February 4th, 2014

A few days ago, it snowed in Athens. We didn’t get the drama or the news coverage of our Sister to the South (Atlanta); we got a few peaceful, quiet, cold and crisp days off from the hustle of normal mid-week activities. We got sledding and snowflakes and sleeping in. It was glorious. So glorious, in fact, that I posted the top picture on Instagram as I walked to meet some friends for a snowday brunch.  

In reality, the untouched, un-Instagramified, un-VSCOed picture is below. It, too, in it’s raw form, is beautiful: the way the road slopes up, seemingly forever; the snow piled up on the banks, the naked trees cascading along like a canopy. 

But. I fixed it. I fixed it so that it … looked better. More snowy. More magical. 

My life looks nowhere near what I thought it would at this stage. In practical ways, this is your typical 27-year-old-girl internal drama of ithoughtiwouldbemarriedbynow and howisitthateveryoneiknowishavingbabiesandicantevengetallmylaundrydone etc etc etc. But a lot of it, too, is the fact that I compare myself to others constantly and think that if my story doesn’t match theirs, something is wrong. I do it without even realizing it.

Our internet/social-media savvy generation has become obsessed (me included; I realize the irony of writing this on a blahg) with documenting our lives: what we eat, what we wear, who we hang out with, our adventures… but in the midst of that self-obsession, we’ve also become obsessed with what others are doing and how we do or don’t measure up. Every time I open Instagram, it’s an emotional roulette: will my friend’s egg fritata make my Cheerios look lame? Will I see evidence of a dinner party last night I wasn’t invited to? OH Great… now I want to redo my living room, too! 

I think the internet is great. I love Instagram and I love Tumblr and I love reading blogs and keeping up with both friends that live far away and far away people that I wish were my friends. I love taking photos, and I am even OK with photo editing to make something look better (because, hey, that picture is really beautiful, no?) I think the little moments and tiny warmth and connection you feel whilst reading someone’s post where you think Oh, man. Me too. I’m glad I’m not alone or I really cannot wait to try to make that maple ganache frosting or I needed a laugh like that today… these moments are all worth sifting through the mess of the rest. 

Just before the snow storm, I received a Facebook message from a girl out in Dallas who reads this blog. She stumbled upon it a few years ago and has kept up with the (mis)adventures of Morgangster ever since. I was totally flattered and surprised… but the coolest thing that she said about her and her friends is really why I’m writing all of this in the first place: 

…your posts have resonated with each of us in different ways. From career changes to moving cities to wondering why we’re 26 and single, we have always come back to your blog for some wisdom and candidness. Your group of friends really reminds us of ourselves.

So keep Instagramming. Keep Facebooking. Keep blogging; I’ll keep reading and I’ll keep writing. I think it’s important to share our stories and our experiences and our wisdom, because humans are pretty neat and hilarious. But when you find yourself feeling badly, feeling left out, feeling left-behind or feeling unworthy… unplug. Walk down your street and take an unfiltered photo of the street where you live on this day, at this period in your life. You won’t always live there, and an un-doctored reminder of the place where you were at this specific point in time will be more valuable to you than a wintry wonderland created in a phone. I promise. 

January 9th, 2014

image

C was the first boy I ever went out with and he took me to see Along Came Polly at the West Orange 5 Movie Theater in Windermere my junior year of high school. He picked me up at my house in a Dodge Neon and I was so nervous the whole time that still to this day I have no idea what that movie is about. I didn’t really find him particularly interesting or exciting… I didn’t really find him particularly Anything, actually. But he was kind and tall and handsome and on the football team and after having 6th period P.E. with him for a semester, he knew my name well enough to tell me I was funny and ask me to the movies and so I went.

We spent most of our short relationship playing in the gym after school or hanging out at the ice cream shop where I worked. He came to a few of my basketball games and burned me a mix CD with the words “For Morgan” in Sharpie with little stars shooting out from my name. He had deep, soft blue eyes and opened doors for me and passed me notes at school and would wait for me in the parking lot after class to say bye. And then… just as quickly as it started… it ended. We were sitting in the high school gym after our respective sports practices laughing about something silly the principal said on the announcements that morning when he said it, abruptly, like he’d almost forgot and wanted to blurt it out before it was too late.

I think I’m gonna go home. I think I’m done here.

He told me he just didn’t like me anymore. He told me it wasn’t personal, really, I just wasn’t pretty enough for him. His friends were giving him a hard time about me. They didn’t think I was cool. Head bowed, shuffling his feet backwards towards his backpack he said he was sorry for everything. He looked up at me and said one of the most devastating and haunting things I’ve ever heard: You’re great. I don’t care what they say.  I know you are cool. But… you’re just not pretty enough for a guy like me… for my friends. But what he said next was the real heartbreaker; an attempt at an apology that morphed into a harbinger of a lifetime of self-doubt and feelings of unworthiness. But… I need you to know that you’re too cool for the nerdy guys… guys more your type… so… I don’t know.  I really hope it all works out. I’m sorry.

I was 17. I remember looking down at my feet on the wooden gym floor, frozen.

I really hope it all works out.

I have been worried about that statement for 10 years. Not pretty enough for cool boys and too cool for the guys more my speed. In that moment, amongst a thousand self-conscious thoughts— about my body, about my face, about my teeth, my nose, my voice, my brain, my everything— the fear of it not working out for me set-in. Seventeen-years-old and already wondering if I would die a lonely old spinster. I could feel the stray cats closing in on me; their itchy fur finding their way to my lonely heart and nestling in for a lifetime of purring while I heated up Lean Cuisine’s for One in the microwave.

College came and went and so did the crushes and date-nights and boys… but nothing ever worked out.

The sin of single people is not different from that of married people. Pride and the need for approval and validation from a man and from society weigh heavily on my tattered, sinful, lonely heart. The trap for many single women is a whispered lie from the garden— God is withholding something from you and because of it, you are incomplete. It’s easy for us to hear the echoed words of scripture “it is not good for man to be alone” and translate them through the scarred tissue of a heart that beats in isolation: you are not good, and you are alone. 

When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a deeply flawed and sinful woman. A woman who longs to be seen as something other than just a broken, unwanted soul. To be loved. To be understood. To be picked up and held close by one who sees my marred body, with all its imperfections and shortcomings, and chooses me anyway. I’m sure, though, that this is no different than the way married women see themselves. We all long to be naked and unashamed, as we were in the garden. What we all want is Jesus.

Honestly, the only man who comes to my door looking for me these days is the UPS guy because I recently discovered you can order tampons and toilet paper from Amazon Prime. (YOU KNOW Ain’t nobody got time to buy those in the store!) And it’s hard not to feel stalled in life when all around me, life seems to be getting on: marriage, houses, babies, second babies…

One of the things I’d like for this blog to be (without becoming a BLAHG) is a place to sort out and hopefully sort through whatever delayed emotional trauma I suffered that fateful day in the high school gym.  I’ve learned a lot recently— about myself, about being single, about God, about patience, about love, about burning Christmas trees, about hope, about truth, about surviving sub-10-degree temperatures… I’m figuring it all out. Until then… my feet are unfrozen, walking towards something. Only 2014 will show it. 

December 23rd, 2013

The Three-Legged Race Champion Becomes An Arborist and An Astronomer All On One Christmas Morning

One of my favorite things to do is to write myself letters using FutureMe.org, a site that lets you compose a message and choose a date in the future to send it. I received this one tonight: a short story I wrote on December 23, 2005. [Another great one is from 2007, written in 2003.]

image

Two weeks before my 8th birthday I spent an entire Saturday using crayons and construction paper and bits of tissue to draw out plans for the World’s Greatest Tree-house. My wish for my 8th birthday was to have my Dad build this tree-house in our backyard and I was hoping that two weeks was enough time to get it done.  The plans were drawn on brown construction paper, as all the other colors were gone (except for black, but without white crayons, black construction paper is ostensibly useless.) Most notably, the plans included a slide for quick get-a-ways (in case of attack by a snooping brother), a catapult for launching oranges into the lake, a wooden box for dress-up clothes that could double as a treasure chest in a pinch, and a telescope for looking at Ursa Major on clear nights.  Bonus items (if Dad had time to build them) would be a cot for sleepovers and a hoisting system to shuttle dolls and sandwiches and books up and down. 

I presented the plan with charisma and confidence and was duly informed that while these plans were beautifully crafted and well thought out, our family backyard did not possess the right kind of trees for such a masterpiece of tree-supported architecture.  As the 2-time, back-to-back champion of The Annual Lakebrook County Fair Three-Legged Race, I was not easily defeated: I set my sights on asking Santa Claus. 

I spent the next several weeks formulating a pitch letter to have Santa bring me a tree like the Angel Oak I had seen the previous summer while on vacation at Johns Island.  A 65-foot, 1,400 year-old-tree (facts which I memorized from the brochure while on the ferry over to the tree and from a historic plaque mounted under its sweeping branches) would be certainly acceptable for a tree-house. 

Christmas Eve arrived with all the fanfare of baking cookies and singing and playing the piano and shaking presents and trying desperately to fall asleep in new, soft, plaid pajamas even though I felt I could probably stay awake for a hundred years.  My ears buzzed with the strain of listening for jingle bells and my heart thumped so loudly I thought it would wake up my brother in the next room (though I knew he, too, was probably awake.)  I wondered if Santa had received the addendum to my original letter, requesting that the tree be placed outside of my window with at least one strong, horizontal branch for a tire swing.  I wondered if he and the elves would see the tiny instructional flags I placed in the grass, marking the Desired Tree Placement and made from plastic forks and post-it-notes I stole from Dad’s desk drawer.  I wondered if Santa would remember to bring a shovel or whether I should leave him one… 

The next morning I awoke to the smell of coffee cake and cinnamon French toast and the hazelnut coffee creamer Mom only used on special occasions that was wafting into my room from downstairs.  I was too nervous to pull back the curtains to see my tree so I hurried down the steps, two at a time, and put to use the speed and footwork I’d learned while training for the 3-legged race. 

After eating a plate of French toast and an apple (to make Mom happy) I grabbed my coat and ear muffs and slid on my boots without pausing for socks or mittens and hurled myself into the backyard.  In the yard, perfectly centered between the handmade fork flags was a freshly planted live oak.  At about 6 feet tall it was 59 short of my request, but it was the most beautiful tree I had ever seen.  Twinkling lights were draped over its bare branches and a burlap blanket covered the recently disheveled earth around its base.  A note—written on brown construction paper— hung by a red string from one of the branches with my name scrawled across the top. 

            Amelia:

Sorry this tree isn’t exactly the right size, but it needed approximately 1399.8 more years to grow and we simply ran out of time.  Until then, take care of this little tree.  Someday it can be home to a magnificent tree-house. 

-S.C.

 I took the note from the branch with my cold, un-mittened hands, folded it into my jacket pocket and returned to the kitchen.  Mom was cleaning up from breakfast and Dad was putting Elvis’ Christmas record on the player.   My face burned as the warmth from the fire met my cold, windblown cheeks.

 Hey Meels, Dad said without looking up from the record player. Come look at what’s under the tree. I think Santa left you a telescope…

I clenched the note in my pocket and wondered if the sky would be clear enough that night to see Ursa Major. 

November 18th, 2013

Born into a basketball family with alumni parents from Duke and UNC, becoming a football fan was never on my radar. There was no room for any loyalties outside those two shades of blue, and a few times a year I had to decide whether I was cheering for Duke with Dad or against Dook with Mom. The Blue Devils won out mostly because of my crush on Shane Battier and the way he could draw a charge, but basketball was my first love. I loved the team. I loved to play. Watching and playing basketball was such a huge part of my childhood and I most certainly didn’t see caring about football in my future. 

Then I went to UGA. 

It wasn’t just that our basketball team was… less than desirable. It was everything that came along with football that I got swept up in. The fanfare. The tradition. The tailgaiting. The marching band. Sanford at Sunset. The roar of the crowd during the highlight reel. The sheer number of people that poured into Athens on Saturdays. You couldn’t escape it. I knew, at my very first Georgia game between the hedges against Boise State, that I was going to be a dawg football fan for life. 

Through the years, I can safely say that (with the exception of last year’s game) the Auburn/Georgia game is always the best. It’s the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry that made me a football fan. It’s what makes me like being a football fan.

In 2005, it was my first night game in Sanford, and even though we lost by 1 point, it was the most exhilarating and exciting (and cold game) of that season, maybe even more so than beating LSU in the SEC championship. 

The next year, the AU game finally showcased the talent of a little freshman QB from Texas named Matt Stafford who had, up until that point, had quite an abysmal season. I watched the game with friends at a cabin up in the mountains and as we jumped and danced around victoriously in our pajamas at the end of it, snow started falling outside. We ran outside, pure joy fueling our shield against the cold, and made snow angels in the light North Georgia frosting. 

The AU/UGA game of 2007 is one that requires no explanation. All you need to know is black jerseys, Knowshon, and dancing to Souljah Boy. (That’s honestly the only time I’ve ever liked Gary and Vern.) Hands down, best game experience of my life. 

I could go on and on, and this weekend’s game was no exception. Sure, it made me doubt if being a football fan was good for my heart and adrenal glands. But that 4th quarter is what being a football fan is all about. It’s what wearing the red and black and standing on metal bleachers for hours is about. It’s why CBS should write a big fat check to UGA, thanking them for a season of heart-stopping, action-packed games. It’s why the #11 jersey should be retired between the hedges. It’s why I just love football so much. 

There’s a reason that famous Christian Laettner buzzer-beating jump shot from the free-throw line is shown over and over and over again and every Duke fan knows it— and unfortunately, Kentucky fans remember it too— It’s a perfect sports moment. This last AU/UGA game has one of those crazy moments that make sports so much fun… but unfortunately, we were Kentucky in this situation. 

I already can’t wait until next year. Revenge will be sweet, as it always is. I never meant to become a football fan… but sometimes good things happen and just fall into your lap. (Auburn knows a little something about that.) I don’t think it’ll ever be easy to be a Georgia football fan, but man, it sure is fun. 

October 3rd, 2013
Last weekend as I was driving back to Athens after spending time with recently-moved-away friends at our annual trek to the Bristol Rhythm and Roots music festival… it hit me. 
I’ve been pretty sad about my friends moving away, but I finally realized exactly what the saddness feels like. Sure, I know we’ll always be friends and we’ll always have things like Rhythm and Roots to go back to and new long-distance memories to create… but this saddness feels like a death. A mourning. A loss of something I’ll never get back. 
Friends sometime come into your life for a season. Your individual strands that have been weaving their own stories meet and intertwine in a specific place for a specific set of time. We become tied to other people and then, almost as quickly as it happens, your strands separate. 
Sometimes it’s more of a fraying of the threads, other times it’s a natural separation due to circumstance: moving away, getting married, new jobs, having kids. Life is tangled and messy. 
I know I’m mourning those strands being separated… but I’m also OK.
I’m OK.
Feels strange to say that. I feel… different. Like, yes, a part of me has (quite dramatically and eccentrically) died a sort of death but at the same time… I feel OK.
Really.
This is life. This is what it feels like to grow up. The separating strands make room for new story lines, and sub-plots have space to breathe, morph, and become larger parts of my complicated story. 
I’ll always have those other threads and their tales will be a part of my tapestry forever… but the fraying edges promise new life and so, for the moment, I can rest in the loneliness and wait for the new picture to emerge. 

Last weekend as I was driving back to Athens after spending time with recently-moved-away friends at our annual trek to the Bristol Rhythm and Roots music festival… it hit me. 

I’ve been pretty sad about my friends moving away, but I finally realized exactly what the saddness feels like. Sure, I know we’ll always be friends and we’ll always have things like Rhythm and Roots to go back to and new long-distance memories to create… but this saddness feels like a death. A mourning. A loss of something I’ll never get back. 

Friends sometime come into your life for a season. Your individual strands that have been weaving their own stories meet and intertwine in a specific place for a specific set of time. We become tied to other people and then, almost as quickly as it happens, your strands separate. 

Sometimes it’s more of a fraying of the threads, other times it’s a natural separation due to circumstance: moving away, getting married, new jobs, having kids. Life is tangled and messy. 

I know I’m mourning those strands being separated… but I’m also OK.

I’m OK.

Feels strange to say that. I feel… different. Like, yes, a part of me has (quite dramatically and eccentrically) died a sort of death but at the same time… I feel OK.

Really.

This is life. This is what it feels like to grow up. The separating strands make room for new story lines, and sub-plots have space to breathe, morph, and become larger parts of my complicated story. 

I’ll always have those other threads and their tales will be a part of my tapestry forever… but the fraying edges promise new life and so, for the moment, I can rest in the loneliness and wait for the new picture to emerge. 

July 22nd, 2013

I’ve been attending a lot of Going Away Parties recently. Calling them Parties seems a little mean, mostly to me, the One Who Is Left Behind. Saying goodbye to someone that you really love is really quite difficult. Saying goodbye to a whole bunch of people you love… man, it hurts. 

"In the wilderness, God is killing the desires that are killing you."

Yesterday’s sermon was on Exodus 17, the famous passage of the the grumbling Israelites forgetting their rescue from 400 years of generational slavery in Egypt and the Lord’s provision for them in the desert (walking through the Red Sea, manna from heaven, etc etc.) and how they questioned whether He was truly with them or not. It’s easy to sit there, comfortable in the pew of the air conditioned church and think "Those guys were so dumb. How could they not see how God was taking care of them?"

And then I realized. I am in the wilderness. I am an Israelite. I am grumbling. I am worried. I am fearful about tomorrow. Heck, I’m fearful about today. Today, I heard the click of the door as one of my best friends left Athens for a new permanent life in Washington D.C. And she’s the just the first! Over the next few weeks, I’ll hear that proverbial click about 6 more times.  

"In the wilderness, God is killing the desires that are killing you."

I thought about that quote from the sermon a lot yesterday. Killing what’s killing me. I thought about what’s killing me right now— my desire for my life to be what I want. To have friends that will stay in Athens forever with me. To be known well and know others well. To have friends and people to share life together and walk alongside and grow up with. Those are my desires, and losing them is making me miserable. But perhaps the misery is necessary.  

What does it look like to trust that the wilderness might just be the thing that will save me from myself? From my idols? From this ideal life that I had planned for myself? When everything else is crumbing away into desert dust… all that’s left is the Rock that God says he will provide water from— the Rock of Christ. 

I’m not sure how long I will be in this wilderness— maybe a while, and I think that’s OK. But until then… I will trust that this is for my good… for removing my expectations of life that are making me feel lonely and not good enough. For allowing me to see something even more beautiful than my little plans. 

And speaking of plans… please invite me to do things as I will most likely be sitting at home watching Revenge on Netflix by myself. K thanks. 

July 1st, 2013

We learned to drink wine in the summer of 2008 on the front porch of our little yellow house by making variations of Tinto de Verano with Orange Fanta, San Pellegrino, and 2-Buck Chuck Red. Barefoot and sunburned, we’d crank Van Morrison and leave all the windows open, making up names to constellations and hoping the boys from next door would swing by. Fireflies would blink and we could hear the far-off roar of the train mixed with a symphony of cricket chirps and oak trees quaking in the humid summer breeze. Tinto de Verano: the color of summer. 

This past Friday night was the first time I’d had Tinto in quite a while. We ordered a pitcher of it and talked about summer beach and lake trips, new jobs, hard days, baby names. No constellations to be named or boys to wait on (at least not ones next door) but in an instant we were back. 

Tinto de Verano: the color of summer.

June 4th, 2013

Can I be real with you for a minute, Internet? 

I wasn’t going to breathe a word of this story to anyone, but last night when I confessed this to my roommates as we made a late-night-spur-of-the-moment-adult-decision-run to Mickey D’s for some hot fudge sundaes… I changed my mind. 

Well. Not so much as changed my mind but was convinced via EBs uncontrollable laughter and giggling pleads to “pleaaaase put this on your blog. Please please please!” Why have a blog if not for moments like this? 

Towards the end of what seemed like our 3rd swing of winter, I decided I would plant a little garden. Nothing fancy: a few flowers and some herbs to see if my thumbs were indeed green. I tried various methods of planting: a few from just placing the plants, a few from bulbs, a few from tiny seeds themselves. 

The plants that were already growing seemed to be doing fine (Easy. Check.) Even the plants from the bulbs sprouted quickly and started shooting up. But the flowers from the seeds I wasn’t so sure about. 

They were sure growing fast, but didn’t really resemble what I thought the flowers were going to look like: I had planted zinnia seeds, and these didn’t look like zinnia stems. But I pressed on, undeterred by the strange appearance of these “zinnias.” 

I was diligent. So diligent, ya’ll, I can’t express it. I bought the right soil. I watered them in correct amounts, at the right time of day. I even bought some Miracle Grow pellets! In my mind I thought “this is what people with pets must feel like—” Me and my plants. I felt so proud. 

A month or so goes by. The plants keep on keepin’ on… and my skepticism about the “zinnias” continues to grow (pun most definitely intended.) albeit silently inside my head. 

The roomies even make comments about how quickly the “zinnias” are growing and I too am outwardly impressed with their progress. Inside I’m thinking “these really don’t look like zinnias…” but I continued to water them and check on them and mentally mark their progress. 

A few days ago, the “zinnia” buds bloomed. 

Not zinnias. I don’t know what I was expecting, honestly, but they were most definitely not zinnias. In a moment of sheer horror, I realize that these giant “zinnias” I’ve been growing and tending and nurturing in my front yard are indeed weeds. 

Weeds. 

Countless people over many weeks have passed by our house (as it’s on a popular street for walking dogs/letting dogs poop on the train tracks) and there I was, sitting on the stoop, so proud of my giant plants that were in fact growing like weeds.  Because they were weeds.

When I confessed to my roomies as we were enroute to hot fudge sundaes… uncontrollable laughter arose—- I had been so careful! So loving! So disciplined about watering and planting and— hilariously— weeding the flower beds that the fact that I was actually growing weeds was too much to bear! 

"Isn’t that just how we are, though? We think we’re growing all this good stuff… all these flowers… and we’re really just growing weeds." EB, in her profound laughter, was right. We are just like this. I kept thinking about all the other things in my life that I treat this way… thinking I’m doing something good and producing something great and beautiful when really it’s just weeds. Even when I suspected something was wrong, I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t know what I was doing, or what a zinnia should really look like, even though I googled it about 800 times. I was so convinced that somehow that giant weed would turn into the beautiful flowers I thought I was planting. There was even a moment a couple of weeks ago when I knew it was a weed… and I kept on watering it anyway because I didn’t want to fail. I thought I’d rather have weeds than nothing at all.

We scarfed down our Sundaes and EB made me promise to take a picture of the “zinnias” before I pulled them up, which I did promptly as soon as the sun came up this morning. 

Sometimes you need an EB in your life to point out the hilariousness of the facades you are trying to keep up… no matter what they are: your own physical appearance, wealth, material possessions, friends, blog followers, adoration of others…  On the surface, it was just a weed pretending to be a flower and me totally going along with the weed’s ridiculousness. But often it’s a deeper problem… one that must be ripped out from the roots and not planted or tended or nurtured again. 

This has been a day in the life of Morgangster. 

EDIT: Not a zucchini. Similar flower, but the stem is totally different/no zucchini fruit to be found… could be a squash of somesort though. (My mom grew zucchini/cucumbers etc. and this is similar, yes, but not the same.) Plus… not a zinnia. And that’s what I planted. So either way there was a problem aka WEEDS and it was taking over/smothering all my other plants in the flower bed :) 

May 23rd, 2013

I’ve been trying to get back into biking now that winter has finally abated and summer is punching its wily fist through the air at last. I live within biking distance of many of my friends, my job/church, and some of my favorite restaurants, so this really won’t be too difficult. Along with this mentality came the annual ISHOULDTOTALLYJOINTHEGYM thoughts, and so I rode my bike over there and did just that. 

Last week in the women’s room at the gym, as I was jamming to Justin Timberlake’s Mirror and trying to figure out how to get the elliptical machine off Everest Mode, I looked up at the TV and saw that The View was on. They were talking about the TV show Scandal and so naturally I  had to pause JT and listen up to the 4 crazy ladies talk about my gladiator girl Olivia Pope. 

What caught me off guard was that they weren’t praising the excellent writing or acting… or even the jaw-dropping cliff-hanger season finale. They were discussing how uncomfortable it made them that they were rooting for the mistress is this tangled web of politics, espionage, and adultery. It felt so backwards. 

As the women on The View continued to discuss this strange allegiance to The Other Woman, I noticed something. 

All of the women in the gym who were watching the show began to work harder. Run faster. Lift quicker. Squat lower. 

"…I mean his wife is a shrew and a horrible person, of course we like the mistress better…" 

Run faster. Lift quicker. Squat lower. 

"…Isn’t it weird that we like her better? I am actually rooting for this marriage to fall apart and it’s so strange to be that way…"

Run faster. Lift quicker. Squat lower. 

I found my own feet moving more quickly. I suddenly felt the inescapable weight of my own body. I felt the sweat pouring down my face and my back and my shins. Every woman’s eyes in that room were fixated in the tv as they pounded themselves further and further down the artificial treadmill road. 

What if I’m never good enough? What if I’m never skinny enough or pretty enough or fun enough to get married? What if I do and he finds someone skinnier, prettier, funnier?  

I couldn’t believe the thoughts flooding my mind. I have my moments of self-doubt like any red-blooded person, but never this rampant, this quickly, this fearful. I couldn’t tell if it was sweat or tears filling my eyes. 

I finally just had to leave. I hopped on my bike and went for a ride through Normaltown, looking at all of the colorful bungalow houses and wondering what kind of families lived inside them. Would I ever be like them? With a yard and discarded children’s toys and a garden? With a wide front porch and stained-glass windows and remnants of last weekend’s cookout still waiting by the garage? 

In the midst of my worry, I was reminded of a Tim Keller quote that someone once told me: 

God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.” 

It’s hard to imagine I’d be asking to be single, lonely, and worried that no one will love me… but do I believe that God is sovereign? Am I really going to be the type of person who believes that God is Good and Perfect but that He, like, totally forgot to give me a boyfriend? 

I hope not. 

In that moment… that sweaty, doubtful, fearful moment I realized more fully than ever before that I am going to be OK because I am not in control, He is. 

February 18th, 2013

This weekend I set out to tackle a bunch of projects around the house that I have been seriously neglecting: uninstalled laundry room doors, an incessantly buzzing fan, a lady bug infestation, a swivel-y toilet seat. The biggest project though was attacking the small jungle that had taken root in the yard and was starting to grow over the sidewalk. 

Weeds are funny, aren’t they? The first day you spot them, you make a mental note: I need to come out here and get them while they’re tiny. When you make this observation, you’re likely holding 18 grocery bags on one arm because you don’t want to make another trip and as you begin losing sensation in your fingers, you forget about the weeds. 

In what seems like two seconds, the weeds have grown from tiny little sprigs to full-on vegetative monsters. The monsooning in Georgia these last few weeks sure hasn’t helped and now the solution that makes the most sense is burning your whole yard and just starting over. Or making a rock garden. Or embracing the weeds like a good townie and starting a garage band and begging the neighbors to DEAL WITH IT. I went to Lowes instead and bought some weed killer and a pair of yard gloves and set to work. 

My parents would be mortified if they saw my yard. Growing up, my siblings and I all helped take care of our yard, rotating the mowing/edging/weed-wacking duties and were always on call for pulling unsightly weeds at first notice. My we had a garden and a few citrus trees that needed constant love and attention and huge magnolias that dropped their leaves all over the driveway like dollar billz in a rap video. There was always something to be mowed, raked, or pulled, and as a team we did a pretty good job of it. In the summertime, my arms would be toned and tanned from the work and I’d take breaks to grab an orange off the tree and dangle my feet in the lake. My mom always said that a farmer’s tan was a good thing… that the absence of tan lines meant you had too much time to sit around inside or, heaven forbid, lay out in the sun whilst appropriately rotisserie-ing yourself. 

Saturday afternoon was sunny, but deceivingly cold. My yard in Athens is a fraction of a fraction of the yard I grew up tending, but somehow when you’re not earning allowance for it, it seems daunting. I tore into the jungle, numb fingers and runny nose, remembering my Dad’s words to make sure to get deep enough to get the root or it wasn’t going to do anything. As that thought resonated in my mind, it brought to mind the sermon from church the following weekend— how if we aren’t killing the sin in our lives, it’s killing us. You can’t just rip out the top, but have to get deep and get to the root in order to remove it completely.

At first, the weeds didn’t seem like a big deal. And before I knew it, they had bloomed out of control. The roots were deep. There wasn’t actually much left of my yard that could be called Grass and not Weeds. It was a laborious process… a never ending exercise of see the weed, find the root, pull hard, dig it out, move on to the next weed. I worked the whole afternoon only to have it look like I didn’t even do anything. Those weeds started out tiny— like gossip or a small lie. And before I could even take those 18 grocery bags off my arms, it had sprouted, choking out the good grass and overtaking the whole yard. It occurred to me that I treat my “little sins” that way… that I ignore them and think "I’ll get to you later when I’m not so busy." And soon they’re overwhelming and all-consuming and there’s nothing left of my yard that can be called good. It wasn’t even a yard anymore, just a garden of weeds and sneaking, creeping tendrils.  My heart feels that way sometimes.

I read a book last summer by Jerry Bridges called The Disciplin of Grace where he addresses what he calls “refined sins” or “acceptable sins.” 

The acceptable sins are subtle in the sense that they deceive us into thinking they are not so bad, or not thinking of them as sins, or even worse, not even thinking about them at all! Yes, some of our refined sins are so subtle that we commit them without even thinking about them, either at the time or afterward. We often live in unconscious denial of our “acceptable” sins.

It was time to bust out the weed killer. I sprayed my entire yard with the stuff and I am just waiting, like a predator to its prey, to see if it kills everything. I was like a madman out there spraying… I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED BY YOU, WEEDS HAHAHAHAAAA! Achy back and a little dizzy from the fumes, I stood sweating in the cold Georgia sun, thankful that we have the One who took our weeds and our sins and killed them once and for all and made our entirely horrible yards into something beautiful. 

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

February 13th, 2013

image

Fifteen years ago this week, a little album came out called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel. (I would like to have you believe that I was a very astute and trendy 11-year-old who was aware of this gem at its conception, but alas I wasn’t.) 

I didn’t listen to the album in its entirety until I decided to come to UGA for college and knew I needed to do my homework on Athens music before arriving in the fall. The first time I ever heard King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1 I became a completely different kind of music lover. The rough strumming guitar chords and mysterious lyrics about love and growing up resonated with me in the way only music can when you’re 18 and scared about moving away from your parents and worried about having no friends and having literally no idea what you were going to do in a few months in a new town with newfound freedom. 

Music is often a sort of memory bookmark for me— I hear Ace of Base and I think back to my sister in her floral and lace leggings and wide headbands and thinking about how she made being in 6th grade seem so effortlessly cool. I hear Bye, Bye, Bye and I remember Crystal Walsh’s 13th birthday party where I taught all the girls the famous dance because I had secretly watched Making the Video the night before, despite not being allowed to watch MTV. I hear Chicago by Sufjan and I remember how Amanda and I slept in my car in the parking lot of Waffle House in Mississippi over spring break because we miscalculated the days of our trip and then got up around 5am and drove down to the beach and met a retired astronaut and ate candy until the sun came up.  

The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I studied abroad in France, which was slightly idiotic considering I took Spanish and the only French I knew was food-related. (Croissant can only get you so far…) We spent our days attending the Cannes Film Festival, pretending to be important on the red carpet, and at night we hung out on the rock pier a few blocks from our apartment building on the Riviera. We would drink cheap red wine from the bottle and discuss films and our favorite auteurs and complain about the train-strikes that often left us stranded in unknown cities all along the southern coast of France. 

There were 25 of us… 25 seemingly random people that became friends during a tiny window of our lives when there was nothing to do but talk about life and art and eat delicious food and stay up until 4 in the morning and get lost in foreign cities where we couldn’t read any signs or talk to anyone but each other.  

One of our last nights of the summer, we all gathered on the rooftop of our apartment building in Juan les Pins, the tiny city that had hosted us and put up with our constant demands for Nutella and student train tickets. We had just finished our final dinner together, a fancy French soiree in the penthouse overlooking the Riveria. At some point, we all ended up outside on the roof deck and an acoustic guitar materialized, somewhat magically, for what I can only say is one of my fondest memories of the whole summer: 

The roughly strummed chords echoed out over the quiet Provincial city and standing in a squished circle, we sang out as loud as we could. 

When you were young
You were the king of carrot flowers
And how you built a tower tumbling through the trees
In holy rattlesnakes that fell all around your feet… 

For one brief summer in the story of our many-summered lives, we were the kings of carrot flowers. Though I’m not exactly sure what that means, we all felt it that night: some kind of strange, royal bunch. Some of those friends, I still keep up with. Others I haven’t talked to since our flight landed back in the US. But we’ll always have Juan les Pins and the rooftop and Neutral Milk Hotel and I am thankful that this music exists to always remind me of our time spent Over the Sea.  

(Source: Spotify)

February 6th, 2013

I love Athens. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has spent any amount of time here to disagree with you. For some, it’s a kind of Neverland— a place that exists in memory as the hallowed ground on which the years 18-22 were joyously spent with cheap rent and flowing kegs and balancing research papers with afternoon naps and football games under a clear Georgia sky. For others, it’s an eclectic and creative haven, burgeoning with music and art and great food and more great food. It’s the land of a thousand coffee shops, bars, music venues, and places to brunch. But it’s a hard place to live, too. 

Hard in the sense that it’s transient. (I’ve talked about this before.) But it’s also hard because despite its cultural offerings and prevalent scene of academia, it’s a broken place. The poverty is astounding. The industrial and economic infrastructure is unstable. The city that is loved by so many is often left by so many.  Athens is able to remain a perfect snapshot in memory because if you don’t invest in the city, you never know its troubles, its depth, its bleakness. (People are like this, too, I think.)

I have felt (ever since I decided to stay here back in the summer of 2009 after graduating from UGA) a certain kinship with this place. Something holding me here. Some unfinished work or duty to remain in the city I love. I couldn’t exactly explain it, and many of my friends who served this place well and loved it just as I did moved on, beginning to love new places and new cities. We all did what we felt we needed to do. And I felt I needed to stay in Athens.

One of my best friends from college who now lives in Atlanta sent me a sermon a few months back from her church and said that she thought of me when she heard it. She and a number of my pals from UGA have grown to love Atlanta and many of them have “committed” to living in the city, probably forever. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re a 20-something to say “This is my home. I am dedicated to its welfare. I am for the city.” especially when it’s so tempting to wander and explore and be transient and free and experimental*. The sermon, based on Jeremiah 29:4-8, was about establishing permanence, investing in infrastructure, and planning for a long and faithful work wherever the Lord sends you. And I think that’s what He’s doing with me here in Athens, with my friends in Atlanta, and a myriad of other people across the state, country, and globe. 

If you’re thinking about permanence, about your place in the world, about the brokenness of your city or your school or your town or your job… listen to this. Even if you’re reading this and are not a Christian… I urge you to listen.

Download Sermon: Renewal | Pastor Leonce Crump II

Every time he says “Atlanta” just swap it with your city. It probably applies. I could have written the whole sermon down, but here are some nuggets I found particularly helpful:

"You cannot will yourself to care about this city. The Holy Spirit has to break your heart for what breaks His."

"Pray that god would alter your heart so that you would not quit… that you would see the city the way He sees it and love it the way He loves it. And because of that, we seek its welfare so that it will reflect the glory of God."

"Jesus wants far more than your stuff or your money… he wants your whole heart."

*And it’s not that those things are bad. In fact, I’d argue that a certain amount of wandering and exploration and transience is a good thing, especially for the young and unattached. But what would it look like if we invested in our cities, cared about its people, and sought to make it a better place?

January 28th, 2013

I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away. In high school, I was biding my time until I could become the college version of myself, the one my mind could see so clearly. In college, the post-college “adult” person was always looming in front of me, smarter, stronger, more organized. Then the married person, then the person I’d become when we have kids. For twenty years, literally, I have waited to become the thin version of myself, because that’s when life will really begin.

And through all that waiting, here I am. My life is passing, day by day, and I am waiting for it to start. I am waiting for that time, that person, that event when my life will finally begin.

I love movies about “The Big Moment” – the game or the performance or the wedding day or the record deal, the stories that split time with that key event, and everything is reframed, before it and after it, because it has changed everything. I have always wanted this movie-worthy event, something that will change everything and grab me out of this waiting game into the whirlwind in front of me. I cry and cry at these movies, because I am still waiting for my own big moment. I had visions of life as an adventure, a thing to be celebrated and experienced, but all I was doing was going to work and coming home, and that wasn’t what it looked like in the movies.

John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” For me, life is what was happening while I was busy waiting for my big moment. I was ready for it and believed that the rest of my life would fade into the background, and that my big moment would carry me through life like a lifeboat.

The Big Moment, unfortunately, is an urban myth. Some people have them, in a sense, when they win the Heisman or become the next American Idol. But even that football player or that singer is living a life made up of more than that one moment. Life is a collection of a million, billion moments, tiny little moments and choices, like a handful of luminous, glowing pearl. It takes so much time, and so much work, and those beads and moments are so small, and so much less fabulous and dramatic than the movies.

But this is what I’m finding, in glimpses and flashes: this is it. This is it, in the best possible way. That thing I’m waiting for, that adventure, that movie-score-worthy experience unfolding gracefully. This is it. Normal, daily life ticking by on our streets and sidewalks, in our houses and apartments, in our beds and at our dinner tables, in our dreams and prayers and fights and secrets – this pedestrian life is the most precious thing any of use will ever experience.

image

My little brother moved to California a few weeks ago (Yes. THAT California. ALL the way across the country. Is someone cutting onions? My eyes are watering…) and though it’s strange not to have him right down the road in Athens, I am inexpressibly proud of him for doing something so brave. I could never have done what he did, and I want him (and you) to know that you’ll survive these cross-country moves and hard times o’ growing up. You will. 

Those of you who have been following this blog for any amount of time (or, like, have ever met me in real life) know that this growing-up things has been the ultimate struggle of my first few post-grad years. There were many nights of lying on the floor, eating entire bags of chips and wallowing. There were breakdowns in the grocery store, the laundromat, and the car. There were so many unknowns, so many fears, so much loneliness and too many Netflix + Soup In Bed nights to count. It was hard a lot of the time and I felt so lame… but. I got through it. 

And I think that’s the ultimate lesson here. No one really tells you how hard Becoming An Adult is. Or, they do, and you’re too busy living your awesome collegiate years to hear those old, wise folks trying to speak to you. But somehow, just KNOWING that it’s going to be hard makes it easier to deal with. Like getting a shot at the doctor’s office and the nurse warns you it “might pinch a little bit.” Sure, it hurts like hell and you’re not sure where she got her idea of “pinching a little bit” unless she spent time wrangling lobsters before nursing school and therefor has a completely different frame of reference for pain… but you’re thankful you at least knew it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and butterflies. You slap a bandaid on and go about your day, thankful that now you won’t get the flu and have to hug the toilet for a few days like the rest of your friends.

But I digress. 

Let the record stand that I am telling you IT WILL BE DIFFICULT. But it won’t last forever. Soon, you’ll figure out how to make it through the workday without craving a nap. You’ll make friends, you’ll enjoy having money to spend on trips to visit your old friends, and being in bed at a reasonable time not only sounds appealing but it will be a habit. You’ll get to do so many cool things with your homework-free hours. You. Can. Do. It. And it’s actually pretty nice. It just takes a few bags of Tostitos and a Netflix account. 

If you’re like me and just want to know that you are normal and everyone feels this way… check out some of my choice moments of these funfun years of Growing Up and Figuring It All Out. 

Original Quote source: Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines

(Source: ktmel)

Reblogged from morgangster
January 2nd, 2013

It was my mother who first alerted me to the concept of summer camp, talking fondly of her many years in the magic realm of a place called Matollionequay in the wilderness of Medford, New Jersey. It was, however, the repeat viewings of The Parent Trap and my American Girl Molly Saves the Day book that lit within me an insatiable desire to become one of those vibrant creatures known as a Camp Girl.

I wanted it all: the month-long slumber party, the mountains, the fresh air, the nightly competitive games, the singing, the dancing, the friendship bracelets, the tie-dyed shirts, the battle scars, the blurry disposable camera photographs, the year-long pen pals, the sun-kissed and freckled skin, the smell of campfire in everything I owned… nothing save for making the 4th grade kickball team neared the importance of my becoming a Camp Girl.

Though it would seem we randomly picked Merri-Mac out of a stack of VHS camp tapes one afternoon, the choice of that particular camp was nothing short of a divine act: Camp Merri-Mac’s green rustic cabins and the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains would come to mold and direct the path of my life in inconceivable and immeasurable ways.

I became a Camp Girl the moment we rolled our Suburban onto the graveled driveway of that North Carolina property. I remember peering out of the car window at the large, white house that guarded the front entrance and imaging what adventures awaited me just on the other side of her rocking-chaired front porch. I jumped out of the car when we rounded the first corner and saw the beach of Lake Doris, not being able to control the anticipated excitement of cold mountain water on my bare, Floridian feet.

In many ways, that’s where it began: a semi-awkward, Umbros-clad 10-year-old dangling her feet in the water of Lake Doris. But in reality, it’s a much more storied history, and one that begins with a man named Spencer Boyd.

Many people set out to Change the World or Become Famous or Be Wildly Successful.  In my experience, the most impactful people I’ve come across in my short life have neither been World Changers nor Famous nor—to the world’s standards—Crazy Successful. But if success and notoriety can be measured by the weightiness and depth of impression a person can have, than Spencer was surely one of the Greats.

The man had a dream to be a camp director, and he made it happen. He helped create a world where girls could go and be what God had created them to be: just girls. No phones, no TV, no boys, no distractions… just sunshine and mountain air and late nights and campfires and singing loudly and painting faces and playing games and serious talks and caring deeply for one another. Somewhere through all the constant activity and adventure… Spencer created a place where we grew up and fought like mad not to grow up too quickly.

When I was 13, Spencer turned the camp over to his son Adam and Merri-Mac thrived, still relentlessly breathing life into girls often beaten down by the pressures of teenage life and the whims and expectations of the world. Simply saying that being a 13-year-old girl is difficult would be quite an understatement, but each June when I returned to camp, all of those realities faded into the background as starry skies and canoe trips and headdresses and morning bugles came crisply into view.

I consider it a high privilege to have been able to experience summer camp at Merri-Mac, with her gravely roads and steep mountain pathways and blooming rhododendron enveloping my senses.  My memories from that place are entwined in my soul, hushed and ever-present even though I am hundreds of miles and many years removed. It is those memories and formative experiences of friendship, teamwork, heartbreak, adrenaline, glory, adventure and delight that inform most of the decisions I make even today. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord in all earnestness for allowing me to grow up a Camp Girl.

When I think of camp, I often think of ol’ Spencer on his white horse, circling around camp to witness the splashes of water at the diving well, to hear the echoes of tiny voices from the drama room, to smell the ‘smores charring on the blazing fire. I can’t possibly imagine all of the women today who have been formed and molded by Spencer’s camp over the years and whose lives will forever proclaim the sentiments of camp’s motto: First, Last, and Always.

Many of you reading this are younger Merri-Mac girls who might not have gotten the privilege of knowing Spencer before the Lord welcomed him home this past weekend. But the next time you’re behind the gate, inside the haven that is good ol’ Camp Merri-Mac… travel up to Spencer’s Green, always remembering the man that helped make this rapturous place a part of your life.

From this haven they say you are going.

I will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile.

For they say you are taking the sunshine

That brightens our pathway a while.

Come and sit by my side if you love me,

Do not hasten to bid me adieu.

Just remember this place we call Merri-Mac,

And the friends who have loved you so true.

November 27th, 2012

Hesed. 

I didn’t know what this word meant until this weekend. Not in some metaphorical way… like “I didn’t know what Love was until I met you” sort of thing. I literally had never heard of it. 

Which is strange (even though it’s Hebrew) considering I have experienced it so many countless times. I am often blown away by new words… words that until the moment of hearing, I only knew of their meaning, not the name. Words like feuille-morte, crepuscular rays, petrichor. (Look those up if you don’t know them!) Hesed is one of the most beautiful examples of that.

I’ve studied the book of Ruth before, but only in the context of Relationships and Boys and Waiting For a Boaz Kind of Man. Never in the context of Hesed. Sunday morning at Adult Sunday School, studying Ruth, I learned the word I’ve spent my life discovering. 

Hesed is a quality that moves someone to act for the benefit of someone else without considering “what’s in it for me?”

The word hesed is usually translated “kindness” or “lovingkindness.” Hesed is difficult to translate because it stands for a cluster of ideas—love, mercy, grace, kindness. It wraps up in itself all the positive attributes of God.  Hesed is one of the Lord’s most treasured characteristics.

But it is not merely love, but loyal love; not merely kindness, but dependable kindness; not merely affection, but affection that has committed itself. It is steadfast, strong, and good. 


By all accounts, the last few weeks have been some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time— wonderful birthday, crazy Thanksgiving with the family, a youth mountain retreat with some of my favorite teenagers, unbelievable Sufjan concert, Georgia Football, supper club, community group, Halloween, fall leaves, hot beverages, pumpkin spice everything… but understanding this word is maybe the best. 

God’s act of hesed leads us in a chain of hesed for others: We love because He first loved us. If I can remember one thing from this season of my life, I want it to be that. 

m o r g a n g s t e r

a twenty-something breakfast enthusiast just trying to find my way in this crazy world. a designer by trade, a photographer by passion, a believer by grace.
Athens, Georgia

Networks