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Characters

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

We are all watching. We are all watched.

To some people, this could seem glamorous. The whole idea of being in a novel or film or reality show is quite appealing.

We know what kind of people they are. We see the shallowness, the superficiality of their self-love. But for some reason, they can’t. For some reason, none of us can when we are set on making asses of ourselves. Listen to your dialogue. Look at your thoughts. Be horrified. Be grateful that God loves characters, and loves characters on journeys, characters honestly striving to grow. If someone else was delivering your lines, would you like them? If someone else was wearing your attitude, would you be impressed?

:::::

I’m a few chapters into Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl. Don’t you love it when familiar things are articulated in a completely original, true-but-not-trite, non-sentimental way? I’m savoring this book.

“Written Together” by Shanna Mallon

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

As is the case with so many people in Nashville, we had been sort of peripherally acquainted for a while. We had a lot of mutual friends, had been in the same room a few times, lurked around each other’s internet spaces – but I wouldn’t say that I really knew Tim Mallon.

So you can imagine my surprise back in 2010 when I had just finished running the Country Music Half-Marathon and looked up to see Tim – internet-acquainted but real-life-unfamiliar – making a beeline for me. Sweaty and disgusting is not the state in which you want to have your first real in-person interaction with anyone, man or woman, but Tim was unfazed: he gave me a hug and, after talking for a few minutes, we concluded that we should continue the conversation.

So a week later, I met Tim and his brother Nathan for coffee at Frothy Monkey. It was pouring rain that Saturday. The rain would continue for two days, and by Monday, Nashville would be under water – but we didn’t know that yet. We were just enjoying casual conversation, learning about each other’s families and each other’s work and why they had started drinking unpasteurized milk. Tim and Nathan are disarmingly genuine. I wish everyone could meet them.

Somewhere in the conversation, Tim mentioned Shanna. “We’re talking,” he said. And just as I always do when I hear about a crush, I got excited. “You’re talking?” I asked. “You’re talking to Shanna? Shannalee the blogger Shanna?”

He grinned. “Yeah! Shanna and I are talking.”

At the time, I was a new reader of Food Loves Writing – I don’t remember how I came across it, but once I found it, I was hooked. So much more than a foodie blog, Shanna weaves stories from her life into her experiences in the kitchen – her perspective is compelling, her heart absolutely beautiful. And the food that she makes – oh my word. The recipes send me into guilt spirals for standing in front of the fridge picking store-bought rotisserie chicken straight off the carcass and calling it “dinner.” Everything about her site is lovely and worthwhile. She’s one of my favorite voices on the internet.

And I couldn’t believe the coincidence: Tim Mallon, the Tim Mallon sitting right across from me, was talking to Shanna!

I’m going to spoil the ending: they kept talking. Shanna moved from Chicago to Nashville, and they got married. I met her in real life, too – a picnic lunch at Sevier Park, where we talked about struggles and faith and where this life might be leading each of us. She is every bit as wonderful in person as she is online.

And now, she has written a book – a book about that period in her life when she and Tim were talking, getting to know each other, falling in love. Written Together is a quick but gorgeous read, a story interspersed with recipes and details and hope. Last week, I put on my pajamas and crawled into bed, started reading and didn’t stop until I finished it. I loved it.

And I just wanted to tell you.

- – - – -

Written Together is available in both ebook and printed format. Shanna didn’t ask me to write about it – but if you want to support a couple who lives and loves in a way that is inspiring, I encourage you to get a copy or three.

Stuck

Friday, December 21st, 2012

When I turned 30, I had the sinking realization that no one was going to fix me.

I had long harbored the belief – although perhaps not consciously – that someday, something was going to shift, and I would no longer be broken/sad/angry/afraid/lonely/insecure/what-have-you. Believing that someday things would change somehow made it easier to accept that today, I was still stuck.

I continued to allow myself to be stuck in the (shoddy) confidence that the elusive and undefined someday was coming.

But when the calendar turned to a new decade, I realized that I was struggling with the same things I struggled with at 14 and 19 and 23 and 28. I realized that in certain areas of my life, there was no movement. I realized that I was stuck – and that no one was going to dig me out, even if they tried.

Because oh, they have tried. Parents and friends and boyfriends and mentors – they have all meant well, and genuinely cared, and offered both words of truth and tangible acts to attempt to loosen me from the muck and mire. But I’ve been like a Chevy sunken to the axles: desperately, impossibly stuck.

A trusted person recently observed to me, “I see a war happening over your heart.” And I believe her. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that about all of our hearts – that there is good and there is evil, and they both want us desperately. Now, I believe that good wants us much, much more than evil ever could – but evil is insidious and conniving, and if the devil can’t have our souls, he’ll settle for our lives. He’ll do everything he can to keep us bound and gagged, to keep us from being a force for good – to keep us stuck.

Right around my 30th birthday, I got an email from Thomas Nelson Publishers asking if I would be willing to review a women’s bible study. Now, you guys. Confession time: I’m not big on bible studies. I just haven’t really done many (pastor’s kid failure). Thomas Nelson asking me to review a bible study was the equivalent of the MLB wanting my thoughts on the statistics of, I don’t know, BUNTING. (Although remember when I was so sporty and wrote this?)

But the name of the study caught my eye, and so I said yes. A few days later, Jennie Allen’s Stuck arrived on my doorstep.

This DVD-based study was so meaningful to me. It helped me pinpoint some of the areas I struggle with being stuck in: brokenness, anger, discontentment, fear, sadness. Jennie’s conversational teaching and storytelling made the 8 DVD sessions completely engaging (I want to know her in real life). And while I can’t say that I’m now completely “unstuck,” I know that addressing these topics head-on has given me language and tools to MOVE.

God wants our hearts, and is fighting for them. I truly believe this. And I’m happy to say that he is helping me get free, even in the smallest of ways.

- – - – -

Thomas Nelson gave me an extra study kit to give away to a reader, so if you’re interested, leave a comment saying you’d like to be entered for a chance to win. The curriculum includes an 8 session DVD, study guide, leader’s guide, and conversation cards for group discussion. While I believe that the lessons apply to both men and women, Jennie created the study for women – so all you burly men, feel free to enter, although you have been warned.

A winner will be chosen via good ol’ RANDOM.ORG on Friday, December 28th.

Tuesday love

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

BOOK
I just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  I can’t tell you what this book did to my heart.  I can tell you that wherever life takes me next, I’m going on a major backpacking trip first.  If you know me at all, you’ve already heard me talk about it.

SONG
Say what you will about Taylor Swift’s latest album, but I can tell you this: “All Too Well” is classic Taylor, and it hits me in the gut.

QUOTE
“How we spend our minutes is how we spend our lives.”  I don’t know who’s credited with coining that phrase, but it’s hitting home for me these days.  I want to spend my minutes well – which means, ugh, maybe I need to stop watching “Dawson’s Creek” on Netflix.

PLAN
I recently volunteered to be bumped from a flight in exchange for a travel voucher.  I’ve decided that I want to use it on a solo vacation somewhere peaceful in early 2013.  Requirements: a beach, a kitchen, and plenty of quiet.  Any ideas for where I should go?

New York

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

So many things were old hat: the quick note of my parking row, the toiletries in Ziplocs, the train to concourse C, the weight of my book-laden purse. After all, this was my third trip in so many weeks; I am no stranger to Southwest Airlines and Denver International Airport.

But as I boarded the plane, I felt an alien sort of energy: the destination was unfamiliar.

And waking up this morning in a very plush Hilton, the unfamiliarity was confirmed. I am in New York City. Word.

Prior to today, I have only been to New York once – five years ago. Another life ago. I spent a week crashing on my sweet friend Heidi’s pull-out couch in Brooklyn, and hoofed myself all over the city with absolutely no idea what I was doing.

One night, I was on the subway around 1am when the train just… stopped. Everyone off, they said. Trouble on the tracks.

So I took the stairs up to the open air of the dark night streets, and looked around for some sign of what to do next. Street signs did me no good; I had no context for where I was, and the hint of red wine lingering around my edges wasn’t exactly helping. I figured that I would get on the bus that I saw some of my fellow/former trainmates boarding, and just see what might happen.

Inexplicably, and hours later, I made it back to Brooklyn that night, elated at my sheer moxie (when really, it was all due to a merciful stranger who nothing short of spelled out directions for me). I had had a CLOSE CALL in New York, New York, and lived to tell the tale.

Yes, I acknowledge my naiveté. But I also acknowledge the possibility of my very large face on a very tiny milk carton. Touché.

In addition, I acknowledge the fact that I just used é twice.

This week, I am in New York for a work event – something rather outlandish and fun in and of itself. But I’m extending my visit through the weekend to a) rendezvous with the one and only Valerie Morby, b) test out the services of airbnb, and c) attend “Newsies” on Broadway. If there was any weekend to be jealous of my life, this is it.

Back in August, I started the book Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, but wound up shelving it when life got crazy. On a flight to Austin just a few days ago (I told you – flights in abundance these days), I started reading again, and I finished it last night en route to New York.

In the last 15 pages, I underlined this: “One of the beauties of New York is that you can be from anywhere and within moments of landing it is yours.”

I’m wide open to that possibility.

Beauty for ashes

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

Well, well.  Happy new year, all.  And just in time – I’ve never needed a new year so badly.  I was so ready to drop-kick 2011 Beckham-style out the door and usher in 2012, fresh, hopeful, and, as of yet, untainted.  Hallelujah and amen.

You may be wondering what life has looked like since I last blogged 9 days ago.  Or maybe you’re not (likely).  Regardless, YOU ARE GOING TO KNOW.

I wrapped up my job at Emma.
I flew from Nashville to Kansas City.
I snuggled my nephews.
I read four books in seven days:
- “One Day
- “Room” (the best book I read all year)
- “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
- “Incendiary
I ate so much cheese.
I slept full nights.
I played Dance Central on the X-Box.
We made it through the first “divorced Christmas.”
Things were awkward and sometimes painful.
But we did it.
And I love my family for it.
I drove from Kansas City back to Denver with Becca.
And Greebs and Toad.
Every day I declare war against dog hair.
I bought and assembled one of these.
Zion’s adoption was made official.
He is irrevocably a Parsons.
He is the best thing that happened in 2011.
I spent multiple days cleaning and organizing our home.
Four different sets of friends got engaged (including Greta, OMG!).
I got a new phone number.
And I start my new job on Tuesday.

I rolled into the new year a burning train wreck, having spent a solid two hours of December 31st on my bed in uncontrollable tears before pulling myself up by my bootstraps, throwing my body into the shower, and willing myself to go to a few parties.  It’s been awhile since I’ve cried so hard – the honest, gasping kind of tears, the sort that leave your eyes stinging and your entire face swollen.  2011 was a kick in the gut, to say the least – and a good, long cry seemed the most appropriate way to mourn what went down, and bid the year adieu.  With a bold middle finger.

But as I stared at my puffy, snotty countenance in the mirror, wondering how I was ever going to recover enough to show my face at these parties, I remembered the part in the Bible about how those who grieve are given beauty for their ashes, and joy for their mourning, and peace for their despair.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one to go slinging around scripture insensitively – especially when it comes to the big, weighty things.  Life is too hard and people’s hearts too fragile to offer Bible verses as mere Band-Aids.

But I have to say – if it weren’t for this idea, that God takes the burning wreckage of our lives and gives us beauty instead, I would have no hope.  None.  The fact that he can take the hopeless cinder pile of my heart, and transform it into something not only worthwhile but beautiful… well, this is where I’m staking my hope.  And they say that where you place your hope, that’s where your joy will be found.

So, onward.  New year.  Same old me, but new hope.  Hopefully.

The art of the non-sad

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Last week, Carmen left a comment on one of my posts that completely resonated with me:

For the last 1.75 years I have eliminated all sad music from any playlist I can control and axed sad movies. Guess what. IT IS AWESOME. I am all about melancholy, but some seasons require axing all extraneous sadness. I recommend this. You’ll love it. Get trashy movies and books, action and stupidity, and fill extra moments with hilariosity.

I could not agree more.  Last spring, when I was going through the darkest season of my life to date (which, in some ways, continues today), I watched a devastating, raw documentary called “Dear Zachary” that just about did me in.  I cried for days, and walked around with puffy eyes in a dark haze that just wouldn’t lift.  Right then and there, I chose to take a break from sad movies, music, and books.  Life is heavy enough – and while I definitely see a time and a place for sharing our tragedies and our struggles and our heartbreak (because you know I love a good wallow), there are times when we’re just not strong enough for it.

For me, right now, sad stories and words just crush me down, down, down – like a trash compactor*.

So I’ve cleared my Netflix queue of anything dark (aufedersein, Holocaust), and am skipping the sad songs on my iTunes (sayonora, um, most of my music), and have abandoned Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” (for now) in favor of more delightful, fluffy reading.

Here are my recommendations for a few non-sad things to be consumed.

Watching
I am loving “Parenthood” on DVD.  I’ve caught episodes on-and-off over the last couple of years, but I’m starting at the beginning and working my way through.  What great, lovable characters, and relatively true-to-life situations.  For all of my bad boy crushes (Tim Riggins, anyone?), when it comes down to it, I’m just looking for a man like Adam Braverman.

The Human Experience” is a fantastic documentary about man’s search for meaning.  The filmmakers and their mission completely charmed me.  Soak it up.

And I’m pretty sure that “Being Elmo” is going to be so sweet, so poignant.

Reading
I bought Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” at Target, and trust me: this book will cure whatever ails you.  Except maybe kennel cough.

A few years back, Rod bought me “I’m Down,” and I still laugh when I think about certain parts.

Also, my good friend Annie Downs is currently blogging a 31-day series on courage, and I’m loving it.  Mostly it’s just because I miss Annie Downs all the way to Scotland, which is where she is currently living, and getting a virtual dose of her every day in October is doing my heart good.

Listening
This one’s tough for me, since I’m obsessed with songs that gut me – I am masochism personified.

I have had to curb my repeat-listens of Jill Andrews’ “Sinking Ship,” because oh man, it’s cutting deep.  She has this line that’s like, “You told me lies with your hands and the truth with your lips,” and I’m like, “Oh my word” because she must have read my diary.  And then she says this thing about, “I’m searching, now not finding a better part of me, ’cause I want it back,” and that’s it.  I can no longer function.

So maybe don’t listen to that one.

But definitely listen to “Heart of the World” by Lady Antebellum.

And Sara Groves‘ latest, “Invisible Empires,” is just… so good.  “Open My Hands” is a current favorite track, as well as “Obsolete.”

And you should for sure listen to songs by Marc Scibilia.  I don’t really know how to get your hands on his music, but go on a hunt to find “Something Good in This World” and “How Bad We Need Each Other” and “Ain’t My Home.”  This guy knows what’s up.

What about you – know of anything non-sad that we should check out?

*When I was younger, I SO wanted a trash compactor in the kitchen.  Only our rich friends had them, so I associated the trash compactor with wealth, luxury, and ease.  The moral of the story is: kids, please dream bigger dreams.

Such an amazing book

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

“I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly.  That is what the scar makers want us to think.  But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them.  We must see all scars as beauty.  Okay?  This will be our secret.  Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying.  A scar means, I survived.

In a few breaths’ time I will speak some sad words to you.  But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now.  Sad words are just another beauty.  A sad story means, this storyteller is alive.  The next thing you know, something fine will happen to her, something marvelous, and then she will turn around and smile.”

-Chris Cleave, Little Bee

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If you haven’t read this book, you need to remedy this ASAP.

Heroes and imperfections

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

I promise to not make this blog into one never-ending series called “What I’m Reading – and So Should You!”  But – sue me, people – I’m reading a lot right now.  And unless you want to hear about my dream last night (I killed a wild hog), then thank your lucky stars that it’s a post about a book.

At the suggestion of my cutie friend Carrie Cohen (SHOUT OUT), I’m currently reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein.  The narrator (who happens to be a dog – stay with me) gives an account of the family that he lives with, all the while waxing poetic about life, philosophy, and race car driving – which he has learned a great deal about from his master.  Maybe it’s a silly idea, allowing a dog to narrate, but so far, it’s a fun shift of perspective.

Here’s one of my favorite passages – and yes, this is the dog thinking:

“The true hero is flawed.  The true test of a champion is not whether he can triumph, but whether he can overcome obstacles – preferably of his own making – in order to triumph.  A hero without a flaw is of no interest to an audience or to the universe, which, after all, is based on conflict and opposition, the irresistible force meeting the unmovable object.  Which is also why Michael Schumacher, clearly one of the most gifted Formula One drivers of all time, winner of more races, winner of more championships, holder of more pole positions than any other driver in Formula One history, is often left off of the race fan’s list of favorite champions.  He is unlike Ayrton Senna, who often employed the same devious and daring tactics as Schumacher, but did so with a wink and therefore was called charismatic and emotional rather than what they call Schumacher: remote and unapproachable.  Schumacher has no flaws.  He has the best car, the best-financed team, the best tires, the most skill.  Who can rejoice in his wins?  The sun rises every day.  What is to love?  Lock the sun in a box.  Force the sun to overcome adversity in order to rise.  Then we will cheer!”

Hilarious that Stein attributes thoughts like these to a mere mongrel of a dog – but also, a little bit poignant.  Because if we’re honest, even – and maybe especially – in our simplest moments, don’t we feel the exact same way?

Perfection is boring – and so it’s interesting to me that we often expect the people around us to be perfect.  Why do we insist on something other than just real life with others?  If we’re honest, wouldn’t we rather experience someone’s flaws – with the hope and expectation that they just might triumph over their shortcomings?  Wouldn’t we love to be a part of that?

Wouldn’t we love for others to give us that chance?

Wouldn’t we love to give ourselves that chance?

Confession

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

If you think I won’t be reading this, well.  You just don’t know me very well at all, now, do you?