August 3, 2015

Finding home away from home

Over 1,300 miles away from home and I have found pieces of my soul along the way as we have journeyed through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas.  Somewhere in waving fields of corn as far as the eye can see, in red barns and blues skies stretched wide and long, something about North Dakota feels like home.  Maybe it's because my husband feels at home here.  Maybe because we are one flesh - I am part of him and he is part of me - maybe there is part of me that is supposed to feel at home here too.  Perhaps it's God's way of tangling a couple together so intimately and deeply that when something fits for one, it can certainly fit for the other too.

But this is definitely his place, much like the crashing waves of the ocean's shore is mine.  And it's fitting for him I think.  North Dakota is much like Todd.  Quiet and calm, gentle and easy, rugged and down-to-earth.  I can literally feel a different pace of life here.  Nothing is hurried or stressful.  Things green and grow in a way that the heat of Texas' summer sun never really can.  And something about this places invites you to slow down.  I've needed that slow down.  We both have.

Today I took in a giant sunflower field.  It was nothing but pure yellow sunshine and joy as if it was created simply for me to delight in. 
I have to say - North Dakota totally gets me.
Even when we were ready to pack up and move here two years ago, me - sight unseen - it never sounded like an exciting destination or a place I would ever choose.  After all, there are so many other showy-offy places to live.  The grand mountains of Colorado Springs, the painted deserts of Arizona, the trendy, fast-paced excitement of New York City, and Florida with beaches that put my gulf coast shores to shame.  And of course Texas - there is no greater place to live than Texas.  But North Dakota?

This place has surprised me.  I wasn't expecting to fall for it and I have a little bit.  Much like I fell for Todd almost 10 years ago - I was surprised that I fell for him too.  He was different than any other man I had known, but I was drawn to him.  I still am.  Even now, in this place that feels like home to him, he feels a bit more alive and vibrant than his normal at-home-in-Texas-self. 
And I'm sure North Dakota is just trying to romance me.  It's showing off with stunningly perfect weather - 76 degrees and breezy.  The grass is so soft you could literally fall asleep in it.  And the neighborhood where his uncle lives feels like something I have read out of a story book where neighbors don't have fences and everyone grows vegetables in their back yards and goes to a family fish fry on the weekend like we did yesterday. Plus, it's summer and I'm not here during blizzard season.  Snow would not be the way to my heart.
Somewhere between the sunflower fields and evergreen tree-lined streets and taking a break from my normal routine and pace of life, I've found rest for my heart.  My mind is alive and buzzing and everywhere we have gone, I'm writing some sentence, some story, some piece of poetry in my head.  Even now, I feel as though I'm spilling over.

My soul feels at peace here.  I'm curious about how at home I feel when I'm so very, very far away from it.

July 23, 2015

And then he turned six

We all know I love me some birthday parties.  Celebrating, parties, organizing get-togethers - it's my jam.  And when it's for my kids, there is no exception.  This year, there was no theme or over-the-top party.  But that didn't mean Tommy's sixth birthday went un-celebrated.

Also, can we pause for a moment and say SIX out loud and really slowly.  S-I-X.  How do I have a six year old?  Thanks to Facebook and sharing memories from years past now, I got several reminders of those first moments that we had our Tommy with us.  Those eight days he spent in the NICU, his tiny body covered in tubes and IV's.  Getting to bring him home and what an amazing baby he was.  And my precious baby is my six year old son now.

In ten years, he will be driving.  Oh, lawd.

His birthday kicked off with a small pizza party with some friends after church the Sunday before.  I made cupcakes (with Star Wars wrappers of course). 
On his birthday I put streamers outside of his door so he had to break through them to get out.  He requested a silly string wake up call like I had done on the last day of school, but streamers are far less messy.


 He woke up to Star Wars toys from us and then we were off to breakfast.
We met Oma and Opa for donuts where he got to open MORE Star Wars toys.
  Seriously, the dude owns all the Star Wars things ever.

And after our sugary breakfast, we spent the day at Six Flags Fiesta Texas.  It felt appropriate to take him there for the big six.

He rode rides and played games and we ate some really overpriced, mediocre food and paid $38 just to stay hydrated at the park in the hottest day we've yet in San Antonio.



Jacob went with us and did surprisingly well.  We also may or may not have bought a GIANT lollipop though to occupy him to buy some more time at the park.  But when we left, they were both pooped.
We ended the day at Alamo Cafe (his choice), which I was totally okay with, because queso.

I'm raising him right.

All in all, it was a great day.  We enjoyed being together as a family and celebrating our boy who keeps getting bigger and older and smarter.

Our Tommy is one of the sweetest and kindest hearts you will ever meet.  He is incredibly smart, curious and inquisitive.  He is logical and matter-of-fact and sees things very black and white, right or wrong.  Star Wars reigns supreme in his interests, but he also enjoys reading, playing Legos and listening to music.  He still invites us to play (usually saber fighting) and wants to snuggle and talk with me before bedtime.  He is an incredible kid, and I get to be his mama.

Happy Birthday to my big boy.  I love you so, so very much.

July 17, 2015

Be Quiet

Words don't always flow easily for the writer all of the time.  Sometimes beauty is hard to create through the written word.  Sometimes we are quiet. 

My heart feels grieved by all of the hatred and ugliness that seems to be flowing from everywhere.  Around the world, in our country, in debates about flags and gay marriage, in senseless acts of violence, in the toxicity of racism, in idiotic stories continually posted as truth on social media.  In Christians behaving like Pharisees and self-righteous assholes.  It's been hard to not become filled with hatred myself.  When I'm not wanting to tell people to shut the eff up, I mostly feel sad.  So, so sad.

I started the heavy duty medication for my RA.  I'm currently somewhere in between being okay with it, feeling very not okay with it, and feeling like some kind of failure.  It's amazing how this disease continues to invite me to shame and how willing I am to accept.

We have been going through a painful growing process ourselves as church-goers and Jesus-followers.  I briefly wrote about our church going through changes and after much wavering and sifting through feelings and losing most of our community, we have decided to stay where we are - only because really we feel as though God is asking us to.  It has been an emotionally exhausting experience and more than anything, I've realized how fragile and broken the church is.  And how desperately we all need Jesus.

Lately, I have been introspective about the idea of friendship and more specifically, the kind of friend I have showed up to be.  I've recognized how quickly I tend to write people off.  If I know you might bail, or move away, if you're too much like me, or not enough like me, or you're not available for me the way I want you to be, I stop pursuing any kind of closeness and quickly detach.  I have been unkindly picky and have been sitting in a puddle of my depravity as I look at what is true about my heart in those places.

And I've been living too.  Summer is in full swing and we have been grilling out and swimming and staying up late and memorizing Bible verses together as a family.  We have Tommy's birthday next week and a day trip to the beach planned with our friends next weekend.  Our vacation is two weeks away and Todd and I are so incredibly ready to have a break from normal life, even if it means traveling across the country with our boys.

But for the most part, my words are stuck.  They are stuck in the bullshit garbage of the hatred that is oozing out all over the place in our world right now.  They are stuck in complicated feelings over a disease I am having to accept that I have.  They are stuck in places we are growing and healing and ever changing. 

Maybe sometimes though, it's okay for them to be stuck.  Sometimes it's okay to just be quiet.

June 24, 2015

Made to Sing

After high school, I decided what I wanted to do most was perfect my craft and sing classically - specifically opera.  This decision came after an unforgettable experience singing with the All Region Choir my senior year of high school.  Our choral director was the most musically-passionate man I had ever met, and still to this day, have not forgotten.  His name was Charles Bruffy.  He had curly hair and dreamy blue eyes and he was incredibly charming.  His passion and zeal for music and instructing us invited me to more.

Before our big performance that night, he told us this lovely story about his gold cuff-link,s of all things, that had "1-2-3" imprinted on them.  How someone he knew invited him to take a risk and how all you can do in life is to say 1-2-3 and jump out into the unknown.  I remember how he asked us to be curious about our call to music. How we were all there because of our talent and hard work and maybe a life spent in music was something worth risking.  As we took the stage and our choir prepared to sing the first movement of the Chichester Psalms, he raised up his baton and quietly whispered "1-2-3" to us.  I nearly melted in the awe of that moment.  I can still remember the chills I had, and the power that music moving through my entire body gave me.  How I teared up at the end of this triumphant song (also, sung in Hebrew) by one of my favorite composers, Leonard Bernstein.  That very night, the conductor, that piece of music, those silly cuff-links - all of it planted a desire in my heart to pursue a career in singing.

At the time, I knew that I knew, I was meant to sing.

With my music major decided on, I ended up at a small university where I made several friends who shared the same dreams and aspirations as me.  We were both friends and competitors, but all of our comparison and training and performing in front of one another at various voice recitals only motivated us to do better.  I was one of the best freshman vocals that came to the university that year, and told so by my choir director.  And though it was a small school, I was oozing with a kind of confidence I never had before.

I remember that feeling of being 18 and feeling like I could really go somewhere or be somebody.  My whole life was right in front of me, the world was at my fingertips - and all those other cliche things you say when you are young and on your own and could literally pick one of a thousand different directions and they would all be the right one.

My story took a different turn though after my third semester into studying music.  I was in love, consumed by it even.  It felt so good to be loved and wanted to by a guy - the first ever who really showed any interest in me.  He made me feel beautiful and sexy and significant and valuable - all of those things that any young woman wants to feel.  And being so distracted with my boyfriend whom I was convinced I would spend the rest of my life with, I slowly gave up going to classes.  It felt better to stay in bed and be held and kissed and adored.  All of those feelings took over any kind of logic I possessed, which was probably not much to begin with if I'm honest, and completely disappeared.

If there was anything I wanted more than to sing, it was to be loved.

On top of that, I found myself reeling from a very disappointing vocal competition where the judges ripped me apart - especially on my diction and pronunciation.  I couldn't sing German to save my life - something rather important if you are studying to make a career in vocal performance.  Others, who I had deemed lesser than me, did better than I did at the same competition and I was left feeling humiliated.

But even had I kept going on to study music, life took a different turn for me.  My boyfriend was murdered at the end of the year and it undid me.  Part of my soul felt like it had died and my world that was once so full of possibility and bright futures vanished.

By January of 2001, I was working at Sonic as a carhop and "fountain engineer," which only meant I could make a mean banana split and deliver it to your car.  I was living at home with my parents, had no car, no community, a pile of debt from school and credit cards and shattered dreams.

All of that feels like a lifetime ago.  Yet, when I remember that season of my life, when loneliness reigned supreme and I had nothing to do but sit in my disappointments and failures and heartbreak, those memories feel very tangible and close.

Before I turned 21, a small business owner took a chance on me and my lack of any office experience, and hired me as his secretary.  I taught myself how to keep books and several accounting principals and from there I have built the career I have today where I make a fairly decent living.  Also, let's use the word career loosely, shall we?  However, bookkeeping is far from where I ever thought I would end up.  It wasn't in my plan, it wasn't a dream.  It's far from singing opera and all things musical or even creative.  And as an adult, it has been hard for me to dream beyond the familiar borders of where life has me now.

The last few years, I have seen my opera-singing friends travel the world and fulfill their musical dreams thanks to Facebook.  Those who I went to school with and who literally made music their life are in my face on a pretty regular basis.  I am reminded often of my past and my old dreams and how small my life feels sometimes.  I have one friend specifically who travels the world singing with various opera companies.  This summer she is in England and Italy, and when she's not traveling the globe, she directs an up and coming opera opera company in Tennessee.  Those are the moments it's hard not to feel jealous or wonder "what-if" about my own life and choices.

All of this invites me to think that perhaps I wasn't meant to sing like I thought I was.

Just last night, I was peeling potatoes and preparing dinner while my boys played in the living room for a few quiet and conflict-free moments.  Todd was on his way home from work and we had plans to attend a new small group.  As I was putting dirty dishes in the sink, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.  I lead a relatively small life where I am a part-time bookkeeper and I cook dinner for my family and we live in a humble cracker-box house in the suburbs.  I am a mother of two and a wife to one wonderful and handsome man.  Family is nearby and we have all we need or could ever ask for.  I am blessed beyond measure and have more than I could ever begin to deserve.

And I am loved.  Deeply, truly loved.

I felt thankful and content.  Happy even.  I hummed and sang as I worked, like I often do.  I am still singing.  But, it's a much different song.

Every so often, you might catch me walking around my house singing an old aria or taking an everyday tune in my best out of practice operatic voice and busting it out at the top of my lungs.  And my only audience is my children who think I am silly and make hilarious attempts at imitating me.  But a singer isn't defined by her audience or how many opera houses she has sung in or how many degrees she has in vocal performance.  She is a singer because she sings.

My story turned out differently than my 18 year old self imagined that it would.  Some days I am overwhelmed with gratitude.  Sometimes I travel down the what-if road even though I know I shouldn't.  But one that remains true and always will be.

I was most definitely made to sing.

June 17, 2015

In Summer

I believe that summer was made for adventuring.  For long walks to find treasures like dirty bottlecaps and rocks that shimmer and shine in the sun.

I believe that red popsicles and juicy watermelon are the best treats for hot days and that backyard barbecues taste better when shared with friends.

I believe the smell of sunscreen on my boys after a long day of outside play is what heaven will smell like.

I believe in sunkissed noses and sand-covered toes.  That salty, ocean air breezes are the best kind.  And day trips to the coast are best when they end with cold root-beer and freshly fried shrimp.

I believe in plastic pools and sprinklers and cheap waterguns and that getting wet in summertime should happen every day.

I believe in fireworks and cakes decorated like American flags and celebrating freedom with friends and cheeseburgers.

I believe in slow mornings and pancakes and staying in pajamas because you have no need for an agenda.

I believe in Texas sunsets, lit up all violet and fuchsia and turquoise at night.  That they are best experienced when shared on the front porch with someone you love and there is no need to speak because the sun always does all the talking for you.

I believe in staying up late to watch movies, snuggled up on sleeper-sofas, blankets and pillows piled high.  In reading books and making up stories and drawing pictures on soft construction paper, markers bleeding through.

I believe in ice cream cones, and sticky sweetness dripping on tiny fingers.

I believe in the sound of cicada bugs and boys who play basketball in the street.  In riding bikes and swim lessons and learning how to tie your shoes.

I believe in trips to the library and turning off cartoons.  In practicing math and memorizing Bible verses and sending handwritten letters to friends.

I believe that everyone should know what it's like to play in a summer rain shower.

I believe that strawberry margaritas taste better outside.  That laughter is served best with fresh salsa and crispy tortilla chips and the faces of women who get you completely.

I believe in sidewalk chalk and pictures of rainbows and stick figures and messages written about love and family.  In bubbles blown, popped, chased and caught.

I believe in summer.  In the magic of long days and laughing with your children.  Yellow butterflies and blue skies and white dandelions.  Wishes ready for the making.

June 14, 2015

Nine years and new beginnings


Todd and I celebrated nine years of marriage this last Wednesday.  We reminisced about the past and anticipated the future like we do on most anniversary dates, this year at a quaint mexican restaurant.  Afterward, we found ourselves sitting by the Guadalupe River at a nearby park and later capped off the evening by treating ourselves to new pillows.

Clearly, we know how to partay.

In many ways, these nine years have flown.  Having kids has a way of speeding things up somehow because life is always measured in milestones and themed birthday parties.  Tommy is always counting down to the next thing, the next event, the next holiday.  Our little man always has to have a plan or know what the plan is -he relies on consistency and predictability. Right now we are counting down to his sixth birthday and our promise of spending the day at Six Flags with him.  And potty training our second child is looming in our near future and just thinking about it is enough for me to wish time could stand still. 

But at the start of our ninth year of marriage together, we have found ourselves in an unwanted season of transition.  A chapter in our lives that we have loved living and doing and being a part of is at its end.  And we are heartbroken.

There's no way to poetically write it or talk around it so I will just say the things that nobody really says when these things happen:  our church is falling apart.  Or at least, that's how we see it.  People are leaving.  Dear, dear friends that we have done life with and loved on and been in ministry with are moving on.  And we are devastated.  The how's and why's and who's are irrelevant really.  The fact of the matter is, churches and pastors and leaders and members - everything and everyone of us broken.  And sometimes that brokenness causes divisions and disagreements or bad decisions or just humans being extra humanly.  In short - it sucks.  It sucks so very much.

The evening we sat by the river, there was nothing but he and I, some huge cypress trees and the sound of the water flowing past.  I took this picture as it perfectly captures us, our marriage and how we fit together.  He with his camo crocs and me with my overly girly and sparkly sandals. So incredibly opposite but somehow we were made for each other.
Life is often going to hand us unexpected realities.  Chapters and seasons will come and go and many of them, like this one, we won't even see coming.  But we're in this thing together just like we vowed nine years ago.

Right now we are grieving. We are losing our church, our community, a sense of familiarity and comfort and predictability - some of those things that must go if we to continue to grow.  We are trusting by faith that God gives and takes away, and tears things down to only build something back up in its place.  Before each new beginning, there is always an ending.

I'm simply grateful that nine years into marriage, we are living our endings and new beginnings camo croc by sparkly sandal.  Side by side.

June 4, 2015

Graduated

It's been one of those days that I'm feeling all those mothery feelings.  Where I've laughed and cried and have been humming the tune to Sunrise, Sunset, staring in wonder at the life of this boy who is mine.  This heart and mind and life I am shaping, molding, teaching and guiding.  He is growing up.

And there's nothing I can do to stop it.

He is down one tooth, and another loose.  He reads, writes, adds and subtracts.  At any given time he will give you random information about the cycles of the moon and metamorphosis and Texas history.  He prays for those at school who are mean to him or others.  He is approximately seven thousand feet tall.  He is smart and so very, very kind.

His teacher told me that he was a gift.  That she's had a difficult year personally, and Tommy's faith in God has helped her with own during a time of struggle.  She said that he is brilliant and kind and talented.  And that she thinks he's a future preacher/Christian rockstar. 

I cried and then I gushed and then cried some more.  What mom doesn't want to hear those things?  But all of that she said about Tommy - that's just him. His character, who he is even when I'm not there to guide or remind him, he is good and giving and mindful others thoughts and feelings.  That is Tommy.

Today, I watched him sing some songs with his fellow classmates.  Cleverly sung to the tune of Taylor Swift's Shake it Off, he sang a song called First Grade

Well, they say I'm growing up, up, up, up, up.  I'm ready to move on, on, on, on, on....first grade, first grade.

And then I was crying.  Because it's like I can see into the future and imagine my 18 year old son graduating from high school and all of this bringing up and raising and teaching is sort of over.  And omigosh, I only have 13 more years left before he's an adult with opinions and is out in the world making his own mistakes and paving his own way and I won't be there in the same way.

He's growing up.
He's moving on.


Kinder graduation is what you might expect.  Three hundred excited parents with balloons and camera's there to catch their child's special moment.  Everyone present thinking their child is the very best, because they are.

As I sat there today taking all of this in, I was reminded of my dad growing up.  What his face looked like any time he came to a play or a choir performance or any other thing where I was either a big or a little deal.  He always made this face where he would kind of hold his head up and to the side, clearly choking back tears and smiling at the same time.  This look of pride and adoration where he looked both happy and sad as if he were celebrating something and losing something at the same time. 

I got that today.  I totally felt it.  And I'm pretty sure I made the same face as my dad.

What struck me most though was watching all of the Kindergarten teachers engage with their class, tears filling their eyes and trying to hold themselves together much like us moms in the audience.  It means the world to me to see up close and personal how much these teachers love our children.  How invested they are and how emotional they are to watch them grow and move on.  Teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the world and we have done our best to support and encourage and thank his teacher throughout the year. 


Ms. Lozano was the answer to the prayer of my heart.  I was so anxious for him to start school, fearing what he might encounter or what could happen without me being right by his side.  But his teacher gave her all to our boy and he adored her.  He was excited to go and to learn.  I tried my best through tears today to hug her tight and thank her.  I gave her a handwritten card and a basket full of fun summer goodies to express our gratitude for her impact and influence on our son though that feels so inadequate.
And now, we are on the cusp of summer.  Somehow, it's June and we have our first year of school officially under our belts. 

Tomorrow, Tommy has a half-day at school and he's done.  I plan on waking him up with silly string and taking him out for some fun to celebrate school being out and kicking off a fun summertime.  I'm not sure who is more excited - me or him.  I think maybe me.

Goodbye kinder!

Hello 1st grader!

And let's go summer!  It's on!