The girl goes happy to her intern days where she sorts and posts and looks for ways to learn; eager in heart. “I’ve seen a picture of what community looks like, mama,” she says. I spend those hours reading and writing and making good food. I go to the grocery store near where we are staying, list in hand. I walk in, always struck that living goes on in a different place with different faces; produce stacked high and colorful just like home. The hands that pick it up have family that loves them, aches that hurt them, phone calls they need to make. I look around at their faces as they pass me, suppressing my desire to reach out and find out their particular who, what and where. My thirst for hearing other’s stories never seems to quench itself.

We stopped at Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse for a country breakfast that tasted like back home before we headed out to our next home away from home.

Crystal, “not spelled like Krystal hamburgers”, served us up grits and coffee just like grandmother used to make. She’d been to some hard places and back again and found herself in Tennessee working here, mothering her little girl and nurturing others with her humor and joy. Crystal made sure my cup was filled, that I found the restroom when I was wandering through the gift shop looking for it, and I left with the feeling I’d met a survivor. God bless the Crystals in this world.

I find myself driving slower, giving ear more intentionally to the internal whispers, tasting food on plate and words in books with the same sense of savor. As I write, I sit in a space granted us by a family we met 48 hours before we arranged our pillows on their beds. They are on an adventure of their own and opened their home to us. We grab boots and scoops and care for the chickens down the hill and a happy dog who smiles at us as we walk by the window. It’s a certain kind of love that surrenders your home for others to enjoy when you’re away. It makes us feel sheltered, shepherded. It is an open hand extended that causes a catch in our breath, an astonishing provision we did not go looking for. It hasn’t been the first time since the road led us here.

“Use the beans from the garden if you’d like!”, said the note left behind. I combined it with a supper of summer squash and cucumber salad and we ate grateful that first night here. Food can nourish, heal and comfort. As we eat quiet at the table and look out at the trees we realize it has become its’ own liturgy. We grab Every Moment Holy, a book of deliberate prayers gifted us and find one that completes the table set and read it together.

Moments have peppered themselves on us like seasoning raining down like gentle rain. We walked through shops in Franklin and came upon a bakery we’d been wanting to try. “They just closed,” informed a group of three who sat at a table in front. They beamed out joy like lighthouses and I was instantly captivated. “Who is Julie and why are you her warriors?,” I asked as I read the identical t-shirts each of them wore. She raised her hand, the one on the right. “I am Julie.” She had recently had a fierce fight with lung cancer and was celebrating the ability to feel well enough to go eat at a bakery. She and her “warriors” have worked together for 25 years at the hospital where she fought and won. They had stood beside her through it all and took her from Mississippi to Tennessee for a weekend to drive a stake in the ground of friendship and hard-won moments more to live. I asked for a picture to remember what warriors look like. Julie is sitting down in this picture. Look into her face. She wants you to know it’s good to be alive.

The girl and I, when she is not interning, wander from one coffee shop to the next, one book store to the other because these things nurture us, kindle our flame, cause us to talk and think and share with time we don’t always have to take. We are sparked by new surroundings, fresh insight as we read quiet to ourselves from books borrowed from the offered shelves of our hosts. Books and shelves and books on shelves make us more than a little giddy and hard to settle on just one. “Listen to this,” we often say, sharing our word meals like birds and their mamas and then go back to our respective choices. We are comfortable in the silent company of each other.

We grab the spontaneity like a kite string and decide to see a movie. Rocketman was exciting to watch, the music of Elton John swelling from the big screen and compelling us to bob our heads and sing along. His life told unfolded in an unexpected and vivid way onscreen. We cried, the two of us, in empathy at the emptiness, the despair, portrayed in the excess. Life gives counterfeit highs in the darkness that pale when the light shines at high noon. We drove back in the quiet of the car sharing how it sat with us, his story.

We slid into jammie pants and served up dinner from the fridge and found a game to play together, the washer working on our behalf humming from the other room. It’s been a good, good day noted the girl, contentment on her face. We read our evening prayer and found our way to sleep.

We wake up ready to unwrap what the day may hold. Lipscomb University is nearby and we decide to wander the summer- quiet campus, only to find it beehive fiesty with middle schoolers using the grounds for a summer camp. They have scrawled messages on the sidewalk with chalk and I snap a picture with a smile. They are making memories they will treasure more than they can take in right now. It’s ok. They’ll percolate up one day when they smile from their rearview mirror.

We end the day at the nearest urgent care, a bug bite turned angry needing attention. A bottle of antibiotics and a large iced tea later, we put a period at the end of another day. Grateful for medicine, and comfortable couches in air conditioning; for dates with peanut butter and cinnamon and old books that smell like history; for filmmakers that help others feel folks’ stories; for friends who are warriors and for strong women who serve up grits and a side of joy; for front porches and stories and belly laughs, for bug bites that remind me of my vulnerability and the priceless here and now. To the girl who is my daughter, my companion, my sister…….grateful to you for following your Creator straight on till the great gettin up morning!

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