“1800 more steps.” My friend, Belinda, is tracking her steps as part of her daily exercise regime. The distance needed to reach her daily goal often dictates her evening route. It’s a wonderful treat having a best friend move within walking distance of the bachelorette bungalow. It is even better that Greenville is truly showing off right now with this perfect spring into summer season. The air is warm, but there is still just enough breeze to mask the hot sticky humidity we know is coming. Neighbors are in their yards, children are riding bikes, downtown is bustling, and the flowers are still in bloom. It has quickly become a ‘thing’ for our routes to converge during our individual runs. We unite for the final steps and talk about the things best friends talk about: what we are binge watching on Netflix, unrequited love, and how many ‘steps’ it takes to get to Blueberry Frog.
We noticed a street that was unfamiliar yet inviting. We made the turn and preceded up the picturesque street. Greenville is charming that way. Always warmly inviting us in to discover it’s historic treasures as well as it’s new attractions. (Just last night Belinda noticed a tiny public park sign with a tree lined pathway between two homes. Needing more steps, we followed the trail and discovered a small hidden park nestled behind a row of homes. What a sweet surprise! And just a few blocks from the BB. )
As we rounded the cul de sac --Belinda pointed out the whimsical mailbox. At closer look, we confirmed it was a 'little library.' She knew about these because her own street has one. Yes, a public cubby, a book shelf of sorts(complete with walls, a door, and roof) to take and leave books. Inside the little library were a good many books of all different genres. On this ‘Father of the Bride-esque’ street stood a box , filled with stories and people, of all different worlds. And they were free to be shared with anyone who passed by.
'The little library'
Yesterday I glanced over to see a new structure on my own Greenville city street. It was a box perched high on a post with a small door. Painted in the happiest shade of sky blue, little Biltmore Drive now housed our own ‘Little Library.’ Oh! Oh! This is divine! Ha!!! But really! Again, inside there was a collection of books, all filled with different people, stories, experiences, and worlds. Right outside my bachelorette bungalow door.
I always liked books as a child. (Fact: I like the Concord Book Fair better. The book fair sold bookmarks, stickers, and magazines. I have always been drawn to ‘accessories.’) Still, my mother jokes that I would often bring books and papers around insisting that I had “books to read, home work to do, and projects to attend to”-- despite being in pre- school. (I wanted to fit in with my older brothers, who actually did have those things to do. Apparently I was a little liar. Fact: children are not innocent. But this is not a blog on total depravity so I digress. )
Soon enough, I devoured the American Girl books, and I was thrilled when the assigned book reports at school were required to be biographies. Reluctantly accepting that my mother’s Kathy Lee Gifford memoir or Erma Bombeck collection would not suffice(nor were they true biographies-I know English teachers), I decided upon a book about the life of First Lady Dolly Madison for my second grade assignment. She had style and pretty curls on the book insert picture(my criteria apparently was, in fact, ‘judging a book by it’s cover’), but I quickly learned she was so much more than a ‘pretty American royalty’ face. She had the style and grace we love about our First Ladies, but she had strength under pressure. When escaping from a huge fire at the White House, Dolly is credited with saving the portrait of George Washington. She lived with poise at the top of society and kept that same spirit even when she came to know desperate poverty. Her guts and gumption have always stuck with me. (Full disclosure: Reports have since contradicted the fire story, but the woman I read about when I was seven, was solidified in my mind as ‘really awesome.’)
My reading habits and preference of material has evolved over the years, but what I am learning about myself is that I have always loved the stories of real people. This did not always present itself in great choices for reading and along the way as I have been known to line my shelves with celebrity magazines, and reality TV star memoirs. My friends had progressed to Lewis and Tolkien, and I was sheepishly reading Ivanka Trump’s book. More than once, my well read friends Erin and Travis have graciously loaned me ‘big sturdy books, big wordy books.’ I almost always get distracted by something like The Pioneer Woman’s memoir about her romance with Marlboro Man.
Another bookish friend Megan, who patiently awaited years ago for me to finish Atlas Shrugged(I finally took it off my nightstand because I was sick of dusting it) recommended I read Wild. Cheryl Strayed’s words cut straight to my gut. She told the story of her life, and I got a real peek and view of another human’s journey. She chronicled her grief following her beloved mother’s death with no fear of tidying it up for the reader. She was awakened to the strength, perseverance, and fierce love her mother had for her. I feel a similar awakening in myself regarding my own beloved mother. Tears streamed down my face reading the book as Strayed recounted the chain reaction as things fall apart after. Hearts broken. Relationships abandoned. And souls crushed under confusion. She was speaking directly to me. She reflected on her childhood with honesty but grace, and I connected because she was not just telling her story or my story, she was telling our story. Yours and mine. We are drawn to the experiences of ‘us.’
In the story I am telling, it has been eight months since my father took his own life. Eight months since He violently ended his own story on this side of Heaven. Determined that his suicide not define me, I will not deny or mask that it has completely eradicated everything I knew to be about my own life and story that is unfolding. His death was not the end of a chapter in my life or a small subplot. (Yep, I’m doing obvious and cheesy literature references. ) He may have wanted His death to mark ‘the end’ but in reality it was a beginning. Not one I would have ever chosen, but it is only through death that something can be resurrected. I began writing publically in 2005, and I have always sought to only tell my story. I don’t have the right to tell anyone else’s than my own. Now, more than ever, it is my mission to share the story God is telling in my heart. Not my dad’s story(he has one), my mom’s(she has one) or anyone else’s. (You, too, have one.) And they are all valid. They are all messy. And they are all capable of redemption.
I have always wanted my story, the one I live and the one I tell be like the cover of Dolly’s biography: stylish and pretty. But the real story, the one in my gut, is filled with bent up and torn pages, conflicting accounts, and ever changing perspective that shift the feelings in my soul. But I don’t doubt that that is where the Great Author does His best character development.
“But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
as she did long ago when she was young,
when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.” Hosea 2:14-15(NLT)
He does not leave my story(or yours) unfinished in the desert. I like how the ESV translation calls it a ‘wilderness.’ Shauna Niequist speaks so well to where I am today, “There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming." This spring into summer season, the season where I am pen to page most everyday, is about becoming. I do not have answers, and I am not actually searching for them. I am, however, relinquishing control and remembering the part of my story that will never change:
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:4-10 (ESV)
So as the plot thickens so to speak, and I write, edit, and write some more for my book, I, too, am going to enjoy this season of becoming. Becoming a woman who enjoys the cookie dough topping while she is eating it, as well as when she looks in the mirror the next day. Becoming a woman who lives in the present instead of analyzing the ‘what ifs’ and ‘worst case scenarios.’ Becoming a woman who cares less about what people think and more about renewing her own mind. Becoming a woman who acts out of inner and peaceful confidence-- not a girl who acts out of fear, insecurity and anxiety. Becoming a woman who does not merely trust feelings but is firm in truth. Becoming a woman who believes, deep down to her aging bones, that her identity is in Christ alone and the story He has invited her into will most definitely be one where she lives happily ever after (with Him.)
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.