I could see that she was holding back tears as she walked down the steps of the school bus and into the passenger seat of our family minivan.
The words came tumbling out like a waterfall, “He broke up with me at lunch.”
My heart sank as I watched her body curl into a ball and her head flush against the window, tears flowing freely now.
“Oh honey. I’m so sorry. I know how much you liked him.”
I laid my hand on her arm for a moment and she wrapped herself further into a ball. Silence ensued for the rest of our drive home.
She bolted into the house and to her room, shutting the door. I followed her up the stairs, and as I rested my head on her closed door, I could barely make out muffled sobs.
My heart sank even more. My girl was hurting. And no matter what I did or said in that moment, it probably wouldn’t help at all. She was suffering the normal heartbreak that comes with first kisses, first crushes and first rejections.
I would just let her be for now, alone with her own heart and all the feelings that were new and confusing and downright difficult. It was the best and only thing I knew to do. It seemed to be what she wanted and needed the most.
I meandered to the kitchen, not sure what to do with myself. I wanted to run right back upstairs and wipe her tears away with a kiss, a hug, an emotional bandaid, an “I love you” or one of the other many mom tricks I had up my sleeve. Not this time. Instead, all I could do was pray (and I sure did) and feel awkward and start to make dinner.
Time seemed to march ever so slowly that afternoon, normal when pain is loud for us or someone we love. Time feels achingly long and almost cruel. Why can’t it pass quickly so that we are on the other side of loss and grief and back to our hopeful selves?
How I wished that for her that insufferable day.
Right before dinner, there was a knock at our front door. Odd at that time of day.
I glanced through the window and right in front of my own teary eyes, one of my daughter’s best friends was anxiously standing there, carrying two spoons and a huge container of my girl’s favorite ice cream flavor.
I opened the door, gave her a quick, thankful hug and whispered, “She’s up in her room.”
I heard another knock, footsteps, a door open and then shut again.
Talk about strange and hard for my mama self, yet somehow wonderful and what I hoped for all at the same time.
What I couldn’t do anymore as a mom (as much as I desperately wanted to), her friend was able to do. Listen. Relate. Comfort. Eat ice cream out of the container right before dinner.
All so normal for that season of her life.
I kept milling around the kitchen, gratitude welling up inside of me for this friendship that my daughter had.
The kind that goes to the grocery store instead of her dance practice.
The kind that shows up instead of stays away.
The kind that hangs out with the tears instead of just the laughs.
I heard the front door close and a car pull away.
In what seemed like only a few moments, her friend was gone again, just like that.
Had it been enough for that very miserable afternoon?
I wondered what would happen next.
Only moments went by when I heard the familiar creaking of my girl’s door opening and loud footsteps down the stairs.
She bounded into the kitchen, hair a mess, eyes all puffy, but the next words out of her mouth were priceless.
“I’m going to be okay, Mom, even if I’m not right now.”
She threw her arms around me and we hugged for a long time and as I held her close, I knew deep inside that it had all been enough.
“What’s for dinner?” she quietly asked.
As we unwrapped ourselves, I whispered one last thing into her ear, “I made your favorite.”
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words said to me over and over again with every single contraction I had as I labored with each of my four kids.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words I say to myself whenever my heart starts to race, my palms get sweaty and my brain is off to the races, filled with anxiety and dread.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words the Tender Lover of my soul speaks to me when the heartache both within and around me feels unbearable.
Long. Slow. Deep.
Words that I imagine were spoken to Mary by the women in her caravan coaxing her through the laboring pushes and birth of Jesus and the comfort and joy that prevailed in the afterbirth.
It’s past midnight.
Someone I love was in much pain earlier.
Most days, I would push it aside and go to sleep.
I’m sitting at my table just breathing.
In and out.
Breathing in her pain. Long. Slow. Deep.
Holding my breath for just a few seconds as I hold her before the God who is with us in the middle of our pain, our heartache.
Breathing out the love of God to her. Long. Slow. Deep.
I’m not in the physical room with this one I love. I can’t be right now.
I can’t take away her pain.
I can’t make it magically all better.
But I can breathe for her.
I can breathe with her.
Long. Slow. Deep.
In the story of creation, God took the dust, the dirt, the ground and breathed life into it. His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.
What sprang forth in all its beauty was us. You and me.
We were glorious.
We were sacred.
But we were also fragile.
But God didn’t and doesn’t stop there. He didn’t and doesn’t create us and then leave us alone.
We are still glorious.
We are still sacred.
And we are still fragile.
We need Him, His breath of life, every single day.
In our pain.
In our fear.
In our sadness.
Even in our joy.
We need His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.
That’s why I breathe.
Long. Slow. Deep.
For those I love.
Often for those I don’t even really know, but can love because they are glorious, sacred and fragile just like me.
Each of us takes about 20,000 breaths per day.
20,000 chances to inhale our individual and collective suffering.
20,000 chances to hold each other and bring each other to the One who holds us in the palm of His hand and in the recesses of His heart.
20,000 chances to exhale His unending and unfailing love to one another.
But most of our breaths are rushed, fast, and shallow.
We move at a pace that requires this. Rushed. Fast. Shallow.
It’s no wonder we miss out on the powerful, beautiful, love-filled life that God has to offer us and we have to offer each other.
So tonight, at this dark and quiet hour, I don’t want to miss out. I want to be present. I want to soak in the power, the beauty and the love that is ready at the waiting.
I do nothing else but breathe.
Long. Slow. Deep.
For the one I love.
And for you.
I’m zipping along, buying presents online, wrangling the tree that’s a little on the skinnier side this year, and opening the Christmas cookie can filled with goodies, sneaking a bite or two.
ALL OF A SUDDEN it hits me out of nowhere.
That odd feeling that has pangs of grief intertwined with downright disbelief.
I won’t be seeing my son this year for Christmas.
My son. My actual flesh-and-blood son whose tiny body I held on my bare skin just moments after he was forcepped out of my birth canal.
The boy that wrapped himself around my legs, refusing to step into his nursery school class.
The “too-cool-for-school,” chain-around-the-neck (with the green marks to prove it) preteen.
My very own guitar-playing, camera-toting, lacrosse-eyed 16-going-on-21-year-old who would scream “Hey Mom!” into the bleachers, not caring who was around.
The young man who lived in my basement after college, couches littered with his friends who called our house their “second home.”
I won’t be seeing him this year.
He has chosen (and rightfully so) to go with his beloved to see her family.
I get it.
I did the exact same thing when I was navigating all that weird “who do we visit this year?” choices of the young adult.
But it doesn’t make it easy.
He’s still my baby boy in all.the.ways.
You get it.
I know you get it.
But who said this mom gig was easy?
No one ever.
It’s so dang hard.
We have no idea what we are getting ourselves into when we see those TWO LINES on the little screen.
No idea how much we are going to love this human.
No idea how good it’s going to feel often.
No idea how awful the constant goodbyes are (to seasons and to them).
No idea how wonderful and complicated and messy and beautiful it ALL IS.
The pangs and disbelief will show up out of nowhere in the next couple of weeks.
I’m ready for them. Kind of. I’ll cry for sure.
But you know what?
I’m really glad for them.
It means what we have is good.
He’s one of my people.
It’s how I always wanted it to be.
Lest you think we’ve got it all “going on,” I can promise you that it wasn’t always this way.
During his rough senior year, I was counting down the days until he left for college. I almost made a paper chain (it was that rough).
But now, thanks to the very kind God above, and a lot of keeping my mouth shut and my heart open, I might just make a whole different paper chain, one that counts down the days until I see him again.
Right now, it’s most likely 99.
It will be 98 tomorrow.
I can hear the sound of paper ripping.
613. Number of ancient Jewish laws.
613. Almost the number of rules in our home when the kids were little.
61. Probably the number of different “Family Laws” based on said rules along with kids’ ages and stages.
All of this an effort to keep track of what really mattered and didn’t, what should be disciplined and what should be praised.
But mostly just a desperate attempt to manage the chaos that seemed to be a natural part of raising a family.
One not-so-glorious day, having reached the end of my mom rope, I screamed these words in exasperation:
“JUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!!!”
If the not-so-glorious scene had been made into a comic strip for the Sunday paper, a glowing “light bulb” would have hovered just over my red face and red head.
Boxes in my brain were immediately checked for compliance:
- Brush teeth (SELF)
- Put gas in the car (STUFF)
- Do NOT eat 17 cookies (SELF)
- Do homework (STUFF)
- No wet towels on the floor (STUFF)
- Go to bed (SELF)
- Get a job (BOTH). – YES. Get a job!
A new “Family Law” was imposed, one that didn’t take hours of preparation, spreadsheets and doctorates. The old charts were wadded up and saved as fire starters!
“TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!”
Everything in our OUTER lives is managed by this sweet, simple phrase, no matter how old we are, whether we are a male or female, who we live with, what dreams we have, or what our personalities are like.
(You could play a little game and see if you can find any that don’t if you really want to. Comment if you come up with one.)
It’s the same for me and for you, our child or our parents, our spouse or our friend, our pastor or our barista at the local coffee shop.
But what about our INNER lives? What about cooperation, kindness, generosity, respect, compassion, thankfulness, forgiveness, patience, etc., the deeper issues of the heart?
Do they land in those two columns of “self” and “stuff”?
The wisest human (not me) who ever lived emphatically says, “yes.”
In fact, he reminds us that “taking care of our self and our stuff” begins with our INNER life.
Cultivating the matters of our hearts is the best care we can take of our “selves.”
Tending to our souls is the best care we can take of our “stuff.”
His words, not mine:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)
P.S. I need a new toothbrush!
When your big kid texts, “Can I come home for the weekend?” you jump at the chance and say a resounding “Y-E-S.”
17,000,000. The number of apps to manage to-do lists.
TOP priority. Get ‘er done.
The feeling of accomplishment.
Promised peace at the end of the day when it’s all crossed off.
I was trained from a bitty girl to spend time at the day’s end confessing my sins out loud and asking God for forgiveness. “I’m sorry I lied.” “I’m sorry I said mean things to my friend.”
No matter how much good I had given to the world, my final thoughts as I said my bedtime prayers were how I had MESSED UP and what I had NOT done well and who I had offended (in many cases, this happened to be the God of the universe…yikes). NO peace for sure.
Fast-forward to my adult years. Same. Same. Same. Just different stuff. “I’m sorry I screamed at my kids.” “I’m sorry I took a too-long lunch at work.”
One night, my little rebellious self changed it up. “What did you do right today?” I quizzed my husband as we collapsed into bed after wrangling four kids into their beds.
“I smiled at the store clerk,” he mumbled at long last.
I shook my head. I knew he had probably been kind, sought justice, served those he worked with, treated everyone with dignity and respect, along with all the daunting tasks he had crossed off his “to-do” list.
Realizing how much of our day (and night) was taken up with negative thinking, we decided to make this a best practice in the moments before we fell into slumber. “What did you do right today?”
We still began our days with a “to-do” list, but we ended them with a “ta-da” list.
It was STILL NOT the peace we were looking for, but at least a step in the right direction.
Help came in the form of what usually happened right before we crawled into bed, wiped out from the day.
Most nights, the last thing on my never-ending “to-do” list was to slip into each of my kids’ rooms and just watch them sleep (something I still do from time-to-time, even though they are giants at this point).
No matter what had happened during the day, both good and bad, it didn’t seem to matter any more. I would just stand there, gazing at their cute little heads barely visible above their comforters, completely and utterly in love with them, happy.
Yes. Yes. This must be how God feels about us.
While the “to-do” lists and “ta-da” lists matter to us, they don’t seem to matter much to Him.
At BOTH the beginning and end of each day (regardless of either of those lists), he gently reminds us, “I will quiet you with my love. I will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah)
TRUE, UNADULTERATED PEACE.
Twas the end of the summer,
It just wasn’t right.
Every beach chair was packed up,
And so were the kites.
Last grains of sand,
Shaken out of the flip flops.
With dim hopes that fall shoes
could be found in mall shops.
The children were crying
all mad in their beds,
With visions of homework
crammed in their heads.
And papa in his lounge pants,
And I in my shorts,
Were ready for anything,
Definitely done making “forts.”
When checking our phones,
To see what’s on our plate,
We couldn’t believe it,
It was already past 8.
Away to the kitchen,
I made a mad dash.
To see if we had snacks.
“Oh no, forgot the trash!”
The moon was all shiny,
Its man poking fun.
“Summer is over,
caput, gone, YUP, done!”
When thoughts to my wandering
mind did come clear,
The fall is upon us,
There are things we can cheer.
Like football, Like pumpkins,
Like lattes, Like scarecrows,
Like apples, Like sweatshirts,
Like cider, Like warm clothes.
To the ice cream truck songs!
To the fireworks all night!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away! That’s right!
Make room for the soup
The outdoor fireside chats.
Make room for the leaves,
Thank God, no more gnats!
As I came to my senses,
And was settling down,
A smile snuck to my lips,
No longer a frown.
I’ll be dressed in all manner of
sweatpants and hoodies,
I’ll feel so so cozy,
All ready for some goodies.
That Halloween will bring,
It won’t be just eats,
It’ll be lots of hugs, true.
I spoke no more words,
But went straight to my bed,
Said a prayer filled with thanks,
For what lies ahead.
And laying my head,
And closing my eyes,
My heart felt more settled,
“My goodness! Time flies!”
I rose one last time,
To check on my crew,
“Happy Fall, my sweet ones,
I’m thankful for you!”
It happened again.
Children brought hope to my discouraged heart.
Hope in the form of painted rocks.
Painted rocks outside our local elementary school.
Messages of goodness, encouragement and kindness splattered all over simple gray stones.
In “pre-crazy times,” I would have thought, “how cute” and moved on quickly.
Not now. I stopped, savoring each one, breathing a prayer of thanks.
Thanks for each child. Thanks for the purest and simplest of words, designed to breathe life into my disheartened soul.
I needed these rocks. I needed these deliberate acts of kindness from children who decided to take a moment to paint rocks.
I want to be like them when I grow up.