The Places in Between

I have revamped and renamed my blog here at After several months of struggling with the nature of blogs and my reasons for blogging, I have settled (for now) on this being a place where I just write. It will be a mishmash of essays, the results of writing exercises, thoughts on the ordinary and reflections on faith.  Continue reading

I need to write. I feel like more of myself when I write. And I want to put some of what I write out there for others to read since a few people have told me they enjoy reading what I write. This is not a mommy blog. I have no desire to write about mothering and my kids all the time. Although I may write about mothering and my kids on occasion. This is not a Christian I-Need-To-Build-My-Tribe blog. I don’t think I can play that game.

So I’m just going to write.

The title of this website defines how I feel much of the time. At 39, I’m not old, but I’m no longer young. Although I am bipolar, I spend most of my life  in the space in the middle of being manic or depressed. My children are in their tween years and still need me, but they don’t need me as much as they used to. I’m moving forward on my journey, but I haven’t “arrived.” (Does anyone ever?) I’m content with being in the places in between and want to pay attention to the view and enjoy the ride.

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For 2015: More and Less

More waiting. Less distraction.

More presence in the moment. Less worrying about the future.

More books, music and art. Less Twitter, Facebook and news streams.

More walks and sunshine. Less time just thinking about walks and sunshine.

More writing. Less fear.

More balance. Less all-or-nothing thinking.

More feeling. Less numbing.

More hope.

More gratitude.

More joy.

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My 2014

I generally don’t read other people’s annual reviews. And I doubt many people will read mine. But on Sunday, I read this, and I’m so glad I did. After perusing Austin Kleon’s list, I didn’t have any feelings of shame or insecurity. I didn’t make comparisons. I was able to appreciate it for what it is. It made me want to put myself in the way of more music, books and art. It made me want to pay more attention. And it inspired me to look through my journals, think through the past year and make my own record of “things that made my 2014.” So, here goes… (In no particular order.)

1. Wanting more and dreaming about more.

2. My job as the Community Group Coordinator at Red Mountain Church.

3. Newer, blossoming friendships.

4. Older friendships rooted in  love and loyalty.

5. Tim’s continued love, companionship and support of our children and me.

6. Being able to witness (and impact?) my children’s continued growth and development of their gifts.

7. Riley’s poetry.

8. The Psalms.

9. Isaiah.

10. Establishing weekly family worship.

11. Opportunities to sit with friends in their pain and difficult circumstances.

12. My friends’ presence in the midst of my pain and difficult circumstances.

13. Our church community group.

14. New babies in our various circles of friends. So many new babies.

15. Soy lattes.

16. Good words. Especially from Madeleine L’Engle, Parker Palmer, Frederick Buechner, Eugene Peterson, Markus Zusak, Nora Ephron, Anne Lamott and Shauna Niequist.

17. Julie Sparkman’s Idol Addiction Study. (For the third time.)

18. Playing Ticket to Ride with my family.

19. The Macaroni and Cheese recipe from American Masala.

20. First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.

21. Taylor Swift’s 1989.

22. Ina’s Herb-Marinated Pork Tenderloin recipe.

23. The perfect nail color.

24. Sweet times with and memories of Happy dog.

25. Vincent van Gogh’s Tree Roots.

26. Watching So You Think You Can Dance with Riley.

27. Watching sports (especially Auburn football) with Tim and Brady.

28. Coming out on the other side of a struggle with moderate depression during January and February of this year.

29. The loving, concerned way Tim asked multiple times during my struggle with depression, “Is there anything I can do?”

30. Being more comfortable with focusing on doing the next, right thing. Especially when I’m depressed, anxious or overwhelmed.

31. Learning (thanks to my therapist) that sometimes the next, right thing is to feel my feelings.

32.  My first submission to a literary magazine.

33. My first rejection from a literary magazine.

34. A writing class with Maya Stein.

35. Leaning more into writing even though there’s plenty of fear and insecurity. Because our stories matter.

36. Monthly appointments with my spiritual director.

37.  Coming to terms with my disordered eating and getting help.

38. Having more opportunities to see God’s provision for my family and me.

39. Calm.

40. Ending a year, that was hard in many ways, with hope.

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For Red Mountain Church’s Website: In Ordinary Time

I recently wrote something for my church’s website. Here’s an excerpt:

Yesterday I realized we are about half-way through Ordinary Time and I have barely noticed its passage. I have overlooked an unopened present that’s been in plain sight for weeks, unaware that a thing of great beauty might be inside it. In early June I purchased a devotional book about Ordinary Time that a friend recommended, intending to use it throughout this season until Advent. I read the introduction then promptly forgot about it. Because of my neglect, it has made its way to the bottom of the stack on my bedside table, now residing under books that seem more exciting or life-giving. Maybe because my experience of time lately has been rote I couldn’t consciously dive deeper into the ordinary. Maybe I already have enough.

To read the full post, please visit the Red Mountain Church website

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Writing, Revealing and Making Messes

In Old Friend from Far Away, Natalie Goldberg writes, “Writing needs raw truth, wants your suffering and darkness on the table, revels in a cutting mind that takes no prisoners, wants to hear about an abortion, a broken heart, a failed job, a lost opportunity.” Then she asks the reader to write for ten minutes about what you are not willing to reveal. I wrote a long list in that short period of time, and I could have kept going.

What struck me the most while doing this exercise is that the things I don’t want to admit to others are things I don’t want to admit to myself. I can write about some of my past suffering and raw truths–the experiences and disappointments that I have come to terms with over time. But I struggle with writing openly about things from my past that I haven’t made peace with yet or about my present suffering and raw truths. At times it’s difficult to be vulnerable and honest with myself, let alone with anyone else. I like to have more control over how others perceive me, and I guess over how I perceive myself, which makes me mostly unwilling to go there in a completely honest way. And I realize not everything needs to be written for the consumption of others. Perhaps knowing where that line exists is one of the keys to taking more risks in my writing. I need to practice coming closer to the line that separates the private from the public, but with attention and perception to make sure the line is not crossed.

But does this idea of making everything so tidy and rigid with a straight line that can’t be crossed bring me too close to an attempt at being perfect? Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

So maybe the line is blurry, or a zigzag or even like a swirl of yarn that can’t be untangled. Making a mess of things with my writing would not be the end of the world. Stepping into the mess of exploring things I haven’t yet found any boxes for and crossing a perceived line might be the kind of risks I should be willing to take.

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This is the second post of a two-part piece offering a glimpse into my world during my second manic episode in 2011. The first post can be found here

It is difficult to get out of bed. I feel too paralyzed to face the ordinary tasks of life. To escape my own story, I overdose on others’ stories. I seek short bursts of connection on Twitter or Facebook and information highs through reading multiple blog posts and news articles. I turn to food to numb the over-stimulation. Then I try to drown everything out with music. I put my headphones on and blast Johnny Cash, U2 or Beyoncé, their lyrics offering escape from the noise created by my own mind. The relief from these coping mechanisms does not last long, but I continue to go to them again and again.

My parents travel from Florida to our home in Birmingham, Alabama, to help. Our refrigerator is stocked with meals from friends, and my daughter and son are whisked away for extended play dates. My husband uses several of his vacation days so he can better care for our children and me. I can see the exhaustion and worry in his eyes but I’m incapable of comforting or reassuring him. I’m scared I’m not going to get better, that I’m never going to heal.

But there are small improvements over time. The new medications continue to decrease the effects of the mania, and I’m eventually able to lower the doses so I can have more energy. Therapy is going well, too. I am learning how to replace my paranoid thoughts with truthful thoughts and have plenty of opportunities to practice this new skill. When I feel like I am being watched by whoever is in on the conspiracy while playing outside with my children or when I think my husband and parents are giving each other secret hand signals to communicate about me when I’m in the room, I’m able to convince myself those scenarios are not likely. Continue reading

After two weeks, I arrive at a point where I am stable enough to re-enter more of life. My psychiatrist and therapist are telling me to incorporate some day-to-day activities despite the mania and paranoia. Even though it is overwhelming, I try to do as they recommend because I know I can’t stay in bed or on my iPhone with a bag of M&Ms forever.  It’s time to practice wellness. It’s time to move through the discomfort and re-establish a routine and a rhythm.

My husband brings me coffee and awakens me. I wrap both hands around the steaming ceramic mug and drink deeply, thinking through what lies before me: Getting out of bed, changing into jeans and a T-shirt, brushing my teeth, walking my dog, caring for my children, preparing meals and interacting with my husband and others who might cross my path. I wonder how I’m going to be able to make it and am tempted to give up even before I attempt to make my first move. But something inside me wants to be well. Something inside me wants life. I tell myself to plant my feet on the floor beside my bed and stand up. I am in motion. I move forward and fight against what makes more sense. Staying in bed and tuning out is a mirage in a desert. It seems to offer me what I need, but it is not life-giving.

I proceed through the day and adjust my focus on what is right before me instead of the whole picture. As I spend time with my children, manage their exposure to screens and referee their arguments, I’m on auto-pilot. I remember the guilt I felt during my first manic episode when I beat myself up because I could not care for them the way I wanted to, the way I thought I needed to. This time I know they are OK. They are safe and content. They have my presence, even though I am not fully present. We are making it, and that is enough for now.

While gathering up the dirty laundry, I’m on the brink of tears.  I sort through the piles and throw a load of white towels into the washing machine. Twenty minutes later, I move them over to the dryer. After an hour, they are clean and dry.  When I am folding the towels and putting them away in the bathroom cabinet, I recognize there is not much room for paranoia in the midst of doing these daily, somewhat- mindless tasks. My body and mind have moved through these motions so many times, I know the choreography by heart. What I often experience as drudgery is now offering me comfort and safety.

I bring myself—a small part of my self—to my kitchen and make a pot of chicken, white bean and rosemary soup. It’s the same recipe I used before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is the same recipe I will use ten and twenty years from now. It’s the same recipe I use if I am manic or depressed or somewhere in-between.  Somehow, through the act of soaking the beans, sautéing the onions, chopping the chicken and breathing in the aroma of the rosemary, I am connected to both my health and my brokenness. I serve the soup to my family. As we share this meal, we are connected to more of each other.

My dog and I meander through the neighborhood along our usual route and a sense of order is restored. With each step along the familiar paths, truth reveals itself more and more to my tortured mind like the June sun leaving its mark on my face. The blooming orange daylilies and pink and blue hydrangeas in my neighbors’ yards serve as beacons, helping me remember the past and helping me have hope for the future. They remind me of the cycle of birth, life and death, and with this knowledge a seed of faith is planted. I have assurance I will eventually come out on the other side.

And I do. After six weeks I wake up one morning and the mania and paranoia are gone. A switch has been flipped in the recesses of my brain. It is as if someone stood up and said, “We are all done here.” In an instant I am both relieved and fearful. My mind is no longer held hostage, but a severe depression is on its way. My battle is not finished. It will never be finished.

So I keep fighting. I take my medications and go to therapy. And I immerse myself in the daily. I do the laundry and clean our home. I run errands and cook dinner. I spend time with my husband, children and friends. I also crawl back into bed with my iPhone and chocolate. But I don’t get stuck there for too long anymore. After a while, I find the courage again to do the next, right, usually mundane thing. Because I know the ordinary is where healing resides.


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This is the first post of a two-part piece offering a glimpse into my world during my second manic episode in 2011. The second post can be found here

I’m in orbit. Again. We have been waiting for this since my first manic episode four years ago when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My psychiatrist has reminded me during my checkup appointments every six months that most people with my illness who have a manic episode will have at least one more. Even though I’ve been warned, I’m not fully prepared for the whiplash I experience as I spiral into a distorted world created by my own mind.

I tried to hold it back before it had a full grip on me. I took some extra meds for a few nights so I could get more sleep. I even went to see my psychiatrist so he could tell me I was OK. If I could sit on his couch in my bright pink sundress with a cheery and confident demeanor and convince him I was healthy, maybe I could also convince myself. He told me I seemed fine.  Twenty-four hours later I am swimming in a sea of crazy. Continue reading

Now that I am in it, I can tell it has been building up over the past two months. I can see a version of the truth and a slice of the past that brought me to this point. The triggers were there. A former pastor of mine just died of pancreatic cancer, and a dear friendship recently ended. I have been staying up late most nights working on a community newsletter project and have not been getting enough sleep. Also, it’s late spring—a time of the year when I usually experience some mild mania.

I’m experiencing feelings of euphoria; the sun is brighter, the sky is clearer, colors are bolder and everything is more interesting. But I’m also paranoid and having hallucinations. There are too many connections and coincidences, which provide evidence of a conspiracy. My husband is in on it. My kids are too. My brain is engaged in a game of tug-of-war and insanity is winning.

My husband and I return to my psychiatrist’s office. We wind up the dark, concrete stairway, enter through the heavy-as-iron door and wait. I wonder if anyone else in the room is as crazy as I am. When we’re called back to his office, we settle into the couch and relay my latest actions and our concerns. I’m speaking with more intensity and speed than the previous day. And I’m distracted by a wound on my psychiatrist’s forehead. It seems to grow larger with each passing minute. I’m convinced it is makeup and some kind of special effect—a test to see my reaction. I can’t recall seeing it the day before when I was trying so desperately to avoid where I am now. My mind is torn. I want to trust those who are trying to care for me, but everything seems staged.

After just a few minutes of listening to and observing me, he confirms what we already know: This is my second manic episode. We leave with prescriptions for additional medications and instructions for me to get as much sleep as much as possible. Since we’re catching it early, outpatient treatment seems like the best option.

While my 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son are snuggled in my bed with me the next morning, I promise to give them an electronic game system if they will tell me the secret they have been told to keep from me. I sneak out and go to a neighbor’s house for help. I’m sure she knows some answers and can provide assistance. I ask her to move my car around to the back of her house so no one can see I’m there. She takes her newborn baby with her when she moves my car. While at her house, I change the passwords for my email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, because I’m positive someone has hacked into my computer and is stealing my identity. I call an attorney to discuss divorcing my husband.

My erratic behavior continues for a few more days until the medications work their magic. I’m still manic, but everything is in slow motion. My euphoria and hallucinations have been replaced with irritability and frustration. The large amounts of drugs in my system have caused a medically induced layer of depression. The paranoia remains.

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Five Minutes Every Day

10:56 a.m.

Not much can happen in five minutes. I stare at the lines of my Moleskine and twirl my pencil for at least 30 or 45 seconds. Then I spit something out onto the paper–something horrible that will most likely go nowhere. But there are words. There are seeds of ideas forming. My mind and my heart and my hand and my pencil are all connected, doing the work of creating. Just for five minutes. Then I stop.

My goal is to write every day, so five minutes is very doable. I’ll increase the time by five minutes every two weeks until I hit the hour mark. Then I’ll allow myself to go over the allotted time. But for now I stop. It reminds me of when I read aloud with my kids (although it’s been a while since I’ve read aloud to them…) and whenever I stop at a really good part they beg me to keep reading. But I don’t because it’s so great to give them time to savor what they’ve heard and space to anticipate what will be coming in the future.

All week I’ve been writing late at night, right before I go to sleep. But today it’s 10:56 a.m., while my kids are home and there is laundry to do and dishes to clean and meals to plan and a grocery list to make. And I wish my goal was longer. But I know there will be more time tomorrow. And even more in the weeks to come. So I’ll wait in this space with anticipation, wondering what the future may hold.


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A Love Affair

It is George’s idea. I go along with his suggestion and feel like I’m crossing a threshold into adulthood.

After clearing away the lunch dishes, our server places two white ceramic saucers on the crisp, starched table cloth and crowns each one with a matching cup. He presents a silver pot and pours the coffee before leaving our table. I reach for the cream and sugar, but George stops me. “You should drink it black,” he says.

We have been friends for six years and are about to go our separate ways for college. He has taught me about music—primarily R.E.M. and Bob Dylan, with a mix tape of various jazz musicians thrown in there. He introduced me to sushi and sake. He took me to my first independent film at the Capri Theatre. And now he’s heading off to Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. I’ll be at a small liberal arts school an hour and a half from our hometown. So I drink it black.

Except for the few curious sips out of my parents’ mugs as a child, this is my first coffee experience. I don’t particularly like the taste. It’s little more than colored, caffeinated water, but I finish it and allow our server to give me a refill.

During the fall of my sophomore year, one of my suite mates mentions how much she loves studying at O’Henry’s Coffee Shop. The next day I’m restless and need a change of scenery (or an excuse to put off my Organic Chemistry homework), so I look it up in the phone book, call for directions and make my way there. It’s situated in the quaint downtown area of Homewood, a city in the Birmingham metro area about 15 minutes from Birmingham-Southern College. It is on a street lined with boutiques, an upscale salon and restaurants. There is a record store next door. I’m immediately captivated with the atmosphere and vibe of the area. Continue reading

The bell on the door jingles when I open it, and I step out of the early afternoon sunshine into a whole new world. There is wall dedicated to rows and rows of glass cases filled with coffee beans from all over the world. Vibrant art is hung in prominent spots along the other walls and Van Morrison is coming out of the speakers overhead. Students are studying with mugs beside their textbooks, children are drinking hot chocolate while their moms chat over more sophisticated beverages and a couple of businessmen seem to be discussing something very important.

They have several types of brewed coffee, espresso drinks (I’ve never heard of espresso.) and a wide variety of decadent desserts, muffins and scones available for purchase. I order a medium cup of the bold blend—African Classic—and find a place at a small round table. I drink it black.

This is not anything like my first cup of coffee with George or the hundreds of others I’ve had during late night study sessions with classmates at the Denny’s a few blocks from campus. This is much more than colored, caffeinated water. I have discovered real coffee—coffee full of flavor and “floral overtones and citrus acidity.” Before leaving O’Henry’s and the neighborhood that seems to be pulling me into its magnetic field, I fill out an application to work there.

During every shift, I drink coffee, espresso and Americanos. At first I stay away from the flavored coffees and chocolate-y mochas, but I eventually try them only to discover I really do prefer the black options without sugar, milk or whipped cream. Whenever I leave, my hair and clothes reek of coffee. My car even smells like coffee. When I’m not working, I go there often to study or have coffee dates with friends. My love affair with coffee has begun. 

…to be continued

This is the result of a writing prompt from Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. It’s a first-ish draft, and there is a lot more to the story which I will most likely work on in the near future. I struggle here with the details about the first visit to O’Henry’s. I don’t remember what types of people were sitting at the tables or what kind of music was playing. I did order African Classic and drank it black. So is this piece truthful? Mostly. I might take those questionable tidbits out and try to reach for more that I really do remember. But now I need to go clean my house and do some laundry.


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A Writing Exercise: Why I Am Who I Am

“Little girls are to be seen and not heard.”

I remember the thick, lingering smell of sawdust when my dad was building a tool shed behind my childhood home. Whenever he was working, I would make my way to the saw horses, scoop up handfuls of the feathery fragments and breathe in the earthy, smoky aroma. Two decades later when I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I hired a contractor to renovate our kitchen and bathroom. I was suffering from terrible nausea, and the sawdust odor was especially repulsive to my first trimester sense of smell. Every night I would sink into our overstuffed moss green couch, watch Trading Spaces and wonder if I’d ever recover.

The Beatles    Chicago    Grandma Byrd’s jewelry box    cabbage rolls   Grandma Boyd’s Oil of Olay    Dallas    swing set    train tracks    peanuts   oranges    olives    my mom’s black eyeliner    tape recorder    roller skates rosin    blisters    bourbon    reel-to-reel    yellow shag carpet   “You Are My Sunshine”    nap time    Soul Train    Annie    root beer floats    red geraniums     Easter egg hunts    Aunt Carol’s wedding    Aunt Betty’s cigarettes    Fluffy     Stand by Me    Little House on the Prairie    pink leg warmers    Tang    

My daughter’s hair is thick and silky straight. It falls below her shoulders and is perfect for braiding. Except for the one golden streak near her face, it’s the color of chocolate. Those bleached strands are visible evidence of her independent, free spirit. And they prove I’m a mama who picks her battles.

*This post is the result of a writing exercise by Dinty W. Moore in Creative Writing Demystified, although I found the exercise on a random website after Googling “creative nonfiction prompts.” Moore says it’s “an experimental essay, in collage form…” and that I should “marvel at the unexpected connections and odd logic.” 


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