balancing.

I love cooking so, so much.

In fact, I am defensive of my love for it. I guard it fiercely because it is one of my main love languages and I get to use it every day. It is how I get to love on you.

Unfortunately, I am in a season of doubt. I’m sure most industry people go through this. Some sooner than others who know this type of work truly isn’t for them. Personally, I am glad they find out sooner than later, because there’s nothing harder than watching someone burnt out clock in and clock out wishing they were somewhere else, doing something that makes them feel alive.

I am lucky, in that I found something that I love. I walk this balance beam, holding on to a lot of what I am. That big softy who wants nothing more than to live in Vermont in a cabin under a few maple trees. Perhaps submitting my award winning cheddar in the state fair. All of this, with a wonderful person who may, from time to time, spoil me with a back scratch. Maybe a kid. Maybe two. Probably an herb garden, because my mom thinks they’re fancy.

The other side of this balance beam is standing behind a stove (or anything hot, really) listening to my colleagues moan about a horrid customer or that they’re hungover or that they just burned a two inch line in their arm from the convection oven. The hot and brutal rush of making food and feeding people. The clean up. The decompression. Doing it all over again. It’s addicting. It’s fun. It’s hard. Hard. Hard work.

For what it’s worth, I’ve had numerous people (not directly) advise against opening their own place. There’s the stress on all accounts. The long hours. The constant worry about your business. The strain on relationships. The idea of business itself is a little overwhelming, and I realize one needs to be tough tough tough.

I’ve worked for chefs who inspire me to work harder and cleaner and other chefs who insult their own profession.

I work in an industry that is slowly gaining some sort of weight in our country. Less so, in a smaller Mississippi community. I do not live in an industry city. We are best described as a retirement community. A college town with a struggling downtown scene. One that I wish to invest in.

It has been so hard, as a person who loves to eat and to cook, to not have the things that brought me to cooking in the first place.

This, is the nitty gritty part.

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Being single, and closer to more friends and family has been so good for me. I’ve been taken care of so much and I’m also busier than ever. Which is weird. I don’t remember being too busy. I remember having a lot of time to learn how to cook. I suppose this is the hustle. In between the calm and the storm.

What I want to say, is that food will always be the way I take care of you.

Sure, I have my words. My eyes that struggle to make contact with yours.

I’m trying really f*cking hard to make eye contact. To stand straighter.

To talk louder. To not mumble so much.

I am Josh, the quiet kid who once upon a time, hid behind the legs of his mother and another time forgot his lines in the church play when he was eight, even though there were only three I had to remember.

I am also 6 foot 2 inches and carry a belly. I’m pretty bald and wear a brown beanie because my head gets so cold.

But in that kitchen,

I am present.

I dissolve, like salt in water.

Leaning slightly, wanting more color, more heat.

Tasting and observing the changing of water into air.

I can be both, I say deep in my belly. I have room for both.

Because I love to cook,

and it will always bring me closer to you.

posture.

I spent the latter part of this week wandering in my past.

I suppose when you’re around your family, all you have is the past. Who you used to be. Where you’ve been, and the ever-conflicting conversations about where you’re going. The same goes for the collective ‘they’.

It’s not anyone’s fault but my own that I think this way.

But I sat and processed a lot of ghosts. A lot of painful things and resounding conclusions that we are resilient and strong and capable.
I watched my dad pacing back and forth and reassured him that this was another adventure, not knowing quite where the road will end up, or how steep some days might seem. I feel as though this is what life is. A steady stream, moving you through God knows what.

Hopefully, at the end of the day, you have some peace and a full belly.

I look at my relatives who have seen and caused and worked through some traumatic things. I see us all as wounded. Not one of us here has been able to move through this thing unscathed — new people — new things — but their eyes are the same and I read that they are capable of seeing life a million different ways.

In all of this, I move in and out of my own past. I sit with that tired and heartbroken part of my body that is dying in its own way. I push my shoulders back, and I make more eye contact. A sign that all living things have the ability to open and close; add and take away. This is my season of standing taller, I say to myself. This is your body. Your eyes. Your scarred up arms and skinny legs. Use them. This is another way to show people you love them, to share with them your struggle of being wonderfully human.

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“Have you gotten taller?”

I hear that from people, these days.

Probably not.

Just my attempt at standing straighter, when possible.
Perhaps whenever it is that I’m leaning over the stove, and I feel the muscles in my lower back responding to this common motion, I think about adaptation and repetition. The parts of ourselves that grow stronger because it’s what we have to do. The lean. The constant pressure. Adjusting back into your frame.

Familiar motion.
Small moves.
Returning back into ourselves.

Maybe this is about posture.

How we hold ourselves up in all this gravity.

All I know, is that our stories aren’t fully written yet. That is both exciting and terrifying.
You will carry yourself and others toward the end, though.

And that is what I watched this week.

A family, carrying their own through another chapter. Another story.
Another adventure, with the past in its place, and the future moving forward,

standing straighter,

eyes wide open.

tiny worlds.

Okay. Okay. Wow. Hmm. Okay. It’s okay.

Those were my thoughts on a Monday morning.
Two of my best friends, terrified and excited and worried and exhausted.
Their details, I won’t share here, but the circumstances had me holding back tears on the line.

“I need sides on 48 and 12!” I would holler out to my buddy, also cooking on the line.

I would pace back and forth, heart beating and trying to keep it together.

After things settle, and my heart is more at ease, I start focusing on my week, getting things tucked back in, like tapping a stack of misaligned papers on a table.

Tuesday, Work and Ramen night. Visit friends in hospital.
Wednesday, Work and Cater Captain of Zeus party. 13 hour day.
Thursday, Work and Prep for private catering gig. 13 hour day.
Friday, Cater private gig. Clean. 10 hour day.
Saturday, Record day of lunches at work. Cook gumbo for Mardi Gras event. 12 hour day

More often than not, I would say to myself, “Okay dude, don’t freak out. It’s going to be okay.”

My friends, so heavy on my heart, and so many other hearts.

I did what I always do to clear my head.

Clean.

After my private catering gig, my kitchen was horrid. Tomato sauce splattered everywhere from rushing around in my tiny space. Pots and pans stacked and my oven was a mess. After visiting with my friend, I came home and put on some music. I steamed my windows with the heat from the water and washed dishes till my fingers were wrinkly.

I get my steel brush and scrub the tomato off of everything. I remove my burner tops and scrub scrub scrub. I scrub it all away. I tear up a lot. I take deep breaths.

On my knees, I’m scrubbing my floor with a towel, enjoying how easily the dirt just washes away.

I take out the trash, let out a sigh and turn off the light to my kitchen knowing I will be doing this exact same thing again in 24 hours. I am okay with that.

I don’t mind cooking for people. You have to know that deep down, they will not know how much work goes into the food you cook. How much you have to clean up afterwards and how serious you are about your craft.

It is, at the end of the day, about the table we all sit at. That place I write about so often where we sit and talk about hard things that make our necks tight with fear and also the place we fall in love again and again with the people we share our tiny worlds with.

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I think about the breath of a new baby, and its cries that are as natural as breathing. Cries that make you believe in God again and restore in you that there is something bigger that ties us together, even in the midst of small nightmares and restless nights.

The truth is, you never know when the world will crack beneath you. You live in the terrifying moments and exhausted moments as you would when waking up next to a warm body, while the rain taps against your windows.

We live in all the moments, and we breathe life into each others worlds.

We are all, like I always say, small galaxies, floating infinitely, capable of such deep love and pain and beauty,

Birthed from the bellies of our mothers, and the mothers before them,

breaking water. breaking bread.

discovering again and always, the sacred life of the Beloved.

enough.

January is just too long.

It’s a recovery month, I think. At least that’s the way I see it.
Everyone is adjusting to a new year, and regaining some composure after the blast of late year holidays.

I, however, am in the midst of some funky stuff.

When I was in counseling and seeing my doctor regularly, I was picking up tools to use. Granted, it would be nice to have that sort of thing here, but Mississippi lacks in what I would consider a more holistic style of healthcare. But the tools I did gain, keep me aware of my body processing the world.

What I ingest, both physically and emotionally, takes a huge toll. I keep that at the forefront.

The sad parts of my being are craving physical touch and connection. I’d say more of a longing than actual sad, sad. Though I think feeling sad is important. I think there’s plenty of poetry there, some marrow, and perhaps a bigger part of our life force.

Restlessness is something I feel.
As a person who is in constant thought of something bigger, I have a hard time adjusting to the slower seasons.

Lately, I’ve been learning to adjust to my own expectations. Of basically every damn thing.

My cooking. My attractions. My belly which has been eating a lot of carbohydrates (read: delicious things) the past week.

More so, my expectations of what falling in love looks like. I’m having a hard time separating the things I know of that kind of love. Granted, I am not in that season and don’t imagine it happening here any time soon, but what I have been noticing is my fear of intimacy.

I feel some fear in my belly. For losing someone again, even though I haven’t much made an effort to pursue. I am influenced heavily by the elements that surround me. I get knocked down a few pegs when I feel a little too confident and remember why it’s so good to be humble. I enjoy who I am. Truly.

I don’t own much. I don’t make much. I don’t need all that much.

I’m in the in-between, as far my spirituality goes. I crave that Great Mystery, but for some reason, I cannot grasp it. Like some pit I’m falling into, trying to grab hold and it’s just too slippery. I feel it may be my undoing some days.

Not God-fearing enough.
Not confident I am tough enough to handle this industry.
Fear of being an asshole, because I have asshole thoughts.

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I am a messy form of a human. I know we all are, at least I know that’s probably what you’re thinking. But I want my beliefs to be a bit more firm. I suppose seeing more of the world, and more of the worlds of people, I am swayed to believe that we are all floating forward towards the same sorta thing.

I float around not really conforming to this or that. I will not judge you for your lifestyle, as I hope you won’t judge me for eating a Christmas tree cake even though they are out of season. (Which, in my book, is never true.)

I can tell you that I love fried catfish, and a nice medium rare steak.

I love eating hash browns on Sunday with poached eggs and hot sauce.
I love being there for people.
I have a hard time taking without the weight of giving back.
When someone orders food when the kitchen closes in 10 minutes. Ugh.
(But really, it’s fine. Really.)

These things are true.

There is nothing I enjoy more than learning how to cook better. Hanging my head over a pot of kombu and dried shitakes, wondering, “Is this right??”

Maybe that’s the idea that I’ve known all along.

A longing of sorts, of tasting and nodding.
Adjusting,
Adding,
Taking away,
asking,

is this right?

I’m not quite sure.
But I’m always asking.
Always tasting.

And today, that is enough.

quiet

I seek refuge in the quiet.
I know that’s not easy to do these days.
I also know that it’s a luxury.

Outside of the window, as I write, is a wind blowing through the bare branches of the Natchez Trace. I remember when I first moved home, I would sleep with this window open. In the early morning I would awake to see deer and other early morning creatures ruffling around the fallen pine straw.

I thought of it as a gift.

Lately, this has been a theme. This morning I woke up and read an article about a Native American who spoke about his ancestors and their relationship to silence and space. How before they would speak, they would be silent as if not to waste any words on another’s behalf. When there was a loss of a presence or when there was conflict, a time of silence was taken. Not because there was a loss of something to say, but as a space to honor the other person, and yourself.

They would do the same while being in the wild — though they didn’t call it wild. They called it nature. Or at least their word for it. It was a harmony of sorts. When it became too cold, they would not get angry, but adapt to nature. They understood that it was a force they couldn’t change, and decided to move forward with the season, rather than revolt and create noise.

I think it is okay to feel overwhelmed with all the noise and distraction. Sometimes I assume I live a different lifestyle where I need a quiet space to reconnect, while others can move with all the noise so much easier. I realize kids have a lot to do with this, so I speak only on my particular plain.

But it is in the quiet that the world gets softer. My world calms and I am able to connect better with you.

WPOTWQuietReflections

I read Christopher Kimball’s piece in this month’s Cook’s Illustrated about people living off the grid and being alone. I am aware of the differences of being lonely and being alone. He spoke about being content where you are. Whether a still pond deep in a wood, or with a cutting board at your waste, diving into a recipe.

I am okay with being alone. Very seldom do I actually feel lonely. I know loneliness is our greatest poverty here. Even with all the noise and distractions, this world, especially now, can be a very lonely place.

Over the years I’ve collected and dropped things. I’ve created a tiny life and I also gave it all away. I’ve seen heaven and I’ve felt a depth of hell with the pain of losing a person. Sometimes, the quiet has been my undoing. It is, like we always say, about balance.

So in this season, I am working hard to carve out a space for myself. I feel my world moving quickly, and I want to live in the quiet, as well as the noise. But also, I want to recognize my neighbor or the person working beside me. They deserve me as my best.

While they may question my intentional need for simplicity, and my unusual quiet and gentleness — I do it for me and I do it for them.

Because this space is sacred, as are my bones that resonate in this gift of a world.

And you?

you might as well be the face of God.

navigating the universe.

It is completely obvious that I’ve been in a different state of mind as of late.

I at least know my co-workers see it. My pacing back and forth in the kitchen. Staring off at the rack of spices, hopefully fooling them into thinking I’m working something out for a recipe.

In reality, I am moving through some tricky waters.

I feel excited and scared and scattered because I am entering new territory, even with all of my experience as an almost 30 year-old human being, I am starting to notice that maybe I’m just scratching the surface of a new horizon.
These things make me feel flustered. Is that right to say?

It’s hard to focus on the thing in front of me and I feel like I can’t perform as usual. When people try to ask me questions about my process in working through it, I have to just sort of shake my head. What a luxury it is to have options and ideas.

How terrifying is it to realize you are going to submerge yourself into a project that will direct the trajectory of the rest of your life? Sure, we can change whenever we want to. We can move. We can learn how to make a canoe out of a single piece of wood. Most likely, we will settle with what we know how to do best and let that guide the rest of our lives.

My generation is bad at this. I’m bad at this. We just have too many options and too many things we’d rather be doing.

My generation is also in this position where we’re creating a lot of our own jobs. Maybe it is a ‘rejecting what our parents did’ sort of thing, but also an economy thing. I drank the kool-aid. I am that statistic and I am navigating these new, open waters.

Granted, some days feel like I’m treading those open waters. I am taking on more water on certain days, while others I am sailing free and fast and straight.

Then maybe the sails die down. The water stills and I am left to think of what to do next. I am no stranger to this season. We are all aware that life is fast and slow, and right now it feels kind of fast. I love it and I am terrified of it but deep down in my belly I know this is where I’m supposed to be navigating.

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I realize I am being vague with you all as well.

But for those of you who, by the grace of something bigger, have kept up with me know that I have been through a lot the past year and a half.

I’ve had to slow down. I’ve had to pick up and leave. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cook anymore.

I’m here to tell you that I feel very alive and light. Though I am at times weighted a bit with these thoughts of mine, I am moving forward with the hope that my ceiling won’t collapse again or that I will not break another bone anytime soon.

I can’t make any promises of knowing where I’ll end up, but I’m looking forward to bringing y’all into this season of life and I feel so lucky to have this.

We are as infinite as we want to be.
I learn more and more each day this truth, that we are capable of wonderful tiny things that make up an entire universe.

And that everything,

everything,

is important.

metamorphosis

Today is a day I feel I don’t quite belong to —
but hopefully the next.

Missed cues,
dropped plates,
small insults
and a bed with too much space.

I lay there, now, with a book on my chest,
full of people who have said it better.
(And to be honest, didn’t have the luxury of choice)

But I do.
I have so many choices.
So many ideas of change and movement,
like some impatient larvae anticipating
the metamorphosis.

I cry out,
and shake my head
and pull a bit on my shirt.

What is this thing I’m doing?
What on Earth am I learning about being lonely,
except maybe being a little scared from time to time.

I’ve never been a fan of scared.
In the deep recesses of my mind,
I come across a tiny ruin.
It is there, I imagine a person like Job,
picking his scabs with broken pieces of pottery,
but singing, “G-d is great!”

Oh, I am a fool for so many things.

When I close my eyes,
I see a tree on the horizon.

It is a silhouette against a big red sun.
I am there, again,
pulling slightly on my shirt,
explaining,
“I don’t know how else to be…”

Like some form of confession.
Like these things don’t already know.

I crumble. I melt away.

I come back.

I let whatever it was hanging on my hips,
return to where it came,
which just so happens to be a place I left long ago.

The place where dead things live.
The place where I shed a ghost or two.
The place of the old shells and skins and
skeletons.

I lean forward into the horizon
and allow myself to float free
of the old wineskins.

I close my eyes,
and fall asleep to the rain outside of my window.

thick skin

I jokingly tell people these days that I can’t wait to be in my forties.

I tell them that I think I’m getting better with age, and that I wasn’t very good at being young. At least the parts of me that crave adventure come in different forms.
As a kid, I was not the bravest or loudest or most outgoing.

Knowing what I know now, as an adult, I was so nervous and apprehensive about the outside world. I craved affirmation and I wanted to feel good about the kind of person I was. It always felt right to be kind, and I believe that to this day. I treat people like I want to be treated, as archaic as that rule sounds, it works well for me.

And then came kitchen work.

Intense. Hot and fast with a million moving pieces.
I learn about myself in these moments. I learn about working hard and smart and humbly doing things for people they’ll never be able to repay you for.

Somehow, this works for me.

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I take a break from my keyboard to squeeze my hands open and close. Yesterday was a 14-hour day involving a wedding where I spent most of the night emptying garbage cans full of beer bottles and half eaten pieces of food. The other part of the night was spent scrubbing hotel pans and jamming leftover bits of wedding food in my face so I wouldn’t have to partake in that Whopper Jr that so taunts me on my drive home.

It is always humbling to do this work.

I guess in the states, I struggle with the mentality that this work is for people riddled in confusion and transition and poverty. Granted, we do make up a big part of that work force. But some of us want to do this with our lives because we think it’s important. To me, I see a bride and groom who appreciate empty garbage cans so they can enjoy this moment with their friends and family. (I exclude the drunk bro-crowd who laughingly threw their trash in said garbage cans as I was straining to lift them through winding crowds of beautifully dressed Southerners.)

And so, with the steam rising from the tray of dishes I just pulled through the sanitizer, I think about the shootings in France. The massacres in Nigeria. I think about my friends who have recently lost loved ones. I think about my own heart being pulled in so many directions. I feel a knot in my stomach for some reason, and I also hum along with the sound of my muffled phone playing through its “closing down the kitchen” playlist.

It makes sense that our skin gets thicker with time, and that getting older helps us fit more into that skin.

We somehow make this world work for us even with the knowledge that there will be sadness supped with joy.

Hard times, come again no more, so the song says.

We sing, but we know they will. We still find moments to say we are good and happy and content. In those moments, it is all worth it to be human. To accept the give and take.

The ebb and flow.

The changing of times,

and perhaps a good word or two.

the sun will meet you

I’ve been feeling like a borderline train wreck.

It seems the universe, in its ways of placing things before me, continues to teach me about pain and small disasters and patience.

If I can be honest for a minute, let me explore this.

A few days ago, I had written another piece for this “end of the year” thing. It was about the things I usually ramble on about. Food things. Love. Forward motion. Pimento cheese and sweet tea. It was about cooking, to be honest. Being off my feet and out of the kitchen for a whole week made me crave even more to be back in a kitchen cooking real food. I felt rested and inspired.

Then, I came home at midnight to find that the tenant above my apartment had a busted hot water heater that flooded his apartment for two days. Only, his apartment made it through just fine, where I did not fare as well.

I came home to the smell of mildew and was confused. My landlords did not get my memo that I had a new phone number and couldn’t get in touch with me. So, as I stumble in dead tired and smelling of campfire smoke, excited to take a shower — the roof and walls of my bathroom had collapsed. My kitchen walls were warped and the photographs on my refrigerator were curled and faded.

I took a few deep breaths and decided that this could wait until morning. I brushed my teeth in my kitchen sink, turned on my gas heater and fell asleep with the smell of fire still fresh on my body.

The next day at work we had record sales for our lunch rush.

I was losing ground, quickly, with about a billion things on my mind. Do I need to move again? Can I afford this transition? Where? Where? WHERE?

How? WHY?

Can the universe give me a second to settle down? My foot, still a bit stingy at times from my fracture in November. Then a busy Christmas catering season, a stomach flu and trying to pay my bills on time.

On top of all of this, I reflect on my year,

Of traveling back to Mississippi from the Pacific Northwest, and fitting back into a life and a community I had been away from for so long.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my marriage, and how much I have missed that comfort of being in love and cooking dinner and having a best friend I could talk to every day, and fall asleep with at night.

Divorce is devastating. And people move through it at different speeds.

Today though, this is where my heart rests.

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This stuff takes courage. It takes all of your heart to move and to keep moving. No one can prepare you enough for the weight this world can place on your shoulders.

I found myself, as I do from time to time, saying, “Dude, you’re doing so well! Look at you go!”

And the pendulum swings back where I want to sit at the end of my bed and spend the day exploring the things I have failed at and eating an entire box of Little Debbie Christmas tree cakes. I reach down and feel the pain in my legs and the ache in my back. Patting my holiday belly, hoping to get my stuff together enough to eat like a normal human being again.

It is easy to let yourself live in doubt and fear. Lord knows this year hasn’t been easy for me. It hasn’t been easy for a lot of people.

A poem I love says to not move the way fear makes you move.

And I listen to that voice.

Because what I feel today, is strength. I feel my legs getting stronger.

Every day fills with a new hope for those small victories.

Life is all about small celebrations. Overcoming a season of pain with an abundance of joy. My heart is so full of both and I am stronger because of it.

My hope for you, as you have perhaps read this in its entirety, is to keep moving this next year.

Keep trudging through the muck and know that sadness and pain are not your last feelings. They will move along just as you do, and you will feel the warm on your face again.

Because as it goes,

the sun rises. 

You will meet it with your feet firmly on the ground,

and you will breathe in deep, its light and grace.

dark and light.

I consider myself a spiritual person —
to the point of chills when I stumble upon a stained glass portrait of a Mother wearing
holy colors, fearing for the lives of her family.

My upbringing was very traditional, yet in my most recent years, untraditional.

While a shaky faith is a thing we all come to terms with in different seasons, I find myself on days like today, with a good song in hand, reaching deep to reconcile my weighty ghosts.

This week has flown by. (As they say.)

Tuesday I found myself hunched by a toilet emptying my sick belly, and luckily found some chicken stock in my freezer to sip down before I went to bed that night. I’ve cooked for a few hundred in the span of this week and my body is a bit worn down. I’m tired. Bone tired.

Last night, as I do when I need comfort, ate fried catfish and watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  I propped up my swollen foot and indulged in maybe another Christmas tree cake, because I can afford it after losing a few pounds from that rogue stomach flu.

There is a scene at the end where a father is crying over the loss of his son, and a very violent loss at that. Being tired, I assume, makes me more emotional. It’s usually a hard scene, but I lost it again. It wasn’t quite just about the movie, but more so a culmination of some dark, dark times we have all recently been aware of in our world.

People all over are experiencing trauma through these things. I don’t think we realize it. We see a video of a man getting killed and it haunts us and then we move on nibbling on our ham sandwiches. But it sticks with us. At least it does me.

I think in that moment when I heard the father moan in sadness and pain, I was reminded of the mothers and fathers who have to bury their sons and daughters. I think about the dark injustice that plagues our world and our apathy because we are afraid to dialogue. Afraid to disagree with our families and friends.

I heard someone say that advent is a very dark time where hope emerges.

I love that.

light-in-darkness

My religious beliefs aren’t anything to write home about anymore. I do have what I have. I believe in my bones what feels right and I have the stories and memories of growing up in a world that I still cling to from time to time.

I am not here writing to defend myself or my beliefs. To be honest, I don’t care too much about my beliefs. Those who know me, and love me, understand that I love a person for their heart, not for what they believe. I have seen too much damage over beliefs, as I find they change like the tide.

But love, I can work with. Love gives me something to hang on to.

So I take this time that many churches and communities call Advent and I mourn. I am weighed down with the loss of both innocent and guilty lives. I think about the racial and political and religious climates that have driven millions and millions of people into different places of the world. Like the two who fled to have a baby in a trough, fearing they would be murdered. And as it goes, that same woman, holding the ripped flesh of her own son.

I sit here today, with a deep hope in my belly. Deeper than the dark stuff that finds its way down there.

None of this stuff is easy, but it’s important.

Here’s to this season of darkness, but also great light.

Wishing all who read this wonderful times with their loved ones, or who are away from home or who don’t celebrate or who eat Chinese food out on Christmas day (which sounds pretty awesome actually.)

Sending you love and light and the space to dwell in them both.

-Josh