Monday, September 26, 2016

On a Case of the Butterflies

I am a big believer in butterflies. The ones lying dormant in the lining of your belly - waiting, just waiting, for a reason to explode into thousands of quick, tight movements. You know the ones.

When's the last time you had butterflies explode in the pit of your stomach?

There was a time in my life that I was convinced only boys could provide those butterflies. I remember the first time I ever went to a movie with a boy... his name was Taylor Bryan. He was tall and blonde and had blue eyes I wanted to coast in for the rest of my life - way before I ever understood the fundamentals of 'the rest of my life' or that heartbreak wasn't just something they wrote about in songs. We saw She's All That and I remember his pinkie finger grazing the top of my hand and I. thought. I. was. going. to. explode.

Because there's just nothing quite like getting your hand held for the first time. I've held many a hand since then - I actually really love holding hands, in transparency - but no other hand holding moment has ever lit my skin on fire the way his did in that darkened movie theater (where my mom was sitting two rows back, chaperoning.)

And then there's your first kiss, right? You watch people on TV and in movies and they're locking lips left and right and, because I came out of the womb analyzing, I could not stop thinking about my first kiss. The hand on the face and the swelling music and let's hope I can figure out how to breathe when all this damn magic is happening without snotting on him.

There was no swelling music. And if I remember correctly, our hands were both at our sides because we were sweaty pre-teens who had no clue what they were doing. But good LAWD it was magic, if I've ever felt it.

So for most of my high school and college career, it was boys who gave the butterflies. And then a four year relationship ended and a season of singleness set in and I spent, am still spending, hours and days and months slowing admitting to myself that butterflies from a dude are cool, but there's a whole lot I'll be missing out on if I keep waiting for the next swell of them to erupt over some guy who wears flannel and knows how to maintain a beard.

Who said a girl has to be confined to butterflies in her ribcage because someone wants to know what her mouth tastes like?


I have this print on my wall in my living room. It was one of the first things I ever bought for myself as I was moving into my house in Dayton. It's a dictionary page that has a ribcage stenciled onto it in black and white and just beneath the ribcage - where the proverbial belly lies - are colored butterflies. I remember scanning Etsy, looking for art for my new, all my own, home and when I saw this particular print, I obsessed over it until it arrived in my mailbox. It remains one of my favorite pieces in my entire house.

I think at first it was aesthetically pleasing to me, but the longer I live here - within the mustard yellow walls where I burn cinnamon candles year round - the more it becomes a reminder of what I should be expecting, what I should be looking for, for my life to be.

I believe this life should be a continual case of butterflies.

When I get to sit on my back porch with wine and a book to devour, my skin should rise with goosebumps.

When I get home from work and Addy is waiting at the door for me, my cheeks should hurt from smiling at her joy.

When my brother texts me at 8.30 at night and says, "hey, stepher," elation should be written on my hands.

I spent many years getting lost in people who told me I was pretty and wanted time with me - sometimes for all the wrong reasons - and my joy sprung from that. That girl - the one who waited with bated breath for his attention or affection - she didn't know the dirt in India was going to one day be what beckoned to her heart.

She hadn't yet figured out that the crinkled pages of a brown Bible would center her in a way nothing else could.

She wasn't aware that a road trip with the oldest friend of her life, on a random weekend in October, would make her dizzy with excitement.

She didn't know. She couldn't have.

There are parts of me that so badly want to go tap that girl on the shoulder and tell her to say yes sooner, get out of that relationship faster, get on more planes - now, now, now - because she is missing out. Because life is happening while she's stagnantly waiting.

But timing really is everything - I learn that more the more time I spend breathing on this planet. And I think she had to figure out how to get out from under the thumb of thinking she needed to need someone in order to be someone.

Hey, guys? We are someone. Right this very minute, each one of us is a someone. With dreams worth fighting for and injustices to raise our voices over. We, each one of us, is a someone. Who get to travel, who come to understand that time zones don't matter when a heart feels home for the first time in a life. You are a someone. With hair that needs to be let down and a right to believe that you're worth it - even if every fiber of your being says you're wrong. Hear me, now. You are worth it.

We are a someone.

And you don't need a mortgage or a baby or a husband or wife to be so. You don't need a passport or a full tank of gas or the job of your dreams to believe it.

You don't have to have it all figured out. And you don't have to be happy every second of every day.

You are a someone. 

What's giving you butterflies these days, love? If it's a relationship, then I am so thrilled for you. But I think we all need reminded that there are corners of this world that have our names stamped on them - and they are just waiting to be discovered by the lens of our eyes.

There are corners of this world with your name drawn on a back, dirt road just waiting for your feet to plant down.

There's a song waiting to be heard and a book that's worth the reading.

There are pieces of yourself, parts of your life, waiting to become known by you.

I hope you find them.

I hope you sit down in corner coffee shops by yourself and become acquainted with her.

I hope you drive too fast down an unlined country road and learn to laugh with him.

I hope you discover new flavors and sounds, unwrap foreign colors and flirt with wearing them around for a while.

I hope you get a little lost trying to decipher who it is you were made to be.  And when you leave behind the skin of who the world told you you should be, I hope you feel something ignite within you.

I hope you come to realize home is relative, family isn't always blood, and that you are good company to be around.

I hope you choose yourself.

I hope you know you are someone.

I hope you learn how to chase the butterflies.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

On Colors

Everything is blue
His pills, his hands, his jeans
And now I'm covered in the colors
Pull apart at the seams
And it's blue
And it's blue
Everything is grey
His hair, his smoke, his dreams
And now he's so devoid of color
He don't know what it means
And he's blue
And he's blue

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time will tell you I can become frantically obsessed with music. I'll be watching a season finale of a show and the beginning chords of a song will play, one or two sentences crooned across the speakers, and I am a Google'ing frenzy - who sings it, when was it released, and for goodness sake, can I buy the song yet? (See Rivers and Roads by the Head and the Heart.) And then I want to share the music with everyone I know. Friends will receive random, middle of the night texts that simply say "Let's talk about - - -" or "If you know what's best for you, check out - - -" (See She Burns by Foy Vance) I feel music, as I feel most things, deep and viscerally. I remember songs from certain times in my life - snapshots of moments that have been freeze-framed in the lining of my heart's memory; I can hear the beginning of a song and instantly be in a yard surrounded by people I grew up with, releasing balloons and whispering rushed prayers - convinced they would only be heard as long as I could see the tail of the ribbon I had just let from my grasp. (See Hear You Me by Jimmy Eat World) So it's no surprise when I was listening to music the other day and a song came through my ear buds that made me type the same word three times in a row because I was so distracted by the lyrics being sung. Halsey has the type of voice that can unnerve you. It's throaty and cutting, which coincides with the words she's singing quite nicely - many of her songs have language that isn't considered clean - so if you're easily offended by language, maybe Halsey isn't for you.. BUT, you should definitely check out the song that made me type the same word three times in a row... because anything that stops the flow of words from someone who writes for a living has to be worth at least a listen, right? (See Colors by Halsey)

She begins to sing about a man - presumably someone who was once her lover - in the shades of color that represent him. He is blue, like his pills, his hands, his jeans; he is grey, like his hair, his smoke, his dreams. He was red - and she was blue - and then she becomes lilac and he decides purple isn't for him and there is something electric about this, to me. I started to think about colors and people; I began to consider my "persons" and what colors they were in my life; I began to try to identify myself as a color and then became incredibly disheartened at the range of color I so often feel within a 24 hour span of time.

As it turns out, my emotional range can lend itself to me feeling like that grayish/brown blob that develops when, as a child, you attempt to mix two or three different colors to create a new, original color exclusive to you. You start out imagining the words inventive and extraordinary and unprecedented will be applied to your mad color mixing skills, but when it's all said and done you're left realizing that sometimes yellow and purple and that mint green color you want to lick like ice cream don't look much like anything, mixed together,  other than what you imagine the color of the pit of your stomach is when your heart's broken for the first time.
So I don't know if I'm blue or purple, green or orange; I want to believe I am the softest, warmest shade of butter yellow, but my anxiety rings in at an alarming red and the depression I unsuccessfully try to kick to the curb sits steadily at the most bland shade of brown. 
I'm not always warm. Or inviting. I'm not always laughing. Or wanting to talk. And I'm learning that's okay. The people pleaser in wants to apologize even when I don't need to, to make sure everything is okay, even when I know for certain there's no reason for things to not be okay. And slowly - the warm yellow that wants to give light feels sucked dry and begins to resemble more of the dried sweat stain on that white t-shirt you used to wear all time.
I guess what I'm trying to say... what I want to leave here on the page . . . is that we cannot continually be everything to everyone - and we should not expect it of others. It's not realistic. In fact, I'd argue it's harmful - both for those of us who expect that consistency and to those we are consistently expecting it from.
This is something I'm learning, y'all.
We cannot always be the one being checked up on. Sometimes we need to reach out and do the checking in. We cannot always be the one expected to bring joy. Sometimes the joy needs filtered in to the grey spots.
I think grace needs to be a shade we extend much more often than we do. This is something I'm working on. I cannot tell you how many times I've said to myself, in the last month, 'get out of your head, Duff.' Are things hard right now? Do they feel heavy? Do I feel a little more lost, relationally, than I have in a long time? Sure. But I cannot walk around in a constant state of puke green, feeling sorry for myself. There comes a time when ya gotta let the light in.

Let's let the light in, love.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

On a Scattered Mind, a Wandering Heart

Fifteen years.

Fifteen years ago I sat in Mr. Greher's American History classroom. I was a naive, selfish 8th grade girl. My best friend, Lindsey, sat behind me and to the right. She and I, we were pretty convinced we'd conquer the world. And truthfully, there was no one else I wanted to conquer the world beside. Fifteen years ago, I didn't know anything of war, other than the black and white photos bracing the text books that always took up too much space in my locker. Fifteen years ago, I listened to my mom share about how she remembers, vividly, where she was when JFK was assassinated. How sad for you, I remember thinking. How sad for you. Fifteen years ago, moments before a tower was struck with selfishness and evil and a warped thought process of freedom and standing up for one's belief, I sat entirely untouched by pain, devastation, or sorrow.

And then a T.V. screen was bombarded with plumes of black smoke and I had to choke back cries of terror because I wasn't even entirely sure why I was called to cry in the first place.

Fifteen years ago I become one person in a generation of many who would be defined by a historical event that I would eventually teach to developing third grade minds in an inner city, public school.

The sun is shining today. There isn't one single cloud in the sky and I find myself trying to name the blue in a new and poetic way. The sun is shining. It's warm and encompassing and I should be exuberant with joy.

Something lurks in the corners, though.

My mom can always tell when it's going to rain. Her knee aches in a way that feels differently from the chronic pain she experiences from bone pushing up against bone. She will walk into the kitchen and whisper, "rain's coming," because she must baby the joint that gets her from place to place differently than how she normally would.

Depression and anxiety are similar to a joint devoid of cartilage, in that way. My stomach and thought patterns seem to know when the sun just won't brighten the haziness of a heart. The very pit of my gut, he knows when extended ours of sleep just won't make me jump out of bed ready for the day, but rather burrow deeper into the mattress and attempt to further cocoon my body with a quilted blanket.

I have a good life. I don't want to, at any point here, allow anyone to think I am suggesting things are bad or wrong or hopeless. They are not.

But I suffer from depression. And I exist, nearly twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, in a perpetual state of panic. No, I do not know why.

But my gut - you know, the one who reminds me no amount of sleep will ever be enough? He has been especially unkept lately. I'll be going about my day and will be overcome with this foreboding feeling that I should be dreading something. And so I mentally pace. I pace and pace and pace - up and down the hallways of a mind that never shuts off to begin with - trying to define what it is I'm supposed to be dreading. And I often can't put my finger on it.

So then I get anxious. And I revolve around this anxiety. Hoping like hell I will figure out what it is I'm supposed to be dreading.

It would seem, when anxiety lets her hair all the way down, she makes it nearly impossible for celebration to make a home within me.

Monday, September 5, 2016

On My Momma

There isn't a number for the amount of phone calls she takes in which a shaky voice on the other end whispers, "I need to talk to you about something. . ."

I can't imagine the fear that likely swells in the walls of her heart - wondering what the green eyed girl will share with her this time - in what ways might both of their worlds shatter or alter, skip necessary steps or pull back in a reversal that just shouldn't be.

She always takes them with stride, though. Her reaction - I've memorized it along with the smell of baby powder and gardenia that immediately helps me understand her presence in the room. A deep, belly-deep breath in and she calmly says, 'okay. go ahead.'

And she always has an answer, a solution. She always knows the next steps to take. She always does.

There is no calculable measurement for what I owe her - monetarily, but also with time. The amount of crises she detours from hitting me, the tears she patiently wiped when I, yet again, trusted a sneaky eyed boy with my heart and was given mere fragments back when he chose the blonde over me.

No prose in the world will properly encapsulate the times she came swooping in - a super heroine who never wanted recognition or title, but to simply be called momma and be loved deeply.

She is both of those things. But she also has the full capability of changing the world. She's certainly changed mine.

Recently we were discussing how much I've changed in recent years. I recall a time when powder pink was my entire universe - all the Barbies, all the Barbie homes, all the Barbie limos - and I was unapologetically GLEEFUL over the sparkle of the world she created for me.

And when the Barbies took a backseat to first kisses and holding hands with the tall, blue-eyed athlete, she did what she could to let me tip-toe into maturity, but she was always there. She was the ever watchful eye I resented up until the day I realized just how much I needed it to survive in a world designed to break me.

Of late, I cannot formulate, in words, the degree of panic she has probably felt over the questions that have traveled from my lips, through the phone line, to reach to ever bending ear.

"What if I moved to Dayton?"


"What if I took a job in which I had to create a ministry team?"

 "What about a longer stay in India?" 

"Could I spend Christmas in India?"

She listens patiently - never hesitating to lay her fears, her concerns, on the table before me. But don't be mistaken - she never once utters the word no. She never thinks to close a door on the frightened whisperings of an over feeling heart.

As I collect years and become more acquainted with this woman God wrote a story for, she watches her little girl grow and make mistakes. She holds her when life is too much or the darkness grips too tight. And she is the first to squeal through the phone is pure delight over something beautiful on the page.

As I collect years and become more acquainted with this woman God wrote a story for, she stands firmly in the corner of her girl who, surprise, surprise, loosens the roots of those corn fields a little more each day. She backs every decision made to get on a plane - even if the destination haunts in its mystery. She maintains her role as loudest supporter as her girl falls in love with a land, with a little boy, with a culture far from where she originally raised her.

As her girl cries for more room, lets loose her lengthening hair, and slowly unwraps from the binding anxiety who has riddled every movement of her adolescence, she gets out the watering can and, with tears rushing down her face, pours life back into the dry places so the green-eyed Coco can flourish as she was designed to.

No essays or books or poems could encapsulate a love that continues to grow like a weed. I watch her be a momma - she is a momma in the ways I imagine her momma was to her. She is strength - visceral and innate. She is a warrior - standing tall and speaking firm. She is unconditional love - her wild children push their limits, test the boundaries of a world counting on them tripping up - and she remains the warm embrace, the tender answer, the landing place.

She watches as I refine the wildness within me - unapologetically testing patience and seeking out passion - and she never once considers stifling what is within me.

She is cultivation personified - harvesting the wonder and intensity inside and wrinkling up her beautiful nose in joy when I, by God's purse grace, get it right.

She is my momma. She feeds the luxuriant. She loosens the free. She ruffles the skirt of my natural. 

She waters my wild without hesitation and still allows my return when something goes awry.

Friday, September 2, 2016

On the Unhinging of a Heart

A large portion of my life lies in the doubting. I doubt my ability to stir movement with my words. I doubt my role within relationships that are real and raw and good. I doubt I am noticed. I doubt whether a 14 year old boy will remember me when we spend nearly 365 days apart between visits and our communication lies in hand written letters most of the year. I doubt that God is concerned with my trivial desires and hopes.

Of a couple of those things I am realizing my doubt is ill-advised.

As I write this out, I'm doubting I'll ever be able to write about India well.

But here's what I know.

India moves me. It moves my blood and steals my words, but it's okay...

I cannot explain to you with words the ways the brown eyes of the children shoot straight into the center of my soul and refuse to budge.

I can't explain the light rain that falls anytime a little girl walks through the slum with belled anklets bracing her delicate feet.

I cannot verbalize the joy I obtain by being around growing girls with deep, raspy voices who ask endless questions and tease with confidence.

I don't have the training to properly share the innocence coming from a 16 year old boy's voice when he asks me about my hobbies in America.

I cannot articulate the beautiful ache that comes from sitting with an 8-year-old coloring and admiring the impossibly tiny, thin, gold band on her middle finger.

There aren't enough verbs or adjectives or creatively combined metaphors to illustrate how a foreign land, and the most beautiful people I've ever laid eyes on, have become a source of home.

But there it is.

I doubted, last year, when I boarded a plane to India for the first time that a country so far removed from everything familiar to me would be good or pleasant for a girl who hates change. And now I can't imagine not having these stories, these faces, these moments as a part of me.

I can't describe the way I am moved, but I pray - high and loud - that you have a space that shakes your blood like India does mine.

Maybe it requires long plane rides and a list of ways to be respectful in a culture you don't quite yet comprehend. Maybe it's right where you are, in the spaces between work and play - kisses hello and cooking dinner. Maybe you haven't found it yet. Maybe you don't even know you need a place like this - that stirs something within you hadn't realized you possessed; a place that brings out pieces of yourself you hadn't yet met, a place that releases the wild within you.

Fight to be the most wild version of yourself, friend. Find the place that stirs and moves, asks you to bend and bow to new customs, new foods, new sensory experiences.

Fight like hell to create space to meet new pieces of yourself. Then plant yourself there, even if just for fleeting moments, and make it home.

If you're anything like me, you've long needed someone to show up and tell you to stop doubting that there's an element within you that needs unhinged.

Unhinge yourself.


Because my words won't do, here's a look into a place that makes me feel the most free, the most wild, the most unhinged.

Here's to you and your untethering.