learnings: September 2015

Today I join Emily P. Freeman to share a few things we learned in September.

WhatWeLearnedinSeptember

  1. People are astonishingly generous, so that all I can feel is small and glad and grateful. (Related fact: it’s fun being the bride at a wedding shower.)
  2. @socalitybarbie is a fun feed to browse. (And it reminded me of the more fun of browsing Catalog Living.)
  3. Visiting three college friends in Virginia is a good idea, and oh! it was good for my soul. Laughter; lots of laughter.
  4. Going outside to wait for your ride is a good idea:
    IAD: sunset
  5. At least two people are trying to still live in the Victorian era — not as reenactors, but just as a lifestyle. I find it highly unusual.
  6. Elizabeth Goudge. So far I haven’t met a book by her that I didn’t love. The Rosemary Tree is no exception.
    Here’s a quote, chosen because it requires less context than most of the other gems I’ve found, and because, like the other gems, it rings true: “I’ve never welcomed anything difficult or painful. I’ve always resented it and hit back. I can see now that to have welcomed the slings and arrows might have been to welcome love.” Yes.
  7. Getting married is SO much work, and I’d never have a hope of being ready if it weren’t for my mom.
  8. People are the best: family, fiancé, friends . . . and the random people you meet throughout the day: the TSA agent singing “Oh Happy Day,” my friend’s neighbor who made us come into his yard and filled our hands with tomatoes, the girl who sold me a hamburger at Five Guys. I like people.
    loved

©2015 by Stacy Nott

November: learnings

1. The differences between wind-borne leaves and birds is sometimes negligible in November.

light 2

2. Fall is a season which might convince one of the glory of dying: the dance of the leaves as they fall, and the trees casting less and less shadow and admitting more and more view of the sky and the sun. If I must waste away and decay — and, eventually, I must, if I don’t die suddenly and young — I’d like to do it this way: showing up less and less of me, and more and more of the Majestic Glory behind me.

3. Teaching depressing literature is easier than teaching happy literature. I think, when I find the way to teach the happy literature well, I will consider myself a better teacher than I am now.

4. There’s a new doll on the market, like a Barbie, but made to match the proportions of an average, real-life girl. Along with the Lammily Doll, you can buy a set of reusable stickers in order to give your doll acne, cellulite, scars, stretch marks, and make her blush, among other things. The need for such stickers, to me, indicates the death of imagination: kids can’t imagine things that aren’t there; they have to have physical evidence. (And who wants to pretend her doll has acne, anyway?)

5. I finally “got” the parable of the lost sheep: for years I’ve read it and felt just a bit disappointed deep down that the angels didn’t rejoice that much over me, because, having been saved so early, I never got lost. Praise the Lord for allowing me to see that in truth there are no good sheep. Each of us who is in His fold as a repentant sinner is there because He went out and sought us when we were lost. And His grace is such that He would save even me, though I spend so much time thinking that somehow I didn’t need finding.

6.  It is hard to get a really good picture of cotton bales when driving past them:

cotton

7. There are so many guest rooms all over the U.S. which have been made available for me to use on someday visits: it makes me grateful for years of moving all over the place, and for having attended a college where everyone was not from one state. (Will I visit them all? It doesn’t seem all that feasible, but it’s nice to have the option.)

8. Speaking of long-distance friends, I re-discovered that I have some wonderful ones. And that is wonderful.

9. Asian grocery stores are interesting to visit. (Or, at least the one I’ve visited was.)

10. My taste in apple pies is not like other people’s. I don’t like them goopy or very sweet: I’ve only been making apple pies for twenty years or something, but this is the first year I learned that other people expect goopy sweetness. Still, people like to look at them, anyway:
pie11. Again and again, at many times and in many ways, through all the surprises that a November — or any other month — can offer, God is indeed good. He lets me taste and see it. I rejoice.

12. I can’t count? (Actually, this is a December learning, since I noticed today that when I wrote this post yesterday, my numbers ran 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9,10, 10.) I’ve corrected that now.

What-We-Learned-November

Today I link up with Emily P. Freeman of Chatting at The Sky to share things I learned in November. Use the button above to visit her site and join in the fun yourself.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

Noticing, Day 5: born(e) there

noticing

The day is edged in gold, and I’m noticing that it’s hard to photograph the gold edging from a moving car, and it’s hard to convince myself that stopping is worthwhile when I’m within an hour of being home.

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I’m noticing a six-week-old baby’s tiny mouth and tinier finger nails, her way of wriggling on my shoulder, of staring fixedly at her world.

I’m noticing the way a new daddy’s voice changes when he talks to his daughter.

I’m noticing the smell of old woodwork in an old church building, the squeakiness of the floor, palpable sense of history pervading.

I’m noticing how God promises origins for His people, as well as a future:

“And of Zion it shall be said, 
‘This one and that one were born in her’;
For the Most High himself will establish her.
The Lord records as he registers the peoples,
‘This one was born there.'”

And for this girl, who was born far away, who was not born here, who is not from here, this promise is beautiful.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

hope. glory.

I drove in six states on Sunday, arriving home after 12.5 hours en route, including stops at an airport, two rest areas, two gas stations, and Steak & Shake. (That last was to have been Starbucks and a cup of tea, which I confidently expected at the selected exit, but traffic being heavy, and Steak & Shake being handy, I thought a chocolate milkshake would do the trick. It did.)

Apprehensive as I always am about traveling alone, I’m learning to love the between-ness of it. While making noticeable progress toward a certain destination — a thing incredibly comforting in the midst of these topsy-turvy twenties — I’m not required to be anywhere particularly.

I mentioned the envelope of predictions in my last post. Before we opened it, my friend enthused about its connection to the past: “Our young hands touched this five years ago!” It made me think of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey:” “Five years have past; five summers, with the length /  of five long winters!”

P1040303In some ways, these past five years have felt like a long stretch of road without a certain destination. The four years of college that preceded them were all focused toward that definite end point, and all the goals I’ve set and met since have been fillers of sorts. My friends predicted for me a baby with yellow curls, a red couch, a home in Lynchburg, Virginia, among other things, and my own predictions for myself were similar, if less specific. I think I expected to be older than I am, more settled, feeling wiser.

Reading it left me wistful, and yet there was a saving grace at the end: “If, in five years, I am more patient, more flexible, more trusting in He of the unthwarted will than I am now, I shall be very well pleased.” The grace is that I didn’t specify amounts, I simply hoped for “more.” “More” I have been given, not in the ways I expected, but more all the same.

Jackie Knapp writes about unfulfilled expectations, a theme for twenty-somethings. She says “We need to learn to grieve our shattered dreams, to understand and absorb sadness, to sit with unanswered questions and learn about trusting God in this space without sugar-coating the truth. . . . But,” she says, “we also need to grow new expectations, ones that wait for God to show up in ways we couldn’t imagine, to expect seasons of joy and grace in the midst of difficulties. We need courage to find new dreams when our old ones aren’t happening.”

If I were to write predictions for my next five years, they would be the vaguest of sketches. I’ve learned that life doesn’t follow formulas, plans come unplanned. Strangely enough, however, I feel I have my sights on a more certain destination than I did five years ago. I can’t see it, or enter the address into the GPS and get a prediction of the time it will take to get there, but I know it exists, and I know I’m on my way: glory. The progress is noticeable, if small.

Hebrews records how Abraham “went out, not knowing where he was going,” but living “by faith . . . in the land of the promise. . . . looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” Like him, I seek a homeland, a better country: “[God] has prepared for [me] a city.”

Take heart with me, you who watch and wait. I don’t know how many states and stops it may take before we arrive, how many traffic jams and reroutings, how many milkshakes where we look for tea, how many fuel prices that seem unreasonably high, how many unrealized red couches and golden-crowned toddlers and shifting dreams. But He who calls is faithful; we won’t be wanting.

 

©2014 by Stacy Nott

back — and forward

I’ve been to Indiana once before. I was twelve, and from the back seats of the conversion van, it was hard to see the rolling farm country.

I’m the driver now, with a wind-shield’s-worth of view all my own, and leisure and aloneness to appreciate the charms of this slice of Americana.

Here spring comes more slowly than in Mississippi. Somehow, it’s a rest to be away from the fruitfulness of home. The thick-greenness, which seems as if it could not grow thicker and greener, but always does. The profusion of fruits and flowers and crops already knee-high.

Here the fields lie mud-brown, some bearing the stubble — still — of last year’s corn, others showing up this year’s crop in a film of pale green. The trees have not yet passed the small-leaf stage, allowing for large expanses of sky.

Last time I was in Indiana, I chiefly remember that things were difficult to find; that, among other experiences, we found ourselves driving along a college sidewalk which we had taken for a road.

Multiple times yesterday, I found myself afflicted with the need to turn around — every time I exited the interstate, in fact. I’m beginning to suspect it’s a fault in their road-planning rather than in southerners’ navigational skills.

There’s humility in turning around: I don’t have it all together. I don’t know quite where I’m going. I’m not perfect.

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Last night, I gathered with old friends to open an envelope sealed five years ago, filled with our predictions and hopes for where today would see us. Mostly, we’ve not ended up quite where we hoped and expected. Yet we find ourselves in places which are good.

There’s comfort in the later spring here. In seeing that it does not arrive simultaneously everywhere.

The dirt and flood of these fields does not mean they shall always be unfruitful, nor will their harvest be harmed by this waiting.

©2014 by Stacy Nott

homeward

I’m a stranger here. My accent, which makes people down home sometimes ask me if I’m from “somewhere up north,” here slips out strangely soft and gentle. I didn’t even think about it, but when I addressed the people behind me in line as “y’all,” I branded myself a stranger.

Some people are born in a place, and that place is their home, inexorably. They don’t leave. Other people set out to find home, choose a location based on statistics or geography or demographics or some other factor and, by determined effort, make that place their home. For most people, though, it seems that home happens by accident: job or school or family draw them somewhere they don’t necessarily mean to stay, and then they wake up one day and find out that “somewhere” has become “home” without their even noticing.

Home happened that way for me. It was never a place I thought I’d live. I remember that as I think of the associations which might come with the location on my name tag: obesity, poor school systems, the murdered civil-rights activist they’re remembering this week, the left-over plantation culture, the big muddy river. Before it became my home, I didn’t really associate anything with “Mississippi.”

Now it’s a collection of faces, infinitely dear. Voices that make me smile. Buildings which have somehow shaped the contours of my soul, so that I fit into them like fingers into gloves. Trees with leaves that all wave recognition when I pass.

I’ve been exhaling its air with every breath, crying out its water in my tears, for the better part of eight years, so that now my soul is somehow soothed by the very fact of its existence. I’m a stranger here, but I came from home, and I’m going back again.

Y’all — I usually avoid writing “y’all,” but today it seems appropriate — y’all, dearly as I love it, Mississippi is not, not really, my home.

Even if I live there all the rest of my mortal days, I’m not going to be there forever. I’m going somewhere else. Promised Land bound, I am, on my way to the house not made with hands. And such is the grace of that House Builder, He gives the air of that place for me to breathe, even now; He offers the waters of that place to soothe my thirst, free of charge.

When I fill my lungs with that air, when that is the water I cry in my tears — and, ah, He’s a conservationist, that Builder: He collects my tears in a bottle — then I find my soul soothed, somehow, by the very fact of the existence of that place.

I’m a stranger here, but I’m going home.

could be brave*

Bravery is only as brave as the strength of the fear it must overcome.
-Luci Shaw, The Crime of Living Cautiously

brave butterfly 2

For a church picnic hosted at our house recently, my dad and brothers hung a big rope swing from a high tree branch on the back of our property. After nearly eight years swingless, we have a swing. The little church children delighted in the swing, keeping my brothers busy pushing: “Underdoggies” and “Around-the-Worlds.” After the picnic was over, the swing stayed. My brothers — for those who don’t know them, tall young men in their last few years of college — took a twelve-foot stepladder out to the swing site, climbed, pulling the swing, to stand on the very top of the ladder — two steps above the “Do Not Stand on or Beyond This Step” step — and plunged off the top of the ladder,  swinging in a wild arc, back and forth, back and forth, higher than any of the children swing. I cringed, just to watch them climb there, but they stood fearlessly, jumped fearlessly.

A few weeks later, with a group of older church kids, the ladder came out again. And there were the brothers climbing to the top, and there was I, admonishing the other kids not to climb that high, telling them that ladders are not my thing. With a healthy dose of friendly teasing from kids at least a decade my juniors, I was persuaded to swing from partway up the ladder. Even that, standing facing out from the ladder, nothing to cling to but the rope of the swing, made my stomach flutter. But I did it, and there was something exhilarating in the arc of the swing, the smooth flight without any of the jerkings attendant on being pushed.

The brothers still went off the top. But here’s what I realized: it took more bravery, really, for me to go off that mid-step of the ladder, than for them to stand on the top. Because they are not afraid of heights. But I am.

A friend of mine thrives on adventure. Last year, she took herself on a months-long summer roadtrip, all alone in an old car, for days and days on roads brand-new to her. She tells me I need to get out more, do more, wonders how I manage to survive in the small circle of home, my small-town church, my small university. I wonder how she dares to venture so far and so free.

What is brave? What does it look like? Does it look differently for you than for me? I get trembles going to ask my friendly department chair to let me sign up to teach classes he’s already told me I can teach. I get trembles climbing not even halfway up a ladder to ride a rope swing. Maybe those things don’t frighten you. But maybe teaching my college classes would scare you? Maybe you’re frightened of being stuck somewhere small, missing something exciting?

Perhaps my brave is venturing out, overcoming my fear of new places, new people. Perhaps yours is sitting still, getting to the point where the places and faces are as familiar as the lines on your own palms. Perhaps I’ll find that the new places are much less terrifying than I imagine, perhaps you’ll find that the familiar things are much less boring than you think.

Perhaps we’re both being called to step out into our brave, past our fears? Perhaps we can cheer one another on as we climb up the ladder steps, take the rope between our hands, swing out and swing back.

Perhaps, when we find ourselves somewhere in that smooth arc, we’ll smile and realize that “brave” has been transformed into “fun.”

 

*Title comes from a song by The Innocence Mission, “Brave.” Listen to it here.

©2013 by Stacy Nott