Live Color Fully

today i am excited about everything.

Dear Grandma

(This is the letter I read out loud at my Grandma’s memorial last month. It was so easy to write, and so hard to read, and… I don’t want to forget, so I’m letting it rest here.)

Dear Grandma,

I think that in the arrogant way that only the younger generation is capable of, I believed I knew almost everything about you. Don’t get me wrong, I always knew you were special. I saw it in the way your feet turned in and your hands clasped behind your back as you told me the stories of your childhood, the stories of my history. In the way you always looked put together (you’re the only person I know that actually owned bejeweled sweats). How you somehow were incredibly laid back and simultaneously high-maintenance. The way your shoulders would lock- strong- in a bout of stubbornness and we knew to just let it go even if you were wrong. How you knew the name of every plant by heart. How proud you were of where you came from and the life you had built.

But of course, there are things that I’m just now learning about you, even this week as your family gathered to share stories and celebrate you. I never knew how much you loved letters, Grandma. Your drawers are full of, well, many treasures, but among those it seems you may have saved every letter sent your way through the years. It seemed fitting to add one more to the pile, one that describes who you were, they way we loved you, and how we’ll take what you taught us into the next generation.

So, here are three things I promise to carry forward, the things that will exist in me to allow people to know your legacy.

First: Grandma, you were a life-learner. You often told the story of going to school a year early- at age 4, after weeks of begging and pleading with your strong-willed parents. Even the strongest wills can be worn down, and off you went to fall in love with education, and later, teaching. You served kids and families in Title 1 schools well, understanding what it’s like to come from very little. But while you loved and believed in education, it was more than that- you saw the world around you as an opportunity to learn. You took classes, studying spanish at the local college and computer at your local library. You watched documentary after documentary after documentary on your favorite thing- Netflix. You travelled anywhere you could get to by plane, train or boat, and let your adventurous spirit lead you to new and different ideas. You read everything you could find, and relayed tales of history, financial facts, and countless other things in long phone calls. You saw the world as your classroom, Grandma. I want to be like that.

Second, you were… yourself. This may not sound like much, but in a world that constantly pushes for people to fit into a mold, you were you. You inherently understood what churches incessantly preach- how to be who God created you to be- nothing more, but nothing less. Some of this came with the wisdom of age, but some of it was just you. You liked what you liked, and you were unapologetic for it. We teased you mercilessly for your freezer stockpile of treats (that you ate one bite per night), your shoe shopping habit, and your love for Kenny G- but you didn’t care. It was this sense of self, this sense of understanding what you had to give the world that led to your volunteer work here, with WHO- and ultimately, to your time in Honduras. There, you offered exactly what you had to give- education, women empowerment, and your time. This sense of self let you hear God’s call on your later days, and it gave you the courage to answer, ‘Here I am Lord, send me.” I want to be like that.

And finally, there is this: the way you loved. It was your own unique way, just like everything in your life. You weren’t prone to long flowery speeches confessing feelings, but there was a quiet determination in the way you cared for the people in your life. Sarah saw it in Honduras, when you set out in the heat of day an hour early for school, mostly odd because you never left an hour early for any place… or 10 minutes early, or anything other than 20 minutes late. She watched as you slowly made your way along the dirt path to the school, stopping often to hug women and ask them about their days in broken, heartfelt spanish. You made the time, you showed them their worth, you loved them.

And you loved your family. Even when it was hard, even when people disagreed and didn’t see things the same way. We all inherited the stubbornness you had running in your veins, and though it drove us crazy, drove ME crazy, I’m so thankful for it.

And I’m thankful you moved here; lifted your roots out of the California soil and transplanted. This was your ultimate show of love, and this is what allows me to write this letter today. Instead of yearly visits, there were coffee dates and hours sitting cross legged on the floor of your living room. Every memory from high school, every concert, every dance- when it plays in my mind, I see your piercing blue eyes as a part of my story. I know it wasn’t easy to start over and craft a life here, but our lives look different because you did. You taught me this: loving others is as complicated and as simple as showing up. I want to be like that.

Grandma, I’ll remember the smell of your house, your fingers running through my hair, your rough voice singing mountain songs just slightly out of tune, and the way you looked the world with the wisdom and awe of a traveler.

None of us stand alone. We are all built on the lives of those that have come before us. I am so lucky to have bricks in my foundation with the name “Lillian” penned in your beautiful handwriting on the side.

I love you, Grandma.

Until I see you again,

Annie

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Genesis 32, And Other Tales

I have been imagining this over and over recently, this moment where the Almighty wrestled a human (merely) being.

Was it hot that night? Did sweat slide down the brow of Jacob only? Did the Mysterious Man rub away the dust that surely covered His face? Was there a breeze that rustled the leaves and added to the soundtrack of shuffling feet and labored breathing?

Did they lock eyes in the moonlight? Did Jacob know he was holding the same arms that hung the stars in the sky? Did they speak as they struggled?

How did it feel to wrestle this God, this Creator, this Everlasting I Am?

How did it feel?

You know, my soul answers. You know. Because right now? You are wrestling God.

In all of the ups and downs (and down some more) that have been happening since for the past daysweeksmonths, in the midst of cancer appointments and tragedy around the world and tragedy around the corner and resting on top of it all, an unexpected and heavy heartbreak, I have found myself in a new place. My past dictates this pattern: Things are hard. Run away. Find something gentler, something easier, a sunnier space to stretch out in and feel the sunbeams kiss your shoulders.

My past dictates the easy way out, for faith.

But no longer. This time I remain in the dark (for but a moment), I engage in the doubt, I engage in the struggle.

I engage.

And in that engagement alone, in the not-hiding, I grow (up). In the exhaustion of standing right before the Almighty I Am and asking Him the kind of sentence with a question mark at the end:

Are you good?

It’s the not the doubt that He is. He is, that much is certain. We are locked together He & I.

It’s the very real doubt that the Creator who poured so much good into this planet & this life I live, who poured out His beauty into the flowers and voices of the children and kindness of a stranger, that He is still good- still working His good. Somehow. Somehow. Somehow.

And then, buried somewhere in the Words of my Faith is a promise. We are wrestling now, here in the dark, but time moves on of its own accord, and morning is coming. The sun is coming.

(The sun came up as he left Peniel).

And I too, limp away from this place, changed. Joy intact. Doubt intact. Faith intact.

The man said, “Let me go; it’s daybreak.” Jacob said, “I’m not letting you go ’til you bless me.” The man said, “What’s your name?” He answered, “Jacob.” The man said, “But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel (God-Wrestler); you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Jacob asked, “And what’s your name?” The man said, “Why do you want to know my name?” And then, right then and there, he blessed him. Jacob named the place Peniel (God’s Face) because, he said, “I saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story!” The sun came up as he left Peniel… (Genesis 31:26-31a)

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Cancer, Part II

Mama

We walk side-by-side across the hot pavement, and the doors in front of us slide open. Cool, stale air comes rushing across our faces, our bare skin prickles from the temperature change. I look into my Mama’s face, and I see:

She is tired.
She is strong.

These things lie inside her, intertwined, as we meet and greet. She knows what to do now, half way through radiation. It’s old hat to find her room, to shed clothes and wrap into a robe, to make her way to the room where they will lift her body up, up, and away. Where some mystery of science will push heat into her, and that heat will (God willing) (God, please) burn away the evil parts of this world. Disease.

Her head is heavy, but I see in her shoulders the bracing- the readiness- to face just one more day of this. Well, 16. 16 more days.

It is a strength that comes from our Great Unfathomable Mystery. It is a strength beyond what we can muster. It is a picture of My Help Comes From The Lord, The Maker Of Heaven And Earth.

I smile and nod as everyone tells me with bright eyes “Your Mom! She’s the bright spot in our day! What fun! What joy!” because of course, of course she is. Of course they love her, of course they respond to the energy she seeps into the world just being her.

They tell us we’re the lucky ones, and I nod again, stiffly. My brain tells me they’re right, that we had early detection, that we had surgery surgeries available, that we had radiation only. That we had a scare, but we didn’t risk it all. That in the big, grand scheme-of-it-all, we really were…. lucky.

But from the 90s inspired dark green & floral walls of a waiting room, it doesn’t feel very lucky.

I guess maybe those that call this lucky can’t see the fresh gash on our family tree, where sap bleeds out, the mark that shows “Cancer”. There is a before, and there is an after, and we won’t be the same.

And that’s okay, because not being the same, finding a different way, is okay. Is… life. I know she can do it, will do it. Her shoulders, held strong in the grip of her great faith show me that.

But lucky? No. No. Not lucky. Not this time.

(As of today? 13 days and counting. You can do it, Mama!).

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Cancer, Part I

Dear Young Target Employee,

Thank you.

I wish I would have said it out loud to you, that day. The day that I stood in the back of an-impossibly-long-line (read: probably 3 people), shuffling my feet, taking deep breaths, staring at the clock on my phone. I know, I know: I looked like a jerk. And you, with sweet kindness, tapped me on the shoulder, sending me on to a newly opened lane, smiling with a graciousness I certainly didn’t deserve. I know I looked like what would- on any normal day- be filed somewhere on the internet under “First World Problems”. But that day? That day was different.

Because sometimes it’s the day that you find out your Mom has cancer.

And life- in its cruelness- goes on anyway. And you have to buy something stupid, like paper towels or stamps or nail polish remover, and it forces you to go to the store. And while on any other day, the shifting feet would be about keeping to an impossible schedule full of things that barely matter, on THIS day, it’s taking everything you have to stand in that unending line. Fibers of your being vibrate inside you, and you feel your insides begin to melt away.

On this day, you are fighting to keep it together, every breath a labor. All moments marching towards The Moment You Will Lose It.

But you, sweet Target girl- you rescued me with your kindness. You gave me the time to get to my car. To exhale the breath I’d been accidentally holding. To dissolve on my own terms.

And maybe more: you gave me a win on a day when I just, just really needed a win.

It was nothing to you, I would guess. But to me? It was pretty big.

So, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Heart,
Ann

(Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Unknown.)

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The Big 3(0): Creator

A short series where I write about the three BIG things I’ve learned before 30, in honor of my new decade and turning the BIG 3-0. Which, by the way, happened recently, just in case we’re not friends in real life and you missed the 97 reminders I gave you. So. (Part I here, Part II here.)

Life is crazy.

I sincerely hope this is not the first time anyone has let you in on that little fact. If so, I’ll wait. You sit down for a second and take a breath or forty-five.

The rest of you, those that are giving the computer screen the equivalent of the 1990’s slang “duh”, those that live on planet earth and have been around for more than one day, life is crazy, amiright?

(I’m right. Not often, but this time).

Some days you wake up and it’s moving day. At the office, or at home. Or at the office and at home. Your best friend moves away, your boyfriend moves away, your family moves away.

Some days you get a new boss, or your old boss quits, or you become the boss. Other days, you start a new job. Or, you get fired.

Sometimes a friend needs you, and you pick up and go. You sleep in one state, and then a new one. And the next day? A new one again. Sometimes you’re the one who needs, and people file into your home(state), your home(sweet home), or your temporary home(stead).

Other days, you sit in a dark room reading out loud while your friend lays inside of a large metal machine that will tell her if something is wrong with her brain. Or, you sit cross legged on the floor of a hospital room playing a mindless card game with a child who will be sliced open, tomorrow. Some days the doctor tells you something is wrong, and you go to the hospital. Or a specialist. Or she says the scariest of all the scary english words, “Cancer”.

Some days, you wake up from heartbreak so binding you can’t breathe, and you cover it with makeup and brush your hair, and you go to work. Some days the phone rings and you pause everything to rush to the side of an ailing love.

Some days, you sit across the table from someone who holds your whole heart, and they tell you goodbye. Or, someone travels across the continent to sit across that same table and tell you they still love you. Some days you fight in a (way too) public place. Some nights you kiss in front of a lamppost under the moon. Some days you cry at the grocery store.

Some days you drown inside of endless pile of ToDo lists and unreturned phone calls and over-scheduled calendars and noteverenoughsleepandandand…

Some days, all these things happen at once.

Many days, all these things happen at once.

This is life, in all it’s muddy, chaotic, insane  glory. It is both beautiful and terrible.

It is light and dark.

And while Whitman claims that both are miracles (and he’s probably right), it really doesn’t make it any easier, does it?

When life begins to move, to wiggle, to swirl around me in blasts of color and pandemonium, when I try to find somewhere to plant my feet, I find myself here (again and again):

We must find our rooting outside of ourselves.

We can take deep breaths, we can calm our spirits, we can reach deep inside of us for a strength that wasn’t there before, but it just won’t be enough. For a minute, maybe. But the next day, when the sun rises again and brings with it a full new lovely day with full new lovely crazy, it won’t be.

And in 30 years, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned:

Find Faith in something bigger than just you.

Find the Creator, the one who picked out the coloring of your skin, and the coloring of your personality. And then, find His friendship, His love, His very Self. And put your feet there.

This Rock, my friends, doesn’t move. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t wiggle. It is the same (yesterday, today, forever).

And if you can put your feet there, the chaos of life, in all its dark and light, will spiral and billow around you. And? It will be okay.

Some days it will be scary, but you will still be safe. You will still be secure. You will have your roots stretching beneath you, deep in Steadfast Love.

The first two lessons are important and good, but this one is the most of both.

Most important. Most good.

This is a lesson I learned early, and then again at 23. Oh, and 24. And all the years after that.

And… today. And probably tomorrow. This lesson is a lifelong one, I think.

But today, surveying the Craziness-That-Is-Now from my place perched on this Rock, I feel my heart stretching in gratefulness. So here’s to 30 years, my dear ones. Lived alongside all of you, and alongside this Creator I love.

All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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