green hope.

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People are right.

It didn’t feel like Christmas, for the most part.
Then again, a Christmas hasn’t felt like it did when I was a kid since, well, when I was a kid.

But isn’t that the point?

What I want to grab people by the shoulders and say, “This isn’t about you, anymore!”

Let me expand a bit.

It was, to be fair, 80 degrees on Christmas Day where I live. Not exactly close to being a White Christmas, not that I’ve ever had one. Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I get the season and joy and cheer.

I spent most of it catering to other people’s parties and emptying garbages in the dumpster at 1am. That is my new festive holiday cheer. Hustling. Working. Feeding people and cleaning up after them. Decembers are now a blur to me. They are so busy with parties and travel and catching up, we all get a little twinge in our stomachs after Thanksgiving. At least I do.

Maybe I’m part of the problem. Maybe I’m the Scrooge and my bah-humbugs come a little quieter — maybe with some passive aggression and disdain towards eggnog.

I think that maybe I have lost chasing that feeling. I don’t think a tree would help, or if I was in another industry. Christmas is changing not just for me, but for everyone.

So what do we do?

More so, what do I do? Where do I start?

six seedlings growing from soil

six seedlings growing from soil

2015 has been one of the biggest years of my life. Which is actually very, very tiny, considering we are a pale blue dot falling endlessly in some galaxy and in some form of space time. In that sense, I am barely atomic.

But I have a little breath and a big heart and am at times angry with little things and often kind and have a lot going on in my head, always.
This year has been a little about rage. Not that I’ve been jumping up and down on top of cars, but of survival and moving forward. It’s knowing that if you don’t care, then your business is going to fail. It’s knowing you are now responsible not only to people, but to a place and its people and its future.

I’ve been taking and taking my young adult life. Learning and figuring out what the hell I wanted to do. Right? Yes. Many of us got that luxury of learning and exploring. Reading Donald Miller or Mere Christianity for the sixth time and talking about God for hours and why this world is so damn difficult. Those were some sweet, luxurious times.

Now, though, we have to start giving back. And I’m not talking about two weeks on a mission trip — I’m talking about loving people fiercely and selflessly and investing your heart into a place and its people.

We aren’t super great at that. I’m not super great at that. But this is the shift that’s happening in my heart.

Let the kids have Christmas. Give them good memories and cherish deeply your own, but it’s not about you anymore. It’s about the little, more innocent people. It always has been because they’ve always been our best hope.

I think about that book “The Giver” and what it would be like on both ends. I do believe our responsibility is to remind our world of its history — of how we fight and kill but also thrive and move forward. A world void any of this would surely bring us to our knees begging to choose to feel again.

It is incredible and it is so absolutely painful at times.

I guess I’m adulting. I’m working to make some changes as I do so, and as we all must do when becoming older. Maybe I’m still naive to say such things, but we gotta a lot of life left. You have so much power in you, and if I knew you personally I would tell you that all the time.

I would tell about all the power you have to do the hard things and come out on the other side and to talk about how being married is really rough sometimes and how having kids puts so many stresses on everything. Everything. Everything requires loads of attention and it is impossible to control everything at the same time.

That is grace and effervescence — the stuff that lifts and refreshes.

You are allowed to think deep about your dark places where maybe only you and another walk, and maybe walk alone. I have been in those places and have lost the people I’ve walked with — but you find others there, too.

That is the best thing to know. People are hitchhikers in this wonky way, you pick them up and they do the same to you — and sometimes you step back and say, “How did I do this without you?”

Though I’ve drifted away from the Christmas theme, I’ve ended up where I’ve wanted in writing this final post for 2015.

Thank God for people.
And thank you for the graces they give and that we give.

Let’s keep it up. And let’s give our new hopes some good things; let’s give them the best of us and show them mercy when they see our worst.

After all, Love is a great Green Hope.

 

cheers!

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I stood in a kitchen where only a year and a half ago I was serving nachos and opening beer bottles for a bunch of well-off business people in town.

It was where I met some of the crew I would be working with for the following year. I didn’t know anyone, but I knew how to cook and I knew how to open beer bottles.

I needed the cash, so the chef of the event called me up and said they could use me and would pay me at the end of the night. It was my first job back in Mississippi. I was stationed outside in 90% humidity and was drenched by the first hour. The girl I was working next to sliced her hand open on an attempt to open a stubborn beer bottle.

She gasped and bent over. Blood was dripping from her hand as she whispered to me, “I’ve gotta go…” and off she went to the E.R. for stitches. Even after that, the ‘bros’ waiting for their beer were still adamant on that bottle. So, I smiled and said cheers.

Fast forward to now, standing in that same kitchen as a head chef of a breakfast and lunch spot, and also a catering program with a crew that is equal parts hard working and kind and generous. Granted we have our scuffles like all kitchens do, but it is intense, back-breaking labor. Don’t ever get stuck in this trade unless you love it, or it will eat you alive.

I sit here now, in the sunken part of my bed after a nearly 100hr work week of Christmas parties and drop-offs and busy cafe days. My belly is full of hash browns, poached eggs and coffee.

I kinda felt like crying when it was done. I cook all of our catering food from scratch. Bechamel, marinara, ragu. I break down enough chickens for 150 people and cram their bones full of crushed garlic and thyme.

I intentionally put stress on my clock so the meat isn’t sitting around all day. It’s all about timing and pressure. So much pressure. Imagine waking up knowing that 200 people have to eat in eight hours and you have to cook it all. It’s a lot of f!@#$!@ pressure.

Also it’s a lot of dirty dishes. (And I do those, too.)

So yeah, I am relieved today. Happy, for the most part. Tired and my hands are torn to pieces from tossing around sharp chicken bones and the inside of my arms are burnt from reaching in the oven and being tired and careless.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

I am proud.

Of my crew, and all their hard work and sacrifice. Missing their own Christmas parties and traditions to help uphold others. They are servants at heart and they are the reason these things work. It’s funny, and I think we all sort of think that we wouldn’t be able to do it if it wasn’t for the other person.

And that’s how this stuff works. Accountability and respect. Getting paid fairly doesn’t hurt either, and when it comes to wealthy southerners, we don’t mind putting in a little extra.

With all that being said, I am filled to the brim with thanks.

I am thankful for this quiet space I have today. Not many people get that luxury.

I’m thinking about a lot of people and a lot of things…and if where I am now is a testament in how to treat others and move forward, then I can only imagine where we’ll be next year.

Until then,

cheers!

dark and light.

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I consider myself a spiritual person —
to the point of chills when I stumble upon a stained glass portrait of a Mother wearing
holy colors, fearing for the lives of her family.

My upbringing was very traditional, yet in my most recent years, untraditional.

While a shaky faith is a thing we all come to terms with in different seasons, I find myself on days like today, with a good song in hand, reaching deep to reconcile my weighty ghosts.

This week has flown by. (As they say.)

Tuesday I found myself hunched by a toilet emptying my sick belly, and luckily found some chicken stock in my freezer to sip down before I went to bed that night. I’ve cooked for a few hundred in the span of this week and my body is a bit worn down. I’m tired. Bone tired.

Last night, as I do when I need comfort, ate fried catfish and watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I propped up my swollen foot and indulged in maybe another Christmas tree cake, because I can afford it after losing a few pounds from that rogue stomach flu.

There is a scene at the end where a father is crying over the loss of his son, and a very violent loss at that. Being tired, I assume, makes me more emotional. It’s usually a hard scene, but I lost it again. It wasn’t quite just about the movie, but more so a culmination of some dark, dark times we have all recently been aware of in our world.

People all over are experiencing trauma through these things. I don’t think we realize it. We see a video of a man getting killed and it haunts us and then we move on nibbling on our ham sandwiches. But it sticks with us. At least it does me.

I think in that moment when I heard the father moan in sadness and pain, I was reminded of the mothers and fathers who have to bury their sons and daughters. I think about the dark injustice that plagues our world and our apathy because we are afraid to dialogue. Afraid to disagree with our families and friends.

I heard someone say that advent is a very dark time where hope emerges.

I love that.

light-in-darkness

My religious beliefs aren’t anything to write home about anymore. I do have what I have. I believe in my bones what feels right and I have the stories and memories of growing up in a world that I still cling to from time to time.

I am not here writing to defend myself or my beliefs. To be honest, I don’t care too much about my beliefs. Those who know me, and love me, understand that I love a person for their heart, not for what they believe. I have seen too much damage over beliefs, as I find they change like the tide.

But love, I can work with. Love gives me something to hang on to.

So I take this time that many churches and communities call Advent and I mourn. I am weighed down with the loss of both innocent and guilty lives. I think about the racial and political and religious climates that have driven millions and millions of people into different places of the world. Like the two who fled to have a baby in a trough, fearing they would be murdered. And as it goes, that same woman, holding the ripped flesh of her own son.

I sit here today, with a deep hope in my belly. Deeper than the dark stuff that finds its way down there.

None of this stuff is easy, but it’s important.

Here’s to this season of darkness, but also great light.

Wishing all who read this wonderful times with their loved ones, or who are away from home or who don’t celebrate or who eat Chinese food out on Christmas day (which sounds pretty awesome actually.)

Sending you love and light and the space to dwell in them both.

-Josh

 

 

Magic. (Words to My Wounded Healers)

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My 2013 was a hot mess.

As most of you know and can attest to, I am almost hungover with that sad feeling. I go inward and think about the things I lost. The people who abandoned me and the others who rescued me without even knowing.

My dad told me I write too much about sad stuff. And he is right, in a sense. I also know he reads this. But we also discussed how good it is to get stuff out of my head, and that the sting is less once it’s out in the open.

And let’s be honest, the great writers, poets, and singers of our time bloomed in the midst of a great sadness. It is poetic and true. Almost as much as falling in love.

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My trip home for the holidays was a bit magical. Yes, the holidays are hard for a lot of people. Especially flying across the country to be with the ones you love and who have known you longest. I cherish that.

And I say magical in the sense that people lifted me up without having to say a word. I was met at the airport by my grandparents with a still warm muffaletta! Salty, fatty. All the things you want after getting off an airplane. That was my first treasure.

I then got to spend some time with old friends around a bonfire before I finally made it up to Jackson.

Christmas Eve was spent cooking gumbo and smellin’ up the house with that dark, dark roux. I got to use some gulf shrimp, which really makes gumbo hit that super sweet spot for me. Presents didn’t hurt, either. 🙂

And in the ebb and flow of my holidays, the sadness of my year would poke out its head. And I would head upstairs into my room to recharge for a second. To greet those friends that I have been tugging with for so long. I would find out that the person who wanted out of our marriage was already seeing someone else.

Everything inside of me went berserk. I shook and wept and got more angry than I’ve ever been. I said words that hurt, because they hurt me, too. Not even being fully divorced yet and now this! All the while finding out when eating spaghetti with my Gran. Things got real. I went into destroy mode, but had nothing to destroy. I absorbed it and molded it a bit. Contained it for the time being. Smiled, and threw around the ball with my nephew.

I woke up the next day to go camping with my friends who I went to high school and church with when I was younger. We keep in touch, though we are all spread out. We pick up conversations like we’ve never left them. We catch up. Laugh. Drink. Fish. Sleep. Eat. Shoot guns. And Repeat.

It was the beginning of my healing process.

Laughing so hard my stomach hurt the next day.

I tear up thinking about the people who carried me this year. Who let me take the last fried piece of food and cleaned up after me knowing good and well I should have done the dishes. Or who let me sit on their barstool for another drink, if only just to have company. I breathe in deep this goodness from others. I’ve allowed myself to take, because I’ve needed it. And I’m thankful for the people who gave of themselves to me. Who let me fish with the best rod. Who spoke good, and nurturing words into my heart.

The people who told me they loved me and hope for me and tell me time will heal. (and that I will heal.)

To the kitchen that I spend time serving others and healing and exploring. To laughing with my Chef and co-workers and cleaning the sinks really well. every. single. day.

To those who built me up when my world was crumbling: thank you, forever, thank you.

So now, as I sit in my brown chair and listen to the soft hum of the highway near, I will unpack my world again.

I will give thanks to that Great Love. To my fellow Beloved, who are also wounded healers.

thank you

thank you

thank you

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

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(I wrote this bit before the slaughter of our turkey, Michael, who lived in our back yard. Since I am away from a computer this week and can only type via iPhone, I will share my eulogy for one of the most fierce turkeys of North Portland.)

– – –

I’d never seen a turkey like Michael before. I guess I’d never seen a turkey that close, either. (Especially one named Michael)

That blue and red beard. You used to be the national bird! And then they changed it to the noble Eagle.

Fair enough. Eagles are pretty badass.

Turkeys are not the smartest, or most charming. Then again, neither am I.

But you were Quiet, at first. Not quite big enough to strut. (I guess we’re all this way until we realize what we can do)

And then, one day, you puffed up and out they came.

Along with a strut, came the puffs and Gobbles that made you boss. Protector. Alpha. Defender of your stoop and way of life.

One day I helped clip your wings, but I’d like to think you weren’t planning on leaving, just to see where you could go.
I felt that way too.

So thank you for your life. For giving the neighborhood an image of what a real turkey looks like. For the ‘oohs and ahhs’ from kids and adults alike. I’d like to think you gave them something bigger to think about.

Michael, you were a real turkey.

Even though you were loud and at times obnoxious, you were just being what you were supposed to be.

A real turkey.

Our turkey.

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coming back.

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I wake up every morning in a bed just big enough for me, that used to fit two.

I roll around for a bit. Back. Side. Stomach. Other side.

Taking deep breaths, I realize I am waking up. Officially. I have the luxury of sleeping in most days, due to my night time work hours. But alas, there is nothing like a restful morning, sitting in my big brown chair with coffee, catching up on the world, and at times, looking deeply into my own.

There was something missing.

Thanksgiving was kind of shitty.

And my birthday was last Monday. I arranged a few things, and some other friends invited me into their plans, which was just what I needed. There wasn’t a way I could weather my birthday alone, and I’m thankful that I didn’t have to.

A co-worker recently asked me if I was a Scrooge, or if I enjoyed the holidays. Very quickly, I responded, “Yeah! I just got a tree! Well, a 3-ft fake tree from Fred Meyer, with sad lights, but it’s beautiful! And it was 20 bucks!”

And so now I sit, with this warmly lit Christmas tree that looks like it got into a fight with a cat, and lost. Maybe two cats.

But that doesn’t matter. In the words of Mindy Smith, “..it makes my holiday feel like Christmas.”

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Behind my tree are four paintings. They all represent seasons. Summer, Fall, Winter and onto Spring. As it goes. They make a big beautiful tree. I cherish these paintings because they were a gift from my little sisters, Willow and Olivia, who live in Georgia. My dad also helped in their final touches, and he brought them with him when he came to visit not too long ago.

Some days it takes me a long time to snap out of a funk. I’ll dig myself in too deep, knowing in the back of my mind I’ll be okay. I’ll get out of it. It’s a little disheartening to feel myself slipping into it, though. I know when it starts to happen. Bad ideas pile upon themselves and I’m left feeling like I did when I was a kid stuck under all those plastic balls at Burger King.

But like I said, I get out of it.

And days like today, I head into a kitchen, I put my head down and I chop onions.

I know, that if I put them on a low heat with butter and olive oil and salt, they will caramelize into this magnificent, sweet and savory brown sludge. A delicious sludge, albeit.

Also, I’m feeding people I do not know. I fed a gal tonight who was a southerner and said my gumbo was the best she’s ever had since living in Portland.

My sadness feels more like a hangover, at this point. Still sort of there, but on the outro. These good things, these things that make sense in my head jolt me out of it.

That kitchen, has saved me far too many times.

Maybe, it is my love of stainless steel. Big refrigerators. 1/9 pans and hotel pans, the hum of the dishwasher. It all sort of makes sense. Kitchens makes sense. Food makes sense.

All this other stuff, can be messy.

But I’ll take messy. Maybe not so much in a kitchen, but in you, I love messy.

And so my day, as the seasons come and go, will grow and fade and die and come back.

That is life.

Growing.

Fading.

Dying.

coming back. 

Wrestling with the Current

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I want to give you another piece about food, because I feel like that’s what you’re here for.

But if I’m honest with myself, which is a fierce part of me these days, I’m thinking about a lot more.

The holiday season is upon us. Well, for us living here in the U.S.

Which means, well, a whole lotta work. Everywhere I look, I see this glimmer of what adults used to know and love. Because that honesty I feel deep down tells me these holidays will never feel like they used to. I think that can be a little sad for a lot of people. Especially those who are away from loved ones and crave those perfect moments filled with cinnamon rolls and bacon and maybe, a warm fire.

I am sad, because I was getting to a place where the holidays were becoming meaningful again. More than just presents, which to be honest, are a lot of fun. Let’s just say “giving gifts”. But as we all know, the gifts take a backseat, the older we get. At least to me they do. What I want is connection. To feel close. To feel caught up and loved and peaceful. That is something I never get tired of — something I crave, especially now.

I’m processing this now because I know what divorce and separation look like during the holidays. The absent body and the weight that body used to carry. There is a lot of sadness in a lost presence. Whether that is by loss of family members or friends, or a relationship that has run its course.

We are stimulated by the music and food and gifts. Rightfully so. They are lovely. But I know I will start to feel that weight in my belly. It will come on strong, like some undercurrent pulling me away from the safety of a shore.

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And I will have to let it take me.

For just a bit. I will wrestle with it and tug and release. I will ask it hard questions and not get anything back.

We are all fighting these battles on the inside. To know what is good and what is needed. And how that shifts in our own seasons. It’s okay to pull them out to examine.

“This is what my pain looks like!” I will exclaim.

And it will soften.

I remember, as a kid, those first holidays when your parents separate. There are hard questions you ask yourself. Questions I still ask myself and fumble around with. Where do I belong? And for how long? Exactly how much love do I deserve?

People will tell you the great love they have for you, but it’s really up to the person to accept those things in themselves. It’s an odd thing, our ability to be open for others relies on our own ability to love ourselves. Truly, I think. And I think sometimes that looks selfish to other people, but there is a great peace in loving one’s self, and to feel strong.

So this year, I want to work for that peace.

As Christmas’y as that might sound, it is important for me to start again.

Learning what it is I need, what tools I need to be light in the heaviness, and to once again feel connected to the world.

Because in a season where we are all finding and fighting for each other,

there is nothing more important than fighting to find yourself again.

‘Tis the Season

Food, Health

The holidays are always changing for me.

In a sense, we want the best memories of our childhood to last. Some of us keep going back to it. That sense of nostalgia and warmth paired with food and tradition.

Granted, some folks grow up with messed up childhoods. So know when I say childhood memories, I’m referring to the formative things that made many of us feel good. Hot cinnamon rolls. A good hug. Sleepy eyes waking up to those familiar sights and sounds. I suppose those things will never change.

This season, for me, is usually one of over-indulgence. My birthday is coming up this Sunday, so it falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas (as it always has since I can remember…) Everything I celebrate with others comes at the ass-end of the year. Which is nice, but usually leaves me feeling worn out by January 1st. I think most of us feel that way.

We all kind of climb into our holes for a few months after New Years, I think. At least for the best parts of my introverted being, this is the case. And that’s okay.

I think more than anything, I want to be aware of it all. These things are overwhelming to a lot of people. Watch a little kid during a Christmas get-together and that’s about what the inside of my head looks like, even while I’m sitting quiet in a corner rocking back and forth. Okay, maybe not that dramatic, but you get what I’m sayin’.

What I want to say, is that we’re usually all over the place. ‘Tis the season to freakin’ chill out. I’m hoping for that this season. To process it as it comes. There are good reasons why we celebrate with each other and I mostly want to be aware of it all. To feel not so burnt out and exhausted. I get too much of that at work sometimes. I don’t think it’s healthy, so I’m gonna try and have that be a priority for myself and with the folks in my community.

In other news from the holiday season, I got some good news back from my latest doctor adventure. And I say adventure in the truest sense because I go in with loose expectations. I could hear hard things or positive things, I could cry my eyes out or laugh my arse off. This is how it usually happens.

But I’m still getting better.

Yes.

Better.

What a great word. There are some things with my cholesterol that I need to steadily work on, but my triglycerides have lowered dramatically and my HDL is higher, which means good things for how my body is rebuilding itself. I’m still losing weight and am at 208, which doesn’t look too terrible on my tall frame.

I’m a big dude, there’s no doubt about that. My belly is here to stay, but as I find myself saying more and more, it will be a healthier belly.

A lot of this came from cutting out sugar — mostly in the form of alcohol and refined carbohydrates (I know, I know, you’re sick of hearing that.) I’m not pushing this in your face. You know what’s good and bad for you. I’m not going to brag about how I eat clean or healthy, because for some people, it’s probably not the best. I had to get better emotionally as well.

I’ve worked hard for this.

And that’s when I broke down.

When I told my doctor, “Man, I’m just so stoked…” I just lost it. He pulled out his conveniently placed box of tissues and I blew my already runny nose. He responded, “Yeah, you worked really hard for this!”

It’s good to be proud of yourself. To be brave and confident. So much of the world is hard on us. To be this and that. To act certain ways while holding yourself up.

But I’m still getting better! And for lack of better wording, I’m so f***ing proud.

This time last year, I was really down and felt terrible. And while I did so much work, I’m also so thankful for my doctor. The dude has helped me with some amazing tools. (And I did it all without health insurance. And I’m thankful for those family members who have helped us with these things as well.)

So as usual, when I got up to write a blog for Southern Belly, I was never quite sure where it would end up.

I’m glad it’s ending this way.

But it’s not actually ending.

Not even close.