When You Want to Consider the Lilies, but Deer Ate Them

Monsters, Voice, and a Picture for Your Fridge

Let’s pretend:

I know it’s May now, but let’s pretend it’s still April, because this is the free version of your April Story Letter (intended for the last Friday of the month but thwarted by an evil throat virus).

The Revelry and the Vendetta:

Here in Arkansas, after rain about washed us off this hill, the sky woke up from its moody charcoal with an early flamingo streak that I’d like to have put in my hair. Spring is a gorgeous spectrum here, a pull between revelry in what’s coming to life and a vendetta against the coming critters that try to destroy that life. Pour me a beer. I’m about to throw the slugs a goodbye-kegger so my cabbages can grow. Truly, truly, I say unto thee, again: there is no life without death.

When you want to consider the lilies, but deer ate them:

There’s a lot to do to keep things alive and growing, and there’s a lot to do to just semi-exist. I woke up the other day, and the lilies had been gobbled down by deer (the lilies neither toil nor spin nor do they even exist anymore; get me a paper bag.) I woke up, observing the budget, the sons becoming men, the laundry, the people I haven’t called back, and the evil throat virus we were getting, along with the fact that our insurance may as well not exist, and to put it delicately - removing as much dramatic flair and hyperbole as possible: a snarling, ten-headed monster entered my house and chased me into a corner. I spent the day fighting it back by making what felt like hundreds of lists, which were mostly lists of lists that I need to make. When I see a monster, I tend to admin the heck out of it.

Once again, it’s time to streamline as much as possible in an effort to slay the beast. We found out this week that my second book (which I’ve asked Seth to write with me) will be published! Subscribers will get more of those details in May (as I learn them), but in the meantime, just know I have discovered that I must become a person who does real magic. I get to write a book … over the summer, alone in a house with four sons. The anxiety monster grows another head, and the only way to deal with it is to write, pray, and go to bed early because I wake now at 3:35 every day since COVID.

My essays and storytelling will belong to paid subscribers and to book writing, but also, I’ll give it to you here in slices and on Instagram. This free newsletter is to bring us all some lightness and beauty, some anchoring truth, and an update on a writing life. Can I do it in a shorter format? I have very little confidence. Even still, the way I write here is different than what goes to paid subscribers and in books.

What’s to come:

I’ve been contemplating what it means to have a voice, to discern the voices in our heads, to connect an awakening voice to our senses, and to find our own voices as we hear the voice of God. The coming paid essays will be about this, beginning with how I lost my own voice in the first place. This will be my round-about way of beginning to tell my story (of leaving the Anglicans to become Catholic (gasp)), because I’m having a hard time telling it straight while a few of the involved relationships are still in healing process.

This will be for those of you who are writers, creators, speakers, prophets, and preachers (some of the best preaching happens in car pick-up lines), or for those among us who have these vocational suspicions. Fire in your bones? You’re in the right place. Lost your fire? You’re in the right place. This will also be for those who are learning to speak boundaries or need to tell their story - even if it’s just to a therapist. Even if our voice merely needs to make it to the ear of someone we love, we can find ourselves without words -even as people who do words best.

You are invited to join us there. If you can’t afford it, let me know, and I’ll add you. Some people pay a bit extra (or a year at a time, which is less but feels more) because they’re able to do that, and to me, that affords those who can’t. I hope we’ll be generous when we can and also ask for what we want/need.

Sensory Integration as a way to remember our stories and tap in to our voices:

I challenged myself to write about the senses this week on Instagram, and I hope to keep coming back to it.

A post shared by @amberchaines
A post shared by @amberchaines

The comment section of that last post, where I ask folks to tell me what it smells like to be rich, is full of poetry. I loved it.

Lightness and Beauty:

A few weeks ago, Seth and I decided to have a date-night-in, so I thawed what I called “good-looking steaks,” and Seth cooked them on the grill. He created a colorful salad with beets and other root vegetables to go with our pasture-raised beef, and the plate was GORGEOUS. We were proud. We had a movie and my classy box of wine set up in the bedroom, and the boys were watching their own movie. For such a beautiful plate of food, you know there’s always that initial moment of truth where you take a first bite, thinking: “Aww yeah, it’s gonna be a good night.” Only when we cut that first bite of steak, we couldn’t bite it at all. It was hardly cuttable meat, much less chewable. We flopped them off our plates and went on with our vegetables, and it was a full 24 hours later that I realized: Seth grilled us some big, fancy, pasture-raised soup bones. I’m still laughing.

Here’s the moral of the story. Looks ain’t everything. So, as I look in the mirror at these dark circles and wonder if I can sell my winter coat to come up with some more non-existent magic to make my face go back up from whence it came, I wonder if we can claim a different idea of beauty. Is it okay if we just ... get old? I mean, I know it is, but can we call what is happening here beautiful? Not many are showing us the way, but Shannan Martin and I were discussing it, and she pointed me to Justine Bateman.

I want you to look at her wrinkles. She’s gorgeous. I refuse many a wonderful bandwagon, but this is one I’d like to learn to ride. We decided to look for the women who are doing it well. Help us out. I’m thinking #agingbeauty. I don’t care how we do it, but please let’s point out how very beautiful it is to be people of experience, nuance, character, and harsh smile lines. Let us look on the soft lower halves of other bodies with such fondness that when we see ourselves in the mirror, we see what God sees.

Side note: “Looks ain’t everything” reminds me of my recently departed grandmother who used to say “Money can’t buy you love, but it can put a damn good roof up over the top of it.” There really is something to the fact that our beauty matters. Beauty may not be everything, but it is something. Maybe as a wrinkle deepens, so does the definition of beauty. I’m not saying I’m not going to fix my neck. I’m struggling with it. I just know I need my love to deepen toward this body and face of mine.

Other people and places:

Jess Deboni: If you love storytelling and writing that shows way more than it tells, Jess Deboni is one to follow on Instagram. Here she asks for one of your stories that centers on flowers. If beauty will save the world, then Jess is working on just that.

A post shared by @jess.k.deboni

Kaya Oakes: A thing I don’t talk about in public, but should, is the fact that I have sometimes crippling adenomyosis (along with other sources of chronic pain). People don’t talk about their pain much (especially lady pain) because, well, it’s too common and boring as hell. ALSO, it’s something that can make us feel more isolated than anything I know. Many of us are there. It blows my mind how often women are walking around, acting normal, keeping jobs, and running things, all while simultaneously having their life-force organs break down and drain from their bodies.

That said, if you don’t know Kaya Oakes, I suggest you poke around at her name. She’s my kind of generation-X cage-kicker, and she doesn’t seem to have much holding her back. She’s gritty and Catholic, and you may agree or disagree with her. It won’t matter. There’s a kind of tenderness that shows up among the grit that’s hard to find. Read her latest article in America Magazine: How the Women of the Bible Helped Me Reimagine my Barrenness.

Her upcoming, 5th book is called The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-Between to Remake the World (November 2021). Can we get a witness? Yes, we can. It’s Kaya Oakes.

A Drink with a friend

While the wonderful Tsh was finishing her latest book, I got to take her place on A Drink with a Friend, and that friend was also my husband, Seth. This may explain why I sounded comfortable enough to talk about “The LORD” repeatedly. Not every listener is a Christian, and I’m concerned I sounded like a trite, southern camp leader in a 1990s frock (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I discussed my writing/reading morning process - “on a good day.” This process may have saved my life, so please forgive my “talk” (it is how I talk in real life), though I often weigh it a bit more heavily when in public so as not to run off folks who’ve been hurt by the church. For the most part, it’s the cliche language and trite sayings that trigger folks. I’ve yet to meet someone who is triggered by Jesus.

Even still, it’s a good conversation. Listen to it here. A Drink with a Friend: A Morning Routine (on a Good Day).

The Blog:

As promised, I did write a blog post that I loved called, The Proliferation of a Jonquil. More will go up on the blog, and only people subscribed to this list will know about it from now on, because I am bailing on Mailchimp (too dern expensive). If you’re following here, you’ll find out if any essays go there when I send these monthly letters. I believe the latest post there is worth the click.

Finally, I’ll leave you with this (even though I’m not sure you’re ready for this Word of Truth from my curly-headed 13-year old man-child):

Feel free to hang this sucker on the fridge because I know we all need to remember what comes from the mouths of babes in times like this.

Peace of the Wild Things to you each.

Amber

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