The Inherent Hope of Uncertainty


Like many in the South, I grew up thinking that faith required conviction, and that uncertainty, or doubt, was what we experienced in moments of duress or weakness.

Like many here and everywhere, the older I get, the more I realize that I (and everyone else, particularly those with the most unyielding beliefs – about religion, politics, how we ought to live, whose football coach is the biggest cheater, whether Coca Cola or Miracle Whip makes a more moist chocolate cake – you name it) am utterly clueless.

I will be 37 next month. My daughter is 12, and every year she can remember, one of the teachers in her public school has asked the class to raise their hand as she reads off a list of Christian denominations. Because teachers when I was growing up did exactly the same thing during history units about “religious diversity” or the Reformation or the Puritans, I believe this is for the most part innocent if not completely ignorant, disrespectful and borderline unconstitutional.

And when she tells me she raises her hand for a different “random” denomination each year because she doesn’t want to feel left out or – worse, be called out – my heart aches because I know exactly what it was like to feel “othered” because, unlike the kids who were unquestionably BAPTIST! or CHURCH OF CHRIST! or raise-your-hand-if-you-are-CATHOLIC!, I went to a tiny Lutheran church where I constantly questioned and even fought against most everything we were taught. Continue reading


Oh, Tennessee: Do we see ourselves as others do?

Oh, Tennessee.

Sometimes you remind me of me when I was newly single and starting to date. I was so eager and caught up in my own tender heart that I had no idea how I came across to other people. Sometimes it worked out regardless, and much of the time it did not.

I had baggage. Not Civil War kind of baggage, bless your heart, but a (civil but still painful) divorce… Continue reading

Prettying and personalizing a modern home with antiques

My house: Lately I have found myself with extra space and a desire to make it feel like me. And not just me, per say, but what has formed me – my family, my community. In an effort to fill these domestic spaces – and fill them meaningfully – I’ve spent a quite a bit of time meandering antique malls around Nashville and Franklin. Sometimes I’m alone, sometimes with friends. Sometimes I have a plan, sometimes not. Sometimes I scour my own closets and drawers, finding things I didn’t know or didn’t remember I had, and these, too, become great finds. Art recovered or repurposed. Some of my recent favorites:

This Eastlake sofa is from circa 1880 but has been relatively recently reupholstered in a bright gold that looks beautiful in my green and cream bedroom. It was one of a handful of antiques in a small downtown Franklin shop that sells primarily gifts and modern home accessories. The store owner told me the sofa had been on display for years, too fancy and unusual to muster serious attention from any practical buyers.

I bought it right away.

The images above it are from my mother’s family: formal portraits of her great aunts and uncles as babies, nurses, soldiers and parents. The frames are a variety of colors and sizes not intended for this grouping, but somehow it works out better that way. When the portraits didn’t fit the frames, I cobbled together matting from the portrait studios’ original paper sleeves.

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Tradition is conceived without planning

One of our family traditions is to tailgate before Auburn games. Food is themed according to who Auburn is playing. (Hot dogs when we play Georgia; pork bbq for Arkansas.) This just started at some point and has endured. (From left: my cousin, Lacy Sibley; me, with a bottle of champagne; my sister-in-law, Elaine Stivender.)

We had “Multimedia Night” tonight. We gave it a name so we’d remember to do it again in the future. Lily sat in my lap, her long legs folded mantis-style atop mine, folded in the Indian style. Two short torsos. Four long arms. Through blue eyes (hers) and hazel (mine), we watched music videos from Neko Case and Amos Lee. We looked at Facebook photos of my dad’s work in India, of her aunt and uncle’s vacation to Hawaii. We “liked”. We commented. We read blog posts aloud; she wanted to hear the ones I have written about her. We mixed “roots rock” and “slow blues” on Garage Band, a program she gets instinctively and I merely appreciate.We laughed a lot. When I said, “I love you, Pea,” she said, “I was just about to say the same thing.”

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Insects remind us how we’ve changed

Fireflies are a type of beetle. Some say there are more than usual in Nashville this summer.

I am reading on the screened porch with a bowl of pesto pasta, and the cats are pawing at insects fluttering on the other side. It is long past eight o’clock but it’s been dark only for an hour or so, and I look up for a minute, distracted by the lightning bugs. They are everywhere again.

A few days ago someone asked if there were more than usual this summer. Lightning bugs, or fireflies, (what you call them seems to be determined by geography, age, and whether you need the shorter word for a headline or Twitter), do seem to have staked a claim on Middle Tennessee this June. I thought this may have been because of the floods in May. Lightning bugs are a kind of beetle, and as larva they prefer soggy, wet soil where their food lives. They fill up on slugs, snails, and other soft-bodied animals before developing into the winged insects our children trap in mason jars. The spring floods in Tennessee killed more than 20 people and left billions of dollars of economic damage, but it seems they also created a firefly baby boom.

Could it be we have a lovely footnote to our tragedy, or is this just wishful thinking from a person looking for light?

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The backside of a photograph

6/5/1964: Mrs. Howard Johnson Jr., center, and her daughter Cassie, right, wind up the tour of the Sunbeam plant by meeting Sir Clacky-Wack who had free bread for Cassie. They were part of the four-day open house at the Murfreesboro Road plant for the 75th anniversary celebration of the American Bread Co. (Joe Rudis / The Tennessean)

I need a scanner so I can share with you a photograph of my grandparents in the 1940s, where they are sitting on the grass with her sister looking careless. All three are beyond a decade younger than I am now.

He’s in the middle, leaning toward my grandmother to his right. Her sister is to his left, pointing to her own ring finger, which she’s holding up to show the camera. She’s just gotten engaged? This must be reassuring to my grandmother, since I think this sister used to date her boyfriend – the boy sitting between them. Maybe this photograph captures a moment that set the course one way instead of another: Morris married Betty.

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I’ll borrow your sunrise service

Church of the Living Waters in Lake Martin, Ala. From olivia.nigh's Picassa album.

The warm spell we’ve been having means we’ve been sleeping with the windows open. Saturday morning, the open windows brought rain dripping from the ledge to the carpet underneath. Sunday morning, they brought music from someone else’s Easter service.

It had to have been a Sunrise Service. It was 6:30 a.m. when I first heard it, aroused from sleep by singing. By 7, the preacher was making his point. I couldn’t distinguish individual words from my living room, but I guessed from his rising volume and escalating pace that he was pounding the point about sacrifice and selflessness, and that in moments his choir would race with him into that wide, bright field of redemption. My house is at least two miles away. My head, for the moment, is about 200.

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