Archive for category Memoir

Literary Missteps: Also Go See Les Miserables

Do you ever stick your foot in your mouth regarding literature? Do you know what I mean? Like, you always assumed Evelyn Waugh was some old lady or you mistakingly thought the title of that novel was Tequila Mockingbird? Maybe you tried to pronounce Fyodor Dostoevsky in conversation and your tongue crashed and burned in complete betrayal.

In honor of Les Miserables showing in a theatre near you, I decided to confess one of my biggest literary missteps. Back in 2000, I toured England for six weeks through a program sponsored by the campus ministry at my university. Our group could spend two free days in London, and one of the “must do” items on my list was to see a performance of Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre because anyone who heard about my free time in London insisted I go. They could barely speak of the show without crying, adding how my life wouldn’t be complete until I had seen it.

I actually knew very little about the musical. I thought it was something about the French Revolution (Literary Misstep #1). I had only heard one song from the entire show, “On My Own,” because I had a roommate obsessed with Dawson’s Creek, and she made me watch a scene where Joey (Katie Holmes) sings it for a beauty pageant, finally getting Dawson to look at her as a girl. You can find it on YouTube. I won’t provide the link because it’s painful.*

So, anyway, my friends and I are up at the very top of the Palace Theatre, super excited about the idea of seeing Les Miserables IN LONDON. (Something about saying IN LONDON after everything makes it that much cooler. Bag Pipes IN LONDON. McDonald’s IN LONDON. Pigeons IN LONDON. Wearing pants IN LONDON) The music starts, and I’m instantly enchanted. The rotating stage. The gorgeous score. Everything. However, before we even hit intermission, I’m suddenly lost in the plot. Based on very little context, I had convinced myself that at some point two men, who look exactly alike though are not twins, switch places to save one from returning to jail, awaiting eventual execution. Right? Was I missing something?

I kept expecting a man to come out, looking exactly like Jean Valjean. You might also consider: 1) we sat at the very top of the theatre, 2) all of the actors sang every line of the entire show, and 3) all of them had British accents, so understanding the nuance of the plot was difficult.

Not until several days later did I realize why I was so confused. I mixed up the plots of Tale of Two Cities and Les Miserables. Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton switched places to save one from the guillotine and save the other man’s soul through ultimate sacrifice during the best of times and the worst of times. Not Jean Valjean and, you know, some other guy in France with a British accent. Jean Valjean offered grace to his most hated enemy as he heard the people sing, singing the songs of angry men. In my defense, Valjean hid his identity to keep from going back to prison, plus the France thing, and the battle thing with French uniforms. It’s all very understandable. Right?

I’m the weirdest and dumbest person ever.

Moving on, we saw Les Miserables over the holidays with my husband’s family. We loved it, except for the hot mess performance of Russell Crowe. Anne Hathaway was amazing, and Hugh Jackman could sing to me any day of the week. Lovely man. I still recommend one of the Broadway recordings for your listening pleasure, but the movie pulls out emotion and depth you can’t really see from the nosebleeds at the Palace. So, spill it.

When have you been most embarrassed in literary circles?

*Okay, okay. Here’s the link to the “Someone-sings-a-song-from-Les Miserables-worse-than-Russell-Crowe” video. Watch at your own risk.

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Facing My Fears in 2013

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Ready…set…

I’m in the middle of reading, The Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans, one of my favorite bloggers. In the book, she tackles the idea of biblical womanhood by taking a full year to examine what the Bible actually says about being a woman and what we in a modern culture should do about it. She wears a head covering, grows out her hair, dresses as modestly as possible, learns to sew and cook, praises her husband at the city gates, and even spends a few nights in a tent during her period.

Rachel Held Evans challenges my thinking. She calls people out on the carpet, and she handles tough subjects (and the backlash) with grace. Plus, she loves Tina Fey almost as much as I do, which always puts people on my team.

I just finished reading her chapter “May: Fertility, Quivers Full of Arrows and Sippy Cups.” Not a mother herself, Evans spends much of the month reading about motherhood, searching for the answers about why her maternal instincts hadn’t kicked in, and then she finally decides to post about her fears of becoming a mom on her blog. After posting about all of her fears, she says this:

“As always, I felt a strange sense of relief upon giving all those amorphous fears a shape and parading them before the public like wild animals on a circus train. Blogging is an inexpensive form of therapy if you do it right, if you use it to tell the truth about something other than what you had for dinner that night.”

I grew up in an “if you don’t talk about it, it will go away” household. Bills are behind? “Hmm…I’ll watch television.” The fridge is empty? “Let’s go out to eat!” Laundry needs to be done? “You can wear those jeans again.”

Add to that, I was a baby sister; my brothers were eight and almost ten when I was born. Naturally, I hated to get caught not knowing the answer to something. Doing so meant facing flailing arms, sighs, and eye rolls with an exasperated, “NO! BONE HEAD!” thrown in for good measure.

Obviously, ignoring fears and hiding my ignorance throughout childhood impacted how I dealt with fears as an adult. Speaking fears into the air caused them to become normal, every day things, rather than crises.

Once in a while, I take a moment in my Evernote, and I just type out all the things that scare me. Somehow this dislodges the words I need. Getting the fears out of my head, naming them, really beats most of it down. I take my anxieties and put words to them, even number the fears in a list. Suddenly, those fears become, at most, a to-do list. By calling them out, I deflate their power from crippling inaction. I harness those fears into a task at hand, something I can easily cross off.

Starting this blog last year came, in many ways, as a method for tackling my fears. I’ve always been a writer, and I’ve known for a long time that I should be writing, but for years I would use excuses or feigned modesty not to pursue it (I can “aw shucks” my way out of a lot of courageous steps).

More than anything, my goals for 2013 address those fears:

Fear says, “You’ll never become a respected writer. Who would pay you anything for your words?”

My goal, “Find my loyal audience. Speak to them.”

Fear says, “Why don’t you just go back to teaching? You could double your income!”

My goal, “Choose the life you want. Don’t let circumstances choose you.”

Fear says, “Why are you trying to lose weight again? Haven’t you failed at that before?”

My goal, “Eat healthy foods. Exercise. Feel good about your body and what’s going in it.”

And ultimately, because this is my greatest fear…

Fear says, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll look stupid?”

I say, “These are just goals. I’m setting the bar high. Let’s see how far I can go.”

So, a couple of questions for you, friends:

Are you tackling fears, facing them, speaking them into to-do lists? Or are you hiding from them, ignoring them, letting them control you? 

*Some links in this post are affiliate links. That means, if you click on the link and then buy something at amazon.com, I get a little kick back.

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On the Day Before Thanksgiving: Our Month of “Famine”

wheat is ready to harvest...

Not too long ago, I mentioned some of our turbulent times as of late. Among dealing with my mom’s sickness, a new job, and a move, my husband and I had to go a month without pay in August. In mid-July my husband and I learned that his first paycheck at his new job would be in September. His last paycheck at his old job would come in July (The reasons for this are weird and take too long to explain.) So, we needed to make one paycheck last for two months.

Normally, this would be doable. We would take a month or two to build up our savings. We would use our emergency fund we already have in place. But we had just spent almost all of our savings on car repairs. And house deposits. And pet deposits. And moving expenses. And we had two weeks to find extra money, not a month.

So what did we do?

We received our full security deposit back from our old house. We sold our appliances (our new house came furnished). We sold some other things on eBay. Our family members gave Tyler an especially nice birthday present and helped in other ways, too. Still, my heart stayed anxious. I even felt frustrated and angry at times. In the midst of this frustration, I finally stopped and thought:

You know what? During our month of “famine”: 

1. We slept in an air conditioned house every night during the hottest part of the summer.

2. We drank clean water straight from the faucet and took warm baths and showers as often as we liked.

3. We stayed connected to our friends and family through iPhones and wireless internet.

3. We had plenty to eat every single day.

4. We drove to see my mom and attend a dear friend’s funeral.

5. We even ate a fancy dinner for two at one of our favorite Houston restaurants for our anniversary (a sweet present from my aunt and uncle).

We were never impoverished.

God provided for us. Abundantly. More than we could ask or imagine. You know what else?

We are wealthy. Period.

What have I learned through this time of “famine”? I know that I have too much. I have spent so long learning to live frugally that I sometimes forget how to live generously. How can I be generous? How can I use the blessings we have been provided and bless others?

We are taking steps to do just that. My husband and I have always given money to our church, but we are moving beyond that. We are no longer spending our time wishing for bigger storage barns for all of our stuff. Instead, we are learning to open our eyes to the world around us, and in return, we are opening our pockets and sharing what God gives us.

I wish you all the best of Thanksgivings. May God bless us all throughout this holiday season.

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Timing and Back Burners

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To all of my regular readers (Hi, family!), you might have noticed my lack of posts lately. My mom experienced some complications from chemo again (She’s the queen of chemo side effects. Seriously, she could medal in cancer-related complications. Also folding fitted sheets.) Anyway, two weeks ago, my brother called me and said Mom had been rushed to ICU. She had fluid built up on her lungs, and during a routine procedure to drain the lungs, she suddenly could not breathe. She scared the mess out of everyone, requiring all of us to head to Houston to help out my brother. Mom is now at home, receiving daily health care from a home health nurse and frequent visits from friends and family. I ended up staying for a week. My sister-in-law and our former neighbors graciously watched my children. We’ve all been home for a week, and I’m just now getting caught up with normalcy again.

I’ve been reading the Chronicles of Narnia series with my boys, and my 6 year old is reading all of the Dr. Seuss I Can Read Beginner books. His favorites are: Wacky Wednesday, A Fish out of Water, In a People House, and Go Dog, Go! My 4 year old likes Caps for Sale and Giraffes Can’t Dance, and my two year old wants me to read The Tale of Peter Rabbit daily. My husband is currently reading Quiet by Susan Cain. Plus, he and I have been watching previous seasons of White Collar, and we also started watching The Newsroom (We just can’t resist Sorkin dialogue).

Timing is a funny thing in life. I started this blog almost exactly when my mom received her cancer diagnosis back in March. My dreams of creating a space where I could write and share have had to move to the back burner at times during this journey, and that’s okay. I hope everyone understands and continues to read when I am able to write. I’ve received such great encouragement from all of you, and I’m glad to have a space where I can flesh out some of my thoughts during this storm of life. Thank you for providing this place for me.

*photo credit

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Trust Your Instruments

In-flight B777

photo via compfight.com

My husband uses the phrase “Trust Your Instruments” with his students. He’s a band director, but the instruments he’s referencing are not clarinets. He’s referring to a pilot, just learning to fly on his own.

On clear days, a pilot’s instruments assure him of what he can already see – blue skies, land below, distinct horizon level with his wings. However, when the pilot encounters nighttime and can no longer see from the cockpit, his body still tries to balance itself, searching for a frame of reference. Soon, his instincts could tell him the plane is plummeting while he’s actually flying completely level. A pilot has to gain the experience to fight off instincts, learning to rely solely on the instruments in front of him to guide him home.

So, my husband says “Trust Your Instruments” to help his students remember fundamentals in band. If you’ve never been in marching band, you probably don’t see how it could be hard. But it is. You have to simultaneously project great air support through your horn for a good sound, blend with other players, remember where to go every 8 to 16 counts, and step perfectly to the beat, all while wearing a hat that makes you look like a Q-tip.

The whole thing could go south very quickly. All it takes is one drummer playing too fast or one group of trombones to lose the down beat. Tyler refers his students back to fundamentals during these times: Watch the drum major. Count. You have to trust the drum major more than your own ears sometimes. Reacting in a way that’s counter intuitive to your instincts takes a great deal of will power. You have to realize that you are relying on something you know is right, even though it doesn’t feel right.

In the same vein, when my husband and I hit a turbulent patch in our personal lives, he tells me the same thing, “Trust your Instruments.”

Our world has been turned topsy turvy since April. Just a sampling: My husband had to find a new job. We had to move. We had to use up all of our emergency fund to pay for car repairs and moving expenses. We lost a month of pay in the process of job transition. My mom learned she had stage 4 breast cancer. I’ve had to travel at least once a month to help her. My kids aren’t used to being away from me at all, let alone days at a time.

During these times, my husband reminds me: “Trust Your Instruments.”

What does that mean? We go back to fundamentals. I can’t change any of the chaos occurring our lives right now, but I can keep us in line with the horizon. What do I do?

1. Basic Routines: Now is not the time to clean the house from top to bottom. I keep us functioning: laundry, general pick up, dishes, bathrooms. That’s all I can do right now, and it’s enough. Right now is not the time to start a gluten free diet or experiment with all of my new recipes on Pinterest. Now is the time for meals I can almost make in my sleep  – things that are simple, familiar, easy to prepare.

2. Pull up the Drawbridges: While life is still storming and raging outside, my little family has to fortify our castle to wait it out. We stay home and do our normal day stuff as often as we can. I stick to the basics with homeschool: reading, writing, math. We take naps or rest in the afternoons. We go to bed at normal times as often as possible. We attend church and see family. Otherwise, we stick close to the castle.

3. Trust Those on the Ground: While struggling blind in the air, I could easily keep my pride and stop trusting those who have a better view. However, it’s during these times of turbulence when I must rely on my fundamental faith as well as my closest friends and family to keep us safely on course. I allow others to help when they offer, and I don’t worry about being embarrassed. I’ve learned that my dearest friends offer to help because they love me – not out of judgment or pity.

Ultimately, I have to rely on the Father, who is always right and who never fails. Many times His ways are counter intuitive to my feelings, but His ways have never failed me.

If you find yourself in the midst of darkness, find your way back to your instruments. Trust what you know.

What are some ways you trust your instruments during the storms of life?

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Dear Me: A Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Teenage Kelly,

First. These glasses. Are you afraid of bats attacking your face? Do you really need a face guard along with the corrective lenses? Were you just hoping to shrink those chubby cheeks? Precious, they are chubby, and they always will be. They are also adorable. Seriously. Hey, you know what, you’ll see what I mean when you meet a little one named Hannah Beth, especially when she is two. No need to hide those cheekers. Just get some contacts soon, OK?

Kelly, take it from yourself at almost 34, putting up a shield (either of the emotional or bat-deflecting framed variety) to shut other people’s judgments out of your life will not keep hurt or criticism from happening. You can use sarcasm or feign shyness or wear t-shirts and jeans or put your hair in a ponytail to deflect criticism. In fact, keeping up those defenses might hold back the battering ram of the outside world for a time, but those defenses will bring you no peace. You can only find peace in learning to love how God made you.

Here are some other things I would like you to know:

1. You can hide your true self and try to fit in, but the pretending will not heal your insecurities. Please know that girls as teenagers, in general, are mean. Just plain mean. You need to rise above it, and not embrace the meanness. You are trying to avoid conflict and teasing, but you know what? Usually, people tease and judge others to mask their own insecurities or inadequacies. Just don’t worry too much about belonging, and don’t repay any insults you receive by heaping insults on others. It’s not easy: the gossiping, the backstabbing, the teasing. But, you have some friends who can help you get through this. Stick to them.

Like this one. Keep writing letters to her, and as soon as you get your driver’s license, drive down to see her.

Also this one. Yes, she has a boyfriend. (What? Did you say, “Like that’s going to last?” Oh, it does. Trust me. He’s a keeper.) But she’ll still make time for you. Just call her.

Also, your friend, Les. She’s awesome, right? Maybe take a few pictures with her for posterity’s sake. You are with her all the time. She is one of your best friends. (Sorry Les!) You might also consider wearing another dress to semi-formal occasions as most of your pictures around this time feature you in this darling shade of peach. 

2. Comparing yourself to others leads you nowhere. The sooner you learn to stop comparing yourself to other people, the better your life will be. You can never measure true value with an instrument – not a scale or a measuring tape or a bell curve. You are smart. Sometimes you try to hide it. And sometimes you use it to measure your worth. Listen, you don’t need to hide your A+ test grade under your folder, but you also don’t need to know who made the highest grade on the test either. When you get to college, you will meet people who love you despite all of your social awkwardness. Despite your inept fashion sense. Despite your A’s in everything. And you know what? Most of them will be just as smart or smarter and just as pretty or prettier, and it’s not a big deal.

3. You don’t have to prove anything. The basketball thing? Yeah. Just go ahead and stop doing that. You aren’t competitive. It’s okay. You’re not athletic either. That’s okay, too. Spend time reading and writing. Don’t take every upper level math class or join every academic and extracurricular activity possible. Cut yourself some slack. Spend time walking and running for fun. Stick with music, maybe take an art class. Seek out other things you enjoy. You don’t have to like sports at all, really.

3. Go over to the feed store and spend some time with your dad. Get him to tell you the stories again. I know he tells them all the time. Trust me. You’ll still laugh. Write a few of them down in a journal.

4. You are about to go through the turning point in your life. Hang on. You’ll make it out on the other side just fine, but not without grief and heartache. Mostly, hang on to your real self during that process. You’ll spend most of your twenties trying to hide it. Don’t.

5. Run to God. RUN! Grab on tight to Him. Seek him in your pain. Find joy in His blessings. Don’t seek distractions or food or another extracurricular activity or more friendships. Fill up your plate with His loving kindness. Find Him, and He will give you peace.

Take care,

Your ancient, still-blind and now half-deaf 34-year-old self

PS. Don’t worry too much about finding the guy you’re going to marry. Truthfully, you’ve already seen him. Remember the summer camp talent show? That guy who played the piano with his sister? Yep. I know, so CUTE, right? Well, yeah, but he starts to wear his hair shorter, so it’s all good. Anyway, you’re going to meet up with him again in a few years. There you go. No worries.

Note: Emily at chatting at the sky has a new book for teenage girls called Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life. She is offering an invitation for bloggers to write letters to their teenage selves. Teenage girls need encouragement and love more than anything. They might also need to hear how we all felt as teenagers, not advice or warnings. Go check out emily’s blog today for links to other letters, and go grab a copy of her book!

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Growing: My Dad’s Favorite Pastime

My dad bottle feeding a baby calf.

My dad lost his battle with cancer on this day 17 years ago. I was nearly 17 at the time. Because I only had my dad through my teenage years, I never experienced the natural cycle of the parent/child relationship with him. I didn’t get to have conversations with him about how I had made my own decisions and then he could say how he would always be proud of me. I never got to laugh with him in my thirties about stupid stuff I said when I was in college – when I knew everything. He didn’t get to hear about my parenting scares, like my youngest boy at the age of two steal a dining chair and a step stool in order to reach the bag of marshmallows high in the pantry (He would have cracked up at that one). In other words, Dad never saw me all grown up, which is a shame.

Just before rounding up cattle

You see, my dad more than anything liked to grow things. He worked with cattle most of his life, and after college he wanted to run a feed lot or his own cattle business, but that never worked out. Instead, he started selling farm equipment. His job was to help farmers produce the highest yield from their crops. Eventually, after a raw deal through his corporation, he set off on his own to grow his own business – a feed and fertilizer business, once again helping farmers get the best harvest possible.

Dad rented farmland to grow wheat as a side project. Yes, my weirdo dad grew wheat for fun. He also planted trees in his spare time – fruits of every kind imaginable, and he made them thrive in the West Texas barrenness – land only meant for mesquite trees. My dad dug a well, so that he could water and cultivate his trees, despite droughts or rough winds. Some of my clearest childhood memories involve Dad moving water hoses all over our property with the Texas Ranger game blaring from his pickup radio. We had plums, pears, three types of cherries, peaches, apples, a walnut tree, blackberry bushes. We usually had a vegetable garden, too. I lived at a Farmer’s market, essentially and had no idea. I thought everyone could just go in the backyard for a snack.

Dad was always watching growth. He even bought calves to graze in our back pasture, not to make money, just to see them grow up. We had baby lambs, chickens, ducks, a horse, puppies, kittens. While other houses around me housed guns for hunting or rods and reels for fishing, our house was always teeming with life. In his own way, he hated pheasant and deer season, always commenting that he’d rather see the pheasant roosting in the pasture or flying off together, and he’d rather watch deer jump gracefully over barbed wire throughout our country than see one mounted in a living room.

Dad holding me as he talks to my brother.

Dad also loved helping people grow – coaching softball teams, mentoring teenage guys needing a summertime job, extra tipping the new wait staff at the local diners. He encouraged his own kids to work hard and use their brains to grow as much as possible (We didn’t always listen).

In case you can’t read the letters on my ultra-rad iron on Smurf’s shirt, that’s me at around 5 years.

I guess that’s where I get part of my creative spirit. I have a brown thumb, not retaining anything I learned about plants from my dad. In fact, I once killed a fern, which is just about the hardest plant to kill. My dad wasn’t a big reader or writer, but he knew the power of working on something and watching it flourish. He relished in the growth process. Though I may not ever have a garden or plant a fruit tree (I’m thinking about doing it this spring with the kids), I hope I always remember the spirit he exuded when I sit down to write something to see if I can make my ideas grow.

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