On Being Vulnerable

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Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the correlation between what we put out into the world, how we view our own privacy and the level of vulnerability with which we are comfortable sharing with others. Facebook, blogs, and other social media sites have completely changed the level of involvement we’ve come to expect in the lives of people we come in contact with, most of whom we don’t even know. Not even a little bit. It has also changed what others have come to expect of us.

I’ve thought a lot about happiness and misery, reality and perception, and this constant game of true or false we seem to play online. It seems that everyone now has a platform. It is expected that we are to share our struggles, to put it out there so that others might benefit from our private stories. You aren’t alone. Others go through this too. This is largely a good thing on some platforms: those struggling with depression or mental illness or thoughts of suicide, those dealing with infertility, thoughts of inferiority, failure or insecurity (i.e. every encouraging Mommy blog post, ever). We are now in constant need of validation, and I think there are certain areas of our lives where this has become extremely dangerous and damaging to our relationships.

Those closest to me know that I have always been comfortable in my vulnerability, and in the past I found myself really frustrated with others who hid their feelings and protected their own vulnerability. I highly valued authenticity and transparency: raw realness. I enjoyed it in college lectures and discussions, and I came to expect it from my family and closest friends. There was always, and still is, a very personal element in how I stand when I feel passionately about things, honesty, saying the hard things, and standing firm when I draw a hard line on what I will or will not accept. In the past, it almost hurt my feelings to know someone wasn’t being honest with me, or themselves, about their feelings, whether it had anything to do with me directly or not. I wanted their trust, which to me meant they would show me the most vulnerable parts of themselves. And if they couldn’t do this, it meant they weren’t authentic, that our friendship wasn’t “real.” I have wholeheartedly come to believe this is not true. At all.

My feelings about someone’s comfort level in exposing their vulnerability has everything to do with me, and nothing to do with them. In short, when those thoughts cross your mind, that someone “wants everybody to think their life is perfect,” and you start sounding irritated, that’s your own insecurity talking. It could also be this nasty thing called jealousy. There is a very fine line we must walk in our Facebook lives. We get our news from there, we make inferences and draw conclusions on the state of our “friends'” marriages, what sort of mother a woman is from how many selfies she posts, whether she works, whether she stays home, if she’s seeking attention, validation or being passive aggressive or vague. People use Facebook to say things. People have come to expect us to say things too, to share enough to make us vulnerable, to make us relatable. But what if we don’t share our struggles, what does this mean? If we share the happy moments only, suddenly we find ourselves being crucified for trying to make everyone think we’re perfect. However, when someone “overshares,” judgment comes fast and furious about what should be our private lives. Facebook doesn’t make us public figures, and no one has a right to the private moments or struggles in my life, or your life. We let others see what we are comfortable with them seeing, and it is solely our choice on who sees what. Those closest to us can see what we don’t say, they know our souls to the core and help us coax it out when we need. Sometimes it’s as clear as day to see through someone’s bullshit, but when it comes to others’ expectations of what we owe them in terms of our vulnerability, we could all use a dose of reality on what we are required to give, as well as what we have come to expect from others.

The older I get, the more private I’ve become, and the more I’ve come to respect the autonomy and privacy of the family in which I grew up. Our interpersonal relationships were never public fodder. My parents’ disappointments in us, discipline issues, times of unrest, big challenges, even sicknesses: big things stayed within our four walls. This wasn’t to trick others or paint an inaccurate picture of our family, it was to respect the privacy of our struggles, to anchor our relationships in trust and safety. Until I married and had my own family, I never felt safer than in the presence of my parents and my brother- because they were the keepers of my heart. Despite my teenage angst, the fight to spread my wings, my mistakes and failures, I knew without hesitation I could place it all in the hands of my family and it would be safe there. Despite my resistance and that stretch of cross-armed, pinched-brow years, I knew this to be true: unconditionally they loved us, and protected us. It was not complete transparency or the dumping of every secret, and they didn’t expect this of us. If I give my children nothing else, I pray that I can be this safe place, a place of trust for them as well. The beauty in having children is deep and wide, and extends every day in application of every area of my life. There is something so powerful in bearing witness and sharing our lives with others, telling our story, if we are moved to do so. But as adults, there isn’t an unspoken rule of law that we are required to do this with people who, because of their own expectations, demand or try to force that we do it.

“Life is just messy, and we will clean it up.”  -Sarah Ezell

Thank God for those whom we wrap up in our arms and absorb their stories for them when they place their hurt delicately in our care, and for those who wrap us up, protect our stories, and help us fix things when we are in desperate need. When it comes to our vulnerability, we could all benefit from reevaluating what we’ve come to expect from others in terms of what they share with the world, what they share with us, and what we’ve come to believe they owe us, and approach it with more understanding, respect and grace. We can always assume there are struggles. We can always assume nothing.is.perfect. We are all flawed and damaged and worried and stressed because LIFE. But there is also happiness and purity and dedication and pride and thankfulness. The presence of one set of feelings does not negate the presence of the reverse, whether it’s on Facebook or not.

Oh how I have come to love and respect those dear to me who are introverts, keep a bit of distance, or privacy. I am so blessed in those moments in which I serve as a safe place, a landing place, or a listening ear but I’ve grown to understand not everyone needs me to be that person in their lives. I can be, but I don’t have to be.

Wednesdays are for deep thoughts around here. Thanks for reading! Have a great one!

Relative Aloneness

Blessed far beyond what we deserve, Aurelia is able to spend her days while we are at work with both of her grandmothers. I especially love getting to see my Mom’s smile when I get home from work. It is the same smile and insanely positive attitude I’ve seen my whole life. Yesterday we talked about aloneness for a few minutes, life being hard sometimes, and it hit me how incredibly lucky I am to be loved to intensely by not one, but two families. I also thought about how the aloneness we sometimes feel is relative to our situation, but generally cannot compare to what true hardship and aloneness really is in this world. It is not a comfort to have someone tell us “it could always be worse,” but as I looked at this woman standing in front of me yesterday afternoon, I suddenly felt really ungrateful in all my complaining and constant worry over every tiny thing. I realized, Mama has never complained not once, belittled my worries, or made me feel as if my heartbreaks and stresses aren’t real. But she knows about aloneness, more than I will probably ever have to experience in this life.

I remember the strain around her eyes and the choked back tears the first time I really understood how mean girls can be to one another. In fourth grade that was a sad lesson. I already dread this day for my precious girl, who knows nothing of competitiveness, jealousy, or aloneness. It’s amazing that it keeps happening, but I look at Mama and think, she felt this for me too.

I remember her calming my sobs when my first love broke my heart at 17. She sat up with me for hours letting me cry with my head in her lap. She wanted to understand everything, but mostly just to sit with her and not say anything was more healing than anything else. Daddy stalked around, not knowing what to do with himself, wanting to crush this boy who broke the one thing he thought he couldn’t fix. But he and Mama, they had already built the framework for strength and confidence and survivorship.

It’s as if they both spent their young life separating the hurt into one box, and their own unrealized dreams of love, support, and the true definition of unconditional, selflessness and sacrifice into another box. As it does with everyone, sometimes that hurt, and those insecurities creep out of the box, but Mama protected me from her own pain, never hurling those feelings at me in comparison, never reducing me, but always empowering me. Instead, she opened her box with dreams for her family of being covered in love, and that’s what she poured over me in my worst and weakest moments. That’s what she gives me now, as I wait for my tiny boy to arrive, as I stress and complain and beat dead horses, as I worry and toss and lose sleep and start slipping into this world of aloneness.  She pulls hope out of the good box. She hugs me and smiles and sympathizes in a way she should not be able to, but she does.

I’ve told you before that ‘thank you’ doesn’t cover it. We need better words to express the gratitude that washed over me this morning. I love you, Mama.

*For more stories on family, click the link for Growing Up Renfro

The House That Built Me

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On Sunday we had brunch with my parents, and by that I mean we ate breakfast around 11:00 at Cracker Barrel. About a year ago my parents bought their dream home and told no one until they had already closed. The day they decided to “show us a house they liked” my Dad measured off a space and asked us to mark out four corners in the kitchen and into the living room, which is open, huge, and gorgeous. With Joseph, my brother and I marking the small space, my Dad tells us that this space would be about the size of where he and my Mother began. Dad worked all his life to give my Mama her dream home. It is as though it was built specifically for them, and it is starting to feel like home. But this past Sunday, they wanted us to all go by and see Orchard Drive for what would probably be the last time. How do we say goodbye to a place filled with so many memories? For a minute I felt panicked, then incredibly sad. We only walked around for a few short minutes, but in that time, a movie reel rolled out in my head…

This was the first home my parents ever built, and there are a million tiny details that my Dad tweaked and touched that no one may ever notice, but I remember. Long nights when I was eleven and Alex was seven, when we nearly passed out on bare subfloor while Dad screwed 87,000 more screws in the floor, so as to avoid any creaks. I remember the view from the front door, with my backpack flung over my shoulder coming home from school, and seeing a tiny little dog kennel in the kitchen with two eyes peeking out at us. Vanderbilt was truly the most loyal and loving dog I have ever known in my life. In the middle of tears and teen angst, he would come inquisitively, with his ears laid back and tiny docked tail wiggling. I swear I know he was saying, “Are you ok? Let me sit with you for a while.” We had fights and family meetings, countless naps on the couch, thousands of prayers around the dinner table, celebrations of birthdays and graduations, cookouts and late nights. My Dad was generally nice to boys when I started dating, but for some reason they didn’t especially like coming around our house. It is possible, no- probable, that a few were too scared of him to come back around more than a couple of times. There may or may not have been some intentional intimidation.  But in the end the only one that made the cut made me his wife.

Perhaps one of the most poignant memories of our old house is the sound of the back door. The challenge was always to see if we could get in the door, get the alarm turned on, and not come around the corner to find Dad as if he had risen from the dead to slay an intruder. Coming up on him in the dark is not a fun time. Especially if we were even two minutes late. Mom would toss around on the couch and pace as the minutes counted down, ‘please get home, please get home’ she would pray. I always pushed the envelope, shocking, I know. I figured if I made it to the driveway, that should count as on time. Even if I stayed out there a while joking with my sweet Hannah, or coming home from a date. Hannah and I siphoned gas from Dad’s mower canister in that driveway, my friend Jeni and I stayed up laughing silently for hours. My room was of course right over my parents, so I really wasn’t a good time if my friends came to my house because I spent the whole night stressed to the max that we’d wake the beast, so all I did was just repeat the cycle of have fun for about 5 minutes- then start shhhh-ing everyone to death- have fun for about 5 minutes, and so on and so forth.

Alex and I bounded up the stairs a million times. We got the giggles and acted foolish if we ended up brushing our teeth and getting ready for bed at the same time. We had “my side” and “his side” and we did not cross the line. We slept with our doors closed, washed our cars together outside, compared our tans standing in the mudroom looking into the half-bath mirror. We tripped over Alex’s huge shoes everywhere in the house, and learned to lock every door behind us. This house was where a lot of my growing up happened. Heartbreaks, milestones, where I learned to spread my wings. Watching Aurelia’s tiny feet make her own little footprints in the house that built me was simply surreal. The most precious memories we will take with us, where home will be where my family is, in my little hometown. Saying goodbye was bittersweet, as it always is, but oh if those walls could talk…

Hard Work

Renfros are workers.  Saturdays were never for sleeping in when I was growing up.  When I got old enough not to snip my fingers off with the shears, my job was to trim around bases of the trees after Dad finished cutting the grass.  I edged the flower beds and felt the backs of my arms burn sweeping the driveway.  Being a girl did not make me exempt in the hard work it takes to keep a home.  I learned to work inside too.  Lemon Pledge will always and forever remind me of the edges of our big octagon coffee table, worn to a smooth touch from years of my brother and I playing games around it.  Or building puzzles on New Year’s Eve, or sitting and watching reruns of Law & Order.  We sat there and shared exciting news.  I cried over boys.  And we propped up our feet and drank coffee on Christmas morning.  So I cleaned that coffee table with lemon-scented Pledge hundreds of times.  I danced on that table in my socks.

You could say Renfros do things the hard way.  We joke about projects taking weeks, or months and they sure did.  When we lived in White House, my Mom picked a navy patterned wallpaper for the kitchen and eat-in dining room.  For months our dining room had perfectly-spaced, navy stripes painted on the walls, because my Dad wanted the seams to literally disappear when he hung the paper.  And they did.  Dad dragged my brother and I outside in the summer afternoons to the neat rows of strawberries on the back of our property, where we learned to pull weeds.  My brother’s favorite place to play was on a huge pile of dirt in our backyard.  Our hands and nails were dirty.  We worked hard.  We woke up to three knocks on the wall- “GET UP!”  And maybe not to do anything specific, but Dad would find something that needed fixing.  And somehow one of our vehicles always needed an oil change.  Saturdays felt like hard work.  But these were the times that made us Renfros, Renfros.

I’ve held a flashlight at the top of a ladder, in the middle of the night, on the roof, in the freezing cold, with wind wind whipping my Dad around while he fixed shingles that had blown off in this same storm.  All while he was literally tied with a rope around his waist and anchored to the frame of us truck, which was parked in the front yard.  We have heard, “hold this flashlight” dozens of times over car motors and under sinks.  We’ve been yanked out of bed at 2:00 am to clean up the yard after being rolled by my high school friends.  We are doers.  And sometimes that’s hard work.  We are irritating perfectionists who hate these shows that teach you how to do things fast, instead of properly.  And “properly” usually takes a long time.  Doing it right means going slow and working long into the dark.

The weekend of my wedding it came a blizzard.  And I don’t mean this sprinkling of snow that gets Tennesseans (including myself) in a panic.  It was a real blizzard.  And the water heater blew in my parents’ house the day before the wedding.  Dad replaced that water heater not once, but twice, in the same day.  Upon returning the first defective heater to Lowe’s, he was told they couldn’t accept the return at the store.  What ensued from there, I am not sure, but my Dad can be a pretty scary individual, so let it suffice to say that he got home with another water heater.  He gave me a hot shower on my wedding day, and that is still my favorite gift.  And one of my favorite stories.

Renfros don’t always do emotion well, but what we do together best, is hard work.  We would pour into the house from the garage into the warmth and low light of the kitchen, with steam pouring from the South’s finest casseroles and stews.  Mama has been feeding us workers, and working beside us all our lives.  Renfros work hard, and that’s what brings us together.

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The Love of a Brother

In my very earliest memories, my brother Alex is there.  Sometimes I confuse memory with pictures I’ve seen of myself as a tiny girl, but I definitely remember finding out I had a baby brother.  As an all-girl four-year-old, all I wanted was a sister.  But all that changed when Mama carried him home.  From the beginning he was always just mine.  My baby.  Albeit we are only four years apart, I asked repeatedly when he would be big enough so he could play with me.  In my mind, Alex is right up there with my own daughter on the cute scale.  He just had the sweetest face in the world, and the thickest dirty-blonde hair.  I can still picture him toddling around and remember the sound of little baby voice.  Alex has always been very particular about things.  For example, Alex hated pajamas with the feet in them, but he still wanted his feet covered.  So Mama cut the feet out of the pajamas and put socks on him instead.  He was then just as happy as could be.  He wore socks to the pool until high school.  I swear we joked about never even seeing his feet until he was 16 years old.

When I went to to school in the fall around the time Alex turned one, he would walk around confused and call for me.  His little voice calling for me.  It still to this day breaks my big-sister heart.  But he gave me my only nickname, which sounds a bit like “saucy” or sometimes “say-see.”  My family still calls me this sometimes and it warms my heart.  I have flashes of memory of his quite little smile, his ability to fold himself up, all knees and limbs and elbows and play quietly and methodically with all things boy.  One of our family’s favorite pictures is one of Alex laying under the front end of his big battery-powered truck. It was in the backyard and I can’t remember if it was sunny or overcast, but he carried out all his play tools and he was “workin'” on his truck.  I think he was maybe four or five.  We have a very similar shot of him at 22 or 23 doing that very same thing, with a smile of pure happiness on his face, and it makes my Mom and I both tear up.

The love I have for my brother is something rare.  We can both recall two fights we’ve been in our whole existence.  One during the teenage years, and one in college.  They both ended with us in tears hugging each other and crying we’re sorry.  We are just bound.  I’m proud of him like he is my own child.  I worry over, celebrate with, applaud, encourage, commiserate, cry, and laugh together with no one else, like I do with my brother.  We are both a little different from everyone else, and until I found Joseph, no one quite got me like Alex does.  He knows my heart.  He knows my humor.  He pushes me to be better and stronger.  He is an observer, and I’ve said it a million times, but he truly embodies the best parts of all of us.  I envy his patience and ability to be laid back.  Like our Mother, you know for a fact if one of them is on your ass, you definitely deserve it.  He is calculated and loyal.  Brilliant and wondrous.  Alex is a man after God’s own heart.

Somehow my tiny brother is a grown man.  He has been for a long time.  He is an old soul with a wise and gentle countenance.  Now he is what feels like a million miles away in a war zone in a desert.  Like my cousins and many of our men before him, he serves his country.  Mom and I gush over how much we love seeing his smiling face when we get to chat with him on FaceTime.  Each conversation is a blessing.  In my mind, he is still 8 years old, sitting with me on the front seat of the bus.  I leave the rowdiness of the back in answer to his nose peeking over the top of the seat looking for me.  I have my arm wrapped all the way around him, patting his little leg.  He looks up at me and I can’t quite place the expression, but we are just bound.

My sweet brother, we are bound, always.  All my love.

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lacey and alex #2

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