Posted in Celebration, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

A Recycled Candle Jar

A recycled candle jar.

But not just any recycled candle jar.
 
One turned into a gift for a mom.
 
100 little notes (“+ a few bonuses”) nestled inside the glass.
 
With butterfly stickers to boot.
 
From her littlest big kid.
 
A mom who fought fiercely to love this kid.
 
All of her kids, in fact.
 
Not perfectly by any means.
 
Kind of messy.
 
Kind of mixed-up.
 
Kind of all-over-the-place.
 
But with her whole heart for sure.
 
A mom who made up family traditions as she went along.
 
Valentine’s Day indoor picnics on the floor.
 
Ice cream every night on summer vacation.
 
Money egg hunts on Easter from middle school on.
 
Traditions that were just what the mom needed maybe even more than the kids.
 
A mom who created memories from moments big and small.
 
Ones that never seem to fade a teensy iota.
 
Others that echo all the mom’s unending and tireless (and tiring) effort.
 
Even more that call timeless past treasures right into the present.
 
Memories that speak to the truth that the love of a mom does not change.
 
EVER.
 
A recycled candle jar.
 
But not just any recycled candle jar.
 
One turned into a gift for a mom.
 
All those memories…
 
All those traditions…
 
All those gifts of love…
 
Have now just returned to her ten, twenty, even hundred-fold.
 
She can assure you of this: it was all worth it and then some.
 
And then some more. And more. And more.
Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Long. Slow. Deep.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words said to me over and over again with every single contraction I had as I labored with each of my four kids.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

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.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words the Tender Lover of my soul speaks to me when the heartache both within and around me feels unbearable.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

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.

Not tonight.

I’m sitting at my table just breathing.

In and out.

Breathing in her pain.  Long.  Slow.  Deep.

INHALE.

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.

EXHALE.

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.

For myself.

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.

For me.

And for you.

Posted in Celebration, Family, Motherhood

What Matters

I had to set my alarm for the first time in nine months.

I left my home in the cold cover of darkness to pick you up after five whole months of being apart.

I spent my whole entire day “getting your room ready” (since it had become where we “store” everything).

Our grocery bill is going to be quite a bit higher for the next three weeks.

We both had to quarantine to the best of our ability for the last bunch of days.

I had to fill my pantry with all your favorites and drove back out to the store because I forgot something.

There will be more dirty dishes and meals I haven’t made in months.

ALL of that just doesn’t matter. Seriously.

WHAT DOES MATTER IS ALL OF THIS:

I watched you embrace the dad you have had wrapped around your finger since you burst forth on the scene in that sterile hospital room.

I heard your particular footsteps scampering to the bathroom this morning.

I soaked in the smell of your perfume you’ve been wearing since you were 13.

You sat with me eating your favorite cereal and we just had time to talk face-to-face.

The puzzle board is back out with pieces scattered in very neatly arranged areas.

We are going to decorate the Christmas tree together.

I am hearing your laughter right now as you chat with your brother.

We went on a walk today in the freshly fallen snow.

You are here if I want to see your face, be in the same room with you, and hold your hand on the couch while we binge watch our favorite mom/daughter show.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS THAT YOU ARE HOME.

With me.

For Christmas.

Best mom present ever.

E.V.E.R.

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Paper Chain Ripping

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.

Completely.

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.

Posted in Family, Grief, Motherhood, Thanks

TWINGE

It hits you when you least expect it.

That TWINGE of mom grief.

The lump in your throat, tear in your eye, and melancholy in your mom heart.

It might be something as simple as…
watching your 10-year-old jump in a pile of leaves knowing this might be the last time she feels carefree enough to do so because she is heading into those self-conscious middle school years.

TWINGE.

Or…
your eighth grader asking to stand back-to-back with you so he can prove he has passed you up in the mom/son height race.

TWINGE.

Maybe even…
your newly-licensed driver waving goodbye to you as she backs down your driveway headed off for the very first time EVER alone in the family car.

TWINGE.

How about…
unthinkingly grabbing your son’s favorite cereal in the grocery store a week into his college freshman year? You slowly put it back on the shelf.

TWINGE.

It happened to me today. Again. A sign on the beach I frequent often, one I had never noticed before.

A simple board with words reminding me that I am here, standing 428 feet from the Atlantic Ocean and my 21-year-old is snug as a bug 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, almost 3,000 miles away.

3,000.

TWINGE.
TWINGE.
TWINGE.

I stopped.
I stared at the sign.
I sighed.
I teared up.
I wiped my eyes with my shirt.

TWINGE.

That ever-so familiar TWINGE that…

…sparks gratitude for this mom journey I love.

…moves me THROUGH the hard of missing all the good that once was

…takes me TO the good that still lies ahead, waiting for me to enjoy it.

It won’t be long until I feel that TWINGE again.
It will hit me when I least expect it.
But I secretly don’t mind it at all.

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

613

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!!!”

“PUH-LEEZE!”

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.

“AHA! MAGIC!!!”

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!

“AHH. RELIEF!”

“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!

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

Y-E-S

When your big kid texts, “Can I come home for the weekend?” you jump at the chance and say a resounding “Y-E-S.”

When your big kid pulls in the driveway, you run outside, wave frantically and give her a hug like you haven’t seen her in five years (even though it’s only been five weeks).
 
When your big kid dumps her stuff all over your kitchen counter, you hold your tongue and remember that it’s only for a couple of days, knowing secretly you miss the “mess.”
 
When your big kid asks, “Mom, do you have ___________,” you search your house until ___________ is found underneath the sink in the back corner.
 
When your big kid shows you the tomatoes and peppers she brought you from her garden, you say, “WOW! That’s amazing!” and you figure out how to use them over the next week so you can post a picture on social media and tag her.
 
When your big kid wants to take an online who-you-should-vote-for test, you spend five hours talking through all the issues, learning and listening to her perspective while speaking your own truth, both feeling more connected afterwards.
 
When your big kid rakes the leaves into a pile on your driveway, plops herself right in the middle, throwing them into the air because fall is her favorite season ever, you take a video and post it everywhere.
 
When your big kid holds her dad’s hand during your lazy, long leaf-peeping walk, you watch from behind and your heart almost bursts because you love her more today than you ever have.
 
When your big kid snuggles with you on the couch, watching football and eating popcorn, the official family snack, memories flood your mind of a little girl spinning in a circle humming while she eats the fluffy white goodness. A lump forms in your throat.
 
When your big kid gets ready to leave, you help pack her car, make sure she has air in that tire with the flashing light on, make a bag of goodies for her two-hour ride, and give her another hug like you won’t see her again for another five years (even though it will only be five weeks).
 
When your big kid pulls out of your driveway, you shout “I love you,” hands flailing in the air, as tears well in your eyes and you allow them to flow. Your heart is sad and thankful all at the same time.
 
When your big kid texts you, “I’m home,” you breathe a long, mom sigh of relief, anticipating the next time you will be given another chance to jump and say a resounding “Y-E-S!”
.
Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Marriage, Motherhood

The Ta-Da List

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.

Crickets………………….

More crickets……………………

“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.

Lightbulb moment!

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.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

Bigger and Better

I had one girl and two boys. I was about to have my fourth baby. I had chosen NOT to find out the sex of the baby, but desperately wanted a sister for my oldest.
.
You see, I had been the only girl and had always wanted a sister myself. No matter how much begging I did with my mom, no more babies were to be had.
.
When the doctor said, “It’s a girl,” my heart leapt for joy and I thought my “big” dream had come true and my most earnest prayer answered.
.
Little did I know that something much “bigger” was on the horizon. The birth of this baby girl became the starting point of a now 21-year journey of healing for me.
.
Her sparkly eyes drew me close, as if she could see right into my soul.
I had never before been able to open my heart without pause.
.
She was unconditional love wrapped in a tiny bundle of flesh and bones.
I had never before been able to receive love without restriction.
.
As she grew, her child-like wisdom shocked me in the best ways.
I had never before been able to move out of formulaic thinking.
.
KNOWN.
LOVED.
WISDOM.
.
Three crucial pieces to a puzzle that had long been missing in my life.
.
As I write, this young lady stands on the precipice of her first “legal” glass of wine, a symbol of celebration for “big” things!!
.
Yes. My “big” dream did come true that September morning, the birth of a sister for my oldest, and I will lift a glass as I remember.
.
But God had a BIGGER and BETTER dream for me, an “immeasurably more” kind, one that I would have never even dared to hope for, much less even know to ask: the mending of my own precious soul.
.
Posted in Childhood, Family, Motherhood, Thanks

‘Twas the end of the summer, it just wasn’t right…

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,
Thanksgiving too.
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!”