Tuesday, December 22, 2015

When Advent is Painful and Messy

In so many ways, the end of this year has been downhill...the week after Thanksgiving until now (just three days before Christmas) has felt like sucker punch after sucker punch. Eight papers due over the span of a week, running on little sleep night after night, getting horribly sick right before and all during finals, dealing with all sorts of emotional junk, trying to find closure and write about the messiness of betrayal and forgiveness in a 12-page paper. Finding out that my little 10 year old baby brother has a tumor in his brain (the doctors think it might be benign but we won't know for sure until his next appointment in Jan). Leaving this semester feeling exhausted, alone, and emotionally empty. Driving six hours by myself. Arriving home to promptly turn around and drive my brother to Texas to take an in-house ACT at A&M. Arriving home from that to drive to Houston for a cousin's tournament and then straight on to Dallas because our grandfather fell and is currently in the hospital due to brain damage. Learning on the road that an old family friend lost her battle with cancer at the young age of 53, leaving behind grieving children and husband - her youngest is only 13. 

In so many ways, I feel as though I have nothing left. I've never felt so defeated and bone-weary and empty. 

This Advent has been one of darkness and tears and hardship. I love this liturgical season and always hope each year that my spirit will quiet and be hushed, that I will drink in the stillness and hopeful silence. 

That wasn't what happened this year. Instead, I felt smacked again and again. Smacked with God's goodness in the most painful way. Drained emotionally, drained mentally from writing so many words and  memorizing so many prices of information, utterly drained physically and so aware of my weak body and human fragility. I drove home tearful and yearning for more than anything to be home and safe where I could finally rest. And then life happened. Hospital visits and road trips and funerals. 

There's been much darkness and difficulty. Hard days, silent moments because sometimes there is nothing you can do. This Advent has been one of darkness and weariness and sorrow. 

And somehow, it feels fitting. As if I finally understand Advent. That it isn't a season of weeks to check off a preparation list for Christmas...that it isn't a series of Sundays to make us feel good and holy. Advent is about the mess. The cold. The aching sensation that comes during what is renowned as the "happiest" time of the year. 

I disagree. Christmas, for so many, has been and always might be the hardest time of the year. 

And in each moment of despair and quiet, when my soul wants to whisper no, not this too, I remember that winter is a time of darkness and cold. Winter is bitter, as is life, but it is also when we draw near to the flames. When nothing else is bearable, when the world is too much, when our load is too heavy, when even the light of our room or house is too bright, we retreat into the darkness and light a candle. 

The steadiness of the flickering flame is sometimes all we can bear...sometimes, our eyes are too wet and heavy, our hearts too full and hurting, to stand anything other than candlelight. 

And in the darkness, the flame burns. Calm and quiet. Unwavering. Gentle and steady. It does not eradicate the darkness, but softens it. Grants a peace somehow. Adds depth and warmth in a hollow of hope amidst the shadows. 

Haley of The Tiny Twig asked on Instagram what we're praying for (for ourselves) as the year draws to a close. I'm praying for a renewed spirit and a fresh start. Advent was dark and messy and overwhelming, and I find myself pausing each day, filled with gratitude for the coming of a Child. For a fresh start. A clean slate. For the hope of a new year and the promise of healing. 

In the midst of mess and pain, there can be joy, and there has been. One of my very best friends has been excepted to her dream school for a divinity program, and I've waited and hoped and prayed with her for this moment. One of my favorite bloggers and a lady near my heart (even though we've never met in real life) just revealed she and her adorable husband are expecting. It feels like Christmas to see people, that I root for and cheer on and care for, have their dreams come true. I told my friend that it feels like those are my Christmas presents this year...seeing their joy, the goodness that has been granted them. 

The flame in the darkness. The promise in the waiting. The hope amidst the despair. The Christmas rising through Advent. 

This isn't a "woe is me" post in the hopes of garnering pity. There are so many blessings and forms of joy in my life...but this IS a post for any of who are struggling too. Who feel weary and overwhelmed. Who haven't felt the holiday spirit yet. For the broken-hearted, the tired, the lonely, the empty. 

This is for those who have had an Advent full of pain and mess. 

Christmas is coming. The hope of a Child and of healing is drawing near. May this week be one of peace and stillness, even amidst the pain and mess. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, Baghdad, Beirut: Something Worth Fighting For

My heart broke last night.

Just as it did exactly a year ago. And just as I did a year ago, I went to one of my best friends - the boy I am closest to - and cried. Painfully, uncontrollably.

Last year, it was different.

Last year, I sat on his couch crying and shaking because of a person. Because of a relationship that had fallen apart in the most painful way possible. 

Last night, I cried with him again, this time over FaceTime. This time over a city. Over a place that had become my home, where I had been welcomed and loved, where I had learned and grown. 

This time, I sobbed and shook because of Paris. Because of the terror and brutality and death inflicted on a city where I and so many others had walked and dreamed. 

I cried for the people of Paris, for the French host families who had taken us study abroad students under their wing. I cried for the innocent lives cut short in a moment - at a concert, walking down the street, outside a futball game. 

In a moment, everything changed. 

Paris's world changed. And the rest of the world's eyes looked to the city of lights, now shrouded in darkness and dispair. 

As I cried on the phone with my best friend, he looked at me with devastation and said, "I have no words. But I hurt for you." 

He knew how close to home this hit for me, how jarring it was to realize what had happened, how my ties to Paris were still strong and deeply tethered. How I had left a price of my heart there. How I would always consider it, in a way, my home. He knew that I was hurting for the people of Paris, and he was hurting for them too.

I fell asleep holding my Rosary from the Mont-Sainte Michel Abbey in France. There were no words in my heart, only grief and silent lifting upwards to God. 

I woke up this morning thinking, not only about Paris, but about the attacks on Baghdad and Beirut last night also.

Thinking about stories today and the real-life folk who grow up listening to them and who choose not to turn back, but to face the evil in this world. 

And I thought of one Hobbit's words: 

"It's all wrong. By all rights, we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? 
But in the end it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. Because they were holding on to something."

"What are we holding on to, Sam?"

"That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo...and it's worth fighting for."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Quiet Moment in Between

Today is a day of retreating within, of seeking out and dwelling in the moments in between.

I'm drowning in quiet sensations...the warm, golden glow of lights hanging on my wall; the hushed stillness woven with the thrum of air conditioning; the faint, woodsy scent of sandalwood and citrus, rich and light all at the same time; the soft plushness of a blanket wrapped around me like a cocoon, as if imbued with the elusive magical ability to keep me safe + hidden from tears and the real world; the delicate strains of John William's The Book Thief soundtrack, slipping into the so very gentle notes of the Becoming Jane soundtrack, each note falling softly like a golden drop of sunlight and peace.

Words and thoughts flutter through my mind, tumbling and rising like leaves swirling in a breeze...the English countryside, familiar old books, threadworn cardigans, steaming vanilla tea, golden wooden staircases winding upwards, philosophy, flickering candles, unfolding myths, theology and the Incarnation, sunlit trees, hobbit holes, flying into clouds with pixie dust, pen against paper, faded spines of treasured books...

The warmth of a hand against one's shoulder, the crinkling around kind eyes that smile, the lilting cadence of poetry murmured over a fire beneath the deep and dark starry night, the heaviness of limbs, the quiet rise and fall of one's breath in an endless cycle, the deepening sense of fall and nearing winter, the dance of words against the page, the dizzying complexities of thought and emotions swirled together, the terrifying sensation of growing up, the resolve to always be young and merry at heart.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Back to the Old Way...

I have to admit I've gotten a little tired of this new idea of what a blog is.

I don't want to see a plethora of posts about various rich girls in Italy or Sweden with their Herm├Ęs bags and Louis Vuitton heels. 

Even the idea of being authentic has become a hipster trend. And many blogs focus on one thing: DYI, recipes, fashion, decorating, etc. (which isn't necessarily bad, but there seems to be this pressure to blog only about whatever your specific niche is). 

But when I find myself opening up the Bloglovin app or hungry for some posts, to read and hear from fellow women and men, from fellow bloggers...it's because I want to read their stories. 

I want to read about life - the real, the gritty, the mundane, the exciting, the boring, the inspirational. 

That's why I started blogging. Why I started (and why I keep on) reading blogs. 

To find rest for my weary soul in words from kindred spirits, from fellow souls who understand that this thing called Life is something to both mourn and celebrate. That there's hard seasons and good ones. 

And I hope that's what this little space is for you. A place where you can laugh, sigh, learn where to get some great inexpensive boots, chat about thrift store clothes, read about heartache and growing pains, and find encouragement. And celebrate - breathe - the moments in between. 

So that's what this blog will be...because I'm a real girl with messiness and lots of feelings. I've got a love for words, a desire for connection and kindred spirits and for saying 'ah, you too? I thought I was the only one,' and a heart for fellow feelers + lovers of life. 

I hope this little space reminds you of the raw, real, messy beauty of life...that it's not perfect, but that it's always worthwhile.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

When You're Trying to Figure Out Your Path: A Million Different Ways

Life's been jumbled up and all sorts of crazy lately...partly because it's the fall, and a time of change - of looking ahead to the future, of tests and deadlines and things picking up steam. And partly because I'm having to figure out what to do with my life next. After May...

As I told a good friend over coffee the other day, I've always had a very clear trajectory in my life for as long as I can remember. I was the child and high school student who knew what she wanted to major in and what she wanted to pursue.

Even after coming back from Paris this summer, everything was clearly laid out. I would apply to graduate creative writing programs. I would spend the next few years writing and growing, and then (hopefully) publish books. (all the while continuing to build my blog empire, heh)

And now...I'm not so sure.

In fact, as I told him, I have absolutely no idea what my life will look like. Where I'll be. Whether it's Texas...the East Coast...the Midwest...back home...or even England.

I might be in grad school. I might be working in the publishing industry. I might be taking a year off. I might be traveling. I might be doing none of those and instead something else that I haven't even considered.

And that's terrifying. And exhilarating. Because I'm opening myself up to the possibility. Granted, today was a long, exhausting, test-filled day that left me in tears and wanting to be five again so I can curl under the covers while my mother makes all my decisions for me. The absolute last thing I wanted was to not know what my future is.

But today, tonight even, something my friend said to me in return is finally sinking in. He said:

"You know, there are a lot of different ways to love God. You can love Him in grad school, as a waiter, in a simple job - it's just crazy the amount of ways you can love God. Wherever you are." 

Jess sent out a newsletter today about how it's really all about just loving God. That it's not about the success or doing well or even following all the steps you think you're supposed to.

At the end of the day, it's all just about loving God. And there's a million different ways of how that looks. A crazy amount of ways to love God.

If you're like me and currently evaluating your life - wondering what the next step is - maybe that will bring you the same peace it's bringing me.

There's no wrong way. Just a million different ways.

Confessions Vol. III

- ideal Friday night? The above, always. Add some episodes of Friends (how am I just now discovering the wonderfulness that is Joey, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, and Pheebs?), fuzzy socks, and mac n' cheese...literal perfection. 

- I am not a cheesecake person. At all. Just the thought of it makes my stomach clench...I think because it's just so.much.dairy and I can't handle that. Also, I'm a carb person, so the idea + actual process of eating something sweet that's just creamy and too rich is...bleh. (Let it be noted though that I adore ice cream and am generally fond of pudding. I know, I'm a hypocrite.)

BUT I can and always will eat any cheesecake with chocolate. That's the only way I can stomach it. And Olive Garden's Black Tie Mousse cheesecake? Bae. But only because it tastes like mousse, not cheesecake. 

- I have developed a strange dislike of guys holding doors open for me. It's a bit absurd, but there it is. It's not that I don't appreciate them being a gentleman, but for Pete's sake, I'm strong enough to open a door and it's okay if I hold it open for you too. My philosophy is whoever gets to the door first should open it - whether it's the guy or the girl. None of this "Oh, I shall refuse to walk through the door until you, a lady, go through it first." BOO. Just go through the dang door. 

- men in flannel...holding babies? Stop. Just please stop, because that is my Achilles heel. 

- I recently realized I haven't been on a date in years. Three years to be exact. What. Which then lead to the realization  that I don't remember/know anymore how to act on a date. What do you do? What do you say??? How much flirting is too much?!? 

The struggles.  

- we're not going to talk about the obscene lack of sleep that I've suffered from for the entire past week. We're also not going to talk about how I am old and just want to nap for a year and it's been killing me to run on fumes but between midterms, traveling out of town for a conference, and having to get up early, it's just not been a good week.

I'm sorry, body. I really, really am.

- during the first few weeks of the semester, when all of the freshmen boys are going crazy because COLLEGE and ALL THE GIRLS everywhere they looked, I ended up in the same conversation with a few of them. 

Freshman guy: (trying to be nonchalant and cool) "So, what are you - a sophomore?"
Grace: (blinks stoically) 
Grace: "I'm a senior."
Freshman guy: (sudden look of horror like a deer in the headlights) 
Freshman guy: "Ohhhh.... (Laughs weakly while edging away - 'OMG OMG OLDER WOMAN BACK AWAY BACK AWAY, THIS IS NOT A DRILL REPEAT THIS IS NOT A DRILL') That's cool." 

Throw in the fact that I'm a year older than most seniors (I'll be 23 next semester) and I can't help feeling bad for the poor, stricken 18-19 yrd guys who gamely try to strike up a conversation. Poor little dears

previous Confessions: Vol. I, Vol II.