Birthday resolutions

I don’t like New Years Day. It’s so hard to feel full of hope and ready for a fresh start when it’s bone chillingly cold. All I feel on January 1st is ready for spring. So I’m never in the mood for resolutions when the rest of America is talking about them.

Last year I decided to think of the day before my birthday as my personal New Year’s Eve. The next day I wake up and celebrate and decide the one thing I want to accomplish by my next birthday.
So I turned 24 and pledged to find a community to fill the aching dead space where F Squad had lived.
And I DID IT.

Last week I was too busy traipsing around the great white north, and armchair managing the Red Sox(I offhandedly said during the All Star game “We should really try to get Drew Pomeranz” and two days later guess who we made a trade for? I’ve rarely been more proud of myself), to really sit down and think about what I wanted out of this next year of my life.
This morning when I woke up and still didn’t feel like leaving my cloud of a bed, after our 15 hour trip home yesterday, I laid there and thought of something I’ve now wanted for twenty years.

This is Tito.
Screenshot_2016-07-17-22-21-15
Let me say it one more time because it’s so bizarre to me: this picture was taken twenty years ago. I’ve since learned that bangs don’t work on me.
Tito was from the Dominican Republic. He was staying with my babysitter’s family for a month because he had heart problems and needed surgery in an American hospital, so I got to play with him every Sunday at church and usually a time or two during the week. We were BFFs. Every time we saw each other we would run and yell and hug like we hadn’t been together in a year(I guess when you’re five, a week between Sundays feels like a long time).
But Tito didn’t speak a word of English. This didn’t stop us from talking to each other; he was almost as talkative as I am and neither of us noticed that the other had no idea what we were saying.

Still, I begged my mom every day to teach me more words in Spanish so I could say them to him. I think I told him how old I was every time I saw him, because that was the only whole sentence I knew; otherwise I’d just excitedly point to any new object in the room and yell the word I’d learned. He would laugh and continue rambling in Spanish, not realizing that I hadn’t suddenly become fluent just because I knew the days of the week.
We both cried when it was time for him to go home; I remember he made me a card with a note in Spanish in it, and Rachael had written the English translation on the back. Even though my mom tried to get me to understand that I’d probably never see him again, I was determined to learn ALL the Spanish in case he came back someday.

I never got around to becoming fluent, but I’ve never stopped wanting to learn. Sort of like how I’ve always wished I liked another sport besides baseball; I go through phases and try to get into football or basketball or even hockey, but it’s too hard and I give up after a couple weeks.
Especially after living in South America for four months and loving teaching English in Ecuador, I knew for sure that whatever I ended up doing with my life, I wanted to do it in Spanish.

So, that’s what I’m going to do with 25. Actually try. Study consistently. Turn 26 knowing significantly more than what I learned in high school. And maybe do something with what I already know; I could probably have a lot of fun tutoring high school kids who don’t pay attention in class, because people always get excited when I’m excited.
I don’t know how I haven’t gotten started on this earlier, because my practical* dream job is to work with foster kids whose parents have been deported(did you know that happens? The children are citizens because they were born here, but their parents were here illegally, so they get sent back to their country while their kids have to stay here. I’ll help translate between the legal people and the parents, and the kids and their American foster families). I don’t usually like to tell people that because they always remind me how impossible that is for me, seeing as I got the wrong degree in college. I get that, but Oprah was like 40 when she made it in life, so I’ve got time.

I’m excited about life. 24 was long and dark. 25 looks bright and full.

*My out of my mind, never gonna happen dream job is to teach English to pro baseball players who come from places like the Dominican Republic, or translate for them in interviews. Getting a job in a field in which I have zero knowledge or experience sounds much more doable when you compare it to that.

Friends that become family and babies that aren’t mine

If you had come to me when I was 18 and told me I’d reach 25 and still not be a mom, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Yet here we are. Almost. In three weeks.
But I’m constantly surrounded by children even if I don’t get to take any of them home with me. Seven summers as a camp counselor made me used to loving kids that don’t belong to me.

I know more kids at Midtown than I do adults; sometimes when I introduce myself to new people I have to say something like, “I’m Linda, and I know you’re Chloe’s mom but I’ve never caught your name.” It actually makes it easier for me to get to know people, because I’m much less anxious around them if I already love their kid, and they’re more likely to like me when their kid loves me.

We have four babies in our Lifegroup. The other day I walked in and sat down and wondered what felt off, then suddenly said “Why are there no kids??” because there weren’t at the moment. (When I would tell other Midtown-ers that we didn’t have a sitter and we just do group time with all the kids running around(this changed about a month ago), they’d always ask how we get anything done. It’s actually weird now to do it without baby noise in the background.) But then the guys sent Cannon back to us and it felt normal again.
I love my friends’ kids almost as much as I love my friends.

I’ve never had friends that weren’t compartmentalized and temporary. I’d make friends for a year at a time in college, then we’d live on different halls or have different classes and finally we graduated. I’d have summer friends at camp, and even if they came back from one summer to the next, most weren’t close between summers. Then I had the closest friends I’d ever had, who lived with me every day for eleven months and lived a life that I’d never share with anyone else, but it was still a specific season, with a time limit, that we’d all signed up for.

I forget most of the time that my Lifegroup isn’t like that. We aren’t confined to one season, because this season doesn’t have a title or a definite end. It’s just life. Normal adulthood. And these are the first “normal” friends I’ve ever had. I’ve always grown into things a little late; I got a cell phone when I was 18, my driver’s license when I was 21, I needed an extra semester to graduate college, and then I made my first adult friends when I was 24. I think I appreciate all of those things a bit more, having waited longer for them.

I want these to be the friends I get to keep. I don’t want to have kids one day who look at my old pictures and ask me who those people are; I want them to say “Oh look, there’s a really young version of Cannon’s mom” because they grew up around all of them.
Once I joked that I wished we could all live in a house together like a sorority, then quickly took it back because all of them are married so I’d still sleep in a room by myself and it would all be super weird. I do love them enough to want to see them every day and that was my point…but we were laughing so much that I didn’t bother explaining.

I don’t even like to refer to them as “my church” because that makes it sound like a group of people I see on Sunday, listen to a sermon with, and keep separate from the rest of my life.
I’d rather call them my family, because when something happens I want to tell them first, and if I could I would see them as much as my normal family. They feel like home.

My brothers are my family by blood, but my church is my family by grace.

Friday Feelings June 3rd

I’m very easy to get excited.
Once in Thailand I made a list of all the little happy things that had happened that day and I danced through the house reading it to whoever would listen. I’m incapable of keeping joy to myself.
And if something good happens to you, I’m a good person to come to and tell about it, because I’ll quickly be jumping up and down with you.

But even with all that, there are a few things that make me extraordinarily excited, like more than my normal level.

Like books. When I talk or write or think about books I feel like my eyes are popping out of my head and I can’t sit still. Not about every book, but the general concept of books(although, even books that I dislike, I can still very passionately explain what’s so terrible about them).
This is one of my favorites.
lovethatdog
This is a rare book that I don’t let people borrow, and that I only read a certain number of times a year. It’s that special and that perfect.
The only way to really know what I mean is for you to experience me reading it to you. Partly because it’s the most excited you’ll ever see me, but mostly because it’s one of those books that begs to be read aloud. I may only feel that way about it because of the way I was introduced to the book; my English professor read it to our class when we were learning about free verse poetry. That’s one of my favorite memories from all of college.

This is all I can say without ruining it for you…
It’s the most beautiful children’s story ever written,
every page will make you smile except for the three that will make you sob,

and when all of my friends’ babies start learning to read, they’ll be getting a copy as a gift. Because I love them, and I love celebrating small things, and I love. this. book.

Friday Feelings May 27th

I don’t know where I would be if things had gone my way.

A year ago today was the day my post-Race plans began to unravel.
I’d only been home for three days. God wastes no time.

I like the security of a well-laid plan. I don’t have to be the one making the plan; there just has to be some semblance of structure in place.

Time passed. God wasn’t letting my plan work, or my backup plan, but he also wasn’t telling me what HIS plan was. Or at least, I wasn’t hearing what it was.

The thing is though, all the little things that happened, the ones I chose and the ones I begged to escape from…they WERE the plan. Still are.

I think I got so used to big things(in six summers at camp, then eleven months on the World Race, then one more summer) that I’d forgotten that God uses the little things. The little heartbreak. The little fast food job. The little family of friends, in an only slightly less little church.

If my plan a year ago had happened, I really don’t think I’d be at Midtown. Not that my life would have taken a deathly wrong turn or anything…it just wouldn’t be where it is now. And I think, as much as I’ve cried and wished for that old plan…I think I prefer this. The messy middle that Jesus is walking me through.
I feel like I’m lost, but really I’m not. If God had let me do things my way, I’d actually be lost.

The other day I was listening to Seabird, and I thought about that.
And if I’m lost, thank God, I’m lost with you.

I don’t know if they mean to be singing about Jesus(they do love Jesus, so probably), but that’s what I hear.
I’m not lost. I’m standing still. In the exact spot where God wants me Sometimes I’ve felt like it isn’t what I want, but I’ve never once felt like I wasn’t where he wanted.

“Some people talk about life like it’s a boring book they’re being forced to read, and just want to make it to the end. That makes me sad, because I think life is an adventure. A long, hard, exciting, sad, fun, painful, confusing, beautiful, totally worthwhile adventure that we’re all on together, AND we get Jesus in it. I can’t really help but be thankful for a life like that.”

Facebook told me a few weeks ago that I wrote that three years ago.
That’s still true. And I’m still thankful.

Friday Feelings, May 20th

Last last December when we were in Malaysia, my team got invited to a Chinese wedding.

Of course we went, and it was one of my favorite days.

Lizzy and Tina got up in front of everybody and sang with the children’s choir and we laughed our faces off.

We ate a seven course meal at the reception, one of the dishes being a giant fish the size of Arizona with its head still on, which none of us touched.

And me and Tina caught the bouquet. At the same time. Just like in Bride Wars.
We all knew she’d actually be the one to get married first, and I wasn’t and still am not the least bit mad about. We love Nathan and Tina.

Tomorrow that’s really happening.
I’ve never met Nathan but I feel like I know him, because living with Tina for four months means getting to hear a lot about him. In a good way, not in a “can she please shut up soon” way. They are wonderful and perfect for each other. They survived eleven months apart. Tina soldiered right on serving Jesus even when she missed him half to death(him being Nathan, not Jesus; Jesus obviously went on the World Race with her).

I don’t know what’s more exciting, finally seeing the wedding we’ve been waiting for even before it was really happening, or seeing my friends for the first time in almost exactly a year.

Tomorrow is a beautiful day.

Friday Feelings May 13th.

Now that we’ve sufficiently acknowledged the fact that I have multiple dead friends to be sad about this time of year, it’s beyond time to distract people from the mess that is my real life and record some light, nonsensical feelings instead. Soooo…

If you want a perfect example of my addictive personality in action, let’s talk about that time when I took a break from baseball and watched all 46 episodes of Scorpion in one week.
I’m not even sure if I like balance, but even if I did I’m virtually incapable of achieving it anyways.

Thankfully this show is an absolute jewel in the desert of non-cable TV and I don’t regret a minute spent watching it. It’s about lovable geniuses saving the world from secret high-tech threats and it’s just FUN. Like a roller coaster that’s all heart-racing in the middle but still lands you safely in the end. It isn’t super intense like House of Cards or crazy dramatic like Orange Is the New Black or trying too hard to be funny like the Big Bang Theory. Which are all shows that I like…but Scorpion is a show that I love.

Because what’s not to love? It’s full of everything good.
All the action and all the feels, both at once like Firefly(but more relatable because it doesn’t take place in space).
An ensemble cast with endless options for development(where they keep revealing just enough to keep you hooked but not so much that you ever begin to question how much longer they’ll stay interesting).
Smart people who are also funny. They’re different from the rest of the world but still found a family to do life with and a job they can thrive in.
So much room for activities. And it’s only had two seasons, so it’s not too late to start getting into it.

If you need more convincing, my mom likes it, which means there’s absolutely nothing offensive whatsoever, my littlest brother likes it, which means it’s not very violent or disturbing…and if my computer genius dad can suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy it, I don’t think anyone else can complain about their unrealistic heroics either. IT’S TV Y’ALL. It’s supposed to be fun. The good guys are supposed to win. The world is supposed to get saved even if it means breaking in and out of Fort Knox(oops, spoilers). Their adventures are no more far-fetched than any of Jack Bauer’s, and he got eight seasons of them.

I’ll gladly hang with these characters for eight years if they’ll stick around.

I’ll never ever stop wondering.

I remember the day that they announced who was going to nationals. We had been supposed to have two more races to determine who got to go, but Coach had lied to us. The names were read out and I’d known I wouldn’t hear mine, but it was just worse knowing that I had run my last race that would ever mean anything without knowing it was my last.

They set us free to go for our cool down run, but instead of joining the rest of the team on the trails, I sprinted back to the gym by myself and I collapsed on the grass in the back and cried.
A little bit later Daniel walked out the back door and stopped in his tracks when he saw me, like he wasn’t sure I wanted anyone around me. Awkwardly he said, “Um…hey?”
I whispered “Hey,” and waited for him to either ask what was wrong or leave me alone, but instead he just followed my lead and didn’t say anything. I felt like I should clarify my tears, so I added “I’m not going to nationals.”
He nodded and said sincerely, “That really sucks.”
I was so struck by the lack of any stupid cheer-up speech that I started crying again; he hadn’t given me any reason to pull it together and pretend to be happy.
He looked around, maybe hoping another girl would come out and comfort me, but then he sat down beside me. He didn’t say anything for a minute, which I liked, because I didn’t think anyone could say anything to make it better. But finally he said, “I wish you were going with us.”

Anyone else would have said something like “It’s okay!” “You’re still important!” “You’re a great runner!” It wasn’t okay, my season hadn’t mattered, and I’ve always been perfectly okay with the fact that I’m a hilariously terrible runner. Any of those things would not only have failed me to cheer me up, they would have made me put my guard up and suck in my tears and change the subject because in trying to make me not be sad, you’re telling me it’s wrong to be sad.
Daniel made it okay. Daniel let me be sad.

Daniel is exactly the kind of friend I’d want to talk to if something terrible happened.
Except Daniel was the one who died.
A lot of people said things like that in the days following that Mother’s Day from hell.
I wonder if he had any idea how irreplaceable he was.

I never told him how much that day behind the gym had meant to me. I never told him that every other person on the team made me want to scratch my eyes out that week; every one of them knew that nationals meant the world to me, but he was the only one who knew what to say to get me to smile again.
I wonder if everybody else just didn’t happen to get a chance to tell him things like that either. I wonder how many other people wished they were better friends with him outside of running. I wonder if all that had been different, if he would have stayed. I wonder if he thought he was protecting everybody he loved by leaving. I wonder how much time needs to pass before I give up on wondering, because even if I spend my whole life wondering, he’ll still be gone.

This Sunday when I got in my car to leave church, the radio was playing How to Save a Life by the Fray, appropriate because I listened to that song a lot the week it happened.

I would have stayed up with you all night, had I known how to save a life.

I wonder if he had any idea how many of us would have done that for him.

Another Mother’s Day, another reminder

The actual anniversary of today is three days away, but I’ll always think about it on Mother’s Day because it happened on Mother’s Day.

When I woke up on May 11th, 2014, I didn’t know it then, but that was the last time I would wake up in a world where everything was okay.
Even though it’s been two years now, I think this year is harder because last year I was in South Africa. It was easier to pretend it didn’t really happen when I was so far away from the scene of the news.
This morning I pulled into church and my brain clicked and reminded me that I parked in the exact same spot where I parked that day. I got out of my car and stood where I stood when I heard Scott say the five words that broke my life in half.

But, it’s still Mother’s Day, regardless of any past tragedy, so I pulled it together and walked into the last building that I sat in before the world stopped.

I was so mad at Scott that day for not being in church, and furious that he wouldn’t tell me over the phone what was going on. I didn’t hear a word of the sermon that day because I was thinking about what could possibly be so wrong that he couldn’t even come be with Mom on Mother’s Day.

I remember everything about that day because it was the worst day of my life, but what I remember most is feeling. Unlike any other time I’d gotten heartbreaking news, it wasn’t a sudden shock followed by dizzying numbness; just words…

“They found Daniel Blanchard. Dead.”

…then the heaviest weight, consisting of every dark emotion that exists, set up camp in my heart and stayed that heavy for seven days. I felt all of it all at once and I never stopped feeling.

But I don’t need to tell the story again. I wrote it all here in the kind of detail that makes me feel like I’m living it again when I reread it.

And I don’t know how to write about what I’ve learned since then. I’m surprised how hard it hit me today; I don’t get that sad about it very often anymore. Not that I’m glad it happened or that I don’t miss him now and then, it’s just that I almost turned around and went right back home as soon as I realized where I was and remembered how I felt that day, and I never would have expected that intense of a reaction.

I think it wouldn’t be normal to never feel sad about it again.
I had a friend who hugged me after races even when we were both sweaty and gross, who hated running as much as I did but also loved the family that was our team as much as I did, who was the only one to just sit silently with me and let me cry when I didn’t make it to nationals, and who was just a wonderful person that I wished I’d taken more time to get to know better, and he’s dead because depression is a liar and the lies were too loud and staying alive hurt too much. That is sad, so I’m allowed to be sad about it.

I think that’s the biggest stride I made in this second year, because I was so impatient with my slow progress in moving on, and I never would have said that a year ago.
I think I’m mad that I can never again have a Mother’s Day where all I think about is how great my mom is, because even if it’s only for five minutes, I will always remember the worst day of my life. I’ll start celebrating on May 24th instead; that’s the day I saw my mom for the first time in eleven months. It’ll be like how America doesn’t celebrate MLK on his actual birthday.

And I think I’m going to be okay.

Friday Feelings, May 6th.

I’ve watched 25 episodes of Scorpion in 4 days. I don’t know why I doubted that I could get through the whole series in the span of my seven day free trial; either I underestimated my binging talents or I didn’t realize how much I’d love this show.

So, I was going to write a completely lighthearted ramble on everything great about this Firefly-esque gem…but that’ll have to wait for another Friday, because this morning I woke up and remembered what day it was.

Two years ago today was eleven days before training camp for the World Race.
And I came home from work that day to find that one of my squadmates had been killed in a car wreck late the night before. (past musings on this here)

But even though she didn’t get to go with us, I’ll never think of the Race without thinking of Anastasia because she was still an irreplaceable part of F squad. Her parents came to meet us at launch, they prayed and encouraged us for the entire eleven months, they shared all of our fundraising pages when any of us were cutting close on our deadlines, and they trusted us to do this:

and they are an absolutely wonderful family and I hurt for them so much today.

The Lord gave and the Lord took away and the Sloans will never stop blessing his name, and I’m endlessly thankful that God put them in our lives.

Even if you can’t find heaven.

I’ve heard,
“This won’t last forever.”
and
“Keep leaning on Jesus and it’ll get better soon.”

and other such “advice” in that vein

so

many

times, from

so

many

people.

I used to try to tell myself, “It has to end someday, it’s never lasted forever before, this time is just longer than the others.”
Recently I’ve been asking myself, “What if it doesn’t? What if there really isn’t an end?” and that’s led me to wonder lately, “What if ALL of my friends eventually give up?”(because someone dear to me recently admitted that they’re intentionally distancing themselves from me due to my issues, which is making me doubt everybody)
These kinds of thoughts lead to scary kinds of days. I thought I was better enough to never have another scary day.

Then on Tuesday night, my friends pointed out, “The light at the end of the tunnel might not be on earth. It really might last forever…on earth. But even if it does, you still get Jesus, on earth and later. And we’re all still here.”

And it was then that I realized that those are the magic words my heart has needed.

Not, “You’re so brave! Keep fighting! This too shall pass!”

But, “We will ALL still love you even if you never get better.”

I think I’ve been assuming for a while that the people who love me only love me because they think I’ll eventually be a normal person again. And I think my other “friend” who can’t love me anymore made me worry that the rest of my friends have similar unspoken limits to how long they can continue to wait for my mess to be cleaned up.

But Jesus gave me eleven friends who want to love me the way that he loves me. He put me in a family who won’t give up on me because he isn’t going anywhere either.

I get Jesus in the good days and in the horrible ones, and then someday I’ll get an eternity of good days with him. Even if I never see another good day down here. Even though I hope I do.
And even if they never get to know the Linda who’s always the loudest and funniest person in the room and isn’t afraid of anyone and never needs to sleep…my friends will still be my friends.

One final note.
I love metaphors and Jesus loves me, so Jesus most often talks to me in metaphors.
He gave me this one on Sunday afternoon.
nugget mess
Ever since I got back from the World Race I’ve been trying to clean my room. By which I mean once a month or so I get motivated and attack a shelf or a couple boxes of junk and then get overwhelmed and give up for a few more weeks.
So, I was standing in my doorway surveying the mountains of clutter I recently dragged out of my closet, and my cat walks over to the corner of my floor that she likes to lay in. Finding it covered in stuff, she looks at me, blinks defiantly as if I was trying to keep her out, then lays down and makes herself at home on top of the mess.

My room is a mess but my cat still wants to take a nap in it.
My life is a mess but Jesus still wants to be in it. So do my friends.