Monday, October 12, 2015

reckless abandon

My four year old is a force of nature.  She's a fire-driven free spirit with an extra helping of sensitivity mixed in at full speed.  She's the chef's special to life's blue plate, the techno to everyone else's waltz, and the Black Friday deal to the world's 10% off sale.

I often wonder how such a big personality can be compacted into such a small person.  The flurry of activity that takes place between the hours of 6:30 am and 8:00 pm cover such a wide range of categories that it can feel like a full time job just trying to keep up.  In that span of time, she experiences the full gamut of human emotions and in the fullest expression; like a torrential rainstorm.  It can be both captivating and scary to watch as it unfolds.  Each day she has nearly as many outfit changes and attitude changes as there are days in October.  And throughout her waking hours, she has the power to make even our lazy bulldog experience intense bouts of anxiety-driven behaviors.

And I'm kind of jealous.

I'm fairly certain there are preschools filled to the brim with tiny cherubs with similar rap sheets. And even more than that, I'm 99.9% sure that I'm not alone in finding small moments of blissful peace in the warmth of a cup of coffee, the first few sips of grown-up grape juice, or even the comforts of a closet floor; where I can be found laying in the fetal position with my fingers in my ears while humming simply to drown out the tornado of crazy that awaits on the other side of that two inch hollow wooden door {or what I call 'Friday afternoon'}.

It's not that I don't think my kiddo is the only one on earth who has an insanely large spectrum upon which she lives life.  It's just that being privy to co-existing under the same roof as this kind of personality, I have an up close and personal experience with the epitome of 'reckless abandon'. Her carefree existence isn't bogged down by worries of stigma, labeling, and discrimination.

Frustrating as it is some all of the time, I find so many of her idiosyncrasies to be the very things I experience in life; only when manifested into the adult world, their interpretation becomes skewed.

Take the fact that my kiddo likes to dress herself in the style of...oh, what would you call it?  Eclectic. 'All the things'.  To some, Monday mornings mean business suits or scrubs or uniforms. But in the Land of Extremes, Mondays can mean leopard-print leggings paired with a bright rainbow tulle skirt overlay, turquoise halter adorned with silver studs underneath a pale pink tee that boasts 'My dad rocks--Father's Day 2009' {she was born in 2011}.  Let's not forget the intentionally mismatched socks, one displaying Anna's face, the other, of course, Elsa.  The socks of course not visible when she wears her shoes--faded gold wedge-heeled sneakers.  Her hair, a mass of tousled-by-a-blender curls that haven't seen a brush in some 48 hours.  Costume jewelry paired haphazardly with whatever pieces she was able to pilfer from her most recent trip to my jewelry box finish off the ensemble.  This look of course is not to be outdone by the palette of color she paints on her face in the 12.7 seconds I manage to sneak off to pee alone.  The piece de resistance of her Cover-Girl-Gone-Wrong look?  Why bright red lipstick, of course.  Every good southern girl knows that nothing pulls a look together like a string of pearls, some mascara, and the perfect red lip.  {Unless you're four, and your 'perfect' resembles more of Heath Ledger's rendition of the Joker in The Dark Knight.

Now that you have a vague image in your brain, replace 'precious four year old darling' with 'over-tired middle-aged mom of three'.  Not quite the same effect, huh?  When she dons her not-so-Sunday-best to the grocery store, we get looks, followed by smiles and {for the most part} positive feedback. Because, chances are, they have a kid/know a kid who does the very same thing.  But, put that middle-aged mom in the produce aisle wearing the same get-up and aside from looks, she might find herself talking to a uniformed officer.

It's a double standard, and quite frankly, I'm kind of perturbed by it.  It's not that I want to head into my closet with a blindfold to select my outfit for the day and apply my makeup using the splatter from my hand mixer; but I'm kind of jealous that my big, bold, over-exaggerated four year old hits the streets without a veil of self-consciousness or shame, completely oblivious to anything except for what she has going on in her little world.  As long as she's content, life is gravy.

When you struggle with depression and anxiety, there are times when life is pretty gravy.  Things go along at their usual pace, life happens: you react, respond, resume.  But then one day you wake up to find a big lump in your otherwise smooth existence.  You find yourself staring down this bulbous conglomeration of thickening agent, fully intent on slowing your flow and giving you feelings of discontentment, disengagement, and a distorted reality.

The lump is kind of like the mountain in that children's chant "Going on a Bear Hunt".  You can't go over it, you can't go under it.  You've gotta go through it.  Only when you enter into that lump, the dense, powdery gob makes it hard to escape.  Breathing deep is challenging because the air is thick with a dusty blend of tasteless particles.  The blandness of the lump and the inability to inhale and exhale your full expression of self takes away your desire to 'person'.  Instead, you nestle yourself into a shelter of fluffy protection, and introvert your days away.

Only, the trouble comes when life continues to happen.  Life in a house with three kids, one of whom puts the Tasmanian Devil to shame on a daily basis, doesn't quite care about the lump in your gravy. Parenting, wife-ing, friend-ing, adult-ing all require a bit more interaction and involvement than a curled up pile of yoga pants, old college tee shirts, and unwashed hair.

Therein lies the problem.  Striking the delicate balance between fulfilling your expectations for the various roles you hold, and submitting to the desires to shut it all out and sleep.  When one of the roles you fulfill is to be responsible for the development of and care for three flourishing and easily-influenced littles, the struggle can feel more like you're approaching the battlefront each morning the alarm clock beeps {which, of course, is often times irrelevant because you've been staring into the dark at the ceiling for hours on end while the rest of the house snores softly}.

Keeping up with the rapid-fire demands and capricious moods of a four year old whose brain is wired more complex than the switchboard of the New York Stock Exchange presents a challenge for any living, breathing person.  But when that living, breathing person is stuck inside the ruts of depression, each molehill becomes a mountain.  Tasks that are seemingly rote and routine become the bane of your existence.  Pleasure in the abundant joys and blessings of life are dulled by the tasteless flavor of that lump.

Enter guilt.  And while we're at it, guilt's trusty sidekick: shame.  These two disingenuous sentiments are akin to the heat that's beneath your pot of gravy.  Slick, with zero regard for consequences, shame and guilt build and build; eventually scorching your gravy and plummeting you further into your own despair.  Mom guilt {and yes, dad guilt, too} weigh heavily on the minds of parents worldwide. When gifted with the important task of raising kids, I'd be hard pressed to meet a mom or dad who didn't experience bouts with shame and guilt as they try to keep all the plates spinning.

Depression amplifies these feelings when you find yourself thinking and hear yourself saying, "Not now.  I'm tired.  Go away."  Watching my four year old's face crumble into a hot mess of sparkly eye shadow streaks blending into her smeary red lipstick is heart wrenching.  My head {and mouth} have momentarily shunned her bubbling zest for life, yet my heart yearns to take back the words and body language that has brought her such disappointment.  The heart doesn't have the capacity for depression.  It's too busy bustling around with the life-giving blood that keeps you here on earth. All four chambers house the deep-rooted connections you share with those you love and keep close.  It's a whole mass of twisted roots and vines that hold it all in place while your blood courses through.

It's when the blood reaches that brain.  The tangled, intricate conglomeration of possibility; powerful enough to simultaneously keep your heart pumping, your eyes blinking, formulate words and thoughts, and trigger movement within your muscles that propel you forward.  The blood brings oxygen to your brain, keeps it chugging along and doing it's brainy thing.  But.  Somewhere in the depths of this most interesting, most important organ in the human body, things change.  Shame and guilt manifest themselves tenfold as you contemplate why it is that you're even experiencing the realities of depression, especially when you consider that you've got an incredibly blessed life.

"There's nothing to be sad about.  Read your Bible more.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself. There's always someone worse off than you. Try to think happy thoughts."  File these under 'what not to say'.  That includes what not to tell yourself as a depressed person as well. It's not as simple as "putting it in a box" and walking away.  Because even if you try, the box will be jostled and the shroud of darkness creeps back in.

The cloak of shame hangs heavily over the umbrella of mental illness.  Depression rests under that umbrella; often times capturing victims who don't feel comfortable enough to step out into the storm. The torrential rain can be captivating to watch from the safe confines of your umbrella, but it's scary walk into the rain.  To let it wash over you, revealing the truth of who you are, what you experience, and where you broken places are.

Rumi writes the wound is the place where the light enters you. Jesus' entire ministry focused on befriending the sinners, the broken, the sick.  The places where we're broken are the places where God does his best work.  They're where He can transform your scars into stars that shine bright for others to see.  It's where he lets you know Him and where He makes Himself known.  There's no place for fear, only reckless abandon.  The comfort of knowing that no matter where your broken places exist; however lumpy and dark and low-lying they may be, that when you embrace your true, whole self; identify your struggles; and step out in your craziest outfit, He will be there.  Step by step, lump by lump, smeared red lip by smeared red lip.

Depression may grip me tightly at times, but I know that I've got THE force of nature holding me tighter.  And in the end, He won't let me down.

Sunday, August 23, 2015


Tomorrow marks the beginning of another school year.  Another nine months dictated by schoolwork, homework, alarm clocks, report cards, curriculum, and what can feel like insufficient amounts of caffeine.

Tomorrow also marks the third year in a row where I won't be the one anxiously awaiting my gaggle of excited gigglers as they make their way with anticipation into the classroom I have tirelessly decorated with them in mind.  I won't be the one with a fresh lesson plan book, ready to be filled with ink and pencil and sticky notes and crossed-out, changed plans and meeting times.  My attire isn't professional, my lunch isn't a smattering of crackers and strawberries that I sneak in between filing and emailing and grading.  My tenure as a teacher is halted.

Instead, I roll up to school in yoga pants, a tank top, and a top knot to let my kids tumble out of my goldfish-crumbed SUV.  My coffee splashes from my mug and onto papers I quickly sign at each red light because the kids forgot to give me the night before.  At home, my calendar that was once filled with swimming and play dates and movies and beach days looks different.  It's emptier now, void of the fun and replaced with a checklist household chores I put on the back burner for a couple weeks.  While my lunch is usually a random assortment of snacks eaten on the run; it's between grocery shopping and meal planning and vacuuming and laundry where I find time to feed my face.  For three years in a row, I have anxiously awaited this day.  When my life feels more 'scheduled', when the fights are less frequent, when the grocery bill gets smaller {seriously.  They}.  I'm excited to have some time to 'get things done', and take a little 'time for me' {my gym membership?  Yeah, it's ready to break up with me.}.

But at the same time, I'm sad.  I'll miss the dun of noise, the giggles of kids playing, the requests to be driven down the street to go swimming, the spur-of-the-moment summertime fun activities, and yes, even the non.stop.eating {it's crazy, y'all.  They're vultures on my pantry.}.  The flexibility of life is squandered a bit; the time spent with my kids, compressed into pockets of time before and after school.  My fourth, second, and pre-k aged kids are about to embark on another nine month journey where they'll come out more knowledgeable and independent; leaving me to feel a little less needed and {as my pre-k'er says} "much more older".

It's strange to think that my oldest two are the age of the students I once dedicated a huge slice of my life to each school year.  I remember those kids.  Each and every single one.  They were fun and funny, sweet and sassy, excited and exhausting.  I spent hours and hours each day sharing knowledge with them, laughing with them, and building community with them. And for that time; I received a heck of a lot in return.  The ways in which my former students have changed me is something for which I will never truly be able to thank them.

I don't think kids always think of the ways in which they can impact the lives of adults.  I would even venture to say there are kids out there who don't believe they actually can impact the lives of adults.  But they can, and they do.  Kids bring hope.  They bring joy.  Laughter.  Tears.  Frustration.  Anticipation.  Pride.  Fear.  Confusion.   Patience.   Effervescent love.  A broadening of perspective that whites out the suffix of selfish and replaces it with -less.

This morning, the superintendent of a local school district spoke at our church to pray over those in the educational field as the school year gets underway.  He shared a little story about a kindergarten boy with whom he had encountered in the hallway under dire circumstances.  The little boy's shoes were not tied--not even on his feet--when he tripped and fell.  The superintendent approached the boy and helped him tie his shoes and got him back to class.  A few weeks later at an open house, the superintendent was approached by the boy and his parents.  The kindergartner introduced the him to the parents as 'the man who ties his shoes'.  Such an adorable reminder of the perspective from which children view their world.

Teachers tie the shoes of children each day.  The story he shared encouraged teachers to find a victory in each and every day.  One victory that she can reflect upon; one set of shoelaces that she secured so one child would be able to get where he's heading with the security of someone who has his back.  She works tirelessly, dedicating her life, time, and finances to the betterment of her students' education.  She brings together the loose ends of what is a misunderstanding and connects them in such a way that it 'stays put' in the brains of her students.

One of the noblest careers is that of an educator preparing the pathway for a student's success.  To help draft a chapter in the lives of each child she teaches; to shine light on *something* that he did not realize about himself before he met you.  There is really nothing like the pride and joy a teacher feels when she watches the lives of their students take shape.

One of the most underrated outcomes of a school year is that of a student, walking side by side with the teacher, learning along with rather than learning from.  Students help draft chapters, too.  They pen paragraphs of memories and experiences that help shape identities of teachers.  Students have the power to turn frustration into joy, tears into smiles, and confusion into patience.

The power of education is life-changing.  When you take the time to tie someone's shoes, you empower them to go further down the road.  When you take the time to pay attention to the person tying your shoes, watch what they're modeling, and soon do it yourself; the limits of the road become endless.

To the educators who work with students daily, thank you.  The words tumble out easily, but the weight of them is unfathomable.  The ties that bind our generations and incorporate peace and unity into this broken world are ones that you knot together each and every day.  Your work is holy.  Your impact: immeasurable.  Your selflessness is limitless.  Your students are inconceivably lucky.  And your shoelaces are tied beautifully.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


It's 3:30 in the morning on Mother's Day.  I woke just a few minutes ago to the delightful pain of a bony foot pressing somewhere in the vicinity of my kidney.  As I unfolded myself and stood up to grab my laptop, I admired the scene sprawled before me.  Two of the three reasons I'm blessed enough to be an active participant in Mother's Day are taking up the majority of valuable property on the couch.  The blankets needed to cover their long and spindly limbs are no longer covered with patterns of ducks and bunnies and sailboats.  And about those spindly limbs--they're everywhere. Splayed about in all directions. Covered in bumps and bruises and bug bites; slightly dirty from whatever their independent showering capabilities were unable to reach.  No longer the mesmerizingly soft and squishy skin of a little one smelling like a bouquet of freshness, Baby Magic, and Pampers, all swaddled in Dreft-soft sleep-n-plays and cozy blankets fresh from the dryer.

These children--my children--sleep soundly, stretched out on the sectional where we all nodded off earlier in the night.  The middle one was carried up to her bed hours ago by my sweet husband who then meandered off into our room where he collapsed on the half of our bed not covered by a pile of laundry that didn't get folded today {or yesterday}.  Usually, he wakes me from my slumber on the couch so I can groggily find the comfort of our bed; however tonight he let me sleep here.  {Probably because laundry.}

Of course, since it's nearing the 4:00 a.m. hour, I use the term 'sleep' somewhat loosely, but the end result is the same.  Tonight I'm putting in a little extra 'momming'.  Yeah, sure, I'm not doing much for my kids since they're asleep and all, but I'm present.  We're in a little nest of sorts, where I can hear the soft little sounds they make while they sleep, the quiet snores and comforting sighs that accompany their shifting positions {and kidney kicks}.  I get to admire the beautiful lines of their profiles; strikingly similar to those grainy ultrasound photos that boasted the same outline, on a smaller scale.  I get to long for my son's naturally long and luscious eyelashes, my daughter's unruly but gorgeous curly locks, and both of their sweet innocence.  I get to be a consumer of the incredible work of God right here on my very couch.  

Yesterday my oldest turned nine.  Like, woah.  I remember nine.  I was awkward and gangly--a hot mess of glasses and zero concept of style.  My family was struggling in many ways so my confidence and feelings of security wavered horribly so.  My love of all things New Kids On The Block was in full force, my Barbie collection provided a dramatic creative outlet, and my obsession with reading {hello Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley High!} found me burning through flashlight batteries as I devoured chapter after chapter beneath a makeshift sheet-tent.  

Nine years old.  I spent several years teaching this age.  Hanging out with a classroom full of them for 180 days, instilling their sponge-like minds with not only curriculum, but the feeling that they were {and still are} unique and special and insanely capable of doing whatever they put their powerful minds to.  It's a good age.

Living with a nine like mine is a struggle for me.  Not because he's a challenge, or we don't get along. But my nine is, in many ways, my polar opposite.  My nine is a quiet presence.  He's a thinker first and a doer next.  He's content to be still and bask in the glory of nothingness.  He doesn't talk much, but when he does, I struggle to follow the story line of his army/Star Wars/dirk bike influenced prose. His interests and sounds and smells are reminiscent of my brothers at this age.  And, while I absolutely love them both, sibling rivalry was something of an Olympic sport in my childhood home.

But nine is also snuggly.  He's sensitive.  He's creative in his own way, which adds to his uniqueness. Nine is his father in so many ways.  He is passionate and persistent.  When things don't go just so, nine appears ungrateful, dissatisfied, forlorn.  Nine challenges me--emotionally and mentally.  He makes me think on a completely different playing field; often times wielding instruments for which I have no good use other than he asked me to bring it.  Nine brings out my sensitivity--a character trait I have always hidden behind my shield of awkward humor.  Nine has taught me vulnerability.  Nine is noble. 

Back on the couch, I think of the sweet one who's foot found my kidney with such well-versed ease. The one who has brought an irreplaceable spark {of madness?} into my life and into our home.  My littlest doll baby, who isn't so little anymore.  

Last month was her month.  Four years old.  Why does that seem like such a big number to me?? Perhaps it's because four years is high school.  Four years was my whole college career.  Four years is how long my credit card is valid for, before they'll mail me a new one--that is, unless I happen to love the heck out of that little magnetic stripe and wear it down beforehand {guilty}.

When I think of four, I don't remember much.  Preschool and play-doh, a few of my favorite toys. That's about it.  So watching four from a parent's perspective when I have few direct memories from which to draw upon is quite an experience.  Not that I haven't done this before--watch 4 unfold, that is.  But for some reason, this time around, four is even more four.  I'm chalking it up to not only the fact that my current four year old is so absolutely unique and in her own little world {but that's okay, they all know her there...}, but also that I know it's my last four.  It's my last time watching the world through her eyes, seeing her wonderment as she discovers new things, and trying like hell to grasp her logic {which, sometimes?  woah.}  

But four, man.  It's letter-learning, friendship-making, d-r-a-m-a-t-i-c highs and lows.  It's one small step away from the big metal doors of elementary school, where I just know time speeds up at a stupid-crazy rate, and before I know it they'll be experiencing four in terms of how many weeks until graduation.  {And now I'm twitchy.  I can't.  Oy.}  Four is a year where the cherished parts of 'little-kid-hood' taper off as their world expands to include people outside of the family and close friends. Four has a social calendar that rivals mine on any given week.  Four needs to be stopped.

While I'm not able to see her sweet profile in the soft glow of my laptop, my middle munchkin just grew in numbers as well.  She's now identified as a seven year old; a reality I often find myself struggling with, moreso because this sweet gem does not portray seven in the stereotypical way. The seven I know from my years in education was not quite as mature and introspective.  It did not demonstrate a selfless heart as often as I'm blessed to witness {and receive}.  Seven didn't always carry itself with such poise and confidence; it didn't show such grace, understanding, and consideration.  The seven I live with is without a doubt one of the brightest lights I've watched shine. The seven I live with makes me want to person better each and every day.  It gives me sparkles of hope that the self-absorbed 'entitlement generation' society is apparently raising can still have bright stars that break the mold.  Seven is a force to be reckoned with.

The preciousness that unfolds on this couch is one that, I'm embarrassed to say, at times I take for granted.  I don't always follow the 'cherish every moment' advice that's the battle cry of moms who've been in my shoes.  To be fair though, I can safely say that I've yet to meet a mom who has fully and completely embraced each and every diaper blow out and public temper tantrum and sibling fight and middle of the night puke fest and episode of Calliou with open and excited arms.  If y'all are out there, please...please give me a shout-out.  If anything, how do you stand Calliou?  I mean...really.  {I need to know.}

The truth is that while being a mom is one of the reasons for which I was created, I know God has bigger for me.  I know His work in me is brewing and stewing; and I have these little whispers that tell me it's more than being a mom.  Not that being a mom isn't fulfilling in its own right, not that I can't be completely content with that role and position and responsibility; but that He can use my mommyhood as a springboard into a different pool with different responsibilities.  Whatever it is that's my next step, I know I've got three kids in my corner; relying on me, giving me confidence and a source of pride, cheering me on, keeping me humble, and, when all else fails, kicking me in the kidney if they need to get my attention.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Carry On, Warrior

Two years ago, I became a warrior.

Allow my to correct myself.

Two years ago, I became aware that I was a warrior—and I had been—for a really, really long time.

On the evening of April 9, 2013, I found myself sitting in the stiff pew of a church, a few rows from the front and surrounded by an all-female audience; all of whom seemed to know not just someone, but multiple someones in the crowd. It was awkward, uncomfortable, unfamiliar territory. Not just the fact that I was sitting in a church in a city that I had only just begun to refer to as home; but I was in a space where I felt alone—physically, physiologically, emotionally, spiritually. While my sassy sequined tank, seersucker pants, and kitten-heeled sandals might have portrayed, “I've got myself together.”, my facade was merely a dolled up shell in which I poured myself into earlier that day as I mentally prepared myself to extrovert in the middle of one of the most tumultuous introverted times in my life.

Depression is a mighty beast. A worthy adversary with a cunning and deceitful approach that mirrors that of the serpent in The Garden. It makes you question, doubt, feel shame. It circles and slithers and stalks like a predator, striking over and over; each bite adding more and more venom, rendering you paralyzed. In The Fault In Our Stars John Green described Hazel's falling in love with Augustus by likening it to “the way you fall asleep. Slowly, and then all at once.” {sigh} But when you're facing struggles, mental anguish, shame...those romanticized images Green so expertly conjured up dissolve into a hazy, darker picture, rimmed with judgment and fear and suffocation. In place of a whirlwind romance accompanied by a light and airy soundtrack; quicksand. Drowning—right in the middle of a crowded pool; unable and unwilling to cry out for help. All consuming fires; menacing, circling, threatening as you try to navigate and 'do' life and keep it all 'together'. These feelings, the ones of emptiness, guilt, loneliness, overwhelming despair, and indifference that companion a diagnosis of depression? They were the things that were happening slowly, and then all at once. I was in far, deep, fast, and over my head. The only caveat?

I just didn't fully know it yet.

Or maybe I did. Maybe I recognized it, but humanity drained the desire to change out of my soul, and in its place, driven the nails of shame and embarrassment into me. I deemed myself unworthy of change and betterment, regardless of the messages of truth that were treading water in the background of my awareness, after having dove in headfirst about 13 years ago.

Let me back up a bit.

In 2002, when I met the man who would, {unbeknownst to me}, become my husband; he said something one night that not only changed the way in I viewed our unlabeled 'relationship', but it planted a seed of truth that began rooting itself into a belief I danced around with for years {let's be honest. I still dance with this belief}.

After watching a movie one night, we were laying in one of those luxuriously roomy twin-sized dorm beds when we began another round of conversation that had quickly become our ritual. It all began with four words, “tell me a story.”. See, we had each spent a great deal of time in long-term relationships immediately before meeting one another, so the eagerness to get to know one another as well as we had our ex-counterparts was similar to a child anticipating his or her birthday. We couldn't learn about one another quickly enough.

On this singular night, however, after yet another 'story', Randy kissed my forehead, looked into my eyes, and said, “you would be so easy to love.”. In that moment, my heart softened, melted, and began melding his heart with my own vulnerable, lost, broken one.

The paradoxical truth is, over the years of not only my relationship with Randy, but the entirety of my existence that I can readily recall, I have not been easy to love.

Pick a sin, any sin {except, you know, the murder one}, and chances are, I have committed, am committing, or will commit it. It's the nature of the beast. Humanity is enslaved to sin. We have fallen from grace, proven ourselves helpless, and vividly illustrated the term 'hot mess' in a plethora of ways.

And yet. Despite hearing story after story of the mix of tragedy and horror and comedy that was in fact my life up until that point; Randy found it possible to say that I could be easy to love. {let's be honest. It was college. He was a guy. I was a girl. He knew just how to work the system.} But for reals. Something about hearing that combination of words. That sentence uttered from this veritable stranger, the likes of whom I had only recently become familiar. They permeated me. Like getting a tattoo; it was a little surreal at first, as the ink of truth first emblazoned itself upon me. But then the ink settled. Nestled into the lines and pores of my body; and soon enough, it became a part of me. As though it had been there all along. But that took years, y'all. Years.

As I got to know Randy and met his family, it became pretty obvious that there were not only tall, craggly walls around my wounded heart, but those walls were further protected by a murky water-filled moat, the contents of which was enough to keep the weak-hearted at a reasonable distance.

I began unearthing this truth as Randy's mom began sharing her faith. She was, and still is, very much a woman on fire for God; a passionate believer who, over the course of many years, has become one of my dearest friends, and the catalyst for my own faith, Christianity, and love of my Father.

My Christian walk began before I even fully realized it, and even when I stalled at various pit stops, threatened to turn the opposite direction, find short-cuts and by-passes; my mother-in-law has proven to be one of most influential prayer warriors for my soul.

It just took me a while to realize that.

When I sat in that church 2 years ago, I wasn't waiting on a pastor to begin service. It wasn't a Sunday. I wasn't even a Christian.

I was sitting in that church to hear a speaker; a blogger-turned-author of the wonderfully popular Carry On,Warrior. I was sitting at a book signing.

GlennonDoyle Melton is the brains and word-gifted talent behind the popular blog Momastery. I had become privvy to this blog during my months of introverting as our family transitioned from being Coloradans to becomingTexans, and as I transitioned from a teacher-mom to a stay-at-home-mom {a shift in which, I'd say, I was failing miserably}. When I found out that her book tour was bringing her here, to this very place; I was in. I hadn't been 'out' in months, except for the standard errand-running facilities that helped keep my family fed, clothed, educated, and clean. It was nerve-wracking and exciting and overwhelming as I trusted Siri to guide me safely to and fro in a city where I was ineptly unfamiliar.

Back on April 9, 2013, the din of chatter from all of the women who were {in my opinion} waving their exciting social connections in my insecure and lonely face shifted into excited applause as Glennon approached the podium.

After she spoke, the line began forming for the signing. My turn became imminent and soon I was face to face with a woman who enveloped me in her arms and, despite her petite stature, overtook my physical presence with her spiritual aura. She greeted me. We chatted. She leaned in. She listened. She responded. She hugged. She signed. She posed for a picture. She bid me farewell. She moved on to the next excited fan.

But then. Her words. Y'all. This woman is on point. Her approach of truth telling, complete transparency, all felt good. And, while it is a huge display of vulnerability to simply lay it all out on the line, Glennon's ability to essay, to compose, to share—it doesn't feel awkward, over-sharey, or pretentious. It feels...good. It feels natural. As thought you're with a dear friend in the cozy corner of a coffee shop, or curled up on an overstuffed couch. It's comfortable. Y'all. Her book. It really changed the course of my life. It sparked a fire on my warrior torch that began lighting my world in ways I had never before envisioned. And so, since I've never been one who's short on words, I simply had to tell her.

{This a snippet of the letter I wrote to her shortly after meeting her and completing her book;}

Part of your inscription in my book says, “Write On!”. And Glennon, I have to tell you that your writing has kept me doing just that.  I have kept going with my blog, one particular post that I entitled “Writing My Truths” after being inspired by you to lay it all out on the line, my true self—flaws and all.  Only I didn’t identify them as flaws.  I found them to be the things about me that I’ve noticed need a little more polishing so they can shine a little brighter. It sparked conversations across my social media existence and beyond, and gave fellow mommies the courage to be more open and honest about the hardness of life. I know for a fact that my recent writing has helped others not only discover you and your blog, but discover themselves a little more. And it feels amazing.
So, Glennon, thank you. Thank you for your courage, your inspiration, your spirit, your gift. Thank you for the words on your blog and in your book, many of which bear the boldness of my pink highlighter and black ballpoint pen so I can quickly reference, remind, reflect. Thank you for the small, unknowing smile you shared with me as I navigated through the confusing hallways of an unfamiliar place and the reassurance you provided me in the hug that we shared at the book signing. You hear and read ‘thank you’ on a daily basis, I’m sure, but that’s not going to stop me from being another woman whose life has been changed for the better because of you. Thank you. I’ve referred to myself as a ‘lone star’ living in the Lone Star State, and while I might not know many people here {at the time I wrote this...this was a hard truth}, the connections I have and will make are being strengthened by the inspiration that is you. Thank you.

The moment when you discover something amazing about yourself is a pivotal point in your life.

When Randy told me I would be easy to love, I didn't know how to respond—I thought he was a bit crazy...because, me. That moment when I 'became' a Christian—may not have been an exact 'moment', really, but might have been the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.

I discovered that those words, “you would be so easy to love”, are the precise way that God feels about me—even with my flaws and brokenness and sin and struggle. He loves me. Easily. Without fail. Endlessly. Fiercely. Eternally.

That night, 2 years ago, in the confines of my yet-to-be-diagnosed depression; on the hard, straight-backed wooden pew of a church where I wasn't feeling particularly spiritual, faithful, or hopeful; in the arms of a dainty stranger, my warriorship became apparent. I recognized that even though...I am easy to love. The One who loves me makes me want to fight. Want to pursue. Want to follow. Want to wear my scars proudly, share myself authentically, and continue to carry on, warrior.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Color shift

Recently, we repainted the main living area in our home.  With nineteen foot ceilings, archways, columns, and a catwalk connecting one side of the second floor to the other, this didn't exactly make for a quick and easy project.  Which meant that selecting a color we were happy with was all the more important, because the likelihood of a redecoration in the next decade is pretty low.

Earthy and more neutral tones were what we favored in our first home in Colorado; and while it worked for us then, becoming Texan isn't as simple as getting a new driver's license.  It means embracing a whole new persona.  Natives affiliate themselves with the state first, nationality second.  Texas takes red, white, and blue to a new level.  It is one of the endearing qualities I've come to love about our new home state, and I find pride in the fact that I can officially say I'm Texan {even if by way of a lengthy path to arrive here}.  Therefore, I wanted to include some of the exalted colors of the flag, nods to the glory of the state, and testaments to the faith upon which I pray to construct my family's foundation.  

The last piece of our painting journey {except for a small snippet of the loft and the kid's rooms, which give me a dash of anxiety as I envision what I might unearth as I move their beds away from the walls} was our foyer, great room, and exposed upstairs hallway/catwalk.  The great room already boasted a roasted red pepper wall that houses our expanse of windows, from which our main light source comes.  Additionally, we chose a deep denim blue that coordinates with our formal living room and dining room for our fireplace wall, and adorned it with a family project {and nod to our new home state}; a Texas flag which features each of our handprints to create the points on the lone star. 

our family's tie to Texas grows stronger by the day
So when it came time to put up the color for the remaining spaces, it took a while, y'all.  Well, not technically.  I am known for being very definitive when it comes to things like this.  So I knew what I was looking for, I just had to find that particular color in real life.  What took a while, I guess, was getting up the gusto to actually move forward with the painting.  Because, painting.  Ughhh.  What a process.  We decided we wanted a greige-ish color, but would also coordinate well with other colors we already had in the space.  So.  We set out for Home Depot, beelined for the paint counter, and returned home to borrow some extra tall ladders from a neighbor around the corner.  Then. Go time.

The paint went up on the wall as I went up and down, up and down the ladder {Randy's not a fan of heights, y'all...the ladder work all falls on me}.  The hours were long, the arms and legs sore, the hands callused, and the color.......changing.  


Over the three days total it took for us to put the paint up on the walls, we watched the color shift from a cementy-grey to the greige we viewed in the sample to a warm lavenderish shade, dependent upon the time of day.  And it didn't stop there.  Different places and different eyes and different light and different people all resulted in different shades.  It was our own live version of what color is the dress? 


Granted this isn't the first time I've painted, nor is it the first time where the color, once up on the wall in all it's color gloriousness, appears to be a little different than what I had envisioned from the two-by-four square foot space I'd painted with a sample color.  But this was huge.  It was striking, frustrating, and at first, made me want to immediately hop in the car and scour the paint department for a different color.

Randy, on the other hand, was done.  As soon as the paint was dry, he was putting our family gallery wall back up, sitting down on the couch, and enjoying the fact that he would no longer need to 'cut in' {until the kids' rooms are painted...}.

Against nearly every fiber of my project-filled, finished-product-driven being, I decided to follow his lead.  Sit.  And soak it in.  The feeling of accomplishment.  The physical space in which God gave me to raise our family, as well as the space in which He used His glory to paint my walls with His own colors of light over the course of a sun-filled day.  I watched the appearance of the color shift as the sun's position {appeared to} shift in the sky while Earth rotated.  

And suddenly, I saw it.  I saw something majestic and godly in this color-shifting paint that covered my walls.
When I was growing up, I held in my hand an awkward palette of colors with which I painted a persona, acrylic-ed an ideal landscape that I felt was more widely accepted than the reality in which I was living.  I tried to mask the labels I had been given, conceal the shame I wore daily.  Over time, I had added so many colors and so much paint, that I completely lost my original self.  My heart, my core had been altered with so much facade, so much decorum, that I felt even more lost and confused than when I began my journey to make myself 'better'.

Over the years, I can't say I've necessarily become free and clear of the damage I've done with the facade I've created, but I can say I recognize now the colors I was using to create that image weren't from a place of authenticity.  My colors faded.  They chipped.  They weren't flattering, they clashed, they poisoned.  I was working with a palette of temporary bliss.  And what's worse, I was giving myself credit as the 'artist'.  It's true, my hand was in the mix; blending shame and lies to feebly cover hurt, mixing false idols with infatuations to foster and fill feelings of lonesomeness.  I was doing something, alright, but none of it could be considered 'art'; just a half-wit attempt at patching together something get me through to my next stage, whatever that may be.

And then. 

I met the real artist.  

The One, true artist who creates and shapes and molds and makes beautiful things--out of dust.  The palette I held in my hand suddenly lost all color.  The bright, glitter and distraction of the ways I'd attempted to cover my true self became dull.  And the paintbrush I was using to construct this facade splintered and fell apart.  I was at His mercy.

My artist paints with a magical brush.  He molds with His hands, creates with His word, shapes with His breath.  He challenges me to break down my barriers.  Remove the scaffolding, chip away at the work I'd spent years upon years doing, in order to try to 'make it'.  It's not easy.  His work isn't something that can simply be slapped over top of the mess I've made, no.  He doesn't work that way.  True, He seeks out those who are broken, those who are buried beneath lies and shame and hurt and loss.  His glory shines brightest when He transforms those souls covered by layers, those hearts hardened by life.  But the colors He uses aren't found here on earth; they're life-altering, heart-changing, truth-seeking, relational, revealing colors found only in the heart of a Savior.

He is the light by which the colors are brought to life, the light by which the shift and change occurs, and no matter which way that light is shining; because it comes from Him; the outcome is beautiful.  Cement-grey, lavender, matter the original desire, through His light, they all work within the space they're placed.  

Becoming a Christian isn't as simple as buying a bible and going to church.  It's embracing a whole new persona.  Christians affiliate themselves with God first, the human race second.  Christians take joy, peace, and love to a new level.  It's one of the endearing qualities I LOVE about my faith and find pride in the fact that I can call myself a Christian {even if by way of a lengthy path to arrive here}.  Therefore, I want to include some all of the exalted virtues of my heavenly father, nods to the glory of His kingdom, and the testaments of my faith--*the* faith upon which I {continually} pray to construct my family's foundation.

So now, no matter what anyone else may think, my heart is set on this enigmatic, unique, authentic paint color.  Because I know the variety of colors I see from that single can of paint are all beautiful when the right light shines.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

lemonade grace

Parenting is a non-stop lesson in tough grace.  We give it our all; sleepless nights, umpiring fights, vomit-covered sights.  We Dr. Seuss and brush teeth and play chauffeur and stock up on fruit snacks, goldfish, and tubes of yogurt as though preparing for the end of times.  It's hard and exhausting and rewarding and amazing all in the same breath.  It's tough.  And we don't give ourselves enough credit.  We don't allow ourselves to realize we need a bit of slack grace.

Parents are comparative and competitive.  We place high expectations on our little ones, other parents' little ones, and other parents as well.  This leads to massive amounts of judgement.  Hell hath no fury than a mom who watches another mom parent her child in a way that differs from her own beliefs.  The Superbowl ad where a gaggle of parents are gathered at the playground, ready to go head-to-head to defend their singular {and, let's be honest, petty} beliefs?'s a jungle out there.

But I find that the harshest of all critics isn't the other parents out there, who catch a mere snapshot of my day while I'm sack carrying my screaming preschooler down the aisle at Target, and decide I'm an unfit mother.

No, no.  The meanest and most judgy person I face each and every day is the one staring back at me in the mirror.  On the toughest of days, not only do I find myself sinking deep into the soft bags under my eyes, nestling into the wrinkles, and wallowing in the stretch marks; but I climb into my mind, capture the not-so-great moments of the day, and push 'play-repeat'.  Evaluating my actions and the responses of my children like an NFL coach reviewing film after a disappointing loss.  But rather than make notes for improvement, I sink deeper and deeper into the dark place of 'bad mommy'.  I pop some popcorn, pull on comfy sweats, and pout about how I reacted horribly to a situation.  I mourn the forlorn look upon my childrens' faces as they hear my snappy-toned, less-than-graceful rant.  I dig a little pit of self pity, dive down deep, and wait.

Usually I don't wait long though; as children's tears and looks of disappointment are kryptonite,  I've got to do what it takes to get rid of them, before their power renders me completely useless.  So I apologize.  Genuine, hand-holding, eye-contact apologies that almost always include the phrase mommy is trying hard to be better.

And I am.  I really, really am trying to be better.  I can't say that I know a whole lot of people who aren't striving to be better, people who walk this planet completely satisfied with every component of their lives as well as themselves.  It's human nature to strive for more--and that includes for ourselves.  We want to better ourselves--financially, physically, professionally, and relationally.

But then there are these seasons of parenting, like the present one for instance, where I feel that I'm spending the better part of my day apologizing.  To my kids, to myself, to God.  My actions are too much--over dramatized and irrational--or they're not enough--withdrawn and uninvolved.  I volley back and forth in this lose-lose space, like a table tennis game between Hannibal Lecter and the hunter who killed Bambi's mother.  Neither is worth cheering for.

But it's funny, the way God works.  Even when I'm smack-dab in the middle of my self-deprecating pity party, He shows up to remind me of His grace.  The 'stuff'' I won't give myself because I've been 'that mom' one-too-many times. He gives it willingly without merit--and in the most unsuspecting ways, from the most unsuspecting people; the ones who are more often than not, the people who are witness to victims of my less-than-graceful mommy/wife/self moments.

Like when I'm on the highway.  Driving 60 mph {ok...maybe it was closer to 70...}.  And I hear a tiny voice behind me say, "Moooommmm...dis seat is awwlll wetttt!".  Bathroom accident?  No, no...I would have actually preferred that.  Instead, the {formerly nearly full} styrofoam cup of lemonade, indignantly carried from the restaurant despite my request to leave it behind so as to avoid situations such as the one I was experiencing at that very moment, had 'magically' sprung a leak, and had relocated its contents in the back seat of my vehicle.  Joy.

A slew of questions, peppered with a few less-than-savory words flew from my mouth before I could even capture the thoughts.  Through a burst of tears, an answer.

The culprit?  Oh, that's easy.  It wasn't the 'frustwated' preschooler who angrily shoved her straw through the side of the cup when she discovered that despite her super-awesome display of shriek/howl/whine disturbing the peace, she was *not* in fact going to get the toy she so desperately desired.  No, no.  That would be too easy.

No...the *real* reason the booster seat was now a soaked lemonade sponge was "dat sharp straw!".  Obvi.

Now the thing is when my sensory-sensitive child complains of something *askew* in her sensory world, it's in my best interest to attend to that request, or reap the awesome reward of a round of shriek/howl/whine disturbing the peace--only *this time*, you're strapped into the seat of a moving vehicle.  My only escape from the hell that would soon ensue was to utilize the shoulder of the highway, where I carefully removed the car seat from the back after discovering that not one, but both cup holders were filled to the brim with sticky, sweet annoyance.

I must have looked mildly deranged to my fellow highway companions as I violently overturned the booster to expel the lemonade, then yanked off the fabric covering so I could squeeze out as much as possible so my 'precious preschooler' would not be triggered by the sensation of wetness.

I felt the whirlwind of nerves and fear and rushing wind of passing cars, all while my three-nearly-four year old daughter sat on the other side of the car; sobbing into her knees, which are drawn up and encircled by her precious little princess shirt-clad arms.  And why was she sobbing?

I wish I could say "dat sharp straw", just as she had, but alas, it was more like "mom's sharp tongue"...and let's leave it at that.

As my lemonade rant ended, and as much of the liquid as possible had been sprayed back on to me, and the outside of my vehicle during my tantrum {funny, God.}, I settled both her and I into our seats, re-buckled, and exhaled slowly.

The guilt.  The self-loathing.  The disappointment.

I mean, she's three.  Three itty bitty years old.  A walking perpetual time bomb of spills, messes, skinned knees, and marker-covered body parts.

I glanced into my rearview mirror, fully expecting my tear rimmed eyes to be equally matched to my tiny counterpart; only to be surprised by sparkling eyes and a giant smile.  I turned around {I had yet to begin driving...}, and reached out to find a tiny little hand, fully ready to apologize.  Before the words formed in my throat, I found grace.  In that tiny little hand, I found grace.  A single purple flower, {plucked earlier from the shopping center landscaping, despite my request to leave them alone} paired with the words, "dis is for you, mama...I love you!".

Heart explode.


That simple.  No 'toughness', no struggle, no comparing...just a completely unmerited act of kindness and forgiveness and 'betterness'.  God gave Raegan this intense desire to experience life so fully that she needs to capture it; pluck it from a professionally landscaped garden, against all social cues; and extend it as an olive branch.

Just as quickly as the parents in the advertisement overcame their difference for a common cause; Raegan decided to bridge the gap, patch the wound, forgive the words; even before I had a chance to utter them.  Grace.  Easy as that.

grace.  {and dat sharp straw}

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


There's this phrase, butterfly effect, which works within the realm of chaos theory; and it says a small change in one part of the world can result in larger differences down the road/'round the corner/later in life.  The origin of these terms are wrapped up within the world of mathematics, a subject area that, let's be honest, is one that created its own little butterfly {negative} effect in my life when I was in the realm of my own chaos theory high school pre-calc classes.  But often times the term 'butterfly effect' is used within a context outside of mathematics, as a trope of sorts, to attempt to offer up some sort of an explanation for the events that unfold.

My {lengthy} path to IF:Gathering, if you want to be honest, is dotted with many little butterfly effect moments; which makes sense if you consider that I was working living in my own little chaos theory {ahem, life[!]}.
floral arrangement: Floral Geek
Your body and mind and soul don't always sync with one another.  In fact, it's a rare gift for one to feel as though they completely have it all together; that it is {fully} well with their soul.  The broken world in which we live doesn't promote feelings of contentment.  Faster, farther, greater, higher, better, more, more, more, {more}.  These are the comparative adjectives upon which many of us {feebly} attempt to seek happiness, fullness, achievement, satisfaction.  And when you start throwing out the superlative adjectives, it's a dog-eat-dog world that leaves 99.9% of us feeling the 'worsest' about ourselves.

So I was about here in my the midst of an overwhelming storm, gasping and grasping, overwhelmed by the undertoe.  The chaos theory I was experiencing was so much inmyhead that I couldn't climb out and release the hold it had on my heart and body and soul.  I knew I needed to feel those comparative adjectives about myself, I knew I needed to seek and move and step one foot in front of the other foot.  I'm a smart girl.  But to say I couldn't bring myself to congeal a thought powerful enough to spark another thought and another thought and revive my punctuated heart, was a bit of truth I was so, so embarrassed to lay claim.

I needed a breath of fresh air.  I needed my lungs to be filled with rejuvenating, life-giving oxygen; to have that source of life pushed through my veins, awakening my stagnant and sad blood, revitalize and restore me to a place where I felt whole-er.  {I couldn't venture to use the superlative whole-est me isn't even on the radar yet...}  Being an extrovert who was inadvertently plopped into a space where introvertedness was a natural byproduct of our family's Rocky Mountain-to-Lonestar move, I found myself floating in a space of discomfort; desperately wanting to be connected, plugged-in, a partofsomethingbigger.

I kept recalling a breakfast I had shared with one of my sweet friends before we moved, who had a bit of experience with being 'new in town'.  She had shared that it would take about 18 months to feel settled, connected, and home.  Eight.teen.months.  I remember hearing that, thinking to myself, "no way 18 months...I'm such a people will be a breeze.".

While it wasn't quite a breeze, I have been blessed an extraordinary network of sweet friends who were either raised with the bylaws of southern hospitality, or have come to accept it as a character trait in the time they've inhabited the great state of Texas.  I suppose the butterfly effect of receiving good southern hospitality inversely affects the way in which others show such hospitality.

It was out of this southern hospitality, this willingness to reach out and extend a much needed hand to those who so obviously need it, that I became a partofsomethingbigger.  It took me about .6 seconds to decide if I wanted to attend a MOPS {Mothers of Preschoolers} meeting to which I had received an invitation. A sweet fellow mama saw my pain, sadness, loneliness, need for connection, and with one flap of her wings, like bellows, my lungs and heart and soul filled with hope.  Hope for friends and connections and people who had similar stuff going on in their lives {i.e. littles who siphoned energy like mosquitos in the south, homes that don't clean themselves, laundry that manages to regenerate faster than a toddler can eat a tube of toothpaste [laugh.  until it happens to you.]}

Needless to say, I needed this.  Whatever 'this' was.

MOPS was a 'thing' that I didn't get to participate in while I was teaching.  It's not that there aren't groups out there for rockstar moms who work outside the home, and it's not that there aren't working mamas in my very own group.  It's just that for me, in that season, it wasn't feasible.  Over the course of the past year and a few odd-so months {gasp...dare I say almost 18 months?!}, I have come to learn what 'this' is.

This is an extraordinary collection of strong, beautiful, eloquent, fun-loving, loyal and devoted ladies who love their children fiercely {even in the midst of a tantrum in the middle of the checkout lanes in Target}.
This is a safe and comfortable place where one can seek solace and serenity and sanity, any time of the day or night {'cause, it's a certainty that there's at least one of us mamas awake; feeding and comforting littles, changing and washing sheets, rocking sick munchkins, worrying incessantly about anything and everything under the name it.  Someone's awake.}
This is church.  An assemblage of women with a fire burning for God.  The fire is the work of the whole group; helping and reaching and hugging and lifting those whose individual fires might be dwindling to a spark or smolder at times.
This is where connections are made, lives are changed, women are encouraged and inspired and loved and fed {well.well.fed.  MOPS does brunch right, y'all}.  Moms get reprieve from crying, clingy children.  They get reassurance that they're not alone in the battle against the gray.  Or the tired.  Or the weight.  Or the yoga pants.  {wait.  I take that back.  In the name of Jesus, I *need* the yoga pants.}

MOPS is one of my favorite butterfly effects.  I was in chaos theory.  Scrambling, crying, staring, introverting, yelling, not-showering.  And then an empathetic and compassionate mama fluttered her outstretched wings and not only comforted, but inadvertently fueled the pilot light deep within my soul.

Oh, and how those MOPS ladies have fanned that light.

laughs, love, hugs, funny stories.
prayers, encouragement, acceptance, hope.
inspiration, relaxation, motivation...and all the carbs I can eat.  {seriously.  the food.}

So then there's this one butterfly.  One sweet, amazing, tender-hearted mama named Lisa.  The effect of her flutter of wings landed me in the Austin City Limits venue this past weekend; hands raised in praise, my tears serving as the vessel through which my mascara relocated in dark streaky trails down my cheeks.  The event was IF:Gathering, the vision inspired by the impassioned wordsmith Jennie Allen.

Haven't heard of her?  Yeah...that was me a little over a year ago.  Then Lisa, a beautiful soul who entered into my life by way of the flutter of butterfly wings that landed me in MOPS, added fuel to my fire.  My book-devouring, word-hungry fire.  Changed in so many ways with the name Jennie Allen.  Her book, Anything, became my insta-mission as I detoured to the book store on the way home from MOPS that very same day.

As I read and highlighted, re-read and black-inked my pages...I felt the flit of Jennie's wings, softly fluttering in my soul.  This.  This.  This is my next best thing.  My one step deeper.  I wanted needed to be a part of this.

And oh my stars.  I watched butterflies flutter, fires fueled, friendships forged.  Goosebumps and tears and perma-smiles.  We were there for one reason, and One reason only.  And oh, is He good.  He brought us the butterflies; set each and everyone in place, wings poised, ready to set into effect one small and {at times} seemingly insignificant spark that, upon landing in the dry places, can light up the world.

God always hears our cries, 
and helps, and it's often a surprise to see
what form God will take on earth.
~Anne Lamott

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Grandmom's buttons

A great building will never stand if you neglect the small bricks.
~Ifeanyi Enoch Onuoha

My grandparent's house had a small pocket of space adjacent to their laundry room.  Looking back on the intention of it's functionally in constructing the space, I'm sure the home builders assumed it would serve the purpose of a tiny office space or a storage closet.  While my grandparents did utilize the closet within the room closet for toys, coats, and other non-essentials of daily life; to me, that room was 'the sewing room'.

My grandmother was a pretty crafty seamstress in her day.  She was one to go to when you needed clothing repaired, costume pieces made, or the basics of sewing to be instilled.  I would spend hours of my childhood in that small, overstuffed space; watching her sew, and eventually being given control of the pedal myself.  I would find scrap fabric swatches on which to practice sewing straight lines and wavy lines in random patterns; both for fun as well as the occasional 'gift', when I felt like I needed to share the beauty of my abstract fabric art with the nearest family member victim. {now as a mom, I realize how uncomfortable I made my family when I would present them with a piece of 'art' that was honestly more worthy of being kindling than hanging awkwardly in plain sight for an uncertain amount of time}

For as much time as I spent in that small space, I would always manage to view it through the intoxicating lens of a treasure hunter.  I'd poke and prod around the shelves that hung above the sewing machine, peer into the cabinets and drawers; in search of I don't know what...but something new.  Something yet to be unearthed from the historical troves of my grandparents' lives.  More often than not, my search proved fruitless; so much so that recalling my findings now leaves me drawing a blank on the specifics.  But there was one place where I knew I would always be able to strike it rich.

The button can.

An old coffee can, having served it's original purpose years before I was even born, was the perfect place to score when you needed the high of an never-before-discovered treasure.  It was over that can that I would spend a great deal of time, pawing through its contents, sensorially calming myself as the buttons slipped through my fingers.  The tinkling sounds of plastic and enamel and metal merged together to create a cacophony that usually resulted in my grandmother suggesting I pour the can out, so as to be able to see everything better, all the while reducing the annoying sounds of a child playing with buttons in a can.

I'd spread the wealth of treasure over the orange shag rug {the 70's rocked}, conscientious of the smaller buttons that could become lost forever in the depths of the thick, fiery mass of deep carpet pile.  My fingers would amble over the buttons, selecting ones worthy enough to lift from the carpet for further inspection.  Occasionally, I'd choose a button or two to keep; ones that would serve as a worry stone of sorts, meant to be kept securely in my pocket for those times when I needed to methodically run my fingertips over the shape and designs in a feeble attempt to calm my {what would become life-long} battle with anxiety.

Being the oldest child and only granddaughter had its perks.  I was gifted with many hours of one-on-one time with my grandmother; talking, learning, shopping, coupon clipping, cooking, enjoying.  But it was the button can where I could capture her attention in a way that would result in my unearthing more than a button's worth of treasure.

My grandmother has always been thrifty.  A keeper.  A re-user.  Plastic bags, wrapping paper, empty margarine containers, you name it.  Sure, the family liked to razz her about her little quirks, but it is in those quirks that her legacy is found.  Take the buttons, for example.  Each time she'd encounter an extra button on a new article of clothing, she would methodically ensure that button found its home in the can.  Even after the article of clothing was long gone from her closet, those buttons would still remain.  Other buttons found their way in to the mix as well, and each of them held a story.  It was in my grandmother's thriftiness, in her inadvertent button collecting, that I found some unique treasures as she shared snippets of stories while rubbing her fingers over the various designs.  Fancy buttons that had adorned wool women's suits, textured boucle buttons that served their purpose on jackets worn over shift dresses, ornate enamel buttons from various skirts and blouses, and even ordinary plastic buttons from the more commonplace tops of daily life.  Each of them held a story, but as a child, my concern wasn't with the ordinary buttons.  The small, round, white buttons whose job it was to keep the cuffs of my grandfather's shirtsleeves closed when he was in meetings.  The large black buttons that secured cardigans and coats, worn daily by my grandmother as she performed the mundane tasks of running a household.  The no-names.  The left-behinds.  The buttons that didn't encapsulate an evening of dinner and dancing in a fancy ballroom, or a well-loved suit worn the day of a grandchild's christening.  I discounted those buttons, those reminders of what really took up the most space in that can.  They weren't the ones I wanted to hear about; and to be quite honest, I couldn't figure out why my grandmother kept them, with their ordinariness taking up space in the magical wonder of that can.

I hadn't thought much about that can of buttons in a long while until just the other day when I was perusing the aisles of the hobby store I all-too-often frequent.  I had a specific Valentine's Day craft in mind, which called for both red and pink buttons, so it was in that aisle that I soon found myself eye to eye with this:

Beckoning me.  Staring me in the face, boasting its random assortment beauty, quietly whispering "pick me up, take me home, search me for treasures".  Of course, when a plastic bag of buttons begins talking to you, it might be a sign of one-too-many coffees and one-too-few hours of sleep; but regardless of how my affair with insomnia has affected me, I found myself placing the bag securely in the front section of my cart, right next to my purse.  

When I got home, Raegan and I spread the buttons out on the carpet, and she immediately began searching for the 'pretty' ones, the unique ones, the magical ones that have the most ornate designs.  She began collecting ones that she regarded as 'pretty', fully intent on keeping them for herself, all the while discarding the ones she considered 'ordinary'.  

That's when I found God.

Right in the mess of buttons; right in the midst of the whining child, who couldn't understand why I would no longer allow her to assign labels and segregate and decide which buttons belonged in which pile.

Everyone has a can of buttons.  Our daily buttons far outweigh the fancy ones, but it is within those fancy ones where we try to find our worth.  We cast aside the mundane, the small plastic buttons, the no-name closures because they don't seem special.  They don't seem worth it.  We find ourselves asking why we even kept those buttons, because, really, will we ever need them again?  When the answer is YES!  Yes, we will need them, yes we will want them, yes we should keep them.  The ordinary, the mundane, the plain little plastic buttons make up the greater majority of your coffee can.  They're the days that you roll out of bed and perform the same dance of life that you do every other day.  They're the days when you look at yourself in the mirror as you brush your teeth before bed and think, "did I really accomplish anything worthwhile today?  Did I make an impact?".  They're the days when you robotically perform tasks and do what you need to in order to make sure your to-do list has received more checks than additions.  

It's in these buttons, these mundane and boring buttons where God meets us.  He sees our ordinary, daily-use buttons and observes them with his God-glasses to see the ornate beauty we may miss.  He sees the perfectly pierced holes, placed correctly so they can be securely fastened to an article of clothing with nothing but a thread.  God becomes that thread.  His strength is what makes something as thin and wispy as a few strands of fiber become the conduit for keeping that ordinary button secured to the uniform we wear to do life.  When we work the buttons each day as we become and unbecome the ordinary life-liver, they can begin to loosen a bit.  They wiggle, they sag, they even fall off.  Soon, those ordinary buttons we so easily overlook and discard become a necessity.  We need them to keep a shirt closed, a coat secured, a pair of pants around our waist.  We need the strength of that God-thread to keep those buttons in just the right place.  We realize just how much we love those ordinary little buttons, the ones without the ornate detail, or textures that make them so intriguing.  While God's in the details of those unique buttons and those special occasions upon which we don our fancy buttons;  it is in the plain and ordinary that we find ourselves needing His strength even more.  

The stories housed within the sparkly, the carved, the bejeweled buttons were always a highlight for me as a child, listening to my grandmother recall a time when she wore the ensemble to which the extra button belonged; watching her eyes soften as she replayed the memory in her mind, wishing so much that I could curl up inside that memory with a bucket of popcorn and watch it play like a drive-in movie.  

I don't recall asking her about the ordinary buttons.  The ones I'd cast aside in exchange for the pretty.  And I'm not sure if I did ask her that she'd even be able to recall the origin of any of those particular buttons, for after a while, they all start to take on similar characteristics.  But she still kept them.  Maybe for reasons as simple as "you never know when you need a button", but I'd like to think she kept them to keep track of the ordinary.  To make each button count.  No matter how plain or how small or how dull and normal they may appear, I'd like to think that my grandmother kept them because she saw church in those buttons.  She saw a time capsule of her life in clothing, a collection of all kinds of days that made up the life she'd lived thus far.  She realized that even though some buttons were boring and not-so-pretty, that each had a story to tell, a purpose, and a place. 

My grab bag of buttons doesn't have the personal history that my grandmother's can did.  Each one does represent a story, a history, a reason for existing...but I can't look at those buttons with my children, let me eyes soften, and replay a memory in my mind.  So maybe it's time to start my own button collection.

I just need to find a coffee can.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

God in the Gravy

"Friends are the family we choose for ourselves."

I can remember the first time I spent a holiday with Tommy Terrill.  I was filling a dual role: excited mommy-to-be, and bloated, beached whale.  Easter 2006 found me waddling up the driveway of my friend Sue's house, arms loaded with food {of course...what pregnant girl doesn't fit that stereotype?}.  My maternity clothes billowed around me, reminiscent of a partially filled hot air balloon, and my tree-trunk legs were still mourning the temporary loss of their slenderizing friend; the ankle.  Let's just say, I wasn't feeling like I had a snowball's chance at winning a pageant any time soon.

Not only did I look disastrous, my heart was hurting as well.  We had hardly been living in Colorado one year, and on our first Easter there, Randy was stuck logging wells in Utah.  I was feeling lonely, sorry for myself, and slightly excited about the idea that I could blame all of my candy-coated cravings on the baby.

So when I was invited to join the Terrill family in their home for Easter, I jumped for joy {not an easy, or attractive action at nearly 9 months pregnant}, because....people!  I would be surrounded by a family {albeit not mine--at the time}, but actual people with whom I could converse and laugh and feel included...and eat {score, pregnant lady...score}.

I don't exactly recall every detail of that Easter meal, but now I know it marked the beginning of a vital, comforting, God-given era in the lives of my family and me.  

Sue and I had worked together nearly an entire school year, and her presence in my life was integral those first few tender months of living so far from 'home': living as a new wife, living as a {surprised} expectant mom, living as a teacher who was feeling sub-par because of the 'newness', the unfamiliarity, the hard of education.  Sue and I became fast friends.  Her after-school hours were conducive to not only my loneliness while Randy worked, but also my loquacious personality.  Bless her heart for allowing me to spend countless hours, chattering her ear off while she worked hard to prepare her classroom for learning activities.  Her gift of time, along with a listening ear was one of the most generous gifts I could have ever received during that transitional time in my life.

Over the course of that school year, both Randy and I had been blessed to be introduced to the whole Terrill family.  Not only did Sue and Tommy; but Sue's husband Terry and their younger son Danny; serve as our 'movers' when we bought our first home in November, 2005, but Sue's dad Les had become a bright light I looked forward to seeing on the school days he volunteered his time to work with littles.

It was the way the Terrill family was--IS.  Giving, doing, sharing, listening, loving, volunteering, donating, serving.  Randy and I quickly became acquainted with--and fell in love with--their genuineness.  Over the course of our friendship, Randy and I have even taken to using the word 'Terrill' as an adjective for when we can't properly describe something that has a beautiful, wholesome, magnetic je ne sais quoi about it.  

Tommy was such a positive example amazing qualities his parents instilled in him, but even with all of that amazingness filling his soul, he still found room to fit more.  The unique blend of personality that Tommy possessed is one of those rare and beautiful finds that makes you pause for a moment to thank God for creating such a well-rounded, well-grounded, life-loving individual--and to pause for another moment to pray that He will create in you and others, more opportunities to be more Tommy-like.

That first Easter I shared with the Terrill family was life changing.  The laughs, inevitable.  The food, delicious.  The way Tommy made it feel so normal to have a random and overly-pregnant girl chattering away at his family's dining table; it's a quality that struck me and stuck with me.

When I was growing up, holidays were almost always spent with family.  Blood relatives, interspersed with the occasional 'outsider'.  It's not that my family wasn't accommodating to other people joining our celebration, it was more of a 'that's the way it is' type of mentality.  I had never really experienced a holiday with those who didn't fall under the umbrella of 'family tree material'.  

The course of that changed while I shared an Easter meal in the Terrill's home in 2006.  Welcoming arms, warm smiles, funny stories, and 'so forth'.  The era of the 'Terril-ley' holidays had begun.  Sharing time and stories, breaking bread, debating football, and Randy explaining to Les 'one more time' what his line of work entails {"that's a fact!"}.  Standard activities whenever we were all together.

Needless to say, our family's move to Texas put to rest an ongoing tradition that had brought us comfort during our tenure in Colorado.  Holidays now carry with them the longing not only for time with our 'family tree family', but for our chosen blended Colorado family as well.  The kids had never known anything but holidays with the Terrills, so it was {and still is}, a feeling of 'offness' for all of us knowing we won't be eating Jell-o salad, playing with the beagles, being surrounded by the comforting blanket of love that is the Terrill family.  Thank you, God, for the memories of those times that we can carry in our heart.
Thanksgiving, 2014.

My heart shattered as I stirred the gravy and heard my sweet friend's wavering voice on the other end of the phone, confirming that Tommy's life had tragically been cut short in an accident the night before.  Physical ache took over, stealing my ability to speak and contain the tears that poured from my eyes like a river.  Our family, our blended and blessed family, had been cracked wide open, a wound too great to ever fully heal.

Tommy was a comedian.  An outdoorsman.  A talented athlete.  He carried with him an arsenal of quick-witted cracks, deadpan responses, and wise-ass comments that inevitably left anyone within a 30-foot radius with sore cheeks and a quasi ab workout from laughing so hard.  

Tommy was devoted.  Not just to his beautiful wife, Snowden, upon whom he believed the sun rose and set, but to his family, friends, animals, and the random stranger with whom he'd interact.  Tommy was the epitome of someone who truly loved, appreciated, and cherished the human experience.  His time on this earth was overflowing with his positive energy and inspirational outlook that influenced and motivated so many.  

Tommy brought a level of 'real' to any situation.  His natural charisma was a key tool he used to give everyone in the room a feeling of comfort.  He was approachable and welcoming.  He adored my kids.  And my kids adored him.  Gavin especially took a liking to both Tommy, and Danny as well, because when we spent time at the Terrills, he wasn't so outnumbered by sisters.  Both Tommy and Danny made my kids feel comfortable and welcome.  They would play with them.  Acknowledge them.  Enjoy them.  From a mom perspective, I was grateful for not only the respite from being their sole entertainer, but more importantly for the positive and loving influence Tommy and Danny provided for my kids.  And even though Tommy was a bit hesitant and nervous to hold a squishy newborn Raegan back in 2011, I saw in him a heart that I knew would make for the most incredible father any child could ask for.

While Tommy was not given the opportunity on earth to have his own children, it does not in any way mean that his legacy will not carry on.  Friendships forged because of Tommy's presence will be forever encouraged by his compassion.  Husbands who knew Tommy will be inspired to love on their wives more deeply and all-encompassing because of the way in which he loved Snowden.  Anyone with siblings will be more inclined to dedicate themselves fully to the unbreakable bond that God created when he gave us brothers and sisters, all because Tommy exemplified what it meant to not only be a brother, but a best friend.  And sons everywhere will want to deepen their relationship with their parents because of the way Tommy loved Sue and Terry.  He was a dedicated son.  Like every child, he didn't always make choices that were a perfect example of common sense, but he possessed within him the positive, Christ-like characteristics that Sue and Terry impressed upon him throughout his beautiful life.  

There are no words for when tragedies like this occur in the lives of those we love.  No one-trick-pony way to encapsulate the sadness and make it go away.  The hurt will be there, it will infiltrate daily lives; some days striking us down to rock bottom, while other days serving as a minor affliction while we choose to focus on the positive.  That this world was graced with the presence of a man, the likes of whom are a rare and beautiful find, is truly proof that God does not make mistakes.  Tommy confidently walked this earth and charmed his way into lives and infiltrated the hearts of so many.  The smiles and happy memories he has gifted those who knew him, I believe, were his way of leaving behind something that will pave the way toward a place of heart-mending.  

My heart is still shattered in many ways, shards of it fell into our Thanksgiving gravy as I stirred that day in shock and disbelief.  But even in that moment, even with that horrific news shaking the core of our family, I still experienced a bit of God's peace.
It was Gavin's second Thanksgiving, and we were gathered in the Terrill kitchen, helping with preparations for the meal, nibbling the appetizers Sue had prepared.  Tommy stood at the stove, methodically stirring the gravy that would soon enrobe the delicious smelling turkey, and cover mounds of fluffy, white mashed potatoes.  I couldn't wait.  Afterall, gravy is one of the food groups when it comes to holiday meals.  

Sue had just placed a Pyrex dish, piled high with delicious homemade mashed potatoes on the stove top, as counter space was quickly reaching capacity as the final components of the meal came together.  Randy was breaking off pieces of cheese and crackers for Gavin to mush into his crumb-covered face when all of the sudden we heard an explosion, of sorts.  The brief moments of flourished activity now blend together in my mind, but in the aftermath, what we discovered was this:  a cool Pyrex dish does *not* like to be placed atop a hot stove burner, even if that particular dish was placed there in an oversight due to too many cooks in the kitchen {literally}.  

The Pyrex shattered.  Not just into pieces.  No, no.  The shards of glass that were the result of this lesson learned were so insanely small, so well-scattered throughout Sue's kitchen, that if you went there today, you might still be able to find one {even though Sue keeps a very clean home!}.  Pryex was on the counter.  On the stove.  On the kitchen island.  The floor.  In the folds of our clothes {but thankfully not embedded in skin!}.  It was in the corn, interspersed throughout the plates of turkey, and in.the.gravy.  

It was a total loss.  There's no real way to bring gravy back after it's become 'chewable'.  All that work, the attentive stirring Tommy had done became a thing of the past as we cleaned up the mess of potato and Pyrex.  The memory of that serves as an ongoing joke, a happily recalled story for the Terrill-Conley family.

Tommy was a bit perturbed his hard work was all for naught as the last of crunchy gravy was poured into the trash; but Tommy being Tommy, he found the humor quickly, and laughed it off, embedding it in each of our memories as a happy one.

As I stood at my stove, just seven Thanksgivings later, my gravy had an added ingredient as well.  The tears that fell from my eyes were of course liquid, but the pain I felt in crying them hurt every bit as much as shards of glass in my eyes.  But while I stirred and cried, cried and stirred, I couldn't help but find God in that gravy.  
God gave Tommy to the world, and used him in ways that are so far-reaching we may never truly realize his impact.  He used Tommy in big ways, in funny ways, in comforting ways.  But perhaps one of my most special ways to remember the way God used Tommy, was in gravy ways.

Rest peacefully, Tommy, the hole you've left is one the world will never be able to fill.