On Endings and Beginnings

Two years ago today, I was walking down the aisle toward the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. Everything about the day was a dream – the dress, the venue, the photos, our wedding party. Despite the best efforts of his father and stepmother, the wedding went off without a hitch.


Today is (would be? would have been? was?) our second wedding anniversary, and I am sitting in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, sipping a pourover and reading over my divorce paperwork. Tomorrow I’ll see Eli to close on the sale of the home we bought together last December. The home where we were going to raise our children, build our dreams, live our lives together.


Besides informing family and a few close friends, I’ve been mostly quiet about the divorce. The clues are there to piece together for those who care to sleuth– I moved to Grand Rapids by myself, I haven’t posted about being married in months, I quietly changed my last name on social media.


There’s no juicy gossip, and no one hates anyone. Eli and I are on good terms; we talk often; and both of us are pursuing our dreams. I’m thrilled for him and the opportunities he has found in this season. I cried tears of happiness for him when I found out he was going to school for zoology, and I can’t wait to see how he grows.


The thing I’ve been asked the most often is “are you okay?” And the answer is simultaneously “no, not at all,” and “yes, almost completely.”


The last nine-ish months have been full of screaming, fighting like hell, crumpling naked on the bathroom floor after an hour to sob until I vomit, therapy, panic attacks, crying myself to sleep, staring blindly at walls/the road/my ceiling, sleeping for 18 hour stretches, weight gain, being a bitch to the people who love me the most, and way too much midnight pasta. There have been days I physically couldn’t get out of bed, and days I called my mom hyperventilating too much for her to understand me.


But they’ve also been full of so many good things. New friends, spontaneous road trips, honesty, learning who I am, letting myself feel after 25+ years of chasing away the feelings. Jocie’s family adopted me, no questions asked, and let me spend evening after evening sitting on their couch and eating their food. My support system has tripled, and I finally feel like myself.


I’ve learned how to ask for what I need and get what I want. I’ve laughed from the deepest part of my soul and been wrapped in the arms of those who have my back, no matter what. I’ve negotiated new relationships and gotten a scholarship for grad school and gained confidence in my talents. I have a job I love and an adorable little house with fantastic roommates. I’ve learned to set boundaries and ask for help when I need it.


In the words of Sleepless in Seattle, “I’m gonna get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out all day long. Then after a while, I won’t have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out.”


Or as those good, good brothers would put it — I’m just going to keep eating that recovery sandwich.

A Year of Desire

I spent the better part of 2017’s last quarter working my way through The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte while huddled in the back of Rough Draft, drinking whatever latte the barista recommended that day. Pages and pages of my journal are filled with quotes and ponderings from the book, dotted occasionally with tear stains as I drank in the idea that my heart and emotions aren’t actually evil above all else.

[Briefly, the idea behind the book is to identify not what you wish to accomplish, but how you want to feel, and to learn to work in pursuit of those desires rather than material accomplishments.]

Therapy is another place I spent a lot of time at the end of 2017, sitting on a couch in downtown Hillsdale trying to figure out who I am and what I’m doing and what is even going on. In other words, being a young adult. When I told my therapist about this book, she asked a question that squeezed my very soul.

“What feelings would you chase if you believed you were worthy of feeling them?”

With that question ringing in my mind, I came up with these four core desired feelings. They’re not resolutions, “One Words,” or proclamations. They are the things I want to believe I am worthy of feeling. These are the desires I want to run after in 2018.

grounded. firmly planted with roots stretched deep into the ground, impossible to pull up. like a tree planted beside still waters, planted firm in the faith of my ancestors as it mingles with the things i am learning to believe for myself. feet in the grass, hands in the soil channeling nana baker as i dig and weed and prune. i want to be sure and secure in my identity, my relationships, my livelihood. to have my feet firmly planted in my truth and my arms wrapped securely around my people. i want to be connected to a community of likeminded people and to those who challenge me. to be truly known and heard and loved, to stand strong and sure in who i am and what i believe and where i come from. grounded.

insatiable. i want to always want more, to be thirsty for life and hungry for adventure. i never want to stop learning, yearning, reaching, trying. i want to always want. may life never be enough, may i always long for more joy and life and food and pleasure and adventure and peace and challenges and friends. i never want to stand throwing distance from my dreams and declare that i’m close enough. i never want to be satisfied. insatiable.

fulfilled. filled up. overflowing. i want to live out my calling, to spend my days doing work that matters and my nights pouring myself out for those i love. filled up to empty myself for others, to know beyond that shadow of a doubt that i am where i should be and doing what i should do. boots on the ground, feet on the grass, hands in the proverbial soil getting dirt under my nails while i dig ever deeper into life.  constantly chasing that feeling of sitting on the porch of the miracle building with coffee on my armrest and my bible in my lap; always longing for the dirty feet and linked arms of dusty pucallpa nights. i want to do what i was made for, live the life intended for me. fulfilled.

safe. i don’t want to have to hide who i am or pretend not to be passionate about the things that light a fire inside me. i want to be myself, loudly and honestly and truly. i want to know that i am loved and cherished no matter what i do or who i am. i don’t want to walk on eggshells or have to guess what’s okay to feel that day. i want to laugh late into the night about things that won’t make sense in the morning, to know i’m not a burden or an annoyance or too much. to take care of myself unashamedly. i want to be protected, sheltered, cared for when the world caves in; to be held when i can’t stand up anymore. safe.

Things I am Done Apologizing For

Like many women, I frequently find myself saying “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t matter the circumstance; if I feel my presence, opinions, or personality are an inconvenience, you better believe I’m muttering a “sorry,’ and backing down. My desires, needs, wants? Unimportant. Shelved for the convenience of others’ comfort. I mentioned this to my therapist today when she told me to work on “just doing me.”

“I’m really not good at that,” I said. “It’s easier to just… not.”

She laughed, then grew serious again. “But isn’t it far scarier to live your life with yourself in the back seat?” She was right, of course. After all, that’s what I pay her for. And so, without further ado, I present you with a list of things for which I am finished apologizing.

Splashing and making noise while I swim. I’m not small. When I propel myself through the water, there will be water displacement. This is science, and is something I am unable to control. I will make my noise, breathe loudly, kick hard.

Not always wanting to talk on long drives. Seriously. Can’t we just sit in silence? Maybe listen to a podcast? I don’t hate you, I’m probably just tired.

Dipping my fries in honey mustard or ranch instead of ketchup. It’s just delicious.

Setting boundaries. Period.

Needing alone time. This goes with the long drives thing. I’m an introvert. Sometimes I just need to be alone, or at least not be actively engaging.

My political and religious beliefs. No, they aren’t a carbon copy of my parents’ and family’s beliefs. Yes, I engaged in critical thinking to come to my conclusions. No, I am not stupid just because I don’t believe exactly what you do.

Liking those awful little Totino’s party pizzas. Look. Sometimes it’s 9 pm and I haven’t eaten and I just want to sprinkle extra cheese on some glorified cardboard with highly processed “meat” and call it dinner.

My stomach, thighs, and general body shape. I am not small. I take up space. If you sit by me on an airplane, our arms and legs will probably touch. This doesn’t make me less of a person (in fact, it quite literally makes me more of a person). Sometimes my clothes might reveal the fact that I have a stomach/boobs/thighs. Because I DO HAVE THEM.

Not being head over heels in love with the USA right now. This country, right now? Is not great. It’s not welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. It’s not treating all men as created equal. It certainly is not practicing religious equality. So no, I won’t be waving my tiny flag in a parade anytime soon.

Believing that LGBTQIA+ people are, in fact, people – deserving of full and equal rights. Do I really need to explain this? Still? In 2017?

Not running. I’ve tried. It is terrible. I do NOT feel better when I’m done. The runner’s high has to be a myth perpetuated by Big Running to try to trick me into screwing up my ankles and knees forever.

Taking care of myself. After growing up in a world where any self-care or acknowledgement of my own needs, desires, wants, or plans are selfish and my heart is “deceitful above all else,” learning to care for myself has been a steep learning curve filled with excuses and avoidance. No longer.

From here on out, I will be free.

The One Where I Use an Obvious Metaphor

It’s dusk, and I’ve been working in the garden all evening. My hands are covered in dirt; my forehead has a streak of mud across it where I accidentally rubbed the back of my hand. My husband and our dog are outside, too. The husband is helping, digging, lifting. The dog is watching. Like our plants, we are growing our roots. We are spreading out and digging in to a life we’ve only begun building together.

When Papa Baker came over for dinner last week, I told him that I thought I inherited Nana’s love for gardening, that I’d much rather weed than do the dishes.

“She’d rather be outside than in, that’s for sure,” he said. Tears danced in his eyes as they often do when we talk about Nana. “She sure did have a pretty garden. Pretty face, too.” At this, he chuckled and grinned his crooked grin.

So many of my memories of my mother’s parents involve gardening in some way. Nana filling her apron with fresh produce, Papa planting rows of corn with his ancient planter. The two of them, kneeling at dusk in the chicken-coop-turned-garden. Pulling weeds, pruning, watering. My wonder at the Four o’Clock plants and my joy when Nana let me take home some seeds from them.

When I work in the garden at dusk, I go back to those roots.

Last week I had to transplant all of my precious plants due to an issue with my raised garden boxes (The issue was that they had no drainage and sagged and cracked at the first rainfall). The dirt shook off of the roots as I carefully dug up each small plant and carried it to its new home. Roots dangled in the air, unable to find purchase.

That’s how we feel, lately. We are simultaneously digging into our old roots and trying desperately to plant new ones. We’re rooted but dangling. Building new traditions and customs.  Longing for community, authenticity, friendship, with couples in the same place we are. Dreaming about the future. Looking for a church that shares our ideals in a geographical area that, largely, does not. Laughing late into the night and snuggling and talking in our own dumb language. Setting boundaries when those who are supposed to love us well choose not to do so. Rooting, dangling, growing, searching for purchase in something solid.






The One Where I Want to be Known for Love

Today’s inauguration has me feeling all sorts of things, things that other authors have summed up far more eloquently than I will try to. All day long, I have been alternately inspired and alarmed by things shared by my friends and family members on both sides of the political spectrum. There is hate flying on all sides, emboldened by the ability to hide behind a keyboard and screen.

As I sit here tonight, mourning and hoping and praying, I have been convicted. I could write all night about all of the negative repercussions of this election. I could spend the rest of my days spewing facts and quotes at people who aren’t going to change their mind, and arguing with people who aren’t going to change mine.

That’s not what I want to be known for, though. Sure, I would like people to know that I don’t support this presidency, but much more than that, I want people to know that I DO support them

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/yDHkSxDiOf/

I want to be known for being a safe place for those of you who feel displaced and unheard in light of this election. For being the person who will hold your secrets, who will love you not in spite of who you are but because of who you are, and who will sit with you in the pit when words are not enough.

I want to be known for opening the doors of this precious home, dishing out hot soup and crusty bread, filling every inch of our house with those we love. For forcing you to have seconds, take home leftovers, stay for a cup of coffee, spend the night if you want. I want this home to be a safe haven, in every sense of the word.

I want to be known for kindness, for treating strangers with respect and smiling at the cashier at Meijer even when she is moving slowly. For hard work filled with empathy and honesty; for a welcoming spirit. For love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. And self-control, even though that one is the hardest of them all.

Most of all, I want to be known for striving to be more like Christ in everything I do. I want to be known for crossing party lines, subverting cultural norms, and welcoming “the least of these.” I want to love you like Jesus does, regardless of who you voted for or what we agree on.

I want to be known for my love. May no one describe me by saying “she really doesn’t like [Trump/Southern Gospel music/Amy Schumer/mushrooms],” before they say, “she really loves [Jesus/people/making soup for people/dogs].” May my open arms and open door speak more loudly than my ringing words. May I never add darkness to a night already devoid of stars.


[thanks to my youngest sister-in-law, virginia, for calling me out, convicting me, and inspiring this blog post. love ya, gin. even when we don’t agree and you school me on how to love Jesus better.]



The One Where I Get Real

October is my favorite time of year. Usually, this month finds me adorned with boots and scarves, tilting my face toward the sun and pausing to take pictures of leaves on my way into work. There are weekend trips to farmers’ markets, afternoons apple picking, and more than a few selfies with warm, spiced coffee drinks. I make fall look good.

Maybe it’s the autumnal equinox. Maybe it’s the new birth control. Maybe it’s the completely unnecessary and absolutely misguided shame I am still wrestling with since a couple who was supposed to love my husband and I spent the weeks before our wedding trying their damnedest to destroy us.

Probably it’s a combination of all of those things. So far, this October has been different. It hasn’t been good, it hasn’t been pretty. It has been HARD. I’ve spoken some here in the past about my battle with depression and anxiety. I’ve talked about it, but I’ve never written from the midst of it like I am now. For a type-A control freak like myself, it’s not easy to admit that the chemicals in my brain are controlling my feelings. After all, only I control my feelings. Carefully, letting out just the right amount before masking the rest with sarcasm.

Those who have struggled with depression and anxiety will recognize my description of “that feeling,” when your chest starts to tighten and it’s a little hard to breathe, but you can keep going. The feeling hit sometime around mid-September. I brushed it off. I took my orange pill in the morning and my pink pill at night and I. Was. In. Control. I went to work, I was professional, I made dinner, I was a good wife, I. was. fine.

Until I wasn’t. Until I had a panic attack so severe on our way up north that I collapsed on the ground outside of the car. Until all of the sudden the chest tightening was combined with stomach pains and muscle aches and sore throats and migraines because when you do not listen to your body, it screams. Until “I can’t” became the most frequent thing Eli heard me say. Until I missed three days of work last week because I could not, could not, could NOT get out of bed. Until I tried to go grocery shopping and ended up leaving without most of my list because I couldn’t do it, couldn’t be around people or away from home. Until I snapped at my husband and then started crying because I had no idea why I was upset.

Last week was the worst of it, so far. In between hiding under the covers and staring at the ceiling, I got news that an opportunity I had been hopeful about was not, in fact, going to turn out the way I had wanted. It’s because I’m not good enough. Then the bank account overdrafted, due to some clerical errors with my check at work and the day rent came out. It’s because I’m so stupid and can’t even handle money much less being an adult. I tried to see a close friend over the weekend, but she was sick. I’m an inconvenience to everyone around me.

See, when you are depressed – your brain knows the truth. I know that I am good enough, that I am not stupid, that I am not an inconvenience. But somehow, at the exact same time and in the deepest part of your soul, your brain does not at all know the truth. So you spend your days in a constant battle of mind vs. mind, trying to figure out what part of your brain you are allowed to believe that day.

When I was younger and would hear adults talk about depression, I always pictured people sitting at home, crying and crying. “Why are they so sad?” I would wonder. “And why can’t they just be happy?”

The thing I know now is that depression is not just sadness. It’s emptiness, worthlessness, nothingness. I spent a half hour last night sitting in the bathtub after it drained, literally just staring at the shower wall. Depression is staring at shower walls, naked in an empty bathtub, because you are too drained to stand up. It doesn’t just go away if you pray or believe enough.

I don’t have an ending for this, because I’m not through it yet. I’m going to the doctor this week to ask about my medications. Jesus is still good. Elijah is the greatest man I could have asked for, and always knows exactly what to say or do to help me. God is providing.

So for now, I’m just sharing my reality. I’m speaking up, because this is too often suffered alone and because speaking struggles out loud often helps view them in a new light.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to calm my mind by watching the debate.

The One With Dirty Shoes

I woke up late this morning.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever spent the night at my house, met me for breakfast or picked me up to carpool; but I woke up late this morning.

Frantically hopping over boxes, clothes and hungry cats, I pulled a dress and scarf from my closet. Toothbrush hanging from my mouth, I dug through a yet-to-be-unpacked duffel bag full of shoes until my hands grazed an acceptable pair.

White t-strap sandals with a wooden wedge. “Don’t wear white sandals before Memorial Day,” rules be damned, I was running late and there was white in my dress. Spitting the toothpaste into the sink, I tugged the sandals on with one hand. And then I stopped.

Still clinging to the bottom of each shoe was a small patch of hard, red dirt.

Of course. These were my church shoes in Peru.

Pucallpa. La tierra colorada.

In an instant, my heart was anywhere but my messy bedroom. I was hopping out of a motokar, my long dress swishing as my toes slid just-too-far forward in the white t-strap sandals with a wooden wedge. I was greeting with hugs and kisses, settling into a narrow wooden pew to test my Spanish skills as Pastor Daniel (dear, sweet Pastor Daniel) preached.

All day long, my heart has been in Pucallpa. I listened to a podcast about the recent violence in El Salvador on my drive, savoring the sounds of Latin American Spanish and traffic in the background of the story. Texts have been coming in from Ruth and Pedro as they work to get their visas in order to attend my wedding, and I’ve settled back into a comfortable rhythm of Spanglish with them.

It’s been three long years since I was last in the land that rips my heart wide open. Both here and there, so much has changed. Babies have been born, dear friends have passed into the arms of Jesus, marriages have begun, homes have been remodeled.

I’m not the same person I was three years ago, when I last choked “hasta pronto” through tears in the corridor of the sweaty Pucallpa airport.  I’m getting married, I have a full-time job. I forget I know Spanish for weeks at a time, then I hear it again and find tears rolling down my cheeks in the middle of a store. Most people who I talk to day-to-day know nothing of Alysita, the gringa who was welcomed with open arms during her most formative years.

And yet I cling to those weeks in Pucallpa, like that red dirt still clings to my white t-strap sandals with a wooden wedge. I pray each day that I can return with Elijah to share with him the world that captured my 15-year-old heart. (and my 16-year-old heart, and my 17-year-old heart, and 18, 19 and 20).

My Spanish skills may fade. The day-to-day conversations about my time in Pucallpa may dwindle.  But unlike the red dirt clinging to the bottom of my sandals, the mark Pucallpa left on me will never wash away.