Thursday, November 17, 2011

sweet seventeenth {a very timely book giveaway}.

Listening To: Drive All Night by needtobreathe
Line Obsession: "There was nothing ordinary about that mirror. And if you were the perceptive sort -- which of course you are -- you would have known it immediately. But if you weren't, you might look in the mirror and think I did not know that mole was so enormous or Why is my face festering? Or My goodness, I had no idea I was so evil looking. For the mirror took beautiful things and made them ugly, and it took ugly things and made them hideous. It was the most marvelous mischief indeed." - from Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (Walden Pond Press, 2011, p.70)

Anniversaries are such strange little time-keepers. They mark wonderful moments - birthdays and special "firsts" and holidays and weddings. They mark the saddest days too: the good-bye days. The seventeenth holds a very particular good-bye memory for me.

On the morning of November 17th, 2004. I woke up to the most gorgeous sunrise I have ever seen. My old house was surrounded by dense woods, so the sunrise was usually visible through the trees. I forgot to close my shades the night before, so the sunrise had crept into my room too, so bright against the backs of my eyelids. Brighter against the window when I blinked awake (When I woke up, it looked like someone had spilled sunlight over the glass). Even my quilt looked like it was stitched out of sunbeams. It was a glory-day sunrise.

The outside world looked glittery under frost. The air against my window was icy: the kind that burns your lungs when you breathe in deep. The kind that holds all your words in banners of breath, way-high-up in the air. That was a strange morning; bone-cold, but comforting too. I remember my first thoughts very distinctly:

This is the most beautiful sunrise I've ever seen. And then:

She's gone. 

I can't explain how I knew, but I did. Or my heart knew, I guess. My heart knew she was gone as soon as I opened my eyes. Within a few more breaths, the phone rang, confirming what I already knew to be true.

She was gone. 

But this sunrise ... 

November 17th will always mark a good-bye day. And a glory-day, too.

My grandmother passed away seven years ago today. So even though November brings me much happiness in the form of Starbucks holiday drinks, knee boots, and red leaves ... the seventeenth is always a bittersweet day. Sweet because there are so many billions of amazing memories I have with her. Sad because, of course, I miss her crazy-bad. This day will always feel like scratching a scab off my heart. I'm sure you know exactly what that's like. You've probably experienced a loss that cut much deeper than mine.

There's a short section in Paperdoll that I wrote about my granny, and I thought it might be sweet to share it with you today.

And I thought giving away a copy of the book might be a fun way to celebrate all the ways she poured into my life. 

I think this is a good season for a giveaway. I know lots of you super-sweet college peeps are entering the season of Finals and Projects and Papers and Various Other Forms of Stink. It is a proven fact that ripping open a small box containing a pink book (and various other pink oddities ...) makes finals time far more exciting. (We'll do another giveaway next month, too! 'Tis the season for pink.)

Fun Note: This passage that you are reading will look just slightly different when you read it in Paperdoll. I'm using my original piece here, but this essay (as it was in the beginning) was edited when it got all bookified (another paragraph was threaded into it and some of it was moved around ... still the same piece though). (Same room; just a different furniture arrangement. You savvy?)

If you are interested in winning a copy of Paperdoll, I'll tell you how at the end of this post.

Thanks for reading : )

... from Chapter 10, Paper Violets:

I thought of her today when I walked into the grocery store because I saw a bouquet of the reddest roses I have ever seen. They were a true, vibrant, unforgettable red, like the perfect shade of lipstick. Like a little red dress that hugs your curves but doesn't make you look fat. The petals felt like velvet paper, and when I touched them, I remembered the last conversation I had with her before she passed away.

I sat on the edge of her hospital bed holding a bunch of paper flowers; tangible proof of a season in my life underscored by confusion, frustration and panic attacks. I told a friend of mine that I was fairly certain I was going crazy. She told me I should take up painting. Painters can get away with crazy, she said. So late at night, when I couldn't sleep, I listened to James Taylor and smashed together pinks, reds, yellows, and blues on a paper plate. Then I loaded that paint onto a brush and watched it bloom into flowers on a canvas, on paper, on plastic cups, and on Mason Jars. I painted anything I could hold.

I took a fistful of paper flowers with me when I visited her. I thought I might as well show Granny my new hobby, because she'd always adored my artsy endeavors.

But when I actually spilled my paper flowers out of my pocket and onto her hospital bed, I felt like a flower-painting moron. Granny assured me they were lovely.

She traced her finger around the paper petals while she asked me how I was doing.

"Great." I lied.

And I kept on lying. I told her that I was so happy and so excited about my future and that I was brimming with great stories and beautiful words. None of that was true, of course. I was painting flowers at 2AM and having strange, breathless moments when I was around crowds of people. I was afraid of shadows and of being alone. Sometimes I cried through my prayers. Sometimes I didn't pray at all. The job I'd dreamed about didn't happen, and the guy did not work out, and I couldn't write anything. It was as if all the words in the world had shriveled up and blown out of my imagination.

And I knew I was about to lose her. I was having an awful time wrapping my my mind around goodbye.

I stopped talking. My lip trembled. "Things aren't working out like I thought they would," I managed to whisper. I felt selfish as soon as the words left my mouth. That moment of clarity was a gift; I knew it could be our last conversation and I'd gone and ruined it, talking about my stupid problems.

But Granny didn't mind.

She reached over and rested her hand over mine and smiled at me. When my eyes locked on hers, I didn't see any fear, only the confidence and grace I'd come to know so well.

"Everything works out for you," she said. Her voice was authoritative and steady. "You're going to have to trust God in this. Keep moving ahead. He's always taken good care of you. He will always take good care of you. Hang on tight and watch and see."

I rested my hand over hers. Her hand had wrinkles and bumps, but her skin felt as soft as rose petals, dozens and dozens of them. I thought about all the flowers and babies she'd held in her lifetime, about the dough she'd kneaded and the green beans she'd snapped and the hands she'd held in fierce, unrefined prayers that rattled the skies. Granny had never been content watching life go by; she took hold of her days. She'd wrung out every minute of her life.

I thought about how strange the two of us looked then. I was supposed to be young and idealistic with my whole life ahead of me. I was supposed to be confident. Excited. In my prime. But I was only terrified. Gran was just inches away from eternity. She should have been scared, but she looked so peaceful in that moment, so confident that the God who carried her this far would carry her home.

"Love you," was all I whispered back, as a single, cold tear rushed down my face.

"Love you more," she said as she squeezed my hand tightly in hers.

That was our last conversation, the last stolen moment of mental alertness she ever shared with me. I'm grateful this part of our story together ended with "I love you," with her hand in mine and paper flowers scattered on the sheet between us. Life is dying, too, and, in that, truly living. I can't let the fear of a broken heart keep me from living. I can't let the fear of rejection keep me from living. I can't let FEAR keep me from living every moment to its fullest; until the day I dance - or walk - or limp - that last glorious mile home.

... I want to come to that end, and that beginning, and remember the richness of life I held in my lifetime. I want to have all my memories scattered around me like paper flowers in my lap. I want to have a thousand pictures running through my mind of the people I love and the people who loved me. And I want to hold all that love like confetti in my hands and toss it in the air when I cross the finish line home. (♥)


Still with me? :)

Gran was a gift; and I'm grateful that I got to spend so much time with her. I wrote about the end-part of her life today, but I need to write about some more fun memories I have. Because if you're picturing a sweet little mild-mannered Granny ... you have the wrong mental picture. Gran was a force. She was extremely smart and loud and fun. She loved poetry (when I was little, and asked her to tell me stories, she would quote "Anabel Lee" from memory). She loved soft-serve vanilla ice cream. She loved Jesus. She loved The Young and the Restless.

She would have loved this blog. She would have thought you people were the cutest things ever. : ) And I'm positive you would have thought she was the coolest. Her personality was more enigmatic than any other person I've ever encountered. People came alive when she was around; they smiled when she smiled, laughed when she laughed, became more confident when she was close to them. Hers was a special brand of magic.

Gran didn't get to read Paperdoll; but I 'm quite certain she would have bought, and distributed, copies to every person she'd ever met. Like, I can so easily picture her at her weekly doctor's appointment passing a copy around the waiting room. Gran was PR before PR was cool.

I've been thinking so much lately about how she would love the new writing too, even though it is very different from what I've done before.

Maybe ironically (... or maybe not ironically at all), this seventeenth marks a really sweet time as far as my writing is concerned. My heart is full (and cautiously hopeful) and, today, I really am excited. I don't paint flowers at midnight anymore; but I'm usually up that late, planning. Hoping. Writing. (James Taylor still helps me out ;) These stories are blooming things, and I know Gran would go wild over them. She would savor every word. She would smile proudly and say, simply: "It's about *darn* time." I wish I could tell her that she was right all along. But I have a feeling she knows.

This November 17th, I'm grateful for people I love, for stories to tell, for music, and for the glory-day sunrise that whispered a beginning to me seven years ago when I was surrounded by endings.

If you'd like to win a copy of Paperdoll, simply scoot on down to the comments and tell me something you love about your grandparent(s) (or someone who has been like a grandparent to you - someone a bit older who has mentored along, maybe?). Maybe share something they taught you or share a favorite memory. Maybe you've never even met your grandparents; but there's a picture you've seen or a story you've heard that made an impact on you. I'm excited to read what you have to say! :) (And I hope you'll share even if you've already read Paperdoll. Just let me know if you don't want your name tossed in the entry.) 

Next Wednesday at 8AM (... ish), I'll use the random number generator to pick a winner. 

In addition to a copy of Paperdoll, I'm also sending a bookmark (they're fancy and new). This is The Rogue Accountant illustrating the joy-inducing capabilities of the bookmarks:

And! Some super-stinking cute buttons:

I ordered the buttons and bookmarks for an event that I spoke at; just some fun free-stuffs for the girls who attended. But the buttons didn't get there in time (dagnabit!). So I've enjoyed finding creative uses for them. (My dad wears one on his cap. How fun is he?) By which I mean: mostly, I've had fun sneaking through my friends' houses and sticking buttons on their jackets, bags, backpacks, hats, scarves and shoes, and etc. I can hardly wait to start attaching them to Christmas trees. ; )

I'll most likely throw in another pink surprise too. It might be pink M&M's. Or it might be a pink statue of a wiener dog. You'll just have to take your chances.

I hope you're surrounded by new beginnings and good memories; that this seventeenth is the sweetest for you. Take hold of this day. 


  1. What a sweet post for your grandmother. :)

    I have one set of grandparents in heaven, and one set here. My grandpa struggled with Alzheimer's for ten years before he passed away, and Granny took care of him for every second. He got sick while I was still young, so I really only know him through stories. But he was a Navy man, a Pearl Harbor survivor. He was a prankster and a godly man in a quiet, strong way. Granny was a soft-drink-and-Little-Debbie giving granny, but she also always spoke her mind. :)

    My other grandma is a seamstress, and she likes seeing all of my crafting endeavors. :) She's also selfless, a quality my mom inherited from her. Pa is pretty much the only person (other than occasionally my parents) who I can get to watch classic movies with me, because he loves them, too. He's very determined and if he gets his mind set on anything, he does it. I think I inherited my love (addiction?) of chocolate from him.

    P.S. I have a copy of Paperdoll, so no need to enter me!


  2. Awe. My Grandma died when I was younger. She was the best encouragement and even though sometimes I was kind of sassy to her, she always loved me and made me feel special. I have many many memories of my Grandma
    P.S You can enter me in for a cop of Paperdoll. I would love one, Best early Christmas gift ever!
    P.P.S I don't know if you got my email before, Natalie, but my email address is ahiebert (at)

  3. I was just thinking about my grandparents because I am doing research for a book I hope to [someday] write. Historical fiction set in the area that my grandma grew up. Maybe I'll never get it published but I know if I finish it- she'll be so excited, she'll email everyone she knows. (she's an avid emailer, you know)

    My very favorite story that my grandmother tells (She is Grandma Lacker to the great-grandkids because one of the twins couldn't say, "Lyndaker") is from when she went to the little one room school house in Harrisburg.

    She said the teacher had a project for the kids that fall. They had to drawn their hands on a piece of paper. Grandma Lacker was always embarrassed because she had big hands, so she just tilted the pencil in under the edge of her fingers. She was so pleased when she was done. They didn't look too big! But when Christmas came, the mittens her teacher knit her didn't fit!

    I remember hearing that story when I was a little, little girl. I would always hold grandma's hand and say, "you're hands are the softest most wonderful hands in the world." and it was true.

  4. My Grandma will be in Heaven 10 years this coming January. She loved her family. She always smiled. Her heart was full of pure joy. She had so many people to love but each grandchild she had a special love for. She kept each one of our pictures inside her glass cabinet in her dining room. When I cried, she made it better. When I did something wrong (which was rare!) she disciplined me. She read me stories every night and laughed at my five year old silliness.She called me Speedy Gonzales and I sang her "Skin-ama-rink" Her faith in God was so evident and I call her one of the most beautiful people I'll ever know.

  5. nmetzler, I live in Hbg and have always wondered about the one room schoolhouse! Was it part of Susquehanna, on Lingelstown Road do you know? I'd be interested to read your history book!

  6. What a sweet post, Natalie!
    My great-grandma is 86, and still going strong. She's amazing. She has come and helped almost every time we have moved or Mom's had a baby - which adds up to about 14. She cooks, babysits, cleans, and prays. She is such an inspiration, and so close to God. Now, after a knee replacement, she has slowed down a little, and it's time for us to take of her for a while. She is coming up for Thanksgiving, and I can't wait to see her. I love you Grandma!
    ~Michaela :)
    P.S. I have wanted to read Paperdoll for a long time, but I've never been able to. I would LOOOVVE to win a copy!

  7. "hers was a special brand of magic." i love that. this was a favorite part of mine in the book. it sounds like she was amazing.

  8. I love driving out to Illinois to visit my grandparents, espescially at Christmas time. Their little town is usually covered in snow, and the lake is frozen, perfect for ice skating. I love my grandparents because they are cheerleaders in my life and make their home so cozy for us when we visit. Every meal is carefully planned and set out in their formal dining room with candles and music playing on their old record player. i love the traditions that we share together, including dinner on christmas eve and singing songs together.
    Natalie, I loved reading your devotionals in Brio and now in Susie Magazine. I was so happy to stumble upon this blog. I would be so thrilled to get a copy of your book :)

  9. I don't have any wonderful grandparent stories. My grandparents aren't really a part of my life.

    It never bothered me until I was reading at the pool on day and looked up to see a boy throwing a ball to his Grandfather. He yelled, "Grandfather, catch!" and laughed and laughed and laughed. His Grandfather laughed too.

    I guess it was the laughing that got to me. I've never laughed with my Grandfather.

    I cherish the thought that one day I'll have children and they will laugh with my dad one day - their Grandfather. And I'll be right there laughing with them.

    Alexandra A.

  10. What a bittersweet post, my friend. Thank you for sharing.

  11. My best friend gave me a copy of your book "Paperdoll" for my birthday. I loved it. It spoke to me in ways no other book had. The way you have with words is just fantastical. thank you SO much for sharing it with us... me in particular. ;)

    and I loved this post. <3
    my grandmother and grandfather both died last year. and I don't think I've realized it yet. you know how sometimes it just takes a while for things to sink in? sometimes i wonder if this ever will. but yes. thank you. Your posts are so encouraging to me.


  12. These are such sweet stories!

    Alexandra A., I've read your comment so many times tonight. I'm so sorry your grandparents aren't part of your life. The fact that you could (rightfully) be kinda better, but are choosing to focus on the good, truly rocks. I LOVE that you're already thinking ahead, about what a great grandad your dad will be. Love that you're already thinking about the better memories you'll help make someday. Thanks for sharing something so close to you.

  13. Yours post made me cry, but in a good way. It was very touching.

    I have never really had grand parents that I was really close to. My grandpa died before I was born and my other grandpa isn't around too much. I love both of my grandmothers a TON, but the grandma that means the most to me isn't exactly my grandma. She is my used to be step-grandmother. And she means the world to me. She has shown me what a difference grandmother's can make in children's lives. She has shown me how to be a strong Christian young woman and what it means to truly put your trust in Him. I don't know what I would do without her.
    The thing I love most about her is that she makes me laugh. She does really goofy things all the time. And I love to talk to her.

    And Natalie, thanks so much for writing that column in Susie Magazine and for blogging. It makes a lot of lives so much brighter. You are an inspiration :)

    And I would LOVE to get a copy of your book.

    Marissa V.

  14. This is so sweet. I love that passage; I would love to win a copy of your book! :)

    As for grandparents: One of my grandmas passed away this past winter. It was one of the first deaths I've had to deal with, and it was hard. Thanksgiving this year is going to be strange without her... She always made the best chocolate cookies and always decorated the house for every holiday. It will be hard, but I'm glad I have the rest of my family.

    I'm thankful for the memories, and for my other set of grandparents who are still around. They send me newspaper cutouts and postcards and books in the mail and I love getting those little things that let me know they're thinking of me. :) Grandparents are great.

  15. My grandmother used to take us each for a weekend in the summer. I always picked the weekend of the Strawberry Festival at her church. Over the weekend, I'd get to go to the library and check out a book or a movie, help out at the strawberry festival, go swimming, go shopping, and go out to eat before going home at the end of the weekend. Each of us got our own special weekend alone with grandma!

  16. Almost a year ago my grandpa was in the hospital, and it wasn't looking good. In fact, it wasn't looking like he had very long at all. We really realized this on Dec. 16. Dec. 17 was my birthday, and I had a great day with friends planned.

    The evening of the 16th my prayer was simple, but selfish. "Please don't let grandpa die on my birthday."

    Dec. 17th came and went, and it was on my favorite birthdays.

    That night, Dec. 18th my Grandpa passed away in the wee morning hours.

    God and my Grandpa waited for me. Even if it was a selfish prayer.

  17. My grandma is probably the strongest woman I know. She's in her 80's and she still does work around our family farm and cooks a huge homemade lunch for my dad and his brothers everyday (they work o the farm). My grandfather passed away 2 years ago and even though I know it's been extremely hard on her she still seizes each day. Everyone at my church admires her and I always will too.

  18. I loved this post! Your are such a good writer. Really, I feel like I'm constantly telling people to read your blog and Paperdoll :)

    I think my favorite thing about my grandma is her memory. She can remember things from her life when she was just four years old and has amazing stories. She's so smart and can do anything she sets her mind to. She's also a good listener and loves me for who I am and is never too busy to spend time with me. I admire her so much!

    I already own the book so don't enter me!

  19. I love my grandma(s). The thing I especially love doing with my grandma is baking. For as long as I can remember, we have baked together.

    The amazing thing is she barely measures anything. No-she just 'eyeballs' it and dumps some in. And it always comes out deliciously.

    I don't own the book, so please enter me! I <3 pink stuff. And I also want to read your book.

  20. i love reading you blog and would love to read your book.
    Probably I am closest to my dad's dad and his new wife. they really love the Lord and they are just fun to be around ( we nicknamed our grandpa the big child because he his soo energetic and ready to play).
    i would love to win a copy of your book!

  21. i remember my grandfather and i dancing at one of my cousins' weddings, and he told me how proud he was of me for doing so well in everything he knew of. i come from a family in which we don't give or get much praise, so to hear those words, about me and directed to me, is a memory of pure gold.

  22. This post totally inspired me.

    My Abuela is undoubtedly the strongest, bravest, most incredible person to ever walk the earth. She divorced her abusive husband early in her life and took to working two jobs and raising six kids (plus whichever of their friends who needed a place to live) on her own. She's never in a bad mood. She's always dancing. She's proven to me time and tie again that I can go anywhere and do anything and be anyone I want to be. I love her so very much.