Dry Bones, Sing

Making the ordinary extraordinary.

A Morning Devotional after the Deadliest Mass Shooting in U.S. History

This morning, I woke up to news of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It is 7:15 a.m., and the current toll is 50+ dead and 200+ injured. It happened at a country music festival last night in Las Vegas. A man on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino fired an automatic weapon into the crowd–soft, easy targets. He had several weapons, and he used them. Apparently, the shooting went on for about 10 minutes or so, according to one witness. Brief pauses to reload. And this is all very terrifying. As one news anchor this morning asked, “How can we not all be scared?”

But what can man do to me? Can man separate me from Your love, Your presence, Your salvation? Can man pluck me from Your grasp? Can man take me away from the fellowship I have with You, in life or in death?

To live is Christ. To die is gain. What can man do to me? Man can break my earthly body, but it will only lead to a perfect one. Man can wreck my thoughts, but only if I allow them to stray from You. Man can take away the worldly things I love, but he cannot touch You.

My soul is safe in You. My real life is hid in You. Life on Earth is a vapor, but life with You is eternal. Life with You is real, but life on Earth is a shadow.

What can man do to me?

Nothing worthy of my fear.

______________________________________________________________

Pray for Las Vegas. Pray for all who are suffering. Pray for our country. Pray for our world.

And pray that we can face this terror with boldness, not fear, for terrorism is not worthy of the fear it wishes to command.

Scenes, Thoughts, Feelings: August 8, 2017

The day our dog passed away, we sat on a bench on the National Mall and cried. Before that, I cried on the Red Line, and at the National Museum of Natural History. The metro was too quiet and empty in the early afternoon, and the star dust at the museum was too much. Everything made me think of her.

Star’s smile.

Star’s bark.

Andrew assuring me she was going to be fine.

Andrew wrapped in a blanket at the animal hospital.

Star’s bed, crate, treats, toys, and medicine that were all either put into storage in the trunk of our car or thrown out in an early morning daze.

Star convulsing.

Star panting.

Star resting her head in a pool of blood, struggling to breathe.

Star intubated on the counter.

And then there was the LinkedIn recruiter asking if I was interested in a proposal writing position for a defense and space company.

There were the work emails blinking on my phone, the condolences.

And emails that weren’t condolences.

The vet giving us prices for x-rays.

Saying yes to everything that could possibly help her.

The dinner of turkey sloppy joes we had prepared in the crockpot the day before, but didn’t eat for some reason. The stale naan we ate with it because we didn’t have buns. Five bites or so.

Andrew holding my hand in bed and starting his prayer with “God, today really sucked.”

God, today really sucked.

The origami stars at the animal hospital. The handful I took. The one I held onto as we waited to see if her lungs had drained at all.

The x-ray that showed a small growth that meant nothing because she was going to die from something else soon, anyway.

Congestive heart failure.

Holding her Ewok toy as I talked to my brother, my parents, and some friends.

Andrew trying to nap on the couch.

Hearing the new neighbors’ dog going up and down the hall.

Getting an anniversary card in the mail.

Pale gums.

The oxygen chambers.

Another couple who came in with their cat, who was also struggling to breathe.

The French cat poster in one of the rooms. Our plans to visit France this winter, before I quit my job.

The vet tech who said Star was 11, though we thought she was nine. Maybe she was older.

The vet tech who would have to explain death to her young daughter soon, since she has an old dog.

Crying at Chick-fil-A, “How Great Is Our God” instrumental in the background.

The softness of her head and paws.

The vet tech pulling the towel over top of her.

Star waking us up around 1:30 a.m. and Andrew taking her out.

Star waking us up around 3 a.m., surrounded by pink fluid on the carpet.

Wanting to run red lights to get her to the hospital more quickly.

Dropping the car off for an oil change, sunglasses on.

Donating her food to the Humane Society.

Calling our vet’s office to ask where to donate the open food, and to tell them the news.

Sitting on the uncomfortable wooden bench in the waiting room, watching Guy’s Grocery Games at 4:30 a.m.

The vet saying she was too far gone.

If you hadn’t heard her coughing, she would have been dead when you woke up.

Collapsing in the stairwell on the way back up to our apartment.

Picking out Star’s urn.

Her eyes slipping out of focus, falling asleep, 5:15 a.m.

$28 for euthanasia.

Settling the bill.

So, This Blog Exists

I haven’t posted on this blog in an embarrassingly long time. I could go into a rant about how busy life has been since I last posted, like, a year and a half ago. But I won’t. I’ll simply say this: Adulthood isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. They were right; we should have enjoyed our youth while we could.

I’ve always known this. I’ve always known that, sure, being an adult comes with responsibilities and lots of bills and stress and blah blah blah. And you know what? The responsibilities, the bills, the stress—they’re not all that bad. It’s the lack of time that’s killing me.

If I wake up at 5am, leave the house at 6am, get to work at 6:30 am, leave work at 3pm, get home at 4:30pm (thanks, DC traffic!), take the dog out, cook dinner, eat dinner, and finally sit down to really relax around 7pm and start getting ready to go to bed around 9pm, how do I do anything in those two hours? I’m not going to leave my apartment again and go the gym. I’m not going to sit and read a book because I’ve been reading all day and I’m in the middle of an audiobook (again, thanks, DC traffic!). I’m not going to write because I’ve also been writing all day. I’m not going to do anything that requires thinking because I don’t have the energy. Well, shoot. I guess Netflix it is!

But with this lack of time, I ask myself the following questions:

  • How am I ever going to fit kids into this picture? I already feel bad for the lack of time I devote to my dog.
  • How am I ever going to fit regular writing into this picture? I only seem to crank out one post a month for Grace & Such, and that’s about it.
  • How am I ever going to fit regular exercise into this picture? I was doing well for a while, but then my schedule got screwed up, and now I can’t seem to fit it in at all.
  • How am I ever going to fit quality time with God into this picture? For the past, shoot, several months, my morning devotions have felt just like checking off a box over some Cheerios before I head out the door.

My bones are so dry. And they have been for a while. They certainly haven’t been singing. It’s been a hard couple of months, and finding out that I narrowly avoided a cervical cancer diagnosis by having surgery in March definitely didn’t help. The surgery was successful; they got all the bad stuff out. But the fact that it was a lot worse than they thought, and that I was a millimeter away from needing chemotherapy, has completely freaked me out. (I have a post coming out on Grace & Such soon that covers the whole saga.)

That doesn’t mean good things haven’t been happening. I got promoted recently, and Andrew won two separate Rookie of the Year awards. He also just finished up his first-year project, so he’s no longer a probationary employee and won’t be working nonstop anymore. We traveled to San Antonio in February. We’re going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the end of May. Grace & Such published a devotional for sale. We went camping this month. We’re seeing Thrice next month (my seventh time). We’ll celebrate three years of marriage in August. We bought a basically new car (with cash!) in March. And now we’re officially devoting all of our extra savings to a future down payment on a house—a stressor that really deserves its own post.

So many exciting things. So many good things! But my relationship with God brings a damper over it all.

It’s not that great right now. It hasn’t been for a while. I haven’t been able to quiet my mind and soul. I haven’t been able to block out the noise of life. I haven’t been able to really communicate with Him while I’ve had so many other things on my mind. And it’s a problem. It sucks.

I’ve found, recently, that I only feel like my soul is singing when I’m actually singing. When I read my Bible, write in my journal, or talk to God in prayer, I feel like I’m only going through the motions. But with singing, I feel like I’m actually giving God what He deserves: praise and worship.

Perhaps, then, I need to sing. In the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon. Because singing calms my soul. It reminds me of where I was, who I was, and where I was going before God saved me. It reminds me of where I’m going now, and how everything will be perfect one day. No cancer. No mind-draining work. Just infinite joy and peace—for eternity.

How’s that for not having enough time? One day, time won’t even exist.

*Sigh.*

I like to think that one day, I’ll get it all together. One day, I’ll have enough hours to get everything done, and do it well. But that’s just wishful thinking.

It’s good to know that I don’t need to have it all together for God to love me. I don’t need to have it all together for my husband or dog to love me, either. I am surrounded by and drowning in grace.

Praise God!

Peace & Simplicity

For the last nine months or so, I have been trying to make my life simpler.

Or, well, I’ve been trying to have fewer things, at least.

When the fall 2014 semester ended, I was a mess. I had a new class to plan, and I needed to prepare myself for taking an extra class in order to graduate in May. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to relax over break, and even when I did have time, my brain didn’t let me relax (thanks a lot, grad school). I wanted to be doing something. Specifically, I wanted to be getting rid of things.

So I threw things out.

It started in the kitchen. I weeded through the pantry and threw out things past their expiration dates and well past their sell-by dates. I took a brief look in the refrigerator and threw out the week old leftovers that never got eaten. I recycled or shredded mail that needed to be out of the way. I sorted mail and other important documents into our filing cabinet, and shredded things that didn’t need to be in there. I recycled papers I didn’t have any use for, as I have everything on my computer and backed up on the cloud.

In the guest bedroom, I filtered through our jackets and hoodies and threw out items that were holey and had broken zippers. I put hoodies I don’t wear anymore into a pile to be donated, and I grabbed a few of Andrew’s to donate, too. (He wouldn’t miss them—he has roughly 9,000 hoodies.)

In the bedroom, I sadly threw out all my sweat-stained clothing, which happened to be my favorite clothing (hence all the sweat stains). (I’m a sweater. Cringe all you want.) I grabbed all of my band tees and put most of them in a pile to donate, some in a pile to throw out. I went through my drawers and threw out old underwear, holey socks and t-shirts, and stained shorts and sweatpants. I threw out my favorite pair of Chucks and some other worn out shoes, and I put some I rarely wore in a pile to be donated.

I went through Andrew’s clothing and did the same thing, much to his chagrin. I wrestled with him to throw out old, holey, stained items, especially hoodies that take up so much space. He didn’t relent until I basically threw a fit. For some reason, I needed things out. (The kid has more clothing than I do! The only thing I have more of is shoes.)

(And what did Andrew get for Christmas a few weeks later? More hoodies, of course.)

When we had to move all of our stuff to my parents’ house before moving into our bedroom in Maryland, I sold or gave away everything I could: the couch, the old rocking chair, an old loveseat, another couch, an old yet huge TV, an armchair, a futon, a giant bookshelf, and a guitar. I honestly don’t know how we managed to have all that furniture (and three guitars, plus a djembe and a drum set) in our apartment to begin with. When it was all gone, though, I felt such inexplicable relief. Open spaces are nice.

After moving all of our stuff to my parents’, I had to clean the old stuff out of my bedroom to make room for the new, plus Andrew’s stuff. I threw out everything that I did not hold in supreme value, meaning that I chose to throw away things I did indeed value a little bit. I guess I just didn’t value them enough. I threw away old pictures and memories from life pre-college, and some from life pre-grad school. I threw away old trinkets I held onto for no reason other than the “I might use it one day” excuse. I threw away or donated old clothing I never wore. I threw away or donated  a ton of my brother’s old clothing, considering my room was the overflow room, the room where everyone else’s crap ended up.

And for the first time in my life, my room was completely full of my items, and items that I truly valued.

When I unpacked my clothing while moving into our new apartment a couple weeks ago, I made another donate pile. We chose to bring a smaller dresser with us rather than my large one, since, you know, our apartment is only 369 square feet. I have the small dresser. Andrew has the big.

Unlike getting rid of the furniture, though, throwing out or donating my excess clothing has not given me relief. In fact, I think it would be more accurate to say that it has made me want to get rid of more. I want to live a simple life, not dragged down by things. I wish I could give it all away. I won’t be satisfied until I only have what I need.

But here’s the thing: I already have the only thing I need. I have Jesus. I have His Word, His Truth. I have His love, His grace. The only thing I consistently fail to embrace is His peace, probably because it surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I’m pretty bright; I can understand a lot of things. But His peace is something I fail to get because I’m always looking for it in the wrong places.

What I wish I could make myself accept is that I don’t have to look for peace or do anything to get it. I don’t even have to understand it. I have it already. It’s in my heart because I have accepted grace. I just need to acknowledge it and embrace it. That’s all. (Easier said than done, right?)

But it’s okay to want to give things away, too. Sell all you have and give to the poor, He says (Luke 18:22, among others). Be a generous giver. Give of your money, your time, your talents. Give it away to help others.

But that stuff comes after experiencing peace, not before.

Jesus, help me to be overwhelmed by Your peace, not by my stuff.

On This Day

The best thing about Facebook’s On This Day app is it reminds me of the little piece of crap I used to be.

I’m serious.

If you don’t know what that app is, I believe everyone on Facebook has it. On the left side of your newsfeed, under “Apps,” you’ll see “On This Day.” If you click it on August 30, for example, you’ll see everything that was posted on your timeline on the date of August 30 for every year you’ve been on Facebook. It’s really a remarkable pool of personal data, ripe to be studied.

I’ve been on Facebook for a really, really long time, so some days the data goes back eight or nine years. Those memories aren’t the worst, though. It’s the memories from six to seven years ago that are the worst, that remind me of the piece of crap I used to be, even though I thought I was so good.

The data suggests what I know to be true: I was a really selfish person back then. I was always angry, cussing about something or another, complaining about my parents controlling my life, and I can vividly remember those feelings. I remember what it was like to feel that angry and “oppressed.” I remember feeling like the whole world was against me, wanting me to be unhappy, wanting me to hate my life.

And what a dark time of my life that was! But I won’t get into that. Perhaps another day.

The best thing, though, is looking at the yucky data from high school and the beginning of college, and comparing it to the data from five years ago, just a year past the bad ones. The two sets of data are drastically different and suggest a major change happened in my life near the beginning of my college career—which is entirely accurate.

On October 3, 2009, I finally understood the Gospel and its implications, and my life began changing, slowly but surely.

In this case, correlation absolutely implies causation. I’m not whom I once was.

Friends, if we haven’t talked since high school or early college, I’m not the same person I used to be. Nowhere near. I’m not perfect, and I know I will never be perfect until I am joined with Christ in death, but I am trying my hardest to be like Christ. I’ve been redeemed, rescued, saved from the life I used to lead. And I want that freedom for all of you, too.

Facebook has provided us with a really cool way to analyze ourselves. What does the data say about you? How have you changed? What has become more or less important to you? Have you been taking steps to improve yourself, if that’s something you’re striving toward?

On this day, what will you do to make yourself better? What can you do so that this time next year, you’ll have evidence of change?

Post it to Facebook, won’t you?

“Be Good”

My grandma Kay was a really amazing woman. When her husband, my grandpa, died suddenly, she was left to take care of three relatively young children by herself. She had to get a job to provide for her family, and she had to learn how to drive. To my knowledge, she never asked for help. She never tried dating again, and she never took off her wedding rings.

While this last piece of information may make my grandma seem as though she was a very affectionate person, this assumption could not be any more false. Don’t get me wrong—my grandma was loving. We knew she loved us, but she never, ever said it. Ever.

“I love you, Grandma,”

“Okay. Be good.”

Be good. That’s how she always responded. But we tried to get her to say she loved us. We tried hard. We tried randomly saying it to see if she would slip and say it back. We tried saying it every time we saw her, as though each time saying it  broke down her wall a little more. But that wall stood strongly, even when she went to live in a nursing home.

When she moved into the nursing home, I saw her more than I ever did growing up, except for when she babysat before my brother was old enough to watch me. She was much closer now—ten minutes away as opposed to twenty—and my mom went to see her on a regular basis. My dad started working at the nursing home when he took the buy-out from Weirton Steel, and I started working at the nursing home, too, for some extra money. When I wasn’t coming in to visit Grandma, I was at work, where for part of my employment I worked on Grandma’s floor. When I worked on other floors, I spent my break with her.

Basically, for a couple years, I saw Grandma nearly every day, and we got pretty close.

She was always a funny person, but as her hearing deteriorated, she became even funnier. Because she couldn’t hear us, she made up different names for people she didn’t know very well. For the first year or so of my relationship with Andrew, she referred to him as Fred and called him Fred to his face. It was hilarious, and I didn’t correct her, but soon enough she started calling him Andrew. Grandma also became very outspoken near the end of her life, saying whatever was on her mind. She was a strong lady, and she wasn’t afraid to say what needed to be said. For instance, she frequently told me my hair looked like a rat’s nest, but I knew better than to take offense. She was just being Kay.

Throughout these years, we still tried to get her to tell us she loved us. It never worked. One day, though, I decided to ask why she never said it.

“Because I only ever loved one person,” she said.

“You don’t love your kids and grandkids?” I asked, amused.

“Huh?”

Be good, she said, when I left that day.

When I went to college, I obviously didn’t see her as often. I made a point to visit when I was home, but that was it. Everything was fine and normal for a few years, but then something went wrong. Her health plummeted, and it seemed like she was entering her last days. That’s when it finally happened.

Mom told me over the phone one day, giving me an update on Grandma, that Grandma had told her she loved her. I was floored, and completely jealous. I called Grandma to check in, and before we got off the phone, she told me she loved me, too. And it was amazing.

Grandma got better. And then she got worse. Her health was like a rollercoaster that hurts your butt because it rises and falls so much, and the rollercoaster lasted for years. But I don’t believe she ever stopped saying those magical three words, even when she was relatively healthy.

Her death came very suddenly. No one expected it. We were all so used to Grandma getting better again that we were shocked when she broke the pattern. And heartbroken.

I don’t remember the last conversation I had with her, but I want to say it took place about a month before she died. We probably talked about my wedding plans—or, rather, I talked and she smiled at me because she couldn’t hear or didn’t care. (It was always hard to tell with her!) But I have comfort knowing that the last words we said to each other were “I love you,” especially when it took so long to get her to say it in the first place.

Today, on what would have been her 89th birthday, I wish I could tell her how much she affected my life. I wish I could tell her how much joy and laughter she brought me, especially near the end of her life, and how much joy and laughter she still brings me. I look at myself in the mirror and see her chubby cheeks on my face and the rat’s nest on my head and remember her—her voice, her smile, her “baffled” face. Her funny laugh. Her hair just after getting it done—one of her favorite things to do.  I wish I could tell her how much I love and miss her.

More than anything, though, I wish I could tell her how I will be good. I promise.

me-grandma

Saturday Morning Waffles

I think most couples have a certain song that makes one half think of the other. For me and my husband, “our song” is Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes,” not just because it’s catchy as heck, but also because it led to a tasty weekend tradition.

For as long as I’ve known him, Andrew has never been much of a breakfast person. When he was in college but before we were married, I’m not sure if he ever consistently ate breakfast. We didn’t live together before we were married, and we tried to spend time with God before we saw or spoke to each other each day, so we were rarely together before late morning, even when we lived five doors away from each other.

I, however, am a breakfast person, and I always have been. If I don’t have breakfast, I am miserable until lunchtime. I really enjoy sleep, so I typically get breakfast items I can easily take with me, such as individual yogurts and fruit.

Post-wedding, my breakast routine didn’t change, but Andrew’s did. He started eating breakfast consistently, probably because I yelled at him about the importance of breakfast so many times. So, Sunday through Friday we ate our quick little breakfasts or took them with us. Saturdays, though, were a different story. Typically, we had nowhere to be on Saturday mornings, so we were able to “wake up slow,” as Jack Johnson sings.

Waking up slowly meant hanging out in bathrobes until the afternoon came and we went out to run errands. It meant sleeping in until 8:30 or 9:00, and lying in bed talking for a half hour before getting up. Most importantly, though, it meant breakfast didn’t have to be rushed.

Our breakfast of choice wasn’t banana pancakes, but the first thing we made in our new griddler with waffle iron attachments was banana waffles. They were ridiciulously good. We made as many as we could with the amount of batter we had whipped up, froze what we didn’t eat, and toasted the frozen waffles nearly every Saturday. When we ran out, we made new waffles, branching out with our recipes every so often. Every Saturday morning we were home, we ate waffles and watched Netflix, and life was so very good.

This tradition continued through March. After spring break, we were rarely at home on the weekends. We moved stuff back to my parents’ house for storage almost every weekend up until I graduated in May, and then, when we moved to Maryland, we were still traveling nearly every weekend.

The few Saturday mornings we have spent in Greenbelt, though, haven’t been like the ones we spent at home in Morgantown, mostly because we’re living with a roommate. We originally had an entire apartment lined up for the summer, but when it fell through, living with a roommate was the most affordable option we could find in the little time we had to secure a place to stay. Granted, we can still sleep in a bit on Saturdays here, but we can’t run around in bathrobes, cook waffles, blast Relient K, and watch Netflix like we used to.

And, well, it’s made me a little sad.

A week ago, Andrew surprised me with bananas foster waffles before church. It was most unexpected, as we hadn’t used our roommate’s waffle iron yet. They were delicious, and I wish we had more time to enjoy them before having to leave. Next weekend, though, we’re moving into a tiny, little apartment of our own, and we’ll be there through December. We’ll be able to wake up slowly on Saturdays again, and I’m so delighted I can’t contain myself.

Today, on the first anniversary of our marriage, I am reminded that Andrew and I are old souls who get excited over Saturday morning waffles, preceded by Saturday morning cuddles, sweet whispers, and bathrobes. It sounds insanely cheesy, but when you add the waffles, it can’t help but become sweet.

Marriage is so, so sweet.

Here’s to a lifetime of Saturday morning waffles, Andrew. I love you more and more every day.

The Good Part of Goodbye

Goodbye has always been a staple word in my vocabulary. During my childhood, I lived 500 miles from my grandparents; twice a year I never said the word goodbye more painfully than as I waved to them from the van window. Years later, I attended college in Florida, 400 miles from home in South Carolina. At the beginning of each semester, I said goodbye to my parents; at the end, I said goodbye to friends. After graduation, when I stayed in Florida, I continued making frequent use of the farewell as my friends moved on.

Lots of people struggle with saying the word. A classmate in my MFA program slipped off on the closing evening of our residencies without saying goodbye, unable to face the sadness of separation.

Each time my best friend Laura leaves me for vacation or for a visit with family, she mourns our coming separation for weeks, then squeezes me bug-eyed and wipes tears all the way to the airport terminal.

Even my seven-year-old nephew hides his face and ignores me when it’s time for me to leave him at the end of vacation. Once, my sister explained, “He just doesn’t want to say goodbye.”

Though I hated the separation that they represented, I dreaded goodbyes mostly because they never turned out right. Though I practiced them enough to be fluent, come performance time I sputtered, forgetting all my well-planned sentiments and failing to work up an acceptable display of drama. Unlike Hollywood’s well-scripted airport or bus station farewells, my departures lacked a certain memorableness. I had no screenwriter, no soundtrack, no acting coach to make them perfect. And usually, despite the touching script composed in my mind, I somehow forgot all the lines and settled for encapsulating my emotions in that one word, goodbye.

Goodbye—that overused, generic expression—always seemed an inadequate substitute for my wishes of well-being and hope for my loved ones’ happiness. Really, it’s no wonder that I disliked the word so much; in a double gut punch, goodbye not only represented the painful separation from my loved ones, but it also revealed my struggle at articulation. Several years ago I started wondering, what is good about goodbye?

I enjoy dissecting words to inspect their parts as I do a crayfish from the Chinese buffet. With no intention of eating the steamed crustacean, I set it on the side of my plate where it stares at me with shiny black eyes. After my rice and egg rolls, crab Rangoon and lo mein are gone, I split the creature down its middle, peeling back the shell to examine its yellow insides. In much the same way, I select a word, usually an unfamiliar one, and dismember it. Parsing it at the prefixes and suffixes, inspecting the roots, I cobble together a guess at its definition before consulting the dictionary to check my work.

I assumed that inspecting goodbye would be easy since it’s constructed of only two common words—good and bye. Good readily revealed its meaning, but bye clung to ambiguity. A bye, I guessed, was like a way, a trail, a direction. It seemed reasonable to think that goodbye was the equivalent of wishing someone “happy trails.” But the dictionary offered no definition of bye which adequately fit that piece of the farewell’s anatomy. Though baffled, I refused to look ahead at goodbye‘s definition, sure that one day I’d figure it out on my own.

A few months later, while plowing my finger down the rows of A words in the dictionary, I passed over the definition of adieu, the French farewell meaning “commend you to God.” A little further down the page, the Spanish farewell adios appeared beside the almost identical definition “to God.” Positive that English wouldn’t be bested for some sort of spirituality in its farewell, I succumbed to my curiosity and turned to the etymology of goodbye. Sure enough, the meaning, compressed through centuries of dialect shifts and mispronunciations, lay there on the page: “God be with ye.”

Goodbye was easier for me to say after I realized it’s all there—all I needed to say in those parting moments when I feel the chafe of a loved one being torn away before I’m ready to release. All I wanted to express is encapsulated in that one word that isn’t really a farewell but a blessing, commending my loved ones into the care of God—the good part of goodbye.

Like Salt to French Fries

I live to hear the words, “Can you fill a food order, please?” In my mind, I see myself going down into a lunge. Left knee touches the ground, right arm comes back like I’m starting a lawn mower. “Yesssss!”

I bolt up the stairs, two at a time, to the top floor. I stand in front of the shelves and fill old grocery bags with pasta, peanut butter, cans of soup, and fruit cocktail. I can’t stop grinning because this makes me happy.


It was almost six years ago. I was headed to BB&T. I watched my feet on the sidewalk. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” After awhile, I looked up and instead of being in front of the bank, I was in front of a building that said Loving in big letters.

I reckon it had something to do with Isaiah 58:7. It’d been on my mind for almost two years. “Share your food with the hungry. Clothe the naked.” The words were a shish kebab skewer that poked me under the ribs every time I heard or read them.

I’d been praying. Waiting. Looking for a burning bush. All of a sudden, there it was. But it wasn’t burning, and it wasn’t a bush. It was Christian Help, Incorporated, founded in 1975.


Every Tuesday, more often than not, I drive down Grand Street to town, to Christian Help. I peer up through the blue part of my windshield. “A parking spot right in front would be awesome, God.” Usually it’s there, especially if my trunk is full.

I walk in the front door and say, “Howdy,” to whoever’s at the front desk. Used to be Glinda, before she had a stroke and moved to assisted living. I always hugged her and whispered into her steel-colored curls, “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?”

She’d cup one of my cheeks with her cool, dry hand and smile up at me. “Good to see you, girlie.”


I love them, all the ladies. I’m going on year six of volunteering and they’ve put in twenty five or more. I work two to three hours a week. Some of them are there every day. They’re all in their seventies, at least. And Spud, who moved here from Jersey, to live with her daughter? She’s ninety something. Reminds me of a grey-haired Jack in a deck of cards.

There’s also Rose and Annie, Sis and Carol too. Ethel and Earlene come on Tuesdays, like me. Glory hallelujah when Ethel brings one of her pound cakes. Thank you, Jesus when we have a pot luck lunch and Earlene brings her sauerkraut with tiny, tasty shreds of pork.

I love the shining, antique faces of the ladies, the way their eyes and teeth flash white when I spring through the doorway of the clothes sorting room. Their smiles say they’re as glad to see me as I am to see them.


I’ve seen a whole lot of staff come and go in six years. That’s the nature of Americorp Vista, usually paid a pittance, workers. But Cheryl, the executive director, has been there since before me. God bless her because running Christian Help requires managing chaos, reassessing the greatest need, the greatest good, Monday through Friday, plus the first Saturday of the month.

Cheryl’s radiant. Maybe she goes to a tanning booth. Or she could be part Native American. Just between you and me, I think it’s because she loves the Lord. Moses glowed when he came down from the mountain of God, you know.


I stopped asking the younger volunteers why they’re at Christian Help. Usually it’s because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now I just smile real big and say, “Welcome! We’re so glad you’re here.”

One time a handsome guy, who filled out his t-shirt sleeves, asked me why I volunteer at Christian Help. I’d been waiting for that question, waiting for the chance to give the reason for the hope that I have. I had paragraphs prepared, but they evaporated. “‘Cause I love Jesus.” My voice sounded wee. He squinted at me, head tilted. “Cool.”


To me, serving, volunteering, whatever you want to call it, is like that line in the Jerry Maguire movie: It completes me. For years, I attended Bible study every Friday morning, learned all kinds of neat stuff. But one day, a wise woman’s opinion changed my life. “Bible study is all well and fine, but sooner or later, we have to start doing what Jesus told us to.”

I think serving is to life, what salt is to French fries. I understood that the first time I filled an emergency food order. It was a religious experience. Spud’s the unofficial queen of the food pantry, but she wasn’t there to hear me say, “I’m doing it. I’m feeding Jesus’ sheep.”


I sure hope I’ll still be driving down Grand Street to town, to Christian Help, for another couple decades. After that, much as I love to hear, “Can you fill a food order?” or, “Can you help someone with an interview outfit?” what I long to hear is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But not yet, not until I’m at least as old as Spud.

What I Learned in Grad School

Over my 22 months of graduate school, I read approximately 10,609 pages from journals and anthologies, give or take a couple hundred, and I can’t quote you a single line. I could talk to you all day about rhetoric, writing centers, and teaching writing. I could talk strategies for technical communication. I could chat a little about ethics and philosophy. But it’s much harder to tell you what I learned. What did I learn through 10,609 pages about everything from composition pedagogy, to technical communication heuristics, to the Digital Humanities, to textual editing, and beyond? From writing approximately 408 pages? What did I learn in graduate school?

I originally drafted this blog as a listicle. I had the following four subheaders: “I learned that perfection is impossible,” “I learned that it’s okay not to know,” I learned that I can do absolutely anything,” and “I learned that my master’s degree is not the master of me.” I had long explanations written out for all of them, but it hit me one day as I was slicing up strips of chicken for fajitas—a staple in the Liounis household, and, incidentally, what I’m making tonight—that the biggest thing I learned in graduate school wasn’t one of the original four. Indeed, the most important thing I learned in graduate school was how to love people who are different from me.

Allow me to explain.

As an undergraduate, I had time. I may not have felt like it, but I had time. (Anyone who has gone to graduate school should understand this.) I spent this time with my boyfriend, now husband, and my friends. My friends were—and, well, still are—people from Cru, formerly Campus Crusade for Christ. All of my friends were Christians. My roommates were Christians. Everyone I saw on a regular basis—with the exception of my Writing Center colleagues—was a Christian. Graduate school changed all of that.

Once grad school started, my free time disappeared. I had to prioritize, so I chose to spend my free time with Andrew—which was probably a good thing, considering I don’t know who else would have cooked me countless meals as I juggled coursework and teaching. (Thanks, Andrew!) The rest of my time was spent working on coursework, grading, and sitting through/teaching classes. Consequently, my office mates, my classmates, and, in a way, my students became my friends. They were an interesting mixture of people. Some were Christians, but most were not. And it took some getting used to.

It didn’t take me long to like everyone—I typically like people. There really isn’t anyone out there I don’t like, so that wasn’t a problem. What I had to get used to was people having different mindsets, different beliefs—and that was hard, at first.

But after a while, it became easy. My colleagues were so cool, not to mention easy to love, despite differences in beliefs. Indeed, we all kinda came together under the commonplace belief that graduate school is terrible. Everyone knew I was a Christian. (I wasn’t exactly quiet about it, as I shouldn’t be—hence, this blog.) But they seemed to be okay with it, just as I was okay with them not being Christians. It led to interesting conversations and ideas, and I even had the opportunity to share the Gospel with my entire Literary Criticism class one night while enjoying pizza and the theories of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. Actively embracing my faith, it seemed, allowed me to embrace my educational experience in a refreshing way.

In grad school, I did learn that perfection is impossible and that it’s okay not to have all the answers, and I certainly learned that I can do anything. It took a while, but I did learn that my master’s degree wasn’t the master of me. But the most important thing I learned was how to navigate through a particular rhetorical situation I will be in for the rest of my life: how to work with and love people who have completely different viewpoints and lifestyles than I have. As Christians, we aren’t called to convert people; we’re called to love them and share the good news of Jesus. That’s our purpose, and our audience is the world. And I’m thankful for grad school not only because it prepared me for a career (I think?), but also because it prepared me to live out a radical life of loving Jesus in the workplace and sharing that love and particular message with others who are different from me.

And if my grad school friends remember me as that Jesus-Freak-Professional-Writing-&-Editing-Ginger, well, at least I gave them something important to remember me by: Jesus.

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