A Year of Living

A few days ago, I snuggled up in my bed and jotted down a list of goals for 2014. A new year, a new start–right? But as my hand quivered in the air, suspended over a fresh piece of paper, I realized that all the goals I wanted to achieve were nothing but glassy ideals implanted in my mind by all the over achievers around me.

I don’t want to work out more. When I plan out my schedule for the week, I don’t want to be consumed with thoughts of the YMCA and the twenty-four inch waist I desperately need to have.

I don’t want to make more money. I have enough money. If I can keep gas in my car and if I have enough to buy a sandwich for a friend on a semi-regular basis, then I’m much wealthier than I deserve to be.

I don’t want to travel the world. I love traveling, and I enjoy seeing new places as much as the next person. But I don’t ever want traveling to become the most important aspect of my life. No destination can top home. No new face can replace the faces of my parents and siblings.

Because I’m a list-maker, this frustrated me. If I wasn’t going to make plans to exercise or work harder or travel, what resolutions could I sketch out? Spending more time with family? Speaking with a more gracious tone? (Ha! I’d like to see that happen) What characteristics are going to define 2014?

Slowly, it began to dawn on me. I don’t want anything special in 2014. I don’t want to reach new peaks in my career or climb a mountain or win a major award. I just want to live.

And so I began my list.

In 2014, I want to fly a kite. I want to go to the State Fair. To bake more cakes. To listen to more records. This is going to be the year of popsicles. Of wearing orange coats and finally painting my bedroom and reading “Catch 22″. I want to see tulips, and eat ice cream on cones, and raid a bunch of Goodwills.

As I look back on all of my favorite memories of the past year, it’s not the big events that stand out. I don’t think about the television interviews, or the Christy Award dinner, or the several trips across the country to autograph hundreds of copies of my books.

I loved 2013 because of the pies I baked. I loved sitting in movie theaters with my family, and sitting on green lawns at outside concerts with my sisters, and sitting in cars on long road trips with my mom. I rested my head on the pillow so many nights and dreamed of swing dancing and the electricity of summer thunderstorms and my mom’s homemade potato salad. I loved hearing the laughter of my best friends. My eyes soaked up the majesty of the mountains of Oregon and the rain on the pavement of Seattle and the pizza on my plate in New York City.

The best moments in life aren’t just free–they’re small. They’re tiny and worthless and they slip by faster than a muddy kid trying to escape the notice of his mother.

But they’re beautiful. Those moments make me want to freeze life and just drink it up. To savor its fizziness on my tongue, cool and sweet like a strawberry milkshake. Life isn’t just a dance, it’s a polka! It’s the fastest, craziest, most breathtaking adventure ever and when you stop to listen to the music, you can’t help but tap your foot.

I can’t wait to live this year. I can’t wait to open my eyes every morning and squint at the sun or scowl at the rain or throw a pillow at my blinking alarm clock. My heart skips a beat at the thought of the conversations I’ll have and the books I’ll read and the songs I’ll learn.

Shauna Neiquist said it best: “I want a life that sizzles and pops and makes me laugh out loud. I want to eat cold tangerines and sing out loud in the car with the windows open and wear pink shoes and stay up all night laughing and paint my walls the exact color of the sky right now. I want to sleep hard in clean white sheets and throw parties and eat ripe tomatoes and read books so good they make me jump up and down, and I want my everyday to make God belly laugh, glad that He gave life to someone who loves the gift.”

The best gift I’ve ever been given is my life. And that’s not something that just applies to 2014. I look forward to the future of this world, because I know that God gave me my life for a reason. And I’m going to love the gift.

-Rachel

And the Seasons Change

Seasons have become a reoccurring theme in my life. I’m not sure when this started, and I’m terrible at pinpointing dates, but it’s been both humbling and fascinating to see God opening my eyes time after time again to this concept of times and seasons.

I recently read N.D. Wilson’s book, “Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.” If you haven’t read it, go buy it. Now. With your Christmas money. It will change you, I promise. It changed me in so many subtle, beautiful, important ways.

I’m not a big fan of change. Once, for about six hundred days straight, I ate the same exact breakfast every morning. A bowl of Quaker’s brown sugar and maple oatmeal. A glass of Ocean Spray cranberry juice, heated for exactly thirty seconds. Nothing different, nothing interesting. Nothing to “spice things up”. I wanted reliability. Dependability. No fear of anything appearing different.

Sometimes I wonder how much of my life I have spent worrying about change. From the time I was fourteen years old, I’ve walked through days with a specific set of expectations for myself. I was living life on a stage. A small stage, but a platform with an audience and critics and fans, no less. For years now, I’ve been faced with questions like, “What are you doing next?” or “When will we hear about Book Number Three?” or “What are your plans for the future?” on an almost daily basis. And usually from people who don’t me. From strangers who don’t know what my laugh sounds like or whether I look like my father or if they’re tall enough to reach my shoulders.

I try to ask myself these questions. I sit myself down and say I’m going to talk about the tricky stuff. “So, Rachel Coker, what are you going to do about college? What are you going to do about Book Number Three? What are your plans and goals for the future?” Silence. “Well, don’t you know? Don’t you have any idea?”

I don’t. And I’m not very happy about this.

And so the unhappy side of me nags at the confused and uncertain side of me. “What do you mean you don’t know? You need a game plan. A schedule. A clear and affirmative answer to these people who want to know about your future.”

The future, like the weather, is hard to predict.

When you grow up in Virginia, you learn pretty early in life never to have expectations for any of the seasons. Christmas might be snowy and white. Or it might be seventy-eight degrees without a cloud in the sky. Snow falls in April, humidity curls hair in October. There’s no rhyme or reason to the months. You can wonder and plan and fret all you want, but your May wedding might be met with brisk cool winds. Your campfire in October might be surrounded by flip-flopped feet.

When I graduated this year, I couldn’t see my life in September, much less my life in five years. I have no plans, no expectations. Every time I make up my mind about something, I walk toward that door and find it shut in my face. Not slammed, mind you. God isn’t angry or rough or harsh with me. But rather, the door is closed with a quiet click, with the soft turning of a key in the lock.

A part of me wants to bang on the door and shout to the room full of people on the other side. “You’ve made a mistake! Let me in! This is the place I’m meant to be a part of! This is what the old ladies at church and the cousins and the strangers on the internet seem to expect of me!”

Doors are meant to be closed, and then opened again. Right?

Another door opens. A warm breeze tickles my face, and I realize I’m wearing a coat. I walk toward the door and see green buds on the trees. Tulips everywhere. It’s April, and the sun is bright and the frosty dew is melting away.

Why am I still wearing a coat? It’s too warm, and the wool itches at my skin.

I’ve been wearing this coat for what feels like years. Maybe it’s been months. I’ve been living my life in the winter. Eighteen years of blazing white sunrises and holly on bushes. Little change, little fear. Nothing scary ever happens in the winter. It’s quiet and peaceful and I spend my days wrapped up in blankets and sitting by the fireplace. I’ve written and I’ve traveled and I’ve worn this coat because it feels safe and protective. People have gotten used to seeing me in it, and I don’t want to shock them. Or disappoint them. Maybe they won’t like how I look in a t-shirt.

Outside this door, the world is warm and pink. There are tulips, but there are also thunderstorms. Spring leads to summer, and that means lightning, mosquitoes, and frizz in my hair. There won’t be any coats to protect me. The rain will fall on my burned and peeling skin, and I’ll be able to feel every drop.

I take a step back inside and shiver, despite the warm air. I don’t understand why God wants to push me outside, into the heat and rain. The winter of my life was wonderful. I experienced it to the fullest. I saw every snowflake and evergreen and I soared across the country on silver wings, watching the sun rise and set around me.

Tears fall down my cheeks and leave trails of salt behind. Slowly, carefully, I begin to unbutton my coat. I’m not used to the touch of wind on my arms. I’ve never lived through a whole spring, and I don’t know what to expect. There’s no way to prepare myself for the future. I’m walking with shaky steps into a world of blinding light and heat, because that’s the door that was opened to me.

I know that in life, seasons change. I’ve lived through a winter and I’ll never be able to walk through that snowy path again. One day, Lord willing, I’ll have children and I’ll be able to see snowflakes and yule logs through their eyes, but it will be from a distance. I’ve done it by now. I’ve made it out the door and taken my first few shaky steps into spring.

Please don’t ask me what spring is like. I really don’t know yet. Don’t ask me what I’m doing in April, or May, or early June for that matter. I’ve never lived through that before. I don’t have the answers for you.

I miss my coat sometimes. I want to go back to the world that’s dark and cool and safe. The winter was my comfort zone, and I’ve stepped so far out of it that it’s impossible to turn back now.

It pulls at my heart a bit to know that I experienced my first season change. The the first act of my life is over and I’m doing my scuttling around behind stage, grabbing at my lines and being thrust back into the spotlight. Is the audience the same? Have some left, have any stayed? Are the critics quiet or shouting or satisfied?

God is the one who wrote this play, and He’s the only one who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. I live for the applause, for the good reviews, and for the comfort that comes with not taking any risks or ruffling any feathers.

But He lives to make His name great. He lives to do great things through me. He gives me roles that He knows I can’t play well because He wants to get all the credit. He switched the acts, He reset the stage, and He put me back on it for a reason. Because this is where I can serve Him the best. By not knowing what comes next. By following His lead. And by staying humble while I do it.

The seasons change. And I’m still the same person. But, praise God, He isn’t finished with me yet.

-Rachel

Say Yes to the Dress

Growing up, I’m pretty sure I had the most convoluted sense of style ever. My outfits were beyond cringe-worthy. I’m talking terry-cloth sweatpants with Aeropostale hoodies kind of cringing. All I wanted to do is fit in with everyone around me. I wanted to blend. To disappear into the swarms of teenagers surrounding me.

But then, somewhere along the way, I changed. I realized that I actually hate sweatpants. And hoodies. And so, I threw all those things away. I went completely cold-turkey, a fact that shocks me even to this day. And I decided to only buy clothes that I love, even if that meant waiting a while to figure out my style and what makes me happy.

It was a long and slow process and I had very few clothes for a very long time. At the time, I didn’t know anything about style and didn’t even know who’s style I wanted to emulate. I was slowly beginning to enjoy more old black-and-white movies and books of poetry. I wanted to look like Ginger Rogers and Grace Kelly. Romantic, soft, and pretty. I loved the flair of their ruffled tops. The swing of their sweeping skirts. I wanted to look like that, no matter what the year was.

I remember the first vintage item I bought. It was a full red skirt, with a big ruffle on the bottom. Probably originally intended for square dancing, I decided to make this my Rita Hayworth moment. I started pairing it with white lace tops and cropped cardigans. Roses in my curly hair. I wanted to look like the beautiful Cuban women in old black and white films and I didn’t really care who noticed. It was fun! Getting dressed was an adventure. With my red ruffled skirt I could be a feisty senorita one day and a rockabilly teenager the next.

For the first time, I genuinely enjoyed the process of getting dressed. Of wearing skirts and dresses. I sought out more vintage clothing, or even just pretty clothing in general. I loved feeling swishy skirt fabric swinging against my legs. I liked spinning. I loved dancing. I know it sounds silly, but I just felt happy.

For years, I literally wore nothing but dresses and skirts. Not because I was legalistic. Not because I was worried about being more “modest” or even super “feminine”. I kept my old pair of jeans for if I needed it. But I found that so many things were not only easy, but more fun to do in skirts! It wasn’t something I tried to push on anyone else. It was just one little thing that made me happy. I enjoyed wearing dresses.

I’ve had a lot of you comment before and tell me that you love wearing dresses, but that you just don’t know how. Or that you like the idea of being carelessly feminine, but you’re afraid of what people might say or think. To be honest, people will think you’re weird at first. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked, “Where are you going?” or “Why are you so fancy? It’s just a barbeque.” Those are just comments you’re going to have to deal with. I’ve learned to just shrug and say, “I just felt like wearing a dress!”

Remember that you don’t owe anyone anything. You never signed a waiver to say that you’d always be dressed a certain way. There’s no one forcing you to wear jeans or sneakers! The way you dress is one of those few privileges in life that will almost always be entirely up to you. You can choose to blend in, or you can choose to stand out.

At the end of the day, wear dresses because you like feeling pretty. Wear dresses because you enjoy being different. Wear dresses because you’re a romantic, or a poet, or a dreamer. Wear dresses because it makes you happy or cheerful or just plain smiley.

Or, wear pants for all those same reasons.

Say yes to dressing in a way that brings you joy and that points others to Christ. That’s all that really matters!

{If you’re interested in seeing more of how my sister and I dress, I’d encourage you to check out our fashion blog, shesaid{shewore}. We stopped posting for a bit in the fall, but we are back and with more skirts and bows than ever!}

-Rachel

Four Eyes

You may have noticed I’ve been a bit aloof lately. And while you probably think I died long ago in the wilderness (shameless “Nacho Libre” reference there), I am still alive! I’ve been going through a lot of personal things lately that I’m not one hundred percent ready to write about yet. But let’s just say that I’m processing some things and trying to just enjoy life!

You probably remember when I made my big “No Shame November” announcement about this time next month. I still cannot believe I actually stuck to my guns and wore glasses every day for a month. When I put my contacts on for the first time in over thirty days this morning, I had a little moment of, “Oh my gosh, I forgot what I looked like underneath those glasses.” Crazy, yet so rewarding.

I didn’t think that this past month was going to be easy, but I guess even I was surprised at how much God put on my plate in the last thirty days. I was pushed to my limits at times, but in some ways I feel like I was able to experience this really amazing time of self-discovery. Not only was I prioritizing, praying, and searching for direction; I was also coming to terms with myself and my own insecurities.

We have a “hall of shame” in our home that we like to jokingly show to our guests as proof that we were probably the most awkward, horrendous-looking children you’ll ever encounter. (Ahem–*I* was the most awkward, horrendous-looking child you’ll ever encounter)

I was standing in the hallway last night, looking at the photos and feelings horrified all over again at my own face staring back at me. Pudgy cheeked. Frizzy haired. Purple braces. Crooked glasses. I remembered the day that I sat on the edge of my bed and said to my mom, “I’m not really pretty and I’m not really ugly. I’m just… me. I’m just boring.” (Recognize that line anyone? Turns out my own self-esteem struggles played out in the lives of some of my characters…)

If I’m being honest, I don’t always think of myself as ugly or awkward anymore. I know how to dress for my figure. I actually buy bras in the right size. I figured out how to work a mascara wand. Most of the time, I feel like if I can just get my act together, I look semi-decent and sometimes even pretty, to the right person.

That’s why my glasses turn me off so much. For years, I’ve associated the thick brown frames with my years of kinky hair and non-existent social life. I remember the days spent sitting on my bed wondering why no one ever invited me to sleepover parties. I hear the boys calling me “giraffe” and “four eyes” to my face. The world is evaluated from behind two smudged pieces of glass, and it’s still scary and hurtful and lonely.

Glasses are a portal to my past.

Or at least they used to be. But in the last thirty days, I’ve swallowed down the self-pity and self-inflicted doubts. I’ve heard everything from, “Hey, you look nice,” to “But you’re so pretty without your glasses!” to “Why are you wearing glasses and a wig?” (reference to my curly hair) I’ve had days where I felt horrible, days where I felt pretty good, and days where I just felt like me. I’ve wondered what strangers thought and realized I don’t care.

My physical features don’t define me.

One huge fear that lingered in my mind when I was younger was the idea that some kind of accident or freakish disease would leave me absolutely mutilated and disfigured beyond belief, and that I’d have to lead the rest of my life looking like that. I still worry that. What if something happened to change me–forever? But then I realize. These things can’t change me. A haircut, a scar, a mutilation can’t change me. Glasses can’t change me.

I want to be the kind of person who looks deep into people. Who doesn’t evaluate based on color or size or style. Who loves freely and openly and never makes anyone feel anything less than absolutely special.

I know it sounds silly, but I’ve just come to realize that I am not my glasses. I am not my height. I am not my clothes.

I am me. I am one of God’s most precious creations (I know because He told me so) and He loves me so much more than I could ever imagine. And one day, when I die, I don’t suspect people will be standing around debating whether they liked Rachel Coker better with glasses or without glasses. I want my life to count for something. Something outside of how I look or how I present myself.

If God chose to give me four eyes, instead of two, then He obviously has so much more for me to see and do in this life than I had planned for myself.

-Rachel