Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Donuts for Darlings

Summer birthdays mean not getting to bring treats to your classmates and postponed parties because everyone vacations on your big day. I realize these are First World problems, but when you're in the third grade, the struggle feels real:)

Since today is exactly two months before this little dolly turns ten, it seemed the perfect time to break out the sugar-laden goodness and bring enough for the whole class. Em's teacher willingly agreed to let me come in this afternoon and celebrate my girl.

Sometimes the love I have for my children is just too big to contain. Sometimes the gratitude I have in my heart for motherhood is enough to bring me to my knees. Seeing Emerson's dimples deep with delight brought all of that today. This is the stuff of Fairy Tale childhoods and youthful dreams. But I'm pretty sure mine was the fullest heart in that classroom today. I dreamt of moments like this when motherhood was out of my reach. I knew I wanted to do things like this for children of my own, I just never could have imagined how much I'd love loving them.
After school Emerson went on to a year-end party for the Fitness Club she's been a part of so it was just me and the Ainsley love walking to the car and heading home. When I asked her how her day was she told me it was "Great!" I asked what was great about it and she told me that she got to eat her school lunch on a plastic plate. She explained what a coup this was because she'd seen the elusive plates before but had never had the opportunity to eat from one. I have no idea why this seemed like the prize to win, but it did to Ainsley. Usually the cafeteria serves their meals on the hard resin divided trays that you immediately picture when you hear the word "cafeteria". But today, the staff didn't have enough time to wash them all in preparation for the earliest diners (the Kinders) so, plastic plates it was.
I just love that baby girl's entire day was made because her chicken tenders were served on a Solo plate. Sorry, Earth, but this disposable goodness rocked this girl's world today.
How good is it to be six?
I love this picture of Ainsley taken on Halloween. This was, of course, before she decided to change her costume and be a cat doctor. Not a vet, but rather a cat who is a physician. This is a real thing when you're six. Anything is possible when you're six and most especially, when you're Ainsley.
A fine cat doctor she made beside her sister the Candy Corn Maiden. May they always find beautiful things to celebrate and may they always be little girls (at least in their hearts).
*The pretty print in this post featuring the verse is available on Etsy. Take a look by clicking Here 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Best Pool Party Ever

So the lovelies are planning a party. This really isn't a newsflash, this is what we call Tuesday or any day around here. But this one is bigger than most since it's meant to celebrate the beginning of summer--the pinnacle of wonderful when you're a kid.

This is the first year that both girls' last day of school falls on the same day, so they plotted to plan the  
Best Pool Party Ever to celebrate.

They made invitations which included these little gems:

School's Done -- Pool's fun!!!
School's out! No homework-yay!
School's out, it's Time to Play!!!!!!!!

As you can readily see, they love exclamation points a lot and seeing them on their little invites does make me so happy too. They are so looking forward to the party and have planned snacks to serve and created a little online potluck sign-up for others to bring things to share. They've each made a list of friends to invite, which for Ainsley includes her entire class in case (in her precious words) "Someone would see me handing out an invitation and feel sad hearted that they weren't a part of it."

They're inviting teachers and parents, neighbors and dear friends. They have planned which pool toys to bring out and where to arrange the patio furniture.

But you know what they haven't once mentioned or showed any morsel of concern for?

How they're going to look in their swimsuits.


I mean, I get that they're young girls and haven't yet been burdened with food issues and body image concerns. But I do pray that they'll continue to wonder why in the world anyone would ever do otherwise. I hope they'll never worry about what they look like when the aim is to throw a great party. The chances that everyone (including us) has a good time and is comfortable (anywhere we go) increases dramatically when we are comfortable with ourselves. I think this goes well beyond being swimsuit ready, because, gravity. It's really so much more about feeling comfortable in our own skin and thinking of how we might bless those we welcome to our home and into our lives. 

I'm ready to follow their lead and approach summer with lots of excitement and lots of exclamation points!!!! It's so much better when we look forward (with great enthusiasm!!!!) to ways we can offer others a wonderful time and not once think about how we might be perceived along the way.

Here's to a summer filled with laughter, fun, celebrations, swimsuits, and cannonballs!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Summer's on the Way...Problem Solved!

Though I truly have savored the moments, I cannot help but be surprised (again) that another school year is coming to a close. I guess this one flew all the faster than those before since there was so much anticipation for it to begin. Such a momentous season when my Ainsley love headed off to Kindergarten.

We I had such fun with these pictures documenting the anticipation for the start of full-day everyday school.

We did eventually get some fun shots to document the season and I'm pretty sure bribery was involved.

Once Ainsley was off to school I did miss having wide open days when it was just the two of us. But I loved the new found independence she found there and I didn't mind my new found independence too much either. I loved the maturity in her that blossomed in a place where she was alone without me. But, of course, she was not alone at all. So much to glean from the experience of working shoulder to shoulder with other little people in her same stage of life.

I was lucky enough to get to sit in and watch it much of it unfold. As the Room Representative (how about that!), I had the keys to the kingdom and got to come into the classroom to snoop help whenever I wanted to.  I love Ainsley's teacher, a beautiful girl only twenty five years old. She's great at the job. She challenges the kids to do their best but isn't afraid of a little silliness and fun along the way. Ainsley's crazy about her and will miss her sorely when the year comes to an end.

As I watched her among her classmates, I saw a natural boss leader who surely seemed to have settled right into her own skin without any difficulty at all. I am just getting this myself and Kindergarten was a long time ago for me. She's not afraid to tell someone she'd prefer they not do something or to ask for what she wants. She's, um, direct. Yes, that's it. But she really is nice about it. It's extraordinary in its simplicity. Be nice. Be yourself. Speak up. Oh, to have learned this that early in life. Baby girl makes a momma proud.

And then there's the Emerson love. Fourth grade is on the horizon and that's just crazy talk. I remember fourth grade. I mean I remember so much about it. I remember Mrs. Forhan and her beautiful voice and her round plastic framed glasses. The Social Studies unit that I adored in which we were allowed to wear clothes from 1776. I remember proudly wearing my white pinafore and bonnet that my mom lovingly (or probably begrudgingly) sewed for me. She didn't love sewing but she sure loved me. Oh, that was a great year, and now my first born is off to enter her year in the fourth grade so much further along in being true to herself than I was at her age.

We went out to dinner just the two of us the other night -- me and Emerson and she was just fantastic company. She is such a love. Here is how she looked right across the table from me.

We just had such a good time. She's fun to talk to and I'm so grateful that she still likes talking to me. She does feel things so deeply. We got to talk a bit about how the gift of a tender heart, lovely though it is, can feel burdensome at times. She asked great questions and we discussed ways to lean in and pray for others rather than rush in to "fix" things. I surely know how this method really does unburden us and surely does such good for those we love. I left that evening a bit awed at how deep and wide her thoughts and feelings are -- she sure makes a momma proud.

In addition to cultivating and understanding her gifts, Emerson is equally excited to have taught herself her own version of cursive. Because, priorities. Long hand is something she took up on her own last year, and her version is actually pretty close to the real thing -- which is kind of how mine looks to this day:) Recently, her teacher introduced penmanship lessons in class. She's eager to learn proper form and often asks me to say a few words that she can write out at as practice. Last night I suggested that she write that I was glad she was home. I went on about my work and didn't notice that she was still writing long after the amount of time it should take to write just a few words. After she had finished, she came to me with this little pearl.

Friends, I just can't even. Her precious heart.

  The penmanship is a work in progress and capital letters haven't yet been introduced but here's what it says:

I'm so glad you're home. Because you're my favorite mom. And every time you see a problem, you fix it. So that's why you're my mom.

I love that this is how she sees me. I see a problem and I solve it. Boom. That is who I want to be. I know that when I walk this out well, the problem solver isn't me, but He who is in me. I cannot fix everything and make it better. But, if solving problems is about making hard things easier, putting broken things back together, making messy things beautiful, then I'll do that all day long. That's what moms do and I'm so proud to call the job my own.


Saturday, May 2, 2015

Color my World

When I walk into the kitchen and see this, I just cannot take it. I cannot take how precious my Ainsley is with a paintbrush in her hand, a free-bird in flight. Without any help, she set up her own make-shift studio, donned a beret she found in the dress-up box, and channeled her inner Picasso. Sure, I lost a few years from my life when I considered what might have become of my kitchen table, floor, and walls when I saw that she had helped herself to the paint supplies. But I'm happy to report that everything looks just as lived in and sticky as it did before she set to work.

Know what I really love the most? That she just sat down to paint and didn't doubt her ability to make something beautiful. She hasn't always done this. With an artistic older sister in view, she has been know to compare her work to her sister's and feel like she's not measuring up. What I carefully remind her, in those moments of self-doubt, is that Emerson is three years ahead of her.  Comparing Kindergarten art to Third grade art isn't a fair contest. I remind her that Emie's had three years to learn new techniques and skills that she didn't have when she was in Kindergarten. I can teach this lesson without a blink, yet I'm guilty of the same unbalanced comparison in my own life.

Don't we all do this? We look at the success, the impact, the growth that someone is experiencing well into the process  and compare it to our own meager first steps. It's as though we're in Kindergarten and feel dismayed that we haven't yet mastered pre-algebra and long-division like our Third grade neighbor. When we've missed a really important truth--we are in Kindergarten and we are rocking it.
We have everything we need to create something beautiful right where we are. Let's be sure that we do.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Jesus Loves the Jenners

Earlier this week I listened to Jen Hatmaker's amazing sermon on Jesus calling the twelve disciples. It was so good. In it I was reminded that we are often so glad to receive grace freely and yet we give it out so conditionally. Yes, Lord thank you for the grace you extend to me but let's be careful just doling it out to everyone because some of these people are really making a mess of it. A humbling reminder that none of us deserve it. The word grace actually means unmerited favor and yet sometimes we get a little pious and start to think we're more deserving than "those people". I hope I know better and hope that I'll do better.

In related news, my FB newsfeed was full this week of posts of links to an article comparing Kendall Kardashian to Sadie Robertson. I'm no master of TMZ or entertainment news but after one quick read it was easy to see that all of this conversation began over some challenge Kendall made on Twitter. Whatever its original intent, it was translated to be aimed at Sadie in a brawl over which of them would win the culture war and have the most influence over today's teens. A conservative reporter wrote an article in which she made a line by line argument for why parents of young girls should choose Sadie over Kendall as their daughter's role model. It went a little something like this: Kendall wears sleazy clothes while Sadie embraces modesty. Kendall wrote a book that failed while Sadie's had great success. Sadie loves Jesus and Kendall wore revealing clothes to church on Easter as a slap in the face to her view of Christianity (huh?). Sadie is sweet and Kendall is disgusting. Um, excuse me. I'm sure I didn't hear you correctly. You didn't mean that, right? You just forgot for one second that you are talking about children. These little whipper snappers are 17 year old souls. They weren't alive before 1998. How is it okay to slam a young one about like this with thoughtless words?

How many of us could have been held up as role models when we were teenagers? And as long as we're remembering that these girls are just kids can we talk about their parents for a sec? Sadie's had the advantage of God-fearing parents who have (as far as we can assume) taught her about God's abundant love for her and have lived their lives with arms wide open. Kendall's mother manages her career (insert face-palm) and her father wants to be a woman. Come on. Can we expect her to understand and embrace the love and acceptance of a Father God who's crazy about her? And before this starts to sound like a slam to Bruce Jenner, it so is not. I watched his interview with Diane Sawyer and was absolutely touched by his sincere and tender heart. His children from previous marriages appeared on the show and were nothing but lovely. I mean just beautifully supportive and respectful of their dad. His children from his marriage to Kris each added a word of love an support as well though they didn't appear on the show. It truly was inspiring and honestly displayed more authentic and selfless love than we see from most on the right who claim to follow the ways of Jesus.

Listen, I'm a social conservative, too. I don't want my girls to wear provocative clothes, be promiscuous, or follow much of anything that the Kardashians or Jenners are doing -- but you know what I want less? For them to spew hateful comments about anyone. Whether people believe what we do about who Jesus is has nothing to do with how much love we're going to extend their way. I'm a little confounded as to why some people who love Jesus feel they get a free pass to hate on people who don't share their beliefs. Jesus loved everyone and spent a good bit of time with people who lived their lives in direct opposition to what He taught.

One great truth from Jen's sermon was that when we're told to love mercy it's not just for ourselves--all that Jesus lived and died (and rose!) for was for every.single.soul. He desires that none should perish and so should we. I really do believe that most Christians would heartily and say, "Yes, of course! His love and grace is for everyone." Yet our actions and words are telling an entirely different story.

I think we've gotten a bit careless with our quest for the easy laugh and enjoyment of making some fun. We've decided that when people "just don't get it" they are fair game for insult and belittlement and we've let them entertain us by their absurdity. But this is a problem. A big problem. Our voices start to be tinged  (sometimes saturated) with hate and we've completely lost the ball  and lost an audience. No one wants to listen to us anymore because we sound like haters. Nothing trumps our call to love. Not someone's flamboyant image or revealing clothes or failed relationships. These things are only flashing lights and cries for love. For the authentic and eternal love that we know about and could extend to them if we weren't so busy laughing about them behind their backs.

I get that most of us aren't neighbors to the Kardashians, most of us won't rub shoulders with A-listers or politicians with whom we disagree. But we all have people in our sphere of influence who do things we disagree with and they in no way deserve to be the butt of our jokes. Let's love them. Let's quit making fun of them and in humility pray that they'll know how amazing it feels to be loved unconditionally--to not have to live life completely on the edge to feel a thrill.

I believe the best in people. I know people who shared this article likely did so because Sadie is darling and it's wildly encouraging to see someone so young live with such integrity. They just wanted to hold her standards high and I applaud this and would even join in that praise. But it speaks to an underlying trend of laughing at the world that just needs to change if we have any hope to be heard when we share the really, really good news.

I believe most of the time when we rib one another and crack up at the seventh marriage of a celebrity or snipe about the neckline of the dress of an actress we're often just making a joke all while forgetting something of utmost importance -- they are just doing the best they can with what they have. Life is hard. Really hard. And all the more so when you're navigating the choppy sea without a good guide. Our mocking their missteps is about as sensible as laughing when a blind person unknowingly walks right into a brick wall. It's not funny. They don't see it.

The cringe factor for the vocal representatives of the  "church" is seriously so high it's getting embarrassing. Let's get busy loving so they know Who we represent. If it's true that we'll be known as His followers by our love, then we've got some  'splainin' to do. We aren't so recognizable anymore, but we surely can be.

We can do better. We must do better. Let's just put down the pointing fingers and fold our hands in prayer. Pray for redemption for our own calloused hearts and for everyone to know the gracious, never-ending, ridiculous love that is showered upon our own unworthy hearts every single day.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

We made it

We made it. Ticked off every single one of the “firsts” in this maiden year of grief after my mom died. We miss her terribly but it does feel good to have cleared this hurdle. It was such an honor for us to have been at her side at the end of her life. It is something I had always hoped I’d get to be there for, I just never wanted to experience it so soon. Ours was a long goodbye since we lost parts of her for several years before she passed. But in the end it really was a beautiful final farewell. I have never been more aware of the presence of God and His profound, touchable, eternal love than I was at the end of her life. It was nothing short of sacred.

We were so glad that her fight was over. The disease that gnarled
up her neuro-transmitters and all of our pathways to her for so many years was gone for good. For a second there death had no sting. We reveled in the unmistakable presence of God Himself. We nearly felt her spirit brush past us as she was led into the place she had sung about the whole of her life. Every inch of the room felt full with the company of angels guiding her home. I didn’t see anything, I didn’t hear anything, but I absolutely, most assuredly, felt something in the very marrow of my bones. The presence of holiness. Without plan or fabrication, I let out a little yelp and lifted my hands to the ceiling and said, “Praise God! She is home. Your servant is home!” I went on to speak directly to her while looking up at the chandelier in the dining room of my childhood home, “Mom, if you can see us, we’re all here. We love you and we’re so proud of you. You fought so hard. You lived so well. Go and rest. We’ll be there soon.” If I live to be one hundred and ten (and I hope I don’t because, mercy) I pray I won’t ever forget what that felt like—when heaven came to earth. But then there we were left behind without her. My dad, alone for the first time in 56 years. My sister, brother, and I like tiny kids in the department store lost without a mother.

I helped to plan for her funeral and delivered a eulogy and flew back to my home and family. Suddenly the daily routines, appointments and obligations seemed pointless and sort of mean. Life moving on as before seemed irreverent somehow when what I really wanted was for everything to just stop so I could numb out and stare off into the sky. Sometimes I did. I stared up into the glinty sun through the leafy trees and just had my mind blown. I mean how in the world was it possible that the woman who gave me life no longer had hers. Just how was this supposed to work? I truly could not grasp how the most constant presence – the most constant life I had known every single day of my life had been snuffed out. Though well-meaning friends told me “You’ll always have your mother,” the fact remained that she was unreachable and gone, as she had been in many ways for such a long time. I knew that, though she loved us all, even if given the choice, she wouldn’t come back to her life here if she could.

I was glad to know she wasn’t hurting anymore and had not a single ailment. I knew that her mind and clarity was restored, her body glorified. Oh, and her memory, it was hers again—no need for Memory Care when you’re dancing on gold streets with Jesus. Why would you ever look back then anyway? Living in the moment must come pretty easily in paradise. All of those pictures of her fully restored made me so thankful. But that wasn’t always enough to motivate me to keep moving along the path of life on this broken earth.

I let myself ache. Sometimes the hurt came from nowhere and seemed disconnected to her in a way. In truth I was grieving not only her life as it was but what her life could have been. Honestly, I grieved a good plenty for what my life could have been had I been given a mother (and my daughters a grandmother) fully alive and present through all of the seasons. Though the pain was sometimes raw and hard, I knew that feeling all of it meant that I was breathing in the riches parts of life. Experiencing depth of sentiment is the very best of it and where the authentic livelihood happens – where I always want to be.

In time I came to see that even when it hurt I could still reach out and reclaim the glory I had experienced at the end of her life. That undeniable presence of holy that I had felt—I learned that it’s mine for the taking I had only first noticed it when I was on vigil, quiet, waiting for the end of a life. But it was there all the time in the land of the living. I just had to quiet myself and seek out His company to experience it again and doing so breathed new life into me.

Now I take time to be with God and it’s profoundly different from the “Quiet Times” I used to check off my to-do list while my mind was often somewhere else. I seek Him out and talk to Him and I stop and listen without saying a word. I see now that He’s not like a father, He is the Father. His love is parent gold standard. He nurtures me in a profoundly intimate way that I never knew was possible before the loss of one of my earthly parents. I wish I’d have gone to Him for this kind of love sooner. He could have filled in a lot of gaps along the way. He’s so quick to give love and such a steady faithful gem of a Father God. I just never knew how to hang out with Him like this before. Maybe I never thought I needed to. But if this is the silver lining I was looking for beyond the trees into the shimmering sun, I’ll take it all day long.

Grief steals. We know this. It only shows up when something is lost or taken from us but the sweet surprise is that it can also give some awfully precious gifts. This loss gave me a new found appreciation for God’s presence in the brevity of my life. I drink deeply of the best of life now.  I sense the holy not only in my time hanging out with God but also in the smell of Ainsley’s tousled and sun-drenched hair, her sticky kisses, Emerson’s hilarious wit and laughter, Dirk “getting me” —these I sip and appreciate as precious gifts from my very good Father. I always knew He was there and loved me and sent His son so I could have abundant life (this side of heaven too) but I never really lived in the luxury of it. Now I can’t do anything other than treasure the divine moments masquerading as everyday events. My eyes have been opened and I am, at long last, fully alive.

This is perhaps the best and last gift my mom ever gave to me—the pathway to abundant living. As long as I have breath in these lungs I’m going to do enough living for the two of us. While she’s hanging out with Jesus face-to-face, I’ll be hanging out with Him right here. One day I’ll join the big party with her but I’m not going to wait until then to celebrate.



“The glory of God is best seen in a woman fully alive.”
Lynn Hybels If: Austin 2015

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Baby, you look brave

So the kids did not have school today. Thanks for that, Columbus. Though it was a holiday the day was not without struggle. Our trials were likely not as difficult as sailing by night and sailing by day using only the stars to guide our way. But alas, the waters were a wee choppy for us today on our tender vessel.

Because there was no school I was glad to let the girls stay up past their bedtime last night. Though I thought we'd be up just a bit later, it turned out to be  ten o'clock before we turned the lights out. This is late for us but I figured we'd make up for it this morning when we could sleep in as late as we wanted. That was until 6:16am when I heard the thunderous sound of galloping girls coming down the stairs and into our bedroom.

It was Emerson who spoke first, "The alarm is going off in our room!" Alone in our bed I was fogged over with unfinished dreams and interrupted REM so it took more than a few seconds for me to register that I had to actually get up out of the bed to figure out what the matter was. Once I had padded up the stairs I heard the unmistakable beeping of the clock radio docking station that sits on Em's dresser.

The odd thing is we never set this alarm in the girls room because it's the girls room. Did I mention they're in there? We want them to sleep. When they do have to get up for school Dirk does the waking so they didn't even know there was an alarm in their room let alone how to turn it off. I have no idea how it got set but I'm reasonably sure it was Satan's doing. Though we tried a good plenty, none of us could get back to sleep after turning it off so the day started with all of us in a deficit.

Ainsley may as well wear a big oval sticker on her forehead that reads "I am tired" on the days when she is just that because every little button on her tender soul is ripe for the pushing. After playing outside with friends this morning she burst through the front door with a wail. "She took it! Right from my hands she took it from me!" She exclaimed as though she had just been presented with Sophie's Choice and was aghast at what had been stolen from her. When I asked what the "it" was that had been taken I learned that it was a piece of grass that her dearest friend had taken away. Of course. This explains everything. Guessing I'd misheard I asked (as seriously as I could) "She took a piece of grass from you?" "Yes! And it wasn't just any grass. It was long and wavy and looked like a piece of hay and I wanted it for Lady." For Lady, you see, is a plastic horse. Of course.

We recovered from this disastrous injustice only to find that the peace offering Popsicle offered by her little friend had fallen sugar side down into the dirt. Seriously. You can't make this stuff up. I rinsed it off and Ainsley, before heading back out, put her little face just inches before mine and asked "Does it look like there were tears here?" "No, baby, you look brave," I told her, and out the door she went.

This afternoon I had a quick errand to run and Ainsley's little friend came along. This is not uncommon, we just tote along other little people to do our business and everyone seems the happier for it. On the way home I was feeling particularly magnanimous so I made a stop at the McDonald's drive through. Ainsley opted to order a Happy Meal because she was desperately hoping for a particular toy featured this week.  She also desperately wanted ice cream which was the treat her friend had chosen. I wasn't wild about her getting multiple nutrition-less offerings so my compromise was that I would order a snack size ice cream treat that we could share and she could get the Happy Meal. Not sure why it seemed better to me if I also ate some of the junk. Just getting by here people. After being handed the bag at the window I quickly pulled out the toy and noted that it was not the little pair of Monster glasses she was hoping for. I surprised myself by asking the clerk if he'd be willing to see if there were any other toys available that he might be willing to swap out. He replied, (like a manna offering from heaven) that they did have the Monster glasses as well and he'd happily trade them out. All was right with the world and the car was a-buzz with ice cream oohs and ahhs and the appreciation of a new plastic toy. Glory be.

So as not to make things seem boring or predictable the girls opted to go outside with their treats and have a "picnic". Why not? It seemed benign enough until the door flung open again moments later and instead of a wail I heard more of a blood curdling shriek that caused me to bolt straight to the entry in two giant steps. I was sure I'd find a mountain lion attached to Ainsley's leg, mouth clenched around her little quadricep. But instead she stood alone with ice cream dripping down every side of her head in a rather comical I love Lucy fashion. "What on earth happened?" was all that I could say but she could offer no real explanation. Simply that she wanted to show her friend how she could balance the cup on her head and well, yea, she couldn't do that. Of course. That explained everything.

Now when someone has melted ice cream on every side of their head and their hair is as thick as an alpaca, a bath or shower is the next stop to be sure. Except for the fact that Ainsley likes both of these things as much as a tooth extraction even when she is well rested. Imagine my delight at getting to encourage her into the bathtub in her narcoleptic state. Good times! When the water ran over her head (as she stood in the tub) she wept and wailed as though I was forcing the ice bucket challenge upon her in the north pole.

It was too much. I'd had it with the drama and the over-reactions and the outbursts of raw emotion. I knew it was unreasonable for her to behave this way and that some responsible adult should step right in and explain to her that (tired or not), this all had to stop. But darned if there wasn't anyone there but me. Huh. It still (nine years later!) amazes me that I'm the one who's supposed to come up with the well chosen words, the timely response, the pulled together plan.

Because I had no inspiration to share I just said nothing. I just poured the water over her head and watched it run down her supple spine and round bottom. Her perfect little form wet and slippery. She is such a miracle to me. And somehow that is what I saw in her. Not a wailing child but rather a gift from God. I scrubbed her hair and rinsed out the suds and said nothing to her as she protested. I carefully lifted her out of the tub and onto the fluffy mat, wrapped her in a towel and hugged her to my chest. Her wet head lay on my shoulder and she quietly cried. The girl was tired. Dog tired. Me too. I put my face close to hers and reminded her what a good listener she is. How careful she is with her friends and how glad it makes me when she obeys the first time without complaint. I reminded her that I expect a lot of her because I know she is capable of a lot and that it's not okay for her to raise her voice and stomp about. Through her tears she apologized to me and I gladly accepted.

This time after we wiped her tears away she did not ask me if it looked like there had been any tears there so I didn't have the chance to tell her that it did not. But the truth was she absolutely looked brave and so did I. Gentleness is such a force. Meekness, such a strength. I don't walk it out well and beautifully every moment and have come unwound more times that I'd like to recount. But when I stop and quiet myself and see the beauty before me I feel the strongest I've ever felt. It is the harder path, the choppier sea, but it is the far better course. The strength in self restraint is mighty and magnificent and we're all so brave for giving it a go. So to Columbus and all weary travelers I raise my glass to a brave new world indeed.

By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination.
Christopher Columbus

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Some days I can scarcely believe that both of the girls are off to school already. It's a time I hardly trusted would ever come. I have been anticipating this season for so long, sometimes with more than a little eagerness, sometimes with great angst.

I'd love to say that this season came with well-prepared children who eagerly embraced the new horizon before them. Though they were quite well-prepared for the change they did not necessarily embrace it with arms wide open. Or at least the sweet baby girl Ainsley did not. She did not take to kindergarten readily. The schedule itself was the biggest hurdle. In the first week there was not a single day when she did not ask why school started at night. She couldn't begin to imagine that people actually got up willingly at 6:15am (when it is still dark outside) after what felt like such a short night's sleep and had the audacity to call it "morning." I knew she was legitimately tired from the change to her routine and the long scheduled day she'd stepped into. But I was equally weary from the daily cheerleading routine required of me at the very same un-holy hour of each day.

My attempts to convince her that school would prove to be a fun place to go fell heavily to the floor. All the while she continued to let her dislike of formal education known to us all. Dirk gently asked her just what it was about school that she did not like. I braced myself for the answer. She has a problem with the alphabet, with rhyming words, or with counting numbers. Instead of any of those things I heard my youngest girl say, "I just don't like leaving mama." Bless this child. Bless her to the center of her heart. She loves her mama. Listen, kids like their moms at this age. I get that this is not exceptional news. But it blessed me. She has not been a textbook baby or a simple puzzle to put together over our six years together. But baby girl knows she is so very much loved and she loves me back. She finds being at home with us the best gift given. Mission accomplished. But the girl still needs to go to school each day which means I had to dance a new dance and find a new approach.

I was out of tricks until I remembered the one thing that most parenting books warn against but that has worked quite well for me in the past.  I have a long list of things that fall into this category come to think of it but the one that's never steered me wrong is the bribe. Sure, it's not advised to bribe your children to do things that they should willingly do in joyful obedience. But when the yellow bus is beating down the street and there's an unwilling pupil in the midst, a mama's gotta do what she's got to do. I promised her that if she woke with a willing heart and came to the breakfast table with a smile and no complaint for an entire week, I would buy her a giant stuffed lollipop on Friday.

It was something she'd eyed on a recent shopping trip and asked if she could have it. I had no intention in the free world of ever buying it. It's of no obvious use and is big and fake--not that a giant "real" lollipop was better--but it's not been featured on Pinterest in "Darling Bedrooms for Young Girls" even once. Yet I willingly dangled the bespangled carrot before her eyes of blue.

The next day we woke her as usual but her response was different than it had been. She walked down the stairs and silently took her post on the stool at the kitchen island. She willingly ate her strawberries and yogurt without complaint. She dressed and walked toward the bathroom and in reaching for her toothbrush she said to me, "Mama, I'm really trying to be happy." I'm not sure I have had a prouder moment with her. I loved her honesty. The fact that she was trying. That she understood that happiness is so very often a choice and sometimes one with grit on its teeth and muscle. It's the harder choice, the better choice. But it is a choice. I loved that she made that choice even if only for a foam core lollipop.

Since then she has readied herself for school without complaint. She still doesn't revel in the fact that in order to go to school and avoid a visit from the truant officer, she has to leave me each day of the week. But she goes willingly and with a smile. And you know what? Now the happy heart in her is genuine. She has found things to enjoy about kindergarten and has great stories to share each day when she comes back home.

When I meet the big yellow school bus at the end of the day I can hear her say "Home sweet home!!" as she bounds down the steps and onto our brick path. Home is all the sweeter for the time she spent apart from it and a foam lollipop is only a small reason why.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart. Helen Keller

Well, it's happened again. The school year has slipped through my fingers like so much shifting sand. It happens every year and still somehow it's a surprise when it's all come to an end so quickly. And this year it's all the more so because it is Ainsley's last year of preschool. I cannot believe I am at this precipice so soon. I look down from this height and see a cliff that, sheer though it may be isn't all that scary. Progress is good. Kinder is a safe place to land. It's the right time for it yet my heart (and throat) has more than a little catch in it these past few days.

For nine years I've had a little lovie at home with me. It surely doesn't seem that long ago that I'd tote Emerson with me every where I'd go. We were constant companions. For three years it was just the two of us all day long.

So tiny and perfect and sleepy. That girl always slept like a dreamer. Still does. Dreams deeply, thinks deeply, feels in the depths of her almost nine year old heart. Yesterday she came home from school so happy that she'd finished reading a book about Helen Keller. She's completed a school unit on Helen and knows more about her than I ever did.

Yesterday she was telling me and Ainsley about the story. How she was in a group reading it with others and when she got to the story's end she had tears pooled in her eyes. For the Scarlet Fever or meningitis that took her sight and hearing, for the battle that came in trying to navigate the world without those senses that we all take for granted. For the maddening struggle to get the concept that every object has a unique word identifying it. But yesterday my girl wept for the beauty that was born in the struggle...through the struggle. That because of Helen's tremendous scrappy perseverance and strength she learned to communicate in a way unknowable to most people who walk the earth. She became the first blind and deaf person to ever receive her bachelor's degree. That forty six years after her death we're all inspired by her life.

I wanted to stop the world from spinning in that moment. To pause time and forever watch the way Emerson's eye's glistened as she told of the amazing beauty that came from ashes. The maturity in her outlook floored me and once again I was humbled by what a beauty the little love has become.

And so it is the week we celebrate our second born's achievement--the milestone of moving on and into elementary school. And celebrate we shall. But right now my heart is thinking of my hope fulfilled. The girl who burst into the world and cranked up the color and lights and beauty. So much beauty.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"To get the full value of joy you must have someone to
 divide it with ." Mark Twain
I love this picture for so many reasons not the least of which is that my mom took it. It's a glimpse of what she saw in us girls and wanted to remember. I can imagine how happy she was to have my sister and me in the kitchen with her prepping something for a party. Some of her most happy moments were in planning for and preparing everything for a party she would host. I'm tipped off that a gathering was in the works because the big stainless steel coffee pot is out and at the ready in the background. It only came up and out from the basement when people were coming over. I love that I look nearly identical to Ainsley in this shot. And so I can completely imagine my mom's glee in looking in on a little girl of only five happy to be helping the way that I look at my own precious mommy's helper. Though I'm reasonably sure we weren't offering a lot of true "help" to the process. I love that my sister is right next to me and that we're working together and smiling easily. I love that on the back of the photo in my mom's own hand the words "Christmas 1973" are penned in her consistent cursive. It's a snapshot I'll ever treasure.

It's almost Mother's Day so naturally my heart is turned toward thoughts of my mom as it ever has been for the past two months. Though we didn't always spend the day together when miles and gnarled neurotransmitters prevented our connection, we were always close at heart on the second Sunday in May. This year she's close at heart more than ever before. I feel her presence in the deepest part of my heart. In the corners that no one else sees, I sense her warmth and reassurance. I can almost palpably feel her enveloping hugs if I close my eyes and remember. Oh, the gift of a good memory. May it ever be mine, dear Lord.
Though I am still often drenched in grief and certainly a good bit of sadness, I celebrate this day with a new found memorial and hope. You know that mother's heart that revels, I mean actually truly revels in helping her child to experience joy in something simple? That heart that spends more time in the girls size 7-10 section of Carson Pirie Scott than the misses section and is all the happier for it. The heart that celebrates fully when their daughter is ecstatic about a new haircut or the rainbow toss pillow for her bedroom...all while she knows her own hair needs a trim and some color like water in the desert? It's that mother's heart we all long to have. To truly live out the gospel in our mothering by willingly (gladly, even) putting the needs of our littles before ourselves. This is what my mom did and this is what I shall do for her this first Mothering Day (as it's called in Great Britain) that I will spend without her.
Though this first holiday without her brings me the gamut of emotion and loss, for my mom this is the first Mother's Day in 43 years that she will spend in the company of her own mother. Forty.three.years. I am stunned by this thought. Floored by the idea that every May for nearly the whole of my life my mom's heart was awash with emotion from each extreme. On those Sundays when we presented her with dandelion bouquets and marker-penned construction cards, her heart must have been full of contrasting sentiments. She was surely happy for the love received from her beloved children, yet all the while she had to be thinking of her dear mother already gone on to heaven well before the time she was ready to let her go.
But this year it's different. This year she sits in the presence not only of her heavenly Father but of her earthly mother as well. I cannot help be thrilled for her and feel the same type of merriment she must have felt so many times when celebrating what brought me happiness.
She has longed for this reunion for so long. In her final days we showed her many pictures of cherished friends and family. She would brighten with each portrait shown depicting someone whose life had left a permanent and loving imprint on hers. But there was no reaction quite as bright as when she saw the picture of her parents. Her face lit up like Christmas morning. We were talking to her about heaven, how glorious and amazing it would be. How many of her dear friends and loved ones were waiting for her there. She pointed to the picture of her mother and with the levity of a girl and asked with undeniable delight, "Will I see her today?!" Oh, what a reunion they must have had and must still be having!

She's surely catching her up and all that happened over those 43 years.  I cannot help but think that my mom, even in death, is having one of the best Mother's Day's of her life and that brings me more joy than I can possibly contain. Because, of course, she isn't dead at all but experiencing eternal, unfettered, unmatched life in the presence of dearly loved people and the God whose glory fills this earth (whether everyone acknowledges Him or not).
And so I will rejoice with my mom who is rejoicing. I will join the party from here and will celebrate all the more when we are face-to-face yet again.

"To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with ." Mark Twain