Wild at Heart 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are.

1 John 3:1

Years ago, when I was a young high school teacher, I had a kid in one of my classes named Daniel. I don’t remember his last name, or really anything else about him except a conversation I had with his mother at Parent-Teacher conferences. I was frustrated with his behavior in class, which I characterized to his mother as aggressive.
I remember that she cocked her head to the side and said, Would we call him agressive? Or would we call him assertive?

Aggressive, I said. Definitely aggressive. 

I never knew why this small exchange stuck with me, except that the maker of heaven and earth knew that I would need to recall this interaction a decade later as the mother of two assertive boys of my own.  See, to a 24 year old teacher with no children of her own, the difference in assertive and aggressive is a couple of consonants and a slight change in connotation.

But to a mother, assertive means your child may be a future defense attorney, and aggressive means saving money to hire your child’s future defense attorney.

Of course, I understand that now.

On the way home from school last week, Bo said, MOMMY. So and so said her mommy said I was a troublemaker.

And do you know that my thoughts immediately went to Daniel? Not even a second passed between those two thoughts in my head.

Bo, do you think you are a troublemaker? 

I searched his eyes from the rearview mirror as he held his lovey.

No, he said.

Good. You might make trouble sometimes, but you’re not a troublemaker.

 

And I can say this because I am his mother, and this is what loving parents do: they see the best in us, always. That doesn’t mean they make excuses for us. It means they can see clearly what the world only sees through the haze of their own expectations and experiences.

My boys are wild, loud, adventurous, silly, stubborn as the day is long. Absolutely relentless once they have chosen a course of action. And although I long for them to be fit for public consumption before I’m too old to take them places, I’m also loathe to go against the wildness in their hearts and imaginations. Do I sometimes wish for hours and hours of quiet to think whole thoughts in my brain? Yes. All the time, actually. And while I’m at it, I could deal without the piles of dirty socks littering my house, and the pinecones they drag inside, and the dirty feet when they go back out to play after bath time.

But I’ll have all of that some day, and I’m betting what I’ll miss is their little heads hiding in the jungle/bushes in the backyard, Tucker charging imaginary bad guys with sticks, Bo’s wild laugh where he throws his head back in delight.

And the best part is that parenting my miniature wild things gives me constant glimpses of the love that God must have for me, wild as I am. Because I’m loud, messy, stubborn as the day is long. But He is a loving father who sees the best in me, always. If I in my weakness can see good in my children, even when they are messy and stubborn and yes, even aggressive, how much more good is He able to see in me?

On my tribe and MOPS

Mary Bullock was a few months old one of the first times that my mama friends and I tried to have a civilized lunch together. There were three of us with brand new babies, and a couple in various other stages with older littles or ones on the way.  I brought her over to my friend Meg’s in her car seat, confident that she would nap through it and we could sip mimosas in peace.

Mary Bullock did not approve of this plan.

She cried. And she cried. And she cried. The more I bounced her and swayed her the madder she got, until I finally took her into the nursery and cried myself, hot with embarrassment over my total ineptitude as a mother.

My friend Laura, a “veteran” already with a three and a five year old, came in.

Give me that baby, she said.

I don’t remember what happened next. Maybe Mary Bullock stopped crying or maybe she didn’t. I just remember feeling relief–with the weight of her out of my arms, with the weight of having to mother all by myself off of my shoulders.

And this is how it was when Mary Bullock was a baby. The word tribe wasn’t thrown around in the same way back then as it is now, but this is what my friends were. We hunkered down in each others’ houses in the afternoons, with kids crawling and shrieking and always always getting wet because that is just what they do, and having group dinners if we were at Leigh’s house because she always had food. I took it for granted that all of my mothering days would be like this, and I took for granted that everyone had a tribe like this.

I realize now that I was just extraordinarily lucky to spend my first year of motherhood with them, and if I ever get nostalgic for the days of having tiny babies and no sleep, it is those days with those women that I miss almost as much as the smell of new baby head or the tiny onesies lined up in the drawer.

This work of mothering– it’s not meant to be done alone. One of the most important things I’ve learned (the hard way, since that’s how I learn best) since becoming a mom is never to take for granted a group of women who share your experience and are willing to walk through it with you. Now that many of my people have moved away {sniff} or gone back to work {sniff} or both, my life looks totally different from those days. But at every stage, mama friends are worth cultivating and treasuring.

Which leads me to the point of all this, which is: MOPS. We’re starting one at our church, All Saints Episcopal. I have to tell you that when this opportunity came up, it was not on my radar. I was in another MOPS group for four years, and I let it go because something had to give in our schedule. So starting a new group was not really something I considered. But here we are. And I’m so excited! I’m praying through my worries about the time, and also through the fear of starting something new: what if no one joins and everyone hates me? What if I suck at this? {If you have space in your prayers, you can pray for me, too.}

But I’m also honored to give back a little of what has been given to me by all the women God has placed in my path since 2008.

If you’re local and you have babies, I hope you’ll join me.

{And not hate me.}

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Flexing My Jesus Muscle

Many thanks to those of you who have generously donated to Trinity Fitness Riverside for our annual fundraising challenge! Donations like yours ensure that Trinity Fitness is available to anyone who is willing to come, no matter their financial situation.  If you’d like to join the kind people making tax-deductible donations, please click here.

So, I know what you might be thinking: What in the world does Jesus have to do with working out? Jesus doesn’t care how big your biceps are. Burpees are not biblical.

And you’re right about that. You will never read in the Bible about the disciples throwing themselves on the floor, pushing themselves back up, and jumping for joy.

But I think Jesus has two things to do with working out, so I’d like to tell you about them, in case you’re still on the fence about donating to this organization.

One is pretty simple: Your body is a temple. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). You are worth taking care of because your body is the dwelling place of the holy spirit. You shouldn’t trash it, nor should you neglect it. You will not get another in this life.

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The other is what I think of as flexing my Jesus muscle. I think sometimes, for many people (myself included), learning to trust Jesus is such a huge leap. I think: the things that I have in my life, I did that. If I want something, I need to make it happen. I think: I am in control here. And that control, that feeling of being the captain of my own ship– that’s hard to relinquish. But then when hard or unexpected things happen in life, and the ship I’m steering starts to sink, life looks very bleak. Not only am I disappointed in the events that have occurred, but my very sense of myself (as someone who can control the world around me) is lost.

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When I go to Trinity Fitness, though, I’m presented with a workout that almost without fail exceeds my actual abilities. I’m not an elite athlete, ‘case you wondered. But it’s not about that. It’s about taking a leap. It’s about learning to trust in the strength of the Lord when I feel weak. It’s about creating a habit of trust– working the Jesus muscle, and watching it grow stronger. There have been times I’ve walked in the door of the gym, checked out the workout on the board, and wanted to drive myself right back home and go back to bed. But instead I sit down and listen to a devotion from one of our trainers, we pray, and then we get started. Whether I finish or not, whether I set a personal record or not, how many rounds I complete– those are great to know, but the real test is what I do when things get hard. At Trinity Fitness, when things get hard, there is a community of people around reminding me to call on Jesus in difficulty.

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What can I say? I forget a lot.

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When I get there and see 50 wall balls on the board, please understand that I question my sanity.

By now I’m sure you realize that I am no theologian. I’m not a scientist either. But I do understand that in order to get stronger, I need to put my body to the test. After having been stressed, muscles grow stronger. In life, it’s the same. Faith is tested and then grows stronger. Trinity Fitness puts those two ideas together for me and for anyone who makes the choice to show up.

Now I’ll make one final point and let you get back to cat memes.

Sometimes in life, we need to be reminded of our strength.  But more often, we need to be reminded of our weakness. Because when we understand our weakness, we can learn to depend on the one who is strong.

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This is me understanding my weakness, 75 push-ups in.

Even if we need to re-learn that lesson three times a week at 5:30 in the morning.

Onward & Outward

A little over a month ago, Lee’s sister Kaylan came home from DC to visit for a few days. She came over one afternoon because Mary Bullock had been begging Aunt KayKay to paint her nails. So, while I was making dinner, Kaylan was with the kids, and the next thing I knew, Tucker had lavender nail polish on his toes. He was delighted about this.

It’s so funny, you know, because if I look really closely at his toes now, I can still see bits of that lavender nail polish, and all I can think about when I catch a glimpse is that I’m stunned at how my life has changed in the last month.

I mean, practically, very little has changed. The children still wake up way too early in the morning and start demanding waffles and shows and water cups (with ice!!!! I said WITH ICE!!!!!). Diapers need changing, lunches need making. My car is still a rolling trash can.

I mean it. There is a week-old chicken nugget in one of the back seats.

But when I think of the world without my dad in it, absolutely nothing feels the same.

I’m not the same.

Most notably, I think, is this (and I hope you don’t take this personally): I am probably not listening to you when you talk. At most I am half listening. I will not remember most of what you said when I walk away.

The thing is– I’m thinking about my dad. It’s constant. It’s like I’ve pulled out all the dad files from my brain and strewn them on the floor. I can’t figure out how to put them back, and I’m not sure I want to, yet.

Like this: My dad was a songbird (I get this from him). But there were all these songs he sang growing up, and he would only sing one line of them. And they were old songs, so the only lines I had ever heard of these songs were the lines he sang. For example, whenever we exasperated him (which was often), he would sing Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? And because I also have terribly exasperating children, they already know this one line of that song. But it occurred to me the other week that I didn’t even know what that song was or where it had come from. So I googled it. Turns out, it’s Janis Joplin. And it has nothing to do with exasperating children at all! Who even knew? And that made me smile and even laugh a little– I mean, my dad? Janis Joplin?

But when I’m not rolling around in my memory, I’m looking at the future without him and that is so much worse. You’ll know I’ve gone to that place because I’m looking at you like all is well– no really, I’m fine– and then WHAM I’m crying. Tucker will grow up not knowing my dad? That’s tough to accept. I can hear him just like he’s right next to me: COME HERE TO GRANDDADDY, TUCKA WUCKA!! But of course Tucker won’t remember that, and that part really sucks.

But you know what else I was thinking? I was thinking: all of you who have never met my dad, and my children, who will have little, if any, memories of him? There is hope for you. All is not lost.

Because:

If you’ve ever heard me sing one line of a song over and over and over again, until you want to smack me? And then instead of stopping, I start humming and/or whistling? That’s my dad.

If I’ve ever made you laugh? That’s my dad.

If I’ve ever told a story you thought would never ever finish and by the end you felt like you were actually there? That’s my dad.

If I’ve ever made you so mad you wanted to curse me? That’s also my dad.

If I have ever been so dadburn stubborn that you wished I would burst into flames? That’s my dad.

So, I might have to point him out in pictures to my children as they grow, but they’ll definitely know him.

At least a little.

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It’s Like This Here

I got the call to come home around 2 in the afternoon last Monday, and by 5:30 I was at the airport, still in shock. Luckily I was sitting by myself in the last row of the airplane, so I hoped no one had noticed my tears.

I got off the plane tear-streaked and disoriented, and while I waited to speak to the gate attendant, the pilot of the plane walked up to me and pressed plastic wings into my hand.
I hope you feel better, he said.

I wanted to ask him if he really thought the wings would help with that? But I didn’t.

Then I noticed that the woman who had been sitting in the row in front of me had waited for me to get off of the plane. She approached me and asked if I was ok, and I said honestly that I wasn’t, and I told her what had happened.

She said I’m going to hug you now. And she did. I have never clung to a stranger the way I clung to that woman.

She lowered her head to look me in the eye, and as though this were obvious, she said: You know, he’s going to be ok.

I wanted to stamp my foot and tell her that NO, he was not going to be ok. But while I talked myself out of that temper tantrum, I looked into her eyes and closed my palm around those plastic wings in my hand, and suddenly I knew the truth.

He was going to be ok. Not the kind of ok I would prefer in my flesh, but ok nonetheless.

I guess what I’m still wondering is: how am I going to be ok?

I mean, I know people survive this. But right now that seems like a distant oasis, and it really could just be a mirage, so desperate am I to believe there is relief from this desert.

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It’s funny how knowing a thing is bound to happen does not actually prepare you for the actual occurrence of the thing. Daddy has been sick, I mean really sick, so many times in the last decade. For years, whenever my mom called and left a message to “call me back as soon as you possibly can” I’ve assumed it was the call. I’ve actually instructed her not to use those words unless someone was dead. I shouldn’t have bothered with the instructions– turns out, if it’s really really bad, she won’t be the one who calls.

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Unfortunately, I have many friends who have been through the trauma of losing a parent, and their words of support have been both comforting and unnerving. It’s comforting to know that people have walked this path before and understand how this feels. All week I have been thinking about how losing him physically hurts. It feels like I have unzipped my skin and stepped outside with all of my nerves exposed. My friend Ann Marie described it as “raw” and it took me only a half beat to recognize that those two things are the same.

But to look around and realize I have joined a club of people who have lost a parent– I can’t tell you the weight that is on my heart about how I have or have not reacted to their loss. I’m sure that I’ve offered words of condolence, but what I can’t quite remember is whether or not I have taken the time to recognize that the person left grieving is actually not the same person as before. I think the answer is no. I don’t know if it’s just something you don’t understand until you experience it, or that I’ve just been oblivious. Probably the latter. I’m pretty self-centered that way.

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At the funeral, I spoke about the bonus years, and I concluded that every day should be treated as a bonus. But allow me to just offer the truth: I have thought in the last few days that I will certainly get right on that as soon as I feel like a normal person again, maybe next year or the year after that. I’ve actually been using my time figuring out how I can minimize the impact of future deaths on my life.

I’m not kidding.

You can assume that if I love you, I have considered the grief I would save myself if I just went ahead and cut you out of my life right now. I texted this idea to Lee from the waiting room at the hospital, and he told me this was crazy. I feel sure that in a few weeks I will agree with him, but right now it is so so tempting.

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My mom– she is always trying to take pictures. She’ll interrupt a family function at the most inopportune time.

Get together, she’ll say, and I roll my eyes and sigh that bratty sigh.

We actually got into a kerfluffle at my wedding over this: her need to stop and take a big family picture, and the related herding of cats/relatives…and my desire to…not do that.

But now I know that was tragically stupid. One thing I noted in preparing for the funeral: WHERE ARE ALL OF MY PICTURES? WHY DID I NOT TAKE MORE PICTURES WITH MY DAD? The lack of pictures with him in it has compounded the tragedy to me somehow, because there won’t be any more pictures with him. I squandered my time for pictures, and there isn’t any more.

You people. The ones who have time left. TAKE THE DAMN PICTURE.

That is all.

Don’t Save the Stickers (and other thoughts for the New Year)

I’ve had this thought floating through my head for a few weeks now.

Don’t Save the Stickers.

It started as a whisper– a gentle suggestion from somewhere in the sane part of my mind.

But it has become more of a chant. Don’t Save the Stickers. Don’t Save the Stickers. Don’t Save the Stickers.

So I’m about to admit something to you.

{I feel like I’m always admitting to things that are about to make me sound crazy to all of the internet.}

But we have a TON of stickers in our house. An entire drawer in my school supply cabinet, and various other piles of stickers in various hiding spots around the house. But for some reason, I get very antsy about the stickers actually being used. Because once the stickers are used, you can’t get them back.

It’s such a commitment, you see? You stick that sticker on the page, and FOR REAL, you can’t ever change your mind and stick it in a better place. When my children start sticking stickers on paper, I have to physically bite my tongue.

Don’t you want to save that sticker? I think in my head. You might want that one day.

I did not grow up during the depression. As far as I can remember, I never experienced a traumatic lack of stickers that would cause this nagging feeling of impending sticker famine in my soul.

{I’m like this with clothes, too. If I have a favorite new shirt, you can be sure I’ll almost never wear it. I’m saving it.}

I mean really. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? Do you know what will actually happen if I succeed in saving all the stickers? My children are going to grow up, and they won’t want stickers any more. They’ll all have turned 10 years old one day, and I’ll be sitting here on a ginormous pile of stickers that no one wants. This is craziness.

And while I’m admitting all my neuroses, I actually heard myself say outloud to a babysitter a few months ago that I’d rather my children just not play with their toys if they’re going to make messes. I realized how that sounded as soon as it came out of my mouth, but at my absolute craziest, this is true: I put the blocks away in a perfect stack! Can we just sit here and admire it and just– you know– keep our hands off of it? That’s just as fun, right?!

I had a few New Year’s Resolutions: Drink more water, get through the One Year Bible without throwing up my hands in Numbers.

But my theme for 2015 is definitely Don’t Save the Stickers. And the related mantras: Play with the toys. Give one more kiss. One more pick up. One more yes instead of one more no. Because those stickers don’t need saving, and those messes won’t last forever. I won’t ever run out of kisses. But one day I will certainly run out of time.

And I plan to go down having laid all my stickers on the table.

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Mary Bullock lost her front two teeth at the beginning of January. I am the official tooth puller of our household, by the way. I think I deserve a cut of all this tooth fairy money.

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48 degrees at the playground. What are all these clothes for if not to wear all at once?

Bo is doing cobra on Mary Bullock's "yoga mat."

Bo is doing cobra on Mary Bullock’s “yoga mat.”

On Advent and The 8 Ball

When I was little, I’d always overhear my dad and my Uncle Van use the term behind the eight ball.

What does that mean? I’d demand.

Even when I learned the basics of pool, I couldn’t quite grasp its meaning.

You’ll understand when you’re older was their standard response.

At the time I thought that meant that they would tell me when I was older. But it turns out that when you’re an adult, you just come to understand the term behind the eight ball because that’s just what being an adult entails sometimes: making hard decisions where you just can’t seem to win.

Parenting only intensifies this, because when you look at your children you realize the stakes are ridiculously high. If you’re a mom and you go back to work, every hard thing that happens is because you went back to work. If you’re a mom and you stay home, every hard thing that happens is because you stayed at home. And, I’ll just speak for myself here, but you can feel free to empathize: every outcome that is less than ideal causes me to question my choices until I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t have been allowed to take that baby home from the hospital after all.

There’s no such thing as perfect, and to end the age-old debate, you really can’t have it all. I know these things in my head. But it doesn’t keep me from the wanting and the expectation of perfection.

I see your Christmas cards with your smiling faces, and your clean, well-behaved, adorable, genius children, OR even better– no children, and even though your life might not be easy, it seems that way. If you’re ever behind the eight ball yourself, you didn’t stamp it on your holiday greetings, am I right?

{And I’m not judging you for having a beautiful Christmas card– a few days ago I posted a photo of mugs of hot chocolate on instagram– one of our advent activities. I think I included the words best ten minutes of my day. I had originally envisioned filling it every year with fun Christmas activities that we could do as a family. Yesterday I took the whole advent calendar down because the kids whined so much about it that I could stand it no more. Somehow that didn’t make my instagram feed. I could take a picture of the sad pile of empty baggies on my desk, but I won’t.}

I’m longing for perfection, but I continually have to remind myself that I won’t find it. Work or stay home, school or homeschool, spank or not spank, Santa or no Santa, and on and on down the list of rocks and hard places. We’re all behind the eight ball. We can’t win. We’re not supposed to win. At least not here.

And then there’s December: when you take all the hard things that happen in your life normally, and add SHOPPING! and HOLIDAY PARTIES! and DECORATING! and SUGAR! And I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.

But it’s so appropriate. I’m exhausted. I can’t win. Nothing I do is right. Because the answer to that and all of our problems has come, lived among us, and is coming again.

And I don’t have to fill 24 baggies with activities to celebrate this. I just have to anticipate his coming. And what better vantage point is there to await his arrival than behind the eight ball, with the knowledge of my own certain failure?

So if you see me scowling in December– that is to say, if you see me at  all– just know, I’m losing now, but hopefully, one day, I’ll be #winning.

And this is just to make you laugh.

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