that time i shopped on black friday

I remember the first and only time I went shopping on Black Friday. It was my final year of grad school and I was spending Thanksgiving with my boyfriend’s family in the Chicago suburbs. During the Thanksgiving meal, the topic of Black Friday came up. Before then, I never had any interest in shopping on Black Friday. In the past, after Thanksgiving dinner, my family and I would sink into the couch {momentarily ignoring the stacks of dirty dishes} and sigh that the last thing we could imagine wanting to do was wait in line to go shopping in a crowded superstore. Now, I listened to the people around me plan out the best routes and the best places and the best deals.

“Wanna go?” my boyfriend asked.

I didn’t want to go. Not at all. I wanted to change into my pajamas and curl up under a blanket with a good book. What did I need to shop for, anyway? What “doorbuster deals” did I need to take advantage of?

But I didn’t want to be a buzzkill. Everyone else was excited about Black Friday shopping. It was easier to go along with the current of consumption than to try to swim against it. Maybe it will be fun, I told myself. It will be a new experience that you can write about someday.

“Sure,” I said.

So, a couple hours before midnight, we caravanned to the nearest Walmart. The parking lot was jammed. The store was jammed. People were camped out in aisles, shopping carts claiming space. Everywhere, sale prices screamed at us in bold font under the bright florescent lights.

I couldn’t ignore an uncomfortable feeling in my stomach. I knew in a deep visceral place that I did not want to be there. I did not want to be part of this avalanche of greed, of consumption, of more more more. It sounds extreme, maybe—I know it was just one day of shopping, after all—but I felt sick inside. I knew that I was going against my values. This wasn’t what I believed in. This wasn’t what mattered to me. Yet, there I was, wandering the aisles along with everyone else. There I was, waiting in the enormous snaking check-out line. There I was, choosing to spend hours shopping for things I didn’t actually need, during a time of year that was supposedly devoted to gratitude. I think I bought some cupcake liners and a book of short stories. My boyfriend bought a laptop, and his parents bought a big-screen TV to replace the slightly-smaller big-screen TV they already had. “It was such an amazing deal, we just couldn’t pass it up!” his mom exclaimed.

Looking back now, that Black Friday shopping escapade was in many ways a symbol of that period of my life. Gradually, I let myself get swept away from the person I always thought I was, until I didn’t recognize the choices I was making anymore. I tried to cover up my doubts about my relationship with an avalanche of stuff. I made plans with my boyfriend based around consumption—TV shows we wanted to watch; kitchen gadgets we wanted to buy; that expensive exercise bike we were saving up for—as if those plans would make us feel more solid. As if the answer to our problems could be found in a trip to the mall. As if carting more stuff home in plastic shopping bags would reinforce our shaky foundation, patch up our recurring arguments, and hide our incompatibilities.

The truth was, I felt empty inside. So I gave into the culture of consumption around me, as if that would fill me up. It was so much easier to slap a band-aid over the pain than to do the hard work of diagnosing its source. It was so much more comfortable to listen to the constant advertisements around me and believe that I would feel better if only I had that top-rated mascara, those pretty napkin rings, that perfectly organized closet with the matching labeled baskets.

Up to this point, I had never placed much value in material possessions, and I never would have said that love was shown by material things—and yet, in my relationship, that was exactly how it was shown. I remember my boyfriend buying me so many books for Christmas one year that I actually felt embarrassed by the display. {I still haven’t read all of them.} I remember our bookshelf crammed with DVDs that we’d only watched once. I remember wandering the aisles of Target, filled with a panicked craving, certain that there was something else I desperately needed to make my life okay. And I was right—there was a desperate need aching inside of me—but it wasn’t for anything I could buy at Target. It was the need for honesty and authenticity in my own life. It was the need to live out my values. It was the need to unapologetically be—or at least, strive to be—my best and truest self.

When we broke up, I immediately felt relief and release. And I immediately began lightening my load of possessions. I donated boxes full of books to the library. I took bags of clothes to Goodwill. I gave away kitchen appliances to anyone who wanted them. I cleaned out my kitchen cabinet, using up the canned food I’d already bought instead of buying more. Rather than wandering the aisles of Target, I began going for walks. When I think back on that period, I remember the joy I felt in creating space in my life. I didn’t feel that panicked emptiness inside me anymore. I didn’t need to prove anything or cover up anything. Even though I was heartbroken, I felt content, and whole, and enough. To put it simply: I recognized myself again.

Now, all of this is not to say that Black Friday is evil or that shopping makes you a bad person. Some people are passionate about the fashion industry. Some people find true joy through shopping and socializing in this way. But, I have never been that person. And if you feel like I used to feel — shopping for more to try to fill up an empty hole inside you or cover up emotions you don’t want to feel — I’d like to challenge you to hit the pause button. Take a deep breath. Climb out from underneath all of your stuff and take an honest look at your life. What is that little voice inside trying to tell you?

When I began listening to that little voice, instead of listening to the advertisements around me and the fear in my heart that said I wasn’t enough… everything changed. I began making choices with intention rather than letting myself get swept here and there by other people’s currents. I now find value in the person I am, not what I own, and my relationships are built on a solid foundation of shared conversations rather than a wobbly foundation of shared consumption. Sure, I still go shopping sometimes. Of course, I still buy things. But I know that the latest fashion trend piece isn’t going to make me more beautiful. A fancy new tablecloth isn’t going to make my meals any more nourishing. A new piece of furniture isn’t going to make me into more of a grown-up and color-coordinated bath towels do not mean that my life is more “together” than it was before. My life — like all lives — is perfectly imperfect. And that’s normal. That’s nature. After all, look around — plants and trees are not precisely symmetrical. A flower consumes what it needs to bloom, but it will die with too much water. I believe the messy mishmash patchwork quilt of genuine, authentic living is what makes this life so beautiful.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about whatever comes to mind when you think about these questions.

  • Have you ever gone shopping on Black Friday? If not, why not? If so, what was the experience like for you?
  • Write about a time you made a decision that felt at odds with your values or the person you thought you were.
  • Are there any areas of your life that you are trying to fill with material things? What might it be like to instead believe that you are enough and have enough?

a letter to the tree they cut down outside our apartment window

Dear Tree,

I’m sorry I haven’t properly introduced myself before. I’m Dallas, and I live in this apartment with my husband Allyn, and I have loved you since the first day we moved in one year and two months ago. In fact, you were one of the first things I noticed about the apartment when we were looking at potential places to live around the city. I fell in love with your tall, thick-leaved, beautiful branches, stretching over the apartment balcony in a protective way. Your limbs waved slightly in the breeze — friendly, as if you were saying hello.

Over the next fourteen months, you gave us so much without ever asking for anything in return. During the extremely hot summer, you provided welcome shade from the harsh midday sun. Your pretty branches gave us some privacy from the neighbors all around us, making our apartment feel more secluded. When we dined al fresco on our little balcony, your lush leaves reminded me of the time we traveled to Spain and ate outdoors, and our home-cooked meal felt a tad bit fancier. My writing desk is situated right beside the window that looked out at you, and when I was feeling stuck I would gaze out at your greenery. You made me feel calm and inspired. If that wasn’t enough, birds perched on your branches and serenaded us. What more could we ask for in a companion, dear tree?

I wish I had told you all of this sooner. Sure, I appreciated you, but it was in the absent-minded way you appreciate things you take for granted. Things you think will be around forever.

{you provided such a lovely backdrop for our save-the-date photo}

A few weeks ago, the building manager knocked on our door and gave us the news. It was so unexpected. He said that you were old, and that with all of the storms lately you had become a danger. Trees fall over onto houses and apartments and sometimes they do damage and sometimes they hurt people. He said you were impeding on the apartment below us and next to us. He said you had to come down and that was that. There was nothing we could do. We don’t own the property — we are just renters — and so we don’t own you.

When the men came to cut you down, I couldn’t watch. I felt sick and sad and I kept thinking of this Jack Johnson song with lyrics about a tree that burns down. I promise, tree, that one day, Allyn and I will have a house of our own and we will plant lots of your brothers and sisters in our yard. Until then, I want you to know that I donated to The Nature Conservancy to plant a tree in honor of you.

We miss you, dear tree. We miss you a lot. We miss your shade and your beauty. We miss your quiet presence. We miss your wisdom that reminded us of the world that was here before we came onto the scene, and the world that will be here after we leave, and that maybe our problems aren’t so big after all, and maybe our lives are a little more precious than we make them out to be in the day-to-day tasks and busyness. When I think of you, tree, I think of how you were once a small seedling, and then a sapling, and how you just kept growing and growing and growing towards the sunlight. I want to be like you. I want to have your patience and your fortitude, your generosity and your grace.

Your final lesson to me was to focus even more of my energy on appreciating the lovely little details in my life. I loved you while you were alive, but I wish I had been even more present to your presence. I wish I had thanked you every day and marveled every day at the magic of having you in our lives, sheltering our little apartment and sharing your shade with us. You have reminded me of the fleeting nature of this life, and because of you I am hugging the things I love a little tighter, a little closer, a little fiercer. Because of you, I notice and appreciate all the other trees I come across {even though none of them are quite as beautiful as you} and because of you, I am saying prayers of gratitude for all the everyday riches in my imperfect, messy life.

Love,
Dallas

 

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to a tree that has been meaningful in your life.
  • Write a letter to a different object {natural or man-made} or a place that has mattered to you.
  • What is something small in your life that you can appreciate and be grateful for, right this very moment?

a letter to my 16-year-old self

Dear 16-year-old Dallas,

Hi there. It’s me—well, you, from the future. Thirteen years in the future, to be exact. I just wanted to pop in and tell you that everything is going to be okay. I know you’re having a hard time right now. Two of your best friends have quite suddenly ditched you, and you’re feeling unmoored and wondering how everything could have unraveled so quickly. It wasn’t one big fight, but a lot of little things that drew the three of you apart—or, rather, that separated you from the two of them. I know that right now you feel confused and hurt and angry. School used to be filled with laughter and inside jokes, and now suddenly the social logistics of each day is a puzzle without an answer key. Where to sit at lunch? Who to talk to at cross-country practice? You’ve cried more over the loss of these two friends than you’ve ever cried over a boy. I know you are tempted to just turn your back and write them off forever. I know it’s hard to see this now, but listen to me: they’re not bad people. They do care about you, and your friendship with them was real. All those memories you shared together are not fake. It was good, until it wasn’t. High school is messy and confusing and full of changes, and the three of you are in different places, wanting different things. And that’s okay. It’s okay that you have no interest in going to parties and drinking—no matter if that means you aren’t “cool.” Even though this is painful, it is better for you to let go of your friendship with them now, rather than stick around and feel bad about yourself all the time, or turn into someone you don’t want to be.

Listen to me: in six years, you will go to the wedding of one of these friends, and all the angst and hurt you are writing about in your journal right now? It will all seem like a long time ago, I promise. It will seem like a novel you read about someone else. The other friend will get married around the same time you do {yes, you are in fact going to get married—I’ll get to that in a minute} and you will genuinely wish her well. You will wish both of these girls the utmost happiness.

I know you are feeling supremely uncool and unsure of yourself. Your self-confidence has taken a beating, and you feel so awkward all the time. But let me tell you something important, something true: you did nothing wrong and there is nothing wrong with you. You don’t need to be concerned about what the other kids at school think of you. {Besides, the other kids at school aren’t thinking bad things about you—that’s all in your head. The other kids, even the popular crowd, respect your straight-lacedness. Just wait and see what nice things they write in your senior yearbook.} Take a deep breath and lean into the parts of yourself that feel the most true and real and YOU. Those are the best parts of yourself. Those are the parts to cultivate, to nourish, to nurture. When you find sprouts of self-consciousness and comparison and shame? Yank those roots out of your soil. Don’t waste any time watering those weeds.

Want to know a secret? Want to know the silver lining to this painful period of time? When these two friends ditch you, it will open up your life for other friends to come in. You will become closer with people who love and accept you exactly as you are. Remember how close you and Erica were in middle school? Reach out to her again now. She is kind and steady and she truly cares about you. She is a lifelong friend. One day, she will be a bridesmaid in your wedding. Be grateful for her and soak up these everyday moments with her. Stay home from a school dance and have an old-fashioned sleepover with her instead. You never have much fun at those school dances, even though you try. You go because you feel like you’re supposed to go. But I’m giving you permission, right now, to stop doing things because of the opinions of other people. If you want to stay in on a Friday night and eat popcorn and watch Robin Hood: Men in Tights with Erica, do it. Do it with no regrets.

I want you to know that you are enough exactly as you are. Mom and Dad know what they are talking about. When they tell you that you are beautiful and kind and strong and worthy, when they tell you that you have no idea how loved you are, when they tell you that one day in the not-too-distant future you will indeed meet a boy who appreciates you for exactly the person you are—listen to them. They are right.

Sixteen-year-old Dallas, you don’t need to change anything about yourself. Your nose is not too big. Your hair is not frizzy. You are not—repeat after me—you are not the least bit overweight, and you never need to feel even the slightest twinge of guilt for eating two or three of Mom’s chocolate-chip cookies, still warm from the oven.  She makes the best cookies, doesn’t she? Thirteen years from now, her cookies will still be the best you’ve ever tasted.

And okay, I’m getting to it, I’m getting to it. You’ve probably skimmed the rest of this letter, eager to get to this part. The part about getting married one day. Right now, I know it feels like you’re never going to meet a boy who like-likes you, much less loves you. Right now, you haven’t even had your first kiss. All of your ideas about love are based on Sarah Dessen books, your weekly TV obsession The O.C., and your favorite rom-com Serendipity. Here’s what I want to tell you about love: it’s bigger and better, more complex and yet more simple, more consuming and yet more ordinary, than you imagine it to be. Love is going to break you apart and put you back together again, stronger and braver and more content in your own individual, lovely wholeness. Love is going to take you by surprise and take your breath away.

Right now you alternate between despair that you are never ever going to get your first kiss, and a desire to plan out every detail of your one-day, future relationship. But, dear one, love isn’t something you can map out. It’s not a short story you can revise and revise again. It’s not a physics problem you can solve. It will sweep into your heart without warning, announcing itself to you boldly, and even though you might feel a little bit scared or unready, you will not be able to ignore it. When love is right, it will continue to grow and grow inside of you, and you won’t have to make excuses for it, and you won’t have to twist yourself to fit into what doesn’t fit. The right love will become a part of you, like your breath, in and out, in and out, and like your breath it will give you life in little moments every single day, with you hardly even realizing it. Right now you think that love means grand gestures and passionate kissing in the rain, but real love is in the ordinary, everyday moments that connect you to another person. When you feel seen and understood and accepted and cared for, little by little, day by day. If you really want an example of the love that is waiting for you in the future, look at Mom and Dad. You will get married on their wedding anniversary, and they are the best blueprint out there for a beautiful, sturdy, lasting love.

To be honest, 16-year-old Dallas, your first kiss won’t come for another couple of years, and it isn’t going to be all that spectacular. But your first kiss with the guy who will become your
husband? Woah. It will be worth the wait, worth all the mess and tears and lonely nights and uncertainty it took to find him. Here’s what I can tell you about your husband: he is amazingly kind, and generous, and thoughtful, and compassionate. He makes you laugh every day, and he is a wonderful listener, and he supports you with all of his heart. He is so handsome, and he tells you that you are beautiful, and he loves every detail about you. {For the record, he thinks you have a great nose.} He is better than any of the loves you imagined for yourself before you met him. He is better than you could have dreamed.

I know, despite your heartbreak and pain, you do realize how fortunate you are, and you’re grateful for what you have right now. You’re grateful for your parents, and for Greg, and for Erica, and for your teachers and your Gramps and your books and your writing. Lean into that gratitude. Lean into those things that fill you up. Savor them. As Mr. Enfield, the drama teacher, will tell you next year before the curtain rises on the final production of the play you wrote {get excited—it’s going to be an awesome experience!}, life is ephemeral. It is always changing, and even those things that feel permanent about your life right now are fleeting. So soak it in, every day. Even the hard days. Be confident in the person you are now and the person you are becoming. Don’t get lost in self-doubt or worry. You have no idea how much you are going to grow, and stretch, and shine, and love, and explore, and how big and wide and incredible the world is. You have no idea of the wonders waiting in your future, in this life you are building. Trust in me, your 29-year-old-self. And trust in yourself, as you are here, now, at sixteen. Everything you need is already there, inside of you.

Love,
Your Future Self

p.s. Give Gar as many scratches and loves and doggy biscuits as you can. He’s a really great dog, isn’t he?

Your turn {if you want}:

  • Write a letter to your sixteen-year-old self. What advice would you give?
  • Write a letter from your sixteen-year-old self to your self today. What would that previous version of yourself want you to remember?
  • Sign up for The Letter Project to write a letter to a real girl or woman who could use a little extra encouragement. Your words can make a real difference in someone’s life!

abundance + gratitude

Hello, my long-lost friends! It has officially been one month and one day since I married the love of my life. I can’t believe how time has flown! I am working on a humongous recap wedding post chock-full of photos for y’all. Here is a sneak-peek photo. 🙂

dal-and-al-just-married

In the meantime I wanted to pop in and talk about something that has been on my heart and mind a lot lately: the concept of abundance.

If you had talked to six-months-ago me or one-year-ago me about money, “abundance” would not have been a word on the tip of my tongue. I used to worry about money. Since childhood, I have always been a “saver” more than a “spender” — but I have also followed my passion to a nontraditional career with financial ebbs and flows. When we got engaged and began planning our wedding, everything seemed more expensive than I had anticipated and I remember thinking, “How are we going to afford this??” When we talked about the future, about having children and maybe buying a house one day, inwardly I started doing tabulations and felt myself panic a little. Not to mention the unplanned emergencies, the curveballs that life throws at everyone sooner or later.

When you’re in a mindset like this, it can seem like the only solution is to clench your fists and dig in. To count your nickels and dimes, scowl at every donation request you receive, and feel even the most necessary of expenses gnawing away at you. To worry yourself into a consciousness of scarcity. 

My parents generously offered to shoulder the financial burden of our wedding, and my gratitude was immense and boundless. But instead of seeing this as the pure blessing it was, I felt guilty with every plan we made — because even the simple wedding we wanted came with many expenses, many moving parts and things to consider. Even though my parents had told us, plainly and clearly, how thrilled they were to be able to help us in this way, I for some reason felt like I was letting them down by using the gift they had given us.

Everything changed when I remembered a story my father told me and my brother when we were kids. It is a story about two brothers who were also great friends. One brother’s passion in life led him to a career with a lot of money. The other brother’s passion led him to an equally worthy career, but one that was not compensated as highly. Both brothers eventually got married and had children of their own. The first brother lived in a beautiful, large home. The second brother had dreams of buying a home for his family, too. Eventually, he worked up his courage and asked his brother for a loan.

“No,” the first brother said. “I won’t loan you the money.”

The second brother felt surprised and hurt—but only for a moment. Because then his brother said, “I won’t loan you the money, but I would be overjoyed to give you the money.”

The second brother gratefully accepted the first brother’s generous gift, and both brothers felt richer in spirit because of it.

I think my father shared this story because he wanted to teach us that money gives us the most joy not when it is hoarded or spent thoughtlessly, but rather when we intentionally use our money as a means of helping those we care about. When I thought about the gift my parents were giving me and Allyn in this new light, everything shifted. And this shift carried over into not just the wedding, but into other parts of my life, too. I began to see the resources in my life not as limited, but instead as abundant. And I began to use gratitude every day to cultivate these feelings of abundance even more.

Thinking back on my life so far, one of my most treasured experiences was when my brother accepted a small financial gift from me to help him with his business school expenses. It was just a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of his degree, but it gave me such joy to feel like I was investing in him and his future. As author Gretchen Rubin writes in her “Secrets of Adulthood,” sometimes we can be generous by taking. Accepting that money was a gift that my brother gave to me.

me and greg graduation

Furthermore, “money” doesn’t have to literally mean money. It can be any type of resource — time, energy, relationships, activities. Sometimes we feel the urge to hoard these resources all to ourselves, to focus on all that we do not have and to worry that we will never have enough. But when we shift our perspective to thinking about how we can share what we have with others, it is amazing how what once felt like “not enough” can suddenly feel like an abundance of riches.

So I’ve got a question for you today, dear readers. Where do you notice and appreciate abundance in your own life — right here, right now? Small details matter just as much as the big things. Write down your list. Read it to yourself a few times today, breathing in deeply with a smile on your face.

It’s amazing how rich this can make you feel.

fall colors cleveland

 

Here are some things on my “abundance list” as I sit here at my desk on this sunshiney Wednesday afternoon:

:: abundant in love {never more true than on our wedding day… I am still basking in all the love we felt in that room!}

:: abundant in friendship

:: abundant in community

:: abundant in ideas {driving around in silence has really boosted my creative thinking… it is crazy how many more ideas I get now that I intentionally cleared away a bit of noise}

:: abundant in nourishing food {including these amazing pumpkin gingerbread muffins that I cannot get enough of… I’ve eaten three of these babies in the past five hours and I feel great about it because not only are they autumn in delicious muffin form, they are also ridiculously healthy}

:: abundant in inspiration {there are so many good people in this world, working to do so many good things!}

:: abundant in time*

 

* Okay, I’m still working on this one… maybe this one should more accurately read “MORE abundant in time than I used to feel”… while I still have a million projects I want to tackle and books I want to write and things I want to do in this one wild and precious life I have been blessed with, lately I’ve been feeling less crazy-frantic-rushed than I was feeling, say, a month ago. {This might be because I am no longer planning a wedding!} But I think it is also because I have really been thinking about how I want to structure my days and what it is truly important for me to make time for… and what it might be best to gently let go of. The important things include working on my novel for an hour every morning first thing; doing yoga for even just fifteen minutes every day; and breathing quietly/meditating for five minutes every day. Purposefully setting aside time to do these things makes me feel like more minutes have magically sprouted into my life as the day progresses.

Questions of the day:

  • Where do you feel abundant in your life?
  • What do you feel most grateful for in this season of your life?
  • Where in your life would you like to cultivate more abundance?

dear amber rubarth

Hi. I’m one of the people who came up to you after your concert in San Francisco this past Saturday night and asked you to sign my copy of your CD. I was nervous, and I don’t think I even remembered to tell you my name. I did tell you that I first saw you play at Zoey’s in Ventura years and years ago, and that your music has meant a lot to me. But it is impossible in a one-minute conversation to feel like one is able to say anything that really goes below the surface. I just felt like any other fan, asking to get a picture with you. You were so kind. And then it was the next person in line’s turn and I said goodbye and Allyn and I walked out into the night. And I felt buzzing with happiness at what a wonderful evening it had been, but I also felt a keen layer of frustration beneath my skin. Because I didn’t feel like I expressed myself clearly to you in that one-minute conversation as you signed my CD.

amber rubarth concert sign

Here is what I wanted to tell you.

When I first saw you play, at Zoey’s Cafe in Ventura, I was feeling a little lost and uncertain. I had just graduated college and moved back in with my parents after my grad school and fellowship plans had ended in nothing but rejections. For my entire life up until that period, my identity had been built on structure and over-achievement. Suddenly, I was floundering. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know how to build a career out of it. I felt like everyone else I knew had “real jobs” and paychecks and responsibilities and exciting lives in new cities. Meanwhile, I was back in time, living once again in my childhood bedroom, unsure what the future held. And I had broken up with my college boyfriend, someone I had loved very much but had realized was not the love of my life. I felt confident it was the right decision, but I missed him. And part of me worried no one else would ever love me again.

I went to your concert at Zoey’s as part of my attempt to get out more and meet people. Zoey’s owners, Polly and Steve, had always been kind to me — they had even hosted a book signing for me back when I was in high school and released a collection of short stories — and I would check their website often for live music shows. Usually, I would go by myself. I went by myself to your show, and sat at the bar because there were no other seats available, and tried not to feel like a loser amidst the crowd of couples and families. Was I the only one there alone? But as soon as you started singing, I forgot to feel self-conscious. I felt myself in your songs. I felt understood. I listened to your beautiful, fragile, strong voice sing bravely and vulnerably about love and hope and healing, and for the first time in quite some time I felt excited to fall in love again. I felt like the world was indeed a wondrous place and that there was magic out in the future waiting for me.

That night, I went up to you after your show and bought both of your CDs and listened to them on repeat for months, driving around in my car, trying to find myself again. I particularly remember listening to You Will Love This Song on repeat and repeat and repeat. The details felt so true. Your song helped me get over my ex, while still remembering with bittersweet fondness the love we had shared, and taking in what it had taught me, and what I was looking for in a future love.

I got into grad school for fiction writing and moved halfway across the country, from my native California to a small college town in Indiana. If I thought I had felt lonely and uncertain before, I was on a whole new barometer of loneliness now. For the first time, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment by myself. I missed my family with aching fierceness. I felt overwhelmed with my new responsibilities and making friends had never seemed more difficult. I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I dreaded Fridays because it meant an endless weekend stretched before me; sometimes, a trip to the grocery store was my entire social interaction. It snowed and snowed. I wrote epically long emails to my friend Holly. I read and read and tried to write, authentically, for myself, even though criticism from my peers in workshop resounded loudly in my head. I went on a couple of unsuccessful blind dates and developed one or two hopeless crushes and listened to your song 23. I learned to cook for one. I listened to your CDs as I drove around in my same old car in this unfamiliar new town. Your songs made me feel a little bit less alone, a little bit braver. Especially Chrysanthemum Song.

I eventually met a guy, and we were together for a little while, and I was so grateful to have someone that I lost a lot of myself in the relationship. When everything fell apart, suddenly and irrevocably, I found myself again in the rubble. My brother came out to Indiana to help me regain my footing that first week, and he is also a fan of yours and he would put on your music. When I was sad, I listened to In The Creases and cried. But I simultaneously felt washed anew in a bright, sure happiness. That summer, I listened to your song The Edge and felt like you were speaking directly to me, to what I was feeling, to this new life that I was standing on the crest of, looking out across the landscape.

I moved back to California, this time to the Bay Area. I fit the pieces of myself back together again, trying on some new pieces too: zumba, yoga, green smoothies, long hikes, online dating. I met my sweetie in late January and falling in love with him was like nothing I had ever felt before: swift and yet not rushed at all; patient and trusting yet filled with surprises; gentle and passionate and balanced and consuming, all at once. As you sing in When It Fits, when it fits just right, it takes no time to know.

We spent that summer apart because he moved to New Orleans for three months for an internship. I went out to visit him and we spent three glorious weeks together, eating beignets and walking around the French Quarter and snapping photos of alligators during a swamp tour. The morning I left, I gave him a mix CD I had made for him. We listened to it as he drove me to the airport. I remember rolling down the window and breathing in the cool morning air — it was still dark out and the streets were deserted — as your Song to Thank the Stars played from his car stereo. The rest of the summer, whenever I was missing him too much, I would listen to that song and the ache inside me would ease a little into gratitude.

When one of my best friends died in a car accident, music and books were two of the only things that brought me any sort of comfort. The first six months, I was in a daze. I felt like I was living underwater. I remember listening to your song Pilot. The lyrics from that song run still through my head sometimes, on days when I feel in need of a spark.

Five months ago, my love proposed by serenading me with a Jason Mraz song on the guitar: Quiet. It seems fitting that one of my favorite duets is a song by Jason Mraz and you, which also makes me think of my sweetheart; I’ve been listening to it on repeat lately, as I plan our wedding.

A couple months ago, Amber, when I saw you were going to play a concert in San Francisco, I was so excited. I told Allyn that was all I wanted for my birthday: to go to your concert. So he bought tickets, and I circled the date on my calendar, and we went. When you came out onstage and began to sing, I felt transported back to that night six years ago at Zoey’s cafe. So much was different then. So much has changed. I think back to that shy, nervous, uncertain girl I was, and she seems so young and far away. And yet — hearing you sing your older songs made me feel connected to my previous selves. Sitting in that concert beside Allyn made me feel like I got to share those memories with him, in some osmosis sort of way.

Your concert was beautiful. Your joy was contagious. The audience adored you and we cheered and cheered until you came back out and played us an encore. My breath caught in my throat when your final song was A Song To Thank The Stars. I held Allyn’s hand and felt filled to the brim with grace and love. When you signed my CD, I told you how happy I was that you played that song. You confided that it was the only song you performed that was not on your set list, that you felt compelled to play it at the end of the night for some reason. “You must have been sending lots of mental vibes for me to play it!” you said, laughing. The song felt even more like a gift after hearing that.

me and amber rubarth 2

I guess what I’m trying to say with all of this, Amber, is that your music matters. You don’t even know my name, but your music has mattered immensely in my life. It has helped me feel less alone in my lonely times, and more grateful in my joyful times, and it has made me think and made me feel and helped me to be braver and kinder and more attuned to the tiny details of the world around me.

Thank you for your music. I hope you always keep making music. I am so excited to hear what you create next.

Love,
Dallas

“The Magic Thread”

Last weekend at church, I had a truly amazing day. During the summer when our ministers are on sabbatical, Worship Associates get to lead the services. It was my honor and pleasure to lead the service this past Sunday. The entire congregation was so welcoming, loving and supportive. I am still “walking on air” after the experience! I wanted to share my sermon with you — but first, I need to share the story my sermon is based upon.

The Magic Thread

“The Magic Thread” is a fable about a boy named Peter who is not very different from you or me. Peter finds it very hard to enjoy whatever he is doing at the moment. He always wants to move on to the next thing in his life. Have you ever felt that way? Summer is too hot—he can’t wait for the autumn to arrive. Winter is too cold—he counts the days until springtime. School is okay, but none of his best friends are in his class, so he wants it to be the next year already. Then, his friends are in his class, but his teacher is very strict and assigns a lot of homework. He is always convinced that his life will be better next week, next month, next season, next year.

One day, Peter is walking home from school through the forest and he meets an old woman, who offers him a shining golden ball of magic thread. She explains, “This is the thread of your life, my boy. If you want time to pass more quickly, all you need to do is pull the thread a tiny bit, and an hour will pass like a second.”

However, she also gives him a warning: “Listen carefully: once the thread has been pulled out, it cannot be pushed back in again. You can only move forward in time, never back.”

Peter joyfully takes the ball of magic thread. All his troubles are over! How easy life will be now, that he can skip forward past all the times of hardship and trouble. School is too boring, so what does he do? He pulls the magic thread and finds himself out of school and working at his first job. He meets a girl and falls in love. He can’t wait to marry her, so what does he do? He pulls the magic thread and—poof!—it’s their wedding day. When he feels sick, what do you think he does? He pulls the magic thread to feel better again. What about when he has troubles at work? Yep, you guessed it! He pulls the magic thread to move on to a new project, a better job, a corner office, a bigger promotion. But, as soon as one problem is solved, it seems another always appears in its place.

Before Peter knows it, he is an old man, and his wife is an old woman. Their daughters are grown and have left the house and moved on to their own careers and families. Peter goes for a walk in the forest, and meets the magical old woman once again. She smiles and asks him, “So Peter. Did you have a good life?”

“I’m not sure,” Peter admits. “Your magic ball of thread is a wonderful thing. I have never had to suffer or wait for anything in my life. And yet it has all passed so quickly. I have had no time to take in what has happened to me, neither the good things nor the bad. Now there is so little time left.”

The old woman smiles wisely and says she can grant him one final wish. “Choose,” she says. “Would you like to continue living with the magic thread, or would you like to live again as if for the first time, without it?”

Can you guess what choice Peter makes? Yep, he gave the magic thread back to the old woman and chose to live his life again, through each and every moment—the good and the bad, the wonderful and the boring. He woke up the next morning as a young boy again in his bed, and he was the happiest person in the world as he walked down the stairs into a perfectly ordinary day.

Below is a video taken of my sermon, or click here to watch it directly on YouTube. I hope you enjoy! 🙂

gratitude in the midst of grief

Hello, lovely people! Thank you for taking the time to send such sweet messages and words of love after my last post. It helps to write about Celine, her incredible life, my memories, our friendship; about all the ways I miss her and all the ways she impacted my life.

Her funeral was this weekend. I flew down to Los Angeles and returned to the Bay Area yesterday morning. To be honest, in many ways I was dreading Celine’s funeral. I knew that attending her funeral would make her death seem more real, and a part of me wanted to just keep living in denial, pretending that Celine is off adventuring around the world as she so loved to do. {Have you ever met a 26-year-old who has been to 37 countries??}

me and celine

It was a surreal and sad and emotional and exhausting weekend… but it was a beautiful weekend, too. In the midst of such overwhelming grief, I was not expecting to feel grateful. But I was struck by moments of stunning gratitude, like slivers of sunlight bursting down through the rainclouds.

Here are some things I am grateful for:

  • Celine was pursuing her dreams, living a life she loved. She lived with urgency and passion. She did not put off her dreams until some indeterminate future. She was not working at some miserable job she hated. She was happy.
  • As many said at her funeral, Celine lived more in her two-and-a-half decades than many people do in 80+ years. The priest asked us to think about all the things Celine WAS able to do during her lifetime, instead of focusing on what she didn’t do. I think that is good advice.

celine funeral

  • Celine’s brother Cameron, who was also in the car accident, is headed for a full recovery. He is home from the hospital and it felt like a miracle to be able to hug him at the funeral.
  • At the time of her death, Celine was having a really amazing time in India. Cameron showed us dozens of photos and videos on his phone of the two of them smiling and posing and being goofy. Celine was radiant. It was a comfort to see her so filled with joy in her final days.

celine and cameron india

  • Celine’s family has been so generous in their grieving. They are giving all of us who loved her plenty of time and space to pay our respects and say goodbye. Spending time with her family and friends, sharing stories, laughing about her zany antics, and remembering all the love she showered on the world, was exactly what my heart and soul needed.
  • Being able to spend a few days with other people who knew and love Celine felt like being able to put down a heavy backpack I hadn’t even realized I was carrying. To me, one of the hardest and strangest parts of grieving is navigating the real world — everyday tasks, errands, work duties, small talk — while within you this deep loss is throbbing, an unacknowledged wound. Surrounded by people who were also grieving Celine, it felt like we all shared the same subtext. Even when we weren’t talking about her, we were. Even when we were laughing about some random memory, underneath it we were all saying the same thing: I can’t believe she’s really gone.

joie

  • Seeing people I hadn’t seen in a long time, hugging them, and crying with them, was more of a comfort than I could have imagined. I was happily surprised to see a few acquaintances from college who came to pay their respects. It felt really meaningful to see them there. Even people who did not know Celine very well were still deeply touched by her life.
  • My brother came with me to the funeral and the cemetery, and held my hand the entire time. He is my rock. The whole weekend he was sweetly, protectively attentive — for example, at the church when I was in the restroom for a little longer than normal, he asked Holly to go check on me to make sure I was okay. He is thoughtful and caring, a wonderful listener, and always there for me. I don’t know what I would do without him.

me and greg

  • I will never forget the moment I walked into the church and glimpsed Holly at the same time she turned and saw me. I just remember running to her. I was shaking as we held each other and cried.
  • The service was beautiful. Celine’s cousin Anne-marie and Holly both gave lovely readings. Celine’s friend Claire gave a stunning eulogy that captured her perfectly. The songs were perfect; I will never again hear Hallelujah without crying.
  • After the funeral, Celine’s family held a reception at their home, and towards the end a few of us made our way up to Celine’s bedroom. It felt surreal, yet peaceful, to be sitting up there among her things. So many memories! In her closet was this teal mermaid dress that I’m not sure anybody but Celine could pull off:

teal mermaid dress

  • Celine’s mom gave each of us some of her things to take back with us. I was so grateful to receive a Valentine I had given Celine freshman year of college {she kept it all these years!} and a note Holly and I wrote her during the Geology class the three of us took together junior year. Celine’s mom also gave me some gorgeous bracelets of hers and her rainbow purse that makes me smile whenever I see it.

celine purse and bracelets

  • Mostly, I keep feeling grateful that Celine and I were good. I knew how much she loved me. She knew how much I loved her. I wish we had more time together — SO much more time — but I know that more time would not have changed the essence of our friendship. I have no regrets. There were so many words as-yet-unsaid, so many stories that haven’t happened yet that I wish I could share with her… but at the same time, when you get down to what really matters, there were NO words left unsaid. My last message to Celine, about two weeks before she died, said simply: “Thinking of you. ❤ Missing you. <3” Her last words to me were: “I miss you so much!! more updates soon, love you!!”
  • The day of the funeral, my fourth-grade teacher {who is now a dear friend} sent me these words that have become a new touchstone in my faith:

Love is so much bigger than the vessels we live in

and somehow it lasts even after the vessels wear out.

ocean

learning to lean on others

me and greg walking

In December 2013, I was feeling a bit lost, unmoored, unsure. So much had changed in my life in the past year, and I didn’t quite feel like I had found my bearings. Uncertainties and questions whirled around my mind constantly. So, trying to find solid ground and seeking comfort in letting go, I wrote a list of big questions in my journal:

  • Where am I supposed to be living in this season of my life?
  • What am I meant to contribute to the world through my writing career?
  • How can I give more to others?

In January 2014, I found a church nearby and started attending regularly, because I wanted to be part of a community. More specifically, I wanted to give to others. And my church provides so many amazing opportunities to give. I signed up for committees and went to meetings and added my name to social justice petitions. I volunteered on the dinner crew for Winter Nights, an annual event where local churches provide meals and shelter for homeless families. I began serving as a Worship Associate. The church community welcomed me with open arms, and I felt connected and appreciated and loved.

sanctuary

Funnily enough, after I began attending to my faith and my spirit, other pieces of my life began to fall into place. The other questions I had asked began to receive answers. The Bay Area felt more and more like home. I made close friendships and began a relationship with a wonderful man. Instead of trying to please other writers and critics, I wrote the novel I most wanted to write. And I found a fulfilling part-time job teaching creative writing to children.

In December 2014, a year after I had asked those questions, I felt secure, like I had been given all the answers.

But then, in January, my world was rocked to the core.

Celine died in a car accident.

me holly celine in paris

All of a sudden, nothing made sense anymore.

The past six weeks have been the most difficult time of my life. Boomerang days. Roller-coaster days. I have sobbed and shaken and screamed into my pillow. I have zoned out and filled my hours with busy-busy-busy-ness; I have felt exhausted and stayed in bed most of the day. I have written pages and pages, and I have not written at all for a week. I have tried to be “strong” and I have broken down in public.

I have learned a lot.

I still have many questions. I’m still searching for ways to fit this harsh new reality into my worldview. I’m wondering how this could have happened, if my former guiding life belief — that “things happen for a reason” — is still valid, and if so, how to bring that to terms with Celine being gone. I’m trying to accept that there are things about this life that I will never understand.

mexico sunset

Mostly, I am learning how to lean on others.

It’s something I’ve never been very good at, or very comfortable with. I much prefer to be the one other people lean on — the one patting someone else’s shoulder, sending cards, baking cookies, calling out of the blue to check in. I’ve always thought of myself as strong and self-reliant. I’ve taken pride in being a person who is never “needy” or “high-maintenance.”

I’m learning that maybe I *need* to be needy, sometimes. And that’s okay.

I’m learning that the people who love me aren’t going to love me any less because I ask for help or am less “fun” to be around or take up more of their time or call them crying late at night.

It’s ironic that this is the final lesson Celine is teaching me, because she was the most fiercely independent spirit I’ve known.

celine on train

I’m learning that being part of a community isn’t just about giving to others; it is also letting others give to you, hold you, and take care of you. I do not know what I would do without the support and comfort from the people in my life — my family, friends, sweetheart, church members, colleagues, and you wonderful people who take the time to read this blog and send nice words and love.

Leonardo di Vinci said, “An arch consists of two weaknesses, which, leaning on each other, become a strength.” I have been slowly learning how to lean on others — and you have all held me up, given me strength, and made love and gratitude bloom in my heart, even in the soil of such raw pain.

st louis arch

For that, I want to say two simple words: thank you.

a year of Wooden: week 43

Hi, friends! We’re officially three days into December, which means we are moving into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge!

For the month of December, we’ll be focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed {which you may have been able to guess from the title of this blog!}… Make each day your masterpiece. In other words, we’re going to be tying everything together — all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through this challenge the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

Before we move on to December, let’s wrap up November, when our focus was to pray for guidance. Last week’s challenge, in honor of Thanksgiving, was to pray about everything you are grateful for and journal about your feelings. After a week of praying about everything that I am grateful for, I felt filled with abundance and joy. On a related note, I wrote an essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul about the wonderful life changes I experienced from the simple act of counting my blessings each night while falling asleep. You can read it here!

Moving into December, I think the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. What is your daily routine? Once you know all the details and idiosyncrasies of your routine, you can work on squeezing all the richness out of your days as possible. 

In that spirit, this week’s challenge {which was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Nicole Antoinette} is to keep an activity log for one or two or three days about how you spend your time — every minute of it! For example:

  • What time do you wake up?
  • What time do you go to bed?
  • How often do you check your email?
  • How much time do you spend browsing the Internet or watching TV?

It might feel a bit cumbersome at first to keep track of your day like this, but it is an important step. You are creating an honest assessment, there on paper in black and white, of how you spend your days — which is, in turn, how you spend your life. Be as detailed as possible!

And be honest. There’s nothing wrong with watching TV or playing video games; be honest and keep track of how you feel. If you notice feelings of guilt or discomfort about any parts of your daily routine, take note of those feelings. We’ll unpack all of this next week!  

Question for the day:

  • How did last week of praying for guidance go for you?

thanksgiving weekend recap + goals for the week of 12/1

Wow, what a Thanksgiving!! I hope you all had a great one with yummy food and lovely company. I feel like I’m still getting back to reality… and acknowledging the fact that it is officially December. How did that happen so quickly?! {Silver lining: Christmas Pandora station, here I come!}

I know this is a bit delayed, but I still wanted to share some pics with you guys from my Thanksgiving weekend at home with my fam 🙂

We hosted twelve of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner, which was incredibly fun. They could not have been more gracious guests. Many of them were international students far from home, and a few had never experienced American Thanksgiving before — it was a special treat to be able to introduce them to one of my favorite holidays!

Here’s a selfie Greg took of our whole group:
Woodsgiving

I loved helping my mom in the kitchen. Our menu included turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, a sweet potato casserole that we refer to as “Henrietta’s yams” after my Grandma’s cousin who used to bring it to Thanksgiving every year, vegetarian chili, dinner rolls, a big ol’ salad… and, for dessert, pumpkin and apple pie and pumpkin muffins! Plus, some of our guests brought delicious brownies, black forest cake, and more pie!

greg thanksgiving

20141127_153033

Two of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes... Henrietta's yams and my mom's classic stuffing!

Two of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes… Henrietta’s yams and my mom’s classic stuffing!

While I enjoy turkey with cranberry sauce on top, my favorite Thanksgiving dishes are the sides! Anyone else the same way?

The Friday after Thanksgiving, we went out for a family dinner at Brendan’s, a local Irish pub {my parents are still hooked on Irish culture and cuisine after their trip to Ireland a few months ago!} I love everything about Ireland and was excited to try out this pub, which I thought was extremely authentic both in cuisine and atmosphere… it felt like being transported to Ireland! Definitely planning to go back when I’m in town for Christmas.

Irish pub fam

After dinner, I drove Greg back down to USC and stayed with him overnight, and on Saturday morning I tagged along to his MBA student tailgate before the USC-Notre Dame football game. It was a blast to hang out with his friends — such a fun group of people! And soaking up extra time with my brother is always a gift.

usc tailgate

The rest of the weekend was spent hanging out with my parents, reading, relaxing, going for walks around the neighborhood, visiting my Gramps, and giving lots of love to Mr. Mur-dog.

murray!

Look at that face! Such a cutie-pie.

Before I wrap-up Thanksgiving 2014 completely, I just want to say that I am SO grateful for all of you! Thank you for taking time out of your day to visit my cozy little corner of the blogosphere 🙂

Now… time for goals!

weekly goals

Here’s how I did on my goals from the past couple weeks: 
– finish editing/preparing manuscript for submission
update my website
set date for Winter Writing Camp
– go to yoga class
connect with two friends

Here are my goals for this upcoming week:
– write a new chapter of my memoir
– finish holiday cards
– finish student evaluations
– publicize my Winter Writing Camp
– go to two yoga classes
– connect with two friends

Finally, here are a few of my fave Thanksgiving recipes from the Woodburn family table:
my favorite mashed potatoes
– henrietta’s yams {recipe coming soon!}
– my mom’s classic stuffing {recipe coming soon!}
pumpkin pie

Questions of the day:

  • How was your Thanksgiving?
  • What are your goals for this upcoming week?
  • What are your favorite Thanksgiving recipes?

MPM-Winter
This post is featured on Menu Plan Monday!