she lived + she loved


 “Staring at the roots, nobody there to help me grow / I was longing for the rain, you were the flood that made me overflow / A stranger to my skin, but now I’m braver in my bones.” -Lewis Watson

“The rings are fine,” she says, folding her hands for the picture after I ask if she’d like to remove any identifiers for the photo.

They’re hands that have been put to work ever since she was fifteen, balancing serving people and studying and holding onto those who are closest to her.

Mid-September and hurricane Florence is on her way up the coast, the winds beginning to pick up even in our upstate city of Greenville, South Carolina. I meet her at a Starbucks, twenty minutes late, and I rush over, apologizing and remarking that I’d forgotten how heavy traffic could be in that area. It’s been two years since I worked five minutes from where we sat, her sipping on a latte and me unfolding my computer and digging around in my bag for a pen. We take the time to catch up, talking gossip and old times. The jazz music from the speaker outside blares near us and we move to a different table on the opposite side of the patio, only to sit next to another speaker that’s blaring jazz music. We laugh and shrug it off. I tell her my recorder has survived many motorcycles and people laughing in the background just fine.

She grew up in the area, just off central Greenville. Her favorite things are her mom, her dog, coffee, spending time with her friends, and pigs. She loves the colors army green and burgundy. Her favorite book is 13 Reasons Why because of how brutally honest it is, saying that we don’t know what other people are going through. When she thinks of childhood, she thinks of going on vacation with her family and grandparents to the Outer Banks. She feels the most connected to Cape Hatteras because the lighthouse on the island was her grandma’s favorite.

Right now, she works as an assistant manager for a fast-casual style restaurant where she’s worked since she was fifteen. She’s a sophomore in college, studying psychology with a goal of working in either clinical or criminal psychology one day. She dreams of being surrounded by a career, family, and animals.

“Pigs!” she exclaims.

“Oh, you’ve got to get a pig!” I laugh.

One of the most difficult things about being her, she explains, is that she oftentimes feels misunderstood. She explains that with the load that’s placed on her from both work and academic expectations, it can be difficult to take a step away from all the expectations when she needs to. She pauses and then heads into a story I hadn’t heard before, one that changes everything I know about her.

She has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that largely affects the nervous system. It’s difficult because it makes the smallest parts of day-to-day life more difficult, she explains. I ask her what if feels like and she describes it as her bones breaking, but her nerves also going crazy on top of that. She asks me if I know the sensation of my foot falling asleep but where you can’t stand to touch it and I nod, “Yeah.” That feeling will be all over her body, she explains–her mouth, her hands, her legs.

“Some days are better than others, but it makes doing your average things a lot harder. So literally getting out of bed is harder for me than it is for the average person and like wearing clothes is harder for me than it is the average person since it does have a lot to do with nerves, like if I have too many blankets touching me it hurts. It actually hurts–it’s the weirdest thing ever.” She goes on to say that what makes the disorder even more difficult to navigate is the lack of understanding from many of those around her, including doctors who have been known to say it’s all in her head.

She began showing symptoms at age 8, the doctors telling her mom that they were just growing pains. But her mom, one of her personal heroes, pushed back, having the disorder herself, and fought for her daughter to receive the care she needed. Finally, at age 15, she was taken down to a hospital in the Charleston area to receive further clarification on the things they’d known for years, but it ended up being another shut-door. Though they did diagnose her, the doctor’s only advice to exercise more and steer clear of wheat, gluten, and sugar. It would be later that year when she would receive the medication she needed, but two full years before she began learning to manage the pain. To help manage the pain, she tries to take care of herself by exercising and taking her medication, refusing to allow fibromyalgia to keep her from doing all the things she wants to do.

As she speaks, the resilience she owns shines through and I jot down notes, knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that she’ll do great and brave things. We go a little deeper and I ask the question I ask everyone, but don’t always include in the actual post because I think that the most fascinating thing about their answers is that everyone has an answer to the question. With her, though, the answer is integral to who she is. “What do you think happens after life?” I ask.

She immediately says that she thinks souls can come back in different forms and I chuckle knowingly, saying she and a friend of mine would have a lot in common. She has a reason for it, though, and I listen as she tells me the story of how her grandma died, someone who showed love better than anyone she knew and had a deep love of butterflies. Her grandma was like her twin, from the way she interacted with people to her sense of humor.  She died around 8 years ago, with her grandfather following soon after. It was a hard time, she tells me, but something kept showing up in that time, and in all the difficult times to follow–butterflies.

“Whenever anything’s happening in my life that’s bad, I always see butterflies,” she explains, telling me that she doesn’t see them all the time. She began seeing them after her grandmother died and saw them everywhere after her grandfather died. She says without even thinking about it, she just knew it was her grandma.

She tells me more about her grandma as we wind down the interview, how she’s never known anyone who loved as well as she did. Her grandma was the sort of person who would give you the shirt off her back, she says.

“Sounds like she was an incredible person,” I murmur, a picture of a field of butterflies stamped onto my mind.

“She was awesome,” she agrees.

“Where do you feel safe?” I ask her. She laughs lightly, looking past me while she thinks. The answer is weird, she says, but she feels the safest outside. Oftentimes, she’ll go find a nice park and just sit because it makes her feel at peace.

The last question, I tell her, is one I’d given prior to the interview, the one I ask everyone and then use for the article title. “If you were in charge of what would be placed on your gravestone, what would it be?” She’d thought a lot about the question, she says, but only one answer had stuck:

She lived + she loved. 

I nod, jotting it down. It was perfect. I collect her lyrics and close my notebook, that visual of a field of butterflies not leaving me and it’s like I’m seeing her with new eyes. I don’t say it–I typically don’t say the things I mean in person, but I know that she’ll be just fine. I thank her again for coming out and we part ways, excitement all the way home at how much I learned and how much God is part of this project. The moon was full that night, traffic lights turning reds and greens and yellows in sequence the whole way home. I slip into the last rays of summer, feeling a little more like myself.

Hey, # 5–when I think of you, I’ll always think of fields of butterflies and a little girl building castles on Cape Hatteras with her grandma. I’m on the sidelines, rooting for you. All the way, kid.

loving my neighbor–fighting for what’s right + just + beautiful for the world


“The sun it doesn’t cause us to grow / It is the rain that will strengthen your soul /
It will make you whole.” -The Oh Hello’s

First of September and she drives forty minutes to meet me, to tell her story. It’s a Wednesday and I meet her after work, once I’d taken fifty calls for the day and sat in stop and go traffic for forty minutes. It had been a day, the queue crazy busy even with new agents on the floor and all of us helping prepare for open enrollment. And so, I’d been gripping my steering wheel, worried about getting the questions I’d left back home, and wondering how it would all work out. It was one of the first days where fall was starting to settle in, the breeze just barely starting to cool off and the skies that bright blue that always reminds me of those fall Sundays we’d skip church and go for a drive instead.

I park and walk in and she’s already sitting in a chair, waiting for me. She spots me and grins, greeting me with a big wave. It had been forever since we’d seen each other. I wave back and then head up to the front to order a pumpkin spice latte. The barista is one I know and he asks what I’m up to. I tell him about my project, mentally noting to ask him the next time I see him if he’ll do an interview.

“Wow, that sounds cool,” he tells me. I nod and swipe my card, thanking him and place my card  back in my wallet.

We sit outside and chat for a few minutes before I tell her we’re going to begin recording.

She grew up in a small town in North Carolina–a place she looks back on fondly, where she grew up in a tight-knit community. She talks about how much of a gift it was to grow up in a community like what she did, something she’s just now recognizing. “Everybody just served each other and it was very warm and hospitable,” she says, speaking of the people who poured into her growing up. She explains that it was the sort of little town where you could just walk anywhere, her neighborhood being especially tight-knit. Her and the neighbor kids would run around the neighborhood from sun-up to sun-down, until someone’s mom called them inside. “We had our run of the place for sure,” she laughs.

She went to college out of state, laughing as she says that she’d thought her town was small but then went to a college that was even smaller. Majoring in counseling, she also met her husband while in college and they’ve been together ever since. They moved to South Carolina a few years ago and eventually found a church that became like family to them. She loves spending time with friends and talking, saying, “I feel like we don’t look in each other’s eyes very often anymore and so, getting to do that as much as possible is definitely one of my favorite things.”

“And coffee doesn’t hurt,” I suggest, laughing.

“No, coffee doesn’t hurt!” she laughs, adding, “Especially when it’s loaded with chocolate.”

Outside of spending time with her husband and friends, her family is really important to her as well. She loves writing, running her own blog where she strives to be real and talk about things that matter. She loves to read, only watching tv if she’s wanting to turn off and not have to think. Grey’s Anatomy is the one thing that’s the exception, her having watched every single episode multiple times.

Her days, she says, are simple. Right now she works as a nanny and her husband works in production and technology. They go to church every week and come home, do dishes, all the usual things, she says. For her, she says her work is something she loves but it also comes with challenges, explaining that it can be emotionally challenging to be with children who are learning to navigate their own emotions. She loves how her little charges are like sponges right now, noticing and learning everything they can. As far as writing goes, however, she doesn’t know if there’s a book on the horizon or not but she’s trusting God to show her the way.

I ask her why she’s here on this planet, one of my favorite questions to ask. She thinks about that a lot, she tells me, saying that one of the reasons she thinks she’s here is to see people. Being willing to see people even when it’s hard and messy and uncomfortable, she explains, is one of the most important things. On a day-to-day basis, she says that part of seeing other people is allowing yourself to be seen.

“It starts with me a lot of times,” she says, “Being willing to see myself, being willing to let other people see me.” To her, overcoming pride has a lot to do with being seen because it’s easy to not let even the closest people to you see all the messy parts. Loving and seeing, she thinks, are really similar. For her, to love someone is to see them and to go to bat for them in their needs, whatever those may be.

“Hey, I have skin in this game because we belong to each other.” In her opinion, this simple sentence is what loving your neighbor is all about–standing up for what’s right and fighting for those you love.

However, even that leads into one of the things that can be the most difficult for her to navigate. One of the hardest things about being her is how much she takes on. She explains that she’s always picking up on emotions from other people. She says she’s felt this way since she was a kid, feeling as if she were missing some type of protective layer. The official term for the way she carries emotional burdens, she explains, is empath.  I nod vigorously because I’m one too.

“I’ve never regretted showing empathy for someone, but it is very heavy to carry that,” she says, “And so I think I’m having to practice laying some of that down and saying, ‘I can love you and be there for you and help you carry that burden and still maintain my own sense of strength and personhood and not let everything suck all of the life out of me,’ if that makes sense.” The whole time she’s talking, she looks past me, like she’s gathering up all her thoughts and trying to sort them. She smiles when she’s passionate about something, the emotion clearly seen in her eyes.

“That makes perfect sense, ” I nod, explaining that I know how hard it is to be an emotional sponge.

One of the things she’s been trying to do lately is to be more present, noting that she tends to fill up her time with a lot of things instead of slowing down. They aren’t bad things, she says, but she wants her life to be more intentional.

The recording scares the life out of me as it jumps and I quickly pause it, make sure it’s still there and start a new recording. Ironically, we start talking about seasons and the way she talks about the season she’s in reminds me of crisp January skies and the feel of late winter, right before everything starts blooming. She’s on the cusp of a lot of growth, she tells me. It’s something where she feels it’s hers as long as she can reach out and grab it.

I silently hope she gets everything she’s hoping for and wind down the interview, asking her about legacy. Loving her neighbor, really, is what she believes this is all about.

She laughs when she tells me what she wants on her gravestone towards the end of our interview, saying it’s bound to be an expensive tombstone but I know it will be worth it. Every word, every mile, every season.

And I hope she does too.