Category Archives: Home

Life Around Our Table.

DSC_0146My family owns an old wooden table that once belonged to my great-Grandparents, and has been carefully passed down over the generations. Through the ingenious magic of extra leaves, it expands and contracts like an accordion, making room for up to fifteen smiling faces to gather around it. Twenty, if you don’t mind your elbows bumping.

Years ago, the old wooden table followed my family across an ocean to Kiev, Ukraine, into our first tiny apartment where my Mama could stand in the middle of the doll-sized kitchen and touch all four walls with her hands. I remember the very first dinner that we ate sitting around our table in that apartment—I was six years old, and Stephen and I were famished after refusing to eat anything but white dinner rolls on our trans-Atlantic flight. Armed with fifteen basic Russian phrases and an iron will, our Mother had hitch-hiked to the local market. She wandered wide-eyed amongst stalls where animal carcasses hung dripping above dirty meat counters, looking for all the world as though someone had mercilessly slaughtered half of Noah’s ark. The hard-won meal that she presented on the table that night was beef in some sort of unidentifiable gray sauce, and sleepy, hungry faces beamed and gushed how wonderful each bite tasted. Years later, Mom told us that was the moment she decided that she could live in Ukraine.

Our table has seen three different countries and more different houses, but wherever it was, we were home. It’s seen Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, Cookie Monster birthday cakes and two grinning little boys with curly blonde hair and spaghetti sauce all over their faces. It’s where we learned to pass food to the right, and to wait until Mama started eating to pick up our forks. It’s the table around which eyes scrunched tightly shut as we thanked Jesus for [most of] our food, and where we tattled on the other kids for opening their eyes during prayer. It’s where Ian gleefully discovered that he could burp the ABC’s, and while I’m sure my parents wanted to chastise him it was all so bizarrely impressive that they couldn’t help but egg him on. It’s the table that Kellan broke on the cool October night that he leaned across it to kiss me, and though Daddy laughed out loud and fixed it right up, Kellan never quite lived that down.

Our old wooden table is where we’ve told our stories, where we’ve learned who the people sitting beside and across from us are. It’s where we have celebrated wildly and loved fiercely, debated passionately and doubled over with belly-laughter. That table has been the heartbeat of our home for as long as I can remember, hosting grand Thanksgiving dinner parties and quiet peanut butter and jelly afternoons. My most savored memories are the ones we spent relaxing around empty plates for long, unhurried hours after the meal had ended, red wine still swirling in long-stemmed glasses and contented conversation echoing off the walls.

Part of the raw ache of grief is that you can never go back. There could be nothing more precious to me in the world than just one more night spent laughing around the old wooden table with my whole family, but Ian is gone. And nowhere do we miss him more than when we sit down to dinner and realize that we’ve forgotten again, and set six places instead of five.

The ache of missing Ian has created in me a homesick longing for soul-exhale of heaven. And somehow, I suspect that heaven will look just a little bit like what has happened around our old table for so many years.

Happy 23rd birthday tomorrow, baby brother. We miss you every single day.

While in college, Ian was interviewed about the a cappella group that he sang in. It’s unnerving just how often over the course of two minutes, he was distracted by a girl walking by…

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Filed under Family, Grief, Home, Ian

Death by Brownie Pan.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetLittle sisters run the world, and apparently my schedule as mine proved when she asked me to change my flight and come back home a day early to help her get ready for prom. Which, as we all remember, I happily did. Change fees be darned, she was WORTH IT. Thus, I exuberantly handed my hard-earned dollar bills to the good people at Southwest, and hopped a Raleigh-bound flight.

Imagine my surprise when I showed up in North Carolina on a muggy Friday night only to have Emily Scott Peterson sheepishly confess that she’d mis-remembered her prom date, and it was in fact on SATURDAY night instead.

I laughed a little too hysterically and briefly considered beating her senseless with a brownie pan, and other various violent displays of testosterone. Quite frankly, there are a startling number of things in life that I abstain from only because of my highly illogical but very real fear of ending up on the Jerry Springer show, and this has been Emily’s saving grace more than once.

While Emily is not much with dates, she can rock a red hand me down dress like it’s her job. In a sea of high school girls channeling their inner Michelle Kwan and applying their makeup with a trowel, my little sister looked like she’d walked straight off the set of the Great Gatsby. She was positively elegant—everything from her sassy, beaded headband down to her painted toes. I spent a startling amount of time that night researching ways to transplant her long, ballerina legs onto my body, a surgery apparently performed only in the dark recesses of North Korea.

My other sister [who, might I add, is MUCH better with dates] graduated from Duke, and I was so proud that itProcessed with VSCOcam with m3 preset took every ounce of self-control in my body not to leap on top of my chair and holler like a deranged lunatic when she walked across the stage. This was something that my discerning husband wisely informed me minutes before the ceremony that Dickens do not do. Baffled and wide-eyed, I’d sputtered well, HOW will Keri know that I love her if I don’t YELL?!“to which he’d gently replied, she’ll know if you’re very, very quiet.

Stricken, I indignantly spat, FINE. BUT I’M HOLLERING AT OUR DAUGHTER’S BALLET RECITALS.

It’s truly astounding how often our hypothetical children become ammunition in our arguments.

Being home was a thousand different kinds of wonderful. Touching down in Raleigh, my heart raced like I was Mary Bailey being offered the moon by George, and I wanted to bottle up the feeling and store it forever. It felt like North Carolina was playing my song, and I savored every single note.

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Filed under Family, Home, Then I found $5.00

What Sisters are For.

JCP_2516My little sister called me a couple of weeks ago, proudly informing me that she was going to prom.

This was a profoundly disturbing announcement, given that in my mind she is still a tubby two year old with sprightly chestnut pig tales, and a fond penchant for purple feather boas and all things Hello Kitty.

The only problem with the snapshot frozen in my head is that she’s fifteen. Fifteen, with a hot-off-the-press driver’s permit and ballerina legs a mile long and be still my heart, she is going to PROM. Just with a friend, mind you, because a date would send us all careening right over the edge, and we’re teetering dangerously close as it is.

Ash, can you fly home and help me get ready?

I’d already made plans to go home, because my sister in law is graduating from Duke and I choose to celebrate even the most mediocre educations. Emily informed me that maddeningly, her prom was a day before my flight was scheduled to arrive.

Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where big sisters can’t fly home to swipe mascara and take a thousand posed pictures. For heaven’s sake, it’s what big sisters are for. We exist to make sure that ears are pierced early and curfews are pushed late. We pass down jeans and nubs of old red lipstick and unsolicited advice about how to wax your eyebrows and transition from boxed wine. We solemnly promise that boys really do get a little bit better, when you’re thirty-five or so. And we fly home to help our little sisters get ready for prom.

So Friday night will find me back in Raleigh. There was hardly a choice to be made, given that our Mama would have tried to coerce her into wearing a matching bracelet/necklace/earrings set, and I taught Emily long ago never to take fashion advice from anyone that wore CLOGS for the better part of the nineties. My Mother may be the boss of us, but she adamantly refused to buy anything that had to be dry cleaned until approximately 2007, and I think we can all agree that that represents a startling lapse of judgment.

There’s just something about going home. About country roads that wind and bend for endless miles of green, and car windows rolled all the way down. About friends that share a hundred thousand “remember whens” and beloved coffee shops that I don’t need a GPS to find. About breakfast dates with my Daddy and piano keys that my brother used to play for hours on end and breathing in the sweetly familiar with bare feet and a deliriously happy heart. This morning, my body might still be in New York, but y’all had better believe that I’ve already gone to Carolina in my mind.

If you’d like to see Emily dolled up in one of my old prom dresses, feel free to find me on Instagram! This proud big sister will be blowing it up tomorrow night.

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Filed under Family, Home, My favorite people

The Hog Queen.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetA week ago today, I met Kellan at the airport and hopped a Raleigh bound flight on account of some unfinished business with the Raleigh DMV. [Operation Becoming a Dickens: Take 83648202947573akjdffa;kjldfda;lkjfdakj;l.

I would have been indignant and possibly slightly dangerous if not for five little words: THE NORTH CAROLINA STATE FAIR.

Home to Turkey legs the size of my head and deep fried erry’thang, and the perfect excuse to wear my cowgirl boots and eat deep friend chocolate chip cookie dough.

Stop looking at me like that.

Given that I’m technically not from North Carolina and haven’t even the slightest interest in biscuits, tractors, hunting or collard greens, the State Fair was a learning experience for me. One of the first times that I went was in college, and some sadistic classmates masquerading as friends took unsuspecting me to a hog race.

I know. That’s a real thing.

Clearly, I hadn’t the foggiest idea what a hog race WAS, which my alleged friends took full advantage of when the hog caller [I know. I KNOW.] asked for volunteers.

With no warning, I was violently pushed to the front of the crowd, where a portly farmer in a John Deer hat grinned and waddled towards me.

Well HAY there, little darlin’!

Gulp. Hello.

There must have been something telling in my tentative “hello”, because he knowingly guffawed and belted You’re not from around here, are ya?

Indignantly: No sir!

Undeterred, he commanded me to pick a hawg, honey!

Now of course, was confused. I have very little hog experience on my resume, merely a deep rooted love for teacup pigs which was approximately ZERO help in that moment. Not to mention, I hadn’t the slightest idea as to why on earth I was picking a hog in the first place! With a weak smile, I pointed in the general direction of a rather indifferent looking brown fellow, and it was declared to the watching world that he was my hog.

Several other women were selected from the crowd [the camouflage and bleached hair added a sort of je ne sais quoi to their nomadic group, of which I was clearly not a part], and the pigs were lined up at the starting line.

And then the portly farmer dropped the bomb:

The winner would be crowned the Hog Queen.

He said it with a grin as wide as Montana, clearly believing he was making my day. My heart stopped and the arena started spinning.

Hog Queen.

Hog. QUEEN.

HOG QUEEN!

My short life flashed before my eyes as camera flashes twinkled like stars. Would I be in the newspaper? Did I need to climb over the fence and race with my pig? Would there be a talent portion of the evening?! DEAR HEAVENS, I WOULD NEVER LIVE THIS DOWN.

Meanwhile, my new blonde compatriots hollered enthusiastically, while my peanut gallery friends turned purple with laughter.

Mercifully, my porker of a pig came in second, nobody had to throw a baton or wear a swimsuit, and the day was saved. Also, given her tearful, Miss America reaction, I believe being crowned the Hog Queen of the North Carolina State Fair was the pinnacle of my new bleached friend’s life.

And really, who am I to take that from someone?

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Filed under Cross cultural hilarity, First World Problems, Home, My ghetto-fab life

The Cancer Playlist.

photo (10)Home is so good for my heart. There are familiar faces—so many faces that I dearly miss in Albany. There are long coffees with best friends and hours spent laughing over nothing. There are runs with my brother, back-to-school shopping with my sister, breakfasts with my Dad, morning coffees with my Mom. A myriad of things for which I am deeply and profoundly grateful.

And then, there is Ian’s room. The shoes that he wore on their closet-door hanger, the striped scarf he tossed around his neck as the weather chilled, the brown hat that sat atop his curly hair. I find the brightly patterned superman blanket that followed him from hospital room to hospital room, pictures that he drew, playbills from shows that he performed in, the cologne that he wore every day after I urged him not to underestimate the power of smell. I find notes that he scribbled—meaningless scraps that I scour and carefully catalog as though religious organization might somehow bring him back. But nowhere do I find my little brother.

My Mom asks me what I would like to keep to remember him by, before she goes through his room. And suddenly I can’t breathe because there is nothing Ian enough to ease the sting.

I see Ian everywhere. I see him standing beside the grand piano where we used to sing, bounding down the stairs towards the kitchen, laughing in the red chair. On most days, I still expect him to burst through the front door and laughingly wake us all up.

Trying to understand, several days ago a sweet friend asked me if I simply felt an ache all the time since Ian died. No. It’s like there’s a weight that’s crushing down on me every second. I imagine that one day this will evolve into an ache, and that will be an improvement. 

Ian was diagnosed with cancer on October 3rd. Shortly thereafter, I compiled a list of songs that I entitled “The Cancer Playlist”, and gave everyone in my family a copy. At the time, I imagined that these would be the songs that would remind us of truth as we fought and beat cancer. I had no idea that in fact, they would be the songs we would play on repeat in the ICU, as Ian slipped away and all of us forgot how to breathe.The thing about grief, with all of its wrestlings and longings, is that sometimes the little energy that you have left must be directed towards the exhausting work of reminding yourself to breathe in and out all day long. Hope feels like nothing more than a morphine induced hallucination on the days when you barely remember how to get out of bed in the morning.  Grief is many things, but she is always a teacher—and one of her primary lessons is that a shattered heart can always break just a little bit more.

It is on those days, the days when opening a Bible or speaking to God feels like a veritable Mt. Everest of the soul, that I need truth the most. And that is where the gift of music has proven to be invaluable. Those days are less frequent now, but I still have them. I could not always stomach a Psalm in the ICU, but I could push play and allow the Lord to remind me through music that He is good simply because He is God, and not because He writes happily ever after endings to my stories. Music reminds me that I can get out of bed when it feels impossible, because there is new grace every single morning. Believing truth in the midst of grief is a fierce battle—and music helps me to combat the lies my heart wants to believe.

I know a number of you reading are in the midst of your own battle. In hopes that music might help you fight, too, here are some highlights from my Cancer Playlist—and a few of the lines that I cling to.

It Is Well With My Soul: Chris Rice

Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.

Give Me Faith: Elevation Worship

Give me faith to trust what you say. That you’re good, and your love is great. I’m broken inside-I give you my life. I may be weak, but your spirit’s strong in me. My flesh may fail, but my God you never will.

The Search Is Over: Hank Murphy. [Hank is a good friend of mine—he wrote this song for his own brother. His music and his life point me to Jesus.]

The search is over, you are the answer. You are everything that satisfies, Jesus Christ.

No Sacrifice: Jason Upton [Ian and I used to sing this song together.]

To you, I give my life-not just the parts I want to. To you, I sacrifice these dreams that I hold on to. Your thoughts are higher than mine, your words are deeper than mine, your love is stronger than mine—this is no sacrifice, here’s my life.

Open Hands: Matt Papa [Matt is a friend of mine, and another musician that you need to check out!]

Free at last, I surrender all I am with open hands.

You are God Alone [Not a God]: Philips, Craig & Dean

Unchangable, unshakable, unstoppable, that’s what you are.

UnravelingShelly Moore [Shelly is a dear friend who got to spend some time with Ian while he was sick. While she’s never formally discipled me, the Lord has used her music to teach my heart to treasure Him and believe truth about Him. You need to check her out!]

I’ve heard You say ,wait for a better day. There is purpose even in the midst of this, and just as sure as the sun will rise, tomorrow I’ll get you through the night

Without Words: Shelly Moore

Hallelujah, you are worthy.

Jesus, I Come: Shelly Moore [This song became so meaningful to me that Kellan and I asked a dear friend to sing it at our wedding.]

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus I come, Jesus I come. Into thy freedom, gladness and light, Jesus I come to thee.

And finally, I would add this one:

I discovered this in the ICU waiting room, and it played on repeat.

May these songs help you fix your eyes on, and adore the God who is incapable of being anything but good to you.

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Filed under Family, God's faithfulness, Grief, Home, Ian, Uncategorized