on dinner parties and "thank you, thank you, thank you"

it's been a hard year, folks. 

Simply put, there was a significant roadblock placed in my life recently, unfortunately and unfairly connected to my mental illness, that very nearly derailed my going into the counseling profession. That's probably the most I should say about it here if I want to maintain my poise and professionalism, which I do. Those two things have been my anchor in a murky and stormy last few weeks, and they served me well and saw me through; a lesson, I think, in why the discomfort of grace under pressure is a worthwhile venture. Anyway, it's a situation that makes my skin crawl and my blood boil; it feels prejudicial and unwelcome, during a season in which I've felt better than I've felt in years. [Note: Never will I ever back down from my transparency about having a mental illness. Lots of ups and downs and breaches of trust this year, but for now, I still believe in the redemptive power of openness and vulnerability, even after this, even in the face of judgement and prejudice, because I've seen it heal and help more than I've suffered because of it.]

Even so, I'm cooking again, and that's important. That's the whole point. With sea salt and olive oil and oregano. Tilapia and salmon and almond encrusted flounder. I'm hostessing; I'm coming back to the things I love about life. I just came out of a season in which I forgot about all of this stuff, and the forgetting caused some damage and some problems. A quick synopsis for those of you who missed it: it wasn't a good time. My catch phrase of February was probably, "I"m in a really weird place right now." I'm not very good at having a rebellious phase, but I sure tried. It's simply not my nature and I'm paying for it dearly in some ways, but all the same, am learning from it in others. Oh goodness, on my best days I am still such a mess. I will always be learning, I will always be making mistakes and I will always be paying for them. I've also learned, though, that I will always have my support system. Amidst the tumultuousness and yes, despair, of this past season, I look back at all the people who stood by me and I'm thankful. I'm grateful for the letters, the phone calls, the international Skype sessions, the coffee dates, the unspoken prayers and words and everything else. I'm thankful for those who mourned things with me, for reminders that I've overcome the odds before, and for those who celebrated with me when that came true, somehow, amazingly, again. I can't say enough good things. Especially about Boone, about my classmates and the people who sprung up out of the woodwork to rally behind me and stopped in their tracks to cook and clink glasses and solemnize with loud and true voices the moment all the courage and quiet hope paid off; all the new and old friends, here and all over the world, who had faith in me when I did not and carried me when I needed that, who believed, believed, believed.

I had a good talk with a dear, dear friend on the phone today. She and I are so alike in most ways, which I love, and are at opposite poles in other ways. She wants a fast-paced, high-power career, which she'll have and arrive at all in good time and because of her own volition and flair and natural ability to climb her way to such things. And me, I just want to slow down. After all the questions I throw out at myself, about what I want my life to be like and how I feel called or compelled to spend it, I want slowness. And by that, I mean I want to have a family. And I know it's ridiculous to liken "slowness" to "having a family." Humor my naive 22-year-old self. Because I used to not want that at all; let's all jump back to all those years I spent knee-deep in science and medical governor's school and neuroanatomy coloring books when I was, oh, 12. I can't quite believe that I ever wanted that as badly as I did, and when I see people who are actually headed in that direction, it makes so much sense that I strayed off that path. It feels like a mistake, but it wasn't at all. I used to want success and a lot of money, a lot of stuff. And you know what? In the past year, I've gained those things to a degree. I have a 4.0, I have a really impressive job (that I got more or less because I had "Wofford" on my resume) at which I'm making entirely too much money for a graduate student. And as a result, I go buy a lot of stuff. The point is, success, status, money, I have all that stuff right now. And it's not enough; it's not even close. Actually, it's all stuff I more or less tolerate in order to get to the good stuff

the dinner parties with chicken alfredo and champagne and good people crowded around a table;
picking up the tab for the hours on hours spent at Panera with sweet college girls who I love with my whole heart and more;
sending kids to WyldLife camp because I sure wish someone had done that for me when I was in middle school;
9 people in my Jeep (sorry, Mom) on the way to who-knows-where with Notorious B.I.G. on full blast

So I guess, what I'm learning, in the glimpses of stillness and through the gift of good people, is that I'm living the dream. Right now. In Boone. Somebody stop the presses, because who ever thought I'd say that? I'm not where I thought I'd be, that's for sure, but I think I ended up where I needed to go. I saw that on a sign somewhere, and laughed at the cheesiness of the sentiment until I realized how true it was. 

The truth is, I'm not sure what the season after this one will bring. I think we all have these visions of what our life will be like, and when things start to go awry, we panic. We don't like the onset of change or catastrophe, but when we look back, don't the most unexpected good things in our life come as a result of one of those? My hope is that it'll involve South Carolina and very, very little snow. I don't know if I'll get to be a mom, I'm not promised that, but it's the dream. It's the absolute dream, more than being a doctor with a lot of money ever was. What I learned from this past season is that when you run away from who you really are, it's an absolute disaster. At least for me, it is. I'm not me when I'm not cooking and writing and counseling, and I wasn't doing any of those things. I was buying a lot of stuff, and being a snot, and giving my time to people who didn't really need it and putting my heart in hands that were not capable or worthy of holding it, which I absolutely know and believe, as much as I believe that the sun will come up tomorrow and that dogs are the best part of life and that Long John Silver's is delicious, thank you very much. 

I'm coming back, is what I'm trying to say. Maybe it's the medication, maybe it's the product of years and years of working through things, maybe it's just time. But I'm pretty sure it has a lot to do with people and champagne and dinner parties, and the little things we do to make the days mean more, and all the times people loved me in ways that were not at all connected to how much stuff I have. 

And so friends, hello again. It's good to be back. Maybe not back, fully, but I've done some studies and taken some polls, and I hear lots of good words that make my heart sing, like "you're coming back to life," and "you actually laugh again," and goodness gracious, those are good things to hear. Mostly because I believe them now. I'm thankful for the things I still don't understand and the questions I still have, and for the posture of faith in God, most of all, but also in myself, in which I can stand and say, "I will try again tomorrow," and "It'll make sense one day," and "Please pass the oregano, dear one." And so tomorrow is breakfast for dinner, with pancakes and french toast and eggs and bacon and fresh fruit. Wednesday is work at a job that I love, not because of the money, but because of the people and the best boss around and iced chai, followed by a coffee date and then baked italian parmesan encrusted chicken and a sleepover, because it's summer now and I have a queen-sized air mattress and laughter to share. This weekend, it's more celebrating and saying a thank-you to life by saying a thank-you to people that I love and probably eating cake in some way, shape, or form. It's people. Because things are just things, and people are what's important. People are helping me see that being here, this year and this place, wasn't a mistake at all. The only mistake was thinking that it was one, because this place right here is exactly where I needed to be all along.