I Will Always Love You

My younger sister, Betsy, just left to head back to Washington, DC. She came to visit me in Chattanooga for the weekend to celebrate her 37th birthday. It’s crazy when your younger sibling turns 37. Not only do I keep thinking I’m 37, I feel more like 27. Funny how the mind needs to be convinced that the body is not what it once was. I wake up with cricks in my neck, not from a night out of dancing, but from sitting on the couch in a slightly different manner than my usual lounge posture.

With my husband out of town for the week and a freezer full of pre-made dinners, I had plenty of time on my hands to prepare for her arrival. She’s been living alone since the beginning of the pandemic, and while she is the strong one in the family, I know it’s been really hard on her, if for no other reason than she often feels like she has to be the strong one. Being that I’m the middle child, I often had no problem flailing my emotions about, making it very clear I needed attention. I have since grown out of it, for the most part, but I still have my moments.

I was 28 years old before I realized that being a MIDDLE child meant I had a YOUNGER sister… meaning I wasn’t just a middle child, I was a big sister, with some one to look after other than myself. It was groundbreaking. We’ve been close ever since.

I set my intentions ahead of time, I had recently read the Art of Gathering and I learned that a good gathering isn’t just about the decor or the food, but about the intention you have for the gathering and how well you carry it out. My intention for her time at my house was to create a space for her to feel celebrated, but more so, loved and special; knowing this helped me think through what might make Betsy feel that way.

Since she lives a busy life in DC, she doesn’t often have time to do the things she’d like to do: cook, decorate, take a bath. Living alone means she’d probably even more so like to be on the receiving end of someone cooking for her, someone decorating her space, and… well, the bath she can do on her own.

I spent the week preparing for her arrival, from making the decorations and hanging them, to making the cake and the cake topper…

Though Josh and I have been living in Chattanooga since November, we have to yet to find a kitchen table we like… partly because Josh keeps saying he is going to make one, but we’re going on month four of that not happening, so I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, I went down to Wal-Mart and grabbed a cheap folding table to cover up.

Betsy and I used the table once the whole weekend  and spent the rest of the time eating at the kitchen counter or on the couch. I guess it’s true that decor is a mere addition, take it or leave it, compared to the over all purpose of the gathering and being together.

The day she flew in she had already spent an extra three hours in the DC airport due to delayed flights. She was getting in much later than planned and I knew she’d be tired, not just from the flight, but the work week she had just come off of. I wouldn’t be able to fix her energy levels, but I could certainly make her feel welcome, and hopefully get her laughing after a long day.

I dressed for the occasion and awkwardly waited for her to come down the escalator in the Chattanooga Airport…

After waiting a while, enduring stares and little girls saying “Mommy, look” while pointing at me, Betsy finally started to come down the escalator. As soon as I saw her I began playing the Sisters song from White Christmas, you know how it goes…

And in no time, though tired from travel, delayed flights and a DC work week, she laughed out loud as I continued to sing and act out the song until she reached me.

“Welcome to your birthday weekend!” I yelled, and proceeded to keep playing and singing the song until we reached the car. I may have overdone it a little, but I’m still a middle child, sometimes I can’t help myself.

When she got in the car I had snacks and an itinerary for the weekend, letting her know she didn’t have to think about or plan a thing, it was all taken care of, all she had to do was enjoy it.

I’m not sharing all this to say “look at all I did!” (Maaaaybe the middle child part is saying that), I’m sharing it to say, it took me 38 years to do something like this for someone who’s been a part of my life all 38 years. It was long overdue and I’m grateful I was allowed the space in time to make it happen for her. I’m sharing it to say, I realized it’s never too late to make someone feel loved and special.

I played Hanson when we walked in the door, our childhood obsession. With the house decorated at each corner, she’d let out a little scream as she’d see something new. I had snacks at the ready while I finished making dinner.

After dinner she took a bath, an often daily ritual for her until pipes in her apartment burst and she hadn’t been able to take a bath for weeks. We joked about how anxious she must be since she’s only been able to take a shower, “yea,” she laughed, “sometimes I take two baths a day!” I suppose that’s what happens when you live and work in Washington, DC… you take two baths a day, not just to relax but to wash all the politics off!

She thanked me for everything and turned in early. I knew she was tired, but there almost seemed to be a sadness about her, not a heavy sadness, just a sense I had that she couldn’t fully express excitement. Times before I may have asked what was wrong, but this time I had a feeling she just needed to be where she was at, and I didn’t need to take any of it personally, wondering if she expected more or if I got the right kind of cheese. It wasn’t about me and so I let her go to bed, telling her I’d have homemade cinnamon rolls ready by 9am.

On the day of Betsy’s birthday I woke up early to prepare breakfast. Hot yoga was scheduled for 10am so I figured she’d be up much earlier to have time to drink coffee and eat. At 9:20am I still didn’t hear any stirring upstairs so I started to text her. Just before I hit send I heard her bedroom door open and her slowly walking toward the stairs, “ow, ow, ow,” she said, “I think I need help.” I ran over to the stairs, “what the heck happened?” She was slowly trying to maneuver her way down and began laughing when she couldn’t make it.

“It might be from sitting all day, but just before I went to bed last night, I felt a pinched nerve and I couldn’t go to sleep, I just laid there in the happy baby position.” We both started laughing. “What do you need?” I asked, “want to get back in bed and I’ll bring you coffee?”

“I think just water,” she said, “I’m going to take a bath and see if that helps.” I was pretty sure her taking a bath meant we were going to miss yoga, but she managed to make it in-and-out in time for us to go, stretching her hamstrings out before getting in the car, “ow, ow, ow.”

“Welcome to your late thirties!” I said.

After yoga we went and got smoothies, returned home and Betsy decided to take another bath. We both laid down for a nap, her having been up late with a pinched nerve and me having been up early making cinnamon rolls. Wow, I thought to myself, baths and nap time, we really are getting older.

I took her to get a pedicure at 1:30, during which she fell asleep and upon returning home again she took nap number two, after which she took bath number three. I guess that’s how she celebrates her birthday, I thought, lots of baths! To each their own.

After all the baths and naps, we got dressed up and went out to dinner downtown. We talked about previous birthdays, what our family looks like now and if she had an ideal man, what would he be like. “I don’t really have a type,” she said, “I’ve dated a South African, an Israeli, and a 50 year old. I’m open to any type of person, I only have two requirements: that he be emotionally intelligent AND available, and that we share the same spiritual beliefs. I’ve loved people who haven’t shared my beliefs, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s just too hard on the relationship to differ on your core beliefs.”

We were home by 9:30 pm and dressed for bed shortly there after. I had her blow out her birthday candles, being too tired and full, she passed on having a piece of cake. She opened the present I made her, a corgi birthday crown in honor of our family corgi (who she is obsessed with), Benny Boy.

After she went up to bed I sat on the couch with my own piece of cake and small glass of champagne. Josh called to say goodnight and we talked for a while. I told him I knew Betsy was glad to be here, I knew she was enjoying it, but it didn’t feel like she was. I wasn’t getting this excited reaction I would assume one would get when they’ve done everything I did.

Josh reminded me that sometimes people just need a safe place to be themselves no matter how they are feeling. “She might not be able to express it right now,” Josh said, “but you know she loves being there.” “I know,” I said, “I guess in some selfish way, I just want to feel it!” I knew doing things for her wasn’t about getting a specific reaction from her, and that if it were, I’d end up transferring my disappointment onto her, creating an uncomfortable environment to be in, all because I wanted more recognition. “Let her be where she is at and keep loving her there,” Josh said, “you’re so good at that.”

The next morning I had a Dollywood mug with her name on it and a Dolly Parton card sitting by the coffee maker. I wanted to set the tone for the day that this was it… the day we go to Dollywood!

Now that I live in Tennessee, Dollywood is my happy place. I’ve been three times since moving here four months ago- that’s about how many times I went to Hollywood living in Southern California for eight years! The week before Betsy’s visit, I went to Dollywood for Passholder’s day (Yes, getting a season pass was one of the first things I did as a Tennessean), and unbeknownst to everyone, DOLLY PARTON WAS ACTUALLY THERE! She waved at me when she saw one of my homemade Dolly crowns and I momentarily forgot to keep breathing.

Before coming, Betsy had said the one thing she for sure wanted to do was go to Dollywood. Piece of cake.

I was laying in bed drinking my coffee when I heard a knock on my door. Betsy popped her head in, “I LOVE MY MUG!” she said and she scurried over to sit on the end of my bed. We sat there talking for hours, there she is, I thought to myself, not because she expressed something I wanted to hear, but because she was finally expressing herself, talking, asking questions, laughing, the Betsy I know when she’s not weighted down by work, family drama, or living alone.

Had I made a comment like “oh you finally decided to show up,” or “nice to see you finally being expressive,” I think it would have killed the moment. A comment like that would have shamed her for simply being tired or worn out from life, making her feel unsafe to feel however she feels. Unnecessary commentary is what I am learning to discern, and I knew making a comment about her suddenly seeming lively would have made her feel bad about the days prior; something she didn’t need to feel bad about because there was nothing wrong with the days prior.

We drove two hours to Dollywood and spent the rest of the day there feeling like kids all over again. We both wore our crowns that donned our favorite things, hers, a corgi and mine, Dolly.

We drove the two hours back to Chattanooga listening to Dolly Parton’s America Podcast the whole way. Betsy had not only officially caught the Dolly bug, but she had finally felt rested and able to enjoy herself. “Next time I’m gonna take a vacation before my vacation so I don’t feel so tired on the vacation,” she said. We laughed and I was relieved I never made an issue of what I perceived to be her lack of enthusiasm. We had another day and a half together, relaxed and fully enjoying each other’s company.

By the time I took her to the airport she started crying, “I had such a good time,” she said, “I don’t really want to leave.” I made some stupid comment I read off of Pinterest in response, “Oh, don’t cry cause it’s over, smile cause it happened.” It kinda makes me gag now, especially when she responded while still crying, “well, I can do both.”

I laughed, “yes, you can.” She was right. And that’s what makes her the strong one, not an avoidance of emotion, but realizing she can be sad and grateful at the same time. She can be tired and lonely and worn out AND still enjoy herself and every opportunity she is given. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that life is a mix; a mix of emotions, not always compartmentalized by seasons, but often times experienced simultaneously.

Perhaps Betsy wanted her birthday to happen at a different time, when she felt more rested and had more time to enjoy it, but life just happens, without asking if we are ready, rested, or prepared. She turned 37 when she did, and I could either meet her there and love her, or I could complain that she wasn’t acting as happy as I’d like her to be.

When I returned home she left a note on her bed, thanking me for the whole weekend, for every thought and detail that didn’t go unnoticed. “I will never forget this weekend,” she said, “you made ME feel loved and special

I will always love you!”

The Work of Forgiveness

So there’s this passage in the Bible…

Okay, wait, before I go there, let me first say… I am no Biblical scholar nor even an aggressive reader of Scripture, but having grown up in the church, spending time both loving and hating it, I have a few cliff notes that have stuck with me along the way. (There’s a pun in there somewhere because my grandad’s name was Cliff and he certainly served us earfuls of Bible verses, but until I can figure it out, onward!)

Without googling the verse so I can give you exacts and impress someone without much scripture I can recall by google, I’m just gonna go with go with what I can recall by memory and see how well that goes (or even how well some of it has stuck over the years). I don’t know chapters and numbers, but I know there are a lot stories in which Jesus and his disciples are hanging out and going over the basics of being a good human. The disciples are his closest friends and they commit their lives to doing whatever it takes for Jesus and His message of Love to be known by all (they don’t always do the best job of standing by His side, but, you know, He’s Jesus, so he gets it and He still loves them).

In this one particular story, the boys are talking about some of Jesus’ teachings, which, really, if you look at them, are radical, not just for back then, but for now… LOVE YOUR ENEMY? FORGIVE PEOPLE WHO’VE WRONGED YOU!? Naturally, one of the disciples wants Jesus to expound on some stuff, “soooo… about this forgiveness thing” (I’m paraphrasing, incase that needed to be stated), “like how many times are we supposed to forgive someone, maybe seven times?”

Jesus answered his question with a math equation “not just seven times, seventy times seven,” and seeing as math was never my strong suit, I always dismissed His answer. Some large number is what I chalked it up to. When I got a little older and would again hear this passage, I decided to figure it out. I pulled out my TI-83 calculator… 490. Okay, maybe He meant for us to forgive so many times that it’s too hard to keep track. Throw in different translations of scripture, some of which Jesus says to forgive 77 times, and I never got a clear understanding, only that I was suppose to forgive a lot!

You can find plenty of blogs (as can I, so please don’t feel the need to send them to me) with Bible scholars breaking down this scripture and helping us understand the symbolic meaning of these numbers (somehow they represent God’s eternal forgiveness extended to us). As someone who has had scripture thrown at her as pad answers and bandaids with no real meaning for how they were helpful to her personally, I’m not here to break down scripture to be used as a blanket formula for all.

These days, I tread lightly when it comes to referencing the Bible, mostly because I’ve seen the ways people use it to back up they own views (most of which are political), and while I claim the same God as the Christian Faith, the God I know is very different from the one seen on Fox News and CNN. God is in both and neither camp at the same time, and way less political than everyone thinks (also less religious but that’s for another day).

So this is a “personal understanding” story more so than a dissecting of what the Bible means. It’s my coming of age to understanding just one of the many passages I’ve read or heard since childhood, and 38 years later finally saying “ohhhhh, I think I get it.”

While I don’t know much, I know that holding onto anger hurts me way more than the person I’m angry at. I’ve let anger eat me alive before, stuffing it deep down and reaching for anything else to distract me from the pain caused by someone else. In more recent years I’ve felt the healthiest I’ve ever been, having let go of past hurts and choosing to forgive both myself and others for things done wrong.

There’s this one situation that often revisits my mind, I feel anger start to bubble up as soon as I think about it. I feel how it felt all over again to be hurt by this one person, almost annoyed that I forgave them because it feels so good (in the moment) to be angry at them. I can see why we hang onto anger, it’s so much easier, it feels a lot better to feel justified in our anger than to “let go,” “move on,” or “forgive.” Laaaaame. Where’s my pitchfork!?

I’ve forgiven this person so many times, in my head, in my heart, in my journal. I’ve “let go and let God,” I’ve “chosen Joy,” I’ve forgiven at least 76 times, perhaps having only one time left in me. I was talking to my mom about it who has become quite a place of refuge for me in our later years of life… this was not always the case when I was growing up. I relayed that I felt something must be wrong with me if I can’t seem to forgive them, “it still comes up,” I told her, “and when it does, I still feel angry! Do I not mean it when I say I’ve forgiven them? Why won’t the feeling go away?”

As my mother started to reference this 70×7 passage, I could feel my eyes rolling in the back of my head, here we go, I thought, and I interrupted her… “but I’ve done that! As much as I understand forgiveness, I’ve forgiven them! And yet I randomly still think about it, and I still get mad, and I feel like I have to start all over and forgive them again!”

“That’s the beautiful and hard thing about it,” my mom said, “70×7 means you keep making the choice to forgive, no matter how many times it comes back up. It’s not that you didn’t forgive them before, it’s that you have to remind yourself, again and again, that you already chose to forgive them.” My eye roll settled a little and I noticed my heart react as she kept talking, “life is too hard for us to go undisturbed by things that have hurt us. Feeling the hurt doesn’t make you weak in emotion or in faith, it makes you human.”

Perhaps you’ve been well aware of this for a long time, which is awesome if you have, I’m sure it does wonders for mental health, but it was the first time I realized that forgiveness isn’t a one-time job. The harm may have been done once, but the damage it can cause can last a long time, if not a lifetime. The work is not to get to a place of no longer feeling it, the work is the constant choosing to forgive no matter how many times it comes up and I feel it.

I’ll admit, this both freed me and depressed me. I want the easy one-and-done “I no longer feel it” kind of experience. The trouble is, you’ll wait your whole life for it to feel done, for the pain to no longer be an issue. While I do think you can absolutely be less affected by the pain, and live a beautiful healthy life, I think life will always catch us off guard. You never know what might trigger the memory of a past hurt, no matter how long it’s been.

So it’s depressing to me, or maybe exhausting, to think I may have to keep forgiving for a long time. But it’s freeing to realize something isn’t wrong with me just because a past hurt rears its head and still affects me.

When that trigger happens, I don’t have to add to it by assuming I must not being doing as well as I thought, or I didn’t really let it go or forgive… I can acknowledge it for what it is- a trigger, a reminder, a reaction, and I can do what I need to remind myself I am currently okay; and I can once again chose to forgive, to not let it dictate how I live my life or treat other people.

I realized I’ve been doing the work this whole time, forgiving time and time again, or at least reminding myself that that’s what I’ve chosen… forgiveness. Sometimes I need to remind myself I’ve chosen to forgive myself, and sometimes it’s someone else. Maybe one day I won’t need to, maybe one day I won’t even think about it… maybe, maybe not. All I know is, evidence of a healthy life is not one that is undisturbed by past or present hurts. Evidence of a healthy life is feeling all that life has to offer, even when it disturbs us, finding the balance between neither avoiding the pain nor being consumed by it.

I’ll admit, sometimes I still need to hide under the covers and not be so “on,” and sometimes I need to just suck it up and get a move on. There’s no blanket formulas, every day is different, and I’m learning more and more to choose to show up in that day… just as I am… forgiven and able to forgive.

Hometown Thoughts

Here we are, another new year and a lot of the same ole stuff… well, at least some of the same ole stuff.

Today I found myself walking in my hometown of Pawleys Island, SC, grateful to be home, but also restless as to how to spend my time here. Tonight we are celebrating my mom’s 72nd birthday and I can’t quite wrap my head around watching my parents age. As a kid you imagine your parents to remain forever in the state you know them. Of course they’re old because they’re your parents, but they’re not old old. I remember thinking our 32 year old babysitter was ancient, and now at 38 I realize that 32 year old woman was still just a child wrestling with how to be an adult.

I’m not sure how my parents did anything with four young kids constantly at their feet. I hang out with my nieces and nephews for longer than two hours and I feel like I’m about to have a nervous break down, my only solace being their return to their own home. Bless their hearts. I love them, and I’m okay with kids in general, but I love quiet time and a clean kitchen and not constantly having to figure out answers to “why?”

I’m restless because at this age I figured if I didn’t have kids by now it would certainly be because of a career. But when Covid took care of that, I found myself waiting for the next two years for the country to open back up so I could get back out there. As I look back I realize, I spent so much time waiting, I’m no further than I was two years ago, having put my life on hold, now not knowing where to start.

I’ve decided to write again. Since I can’t control live performances and venue spaces and communities of people not wanting to crowd into a building to see a comedian they’ve never heard of, I’m letting go, not so much of the idea of performing, but of the waiting for it to happen. I’m going to get busy with what I can control, which in this case is writing, and honestly my first love well before performing came into the picture.

I started in on my second book a while back and am nearing what I consider to be the end. I’ll soon begin the process of organization and editing, followed by the grueling process of figuring out publication. I self published my first book, it’s called a spade, and while I enjoy maintaining the rights to my stories, I admit it’s hard to get the stories out there relying solely on my often neglected social media platforms; to live life or to “share” life, that is the question!

So, I hope to be back here more often, sharing this process with you, if anyone is still out there. In the meantime I still post videos from time to time over on YouTube. I’ll share my 2021 in review here to give a glimpse into what the last year looked like. I admit, I can’t complain. Perhaps that’s where the frustration comes in; much like Loki of Asguard (God of Mischief in the Marvel Series), I have a very good life, all while feeling burdened with glorious purpose.

Here’s to a beautiful 2022, whatever that word may mean to those who use it. I know it’s not the most quotable thing to say, and you certainly won’t see it on a Pinterest board, but I honestly hope to work more this year. That, to me, would be a beautiful thing. I hope to work so much that I eventually start saying things like “work less, play more!” But for now, it’s hard to enjoy the play when there’s no work to take a break from.

Forgive my whining, I think I’m done… for now.

Until next time,

JJ

Deleted Pages: Childhood Home

In the same way that movies have deleted scenes, so do books have deleted pages and passages that got rifled out through the editing process. I want to occasionally share some thoughts that lingered for a while in between the pages of my book “it’s called a spade,” but for one reason or another, didn’t quite make it to publication.

Today’s passage is about my childhood home, and while I was able to process some of it in my book, I think perhaps I found a better way to say it than this original copy that felt more like being much too old for pouting. Perhaps that’s okay though, perhaps now that I’m five years older, I can let my younger self have the permission she felt she needed to pout… even if that younger self was actually 32.

I think we’re always in the process of growing, even once we’re “grown up,” and I think that’s okay as life throws us curve balls we aren’t always prepared for. I think 2020 is a great example of a curve ball for which none of us were prepared for.

For now, a deleted page that remains a memory I am finally at peace with.

The Barrows Bunch (Please note the matching tee shirts! Ahh to be naive again!)

It feels like my childhood home is being ripped right out from under me. It is only now at 32 that I am beginning to accept I won’t get my childhood back. I’ve realized it long before now, but accepting it is a whole different ballgame I wasn’t prepared to play. In many ways I don’t want my childhood back, perhaps parts of it, like the innocence, the pizza parties, the beach games and make believe worlds in the woods behind our house, but other parts of it I’m quite glad I don’t have to relive. And even though I know time travel to be as silly as Kanye being president, part of me deep down has always hoped I could go back and do things differently.

“If only I had known then what I know now,” who hasn’t thought this? I’m sure there’s a country song or jazz ditty with this line in it. I’ve held onto this thought so tightly that for quite some time I have always thought things were going to be different. I’ve always thought I would get a second chance, not realizing adulthood was my second chance. I pay my own bills and drive my own car and complain about the government and do all the things that adults do now, but outside of engaging in those adult responsibilities, I don’t feel like an adult. I don’t know what an adult is supposed to feel like. It is safe to say that up until this morning I have been functioning very much like a child, waiting for everything to turn out right, wanting someone else to do everything for me and hoping for a better ending to the story.

I’m helping my mother pack up the place we called home for over 30 years and it dawned on me this morning as I laid on the couch that we weren’t playing pretend and we weren’t going to get our house back. Much like my childhood, the place I called home for so long is going to be a thing of the past.

Perhaps I only just now realized I wasn’t going to get my second chance at doing things all over again because my house was the last thing left from my childhood still lingering in the present. I knew I could always go back home no matter where I was or how hard things got, and home was the physical location of the house I grew up in.

Some people and plaques say that home is where the heart is, or where you park it, or where you make it. Some people say home isn’t a place but a people. I agree with all of those things, sort of, but mostly because I know it in my head to be true, not because I feel it. Home has always been the house at the end of Gray Mans Loop in Pawleys Island, SC because it is the only home I have ever lived in. And while it might be the people inside the house who make up the home, what do you do when the people split up and go live different places?

My siblings all grew up and moved away, which is to be expected of siblings, but when my mother and father split up after 30 years of marriage, my family didn’t feel like home anymore, mostly because none of it was familiar to me. The only thing that remained stable after my parents split was the house I grew up in, and so it remained home even after the people in it came and went. 

Even though I moved out of the house after high school, it was always there, always an option, always a safe place to retreat to. I could always run home. Knowing it would always be there also meant I never actually went there. It was more of a last resort, especially after my parents split up. It’s weird to walk into a familiar place with a new vibe. It’s confusing to look around and recognize everything but feel nothing. It’s confusing to be at home and not feel at home no matter where you go. 

—————————–


To be honest, that was as far as I got in that thought process, and I’m still not sure I have resolve for it. I am at peace with it, but I don’t necessarily have any more answers now than I did then.

Time has allowed me to adjust to my new normal and it no longer hurts the way it used to. There are still moments that sting from time to time, but I’ve realized that’s okay. Nothing in this world is as it was intended to be and sometimes we will feel the sting of it… some worse than others. I have no remedies or how-to solutions. I have no motivational quotes for you or I to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Perhaps there’s a time for that, I honestly don’t know. I just know that sometimes life kinda sucks. It’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t always feel that way.

Today, I’m good (I think I’m technically supposed to say “well,” but I like using “good,” I hate when people correct that!). And I suppose that’s all I need for right now. My hope is that you are good too, and that you recognize that simple state of being good as a gift.

And if you aren’t, I hope good times are ahead… trust that they are. This life isn’t all bad (even if it feels that way sometimes).

“it’s called a spade” can be purchased at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

Dolly Party

Yesterday was Dolly Parton’s Birthday. I know this because it’s just long enough after Christmas to still feel comforted by your Christmas decorations being up, but not too long after that you feel lazy for not having taken them down yet.

I usually take down my Christmas decorations the same time as Dolly… on her birthday. I blast Dolly’s Christmas album and it makes taking the tree down a little more enjoyable instead of feeling like the spirit of Christmas is dying and we’re about to go back to the real world of people hating each other.

I normally wouldn’t be that pessimistic, but after 2020 ended and 2021 didn’t get off to the best start, I’m tired of looking on the bright side. Mostly I’m just tired. I think everyone is.

And yet, knowing we all have moments of feeling too tired to encourage others (even Dolly), I’m grateful for things like technology where words can be recorded, saved and replayed at a later date, a date when everyone’s too tired to come up with more encouragement and instead can just read or hit play and remember the words of someone who encouraged them once before.

I was too tired to take my tree down yesterday. I didn’t play Dolly’s Christmas album, but I did play her greatest hits and was reminded that bullies don’t get far in life, women are stronger than anyone thinks, and you can’t keep wasting time… you gotta get to livin!

While Dolly may not be everyone’s cup of tea (neither am I, and WHO IS anyway?), to me, she’s someone who inspires people to be unabashedly themselves, change as they see fit, and love others no matter how different. For that, she deserves a cake (at the very least)!

I don’t usually bake her a birthday cake every year, but I was inspired to yesterday morning as I saw my empty egg carton sitting upside down in my recycle bin. I’m not quite sure what it says about the way my mind works, but upon looking at said egg carton, I thought to myself, “Omg, Dolly!”

Yea, I’m not quite sure how it all happened, and the fact that it was perfect timing to have finished off a carton of eggs on Dolly’s birthday… but there she is “in all her glory,” as my once 13-year old brother would have said.

My sister and I had a Dolly Party last night, which these days is a Watch Party on Amazon showing 9 to 5. Like I said, I’m grateful for technology, especially during a pandemic that allows my sister and I to still hang out and watch movies together.

While watching 9 to 5, we commented on how different things are today than they were back then, glad for the progress but knowing we (as humanity) still have a ways to go. It was nice to just be, to be silly and careless, and bake a cake just for fun. I’m grateful for the moments I get to have like this.

I’m still a little tired, but mostly rested and finally ready to take the tree down. Today, January 20th, feels like a good day for change.

Silly as it may be to celebrate a woman’s birthday who doesn’t even know me, it was a little breath of fresh air to be celebrating something instead of grieving so much loss that the year 2020 brought. The celebration doesn’t cancel out the loss, but the loss doesn’t have to be reason not to celebrate life’s big and little accomplishments. There are many things in life to still celebrate, many more things than Dolly’s birthday, but that seemed like a great place to start.

I’m genuinely grateful for a presence like Dolly in the world. I’m grateful for women, no matter how different, who blaze trails for those of us who wonder where we fit in life. 

I’m grateful and tired and concerned and curious and hopeful and worried and excited and nervous and happy and sad and anxious and all the things that life throws at us.

Happy Birthday, Dolly! 75 years is quite an accomplishment. Making this cake sure gave me a bunch of laughs, and laughs is what I needed right now!

Hoping everyone gets to do a few things this year just for the fun of it.

💖🎉💖

jj

You can order my Holly Dolly Christmas design at www.teepubic.com/user/jj-barrows

Keep Buggering On!

Hey Y’all!! I hope you’re off to a great week… here’s a little mid-week pick-me-up, hopefully, especially because I forgot to update you with last Saturday’s show!

WELL, We finally have a saga… three whole episodes! I hope everyone had a great Easter and week to follow! From making masks to home workouts, it was a full week!
While there’s plenty of fun to be had, I sincerely hope everyone is hanging in there… keep buggering on, y’all! This isn’t out forever!
Also, I’d love to know… who’s your favorite cameo!?
P.S. How goldfish can you spot?
💜🧡💙💛
Tune in every Saturday on YouTube.com/jjbarrows or check in on Instagram (@jjbarrows) at https://www.instagram.com/jjbarrows/
Have a great rest of the week!
——-
(no copyright infringement was intended in sharing these clips, hoping to curate humor during tough times!)
Music in this episode: Viva La Vida cover by Steve Pertunak Rhythm of Love cover by Steve Pertunak Isn’t She Lovely Cover by United Guitar Players Elephant Gun by Beirut What a Wonderful World by Sam Cooke Tennessee Waltz by Sam Cooke Have You Ever by Brandi Carlile Darth Vader Theme by The London Theatre Orchestra Salsa by Yuri Buenaventura

The Corona Diaries

We got into Santa Barbara around 4pm yesterday. We flew in from Nashville, leaving the house around 4:30am to catch a 6am flight that routed us through Seattle, then Portland, then finally home after all direct flights were cancelled. Needless to say, I was exhausted. We got home in time to shower and start doing laundry, except I passed out before I could even get the clothes from my bag to the laundry basket.

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I awoke to my husband coming in the room to change clothes in a bit of a hurry, “I’m gonna run to the grocery store just to pick up a few things.” After traveling for two weeks we didn’t have much food in the house, I figured we’d go tomorrow but he said the governor had just ordered a lockdown on California— no one was to leave their house except to exercise, walk their dog or go to the grocery store. All businesses except health care providers were closing. “Stay home!” was the message.

Truth be told, after the stress of traveling in the middle of the Corona Virus spreading, I was looking forward to having to stay at home for a while without the pressure or expectation of having to be somewhere or be someone. 

In our travels we had made it to Michigan when things weren’t totally crazy yet, rumors of Corona spreading to California and Washington were starting to take place, but mostly we were just on the receiving end of text messages from concerned family members. I was aware that things were happening, but knowing my own self and need to remain mentally strong, I filtered what news I let in. Anxiety, panic, fear— All things I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars on therapy working through so they would not have a grip on me, crippling me from living my life. Mental strength will not make me immune to a virus, this I know… I still have to do my part to practice daily routines like washing my hands and taking my vitamins.

While mental strength will not spare me, it will keep me thriving and engaging in those daily routines that matter to get me through the tough times– to call loved ones, write letters, move my body and actually do the things that are being suggested we do to take care of ourselves during this weird time in history. 

I had two shows in Michigan, packed crowds and everything still seemed normal— a little panic around the globe, but it seemed far away and the audiences in front me seemed ready to laugh and not at all like they had to rush off to the grocery store to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

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The hoarding had not yet begun, that I knew of. My last show was on a Thursday night. I woke up Friday morning to the headlines: “The NBA is canceled. Broadway’s gone dark. Disneyland is closed.” I had one simple thought, “Oh crap.” That was the moment I felt the severity of it. I read a few things and checked my email, the rest of the comedy festival I had been a part of was canceling the rest of their shows. People were complaining they weren’t notified ahead of time, “how come the festival wasn’t more organized?” I’m sorry but what company, organization or hospital was totally prepared for a pandemic to hit in 2020, really? A few psychics claimed they predicted it, and who the heck knows, maybe they did, but I don’t think you’re going to find a comedy festival relying on a psychic to help them prepare for what to do in case of a disaster. 

“Grace, grace, grace,” I tell myself. We all need to extend more grace, or at least I do, hard as it is. Grace to the hoarders, they’re scared. Grace to ourselves as we figure out how much to eat, where to get soap, and how to be nice to people when we feel stuck and exhausted. And grace to the underprepared companies and organizations who are finding themselves in this type of a situation for the first time and are also trying to figure out how to navigate it. We all have a bunch of feelings right now. Minimal facts and lots of feelings makes for a scary combination– an “us versus them” mentality and that isn’t going to help anyone. I don’t have answers, but I have grace for the people who are also getting on my nerves as they spread anger, panic, fear and anxiety faster than the virus itself. 

We left Michigan and proceeded with our trip. We arrived in Nashville where I was meeting up with my potential manager. “Meeting up” turned into being quarantined at he and his wife’s house as more news reports broke that businesses were to close and people were highly urged to stay home. Prior to arriving we had plans to stay with a friend but she had gotten the flu, saying it was “just the flu,” and I thought to myself only right now would people be saying “JUST the flu,” as if it was no big deal. Even still, we did not want to risk getting sick in the midst of traveling, and again I had to mentally navigate what was no big deal and what was a harsh reality.

We arrived in Nashville on a Saturday and things were still a little on the normal side. We went out to dinner the first night and brunch the next morning. Not a lot of people were out, but places were still open, people were still active. The air seemed different, but not yet eerie. By Monday morning the atmosphere shifted. Shops were closing, restaurants were on a to-go order only system. My friend texted me that she went to Chipotle and a guy ran to the door, dropped her order outside and quickly shut the door. It sounded like a drug transaction. 

We spent days talking shop, sharing our stories and getting to know each other in a way we maybe wouldn’t have been able to otherwise given our situation. Tuesday night, Josh and I debated going downtown, just to get out of the house. Not everything was totally closed yet and one of our friends had wanted to meet up with us, the one who had the flu but was now better. I did not want to go, I didn’t feel comfortable going out knowing we might bring something back with us, especially when it’s something you can’t even see. Maybe if it had just been us, but staying in someone else’s home, who were older than us, not to mention, someone I wanted to manage me so I didn’t want to be the cause of his death before we even signed. I mean, I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s death at all (yes, my mind went there), but I was definitely looking forward to working with him in the long run. I also didn’t want to disappoint my husband or our friend, both who seemed eager to meet up in the midst of this chaos, and I struggled internally as we got in the car to make our way downtown. We weren’t even five minutes into the drive before the silence broke. We pulled the car over, talked it through and turned the car around. 

By Wednesday we at least needed to go for a walk, but with it raining outside we felt a little trapped. We finally decided on going to the mall just to walk around. “NO ONE TOUCH ANYTHING” was the rule. Almost every store inside the mall was closed except for the arcade and Chick-Fli-A. The arcade? Gross. Of all the places to be open, the arcade is germ central! Chick-Fil-A? Praise God. Waffle fries, please. And some of those anti-bacterial hand wipes. The mall was almost silent, save a few noises from the arcade, making it the perfect setting for a horror movie.

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We peeked in a grocery store on the way home just to see the empty shelves— no meat, cheese, bread, toilet paper, soap— entire aisles cleared out. The eerie feeling was in full effect. I had Lysol wipes in my pocket so if I had to touch a door or anything I was fully prepared. That was when it hit me, maybe Bob Wiley wasn’t so crazy after all, he was just before his time. (For reference, see movie “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray— a must watch during quarantine).

 

Wednesday night we sat around the dinner table, sharing jokes and memes we’d come across throughout the chaos of everything. At first I thought the jokes were hilarious, but by day four I just wanted to hear a joke that wasn’t about Corona. They all started to sound the same, and who came up with what first? Did that even matter? I would think of a joke or write a thought down and then I’d see it on someone’s Twitter or Facebook account. Dang it.

It makes sense, we’re all experiencing the same thing, and comedians are always looking for the punchline in a given situation, so everyone is coming up with the same stuff. “I feel like for comedians, once this whole thing is over it’s gonna be a race to see who can get to the stage first with all these jokes,” I said. 

 

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Almost every show I had booked up through April has been cancelled so far. I don’t mind if someone else gets to the stage first with the jokes, honestly, I’m already tired of hearing them. And yet still, I am a walking contradiction who in her exhaustion still thinks she needs to share her own jokes, or maybe fears she won’t be seen as having skin in the game if she doesn’t. Honestly, it’s a relief to know we all have to rest for a second. The stage can wait. 

By the end of the night we had gone over the rest of our business matters. My husband poured us a drink and we toasted as I signed with my new manager. The world felt like it was falling apart, and here we were planning our future, clinging to the hope that despite our current circumstances, our future would be bright and full, with plenty of toilet paper for the taking. 

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Josh and I woke up at 4am the next morning to pack our bags and head to the airport, which brings us back to where I started— after a long journey with two layovers and an attempt to do laundry, me waking up to my husband getting ready to go to the grocery store because the state of California was going into lockdown. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to text me what you need?” He asked.

I was still a little groggy, “I’m confused, why do you have to go right now? I’m so tired. Can’t we go tomorrow?” He said it would probably be worse by tomorrow and we just needed to get a few things. My husband is never chomping at the bit to go to the grocery store, so it seemed important. I said I would text him what I needed. “You don’t want to go with me?” He asked. I laughed, “do you want me to go with you?” He paused and smiled, “well, yea. I don’t know what to get, I’ll get lost in the cracker aisle and we’ll end up with cookies and crackers for meals.” I love him.

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As soon as we walked into the store I wanted to leave— the lines, the empty shelves, the sense of panic, I felt it all and I wanted to get away from it. I told myself to remain calm and walk slowly. Wait my turn, just breathe, I’ll be home soon. I’m not gonna lie, as a true introvert, I LOVE this whole social distancing thing. We saw two people we knew in the grocery store. My automatic response when I see someone I know in the grocery store— pretend I don’t see them. My husband’s automatic response— “HEY GUYS!!” Sure enough, he flagged down the people we knew. My only relief was that we did not have to hug hello and it was FINALLY socially acceptable! It was the rare feeling of “this is amazing” while out in public. 

Yes, I love to entertain people and I feel alive when I am on stage, that is very real, but functioning in everyday life is a much harder story for me. Sometimes my biggest fear when people meet me is that they’ll be disappointed that I’m not like what they see on stage or on screen. Which goes back to what I was saying prior to all this— anxiety, panic, fear are things I already struggle with, I have to work hard to push through them. I’m sure this narrative is true for a lot of people, I’m not unique in that way. That said, Introverts, now is our time! Stay home, don’t touch, limit contact— we’ve so got this! I suspect the extroverts will now get a dose of what it’s like for us to function on a daily basis in an extroverted world. Grace, grace, grace. 

Today we cleaned our house and then I called Richard, my 80-year-old (former) neighbor who lives in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Once a neighbor, always a neighbor. “Oh I’m so happy to hear from you,” he said, “you know I been worried about you— how are you? Are you feeling okay?” I told him I was great, mostly just tired from traveling. He kept telling me I needed to take care of myself, I told him the same thing. “What about you Richard, how are you doing?” I asked, “You need to be taking care of yourself!” I didn’t want to add anything about his age, knowing the elderly are some of the most vulnerable, they already hear that enough and I didn’t want to add to the weight of it.

Staying mentally strong is just as important for the elderly, or as I have recently learned, they like being referred to as “the older.” “Oh I’m fine, I’m doing great, don’t you worry about me. I’m still cancer free and it’s the best I’ve been in years. Plus I know what they’re saying about this thing and I don’t need to be worrying about me… I’m in my golden years, I can’t be thinking about how can I make it last longer, I’m gonna let someone else do that thinking. It’s you I’m worried about, you have a whole life ahead of you!” 

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I called to check on Richard because I was worried about him and here he was worried about me. I had to assure him multiple times that I was feeling great. He asked about my family and my husband. “I bet you sure are glad you got someone to be with during all this,” he said, and I agreed that it was such a gift. “Yea, it does make it better,” he said and he was quiet. I thought of him being alone and even though I knew he was “fine,” I worried about how and when he would get out to get food. I’d ask and he’d keep saying not to worry, he was doing fine and had enough. To my friends in Ocean Beach, please check on Richard.

Before we got off the phone he said “You know, there was this coach from North Carolina, Jimmy V., he had this quote ‘don’t give up. Don’t ever give up,’ and that’s what I want you to hear right now. Of course he died from cancer shortly after saying that, but that’s not the point.” We both laughed a little, not at him dying, but just the delivery of trying to motivate someone with “don’t give up” followed by “he died.” Maybe leave that part out in the delivery.

“But he didn’t give up,” Richard said, “and that’s what we gotta think, not to give up.”

What does it look like to not give up right now? With so many businesses closing, people begging people to support their company, their career, their art, their music— we’re all in the same boat. Most people are trying to figure out how to make this work, how to get financial support while they aren’t working. And honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know what the answers are. I know that truck drivers, delivery workers and health care providers are some of the most important people in the world right now, more so than any celebrity, artist or musician. We NEED this over looked population of people. At the same time, people are connecting through music, movies and comedy, things to keep their minds clear in the midst of the struggle. I see people giving away free content online to keep people motivated— free yoga classes and couch concerts. The online community has become an important part of staying connected while social distancing. What gets created in these dark times has the potential to be very powerful.

After Richard and I got off the phone I googled Jimmy V. and found the speech he gave before he died. He said something very profound while battling cancer, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. But it cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul, and those three things are gonna carry on forever.” We cannot control a lot of what is happening right now, but we can control how it affects our minds, hearts and souls, which will greatly affect how we function and treat other people in the midst of this. 

As we continue to quarantine, while appreciating the connection of the online community and social media, may we leave time and space to just be present. I think this was one of the greatest things Coach Jimmy V. had to say, and so I’ll end my processing with this…

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

It may be so hard right now, but here’s to having something really special at the end of it. 

Hang in there.

My Mommom

My grandmother passed away yesterday… on Thanksgiving. This isn’t exactly the hook line you’re supposed to start with to grab someone’s attention, but I realize this is less about how many people read what I write and more about taking the time to honor a woman I love who didn’t receive much honor during her lifetime.

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I recently published a book and I only say that to say I wrote a chapter about her, about getting to know her later in life and how much I had grown to love her (you appreciate so little when you’re young). My plan was to give her a copy for Christmas. She lived a quiet life, often afraid she hadn’t done enough or loved well. She was my mom’s mom, which is why we called her Mommom. My Dad’s dad (we just called him Papa cause DadDad sounds weird) passed away just before Thanksgiving about three years ago. His death was national news, and while only certain groups may have known his name, his name was in the headlines, highways in Charlotte, NC were closed during his processional, and hundreds upon hundreds of people attended his funeral.

Sometimes I think Mommom felt inferior to my dad’s limelight side of the family, but she never said so. A lot of people say I get my stage presence from my dad’s side of the family, especially my grandfather- he had it (as well as my dad). But I know for a fact I get my witty sense of humor from my mom’s side- not only my mom, but as I spent more time with my grandmother later in life, I realized my mom got it from her. She was so funny, so witty, even at 97 years old. Just before she passed on Thanksgiving she reminded my dad to wait until the turkey was cooled before he carved it. When asked how she was feeling she said, “at my age everything hurts, and if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t working!” We laughed A LOT with Mommom.

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I mailed her pictures from when I got married this year and she beamed with pride. Josh and I went to visit her while back in South Carolina and she had our pictures proudly posted in her room. She called him my “lover boy” and said she was too short to reach his cheek so he’d have to bend down for a kiss.

With every visit we played cards and parcheesi and she was impossible to beat– at first it was like “go easy on her, she’s old,” but my siblings and I quickly learned she was ruthless and even in our best efforts to take her down in cards, she’d have none of that. I’ve only beaten her one time and I recorded it because I knew it would never happen again.

I wasn’t always as close with Mommom growing up. In fact it wasn’t until fall of 2015 that I really got to know my grandmother, as a friend, not just a relative. I’ve been going through old pictures and journal entries and I found this unfinished entry during that time…

Today I rubbed lotion on my grandmother’s legs. Prior to this I don’t think I have ever touched my grandmother’s legs, be it because that’s normal to not go around touching an older person’s legs or because I never thought I had a need to, it struck me as odd that at 32 years old I didn’t even know what my grandmother’s legs looked like before today.

When I think about it, I guess I do notice much of the older population tends to stick to pants when it comes to getting dressed for the day. I remember my little sister crying in her bed one night. Mom and dad came rushing in, “honey, what’s wrong? what’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to get old,” she cried while my parents tried not to laugh, “why?” they asked. “Because then I won’t be able to wear shorts,” she cried, terrified of having old legs that needed to be hidden under pants. We still laugh about this incident.

I thought about that night as I rubbed lotion on my grandmother’s legs today. I noticed her getting fidgety in her chair. She was trying to take a nap in her lazy boy but she kept rubbing her legs as if they were aggravating her. She’s in her nineties and uses a walker to get around but the only places she gets to are the kitchen and the living room. She can’t hear very well anymore and doesn’t always feel great, but she credits much of that to a default of being alive for ninety plus years. She spends most of her days alone in the house as everyone is off at work, or in my case, finding something else to do since I’m visiting and don’t want to be cooped up in a house all day.

As the holidays have approached I’ve begun thinking about what I could do to help people, what could I do to step outside of myself? I’m better at helping people during the holidays, I’m not proud of it, in fact I don’t think I even realized it until I started writing this, but if I look at my track record, I’m much better at helping people during the holidays when everything feels all warm and fuzzy and the need seems to be more clear. It’s as easy as filling a shoebox with gifts or pulling a name off a tree, maybe showing up at a shelter to serve a meal.

Geez. I hate re-reading about my selfish nature sometimes, but at the very least at least looking at it helps me realize what needs to change. Things did change that Christmas. It was my first Christmas in two different homes as my parents divorce finalized. It’s still weird to process divorce as an adult, you think you’re supposed to be stronger than a child, not be as sad, but acting stronger doesn’t make you stronger, it wears out your energy until you’re weaker than you thought possible. Just let yourself be sad about stuff, it’s okay.

And that’s what I had to tell myself as I processed the death of a 97 year old woman that I knew was coming if for no other reason than age alone. But it doesn’t make it any less sad to lose a life, especially a life you didn’t feel got it’s due credit and that you waited much too long to know it’s value. I’m at peace with my Mommom and I’s relationship, I grew to love her probably more than she knew, but with death comes the thought, “if I had only sent one more letter or called one more time… I hope she knew how much she was loved.” More and more I want that for people, to know their worth and value, to know they are loved. I can’t be that person for everyone, I’m only one person and I’m still trying to figure out how to get good at it in my own family, but I still want everyone to know it to be true for themselves- you are loved. You are worthy.

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So today I honor my Mommom by sharing this chapter I wrote about her, because she’s worth reading about, whether by many or by a few loved ones, she’s worth taking the time to talk about, and perhaps that’s how I will let myself process my grief. Her death will not make national news, but that doesn’t make her any less important to those who knew and loved her. And I never got to tell her, “Mommom, I wrote a book, and you’re in it!” I’m sad about that too. I wanted her to feel a little bit of the limelight just once in her life, I wanted her to know her granddaughter loved and admired her.

 

“it’s called a spade” by JJ Barrows

My Mommom

We don’t have a Christmas tree this year. I suppose at 32 years old and with all that is going on in the world, it isn’t the biggest deal that we don’t have a Christmas tree this year. In the grand scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal at all. Plenty of people either don’t have Christmas trees or have never had one, so who am I to complain?

And yet I’ve been thinking (shocker), if I can so easily dismiss my own feelings about not having a Christmas tree this year, I can just as easily dismiss someone else’s feelings about not having a Christmas tree this year, which is to say I can easily dismiss their story without a care in the world as to the reason why they don’t have a Christmas tree this year, or maybe why they’ve never had one at all (if they do in fact celebrate Christmas).

Perhaps it’s not so much about the Christmas tree as it is about the why behind it. As with many things in life that may seem like “no big deal,” perhaps the small things are a big deal because there is a “why” attached to those small things, a story unheard due to assumption.

I’ve always been obsessed with Christmas. I was the kid who was preparing for the arrival of December 25th the day after Halloween, and honestly sometimes even before then. My goal was to turn our house into a winter wonderland no matter how tacky everyone else thought it to be. I hung lights anywhere my mother would allow it and spent any extra money I had on decorations.

As a preacher’s kid I understood “the reason for the season,” but as just your average kid, the manger scene was more of an epic center piece for Christmas dinner. I was grateful Jesus came to earth in the form of a tiny little baby, mostly because it gave us a reason to have Christmas- the ultimate birthday party.

When I was real young my gifts consisted of coupon books, ones that included free hugs, a three-minute back rub, being nice to my sister Betsy… stuff like that. When I got older the coupons got more serious; extended free hugs, ten-minute back rubs and kisses for the whole family even when I didn’t feel like kissing them. My mom still has the coupons.

In college my gift to my parents was my presence at home because like your average college kid, I was broke. But with my presence came my Christmas spirit and ability to decorate. I’d stay up late on Christmas eve (after the roles reversed and the parents were the first to go to bed) to clean the entire house, set and decorate the kitchen table for the Christmas meals, and prepare an overnight breakfast casserole to be served alongside Jesus’ birthday cake in the morning.

When I started working the presents came rolling in and without the excuse of being a kid, I lost complete sense of what Christmas was all about. I tried to make the day last as long as possible by getting as many presents as possible. The longer we all sat around the tree and opened presents, the better Christmas seemed. Maybe somewhere deep down it wasn’t so much about the presents, maybe it was just wanting my family to sit around together for an extended period of time in which they all seemed happy, and maybe without the presents, I didn’t know how else to make that happen.

The Christmas of 2006 was the worst Christmas I can remember, largely due to my eating disorder and inability to fix it with the Christmas spirit. I racked up a great deal of debt that season because shopping kept me from binging and purging on the Christmas cookies I made in abundance (because one batch of cookies is never enough for a bulimic). My old friend anorexia would sometimes come to visit and on those days I felt powerful and in control, but my newer friend bulimia liked the holidays more than anorexia, and so bulimia is who I spent more of my time with that holiday season. I tried so hard to make Christmas perfect that year, and all I can remember is how miserable I was.

After going off to treatment in 2007, it would be a couple of years before I returned home again for Christmas. In 2009 when I finally did go home I was unaware it was going to be the last Christmas in which my whole family would be together, my parents still living under the same roof. I was sick and slept through Christmas dinner. My boyfriend at the time had flown in from Chicago to surprise me but seeing as how I was passed out on the couch, he ended up spending most of his time talking to my grandmother, an often forgotten family member.

After moving to Portland, Oregon in the fall of 2010, I spent the following Christmases out on the west coast with friends. Friends are often easier than family and much cheaper than a round trip ticket across the United States, so my excuses to stay away from home were valid.

Last year I returned home for Christmas and it was the first time members of my family would be celebrating in two different houses due to my parents’ divorce. I didn’t know how to feel about it. I tried to “make the best of it” as I was advised to do, but what about the reality of it being sad that we weren’t one family anymore? I mean sure, we were, but we weren’t.

I didn’t think I would be back home for Christmas this year. It was not a part of my plan, funny how that works. I’ve been living in San Diego, California over the past year and San Diego is perfect for escaping life’s problems, except for the fact that you never escape life’s problems no matter where you go. After going on a trip overseas with my mom and brother, I returned to South Carolina with them. That was in October and I’m still here… at Christmas.

I’ve spent the last few months helping my mother move out of our family home of 35 years. The house is on the market and if ever there were an empty nest, it is that house. Day in and day out my mother, brother and I have stripped the walls and packed everything away, taking car load after car load over to my mother’s new condo. It’s been a slow process and I’m exhausted. “Make the best of it,” I hear a voice play in the back of my mind, and so I’ve been trying to do that- make the best of it, offer help, cook food, be present, be strong, be 32 and not in need of a Christmas tree.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the empty house by myself. I turned on Christmas music and I let it echo through the empty halls. I danced and I was happy. Then I sat on the floor of the larger than life empty living room and watched memories flash across the walls as if they were movie clips, and I cried. For the first time since my family split up, I uttered the words “I miss my family.” I laid on the floor and I cried as I let myself miss my family. “I wish we had a Christmas tree,” I cried, but I knew it was about more than just the tree.

It’s no secret I’m an advocate for feeling your pain, in part because I’ve spent a good portion of my life avoiding it. But as of recent I’m sick of feeling my pain to the point of not being able to see other people. I’m still trying to find the balance of feeling your feelings without getting stuck in them. And so while I’m bummed we don’t have a Christmas tree because my mom’s condo is too small, our old house is too empty and I’m still not quite sure who to spend Christmas with or how, this doesn’t have to be the Christmas that gets remembered as the one without the tree.

In the middle of all the moving and family drama and stress of holiday expectations, there is someone I overlooked along the way, someone I’ve overlooked along the entire way, as in the span of my entire life.

My mother’s mother. Mommom, we call her. My grandmother.

My grandmother still remembers that boy who talked to her at Christmas dinner in 2009. She asked about him the other day and when I told her we had been broken up for five years and he had been dating someone else for the last three, she responded with “aww shame, I always liked him.” I found her response to be funny seeing as how she met him only once, but at the same time I knew why she felt this way. She felt this way because even if it was just for a short while on a night five years ago, she felt seen and noticed and paid attention to. No one forgets that feeling.

I have spent the last couple of months getting to know this forgotten member of my family, my grandmother. She was always present at holidays, providing shrimp on Christmas eve, gifting us with at least two dollars for each kid so we could “treat ourselves,” and snoring on the couch in the late afternoons. I have memories of her in the background, but for the most part that is all.

One morning I was trying to figure out how I could do more to help other people, to step outside of my own selfish head and meet the needs of others. I knew I was limited as to what I could do financially, but relationally I had something to offer, which is sometimes the harder thing to give. Handing someone money or a piece of pie is often easier than sitting down next to them and trying to figure out what to talk about, especially in this day and age where everyone has to be so politically correct that people are afraid to talk anymore, not to mention the distraction of cell phones which has left this generation of teenagers crippled from being able to make eye contact.

And let’s be honest, it’s not just the teenagers. I see kids playing at the park while their parents scroll through their Instagram or check their email on a park bench. I myself will sit next to my grandmother with my head buried in my phone, clicking like on pictures of people helping people while I’m ignoring the lonely woman beside me.

And such was the case that morning when I was admiring others on social media for do- ing so much for others while I sat on a couch next to my grandmother who was staring at the wall. I immediately started to look up ways I could volunteer, especially over the holidays. It did not cross my mind that sitting beside me was a woman in need of love and attention and eye contact just as much as people in the nursing home or on the street. The ugly truth is, it didn’t feel as good to help or even love my grandmother as it did to help or love other people I had no history with who would praise me for my efforts.

After spending the day looking up good causes, journaling, praying and trying to “get right with God,” I decided I would go for a run at sunset. It seemed to be just what I needed. As I passed through the kitchen to grab some water before heading out, I noticed my grandmother trying to cut an onion. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was trying to make dinner. My mom wouldn’t be getting off of work until around dinner time and Mommom sometimes tries to cook on designated nights to help out.

Assuming Mommom wanted to feel like she was contributing, I let her carry on. I so often function out of assumption, I think we all do but I’ll speak for myself. I’m embarrassed to say it, but multiple times I have walked past my grandmother trying to chop an onion in the kitchen while thinking to myself “good job, Mommom,” instead of, “hey, can I help?” And I get it, not everybody wants help, some people want to chop their own onions and show the world or at least their grandchildren that they are capable of chopping their own onions, which is great, chop away! But I think asking if help is needed, which is just initiating a conversation if nothing else, is worth the risk of your offer being rejected.

I grabbed my headphones and running shoes and walked back through the kitchen. I sat at the table and looked at Mommom, barely five feet tall, her white bushy hair giving her an ex- tra inch, hunched over the kitchen counter trying to chop an onion. I watched her as I put my shoes on. She moved slower than I remembered. I lingered for a second, which is sometimes all the time that is needed to grab your attention.

I wanted to offer her help because I knew it was the right thing to do, but truth be told, in getting back to the basics of calling a spade a spade- I didn’t want to offer help because it got in the way of my plans.

I didn’t want to offer help to my own grandmother. And even if we weren’t related, an elderly human being. And even if she weren’t elderly, a human being! In that moment of hesitating to offer her help, the content of my character was revealed and I realized I didn’t actually want to step outside of myself and help people. I wanted to feel good about helping people so long as they didn’t interfere with my plans. I still wanted life to be all about me. No matter how many times I learn the lesson, my wayward heart sets itself on myself and I forget that people matter.

Sometimes I forget that I matter and I wear myself out in an attempt to do everything for other people. And once I’ve burned myself out I jump to the other extreme, forgetting that other people matter, writing them off in an attempt to only take care of myself. I struggle to find the balance between the two. The simple balance of all people mattering- other people and myself.

I watched my grandmother struggle to chop an onion. I stood up, picked up my iPod, took a deep breath and set it back down. “Do you need any help, Mommom?” I asked, honestly kind of hoping she would say no so I could still go for a run and feel good about offering help. She didn’t respond. Between my hesitant attempt to gently offer help and Mommom’s hearing aides not always working, I realized she didn’t hear me. “MOMMOM,” I yelled, “DO YOU NEED ANY HELP!?”

Mommom turned around to look at me, “did you say something?” she asked. I laughed a little to myself, “YES,” I yelled, “I ASKED IF YOU NEEDED ANY HELP!”

Mommom’s face lit up, “ohhhhhhhh!” she said excitedly, “wow-wee, that would be wonderful. I can’t move as fast as I used to. We might never eat at the rate I’m moving.” I laughed but I also felt a few degrees more horrible for not asking before then if she needed help. I knew I wasn’t going to get my run in that day, but I also knew something else mattered more, even if (for as much as I hate to admit it) helping with dinner didn’t feel like it mattered more in the moment. I am selfish through and through, to the point of it blinding me to help the old lady struggling right before my eyes.

For some reason it’s easy to dismiss helping the old lady when she is my grandmother, assuming she will always be there and she can hold her own. But there will come a time when she won’t always be there and she can’t hold her own anymore, in which case I have to ask myself, am I going to run away because it feels better, or am I going to step into someone else’s struggle… just because.

I began to cut the onions, mash the potatoes and set the table, all the while making jokes with Mommom and repeating them louder so she could hear me. As I helped with dinner that night I knew a friendship was being formed, as well as the realization that even when I think I have nothing to give, I always have a helping hand to offer and a really loud joke to tell that could bring a smile to a weary soul.

At 32 years old my friendship with my grandmother began. We’ve always been related, clearly, but we’ve never actually been friends, in part because I had the shocking revelation that I’ve never actually sat down with my grandmother and said “tell me about you.” I began to ask my grandmother questions, first over time spent making dinner, then over time spent having tea in the late afternoons. Mommom would talk about her own mother with a smile on her face and it was clear she loved her mother very much. It was the first time I saw my grandmother as someone’s daughter and not just a distant relative.

As I began to see my grandmother as someone’s daughter, I realized I could relate to her because I was someone’s daughter. The more I listened to Mommom’s stories, the more affection I felt for her. I began looking for ways to help her, going out of my way to ensure her comfort, not just because she was an old lady but because she was my friend.

I didn’t hear Mommom say “I love you” very much while I was growing up, which isn’t to say she didn’t love us, some people just never learn how to express love, or they learn and then somewhere along the way of life throwing a few heavy hits, they forget. The few times I remember saying “I love you” to Mommom were only slightly less awkward than her reaction, “okay, you too.” Some people don’t know how to receive love either, and after you hear their story, it makes sense as to why.

As my affection has grown for my grandmother over the last three months so has my ability to communicate my love for her. “I LOVE YOU, MOMMOM,” I yell (so she can hear me) before leaving the house. In the beginning she’d respond with her awkward quiet whisper “okay, you too.” Over time she progressed to awkwardly whisper “love you too,” as if she were unsure she could say it or not. Whether or not I got the response I wanted, I continued to tell her I loved her because I did, and it mattered less and less what the response was. I’d rub lotion on her legs, drive her to the doctor, carry her meal tray to the table, put a sweet treat on her plate and looked for little ways to not just say “I love you” but to show her.

Over time those little things have added up, and Mommom growing more and more into knowing she is loved and cared for has begun to liven up in a way I didn’t see while I was grow- ing up; in part because I didn’t really see her, and in other part because some of her difficult experiences in life added up to her being unsure of how to give and receive love. Now before I leave the house Mommom yells with confidence, “I SURE DO LOVE YOU, JJ.” I kiss her on the cheek, look her in the eyes and say “I love you, Mommom.”

Love is hard, and I don’t mean that in a cliche way, although maybe it’s cliche for a reason- because it’s true. When you really stop (really, stop) and think about living out the task of loving someone no matter what the cost is to you or whether or not you get it back, and you do it day in and day out all the days of your life… love is hard. We all know by now that love isn’t a feeling, and I know people need things to be defined so they call love a choice (since it’s not a feeling), and yes it is a choice, choosing to act out love even when you don’t feel it, but I think love is even more than a choice. I think love is so much grander than we could ever imagine or hope to express or receive that quite simply there isn’t a category to put it in or another word to define it… it just is. Love is what it is- it’s love. Love surpasses all understanding, all realm of thinking, all reason, all logic, and honestly, makes no sense.

But for as hard as love is, I honestly believe it’s worth it. I believe that love is hard and life is good, and that love is good and life is hard. I believe that it’s both for everyone and that it’s okay for both to be good and both to be hard.

A few months ago I set out to travel and be adventurous and meet new people because to me that was the definition of life being good. Instead, I somehow managed to spend most of that time at home, my very definition of life being hard. But I found out that whether you are traveling or stationary, life is both good and hard, and wherever you go, there you are. While I haven’t traveled as much as I’d hoped these last few months, I did make a new friend I didn’t see coming- my grandmother, my Mommom. It has been since being at home that I’ve realized if you try to avoid the hard parts of life, you’ll end up missing out on the really, really good parts.

It’s not like everything is fixed at home, nor is it a Cinderella story of happily ever after, we still celebrate Christmas in two different houses, but it’s a hopeful story of no matter my circumstance or how hard life and love may get, it is well with my soul…

and well worth the journey.

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I actually say this when I’m performing and I mean it sincerely, I don’t normally “should” on people, but if you have elderly family members or friends, you should call them or go see them. They are way cooler than we think they are. It’s gets harder for them to remember things as they get older, so it never hurts to remind them that they are loved.

I’m so grateful for your life, Mommom, and I’m so glad I’ll always have your sense of humor and your stylish green sweater to always take with me. I love you. JJ

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fear has a seat

Hi Family! Well, it’s been a while, a LONG while, and I apologize.

The last we spoke about my book (or I wrote) it was Christmas time and I was in South Carolina packing up my childhood home and saying goodbye to my last Christmas in that house. Sorry to get all sappy so soon. The process was long and hard, but good and necessary and ultimately I’m glad I was at home to help my mom, be with my grandmother and get to know my brother better.

I’m back in California and this year looks incredibly different from last year. I’ve embarked on a journey of pursuing art (in all forms) and have rediscovered my love for creating not just with words but with color. I’ve been painting like a mad woman and even went mad for a little bit as I tried to figure out the difference between work and play when you do something you love. I didn’t know I had a little diva in me until I got to the point of thinking my friends weren’t as important as my time painting. I never want to forget the importance of people and that no amount of money will ever replace them.

It’s hard because painting is how I am trying to make a living, which I love AND it also requires a lot of work outside of a 9-5 job. BUT painting non-stop isn’t what will define me as a painter, it’s what will define me as a workaholic and no different from the people who are slaving away at their jobs missing out on life and the people in front of them. I love painting, but it’s not my foundation nor what defines my value and I have to admit over a short span of time I managed to forget that. HOW DOES IT HAPPEN SO QUICKLY!?!

That said, I’m still trying to figure out how to make this all work. People on social media would see me as having a blast… and that’s true… I am having so much fun living out who I was created to be and functioning the way I was wired to function as a creative. AND, I’m also scared. I’m scared because for as fun as this all is, there’s no safety nets or guarantees. It’s like surfing… fun when you catch the wave, scary when it’s not guaranteed you will and the big ones take you under. The ocean is beautiful and its power is scary.

I go from selling high end art pieces and feeling safe to three weeks going by without selling anything and uncertain as to whether or not I will be able to pay rent. It’s scary to be down to the wire with no funds in the bank account. But I gotta say, it’s worth it when you get that message at midnight that someone wants to buy a painting they just saw. A sigh of relief never felt so good.

Fear is a necessary part of the process, of any process. To not have fear is to not be human and to miss out on the exhilarating feeling of the fear being silenced as the LORD comes in with the last minute save. In order to be excited over provision, one must have first experienced the fear of being without.

I have welcomed fear as part of the process, part of my humanity, but (as I learned recently from Elizabeth Gilbert) I tell fear it is not allowed to make any decisions. I’ve recently painted a chair for fear to sit in while I am in the room painting. Fear creeps in and tells me I’ll never sell anything, I’m broke, I’ll never be able to do this. I thank fear for its concern, recognizing that maybe its just trying to keep me in check the same way it did when I was in the water that day and the waves were too big for my strength. “Thank you, fear, I’m just painting, no one is going to die, you can go have a seat.” This is my new practice instead of beating myself up or giving into fear. Maybe fear isn’t such a bad thing, we just have to know how to handle it.

All of this to say, that is what I have been up to and much of it has to do with the process of my book. As some of you know I submitted it in its completion back in December. It has failed the content evaluation three times. Each time I sanitize my voice a little more to meet the high standards of the Christian publishing company. With this last attempt I decided I couldn’t sanitize my voice any further just for the sake of being published. I have no interest in being published just to publish, I have an interest in sharing the cold, hard truth about the goodness and toughness of life. Everyone wants to say Jesus saves but nobody wants to say why or what from.

So, I’m having a hard time trying to figure out what to do. I am past the point of getting a refund and I’ve tried to submit to a few traditional publishers but with my last attempt came the cold, hard truth that nobody really knows who I am to care enough about what I have to say. Ouch. Rejection is a part of the process, I get that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

So I’m praying, and any of you who are willing, asking you for prayer too… about what to do next. I want to be willing to learn and flexible to change what I need to, but I also want to value my voice and the truth God has set me free to speak.

For now, I paint and I pray and I tell fear to have a seat.

Love, J

Keeping it Real

I’m slowly but surely writing and making progress on my upcoming book, which is why I haven’t written much for the blog lately. In the mean time, I’m telling stories over at YouTube to keep in touch with the lighter side of life. I often write about the heavier topics in life, so this is my way to not take myself so seriously and just keep laughing.

Laughter heals, this I know.