October 19, 2015

Circle the Wagons

My Uncle died Saturday morning.  Suddenly, shockingly and devastatingly fast.  Our family is in shock as anyone might be.  He was 52, healthy, thriving, and full of life.  And yet, here we all are, waiting to wake up from some kind of dream as deaths this sudden take some time to really settle in.

I got the call while I was out getting Tommy a haircut.  My cousin's words of "My daddy is gone, my daddy is gone," still play back vividly in my mind.  I nearly fell to my knees on the floor of Sports Clips and wailed and sobbed loudly.  Everyone there stopped and surrounded me.  Strangers hugged me and asked what they could do.  A very kind man helped me to the car, strapped Jacob in to his carseat and paid for Tommy's haircut.  I was grateful to experience the kindness of humanity that day.

We all made our way to my Aunt and Uncle's house.  One by one, family by family, we all showed up.  We spent the day huddled together.  Crying in waves, recalling memories, making logistical plans, wondering if this was all real. We talked about how we always forget how precious life is until something like this happens.  It's as if we all wake up from a daze and realize that traffic jams or your neighbor's annoying dogs or silly disagreements really don't matter at all, because if you lose your family, you've lost a piece of your heart that you can't ever get back.  And how much of our lives we waste being "busy" when all of us threw all of our plans out the window that day and came together.  Nothing else mattered but family then.

Saturday and Sunday I wanted to keep close.  To have my people near me and where I could see them.  I wanted to do nothing more than sit with all of my family - my parents, my sisters, my Grandparents and cousins and just be together, because it felt safe.  Like nothing else can happen to us if we are all joined together as one.

For the handful of people that come here to read, I covet your prayers for our family.  We rejoice, knowing that we have hope in Jesus, that we will see him again.  And someday, there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sudden goodbyes.

For now, we've circled the wagons.  And together, we cry and grieve and ache, yet we don't despair as we look forward in faith to that very day.

October 15, 2015

Bread baking day with Gramma

My Gramma is a special lady and I am more than blessed to still have her in my life.  She's 80 years young, feisty and full of spunk.  I've never known anyone who posessed the kind of joy she exudes.  It's something that oozes out of her and you can literally feel her joy when you're near her. 

A few weeks ago, Gramma spent the day at my house teaching me how to bake homemade bread  It's something she still does regularly and she wants to pass on the bread-baking tradition to her grandchildren so that when she is gone someday, we can bake bread and remember her when we take a fresh batch out of the oven.

Now, Gramma does not believe in bread machines.  She doesn't believe in electric stand mixers for that matter.  Every part of the process is completely done by hand and she wouldn't have it any other way.  She says it's the only way to make sure the love gets in, and the love is what makes it taste so delicious in the first place.  That, and her "seasoned" bread pans.  She saw how shiny and unused mine looked and proceeded to laugh at me.  Aparently, I have a lot of bread-baking to do in order to have my pans make the varsity team.

To bake Gramma's famous bread, she starts with 5 cups of very hot water and two packages of quick rising yeast  After that is stirred together, she puts sugar into the center of her hand until it looks just right and pours that in, and follows the same technique with salt.  She said our hands were about the same size, so my sugar and salt ratios should match hers.  I don't know what to tell the rest of you whose hands are of varying sizes.  But, she blew my "baking has to be exact measurements" thing out of the water, because she didn't measure a single ingredient after the water.
She adds "about" a cup of shortening to the water mixture and gets in there with her hands to break up some of the shortening.  And then the laborious task of adding flour begins.  She does not measure her flour, but keeps adding it until the dough feels just right.  I think she may have used close to five pounds of flour, but I'm not completely certain.  Gramma says that depending on humidity or temperature you may need more or less flour, which is why it's important to keep going until it feels right rather than concern yourself with recipes and measurements.  She let me feel the dough when she thought enough flour had been added.  The dough feels smooth and just slightly sticky.
 See?  Joy.  She is the jolliest woman I know.
When baking bread, Gramma goes by feel and texture and smell, relying on her instincts to let her know what the dough is needing.  With years of experience, her motions are fluid and familiar.  Baking bread is second nature to her and I delighted in watching her work, her aged hands and arms kneading and working the dough.   After this long process of adding flour and working the dough, she puts the bowl in an unwarmed oven covered with a towel and lets it rise for about an hour.

"Seasoned" bread pans folks.
After that hour, she puts a small amount of shortening on her hands and kneads the dough.  Then back into the oven it goes for another round of rising.  That is repeated again. 
 Dough perfection.
The third time, the dough is separated into loaves and put into her seasoned pans in an unwarmed oven to let those rise another 45 minutes - more or less depending on how quickly they rise.
And finally, after all the flour and the rising and waiting and kneading, you get to turn on the oven to 350 degrees, and cook for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. 
My house smelled like bread heaven.  Gluten divinity.  Something very godly and holy as five loaves of homemade bread baking in the oven would smell like.  Tommy eagerly waited, as did I, for the bread to finally finish.
To Gramma's surprise, my shiny new loaf pan that has been used maybe three times ever to make something silly like pumpkin bread, produced the largest, most beautiful loaf of the bunch.  She had never seen such a thing and she had to admit that perhaps my pans weren't so bad after all.  She did say though that if it was such a perfect loaf now, imagine what it would be like in ten years  She has quite a life expectancy of my bread pans.
Then the best part came.  The slicing, and buttering and the eating of the warm fresh-out-of-the-oven bread.  It tasted just like my childhood winter breaks that were spent at her house.  When it was gray and weary outside, but cozy and warm inside.  It tasted like all of the memories I have of my Great-Grandma, how she always wore matching sweatpants and sweatshirts, and would scold us for sneaking too many cookies out of her cookie jar.  And it tasted just like the love she had put into it, and I am convinced it had been made any other way, it wouldn't have turned out the same.
I don't know how many more Saturdays I'll get to have with my Gramma that get to look like this.  Each time I get a moment, a whole day like this one, or any sweet minute of time to make memories and enjoy her, I tuck them away safely into my heart.  I am grateful for her presence, grateful that I have her, and grateful for the here and the now and the new memories we're creating at 80 and 34. 

The best thing ever really is a slice of homeade bread fresh out of the oven.  The only thing to top it, is sharing that sliced bread with your Gramma.

October 2, 2015

Behaving Badly

Have you ever had one of those moments where you lost it at a total stranger?  You chewed out your cashier or the person on the phone or your Sonic carhop because something wasn't right and something that shouldn't have been that big of a deal, escalated quickly and some random person saw your big ugly and there was no way to take it back.  And then you walk away or drive away furiously or slam something down and shortly after you are filled with regret. 

Because that was not how you wanted to behave.  That is not how you wanted to show up and that was not the version of yourself you wanted to be.  And for one reason or another, whether it was the last straw, or something on top of an already stressful or bad day, you snap.

Oh, I hate those moments.  I had one today.  I was in all my glory at the school's pick-up line - a constant point of frustration anyway. 

The line is longer than it was last year.  It moves at a snail's pace.  Several times already, Tommy doesn't hear correctly what cone he is supposed to be at, and he's at the wrong spot and no one has told him otherwise.  And my favorite scenario, where someone takes five thousand years to get their kids buckled in the car and we all wait and wait and wait behind them until they are done and we can all drive away.  Other cars have pulled around these kinds of people before, and today, I followed suit and decided to go around.

But I was stopped by one of the teachers - she waved me down as if I was about to run someone over, came to my car and frantically told me not to pull around a car.  I explained that I was only doing what others had done before, and the lady who was holding the stop-sign wasn't holding it up anymore.  I didn't understand what the big deal was.  I don't even remember what all I said, but I wasn't kind.  I was frustrated that the car in front of me sat there forever, that the lady wasn't holding her stop sign up if no one could still move, that I was reprimanded for something I have seen plenty of others do. After I gave her a piece of my mind, I drove quickly out of the parking lot feeling angry and embarrassed. 

On the drive home, I debated trading in my car this weekend for something new so I won't be recognizable next week.  Or letting Tommy take the school bus so not only do I have to deal with the pick-up line woes, but so that I can hide in my shame of my bad behavior today.  Shame's faithful invitation is always to hide.

In the grand scheme of life, waiting in a school pick-up line behind someone who takes forever to buckle their children in - so not a big deal.  And there will always be messed up orders at restaurants, cable bill issues that require exhausting phone calls, and children that keep leaving their Legos on the living room floor for you to step on.  And like anything else, we get to choose how to respond in those moments.  I'm sure today won't be the last time my ugly comes out and I lose it on an unsuspecting stranger.  But, I'm taking a cue from the regret I feel after and the shame I'm invited to feel after these moments.  That's not how I want to show up or treat anyone. 

Yes, I'm human and I lose it and can have a bad day like anyone else.  And, I want to be kind and show love and patience and humility.  Even in the pick-up line after school.  

September 29, 2015

And Both

Around eight o'clock on any given night, I have Jacob in my lap, his fine blonde-haired head tucked comfortably under my chin and my arms wrapped around him.  His fingers touch mine as I sing him the familiar lullabies I've sung to both boys since infancy.

Jesus loves me this I know....You are my sunshine, my only sunshine....I love my Jacob, oh yes, I do....

I rock a little as I sit with him.  Our nightly bedtime routine with both of the boys is one of my favorite places to mother.  Bedtime invites me to be soft.  It requires me to be gentle, tender and still.  And it's as if they look forward to the quieting down we all share together and lullabies are the last thing before bed.  They come after baths and teeth brushing, prayers and reading a story.  Jacob knows that after I sing to him, I lay him down and it's time to sleep.

A few nights ago though, I found myself holding back tears as I sang.  After I had tucked him in to bed and he kissed me and hugged my neck, I went in my room and cried.

There was something about realizing Jacob's smallness that night.  He is my littlest and our last baby, and he won't be little for much longer.  He is two and a half, potty-trained (hallelujah), speaks in sentences and very much has his own opinions about everything.  Soon, he won't fit perfectly under my chin on my lap and bedtime will look a little different like it does now with Tommy.

Perhaps it's knowing he is our last.  Since we have closed the door on having any more children, there is this ache I hold inside. One of want and longing.  Of wishing life had maybe gone a little bit differently and my nest would have three babies in it instead of two.  If I had been able to stay at home, or if my body were different than maybe I would have the three like I had always planned on having.  I'm also aware of where I am at peace too.  I have peace with our decision we made to not have any more biological children because of my health and medication issues surrounding my RA.  We have been dreaming about adoption too but we aren't certain on the ifs and whens of any of that.  But I am looking forward to the life we get to share with our boys, the things we can do together as a family of four. 

And so I find myself in this familiar place of holding two opposing emotions.  The ache of wanting a third and the peace I have about not having another too.  I'm okay, and I'm not.  I'm at peace and I have a deep longing.  I'm happy and I'm sad.

Sometimes, often really, I feel the "and both" of my choices, of life, of my story.  And right now, the lullabies and nighttime snuggles, is a place where where I am holding the and both of my life.  Enjoying precious moments with my children, longing for the memories and moments I don't have, and being grateful for their lives. 

And that I get to end all of our days with lullabies.

September 24, 2015

Kindness in September

According to calendars and Starbuck's pumpkin spice latte availability, fall has officially arrived.

September is depressing when you live here. Day after day of ninety-something degree heat, and then factoring in humidity that adds insult to injury, summer is long and fights to the death to stick around.  The only sign I really have that the seasons are changing is the way the sun shines through my living room window.  It happens every September and nothing is more glorious than this autumn light.

See?  Glory.

When you live in the south, autumn is a season that you have to make yourself, something that must be created.  The other day, I put out all of my pumpkins, fall foliage and warm colored decorations.  The pillows were changed, the shelf above our TV got its seasonal face-lift and my kitchen was spruced up for the season reminding us of the themes of harvest, gratitude and thanksgiving.  Even my six-year old noticed it the moment he walked in after being gone.

"Yay!  It's fall!  I love when you decorate for fall.  It's so pretty!"

My decorations signal the things he has come to count on this time of year:  Pumpkin pie.  Our annual pumpkin carving party.  Being tortured at the pumpkin patch so I can get cute pictures. Dressing up for Halloween.  Getting in the car and possibly not getting third degree burns from sitting on black leather seats.  But even he knows, autumn is something we create, something we do and make together, because it certainly does not feel like fall.

If we don't usher it in ourselves, it's almost as if the season won't come. We are in the throes of Christmas and holiday cheer before autumn truly arrives with it's quietness in December.

I was actually reluctant to decorate for fall this year, which is unlike me.  Usually, I take things out before the month begins and start it off with all of my pumpkins and ritualistic September watching of You've Got Mail.  But I've been in something of a funk for longer than I care to admit. And I knew if I waited to decorate until I felt like it or was in the mood or the weather finally shifted and cooled here, I wouldn't be true to myself or what makes me who I am.

So I decorated out of hope, that my heart would follow me into autumn.

Last October, I completed a half-marathon.  It was one of the best and hardest and most fought for things I have ever done in my entire life.  The whole experience grew my faith and love for Jesus, but after it was over I didn't know what to do with myself. I had just experienced something huge for myself and for my faith, but I felt off and empty.  Two months later, Sarah's mom died.  I wasn't able to go to the funeral and I felt like I should have been there.  I coudn't make it work and I was lost in my grief of both losing her and that I had to be absent while those I loved honored her without me.  Sandy wasn't just my best friend's mom, she was my friend and a mother to me too. A routine check up at the end of the year, left me feeling shamed and humiliated by a nurse I didn't know well as my doctor was not able to be at my appointment.  Voices of accusation and lies about my identity and who I was, or rather who I wasn't, were loud that day and I believed every one of them.  After the new year, my RA became aggressive and very active again.  I both started and failed an intense diet where I had worked up the guts to see a doctor about it.  I started out brave and ended as a coward.  I'm still ashamed of myself.  Two months ago, I started a heavy medication which resulted in my husband needing a vasectomy.  We weren't necessarily planning on more children, but the finality of closing that door left an ache in my soul.  And then our church split and God called us to stay where we were.  And this world - I feel incredibly weighed down by current events, an overall darkness and sadness of the state of our world.

I can hardly breathe writing all of that out.  I've been spinning in all of these places, taking horrible care of myself and having little regard for what my heart, my body and my soul are needing.

The day the light came through my window and I sat in its familiar warmth and glow, I felt like I was able to calm down.  All of these things I have been living and believing and struggling with suddenly halted in a few quiet moments with the beauty my Savior gave to me.  I realized how I could always count on this moment to come.  This silly infatuation I have with the light and my window in September.  I count on it.  It always comes.  And how many things can we always count on?  How many things really don't ever change?

He doesn't.  He never changes.  Yesterday, today and forever.  Jesus is the same whether I'm training for a marathon or if I'm lazy on my couch.  He is same whether I choose to have a salad for lunch or a cheeseburger.  He is the same if my friend lives or if she dies, whether my disease is active or in remission.  Even if our world changes or grows darker or scarier - He is the same.  And I forgot this.  I forget His consistency.  I forget that He is faithful and unchanging and unwavering in His love and presence and affection for me.

I give my feelings more room and space than they deserve.  I give them so much power that they take over and dictate what I'll do, where I'll go and how I'll show up to others.  And for the last ten months, I've let my feelings rule my everything, forgetting how much they deceive me.

Maybe it's a silly analogy, but if I waited to decorate and usher in fall until it felt like it outside, I would miss the whole thing.  If I wait until I felt ready to pick myself back up again or when everything that felt out of place in my heart was tidied up, I might never get back up.

Sometimes you have to do things because it's time, not because it feels like it.  Sometimes you have to do what is necessary and trust that your heart and feelings will follow.

That's where I've been this week as I've made my green smoothies for breakfast.  Last year, it was a small and easy way to add greens and other nutrients to my diet and something I can easily do again that doesn't make me feel like I'm dieting or being punished for where I'm at right now.  I'm choosing to take the boys outside and walk the block and play in the sunshine in the afternoons, even if I'm slow and my back hurts from the weight I've gained.  I'm choosing water over soda and taking my vitamins.  I'm saying no to the things in church that I really want to say no to.  I'm being honest with my friends about where I've been and where I would like to be.  I'm discovering again who my really, real friends are - the ones that stick around after changes and hurts and awful church splits.  I'm accepting my husband's pursuits of me when he leans in to kiss me and invites me to intimacy.  I'm choosing to write over watching TV because I can't numb out when I'm writing since it's one of the places I feel the most alive in.  I'm choosing to cry and let feelings pass rather than inviting them to stay.

I often mistake violence for pleasure, and indulgence for need.  I'm discovering how to choose kindness for myself all over again.  It's amazing how quickly you can forget how to be kind to your own soul and body and heart.

I decided not to wait until I feel better or until I've somehow graduated out of this ten-month long funk.  I'm trusting the One who doesn't change.  The One who always sends magical sunshine through my windows in September.  The One whose kindness is so great, it leads me to repentance even if I don't feel like repenting.

That's the thing about God.  He can be found in every season.  I'm grateful where He reminds me of His faithfulness in something like autumn colored leaves - even if I bought them at a store and put them in a vase to look at.  I'm thankful for where He continues to invite me to Himself, using September skies lit up to remind me that He really is always there.

I am choosing kindness for myself, in hopes that my heart follows me into autumn.

September 21, 2015

My Big Mama Moment

Big Mama was one of the first blogs I ever found.  She is hilarious and she lives near me and for the last nine years, I've been hoping I would run into her at Target or Alamo Cafe eating queso and we would share some kind of magical moment and talk fashion.  Or about our love for cheese.

Over the weekend, I finally got to meet Big Mama live in person.  Though she's a distinguished author now and is all fancy with her real name and everything.  Melanie Shankle, a.k.a. Big Mama has written three books.  If you haven't ready Green Sparkly Earrings, The Antelope in the Living Room, or Nobody's Cuter Than You, than you are missing out.  They are hilarious, heart-warming and touching reads.  She spoke at my friend's church for a ladies thing.  And not only did I attend a churchy ladies thing, but I set my alarm on a Saturday morning and everything.  There are few people  I would get out of pajamas and miss my morning viewing of the Pioneer Woman for - but Big Mama is totally one of them.

Melanie spoke on friendship and how we as women should engage with one another.  I wasn't expecting to cry but there were tears galore.  I also went with Sarah, the one person in the world who has known  the ins and outs of my life for the last 20 years.  And if anyone knows what it's like to be a friend to me, it's that girl.  So, we got lost in the feels and the memories we have shared over the years and at one point were blubbering over our coffee and a chorus of You are My All in All because sometimes life presents you with these full circle moments and you can't do anything but cry at the glory of them.

My finest moment came when I was first in line to meet her.  I behaved myself and did not bring all THREE books for her to sign, but I had seriously considered it.  Before I knew it, I said something about being star-strck and began blabbering about how long I've read her blog and this one time she left a comment on my own when she held her "Fashion Fiesta" and I nearly peed my pants because I was so excited.  And she said, "Oh, you're so cute!" but I think she really meant to say "Bless your heart," because I mean, really.  I also told her I kept waiting for the day I ran into her at a Target at some point and I'm sure she's now hoping that day never comes because I did not stop talking the whole time I was in front of her.  I'm one of those fans.  Sorry, Melanie.  Amazingly enough, I quieted down long enough for a picture.

I now have pictures with two New York Times Best Selling authors and something about that feels brag worthy.  (Also on my list - Anne Lamott, Jennie Allen, Glennon Melton and Kelle Hampton - a few of my other favorite writers/human beings). However, my mouth starts working long before my brain, causing me to use words like "ass" when talking to Jen Hatmaker about how her book had kicked mine, and then the word "peed" to Melanie.

I'm so eloquent. Bless my heart.

August 31, 2015

Summer Road Trip

Vacation was vacation.  It was relaxing, and fun, full of play, naps, good food, and a measure of hard and stressful too because real life happens even on vacation.  We had our share of misadventures and unexpected hiccups, like having to replace the steering on Todd's new truck the day we were supposed to make the drive back home.  Let's hear it for warranties!

I was unsure about the road trip idea from the beginning.  It was Todd who thought we could do it, even with two young boys.  And to my surprise, it was great.  Fun even.  The boys stayed occupied with sticker books and Disney Pixar movies on repeat in the backseat for hours on end.  Apparently, junk food and movies will make any long trip bearable.

We traveled first to North Dakota to spend a little bit of time with Todd's extended family and Todd's parents who were also vacationing there.   We stopped for a day in Minnesota to see the Mall of America and spent the rest of our time in Michigan to catch up with our dear friends who moved there a few years ago.  We got to do life and have dinners and share adventures with Darin and Bethany and their boys Wyatt and Sawyer.

As I get older, and my boys keep growing, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the memories we are getting to make with them.  The stories we make together as a family and how experiences and times away together will shape their hearts and minds.  There were some days I had nothing better to do than read a book or take a nap.  One afternoon, I laid down with Jacob and watched him sleep and felt myself enter into a kind of rest I have not known in a long, long time.  As all vacations go, it had to come to an end but we made so many fun family memories and were so grateful for the time we had with our friends.

Below are the highlights of our trip, and in no particular order whatsoever.