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.

comfort and joy

Ohhhhhhh, the holidays... 

How I used to love them.


I waited expectantly all year for the sights, sounds, and smells of this beautiful season. I'd transform my African home with all things inappropriately seasonal—autumnal colors in springtime... snowmen in summertime. I'd cook Thanksgiving feasts for twenty, sometimes thirty or more. I'd put up a Christmas tree and hang stockings and spraypaint snow in the corners of my windows. 

It was, hands down, my favorite time of year.

:: ::

But that was before.

And this is after.

After love walked away. 

After trust was shattered, along with my heart. 

And after all of this betrayal and heartache unfolded within the holiday season. More than once. 

:: :: ::

The joy this time of year used to hold was replaced with painful memories and unrivaled grief. The storm clouds that now loom over Thanksgiving week—and stretch all the way through New Year's—are dark and thick and deafening.  


This formerly beloved season now feels like labored breathing. Exhausting. Hard. Painful. And mostly just hoping it will end as quickly and painlessly as possible. 

Sadly, I know I'm not alone in this.

Though our pain and timelines differ, I know so many who have endured their own unspeakable loss and grief, and wish they could just fast forward through the festivities... So many who find themselves under the storm cloud of sorrow along with me...

:: :: :: ::

I hear the words of the song playing in my head: "O tidings of comfort and joy." And I shake my head. Comfort and joy? 


:: :: ::

Those of you who, like me, find the holidays uniquely heartsore, please know you're not alone. And those of you who love this season, please celebrate with eyes and hearts open wide to recognize the brokenhearted around you. 

Maybe we can all be gifts of comfort and joy for one another. 

:: ::

Emmanuel. God with us. 

In our befores.

In our afters

In our right nows.

God with us.


Comfort and joy, friends...

Emmanuel: God with us (DS)

"Give us an advent spirit," he whispered as he ended his prayer for our meal. And as we picked up forks and drinks and napkins, that phrase kept bumping around inside me. And it bumps still. I don't feel expectant or joyfully waiting, and so I'm struck by those words. Give me an advent spirit.

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been my favorite time of year. No matter which side of the ocean I was celebrating on, I waited expectantly all year for the sights, sounds, and smells of this beautiful season.

But that was before the darkness creeped in, marring my whole world and tainting even the holidays I loved. Now this time of year feels like labored breathing. It's exhausting. Hard. Like I'm just waiting for it to end instead of wishing it would linger a while longer like I once did.

This year, I've been intentional to remember my power to choose. And right now more than ever I'm forced to remember that joy really is my choice. No matter the circumstance or the feeling. And while the holidays aren't as sweet or as magical as they once were, I can still choose to find joy within them.

There's a reason we sing, "O tidings of comfort and joy." Somehow, the two hold hands.

And so I put lights on the wooden giraffe by my front door. I placed a nativity on my mantle. I strung lights into wine bottles strewn about my apartment. I stare often at my star-topped tree that stands as a beacon of light, pushing back the darkness. Comfort and joy.

In the words of Elisabeth Elliot—"Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God."

And what better time than right now to take comfort in that. To allow my heart to breathe, to hope, to anticipate. Because no matter what, God's presence abides...

Emmanuel. God with us.

And because He is here, I can choose joy.

For those, like me, who find the holidays uniquely heartsore, will you join me in choosing to discover joy and comfort in the presence of God, made visible in a manger filled with hay? Let's "lift our eyes", being purposeful to not only seek but also to be comfort and joy.

And for those who love this season, will you be intentional to remember that it is bittersweet for many? Open your eyes and hearts to see the heartsore among you. Extend invitations. Hug tightly. Through you, others can be reminded that God sees and knows and cares.

God is with us.

Comfort and joy, friends...

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

emmanuel: god with us

"Give us an advent spirit," he whispered as he ended his prayer for our meal. And as we picked up forks and drinks and napkins, that phrase kept bumping around inside me. And it bumps still. I don't feel expectant or joyfully waiting, and so I'm struck by those words. Give me an advent spirit.


i'm that girl who's drowning

I've heard that the biggest challenge with rescuing a drowning victim is how they instinctively fight against their rescuer. The sheer panic and fear is so great that they can't stop themselves from flailing, even at their own detriment. But trying to snap them out of it—to awaken them to their need to simply relax and lean into the arms of their rescuer—is nearly impossible.

I'm that girl who's drowning.

I've been fighting against my new normal, almost without realizing it. Maybe if I just surrender to it, I'll discover that rescue is only breaths away. But maybe if I surrender to it, I'll discover there is no rescue at all... That it simply is what it is, and no amount of fighting or accepting is going to change it.

A counselor told me that all I've been through in the past few years wasn't just traumatic. It was trauma. Leaving me with a sort of PTSD that is very real, and that lingers still. {To be honest, that's still a hard pill for me to swallow.}

One of the greatest challenges of my new normal is memory loss. {I can't believe I just said that phrase out loud. Memory loss. But that's what it is, even if I prefer to hide behind calling it Fuzzy Brain Syndrome.}

I used to be the girl who remembered everything. My ex-husband was notorious for forgetting that he'd seen a movie. Even after I described it in detail, explained where and when we watched it, and showed him the cover... Nope. He couldn't remember. Until about 5 minutes into the movie when he'd bust out an, "Ohhhhh yeah." We laughed about it all the time. And now... that's me. I can't for the life of me remember the moves I've seen.

I can't remember names. Or where people live. Or the names of their spouse or kids. Or details of the last conversation we had.

I can't remember much of anything.

It scares me. It brings tears to my eyes and sometimes even causes me to full-on ugly cry. It makes me hate my brain.

I knew I had blogged once about my Fuzzy Brain Syndrome and my battle with my new normal. So I went back to find it. You know what? I wrote it two-and-a-half years ago. Two-and-a-half years. {Here come the tears again...} That is a long time, people. A long time to not be feeling like myself. A long time of feeling like I'm living with diminished capacity. A long time of wondering if it's just a phase and hoping for old-me to surface again.

Two-and-a-half years later, I'm starting to think this may be reality from here on out. And that really makes me hate my brain.

So I just need to say this:

When I ask you again—for the eleventy-second time—what your husband's name is, how many kids you have, where you live, or how we know each other, please, please know I hate it more than you do. It hurts my heart because I know it comes across like I don't pay attention or don't care... and I promise you that's not true.

I realize now that my only choice is to surrender, even while I doubt that a rescue will ever come. But fighting it is just too exhausting. So I give up. I cease flailing, throw my arms upward, and let the current take me under.

And pray grace finds me there...

photo credit: Duncan Rawlinson

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