chasing down community

Though this Long Island girl never imagined she'd live in the south, the decision to move to Nashville was a relatively easy one, all things considered. After all, I'd packed up my life and headed to southern Africa when I was only nineteen. Choosing a U.S. city to settle in on my return Stateside didn't seem quite so consequential. 

But that didn't make my transatlantic move any less heartwrenching.

The summer of 2011, I arrived in Nashville, broken in every way.

My decade-long marriage had ended, my ex running off with my (ex-)friend. As founders of a donor-driven nonprofit, when news of infidelity and then divorce was made public, financial support started to dry up. Eighteen months later I was forced to make the most devastating decision of my life: closing down our organization (and, in doing so, laying off over 60 staff members).

In one grand swoop (that seemed equally far too fast and painstakingly slow, all at the same time), I lost my marriage, career, home, friendships, future, and country. My entire adult life had been spent on African soil. And in a proverbial instant, it had all vanished... shattering into a million pieces. 

When I relocated back to the U.S. after 13 years abroad, I felt like an absolute and utter failure. 

Friends graciously welcomed me into their homes with open arms (and open hearts) in far-flung places around the country, like Ohio and Georgia and Oregon. Most days, getting out of bed was considered a win. The days I went to counseling, or engaged the "free therapy" of my own writing, or swallowed my Prozac (along with my pride), or allowed myself to laugh? Those were the days I knew I was taking healthy steps forward.

Don't ever let anyone fool you: Healing is hard work.

All the while, I had my sights set on Nashville. I'd visited a few times over the years, had some friends here, even completed the half-marathon just days before the fateful flood... After living in a rural agricultural region of South Africa for so long, I craved city life. But I'd also grown to love some aspects of small town living that I wasn't ready to give up just yet. Nashville seemed to be the best of both worlds, fitting the bill of the "manageable" city I was looking for. 

But the biggest reason I moved to Nashville was to chase down community. 


I knew I needed to be intentional about surrounding myself with quality people. If I'd learned anything in my 30+ years of life, it was that I can't do this thing on my own. I need a strong support system. We all do. We're wired for it, built to require it. And the handful of friends I had here (almost all of whom I'd met through social media in my early days of blogging from the mission field) were the primary reason why I knew this is where I should put down roots. 

Chase down community. It became my mantra. My touchstone. 

And it proved to be far more difficult than I ever thought possible.

In my first year here, almost all of my friends moved away, relocating for work or love or adventure. Others drifted in the way that friendships sometimes go when different life seasons take over. I struggled to build new relationships, having limited opportunities or contexts in which to meet people. I was left feeling incredibly unanchored. Disconnected. Unsettled.

Community isn't as easy to come by as I'd hoped. Maybe it's Nashville. Maybe it's my age. Or my stage of life. Or my personality. Or maybe it's a Rubik's Cube combination of all those things together. Who knows.

What I do know is this: Developing a life support system gets way harder the older I get.

And it will never just happen on its own.

It demands all kinds of time and effort and intentionality. It necessitates vulnerability and risk. It requires that I keep putting myself out there amid the (disappointingly) often hollow Southern platitudes about "getting together sometime". (It took this Yankee a long time to realize that phrase is more of a pleasantry than the start of a plan to really connect.) 

But eventually, slowly, I began to find those true heart connections again. One relationship at a time, I started to find and build community. I've found it in Instagram connections turned friends. And in wine-infused porch conversations that run late into the night. I've discovered it in the bartenders and staff at my local Cheers. And in laughter and heartache and shared bowls of pasta. 

It was years in the making, but I realized its presence in a solitary instant one night last fall. As my autumn porch party was winding down, I looked around at friends old and new, spilling from the kitchen in the back of my house all the way through to the front yard, and it just hit me all of a sudden: I finally have that community I'd been chasing.

I noticed it in the same way you suddenly realize, as winter starts to fade, that it's no longer pitch black out by 5 PM. 

That seasonal transition never seems quite as gradual as it really is. It sneaks up on you. You just look around one evening and it takes you by surprise to discover that there's sunlight where previously there had been only darkness.

My circle of friends is small, but deep. And they strengthen and support me in countless ways (as I hope I also do for them). But I finally feel that sense of belonging. Of connection. Of settledness. I feel more anchored than I have in years, and as I approach my fifth Nashiversary, I do so with immense gratitude.

My heart discovered sunlight again in this little big town, with its creativity and innovation, its social mindedness and collaboration, its food scene and its musical pulse. And, most of all, its community.

I didn't find a home here.

But I'm building one.

let's celebrate

I decided earlier this year that life is too hard and too short not to celebrate the wins when they come. 

And so I’ve toasted friends' completed work projects and successful accomplishments; I’ve cheersed for good news and strong finishes and job promotions and friendiversaries; I’ve danced it out for simply making it through a difficult week. “Let’s celebrate!” has come out of my mouth more in the past three months than probably the entire three years prior.

So my recent foray into real estate called for a celebration.

A new house sits waiting for a family to call it their own, and the most adorable silver bullet camper is (finally) sitting pretty in her new backyard home.

And while I have no plans to live in either, this enormous (and—GULP—frightening) step couldn’t go by unacknowledged.

So some of my closest friends gathered to celebrate with me this weekend. These friends have encouraged me, championed me, and stood firmly in my corner as I’ve navigated all this, and I am so unbelievably grateful to have them in my life. 

We filled the furniture-less house and power-less camper with pizza and wine and music and laughter and love.

We danced it out.

And we celebrated.

i give you my word

My auntie-heart feels like it could explode (and Oregon feels so very far away). Emmett Foster, I love you already. All you ever needed to do to capture my heart forever was show up. 



You know what that means?

No matter what, lil monkey, I'm in your corner forever and ever. I'll be your biggest fan, loudest cheerleader, loving truth-teller, and steady hand-holder. I'll be your shoulder to cry on, a refuge when you need one, and your car-dancing partner for life. 

I will stand with you, walk with you, hope with you, and laugh with you (and, let's be honest, sometimes *at* you... but I give you permission to laugh at me too). I'll shoot straight with you, even when the truth hurts, and I won't pretend to have answers when I don't. 

I will learn far more from you than you likely ever will from me, and I'm okay with that. 

I'll celebrate with you your successes and victories; I'll sit in the heavy silence with you when life is hard and things don't make sense; and for all the days in between—monumental and mundane—I'll just be a constant presence, reminding you you're never alone and you're fiercely loved.

All you had to do was show up. 

Down side? You're stuck with me. 

Up side? You are already loved far more than you will ever know.

hurt hurts

"When I asked you how you were feeling, you said it was a high-pain day. But you looked to be having such a great time — talking, laughing, mingling with the group. So it just doesn't add up."

I couldn't believe a friend — one of the few I'd candidly opened up to about my chronic health issues at that point — had written this to me. And had already spoken to other mutual friends about me. Out of "concern," of course.

She was calling my integrity into account. For my health issues to be as severe as they are, she decided I should always be forlorn. Quiet. Listless.

And all at once, my back was up against the wall, with me defending what shouldn't need to be defended.

"I can push past it when I need to, for limited amounts of time..."
"A smile on my face doesn't mean I'm being dishonest about how I'm feeling..."
"There are plenty of days when my health determines my plans..."
"When you feel something constantly, it's not what comes to mind when asked how you're doing..."
"I can feel awful, and still have a good time..."

I immediately hated myself for scrambling to explain, for working so hard to make her understand.


Sadly, she wasn't the first to respond so hurtfully about my health issues.

And she wasn't the last.

I've been treated as though I'm crazy, or, at the very least, exaggerating wildly.
I've been called a liar.
I've been told to stop being so dramatic.
I've been scolded for not having enough faith.
I've been preached at, talked down to, pitied.

Enduring chronic anything—all day, every day, in varying degrees—is crazy-making, lonesome, and challenging all on its own. Skeptical tones, judgmental eyes, critical words—all they do is make me regret opening my mouth.

And they heap more isolation onto an already lonely road...


I still feel tremendously uncomfortable talking about my chronic pain and health conditions—though I try to force myself to open up about them more than I used to.

My breath quickens as I struggle to find words for what seems indescribable and yet is, at the same time, my "normal". With each syllable, I grow increasingly anxious that I am being judged. Criticized. Unheard. Misunderstood.

And being misunderstood is just about the worst feeling in the world—and one of my greatest fears.


I can't help but think of Saint Francis of Assisi's poignant prayer—

"O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek...
to be understood as to understand..."

So on this high-pain day, I am going to swap my fear of being misunderstood for a fear of misunderstanding those I love. I'm going to be more intentional to put aside my own experiences and opinions so that I can truly listen and open my heart to understand even that which is unfathomable to me.

Because though our pain looks different — physically, emotionally — at the core, it is all the same.

Hurt hurts.

And that I can understand.

Originally posted on A Deeper Story.
Read the comments there »

i'm too much

“I feel so betrayed.” 

Ironic and painful words to hear from the mouth of the one who left his family for a new chosen “other.”

His refusal to engage in even one honest conversation about the massive elephant sucking the air out of the room was met by my refusal to simply engage in surface-level banter — our relationship warranted more than that. While processing through my own feelings of betrayal, I couldn’t even wrap my brain around him uttering that word.

What he couldn’t see — what he still refuses to acknowledge — is that what he calls “betrayal” is me being the woman he raised me to be.

He raised me to be brave and independent and loyal and even quite a bit stubborn.
I desire truth, openness, authenticity, and trustworthiness because he taught me to value those qualities.
Following his lead, I stand my ground, I use my voice for what I believe, I fight for justice and mercy, and I love fiercely—through the hurt and the hard.

I’m tenacious, loyal, persistent, and strong-willed because he modeled what it means to stand up after falling—bruises, scraped knees, bankruptcies, lost homes, failed ministries, and all.
He taught me to dream big; to start something from nothing, and believe it can become something amazing; to try again and again and again and again.

He raised me to be generous with second chances, liberal with apologies and forgiveness, abundant in humility, and rich in grace (even for myself).
He raised me to cry and laugh and, yes, even scream—to not be afraid of my emotions.
He raised me to be unashamedly me.

And now the me that I am is what he calls a betrayal.

Too much need for truth. Too many questions. I’m simply too much for him right now.

So the one man who has always been in this only-daughter’s corner effortlessly walked away. I’ve reminded him that regardless of my age or my season of life, I still need my dad, but it hasn’t made a difference. I’m more work than he feels it’s worth right now. More work than he feels I’m worth right now…

I’m too much and not enough all at the same time.

So, for the first time in my life, Father’s Day came and went without a gift, or a card, or a phone call. And I felt like I was simultaneously being true to myself and betraying myself, in equal measure—which is an awful feeling actually.

I sit here, fighting to wake up as I relive my nightmare. I sit here, fighting to not lose hope in the entire male population—or in all humanity for that matter. I sit here, fighting to keep my heart open, to be brave with trust, to risk and risk again.

All the while hearing his voice saying that he’s the one who’s been betrayed.

Originally posted on A Deeper Story. 
Read the comments there »