On Daily Bread

It feels like all I can do is cook this week. And bake. And drink. And start over again.

I drove to work on Wednesday morning, my hands still smelling like garlic from the gallons of soup I made the night before.

I’ve made three loaves of banana bread, and fresh brioche, and two chicken pot pies, one for friends and one for us. I’ve made apple-clove syrup to stir into gin fizzes.

Tonight I made a huge batch of chili after Ellie went to sleep, and I’ll put it in the slow cooker in the early morning before I leave for work. It's more chili than the people coming over for dinner will eat, but that’s ok. I like leftovers. I’ll probably make  cornbread in my cast-iron skillet, after I brown butter in the bottom of it - butter that will sink into the batter and make a perfect crispy crust as it bakes in the oven.

Saturday I’ll make a birthday cake for a dear friend, and probably some blueberry-brie tartlets just for the hell of it. I’ll make another cocktail and cheers that friend into a stunning new decade of life.

Sunday I’ll make an annual favorite, “pumpkins stuffed with everything good,” and a big batch of cranberry sauce and then stuff my face silly with my dearest friends around a great big table, like we do every year before we head around the country for Thanksgiving with our families.

I can’t do much this week other than cook, it seems.

I’m antsy with energy that can’t work itself out. I want to run forever, I want to break down in tears and crawl under the covers.

I want to listen. Listen long, listen well, listen to everyone. And I want to hear. 

But for now, I can bake. I can cook. I can love on the people around me in a tangible way, around the table. If it’s the only thing I can do, if I can pour all this heartache and fear and loss and hope into another loaf of bread, another batch of soup - then maybe that’s enough. 

I can serve and eat daily bread, and ask for just what I need to get through today. And God will always provide it.

I turn back to a favorite Lewis quote, one that rolls around in my head every time my heart starts to beat a little too fast with anxiety about tomorrow:

"Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or your happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as to the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received."

 

Give us this day our Daily Bread. 

 

 

 

 

On Unpacking and Light Bulbs

I sat down to open the mail last week, and I cracked.

Every envelope I opened brought something new.

New address. New car. New insurance - home and car and health. New voter registration. New credit card, because mine got compromised by someone who went on an online dating service spree. Sigh.

I tore open every envelope, each one with more anger, more frustration, more exhaustion.

After two exhausting months, I'm done. I collapse on the couch and stare at my phone until I fall asleep at night. There's nothing left.

Moving is gutting. It doesn't matter if, like us, you are moving into a beautiful new house - a house you love. It guts and rearranges you. It takes everything that is in some semblance of order and throws it up in the air, like Ellie does with her puzzle pieces. And then we find them under the couch, in the chair cushions, in the kitchen drawers.

Here is my life: my lamps don't have bulbs.

We've lived in this house for almost two months, and my lamps don't have bulbs.

When I get up in the night, when I creep into Ellie's room and put my hand on her belly and feel her breathe so that I can breathe, I turn on my phone's flashlight and perch it on my bed. It's not a lamp, but it works. Because my lamp doesn't have a bulb.

Putting a bulb in a lamp is a small effort - minuscule really. The impact, of course, would be huge. But it hasn't happened. I don't know where the light bulbs are. I don't know when I will find them. The Vegas line on my lamps getting bulbs would probably be at least + 6 weeks.

There's a large amount of shame that frames my day. Why can't I get my shit together? Why can't my lamps have bulbs? My dishes get done? My laundry get folded?

Because I work. I work, I cook, I have dance parties with Ellie every night. She loves “No” (Meghan Trainor) and "Handclap" and we can listen and dance to them on repeat until we collapse laughing on the couch. She dances up to me and says “I do, on! I do, on!,” requesting the Hamilton soundtrack in the most darling possible way. We turn it on. We belt at the top of our lungs.

And then my heart beats faster when I think about the other kiddos we hope to have. I think about the lamps in their rooms. I think about more laundry and less time.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about our hour. It’s the hour we get each day, the hour between rushing home and making dinner and cleaning up from dinner and playing with Ellie and putting her to bed and then going to bed ourselves. There’s about an hour there - sometimes it is shorter, because we fall asleep on the couch. Sometimes it’s longer, because I want to watch Colbert or Fallon or some other distractingly funny thing.

And what I’m slowly discovering, what is being scraped out of me like the seeds when we carved our pumpkin, is that I can’t live for that hour. Because when I believe that that hour is my only hour, I live from a place of scarcity.

I believe the lie that Melanie can only really be Melanie in that one hour, that 8:30-9:30 PM, because that’s the hour that I have no other responsibilities other than to myself, and to the bottle of red on the counter.

When I live for that one hour, I don’t see God’s abundance in the other 23 hours of my day.

I stand in that posture of scarcity, believing that there’s not enough of me to go around … believing that there’s not enough of me left. Which is true. There’s not enough of me, and there shouldn’t be. My expectations are too high. Guilt and scarcity are terrible bedfellows. 

I dream of a clean house. I dream of order, and timeliness, and folded and ironed laundry.

But I also dream of laughing late into the night, of cuddling up next to Price on the couch and falling asleep like we have for the last 10 years. I dream of a door that’s proverbially always unlocked, of friends that have keys and come and go, and don’t have to ask where the corkscrew or the trash bags are.

That’s the beautiful thing about this house of ours. Do we have bulbs in our lamps upstairs? No. But downstairs, we’ve had a dozen nights already of drinking and laughing and eating with our favorite people. Weekends, weeknights, good nights, hard nights, fight nights, flight nights, football nights, baseball nights, take-out nights and home-cooked dinner nights. 

I’m stretching muscles I haven’t stretched in a while. I’m fighting for what we love over the guilt I feel over light bulbs and laundry. Because this life is abundant, not scarce. It’s hard, not easy. But it is full of good and beautiful things. 

So the back-breaking work these days is not putting bulbs in lamps, though that’s important. It is not the gutting work of moving, but rather the gutting work of motherhood, of adulthood, of marriage, of prioritizing, of cutting out what I don’t need - guilt and shame - and making space for what I love - cooking, laughing, writing, my people. It’s wearing glasses that force me to see abundance, not scarcity.

As I decorate and arrange our house with the hodgepodge of art and furniture and knickknacks we’ve collected over the years, I begin to put together myself as well. It will take time. I can’t snap my fingers and every disparate thing have a home in my house, nor can I expect that the person who has been undone and rocked and gutted these past few years will instantly become a whole person. I don’t snap together like Ikea furniture.

Unpacking a house takes a very long time. Unpacking a heart that’s been hiding underneath crumpled white paper, stuffed in a cardboard box and carried from state to state? That takes even longer. 

On Going Nuclear

I was driving to Trader Joes yesterday, taking my life in my own hands. Not because the drive is particularly treacherous, but because for the Greater Nashville population there is one Trader Joes. The parking lot is an utter disaster. The aisles are crowded like it’s Black Friday, even if it’s just Ordinary Sunday Morning. 

But then I started to cry. Hot tears percolated in my eyes, my throat, my chest, and I found myself driving along, crying to a Ryan Adams song on my way to Trader Joes like the darn Nashville millennial that I am.

It’s been a hard summer. A long summer. It’s broken and built us in myriad ways, and I thought that maybe it would gently fade into a beautiful and redemptive and soft fall.

But then we got one phone call, and then two, and then a few texts and finally Ryan Adams pulsing through my stereo on Sunday morning hit me with these words -

This is where the summer ends.

In a flash of pure destruction, no one wins. 

Go nuclear. Nuclear.

And so after a summer of slow and sudden diagnoses, of late nights with too much wine and early mornings with too much coffee, of more moving boxes, of new schedules and old stubbornness, I’m tired. 

Somewhere along the way I read a Mary Oliver poem, and it screwed me up. What is it, she asked, What is it that you will do with your one wild and precious life?

Her poem The Summer Day has been a refrain of sorts for me this summer, the question mark at the end of a months-long conversation with a kindred friend, the class I took about Christian calling, the new Shauna Niequist book I just read.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I read those words, and they spark all kinds of fires in me. I don’t know how to pray. But I also don’t know how to be idle and blessed.

For me, it’s the last 4 lines that stir up the volcano inside. What am I doing? Why am I doing it? There was an Old Melanie, and a New/Now Melanie, and I don’t always see the congruity between them. I long to live out a wholeness that is me, instead of piecing together a puzzle every morning between “mom” and “wife” and “employee” and “friend” and “daughter” and “sister.”

When I put my puzzle together, can you still see the lines? Or do I click together, seamlessly, and present to you a whole and healthy me?

These are the questions I’m asking, the questions with no answers, the questions that have peppered a summer full of heartache and wonder.

But yesterday, when I drove those back roads to Trader Joes, and I saw a teeny tiny ponytail bobbing in the back seat, I thought - this is my one wild and precious life.

These piles of laundry. These dinners to be cooked. These people to be loved. These wines to be poured. These eyes to be looked into and seen and loved. This teething toddler, this steadfast husband, this needy cat. This is my one wild and precious life.

This summer was nuclear, in the best and worst ways.

I think about Jason Isbell, singing You thought God was an architect, now you know - he’s something like a pipe bomb ready to blow, and everything you built that’s all for show goes up in flames.

God has been a bit of a pipe bomb this summer. A nuclear pipe bomb.

And what’s left in the mess, the rubble? A stronger, warmer, softer heart. Tired eyes. Lots of laundry. A bobbing ponytail in the backseat. A lot of pending tragedy, but a lot of hope.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

On Ten Extra Pounds

This week, I have tried on 2 pair of pants that don’t fit anymore. 

My body is stubborn, like my mind and my heart and my will, and it refuses to let go of the ten extra* pounds I gained with our little bit of Ellie. 

I run, I bike, I swim. I eat reasonably well, save my addiction to Baja Burrito, queso, and wine. Lots of wine. My counselor told me to drink a glass every night, and who am I to argue with a professional? 

But these pesky ten pounds give me a lot of pause. 

Pause because for the first time, I actually don’t care. 

Sure, I liked those yellow jeans. I loved the black Minnie pants from J. Crew, but they make them in other sizes. 

I look at the softness of my belly, I pull my skin back to see the ribs that used to be visible all the time, and I think I like the softness. My edges aren’t sharp anymore. There’s flesh around my bones. 

I like to think that perhaps, motherhood has softened more than my belly. It has added more to my life that ten extra pounds, that perhaps what I carry with me is more than stores of fat … that my heart carries more, that my mind does as well. Is it possible that all ten pounds sit above my temples, more brain mass with which to spin a dozen more plates each day? 

That might be the negative sway, the easy cop out. I do more, so I deserve more - I have earned that extra glass of wine, the second scoop of ice cream, the entire bowl of queso (don’t judge). Rather than, perhaps, I have been gifted them. 

I’d like to think that these ten pounds … that almost two years later, these extra ounces are less of battle scars than perhaps little gifts, reminders that I’m not who I used to be. 

But every single day I forget that. Every single day, I metaphorically try on the pants that don’t fit, because every day I hope they do.

The irony is, the clothes I bought last year just after Ellie was born don’t fit either. There’s the pink pleated skirt that I bunch up with a safety pin to make it fit to my slightly shrunken frame, and the shirts that hang awkwardly, and a dozen more uncarefully-folded postpartum pieces that still sit around my closet. Because I don’t fit in those either. 

Instead, I mix-and-match. I piece together my wardrobe each morning the way I’m slowly piecing together this new Melanie, day by day and stitch by stitch. It’s not easy, and I wish everything in my closet matched perfectly and was always ironed and I appeared perfectly put-together at every turn. 

But I don’t, and I won’t, and I can’t. I’m not perfectly put together because I’m not entirely sure I know what I want to look like every morning when I walk out the front door. Some days, I want to be the old Melanie. Some days, I’m quite content with the new. Most days, it’s a miracle to even get out the door reasonably close to on time. 

Here’s what I know that I didn’t know two years ago, when my belly was a beach ball and I thought that I would pop back into shape like a rubber band as soon as Ellie was born: First, hahahahahahahahahahahahaha

Second, Pour another glass of wine. Order the queso. Take your little girl for ice cream and order two scoops. Leave the dirty dishes in the sink, read the bedtime story, then snuggle up on the couch with a good beer and good friends and leave the dishes for the weekend. This illusion of perfectly put-together is just that, an illusion - but cling to the fact that you are perfectly made in the image of a perfect God. Because that’s what matters. 

I feel like I know less than I did then, but I’ve gained so much. I carry less, but I weigh more. And it’s good. 

* Note: Now that this is written, I wince at the word “extra” - like perhaps I’m assuming that my natural state is 10 pounds lighter and that those 10 pounds are truly extra and unnecessary. On the contrary, they are very necessary and not extra at all, because they are mine and I like who I am when I have them. I like being less fearful of gaining them, I like enjoying my wine and my queso, and I like being a little squishier in body and soul. I needed some squishiness, less rigidity, less fear, less self-consciousness. So in that respect, these pounds are not “extra,” but I still like the syntax and so that word will stubbornly stay, much like my new pounds. 

 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me? 

Some nights it feels like the world is burning. 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

The last four weeks or so have been mind-numbingly hard. For the world, for our country, for our little sacred village, for me. They have been hard in a way that makes me feel infinitesimally small, as if every prayer I breathe just fades away, like a puff of cigarette smoke into the dark night sky.

The son of man, that you care for him?

The world is on fire. 

Our world is on fire. 

Three weeks ago, I wrote in my prayer journal the names of every single person in our Village and asked for God’s blessing. But the last three weeks have been filled with heartbreak, disappointment, loss, disillusionment, fear, confession, admission, shame,  truth-telling, truth-hiding, utter exhaustion, and so much more. 

We’re tired, God. We are tired. 

There’s not really a resolution to this, no thin string to wrap around these brown paper words and send them off to you neatly and compactly. There’s nothing neat or compact about life right now, rather it is strewn all about like the toys that have claimed my living room floor. And the energy it would take to gather them up and put them away, each in their proper place? I certainly don’t have it. 

Instead we sit. We sit in our messy living rooms across this city, country, world. We text each other late into the evening, political memes and inside jokes and distractions and requests for prayer. 

And it is in the sitting, the waiting, the hoping … the crying, the laughing, the distracting and the drinking and all the things we do while our world is burning … that God shows up. 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

David wrote this in Psalm 8. He said it in 2 Samuel 7 too. 

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” 

Job whispered it to a God he didn’t understand in chapter 7

What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment?

When David writes in the Psalms, he sings praise and awe. How majestic is your name in all the earth, he cries. 

When David prays in 2 Samuel, it is a prayer of gratitude. God has just made a covenant to him, that David’s house and kingdom would be forever. It is the defining promise of the Old Testament, and God made it to David - a sinner, a son, a king. 

But when Job says it, it’s different. Right before he utters those words, he says - I loathe my life, I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath. 

In the past month, we’ve said good-bye to jobs, to friends, to houses, to babies who won’t walk this side of heaven. We’ve done a lot of leaving, a lot of talking, a lot of praying. I’ve done a lot of whining, a lot of wine-ing, and a lot of complaining and questioning. All of it is natural. It makes sense for us to take Job’s posture, to spend 41 chapters in painful questioning and 1 tiny chapter feeling the soft landing place of restoration.

Job may be wisdom literature, a grand poem. And it does what all great poetry does - it cracks open a piece of your heart and with a certain turn of phrase it tells a new story in your mind. And this is what Job is doing for my head today; it is what David’s poetic Psalm is doing in my heart. 

Who am I, that you are mindful of me?

What is man, that you make so much of him - and that you set your heart on him?

These days it is easy to doubt. It’s far easier to doubt and disconnect than it is to lean in to the mess that is our collective heart. But it is here, in the mess - in the smiles and the silly texts and the tears and the late night ice cream and beer - we find the faithful presence of God made manifest in the faithful presence of our friends. 

It’s how we feel his mindfulness, in the mindfulness of our friends. And for that tonight, and every night for the past few months, I am grateful. He has set his heart on us, and we have set our hearts on each other.