Layers. Depth. And Freedom.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things. About the nature of surrender. About emotional freedom. About joy and sadness and contentment and grief. We are getting ready to build a larger house and move from the home we’ve lived in for more than 15 years. It’s time and we’re ready. But oh the memories that live here.

-Young couple finding their way through college and career.

-Meeting my biological father for the first time.

-First pets who belonged to no one but us.

-The decision to start a family.

-Bringing baby number one, then two, then three through that back door.

-Cool, fall days spent listening to my children giggle in the backyard.

-Warm, yummy smells of holidays and family meals.

-The door frame in the kitchen where everyone’s growth is marked.

-The huge, old magnolia tree in the backyard. Full in bloom with its sweet/spicy scent in all its pink and white glory.

-Stairs navigated in the dark to nurse a fussing baby, learning to walk, learning to crawl, lost teeth, snuggles in my bed, the big rocking chair, on the couch.

So many precious, happy memories. And my mind inevitably drifts to the not-so-happy times. . .

-Spider bite, ugly scars, so much pain.

-Healing, surgeries, more healing.

-The bug man, the pesticide, the fear of the spiders outweighing the fear of the pesticide.

-Car stolen from the driveway.

-Melody’s broken nose, blood all over the kitchen counter. Fear.

-Health scares.

-Miscarriage. Grief and struggle and loss of faith and re-finding of faith and healing.

-Fear of miscarriage with every pregnancy pain and ache.

-Morning sickness that took months of real life away.

As I sit here and think about all these memories, good and bad, I realize how much they round out how I feel about this house. This home that has kept us safe and warm and content these almost 16 years. And I realize the deeper meaning.

I have spent so much of my life looking for that  perfect moment. The moment where there is joy. Pure joy without the shadow of fear or sadness. Open arms. Running forward euphorically without trepidation and without being afraid to fall. And in these musings, I find a deeper truth.

Layers.

The layers of sad and happy and grief and joy and fear and courage all make up the fabric of my life. And your life. Unfettered joy sounds divine, but is unattainable in this human state. And perhaps the deeper joy comes in the layers. To be able to hold grief and still feel love. To feel fear and still press on in courage. To allow the bittersweet of motherhood and growing up and growing older to sink fully into my heart in a way that brings depth and beauty and character.

And so my definition of freedom is changed. Freedom is the ability to hold all these things together in my heart and appreciate the dimensions. To find peace in the midst of the chaos that is a life well lived. To experience my life as fully as is within my power to do. To rejoice as my children grow bigger and stronger and healthy as I grieve the loss of baby snuggles and butterfly kisses and “Carry me, Mama.” Freedom is living life deeply immersed in all the emotions life has to offer. And appreciating the ability to carry joy into sadness. And the strength to bear fear into celebration. And grief into contentment. And love into loss. And all this is a freedom I once lacked but now embrace more times than not.

And so I strive to model this for my children. As Melody sobbed into my arms last night about leaving the only home she has ever known and all the memories left behind. . .and awoke this morning excited about having her own room. . .may I show her the beauty and grace of holding the depth and height and breadth of emotion all together in harmony. Because that is true freedom. And I’m so grateful that I have come to a place where I can appreciate that freedom in all its fullness.

<3 Handprints

You didn’t catch me.

Dear Romeo,

Sunday morning, you were hanging out with me in the bathroom while I applied a bit of makeup before church. You were happily standing on the step stool you often use to wash your hands when somehow you misstepped and fell. You slid down between toilet and sink, banging the back of your head on the toilet tank and getting your shirt hung on the toilet paper hook. As I struggled to free you and your shirt from being “stuck,” you fought me off. You cried and screamed and wanted Daddy. Confused, but wanting to comfort you, I handed you to Daddy and he hugged and calmed and checked you for injuries. I came alongside and patted your back, asking if you were okay and trying to offer comfort as well. You continued to cry for a few seconds, then turned your face to mine and in an angry, sad, betrayed voice screamed, “YOU DIDN’T CATCH ME!!” and buried your face back in Daddy’s shoulder sobbing. I acknowledged that I didn’t catch you and that I wished I had and was so sorry that I didn’t. Daddy tried to explain to you that I didn’t know you were going to fall. You finally calmed a bit and let me hold you, and after a few minutes wanted down to play. But try as you might, at least the next bit of your morning was ruined. Nothing was right. Your toys wouldn’t “play” right, no one gave you the answers you wanted and you were just generally unhappy.
As we drove to church, I could not help but draw a parallel between what had happened that morning and my own relationship with my Father, God. Your accusation that I should have caught you despite not causing your fall at all was a profound eye opener for me.
In this broken, sinful world we live in, so often we are hurt and feel deep pain. Sometimes my pain comes from bad decisions I made. Sometimes I fall because I get ahead of myself. But all too often, life just happens. While God may allow the falls in my life, He does not throw me down and make me bang my head. Often I am just living and the natural consequences of my actions or the actions of others… Just. Happen. And how often do I shake my fist at the heavens because He didn’t catch me. I wonder how that makes Him feel?
Going further, so many times when one thing goes wrong in my life, I let it ruin so many other things for at least a time. It becomes so easy to lose perspective when I’m in pain. And so I find myself sitting here wondering what I can learn from your little incident. . .because I sense something profound in your statement of betrayal. “You didn’t catch me.”
Knowing the deep love and compassion I feel for you, I know my Abba feels nothing less for me. I scooped you up and felt your pain in my own heart. I felt sad that you were angry and sad. I wanted to soothe away the hurt and the sadness. And knowing that God feels that way when I hurt is a huge revelation to me. Because it speaks to His goodness and His eternally extravagant love. He doesn’t always catch me. But He always loves me. And He is always there with me in my pain. And each day, as I continually learn to surrender the illusion of my own control, I learn more about what it feels like to trust Him even when He doesn’t catch me. Just like you will someday understand that I wish I could catch you every time you fall. Thank you for being so honest and transparent, little man. Because that dose of truth from your innocent little heart has taken me on a journey of my own.

I hope next time you fall, I can catch you. But if not, I will pick you up and love you in your sadness. Because you’re so worth it. <3

Love, Mama

Legacy

10553457_10203555680266926_7844022657271927776_nMy husband’s grandfather passed away this week. He lived half a country away. We only saw him once every few years. My husband didn’t “grow up” seeing him very often either. But still, he was the kind of man who left a lasting impression on you from the moment you met him.

I began dating my husband when we were both 16, and I met his grandparents that same year when they came to visit. Sweet people. Politely happy to meet me, the teenage girlfriend desperate to spend all her time with her boyfriend and his family. . a family who was so accepting and loving of “outsiders” that it seemed they just loved everybody.

You can’t begin a relationship at the end of childhood without feeling like you “grew up” in that relationship. . .and that is what happened for me. Hubby and I married at the ripe old age of 20, and Grandpa and Grandma were at the wedding, after flying across the country to be there. And so continued my journey and my grafting into this marvelous family. Four years in, I already felt like I belonged most of the time. And my new husband showed great resemblance to this grandfather, which has only become more evident as time has passed and he has grown more “distinguished” as men do.

Grandpa had a certain familiar build about him, passed on to my husband almost exactly. No male pattern baldness to be seen. With a full mane of hair into his 80’s, just like the thick locks I affectionately refer to as “needing a good sheering” when hubby has stretched the limits of his haircut intervals. And I see many of these characteristics passed on into my son. And I think this adds to the sadness I feel right now, at the loss of a good man.

Grandpa always had a twinkle in his eye. And always a kind word on his lips. Our little family drove 2 1/2 hours each way for a visit with him that was half that long this summer. We knew his health was declining. He went back and forth from hospital to nursing home several times before he left us. He suffered from some dementia and didn’t really know the names of our children, but he touched my heart when my husband and I entered his hospital room this summer. His face lit up when he saw us. And recognized us. Both of us. And called us by our names. He remembered MY name. The granddaughter who was not born into his family, but rather grafted in through his grandson. And that meant something to me. It meant that he really did claim me as his own granddaughter. And that knowledge brought tears to my eyes.

As we hugged and kissed him goodbye for what would be the last time, even through the obvious fatigue and world-weariness in his eyes, there was that twinkle. Almost like he knew a little joke he wasn’t telling. We wished him well. We declared our love. And we went back to our normal lives, half a country away.

He wasn’t a perfect man. I’m sure those closer to him could attest to that better than I. But I admired his kindness, his sense of humor and a streak of stubborn tenacity that peaked out from underneath the twinkle that in my position as a once a year visitor, I never really got a chance to know well.

So Grandpa, you will be missed. You were well-loved. And I look forward to someday getting to know you better in heaven. Because one day, when time no longer matters and we both walk in the Garden in the cool of the day, I will learn more about the man behind the twinkling eyes. But for now, I will enjoy the similar twinkle in the eyes of my own true love. I will be thankful for strong genes passed on and seen in the broad shoulders of my own beloved son. Thank you, Grandpa, for living and loving and passing on part of who you are. My life is richer for it.

Love, Me

What CAN We Do?

1551555_10204463132632668_3473623281409716198_nDear Jubilee,

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with your preschool teacher. I learned that you are referred to affectionately in class as the “class outreach minister,” and I have to say that makes me so happy to call you mine. :) You reach out to other kids who are feeling out of place or sad and try to make them feel included and special. Ever since I learned this about you, I’ve been on the lookout for evidence of this characteristic here at home.

Yesterday, we were on our way home from school and we stopped at the light near our house. There was a homeless man standing there holding a sign asking for help. You noticed him and began to ask questions:

J: “Mama, why is that man standing there in the cold holding a sign?”

M: “The sign says he doesn’t have a place to live and he’s asking for help.”

J: “You mean he doesn’t have a place to sleep? He doesn’t have a family? Where does he go when it gets dark?!” You were very upset by this notion.

M: “I don’t know if he has any family. Hopefully he has a place he can go to sleep that is warm when it gets dark. His sign says he is hungry and needs some food.”

J: “And we can’t take him home with us, right? Because we don’t have any extra beds or extra rooms, right?”

I could tell you were trying to make sense of all this. I let you know that it would not be safe to invite a stranger to sleep at our house. You went through all the reasons why that was true. You hoped someone else would have room at their house. And I will admit, the whole conversation made me sad that you had to see that side of life and I was relieved when you dropped it.

This morning, while we were playing in your room, you were in charge of our pretend play and you told me that I would be a person with no place to sleep. You then invited me to come home with you and share your room. I could tell you were trying to work out your feelings about the homeless man from yesterday and so I asked if you had any ideas about how we COULD help him, since letting him sleep at our house was not safe for us.

Your first suggestion was that we make him a nice, warm place to sleep. We talked about how that could happen and decided it was probably not practical.

We came to the conclusion that we could make him a bag of food. We talked about the possible contents of the bag. We settled on a granola bar, an apple (which you made sure was pre-washed) and a small bottle of water. Then you suggested that we make 2 bags, just in case we saw two hungry people. You didn’t think they should have to share.

And so, as depicted in the snapshot above, we pulled out two paper bags. I wrote the message, “We hope this helps a little. . .” on each bag and you decorated them with crayons. They are now packed and waiting by the back door for the next time we go out. And I sit here amazed. Amazed that a 5 year old would be so touched by the plight of a stranger. Amazed at the compassion you feel for someone you have never met. And amazingly touched by the gift of mercy that I see budding in your little heart.

I am challenged by your heart today, little one. Oh, that I could see the lost and the broken through your sweet, compassionate eyes. I am blessed to be your mama. And I hope we are able to share these little care packages sometime soon. Thank you for pushing me to be a noticer of people. Thank you for being an example of the love of Jesus. I love you so much.

Love, Mama

The Answer

Dear Kids,

After a night of fear and violence in our community very, very close to our home, you awoke one morning last week with questions.

Why are we all staying inside today?

Why are the people lighting things on fire?

Why are they stealing and breaking windows in our town?

Are the protesters the bad guys?

Are the police the good guys?

Are we safe?

And as I stood there making breakfast, I was overwhelmed by my own lack of an answer. I wanted you to feel safe. I wanted you to be shielded. I wanted to wrap my arms around you and shut out the world. Pretend like none of this was happening. But the main reason those questions are hard to answer is because I don’t know all the answers myself.  And for more than a week, I’ve been thinking and praying and trying to answer these questions in my own heart. But there are no simple answers here. The reasons are many. The answers are not easily boxed and delivered. And they are not easily understood.

I have not raised you to see race. I have raised you to see people. And so, this thing of racism and fear and hate does not make sense to you. And I really thought, REALLY THOUGHT, that that view was more the rule than the exception in 2014. I was wrong. And the grief that brings me was a bit hard to see through in the immediate aftermath of the “burning of Ferguson.” Because in watching all of this unfold, you are forming conclusions whether you mean to or not. And in my own search for wisdom, I haven’t felt like I understood it enough myself to guide your conclusions to the balance I pray you grow up with.

I have written this letter numerous times over the past week. And deleted and revised and re-written. Because honestly, I didn’t feel like I had an answer. Every answer I could muster felt jaded. One-sided. Shallow. And like a deeper grief was brewing beneath the surface.

And so after a few days of trying to make sense of this myself, I began to seek out other perspectives. I am white and surrounded by white people. We do have friends who are black, but not as many as I’d like to have. I read perspectives online from wise leaders in the national black community. I read about the epidemic of fatherlessness and poverty among African-Americans. I read about sin and racism and justice and hate. I prayed for an open mind and an open heart. To look past the fear and anger that came from watching our community burn. To hear the heart of the message that those still protesting this whole thing are trying to get across. And I started to get it.

I don’t agree with all of it, but I can respect it. I was raised to believe that the justice system in this country works. That it will defend me if I need it to. And so, every time something like this happens, I spring from the basic perspective that our justice system is fair. And that it is designed to protect its citizens. But many in the black community grew up seeing a totally different perspective. They saw men accused of crimes based on the color of their skin. They saw the benefit of the doubt go to the police because of stereotypes in their community that I can’t even begin to understand. They grew up seeing men and women of color treated differently by authority figures simply because they were men and women of color. And so their basic perspective grew from these roots. And they do NOT believe in our justice system as easily as I do.

I read one Facebook comment from a woman who explained her perspective on the grand jury deliberations regarding the Mike Brown/Darren Wilson case. She explained that in a jury trial, all evidence is presented to the jury, by prosecution AND defense. In a grand jury review, only the evidence deemed “credible” by the prosecutor is presented. And if the person of interest (in this case, Wilson) testifies, they do so of their own volition and are not cross-examined by any defense counsel. And this is why she viewed the way this case was handled as unfair. And while I’m not sure I agree, I see her point.

Even after I began to understand WHY the remaining protesters felt they had a case to protest about, I still struggled to understand the violence that took place in the immediate aftermath of the announcement. And I maintain that there is no EXCUSE for that violence. Those were criminal acts and deserve to be punished accordingly. But that does not mean there was not a REASON behind them. A reason is not an excuse, but it helps to understand the reasons behind something if we hope to be a part of the solution. A part of the greater movement who moves toward change so that something this devastating doesn’t happen again.

And so, I agree with the many wise black men whose writings I have recently read who say we need black leaders within the black community to call for and initiate change from within. We need strong black leaders to stand up for what is right, to call their youth out of poverty by offering real initiatives and solutions, to challenge black fathers to step up and parent their kids. All of those things are true.

But passing the buck and saying it’s “their” problem to solve and pretending that because I don’t hate black people, racism doesn’t exist is simply insanity. Because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And while I don’t pretend to know (yet) what practical steps I personally need to take to be a part of the positive change that needs to happen, I will not throw up my hands and say I can do nothing.

I seek to know more, to understand more. And as I have pondered the violence, I started to understand some things. At the root of all violence, you will find a sense of powerlessness. Whether real or perceived, it whispers there beneath the anger. And when a person feels powerless, it leads to anger and attempts to gain power in any way you can think of. We have heard of outside gang influences in Ferguson, inciting some of the violence. But gangs at their core are formed out of powerlessness, too. Out of a sense of displacement. Needing a place to belong and be cared for. So they are as much a symptom of this thing as anything else.

So I believe the situation in Ferguson boils down to this: Powerlessness begets powerlessness. A son feels powerless to win the love or attention of his father and he becomes angry. He acts out in anger, trying to feel like he is in control of some little piece of his life. And after time has passed, if no constructive intervention has taken place, he takes the power back by not being available to his own son, and the cycle is perpetuated. And when you look at the balance of power in our government entities, it makes sense that black people feel underrepresented. Because they ARE. We need more black police officers. More black elected officials making a difference. More black judges, more black prosecuting attorneys. . .because no one should EVER be convicted for. . . or tried for, or exonerated for. . .a crime just because of the color of their skin. And as long as we white people continue to view discussions of racism as a personal insult to our own race, we will never be open minded enough to be a part of the change that is needed.

And so, my three loves, LISTEN to other perspectives, no matter who they come from. OPEN your heart to change from within. LOVE your neighbor as yourself. Don’t form an opinion about another race just because of all you’ve seen in this last week. Get to know PEOPLE. On an individual level. Seek out wise people and talk to them. Because change will only happen if we are willing to stop perpetuating the illusion that racism does not exist and it’s not our problem.  or as one old saying goes, “BE the change you want to see in the world.”

Love, Mama

Thanksgiving

Dear Kids,

Today had a rough start for me. I woke up later than usual from that coma-like sleep that comes from many interruptions in the early hours. I awoke from a dream that had unpleasant emotional consequences. I was doing my best to greet you with a happy face and hugs. We got breakfast on the table (cereal) without incident and I sat down at my computer to research a recipe for lunch before making my own breakfast. Or water. Or coffee.

I was startled by a very sad screech as you, Romeo, in an attempt to drink your cereal, dumped the entire bowl onto your pajamas, your chair, the table and the floor. You were crying loudly because you were wet and the milk was cold and you had lost your “choca milk” as you guys were enjoying a rare sweet cereal treat for breakfast. I felt the anger in me that always boils just beneath the surface begin to bubble up.

I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth and feigned sympathy as I changed your pajamas and hugged you, then got you a fresh bowl of cereal, to be eaten in the high chair this time as at least 1/3 of the dining room was covered in milk/cereal spatter. Our dog, who’s been off grains for several months due to inflammatory joint problems, happily ate the grain-filled cereal off the floor. I had to move the table to the other side of the room to even begin to get all of the splattered milk that was just everywhere. I was so angry that I felt my familiar snippy irritability begin to take over. You three were very cooperative. Melody fetching paper towels and cleaning solution, helping me move the table and clean up the mess. When it was finally done, and the three of you had finished your breakfast, I commanded you to leave me alone for 20 minutes so I could eat my breakfast in peace before I dealt with one. more. thing.

I sat down with my food and posted about the incident on Facebook, which gives me some outlet for my aggravation at times. I finished off the post with a reference to the fact that I still needed to post my “30 days of Thanksgiving” post for the day and was hoping that would give me perspective. And boy did I need some perspective.

While I was eating, you three were in the living room preparing a “show” to cheer me up. I barked once for you to turn the music down to a more tolerable level. I was having trouble looking forward to your amateur singing and dancing show that was supposed to fix my morning. But I told myself it wasn’t all about me and that I needed to engage with you three in a more positive way. We needed this day to have a different tone than what it started with. So I came in and sat down with my precious coffee to see what you had up your collective sleeve.

And that is where God met me this morning.

Melody-you danced and sang to what you knew was one of my favorite songs of all time. “What Do I Know of Holy.” And while I listened to those beautiful words of discovery and surrender and watched your lovely face as you allowed true emotion to wash over you as you danced and sang and interacted, I felt my emotions stirring within me. I teared up as I watched you. You have chosen to follow Jesus for yourself, and I have not fully processed just how thankful I am for that. I am watching you blossom into a young woman of faith. Of principle and of love. And as your love for Jesus and your love for your broken mama were written all over your face this morning, I felt so thankful that you are in my life. And that I have the privilege of discipling you and watching you grow. My heart was bursting with gratitude.

Jubilee-you dance and sang to “Bubbly.” A giggly, happy, sweet song about happy feelings. Your face was alight with the joy of showing me how you could dance and sing. As always, your sweet face just made me smile. And I was so grateful for your freedom. Your happiness. Your worry-free abandon. Even in the face of a cranky mommy who almost cried over spilled milk. Your energy and joy is contagious. And I am so thankful for your smile and your very happy happiness.

Romeo-I am still learning about your little personality. At the moment, you just want to do allthethings your sisters do. And so in the song you three did as a group, you sang and danced your little heart out. All off-key. All off-rhythm, but with gusto and fervor and dimples. And it made me giggle. Because you are so darn cute. And so darn indignant about your littleness. And I just want to smush your little cheeks and hug you all day. And my mama-heart needed to feel that this morning, in the midst of all the crankiness. And so I am thankful for your current littleness and cuteness and fiery-ness. Little third child we had never really thought to hope for in the midst of infertility and miscarriage and ugly pregnancies. You bless our home with a new brand of intensity. And I am so thankful that God knew we needed you.

As you three wrapped up your performance with yet another of my favorite songs, “Beautiful Things” by Gungor, I could not contain my tears of joy and gratitude. I was looking for one thing I was thankful for this morning. Instead, I came to a place where it felt like all that I am thankful for is too much to confine to a mere 30 days of Thanksgiving. I am thankful that God makes beautiful things. I am thankful that you three are a part of the beauty He has made from me. I am thankful for toddler huggles, pre-school giggles and tween drama. I am thankful that God looked inside of me and saw what He deemed the necessary ingredients for the woman who would be your mama. I am thankful that He never stops working in me, changing me and healing my brokenness in ways that bring glory to Him and even more beauty into my life.  I am thankful for my history. Thankful for my story up to now. I am thankful for this life, right now in this moment.

Because this is the moment. And I am aware enough of it to stop and savor it.  We are making memories right now in these all-too-brief years of spilled cereal, living room performances, poopy diapers, schoolwork, morning cartoon snuggles, lice infestations, homemade pizza and movie nights and toddler meltdowns. In the midst of all the chaos and love and imperfection, we are making the memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. As one of our favorite people likes to say, “These are the good ‘ole days.” And my thankfulness today can be summed up in this one sentence.

I am thankful that my God sees all and knows all and above all, knows exactly what I need in this life down to the moment.

And even on the days when I don’t see it, He says I’m worth it. And that in a moment of music and dancing and laughter, a “bad day” can be turned into a day of thanksgiving by a simple choice to look for the joy.

Love, Mama

 

 

Convictions

Dear Melody,

My heart swells with pride for you tonight. And I told you how proud of you I am before I sent you up to bed just now. But the feeling is so big that I need to sort through it a bit more yet.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve been talking and negotiating a lot about a TV show all your friends watch. I had previously watched one episode with you, and at the time you didn’t love it (you found it scary), but felt there were some “awesome” things about it and wanted to keep watching it. Due to some sexual innuendo and mature themes, I deemed the show inappropriate and decided you would not be allowed to watch it.

As time went on, it seemed the show was all your friends wanted to talk about. You came home with details about characters and episodes, resentful that I had forbidden the show. You said you LOVED the show and hated that you were the only one of your friends who couldn’t watch it. I explained my reasons again, reminded you that it wasn’t a punishment, and that it is my job to love you well by protecting you from movies, shows and music that might contain content too mature or disturbing for your age and emotions. You still felt victimized. You argued that you should be allowed to watch the show and that friends in our circle younger than you were watching it, and that just because the one episode had bad things didn’t mean they all did. I agreed to do some more research.

And so I did. Because above all, my sweet, I want you to feel heard. Even when I don’t agree with you, I want you to know you have a voice and an influence with me. Because powerlessness is an ugly thing to feel. And while there will be moments in your life when it is inevitable, building your trust in me necessitates that I listen to you, even though it sometimes doesn’t change my mind. In this case, it did a little.

After reading some different review sites, I was surprised to find that there actually is very little sexual content of any kind in the show and that it is limited to mild innuendo and a quick kiss on the lips. The reviews cited a strong moral theme, characters with solid principles and themes that favor good over evil. The pilot episode was apparently not representative of the entire story line.

After talking to Daddy, I decided that you and I would start watching the show together now and then. That way, we could discuss anything you needed more information about. I worked a more detailed discussion about sex and morality into our science lessons this week. And I felt like you were ready for us to watch the next episode tonight.

After the littles were in bed, you and I snuggled down in my bed and watched the episode. True to review, there were one or two mildly flirtatious scenes, and 3 or 4 sort of curse words, but for the most part, it was interesting and entertaining. You thanked me for watching it with you and went up to bed.

Ten minutes later, you texted me from your bed. You said you wanted to let me know when you were ready to watch another episode, but you wanted to wait a while. I called you back down to talk.

When you came to sit next to me, you were feeling sad. You said you really wanted to watch the show because all your friends love it so much and talk about it so much, but the bad words really bothered you and you wanted to wait a while to watch another. I told you it was your decision and it was fine to wait. You looked relieved and we talked for a while about words and sadness and anger and friends. I told you I was proud of you for listening to your heart and convictions when I knew you longed to share this thing with your friends. And you went back to bed with mixed feelings, but secure in the fact that it was still your decision, and that I would support you either way.

I learned so much from all this, my love. That listening to what you have to stay, really listening, is always the right thing to do. That you have your own convictions and are willing to stand by them. And that you’re growing to a maturity where sometimes you and I making decisions together instead of me always being your moral compass is going to teach you more than just following the rules.

So thank you for listening to your heart. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with me. And thank you for having the courage to stand up for what you believe in. I am so proud of you. You are strong. You are smart. And you have character, already at the young age you are. And I love watching it grow and develop. And I promise to keep listening and learning with you. Because I love you to the moon and back. And because you’re worth it.

Love, Mama

10 Years Ago

Dear Melody,

As your tenth birthday rapidly approaches, I have many of the normal emotions of a mama with her firstborn turning double digits. I can’t believe it’s been a decade since I first held you on my chest as the gurney wheeled me from the OR back to my postpartum room. Since those sweet little inquisitive eyes peered into mine, trying to figure out our connection. Since I snuggled your sweet baby newborn head in the cleft of my neck and thought about how lucky I was to have such a privilege as loving you.

But an unexpected text message this morning sent my heart back a few more months in time to the events that made up our time together pre-birth. And I can’t believe it’s been more than ten years since my life changed from those events, for better and for worse.

Since a tiny spider caused immense pain and suffering in a way I could never have imagined a small creature like that could cause.

Since my first trip to the doctor after the bite, hopeful that it was no big deal. My biggest fear then was the steroids they wanted to prescribe to stave off the reaction I seemed to be having. Before that, Tylenol and anti-nausea medication was a stretch for me as I carried you inside. I was determined not to take anything into my body that could possibly cause you harm, sweet baby of mine.

Since the pain became so intense that I was sent to the hospital for IV pain control. Still assured that the medicine wouldn’t hurt you, but every time I pressed that button a battle waged in my heart and mind. The pain was too much to bear without it, but how was it affecting my sweet little girl?

Since they drew my blood twice a day. From the deterioration in my leg, we knew I was in the unlucky 20% of brown recluse victims who lose a lot of tissue, but would I be in the unlucky 1% who lost my life? And yours with it? At 24 weeks pregnant, you still needed me to live.

Since I listened to your heartbeat on doppler 3 times a day. That sweet sound filling the hospital room that let me know that you were fighting with me.

Since the doctor looked me in the eye and gave me a choice. I could allow the reaction to rage on unabated, or I could put you at risk and have the surgery. He couldn’t guarantee you would survive all the stress and trauma it would cause to my body. But left to run its course, my leg and my life was in danger.

Since both the surgeries that I was awake for. The medicine they gave me to relax me as they removed a piece of my leg made me feel especially emotional. I remember telling the CNA that I couldn’t believe the love I felt for you because how can you love someone you’ve never met.

Since I felt you move with my hand for the first time. You started rolling and tumbling in my belly as I recovered from the first surgery.

Since they changed my dressings from wet to dry 3 times a day. Pain more intense than anything I have felt before or since. Ripping away the “bad” tissue to make room for the healthy. Keeping the area raw so the coming graft would take. A week of heavy pain medication that barely took the edge off. Of me screaming as the dressings were removed. All I could think about was that you could hear us now from inside the womb. How was hearing your mother scream in such a horribly scary way going to affect you? I couldn’t think about it too hard because it was too awful.

Since the night I spent in the hospital after the second surgery (26 weeks). The contractions started as I was being wheeled out of the OR. They called it “irritable” uterus. They said they might not be able to stop it. They listened to your strong heartbeat and gave me medicine that made me shake. We made it through the night and everything settled down. We thought the worst was over.

Since they unwrapped the skin graft and that horrible smell filled the room. I spent 24 hours thinking we were going to have to go through it all over again because what we thought was a dangerous infection may have taken hold.

Since I finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The infection was not a true infection. The worst was over. We had survived. I was disfigured but we were alive and you were thriving.

Since I stopped talking to God because He was my best friend who had betrayed me. How could He let this happen? What good could come of it? Why allow such suffering and torment and pain and fear in the life of someone who trusted Him to have my back? I railed and told Him how angry I was. He wrapped me in his peace and loved me anyway.

Since we found out that there was a nest of those spiders in your nursery-to-be and that was destroyed, but was only brought to light because I was bitten. People told me that was probably the reason it happened. My response was, if God is so powerful, why did He allow me to get bitten to find a nest? Surely there were less painful ways to reveal the problem? I was not interested in calling the pain and disfigurement a miracle. I wanted to wallow and cry.

Since I named you the name that honors Him for not walking away. He didn’t stay because I was worthy. He didn’t even stay because I prayed. I stopped praying after the last worst turn. I stopped talking to Him when He stopped meeting my expectations. But still He stayed. Still he guided and loved and protected.  And after a few months, I began to realize that He had not broken a promise. He hadn’t promised me no pain. He hadn’t promised a perfect life. Those were my expectations. He had promised not to leave. And the fact that you were born healthy and unmarred and beautiful was a testimony to that promise. And the scar on my leg that remains after many reconstructions and 10 years later is a testimony to that promise. And my heart that now trusts Him in a way I never thought possible in spite of the pain of life’s happenings is a testimony to that promise.

And these 10 years with you, sweet Melody, are a testimony to that promise. Because as I look at your sweet woman-child face, I see even more promise extending beyond me and beyond this life we’ve shared to this point. I see a spirit of determination. I see a heart that already loves Jesus. I see a sweet, trusting spirit. I see a mind that thinks and ponders and calculates beyond its years. I see a girl who personifies the meaning of her name. Who loves much. Who keeps moving forward in spite of much fear. Who loves herself in a way that makes me love her even more. And suddenly the scar on my leg is a badge of honor. I had the honor of bringing you into the world, despite some scary odds. I was made to be your mama. And the painful experiences that have made me the woman I am today will be a benefit to you. They make me a better, stronger person. They give my faith a foundation that won’t crumble, and that makes me someone you can lean on in times of trouble. And now, 10 years later, I can honestly say that I am glad it happened. Because the changes in me are worth the pain it took to make them.

Happy Birthday, my love. I can’t wait to keep watching you grow up. You are my best girl and my sweet melody. You make me want to be a better mama.

Love, Mama

 

 

 

A Beautiful Day

Dear Fellow Travelers,

Today started in a very ordinary way, and as I sit here close to bedtime, reflecting over the day as a whole, I have decided that today was beautiful. Not beautiful as in the best day ever. Nothing particularly marvelous happened. In fact, normally I’d be tempted to call today a disaster. A sucky day. The day from hell. But I’m changing my perspective.

Today contained a lot. My first Facebook post of the morning was, “Morning huggles and Handy Manny. Life is good.” Because Romeo and Jubilee crawled in bed with me first thing. And as I reclined there with their warm little bodies pressed against me, one fuzzy head on each shoulder and my arms around them, it was bliss. I sniffed their heads and squeezed them and just reveled in their closeness and their littleness.

A few minutes later, Romeo decided he wanted more Cheerios. And Jubilee had forgotten to lock the pantry. After a few minutes of silence, I went to see where he was to find the entire box of Cheerios in a pile, on top of a full bowl in the floor. I was aggravated. And I cleaned it up with aggravated body language. Which started an avalanche of cranky for all of us. And my ears hurt from the cranky screeching of hours (well, AN hour) of toddler attempts at communication and me not understanding.

So after my coffee, I decided that we would take a walk and get some fresh air. In an attempt to flush out the crankies, we got dressed and headed out to a walking trail near our house. Those of you who follow me on Facebook know that aside from approximately one minute of peace and deep breathing and calm, the walk was an utter disaster that brought me back to the house with a sore body and a bruised spirit.  I was definitely not less cranky than when I left. I gave Romeo a bath and put him down to nap, bandaged Jubilee’s poor bloody knees (really, read the Facebook account) and sat down to attempt to “veg” until it was time to pick Melody up from school. The rest of the day continued on in the ordinary. I made a fairly decent dinner and left to go to therapy.

My therapy session today was grueling. It was the first time ever that my emotions were so big that I literally considered walking out in the middle and never coming back. But it was also very productive. And it started my realization that something can be hard and horrible yet productive and beautiful all at the same time. That bad does not cancel out good. And that even though today had truly horrible moments, it also had moments of beauty. Moments when I savored the love I feel for my children. Moments when I breathed deep and felt the air fill my healthy lungs. Moments when I shared a family meal made with nutritious food with the 4 people I love most in all the world. And if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my today was beautiful. Not perfect, but beautiful. And for the first time ever, I feel ready to embrace it. The fact that there is no perfect day. That today was full of love and frustration and beauty and near disaster and health and pain and growth. And that at the end of this day, instead of looking back over the last 24 hours and saying, “Man, I’ve had a horrible day,” I can look back over it and feel full. Full of emotions and hope and beauty. And the sense that working hard to embrace imperfection is worth it. And may tomorrow be equally full of beauty. <3

Love, Handprints

A New Take On Beautiful

My dear, sweet Jubilee,

You are such a free spirit. It is one of my favorite things about you…and it challenges me probably more than anything else about you. You see, I crave perfection. In the very core of my being, I long for a perfect moment, a perfect day, joy without the shadow of pain, happy without a hint of sad. And on this journey of becoming, I am grieving my way through the very hard realization that perfection does not exist on this earth. The grief that I am experiencing as I walk this out shocks me. It is a deep and all-encompassing pain that feels like my very soul is breaking. And maybe it is. And maybe that breaking is the path to making my heart and soul more whole than I could ever have imagined.

This week, you had your first day of preschool. It was harder for me than for you. I took pictures every step of the way. You were ready for me to leave right away, excited to start your new adventure. I lingered a moment and then kissed you and left, fighting tears as I walked to the car. I knew I would miss your smiling face all day, but also knew this would be sooo good for you, and for me as I was able to focus more on school time with Melody.

When I picked you up that afternoon, you were super excited to show me all your artwork from the day. My favorite was a picture you drew of our family. Daddy, Melody, Romeo, our two pets and you and I in the center together. It was a beautiful 4-year-old representation of our family, drawn on your very first day of preschool. At home, I wrote your name, the date, and “first day of preschool” on the back, with the intention of putting it into our keepsake bin after a few days of display. And I gazed upon it smiling again. Because in my heart, it was perfect. A little slice of perfection in the chaos. Our sweet little family drawn with all the love in your little heart on your first day as an independent preschooler. Absolute perfection captured with a box of crayons.

This morning, you brought me your drawing again, beaming with happiness. You opened it and showed me how you had added two more people with a marker, right in the the center of my perfect drawing. And I did not respond as you expected. To put it bluntly, I freaked out. I asked you why on earth you would draw on the picture with a marker. You said you thought I would like what you did. I lectured you about adding to things that were already finished and given to me without asking me first. I watched your little face go from pride and joy to fear and sadness. And still I lectured. Daddy tried to intervene by explaining that you added a drawing of your cousin after you talked to her on the phone after your first day of preschool. I didn’t listen to his attempt to explain your 4-year-old reasoning. I was angry. And I railed and lamented the ruined picture and told you that you must never ever do something like that again without asking. And your already sad face fell even further. Your lip began to quiver as you told me how sorry you were and then you began to cry.

I was reeling with the weight of my own emotions, but your tears suddenly made me realize the severity of my overreaction. We were on our way out the door, heading to church so I didn’t have much time for damage control. We sat down on the porch steps and I gathered your sobbing frame against me. I told you I was sorry I overreacted. . .that your picture as you made it in preschool was perfect to me and that now it wasn’t perfect anymore and that made me sad. I told you that I still loved you very much and lied that I still loved your picture, even though it wasn’t perfect anymore. And you settled down a little, but we were both still sad. We got in the car and sat in silence, listening to music all the way to church.

In the front seat where you couldn’t see me, I sobbed all the way to church. I cried because my brokenness hurt you once again. I cried because my perfect picture could not be recovered. I cried because my anger and sadness made your precious joyful face change to sadness. I cried because perfection is not possible.

When we got to church, I still felt raw, but I knew we needed to talk some more. I sent your siblings on into childcare and called you to the side. I pulled you into my lap and again told you I was sorry for the way I reacted to the changes you made to the picture, and that maybe I was sad because I didn’t understand. I asked you to tell me why you added what you did. The worry on your face relaxed and you began to explain. You said because you love your cousins and they are a special part of our family, you thought I would be so happy that you made the picture even more special by adding more of the people that we love. You said that made it even more beautiful. I thanked you for sharing your heart with me. I told you I understood now and that you did indeed make the picture more special. The beaming smile returned to your face and you said, “Oh, Mommy, were you just sad because you didn’t understand?”

I smiled into your face with tears in my eyes and said, “Yes, sweetheart, now that I understand why you added to the picture, I do like it very much.” You hugged me tight and scampered away lighter in the knowledge that I love you, love your picture and now understand your heart.

I am still dealing with my sadness as I write this letter. But I am also trying very hard to embrace the change that you bring to my heart, my little free spirit. I truly believe that God gives us the children we are meant to have. That each of you three are in my life to teach me something that will change me for the better. And in your full-of-love, happy, carefree, impulsive way, you are challenging me to open my heart to the possibilities. Your picture represented a slice of perfect to me. The reflection of a perfect moment. You added to the picture because you don’t look for perfect around every corner. You love with your whole heart and without fear. Every joy that touches your little soul is a celebration to be commemorated. You don’t live life in my categories. You don’t see the need to protect the little “perfect” moments, because to you, all of life is a big adventure. And it’s nothing to be afraid of, because love and sadness and joy and disappointment and beauty and anger all seem normal to you in the same moment.

So while I am sorry that I caused you pain over this, I am so very grateful to see that you are not broken by my imperfection. You simply take it in stride because you know that I love you. You see beauty in me just because I am your beloved mama. And I will learn to see beauty from your perspective even when it’s hard for me to let go of my expectations. Because there’s freedom in it. And because we’re worth it.

Love, Mama