Dirt-Caked Feet

I’ve been in a Creative Nonfiction Writing class for a few weeks now. This piece, as titled above, required us to write about a quintessential childhood memory with over-the-top detail. Enjoy!

 

“I CALL THE MIDDLE SWING!” Nathan’s teensy brown bangs fluttered in the breeze while his red athletic shorts careened down the chipped, rust-colored paint. His porch had the kind of paint kids adore peeling off until their parents notice.

Nathan’s little sister, Kate, and I darted for the swing set in his wake. Slowly, the summer sun climbed the sky, adding dancing leaf shadows to the yard. Below our bony, breathless bodies, grass soothingly greeted the dirt-caked plains of happy feet, covered in bleeding or tender scrapes and scratches, which resulted from unforgiveable sticky, sharp pine needles, hot, gravelly asphalt, and deathly, six-pegged Legos. Our toes wiggled gleefully, knowing over 24 hours had passed since dog poop squelched and coated the smooth skin. Slightly slippery with the remnants of morning dew, the grass blades also echoed of tacky green-and-yellow Slip-n’-Slides covered in water and sprinklers with water claws. Running full speed and jumping through, we hit the jets, which almost stung, but tickled too, leaving grass and leaves clinging to chicken legs with scabbed knees. However, the number of times we laughed and screamed in delight totaled more than the amount of boo-boos on our bodies.

I hit the rubber swing fast, slamming my belly onto the seat and pushing off in the direction of our gunky pond. Coated in algae and likely filled with diseased, mutated fish, the pond glimmered with the memory of my sister’s old shovel stuck at the bottom under miles of thick black, gooey muck. Then I swung backwards on the swing, in the direction of Nathan and Kate’s family room, where a freshly-painted bar sat with brown, leftover stains from concocted drinks. Every pop imaginable fused together into the see-through shot glasses, often overflowing with bubbly fizz. Alongside the bar counter sat shelves upon shelves of CD albums and vinyl. Some glinted with the names of famous musicians and others glimmered with the neon pink, blue, and yellow color combinations only deemed recognizable by children who attended raucous, rowdy Vacation Bible Schools.

Just now the sun similarly glinted through the shivering, shaking trees above our heads, as we sat normally on our swings to pump our legs farther into the sky. Writhing, moon-colored maggots used to lie where I now sat. An old, rusting, purple and white, two-person swing set used to sit where the new, wooden, three-person set now sat. While Nathan and I flew higher, synchronizing our pumping rhythm and yelling, “We’re married!” I recalled chirping laughter between Mr. and Mrs. Scott upon asking Nathan who he wanted to marry. “Annah!” rang out with every ounce of certainty spread across the two syllables. A wiggly-toothed smile had appeared upon the baby-faced boy who often peered through my front window and shouted, “Hello?”

Kate, who had pumped higher than either of us through sheer determination and lunging backward and forward with her whole body, now flexed her legs upward. Her knees disappeared as the legs extended almost unnaturally and the toes lunged to graze the tree branches. Her tiny toes spread apart to grab hold of the wilting, weather-beaten, leaves and pull them away from their woody host. Bending downward until unable to fight anymore, the attacked branch snapped back with a rushing, fluttering, whooshing sound. Each leaf stubbornly clung to Kate’s toes before drifting single-file to the ground. When I tried for the leaves, I cupped the clump of tree appendages between my feet like a toy monkey, clanging its cymbals together abruptly. Unwillingly, the leaves admitted to the capture, while Kate cackled and screeched.

~Annah

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Quietly Confident & Sweetly Unapologetic

This is a random, word-vomit blog… just a heads-up. It’s commentary on my own character and how I’ve changed, but I’ll try to connect it to the big picture for everyone else.

I’m the type of person who describes myself as ‘nice’ or ‘friendly.’ You know, super generic words that actually don’t mean squat or give anyone a depiction of who I really am. Honestly, I never sit down to really think about my characteristics as a unique creation. I just think I don’t know… I’m Annah. People who know me know who I am… while really I can’t even describe who I am.

Some things never change about our characters, like my resilient stubbornness over the years. Just ask anyone in my family about my relationship with the word “sports” and they will laugh their heads off. I refused to play sports in elementary school and had no interest in being signed up for Girl Scouts, so I avoided both. The only time I ever considered playing a sport was after my siblings’ soccer games, when they would bring snacks back to the car. Sports = free snacks? Hmm, that’s tempting.

Throughout middle and high school I never drank a lick of alcohol and barely touched a boy. People partook in games like ‘spin the bottle,’ while I would sit in the background, shamelessly eating food.

Peer pressure? Not even miles within reach of my vocabulary.

My dad, being an English teacher, ended up being my eleventh grade teacher (and no, it was not weird, to answer literally everyone’s question.) He had us do this, dare I say, great activity where we had to write down a compliment for everyone in the class that did not involve something generic like “you’re nice.” The results were shocking and uplifting for every 17-year-old and I still remember some loud, highly-opinionated guy I seldom spoke to wrote that I had a ‘quiet confidence’ about me.

Well, little did he know, that is one of the most accurate descriptions I can think of for myself. If you want to know who Annah really is, I am quietly confident and sweetly unapologetic.

My lack of knowledge in career paths or future plans is made up for in my knowledge of my personal values, spiritual values, and what I value in other human beings. These values are where my confidence lies, so I guess that’s why I’m ‘quietly’ confident. While I may seldom have strong exterior situations to stand confident in as a college student, my interior life is sure to be rock-solid. Sprinkle some good ole stubbornness in there and my quiet confidence is not about to change anytime soon.

As I have recently realized, I am also sweetly unapologetic. I feel as if I take the characteristics I dislike about myself and force myself to pull a 180. Only two years ago I suffered through my first year of college, incredibly self-conscious and possessing a very small amount of self-esteem. Since then I have allowed my quiet confidence to flourish while my faith has taken the difficult cards dealt me and turned them into rewarding obstacles.

Similarly, my self-consciousness concerning other people has slowly begun to melt away and continues to do so today. While I still have steps to take to not let others’ words affect me so personally, I have become unapologetic in my interactions with others. I don’t mean I say whatever I want with no cares, it just means if I think someone is cool, I talk to them, which is much more than I could say two years ago.

Last year I thought this girl down my hall was cool and even though we had never properly talked, I stuck a note on her door. Since then I have gotten to talk to her lovely soul more. This past May, two cool senior guys were playing Spike Ball with their friends, so I walked up to them and asked them to teach me. Picture this: 5’1” Annah playing Spike Ball with three 6’+ guys. I randomly messaged someone from high school I said maybe two things to today, because I saw something stupid and funny I thought he would appreciate. And those are just some instances off the top of my head. 13-year-old Annah would be appalled.

I think too often we put up walls between ourselves and others, most of which are self-created. We decide we can’t talk to people because they would judge us or think it’s weird or your past is complicated or 5000 other excuses. If you think someone is the bee’s knees, you should befriend them. If some random chick does something funny in the dining hall or you see someone with a t-shirt that has your favorite Star Wars character on it, go talk to them!

Life is short, you are perfectly unique, and both forgiveness and community are unlimited. Be confident in your unique self. Talk to anyone and everyone.

(Also, I realize now I may need to add a third quality to my list: surprisingly sassy.)

~Annah

Music Makes Me Soul-Search

“It’s been a long day

Without you, my friend

And I’ll tell you all about it

When I see you again.”

I’ve heard this song a lot of times in many different contexts and it hits a little bit differently each time. But every time I hear those initial piano chords, it pulls at my heartstrings. As of 2 years ago, I associated this song with leaving my three weeks at Windy Gap, a Young Life camp in North Carolina, where I voluntarily served for three weeks folding laundry and cleaning cabins (and hosing down the lost-and-found shoes… that was nice in the 90-degree-low-of-the-day weather).

Basically, leaving Windy Gap involved the longest amount of time I have ever spent crying in my life and the one time I was genuinely mad at God. Why, God? Why would you put me in such close proximity to brothers and sisters in Christ I love to death only to be torn from them for the rest of my earthly life?

But in a way, it was God gracefully allowing me to see a glimmer of heaven.

On top of those emotions, what was the main song throughout Luke’s memorial? That’s right, the same song. When I heard the first chords my heart dropped a little, as if the significance wasn’t already emotional for me. But we were really blessed by Luke Granger. The bright, hopeful, joyful, yellow-spirited Luke Granger that looked upward no matter what was in front of him.

While no one is perfect, in a way the remembrance of Luke’s life was also a gentle reminder from God for my anxious, white-knuckling-until-the-bitter-end soul. A gentle where are you looking? nudge from Dad.

Everything is grace-driven.

So now I sit at the late hours of the evening listening once more to “See You Again,” along with an entire playlist I created called “Luke.” I sit, I listen, and I’m fidgety. I’m not content. I don’t want to sleep, I don’t want to watch a show or a movie, I do not want to continue passively watching my life flash by without any heart or soul in it. I want to write, I want to create, I want to breathe life into a dusty world.

Is anyone else bothered by their passivity?! AHH! God called us to be ACTIVE and too often in the twenty-first century we’re handed passive tool after passive tool. I’ll just sit here and worry about how my words sound instead of just writing, because I compare EVERYTHING, everything to other people.

I want to write and I am going to write. And I will tell you all about it when I see you again, friend.

~Annah

The Beauty and Heartbreak of Death

Ever since I heard of my dear family friend, Luke’s, passing yesterday afternoon I have been on the go. My mom told me, I cried a bit and prayed with some of my housemates, then I headed right to work where the stress of three classes’ homework for today hit me and the rest of the night was spent trying my best to focus on reading and writing, whilst juggling student inquiries at my secretarial job, a scattered brain, and waves of emotion. I woke up today and had my back-to-back classes and now I’m finally done and am free for a long weekend (I’m incredibly blessed to have Fridays off of class this semester).

So now that I am free, I have time to process and write this blog. Time to really consider and bring to God whatever the heck it is I’m feeling. Luke battled a rare and aggressive cancer for two long and hard years, so naturally it is relieving to know his pain and battle is over. I think about Luke’s passing and I’m struck by the thought, “Wow, God, thank you for allowing us this opportunity to choose you in our short lifetimes. Thank you, Father, that because of Jesus we now get to come home to You when we die.” I think of the blessings, I want to dwell on the blessings and the good, I’m surrounded by lovely souls who keep reminding me of the good.

But honestly, God, I’m still incredibly sad. There are still tears streaming down my face, even though I know the ultimate outcome is beyond just “good,” beyond ideal, beyond the best we can possibly think of. Luke is home and Luke is whole in the place he truly belongs and now can exist in his true untainted being, the way God intended him to be. What could be better than that? But our world is broken and Luke’s death is directly correlated to the pain and the brokenness that you and I have created, and that breaks my heart. The outcome is ultimately positive and I know deep down it is good, but as one incredible friend alluded to in a simple text message, because I still live in the realm of brokenness, my heart is broken, I experience brokenness and am not invincible to the pain, therefore, sadness is completely natural. We only see dimly in the mirror right now, so it’s going to hurt.

I’m sure everyone reading this has experienced some kind of loss or deep sorrow. The hardest part is that you cannot plan for it and everything else happening in your life at the time always seems to become trivial in a way. I’ve been to three funerals in my lifetime, the last one being at least seven years ago. I remember my grandpa’s funeral, because even though I had cried for my grandma’s, my grandpa’s funeral was when I truly understood the weight of the situation. I distinctly recall standing with my family and watching his casket being lowered into the ground and that’s when the floodgates opened. He was really gone, he was not coming back, and for now at least, we were permanently separated. I recognized the finality of death.

It hurts knowing Luke was only 17. It hurts knowing his parents and brothers have to spend the rest of their earthly lives without their youngest son and brother. It hurts that people cannot firsthand experience the joy, love, and witty jokes Luke had to offer the world. It hurts.

But there’s also comfort and that comfort lies in eternity, Luke’s peace, who God is, and God’s promises, which all eternally outlast every possible pain you can think of in this scenario.

Loss is hard but it’s also a great reminder of what is  most important: people. That is why God’s biggest mission for us is to go out and make disciples of every nation. If there is one thing you should care about other than me, God implies, it is people. And not just your best friend or your mom, but every person. Get to know as many people as possible, because they are made in God’s image too, despite their opinions and their lifestyle choices. Love on every person you meet, which I know Luke was incredibly skilled at, and don’t forget that every breath is a second chance (as Switchfoot sings) and a gift.

Luke had to undergo more than I could ever imagine over the last two years and that was really difficult for everyone to watch, but

Luke battled on the winning side.

And ultimately, all I can say is “Hallelujah, what a savior.”

As they say on Earth, rest in peace, Luke. Not that you need the well wishes. I know God is so ecstatic to have you home. Party it up.

~Annah

Summer Blessings for the Doubtful

As I move back into school tomorrow (in a new apartment with new roommates!) it’s the classic time to reflect. Today is quite literally the end of summer vacation for me. That didn’t properly hit me until yesterday when the waterworks began. Simply put, transitions will never be easy for me. I love too many people and I can’t be around everyone all the time and that is so very difficult for my empathetic, emotional little heart to swallow.

After finishing my second year at a small Christian college, a summer without internships or summer camps placed me in the minority. I barely met anyone new (unless you count customers I never saw again) and I was a barista at Biggby Coffee, which was also my job last summer. With nothing seemingly new under the sun was there anything new to learn? Of course. But honestly, at first glance I really doubted it.

Firstly, God pointed out that hey, what you think is the same actually isn’t, Annah. Nice try. As I echoed in a letter to my coworker Theo, I realized that though I worked the same job, this summer and last could not have been more black and white. Returning to the same job allowed me to rectify the two things that were sour last summer: my attitude and my self-esteem. And although I’m still no picture-perfect barista and it’s the type of job that burns me out, I was able to carry myself with way more confidence, take myself less seriously and even have many great laughs with my Biggby pals. They are a precious crew of people.

But more than anything I look back on this summer and I’m overwhelmed. I see despite my emotions, despite what I felt, God kept pushing the same messages at me: gentle whisperings saying look at my love for you. Look at the beauty I have made. This is for you. This is what he desperately wants us all to know and understand. He tried to emphasize these sentiments daily this summer for Pete’s sake and I ignored him most days! Now that I look back I just want to sit and cry like a baby because I don’t deserve this. I’m sorry, God, but have you seen me?! Have you seen the damage my words and my mind can have on other people?!

And his answer is yes, I have. But here are some more blessings for free. Here are relationships with lovely people that I want you to have for free. Here is a goofy family I want you to have for free. Here is some more air for free, as Relient K says.

He pours down food my taste buds don’t deserve daily. He drenches me in beautiful music (don’t even get me started with the majesty of this art). In a weird way, he also blesses me with a unique emotional heart that allows me to see the pain of the world. Whether it involves a friend carrying too many burdens or a friend feeling the weight of too many burdens because his body is wasting away, my heartbroken tears are a glimpse of my Father’s sorrows. Even my tears and my writing are not my own I’ve discovered, but they are a special reflection of God that no one else can offer. This may sound bizarre, but I believe God has taught me about himself through me.

Plus God taught me that I can love on others in many ways, without even planning it or even (shocker as a writer) using words! Too often I’m tempted to take matters into my own hands. Maybe if I bring up specific topics at just the right time the spirit of Christ will move in people, I think, trying to emphasize my efforts. But sometimes high-fiving someone after they buy a bike is another way to say you matter.

 

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My roommate, Kaitlyn, traveled hours to come see me. Bless her heart. (+ the Hamilton soundtrack)

 

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Me and my two pals from high school, Fran & Nichole, went to the Detroit zoo.
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Kaleigh and I went through our ups and downs, and we are now good friends. Love you, girl.
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This is only half of the McKee twins. Not only are they radiant Christ-followers, but my pals from the womb!

 

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Just another one of God’s blessings.

 

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My only legitimate new friend this summer. Kelsie, you rock, thanks for supporting my school.

 

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A walk with your mother + dog + God’s gorgeous creation = blessing.

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Enjoy that picture of yours truly. Here’s to new seasons.

~Annah

 

 

Yellow Birthday

I wrote this yesterday, 8/15/17.
Button up and button on

Today is yellow birthday

Did you hear the tears last night

Dripping into a yellow pool

That juxtaposes sass and smiles

With tired, aching, dry eyes

Yellow, sallow skin

Help

Yourself to a piece of cake

Smile and reminisce into the lens

Then drive through yellow-lit fields

A color grim and grateful

A color faint yet strong

On this dear yellow birthday

I’m reminded where I belong
~Annah

Summer 2017 Books

Nowadays, reading can be a challenge for many, because we have an internal debate that was nonexistent even a decade ago: to read or to watch Netflix? Seriously, it’s a struggle. For me, they both always sound so inviting, but one has to win out over the other. My reading patterns consist of either seasons of constant reading or seasons without reading. But whenever I begin seasons of reading I always wonder why I ever stopped. It is relaxing, it is engaging, and it is fun. I wholeheartedly believe that if you don’t like reading, you just haven’t found the right book for you yet.

My “to-read” list is probably about a mile long, but this summer I was able to take out a teeny chunk of it. I’ve been tempted to start a new section of my blog where I review all kinds of entertainment, so why not kick it off with my summer booklist? I’ve read a wide range, from self-help, to novels, to religious books this summer. So sit back, grab a refreshing drink, and see what grabs your interest.

  1. Les Misérables by: Victor Hugo (Sort of…)

I actually already read three-quarters of this book two years prior for AP English, but I finally finished that last quarter this summer! (I know, very long overdue.) Although a long time coming, this is actually my favorite novel. I’ve realized what warms my heart the most within books are redeemed characters, which Jean Valjean most certainly is. The theme of redemption provides the hope that no one has to be enslaved to a certain lifestyle or attitude, and our circumstances are always susceptible to change.

This is also one of the longest books I have ever heard of with the most intricate detail and is not for the faint of heart. But if you want to really invest yourself in a story and characters with great depth to them, if you like the musical or movie and want more detail, if you enjoy seeing a cast of characters of all kinds, then this one’s for you.

  1. The Book Thief by: Markus Zusak

Set in Germany during Hitler’s reign and narrated by Death, this book became popular a few years ago. Unfortunately I was not a part of that trend, but after blowing through it in two days and crying my eyes out, I can confidently say this is one of my new favorite books. Voice and language is what Zusak does best and are the tools that will keep this story embedded in your mind. The characters are easy to fall in love with and the narrative is a powerful page-turner. I would recommend this to everyone, regardless of your reading interests.

  1. Mary Poppins by: P.L. Travers

I grew up with this movie and absolutely loved it, which may be part of the reason that I personally was a little let down by the book. I have always been a firm believer that a movie can never be as great as a book, but have always loved both equally in their separate entities (I’m a very optimistic entertainment-retainer, you could say). This is a lovely book for children, with its imaginative series of events. However, if you’re anything like me, and love taking deep themes and messages away from stories, this book is not the best for that. Something I really enjoyed from the movie was the character development of Mr. Banks and the contrast between the fun and silliness with Mary and the kids, to the serious troubles of an adult man, which really caters to every audience and hits a deeper chord. Mr. Banks’ development was not present in the book and Mary was also a much more serious and stern character in the book (although that character change had to have been a result of Disney.) Personally, I preferred the more lighthearted version of Mary that Julie Andrews portrayed and thought a stern Mary who created imaginative events wherever she went seemed a bit odd. But if you want a light read with lots of silliness and imagination, or a good book for your children, this is a great one.

  1. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by: Don Miguel Ruiz

This was a different kind of book for me, but I wanted to read it because it meant a lot to a friend. I’m really thankful I did, though, because I think it’s crucial to read all kinds of viewpoints and lifestyles, not just those like your own. That’s how we learn from each other and understand each other better.

This book is perfect for those of you looking to better your life and seek personal happiness outside of the major religions. I appreciated the sentiments behind the four agreements, and as a Christian, was able to see some similarities between the two different belief systems, which was super interesting. If finding new ways to personal freedom or seeking to understand other viewpoints interests you, here’s your book.

  1. Mere Christianity by: C.S. Lewis

I’ve always been a Christian who prefers to stick with the Bible and is not interested in other Christian books, but I ended up reading not only this spiritual book, but the next two on this list, which is really different for me. (Not going to lie, during the period of reading The Four Agreements and these three, I basically had separation anxiety from novels.) Lewis is so intellectual that it blows my mind. Everything he writes is so articulate and it makes me think he came out of the womb using words like ‘obsequious’ and ‘taciturn.’ Talk about thorough though, this book is 100% thorough. It’s also dense and not a quick read, so expect to really put your thinking cap on every time you sit down to read. This is not a book to change anyone’s mind about anything, but if you really appreciate sound, structured arguments with solid examples to back them up and/or you want to reaffirm your Christian beliefs, you have exactly that within this book.

  1. Mister God, This is Anna by: Fynn

This is one of my mother’s favorites and so I thought I’d try it out. Sure enough, I opened to the first page and she had ‘Anna’ and ‘Joy’ circled, which are my first and middle names. The author is actually the main character in the book and it appears to be based on a true story, but the difference between the truth and fiction is not certain. The story centers around a wild and confident four-year-old girl named Anna who is taken home to live with a nineteen-year-old man named Fynn and his family. In the time he lives with Anna, Fynn learns about ‘Mister God,’ this important relationship in Anna’s life. This book offers unique perspectives of God that may offer a fresh viewpoint for interested Christians.

  1. Jesus > Religion by: Jefferson Bethke

Like The Book Thief, I made quick work of this one. Not only was the title intriguing, but I’ve been watching Bethke’s YouTube videos for a couple years now and knew I would love his style of writing. Compared to C.S. Lewis, Bethke is almost the opposite writing style—very simplified but straightforward, with many emotional and real-life examples to back up his points. His points don’t require a ton of concentration, but may stir up some disagreement among Christians, as he focuses on how we are living/where we’re failing as a church versus how we should be living.

  1. The Good Earth by: Pearl S. Buck

As I write this, I still have 50 pages left, so this may be “cheating,” but I’m going to give my review from what I know of most of it. This is an incredibly intriguing novel that deals with Chinese culture and Buck received the Pulitzer Prize for it back in 1932. I never read nearly enough ethnic literature, so I’ve enjoyed this excursion (added to the fact that it’s my first novel in two months). It focuses on Wang Lung and his family as they battle through multiple famines and family hardships. This is a great book to help expand your cultural knowledge (within reason, as it is still a novel) and would also be awesome for a book club—my copy even has some great discussion questions in the back!

I hope you enjoyed this review post! There were a lot of ‘firsts’ within this group of books and the eclectic mixture ended up being really cool. So I hope you all could find one you’re interested in taking the time to read and I will try my best to keep reading and reviewing books whenever I can! I definitely have a reading list that will keep me busy.

~Annah