Category Archives: musings

Someone else’s kitchen

I think about them sometimes.

Our names, hidden under a layer of paint, marking our heights throughout the years, climbing up the wall next to the door to the cellar in a house that I’m no longer free to visit.

The names of my cousins at the top, Chris always the tallest. My brother’s name, then mine, always the shortest. So often on a Sunday afternoon visit to my grandparents’ house, we’d grab a pen off the old roll-top desk in the hallway, measure our heights and write our names on the paneling, imprinting our mark on the wall in the old house my grandmother bought during World War II when my grandfather was still overseas, and she was a young mother trying to figure out life at home without him.

After my grandmother passed away, we spent months cleaning out the house. There was an auction and eventually the house was sold. Before it went on the market, my mom and my aunt painted the kitchen, covering up the names and heights that we’d etched into that wall over the years.

But I still think about those names sometimes.

About how underneath that layer of paint in someone else’s kitchen, they’re still there. And I wonder, if the new owners ever run their fingers across that wall and feel the writing in relief and wonder what it is. Or maybe they don’t know or care and the secret stays hidden beneath the paint and they are none the wiser.

And maybe, if I’m honest, I prefer it that way. That the names stay hidden beneath that paint, just as they are hidden in my heart and mind. That they’re a sweet secret between my grandparents and the grandkids that no one else can see.

There, in someone else’s kitchen is a silent testimony that we were there, and we were deeply loved.

 

20 years later

Twenty years ago this week—almost to the day—I graduated from high school.

(This is the moment when you should all respond with exclamations and comment on my youthfulness. But I digress.)

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Though the day was two decades ago, I still remember so many moments from it. The graduate breakfast at the Methodist church. My white cap and gown that required you wear white underneath it. The short trip to the Bernie School cafetorium (yep, cafetorium) from my parents’ house with my brother, during which we had a fight, probably because I was nervous and on edge about giving a speech. I still regret that fight even though I can’t remember what it was about. I remember the joy of seeing people I didn’t expect who had come to see me graduate and the reception my parents threw that afternoon and the friends who stayed late into the evening, knowing that our lives were somehow changing.

Twenty years later as I think back on my high school graduation and consider the Class of 2017, a few thoughts come to mind.

  1. Time passes quickly.
    My high school graduation may have been 20 years ago, but I’m finding out that what my parents used to say when I was growing up is true: it doesn’t seem that long ago. While I’m by no means ancient, high school doesn’t seem like it’s two decades in the past. On that Sunday afternoon in 1997, I would have found it hard to imagine myself in 20 years, but I probably would have thought that I would be much wiser at 38, that I’d understand more of life’s twists and turns, perhaps that I would be more “successful” by the world’s standards. Maybe I am a little wiser now, though. At 38, I better understand that being “grown up” doesn’t mean you know all the answers or have it all together; it may very well mean that you’re willing to admit you don’t.
  2. Be open to a change of plans. 
    Class of 2017, you undoubtedly have plans for how your life will go. That is right and good, and I’d be worried if you didn’t. But one thing I’ve learned in the past two decades is that life often doesn’t go as planned. I had an idea of how my life would go when I graduated high school. I would go to college, maybe grad school, I’d live in an apartment in a city on my own for a bit “just to see if I could.” I’d be married, and I’d have kids. Many of those things have come true; others didn’t. But things I didn’t really plan for or imagine happened, too. I never would have dreamed that I would go to grad school and earn a theology degree. I spent a decade of my life using that degree to be an editor of curriculum and devotional material for teenagers, a job I loved. But when God closed that door and opened a new one, He gave me a job I never would have imagined that I find absolutely fulfilling. Have your plans and work hard to achieve them, but don’t hold on to them so tightly that you can’t walk through the doors God will open in your life, opportunities you can’t even fathom right now that lead to fulfillment, joy and hope.
  3. Cherish the moment, but see it as the beginning of a new chapter. 
    Without a doubt, high school graduation is a milestone to be celebrated. But rather than seeing it as the end of something or the highlight of your life, recognize this moment as the start of a new chapter. What is behind is the past and the future lies before you. Don’t hang on to the “glory days,” thinking your high school career was the best days of your life and nothing else can compare. Don’t dwell on the bad choices or circumstances that defined those years either. Graduation is the start of a new chapter, a turning point, a beginning. Embrace it as such and walk forward believing the best really is yet to come.

 

Thoughts on Commencement

I’ve been working at a small Christian university in Nashville for almost two years. Today was the second Commencement Convocation I’ve attended as an employee.

Until I worked at a university, there were things about graduation that I never considered. Like the sheer logistics of scheduling different venues around campus for the various ceremonies, hoodings, receptions and dinners. The sheer terror of the possibility of rain and the fear of the phrase “activating the rain plan.” The intricacies of parking and traffic, seating, volunteers, sound systems and live streaming. Making sure there are enough photographers, shuttle drivers and more.

There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into making sure commencement is a successful event, and it’s a ton of hard work by people across campus who mostly do so without fanfare or notice. There’s a sense of accomplishment when the event is over, and you know it’s gone well.

Yet even with all the work and stress involved in a successful graduation ceremony, that’s not why I love commencement. I appreciate the pageantry and symbolism, the regalia and the alma mater and sense of school spirit.

Those things are all special, but I love commencement because of the sense of hope that permeates the day. I like to stand just to the side and watch the faculty and graduates march in behind the university president, smiling and happy. I listen as strangers congratulate them. My heart swells with joy as I see them revel in their accomplishments.

Some are traditional undergraduates, finishing bachelor’s degrees and ready to head out into the world of first jobs, grad school, apartment living and marriage. Others are adults who spent nights and weekends finishing degrees, who worked so hard and so diligently to finish a degree, to say they did it, to fulfill that promise they made to mothers and fathers, sons and daughters so long ago that they would indeed graduate from college. There are MBA grads and physician assistants. The students who become Dr. So-and-So in that one moment when degrees are conferred, one tiny moment that somehow encapsulates all those years and months of work.

To see the students whose stories I’ve told, who have worked for me or whom I’ve gotten to know. To smile and congratulate them. To share in a tiny bit of their joy.

I love graduation because of the hope and the sense of community. The knowledge that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves.

So congratulations, Class of 2017. We celebrate with you.

Speak life

Earlier this week, after a long day at work, I stopped by the mailbox on my way back to my townhouse.

Well, if we’re being truthful, this is the part where I admit that I hadn’t gotten my mail in about a week and a half. But anyway, I digress.

In the stack of bills, circulars and ads, I found a small envelope with my name and address handwritten on outside. In the sea of mail that I’d pull from the mailbox and laid in the passenger seat of my car, was this one tiny piece of handwritten mail.

I opened it to find a handwritten note from the children’s minister at my church. Thank you, he wrote, for serving on the children’s team. It is a joy to see their faces learning and laughing each week.

At the end of a month when I’ve felt like less than a good Sunday School teacher and a week that hadn’t been particularly easy, his words were like a balm.

Encouragement.

Gratefulness.

Appreciation.

Every day we’re given millions of opportunities to speak. A conversation with a good friend. An off-handed comment to a coworker. A retort to that total stranger on Twitter who said something we didn’t agree with. A grumbled response to that guy who cut you off in traffic.

But the thing about our words is that we have a choice each time we open our mouths. We can choose to speak life—to encourage, express gratitude or appreciate.

Or we can speak death. We can tear people down, spew pessimism and hurtful words. We can say one thing to someone’s face and another behind his or her back. We can degrade others for their political views, religious beliefs and mistakes.

In our world of social media, we have a million opportunities to express our opinions and share our thoughts. And sometimes the medium seems to create a false distance between us and our readers—so much that we think we can say whatever we want with no regard for feelings or respect.

This week, choose life. Wherever it is you express yourself, choose life. Encourage. Be grateful. Appreciate others.

Speak life.

 

The Light Still Shines

As 2016 drew to a close and 2017 began, it definitely felt like there was more darkness in the world than light.

This afternoon, as I walked my dog on our usual route around the complex in the fading light of dusk, my mind wandered over the last few months. An election that created enemy lines. Cancer diagnosis after cancer diagnosis, in my church and among childhood friends. The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the

The Friday before Christmas, I sat in the high school gym where I had once cheered and listened to as one of our former high school basketball stars eulogized his twin brother, who lost a years-long, hard-fought battle with cancer just days before Christmas.

Friends lost grandparents and loved ones. Just days before Christmas, my close friends accepted another foster placement, a 3-year-old child with nowhere to go. A coworker’s brother was badly hurt in a difficult-to-fathom crime.

Darkness. Everywhere.

But as the dusk turned to evening, the sky deepening to navy, my thoughts slowly shifted to a prayer.

Father, in our grief, we trust you.

In our fear, our doubt, when the light seems overcome by the darkness. 

We pray for healing because we know You are a Healer. We pray knowing that whatever happens, You can use it for Your glory. We pray because our hearts cry out for You and our souls need reminders of the hope we only find in You. We pray—trusting by faith, trusting your Word—when our doubts and feelings tell us not to trust You. 

Remind us, Lord, that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). 

The darkness may seem to be winning, but the light still shines. Rest in that hope.

 

On Election Day

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

A nerdy, slightly embarrassing secret.

When I was a kid, I really loved Election Day. Especially when it was a presidential election.

I couldn’t vote, and I didn’t understand most of the intricacies of our government (still don’t, actually), but I loved the excitement of going to the polls with my mom. I would watch the returns as they began to roll in and get excited when Missouri came on the screen and the commentators would declare who would receive our electoral votes.

I loved it all because it felt like I was watching history happen. I knew that someday, some distant descendant would read about this election and study it, the way I did in social studies, and I’d be able to say, “I remember that.”

This morning I voted in an election that will undoubtedly go down in history. But the joy that had characterized my childhood fascination was absent. Voting is a privilege, but it wasn’t one I enjoyed today. This election season has been divisive and disappointing, and many went to the polls today feeling like me, respectful and awed by the fact that we get to vote in a world where many don’t, but flummoxed by the choices we faced, saddened by the division in our country and confused by the negative, hateful comments many have felt OK with spewing at those with whom they don’t agree.

We’re not just watching history happen today; we’re living it. By the end of the night, we should know who the next president of our country will be. Whether your candidate wins or loses, tomorrow will come just the same, and we’ll all be faced with the same question: how do we move forward in this new reality?

I can’t tell you what to do, but I’ll tell you what I’m planning to do.

I will honor the office of the President of the United States. I will be respectful of those with whom I disagree. I will allow my speech to be seasoned with salt and kindness, more about edifying others than tearing them down. And I will pray for those who lead our country and trust in the One who holds eternity in His hands.

Today is not a day to despair, but a day to hope and to have faith.

 

100 words on starting again. (AKA reflections on a new job)

When you walk into a new chapter of your life, it isn’t easy. It means relationships change—not necessarily for the worse—but they change just the same. New patterns, new interactions, new ways of doing things are all difficult. Change is hard, but it doesn’t have to be bad. Change can also mean a sense of fulfillment, freedom, and challenge you didn’t even know you were searching for. Starting again doesn’t mean leaving friends, coworkers, or mentors behind. It means building on what they’ve taught you; it means taking that step of faith into the future that they prepared your for.