Let's go for a ramble (down the path we can't yet see).

Two years ago we decided to be in one place full-time, and I love so much about it. But I also miss a lot about the place we left. Sometimes (all the time?), it's really tough to belong to two places.

This week, I've been feeling stuck. Not in my job or my marriage or my body, but between geographic locations and the reasons my heart tugs back and forth toward each. Our wonderful families and church are in one place, where we've chosen to be, and there are so many fantastic parts of that, perhaps things that I've started to take for granted again now that we've been back awhile. A few hours north is a thriving, bustling city that was always easy to navigate and fun to explore (and for two introvert homebodies, those are very helpful qualities). The little town where we went to school and fell in love. People who knew each of us separately and then came to know us as a couple.

Don't freak out, y'all. I'm not up and quitting the job I love, we're not getting out of the cozy house we rent, nothing is changing. I'm just reflecting (and maybe venting, slightly) on how damn difficult it can be to have to pick one place. To not be able to put yourself in a different spot for even one moment and see how it would feel (of course, even one moment wouldn't truly tell you). Two roads diverged... and you have to choose. And other people matter in the decision. Splitting in two is not an option. They still haven't built that high-speed rail between Atlanta and Charlotte, so here we are.

I'm sharing this not to spark curiosity or questions or conversations or even hurt feelings about where I want to be and why. There are so many reasons that I'm glad we are where we are. But I am expressing this "out loud" because 1) I'm a writer and a connector, it's what I do, and 2) I need to know (though yes, I know already) that we're not the only ones to love two places, while we can only inhabit one.

Maybe it makes sense to have these emotions rise up almost exactly two years after I wrote this piece; maybe I'm always going to feel this bit of loss in July, the anniversary of when I packed up life in the city where I became an adult and moved home. That is very possible, just like the haze of mind and heart on the anniversary of a loved one's passing.

I used to be afraid of admitting that I missed Charlotte in any way, because it must mean that I wasn't happy in Atlanta, that all of this uprooting had been for naught. I had to be 100% all in, happy about every bit of it. See, leaving a place isn't necessarily like a person dying; a geographic location is, typically, still physically there for you to return to. I often find myself secretly satisfied when I hear about friends or acquaintances leaving Charlotte, because it makes me feel like I'm not the only one who left, that change encompasses us all. But I'm trying not to be afraid or ashamed of what or who I miss and when and why anymore--because what good does that really do?

It's difficult for me to view life in phases. I often think of whatever phase I'm in as "forever," even though I know from experience it doesn't work that way. I'm a details person, nose to the current ground, I function day-to-day, routine encompasses our life. In this phase, we're here. We get to spend a lot of time with our families, a true gift. We both have good jobs that teach us a lot and expect much of us, give us great experiences. We don't have kids yet. No dog yet, either.

When I try to think big picture, it mostly just leaves me frustrated that there are big parts of the big picture that I can't fill in yet with detail. I think that's where I am in the moment of this writing, and so I ask you to bear with me. Oh, sure, I can pinpoint a phase after it's passed and I'm on to the next one, but looking forward to who and what and when and where and how it's all going to come together? Those are the answers I want to know, and those are the questions we have to answer as they arise. Can we find a niche here, where our families are, when we claim another city as our favorite? Will we find a neighborhood community in this big city that will give the two of us friendships and embrace our future children?

Ha. I say I live day-to-day, but maybe I'm more "big picture" than I realize--because my detailed brain can sure spend a lot of time on those large, unknown questions, rather than simply existing in this phase of our life together and moseying on to whatever it will show us next.

I know what Rilke said about living into the questions, and I get it, and I know it's true. Often, I don't feel like I have too many questions. Life is good in so many ways. But the ugly heat of July seems to bring it up: what a gift to feel tied to two places. And, at the same time, what a wrench of the heart.

How can I keep from singing?

No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I'm clinging;

Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth--how can I keep from singing?

Three years ago today, I officially photographed my first and only wedding (I've unofficially photographed many others). And I'm so glad it was this one. Two of my best friends married each other in a ceremony of great love and deep faith, and the celebrations both before and after expressed the way that they live each day: with joy, laughter, compassion, hope, and openness. Even though we don't live in the same city anymore, they teach me how to be a better human, wife, and Christian every day, simply by being who they are as individuals and as a couple. Happy third anniversary, Sarah and Jamie! And cheers to many more. 

The big sister's toast.

I'm switching up Friday posts a bit, because I want to share the toast I gave at my little brother's rehearsal dinner one week ago in New Orleans. I had fun writing it, and it garnered way more laughter than I expected, which was fun for this gal who definitely did not get her brother's comedic side. All the more apt that writing about him would bring it out in me. We had a fantastic weekend celebrating M&M, and can't wait to see what's next.

Mason is the cause of my first memory, and it's a bad one.

For those of you who don't know, he was born on October 30, which meant that I, a toddler, got to spend a couple of nights at Nana and Pop-Pop's house, including Halloween night. I still have an image--may I repeat, the first thing about life that I actually remember on my own-- of the front door opening to reveal a cluster of scary monsters.

And it didn't get better. As you can see from these photos, I was clearly not pleased at the new little thing that was now taking up my parents' attention. [Claire takes time to show the gathered wedding party the two photos that she made sure to print out before leaving for New Orleans.]

I suppose I slowly got over the shock. Mason was annoying, as most little brothers are, but the times I was most frustrated with him were when we'd play one on one basketball and he'd demolish me, even though he was smaller than me. Being the perfectionist older sister, I'd start to "beat up" on him, and he would just laugh and laugh. But we'd also have fun skating on that same patio pretending we were the Mighty Ducks.

Once we hit high school and had pretty much the same friend group, I realized my little brother is pretty cool. He is hilarious, and can always make me laugh. Even though we're two years apart, we got our drivers licenses on the same day (oops, my bad); He introduced me to some of my favorite rap songs, and I would always willingly let him drive us around, blasting Outkast or Flo Rida around Decatur.

Along with these great qualities, though you may not be able to tell from his teeny tiny first grade level handwriting, he is clever and sharp, incredibly smart. For a kid who hated school, he sure does well at it. He has a strong moral compass, and has always known what he believes and why he believes it. If he wasn't so set on PT school, I'd say he would have a good career in social justice--and maybe he'll find a way to do that too.

Of course, being not just a man but an Asbury man, he loves sports, and being an Asbury man from Atlanta, he isn't surprised when they disappoint him. But he keeps coming back. How many Saturdays growing up did I spend at Briarlake soccer field, basketball court, even for one season the baseball field? And then he found tennis, which catapulted him into high school and through college and beyond- without which he wouldn't have made many of the friends in this room. As an Asbury woman who also grew up with sports ingrained in my psyche, I'll never forget sharing my experience of being Steph Curry's college classmate with my NBA-loving, Duke-hating brother; getting to introduce the two of you is still one of the best gifts I'm grateful I could give. (We won't talk about last Sunday night.)

Mason dated a lot more than I did in high school, so when he told us that he was "kinda" dating this girl from college, I took it in stride. Then we found out her name was Macie, which, not gonna lie, made us all do a double take and then laugh a little. The best part may have been the first summer they were dating, in 2009, when they showed up to a party both wearing the exact same yellow Ralph Lauren polo. Twinsies!

But it was clear that Macie wasn't just any other girl, and I could tell that as I spent more time with the two of them on trips and weekends at home over the next seven (!) years. They have the same sense of humor, which is what stands out to me most, because if Mason is going to spend the rest of his life with someone, she needs to have a sense of humor. Macie also pushes him to be his best, and vice versa. It's wonderful to see how content Mason is when he's with Macie. They support and ground each other, and have succeeded in dorms, long distance, and now as the proud parents of two cats (which you can officially thank me for, since I'm the one who found Lucky on the side of the road at the beach).

 For me, Macie "officially" joined the family when she was so involved in helping to care for our grandfather after his stroke before he was moved to hospice care. She was in nursing school at the time, and would go over to Emory ICU when she had time and be with my family and help the nurses. This is when Mason and I both lived out of state, and so it meant extra much to know that Macie could be there when we couldn't. My favorite story is when Pop-Pop-- still feisty, though he couldn't speak-- tried to pull out his catheter, and Macie had a fierce but silent fight with him to make sure it stayed in. I wish I could have seen that! Your care of him and our family during his final days made me really feel like you were part of the family. He called you his little New Orleans girl, and I know he's celebrating with us in spirit.

Mason, I'm so proud of you and I'm so happy for you both. Sean and I want you two to know that we'll always be here to encourage you, listen to you, and have fun with you. You're the best brother ever, and I'm so happy to be getting an official sister! May you have a long and happy marriage, full of laughter. Cheers.