere along the way, we forgot to start inside ourselves.

when a new lie unearths, and it does, because i’m a constantly healing, growing human bean living in a messy world, i try to imagine my most beloveds feeling it instead. what would i say to them? i would want to hold them, if it was troubling and they felt like a hug. i would want to sit quietly and wait until they were ready to talk. and then i would probably say something akin to, “oh, my sweet friend, that doesn’t line up with your character. you have years and years of proof that this is who you are. that? that’s a lie to get you isolated and wounded and hopeless. that’s stale and boring. that’s how satan wants us because he knows there is healing strength in numbers. here is how God sees you. here is who you really are. this is what He calls you. this is what you were made to be” when i tell you that radical love is life-changing, i mean it is truly, truly life-changing. i now talk to myself like i matter. and i believe, deep in my heart, that i do matter.

i now see that God lives in my heart and helps orchestrate my mind like a symphony. when i speak to myself in love, i’m speaking of God’s creation with love. i know there are things that block that connection within me, and it’s a beautiful, painstaking job to mentally undo all that mess of grief and trauma. it’s all Him working. it’s all me working. it’s Emmanuel, God with us. revealed in us. i did not know that before. as more old, stale beliefs unearth and uproot, i am free to receive God’s love and share it with the people around me. that’s my job now. that’s how i make His name synonymous with love, in my own mind and in the minds of those i encounter. that’s how i help heal the brokenness in me. and i heal a little bit every day. 

because, actually, i can.

no matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that you wish will come true.

i found out my local disney store is closing. it felt like a gut punch when i saw the sign. it’s the sweet store we took baby scouty to so many times. then when charlie boy came along, it was a joy to introduce him to our fun little NorthPark loop. it was a sweet place, a small dose of magic, a little emotional reprieve for the homesick Disnerds in all of us. to say i was surprised was an understatement. it was an instant sadness.

my first response was panic. full-on panic that didn’t even make a ton of sense to me. but i looked at my sweet mama and said, “i am panicking. i don’t know why. can you make sure Charlie stays okay?” i started to walk around for a second, and then i wanted to call my sister. (duh.) it was an entire flood of emotions all at once, and i could feel myself unraveling a little bit in the middle of a closing down disney store. my mask felt tighter than normal, and my head felt dizzy. everywhere i looked, the items were 20% off and all sales final when i wanted them to be full price and staying put. i really did just panic for a minute there. i DID call my sister and we talked for about 30 seconds, and then i said, “okay, i’m going to be with Charlie now.”

and here the tears come as i type this part. i knew i was going to miss this (suddenly numbered) time with him, otherwise. i really couldn’t fully unravel then and there. he didn’t know any of it. how could he? he can’t read. the music was happy and everything looked the same to him. at this age, his mood is 100% determined on what his people are feeling and projecting. he was just excited for a surprise trip to one of his favorite places. he ran in and out of the mirrors and looked at the toys and wished they were playing fun movies on their big projector. he was just happy and 4 and content with his mama and his nan. and i didn’t want to miss it. inside, for whatever reason, i was fully unraveling. but on the outside, i had a precious little life in front of me that was content and joyful, wearing a mask without complaint, thankful for the outing and quality time together.

i let him pick out new masks. he was so excited to see a darth vader one in his size. (“do you know what his theme song is, mama? THE IMPERIAL MARCH.”) i tried so hard to be excited as i choked back confusing tears. i tried and was thankful for my mama filling in the blanks for me. then, through tears i couldn’t hold back, i looked at her and said, “this is exactly what it feels like to have a young kid in a pandemic.” and something in me broke open and rejoiced to be heard and it all made a little more sense for me. we have tried to explain it many times before. how we have had to hold it together even when we’re falling apart inside. how the world shut down and dinner had to be eaten. how everything was falling apart in our world and we still had to convey, daily, “look at mama. do i look scared? it’s going to be okay.” and then we had to look to God so He could say, “Look at Me. Do I look scared? It’s going to be okay.” and nothing felt okay and still doesn’t most days. but we were, and all, a little okay.

and even now, as i type, the tears are free flowing. the store is closing, and that is tremendously sad on a silly, personal level. (and on a non-personal level as that many more cast members suddenly find themselves without an income.) for The Idiots, it will be okay, of course. we will make new memories and new routines and always, always reach for the joy or make it ourselves. our kiddos will be sad, and so will we. but we will be okay. but it somehow encompasses the weight of loss of these last 13 months. these life changes, these hits that make us say, “OH. OW. oh wow, i wasn’t expecting that. okay. give me a second, and i’ll adjust. wow. that was just not what i was thinking would happen.” we are called cowards if we turn off the news. or watch the wrong news. or repost something we believe in. or don’t repost if we disagree. religion, politics, ethics have blurred into 1 entity, and every day we wake up to something new in our face that says “THIS MATTERS THE MOST.” and it’s just the most overwhelming weight to feel all of it and still find a smile and a good morning and let’s make some breakfast and turn on the diffusers and the Epcot music loop on youtube. i read recently that a non-traumatic childhood isn’t one void of trauma. it’s one where children are able to freely process the trauma they’ve encountered. that gave me a flood of relief i didn’t know i needed. as long as we can keep making Mickey shaped waffles and talking about every feeling under the sun, it can still be okay for him. for them. for all of us.

we got in the car and turned on moonshadow by Cat Stevens and let the tears flow a little more freely. that felt good. charlie couldn’t understand why the two grownups in the car were quietly crying. and i told him that our disney store was going to eventually close. (he, like me, processes best knowing the gentle truth and talking about it openly.) i told him that mama was crying because mama is a big crybaby and i love that about myself and it’s how my brain chooses to process big feelings. i asked if he remembered when Bing Bong was sad after his rocket was thrown overboard on Inside Out. joy panicked and tried to make him laugh, but it didn’t work. he had lost something. sadness sat down next to him, so he wouldn’t be alone. he cried caramels and grieved the loss of his friend for a second. i asked charlie what happened next, and Becky Nan whispered, “i know this one! he died. he jumps off a moving rocket and dies.” okay, mama, you’re NOT wrong, but also not the answer i was looking for. thanks for the tears AND belly laugh though. Sadness sits with Bing Bong, listens to his grief, hugs him, and lets him cry. after a few seconds, he wipes his tears, and he looks at Joy and Sadness both and says, “i’m okay now. come on.”

as the year mark came and went, i find myself remembering what life was like this time last year. and i grieve for us all. for the fear and the uncertainty and the loneliness and the unity and the signs in windows and the neighborhood walks and the genuine concern for our fellow man. that was a painful time. that was a sweet time. that was a forever time, and i feel it deserves my tears now. soon, probably very soon, a tiny bit of numbness and resolve will kick in for me, and i will be completely on board with dinner and game night and dance parties and campfire cookouts. but for a little minute here, my heart and my mind and my whole being are going to be open to the weight of it all. and i’ll grieve in a closing disney store while still smiling happily at my sweet boy, giddy about his new darth vader mask.

Cause we made it through, i do believe, the longest year in history.

(here’s the story: i wrote this early morning on October 29th. it was a holiday symphony that wouldn’t leave my brain. i hit publish, i closed the app before it *actually* uploaded, and it disappeared into the internet void like that video of the poor raccoon that can’t find his cotton candy in a water puddle. i couldn’t find it anywhere, and i, too, became a puddle of sugar water and rabid raccoon. 

but! somehow! just now! here it is. so, please read the backdated words about why i believe this holiday season is the most important wonderful time in the longest year in history. big love from a little raccoon with an even bigger piece of cotton candy this go around.)

i cannot read that caption without my face crumpling and that all too familiar (but still so sweet) lumpy throat hitting me. i think i listened to it that song 10 times today. (The Thanksgiving Song by Ben Rector. you need it, too.)

i’ll start by saying that i love a holiday more than almost anything. gimme something to decorate and celebrate and play specific music, and i’m a content lady. fast forward to these days of living life with my Kind-Hearted Slytherin, and spooky season means a lot to us. a lot a lot. i have 100 hand-cut paper bats flying out of my chimney to prove it. we have coffee mugs featuring our favorite Disney villains and (as of this year) a full corner dedicated to our most beloved family member, The Headmuss Hurseman. i am fluent in Hocus Pocus and will fight annoyance that it’s a mainstream love now when i took the time to memorize the movie as i watched it on VHS every day of 3rd grade. it’s fine and i’m fine and it’s all just one big glooooorious morning that makes me sick.

last year we decorated on September 1st and turned everything around for Christmas by October 23. and you know what? i genuinely regretted it. i didn’t know i would. i missed those last bits of spooky fall excitement before the entire world turns red and gold and full of hope disguised as stress and stress disguised as hope. i vowed that i would not make that mistake again. i would not try to bend a calendar to fit my need for comfort and joy and control.

we added 100 spiders to our repertoire this year, and they’re exactly as wonderful and awful as you would think. we made our 2nd annual spider web, and nameless friend (COUGH KENZIE COUGH) told me in a FaceTime that i wouldn’t have them still up by Halloween.

y’all, i don’t know what kind of sorcery she put on my stubbornness, but those spiders are still up with a web that is hanging on by a literal thread. and even though that was the plan all along, i have somehow turned it into something that is entirely Kenzie’s fault. i haven’t taken one Halloween decoration down. out of sheer stubbornness, i have refused and my heart wants to so, so bad. you know why?

because of a Thrill of hope and a weary, rejoicing world and O Come O Come Emmanuel and free Your Captive Israel and ‘Tis the Season when the Saints can employ us to spread the news about Peace and to keep Love alive and Feed the World and let them know it’s Christmastime again and Linus telling us all about that blessed Angel of the Lord bringing tidings of great joy and His Law is Love and His Gospel is Peace and thank you very, very, very much and Enjoy the beauty of the joy and beauty that a Merry Christmas can bring you and welcome to our world and Merry Christmas you wonderful old savings and loan.

did your heart light up with any of that? i can feel it in my bones. under the weight of all of our massive dread and fear and depression and anxiety and stress and unease and tumult and unknown, there’s a tiny, tiny, tiny thimble thrill of hope waiting to be born. a Gift that has nothing to do with us and what we’ve done and everything to do with a Savior that dearly loves all of His children.

i love the bats, and you KNOW i love the candy. but i’m ready for a month full of gratitude and dog shows and butter and shortening. and then, so, so much more than that, i’m ready for the perspective and reset that comes with each Advent season. i’m ready for the tidings of great joy. i’m ready to comfortably miss my Grammy. and i’m ready for all of us to remember His hope again.

i am so very grateful to have waited this year. i’m thankful that all of our fun and silly Halloween traditions were readily available. (albeit tweaked bc 2020) it’s felt truly good to let my kid be a kid after such an exhausting year to be a kid. i’m thankful to make new memories in the coming weeks. and i can almost stretch my mind to make Kenz’s challenge into a deeply good thing for this season. almost.

God bless us everyone. and God bless the friends that see you fully and challenge you to wait past your comfort zone. but don’t tell her i said that. and don’t judge me when it’s 12:01am on November 1st, and i’m on my roof with Christmas lights. catch you on the flippity flip, Sanderson sisters. and haul. out. the. holly.

flashback to the time we brainstormed Halloween costumes and i almost had to sue my sisray for willful ignorance.