Saturday, December 13, 2008

Birthday Gift

I've been working on this slide show for nearly a year, compiling old pictures, scanning, arranging & rearranging. It was supposed to be for my Dad's 60th - in a couple of weeks, he'll be 61. I was sick last year and couldn't finish it, but somehow, I think it's good that I waited.

If you'd like a sneak preview into the life of "SJ" :), click below. The first part is all my Dad, and his life before me. The second part, with the baby, is all me. My step-sisters are introduced halfway through (everything is in chronological order), and then finally, the last part is all my step-mother, me, and my step-sisters with their three total kids between them.

A small glimpse - and of course, a much glossed-over version of life as I knew/know it. After all, anything set to music sounds better than it actually was :) Things are better now though. Things are - dare I say it - good. Still the day-to-day messes of course...but for his birthday, we will celebrate only the good things. And mostly, there are good things.

We will celebrate the good in him, and the good in us.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Satisfied

A month ago, my step-grandmother died. Now normally, I don’t bother putting the term “step” in front of how I define my relationships with my various family members—many, or maybe most, of those I surround myself regularly and have grown up with since the age of 5, have been related to me by these social bonds rather than blood. For those who may not know, my parents divorced when I was 5, and by the age of 8, I was living in two families (complete with two brand-new siblings each), every other week. And every other week, I adjusted to a different family, and tried to find my place in it.

But, back to my step-grandmother. She was a good woman, strong and proud, and knew every single person in her county’s business. She developed early-onset Alzheimer’s, and even though she may ask you over and over and over again who you are, her first question would always be what your last name was, so she could figure out which “ridge” you were from. I never really knew her, beyond those simple and quick childhood interactions, but she was a good woman and will be missed by many.

My relationship on that side of the family has been strained as of late, due to misplaced hurts and anger that has either side solidly convinced that each is right. The details are not such that I will delve into on this blog—it would probably take all night to walk you back through those years that have led up to this inevitable break on my part to certain parts of my past. But there are three parts of that piece of my life that I can’t seem to break with—my two nieces and nephew, who are 13, 11 and 10. But, to me, they are all forever three years old =)

The funeral was a few weeks ago, and was held on a Sunday morning. It was the first time in about six months that I had seen any of these family members, and I sat there in the funeral parlor feeling overwhelmed by the sight of so many familiar people and amazed by how much time has marched across all our faces. All my old insecurities came flooding back within the first few minutes of walking in the door, and I was trying very hard to ignore my shaky hands, take deep breaths and remember why I was there and remind myself that today was not all about me.

I got word that my oldest niece was going to be singing—which made me panic in the way that a stage mother might panic, or in this case, a stage aunt. She is 13—an age in which I was terribly awkward, but she is not. She is steady and confident, but not in a conceited way that 13 year olds tend to be. I am desperately proud of her, but was worried at the same time that she might mess up and be forever scarred, or that she would freeze, only to grow up to document the entire incident in a best-selling memoir someday =)

It is so like me to get hysterical over things in my mind, while I sit calmly in my seat.

It was a country funeral, not unlike a country church service, where the eulogy turns out to be a sermon calling folks to accept Jesus and eternal life, should you ever want to see your loved one again. It was at the same time comforting and frightening, to hear familiar words spoken but seemingly out of context—there wasn’t so much spoken about her life, her family, the things and people she loved. It was a message of one simple hope—to see our loved one again, and to have eternal life ourselves—we must find God.

While I don’t disagree with these statements, and know that I have in fact found God myself, I’m going through a period in my life where I don’t go to church and find myself with many questions that maybe I’m not ready to have answered for me. I think spirituality is an on-going journey of enlightenment, and sometimes along that journey, you take a turn into the wilderness. And sometimes, that’s where you should be at that moment.

The service was almost over and my niece stood up to sing. She opened her mouth and proceeded to, a capella, sing an old gospel song I’ve heard only a handful of times in my life – “It Satisfies Me.” A million thoughts raced through my head during this song, and I know I’ll never hear it in the same way again.

“In the garden of Gethsemane, I can see our Savior there, as He talked to His Father in earnest prayer…He said if it by thy will, let this cup pass from me, but if not Lord, it satisfies me”

I prayed to God that she would get through this, simultaneously helping my other niece hold the video camera, while dimly noting how fantastic she sounded up there.

“Now if it satisfies you Lord, then it satisfies me.”

I couldn’t keep my eyes off her, her sweet and innocent face captivating everyone.

“If you’d have me on a mountain, or in a valley on my knees, either way Lord, it satisfies me”

Could I say the same for myself? Was I satisfied in any way?

“… if I go by the grave, or in the Rapture your face I see, either way Lord, you’ll satisfy me”

When I was 13, I think I figured the Rapture to be some sort of dinosaur.

“And if it satisfies you Lord, then it satisfies me. These few words may my prayer ever be.”

It was incredibly hot in the room and I could hardly breathe all of a sudden.

“If you’d have me on a mountain, or in a valley on my knees, either way Lord, it satisfies me.”

Deep, soothing breathes. I could get through this.

“And if it satisfies you Lord, then it satisfies me.”

I reached over and covered my niece’s trembly hands over the video camera, my own hands steady now.

She was nailing it, and people were starting to sing along, clutching Kleenex and programs in their fists. The minister closed the message, and everyone filed out, leaving just immediate family, of which I was counted among. Everyone was crying and I felt strangely numb and disconnected, but my tear-free face led my nephew to creep back to me and hold my hand, probably feeling out of place himself since he wasn’t also dissolving into hysterics.

We drove the thirty minutes through rural roads to the burial site, where we watched as Granny was placed where she longed to be—beside her husband again, four years to the day since he was buried. Being in the bright sunshine and cool air changed the mood, and it was almost jovial as we walked back to the cars. I spent the rest of the afternoon eating too much dessert and supervising the kids as they picked wild grapes off the vine and we stuffed them into our mouths, spitting out the seeds.

For a moment, for an afternoon, the tension had gone. I’m not na├»ve enough to think it over, no, just more appreciative of the moments—whatever the occasion—that prompt a truce. I drove home that night and watched the sunset become a mosaic of colors through the sky and wondered about the future. Would our family dynamics ever shift and change, or would old habits win out in the end? What role would I play in their lives going forward and what role would they continue to play in mine?

Will I ever know the answers to any of my questions, or will life continue to be a mystery to me until that day when I’m on a mountain, or in a valley on my knees?

Either way, it satisfies me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Embracing the Gray

What a fantastic weekend this was. I've had a lot of good weekends lately, filled with family and friends, both new and old, and I'm grateful for it. I crave both alone time and 'not alone' time, in equal amounts, and to have balance in my life, I have to find balance with others and also with myself. When one outweighs the other, I start to feel restless and/or confined, and need the perspective check that the other brings.

This weekend I went to my parent's house--by that I mean my Dad and step-mother's house, in the county where I grew up half-time (as children of divorce do). It's the first weekend of deer gun season, and all the men in my family flocked to our family cabin to do the manly ritual of killing things, drinking beer and grilling up steaks. And cursing. There was probably lots of cursing. So the guys did their manly things, meanwhile my sisters (both step-sisters to me, that I have known since the age of 7 (they were 6 and 3) and their babies came over to my parents house, and we had a magical time.

My parents loved it. They absolutely love it when they have all their "girls" at home, with all three babies, and no one else to share us with. One of my sisters has a 2.5 year old daughter and a 1 year old daughter, and the other has a 1 year old son, so it was baby central at our house. We rocked, watched Disney movies, filled sippy cups and bottles, lost and located passies, got a lot of kisses and dealt with a lot of tears and temper tantrums. By 10pm, everyone under the age of 3 was asleep, my parents called it a night and my sisters and I cracked open some beers and talked. And talked, and talked and talked. Sneaked outside for cigarettes and whispered like teenagers outside in the cold and stared at the stars while we exhaled slowly.

3am came too fast.

This morning we went to church. My old childhood church, that I haven't stepped foot in since I was around 10 years old. We sat with my grandmother in the same pews we had sat in almost 20 years before; the same pews she sits in every Sunday. The hymnals were the same; the people were different. The same picture of Jesus - a white man with light brown hair :) - above the alter...it wasn't hard to feel 8 years old again, putting pennies in the "Birthday Bank" for offering and running up and down those same aisles.

When I got home, my parents were sitting on the couch, withequally somber faces and told me that my little gray kitten Charlie (newly acquired from the humane society) couldn't be found. I've had him for about 6 weeks now, and I brought him with me this weekend because my little neice is in love with him and keeps a running commentary to anyone she meets about him - "I love Charlie. Charlie loves me so much. I love to hold him. He is so fuzzy. He lots of fuzz all over. I love Charlie. Charlie loves me so much...." You get the picture.

Long story short, we found him. My little gray kitten, found on this gray but radiant day, is sitting in my lap right now in my own little apartment, watching me type. He's probably thinking of the little girl that accidentally got maple syrup in his fur this morning. I'm thinking about her too. I love those little ones and I am so grateful that I get to be in their lives here and now. And for 3am beers with sisters on the porch, talking about when we were girls not much older than the ones inside asleep.

Sometimes I get so restless here. The beauty of these rolling Kentucky hills is clouded by the fact that McCain won by 17 points, and the simple easy way of life often lends to my own yearning to have more pavement under my feet. But weekends like I just had reinforce the feeling of peace that I have for being here right now. This isn't forever, but for now, my little neices and nephews know who I am and that I love them. They never doubt that I will catch them coming down the slide and I will bring them little gray kittens to play with on a cold Saturday.

They will know this, and will hold it against them as they grow, and as life changes and rearranges. As we all move on.

And I will too.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Southern Summers

Written on my old blog over two years ago...two days before my 25th birthday. How much it still feels true...

"Southern summers are indifferent to the trials of love..." - The Notebook

Southern summers are indifferent to a lot more trials than love. They're indifferent to hairspray, carefully applied only to have your hair fall from humidity within two minutes of walking outside; they're indifferent to makeup, which begins to run as soon as you get in your car that closely resembles a sauna from late May til early September. They're indifferent to the chorus of grasshoppers and crickets that begin to sing when night falls right outside your window and gets so loud that you literally pray for the AC to kick on and drown them out so you can fall asleep.

Why am I speaking of southern summers when it's 36 degrees outside right now, at nearly 2 in the morning? Because I can hear the crickets. They are outside my window right now, singing that summer is just around the bend, and a new season is about to begin.

I can't say it's been a long, hard winter. I actually like winter. I'm one of those strange people who likes the cool weather, likes snow and don't really like the opressing humidity that summer brings. I like the sun on my face and backyard barbeques, yes...but when seasons change it's a reminder of all that has been done since the last time that season was upon us. Summer especially brings to mind a time of ending, re-grouping and reflection, and when this summer arrives, it will mark one year since I have been back in Kentucky.

I can no longer say, "I just moved from..." or explain away the fact that I'm not sure which road I'm on to "oh, see, I just got back...." I should be adjusted now. And I am, for the most part. I guess it's just losing it's novelty; and I am losing my excuse for sometimes faltering and feeling a bit unsettled.

It's been a year. I should probably just get over it now.

I was in a wedding late last July and it was outside. The heat was unbearable, we were sweating upon walking out the door and I listened to the words in a distant way while hoping the whole thing would end soon and we could all go inside and have a cold drink.

The cicadas were circling, the lawnmowers were humming and mosquitos hovered. It was somewhat of a welcome home, in a way. Welcoming me back to a place where time still seemingly stands still when the air is thick with steamy humidity. Where the air is thick with memories and hazy with the ghosts of summers past.

I'm not sure the point of all this, I just got inspired to write a bit with the crickets outside and all. It's not quite time for the AC to be turned on just yet...so tonight, I'll sleep to their song.

Maybe they're welcoming me back again.

The Reflection of a Beautiful Boy--

My nephew loves mirrors. He’s only one, and has always loved looking at his own reflection, marveling in the smiles and laughs that this “friend” on the wall is always mimicking back at him. He absolutely delights in it, and no matter what kind of tantrum or trauma may be going on, putting a mirror in front of him will always make him smile.

One of my favorite things about doing this with him is the way he will recognize the person holding him before realizes his own reflection. In many ways, it is the other person—not himself—that serves as his realization that he is looking not at someone completely different, but simply him. He was around seven months old when he first turned toward me, away from the mirror, and leaned forward and peeked around, looked at me, and grinned—just checking to see if I was the same person he was seeing in the mirror. His face, looking around at me with a tentative smile while I hold him, was one of utmost innocence and fascination at the simple realty of his and my own existence.

As he grows into toddler-hood, he is becoming more and more cognizant of the world around him and is growing wise to the mirror trick. We all stayed at my parents’ house this past weekend, and at one point, during a “But-I-waaaannnt-to-dive-headfirst-down-the-basement-stairs-and-I can’t-believe-you-just-stopped-me” fit, I picked him and carried him toward our old friend, the mirror.

He laughed, and we laughed together. At ourselves, at our presence here and now. And then he leaned forward and peeked around. As his little face appeared before me, with that inquisitive and inquiring look that I know so well, I was struck by that moment and how quickly those moments go by. How soon he will understand all about mirrors, and how much our reflections will both change.

Those we love often serve as our best kind of mirror. Not only do they reflect our harsh realities and our lovable flaws; they peek around the corners, checking to make sure we are still really there—that who they know and love is still intact. In many ways, they are the ones that serve as our most accurate reflection. In our daily lives, we may see ourselves in a distant way, removed from who we are as we put on make-up, quickly fix our hair and run out the door.

But only when those we love take the time to hold us in front of a mirror, do we really stop to notice our reflection. And no matter how much it may change, they can always peek around and see us. If we are fortunate enough to have those family and friends in our lives that take the time to remember to lift us up from time to time, we are lucky.

I am lucky, indeed, to have that beautiful boy, four gorgeous nieces, two nephews and a multitude of family members that continuously hold me up to the mirror and remind me of my own reflection. And even luckier still to have friends to help me figure out what it all means, and to love me through my own restless wanderings. For it is their reflections—and not my own—that serve to remind me of all that I am.

Coming Back

It's been so long since I've blogged that I didn't even know how to post anymore. Seriously.
I just spent a little time re-reading a few of my old entries (which is sometimes not a good idea!) and find myself amazed at how far some things have come. How far some things are left to go. In so many ways I am different, and in others, exactly the same.

I've been in my job for nearly two years now...it's the longest I've ever been in any job (which seems insane) so I'm a little proud to be reaching that two-year mark. I just got a new apartment in Lexington, and I'll move in August, so I guess I'll still be here for the next year, provided I don't get some random opportunity and I break out of the lease. But, at least it's something, some sort of commitment as to what I'll do for the time being at least.

I've gone back and forth a million times in the past months about whether or not to move a few miles down the road, move across the country, or stay where I'm at. I decided in the end, unless I KNOW for sure that I want to live in Somewhere, USA, I don't want to pick up my life and start over, yet again. I want to feel in my gut and my heart that it's the right decision before I make such a big step again - each move I've made, I've felt so certain that it was the right choice that I could simply not do otherwise.

I'm desperately seeking that same certainty in many aspects of my life.

To blog about something real, and not just give a bland update on my life, I want to talk for a minute about friendships. I recently read something in a book, in playing off that popular saying, that said "When God closes a door, He opens a box of girl scout cookies." I don't exactly love cookies or sweets (allergy to chocolate as a kid didn't allow me to develop much of a sweet tooth) but I do dig me some Thin Mints. So this was a good analogy, I thought, and I find myself thinking about that phrase in recent days.

I'm a major fight with my mother, and stepfather. The details are not such that I will delve into on this blog (although maybe at a later date), but the point is that this is a long and storied relationship, littered with hurts and anger, and often led to me feeling like roadkill as I desperately sought to pick up the pieces of my family, while trying to begin to form the pieces that would make up my own life.

However, this time...no more. This was, as a friend put it, the tiny crack that broke the windshield and I'm feeling a fundamental shift in my overall thinking. They will not do this to me again. I will not be made to feel this way, be forced to forge my way through a marriage that isn't my own, or be the weapon that is used to throw at someone else at the expense of the other.

Never again.

I don't choose to let many people into this side of my life. It's frought with tension for me, and often, I don't want to color people's opinions of these family members of mine before they even meet, if they ever do. This time, because it's on a level more significant than ever before, it's on my mind more than ever. And thus, more people are beginning to be let into the fold.

Instead of dwelling on the bad things, I'm going to take a minute to appreciate the boxes of girl scout cookies that God has opened for me through all this. My father who loves me unconditionally and wants to tell me all the time. My stepmother, who in sensing my deep hurt, felt something change inside her toward me. My friends who told me they loved me for the first time, and another who never forgets to remind me every day. The ones who are outraged, the ones who protect me, the ones that hurt with me.

I thought about old friends the other day, while talking to my best and oldest one. And I was reminded as to why long-distance friendships, the ties that bind through it all - good times and bad - are the ones that can often emerge as the most true. In the simple fact that this person is NOT in your daily life, and does not witness your daily messes and hurts, joys and triumphs that shape you as a person, they can keep hold of who you are at your inner core - what makes you tick, what your soul looks like.

Think of a kid that you love that you haven't seen in a year - the kid looks drastically different to you, and you can see instantly the effect of time and space have done to that child. They have changed in appearance, skills and personality traits - but you love them instantly and intensely anyway, because you know them.

I am so lucky. I have girl scout cookies galore in my life, and God never ceases to amaze me sometimes when he hands me a new box. Doors are being shut for me. Maybe some for good...but I'm doing my best to hang on to those blessings that I do have, the instincts that I have and the faith that things will be alright in the end. And that's all I can ask for.