May 18, 2016

The Family that Sings Together, Stays Together

I come from a singing family.  I mean, we are basically the modern day Von Trapp's, except there are more of us and we a lot more showy-offy.  Every last one of us is musically inclined in one way or another, and for as long as I can remember, our family gatherings have almost always included music and a time of singing.  Some of my most favorite family memories are tied to music - times spent in worship around a guitar, watching musicals together, or sponteanously breaking out into harmonies together.  In the past, we have even put on family Christmas concerts where we all sang together, in trios or duets and invited people to hear us sing!  See?  Showy-offy.

Over a month ago, my cousin Aimee had the brilliant idea of hosting a family karaoke day, where we could all get together and sing our favorite songs from Broadway musicals.  Because we are a singing family, we have all grown up with a deep love for musicals.  Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, West Side Story, Les Miserable, Phantom of the Opera, Showboat, Carousel, Grease, The Sound of Music, The King and I, My Fair Lady and Calamity Jane are just a few family favorites.

We all got together over the weekend, to show off our musical chops and sing together.  Some of us had practiced pieces and others were done off the cuff. And when I say some of us had practiced, I most definitely mean myself.  It was a hilarious, sweet, precious, fun time together.

My Poppy is the patriarch of our family.  I think we all see him as the cornerstone of our extended family and all of us have been shaped by him - his faith, his character, his correction of us, his love, his spiritual guidance.  And of course, his musical talent.  He is 82 and still has an incredible voice. He started us off with a performance of Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific.
And then he sang When I Fall in Love (not from a musical) to my Grammy and we all teared up at the sweetness of the moment.
And then we cried our eyes out when he started dancing with her.  Almost 60 years of marriage together....
The day was sweet.  Reconnecting with family and enjoying one another without the distraction of a holiday or a birthday.  I loved it.  I sang Think of Me from Phantom of the Opera and perhaps won the award for loudest-singer-ever afterwards.  And Tommy and I had rehearsed Do-Re-Mi from The Sound of Music and sang it together.  I got a little choked up with emotion - seeing where my Grandfather's legacy is being passed down to my own children.  And Tommy can sing for real ya'll.  I was so proud of him.

There were plenty of shenanigans on Saturday.  My sister knows every single word and lyric to Officer Krupke from West Side Story by heart and impressed us all with her incredible theatrics.
We all took turns, singing, laughing, entertaining.  I wondered how we had never thought of doing something like this before!  One of the highlights was singing Summer Nights from Grease all together as a family and then listening to my cousin Jon and Poppy fumbling through the words of Oh What a Beautiful Mornin' from Oklahoma!

We ended our time together in worship.  It felt fitting to close like that after a day of fun and silly together
Days like that day remind me of how grateful I am for my family.  We aren't perfect and we certainly all possess our own measure of dysfunction.  But, we all know the Lord and our hearts are knit together in a special way - much because of the music we enjoy. 

Karaoke day 2.0 will happen again in December when my Aunt and Uncle and three cousins can join us for Christmas.  Time to start practicing!

April 26, 2016

A Story of Rescue

Since I was a girl, I have struggled with food, my weight, and various eating disorders.  Over the years, I have tried and failed dozens of diets, started up and canceled gym memberships, gotten personal trainers, seen doctors with medical programs, and tried various pills and shakes a hundred other crazy things to get this weight off of me.  I have been through countless sessions of therapy to process through every facet of why I am the way that I am.  Nevertheless, I have been scarily obese for a long time.

My body has been incredibly sick.  Last year, I gained more weight than I had in a while and I was nearly at the point of no longer being able to find clothes in a store in my size. My blood pressure and Rheumatoid Arthritis were becoming increasingly problematic.  I felt like a ticking time-bomb and was living with this great, unspoken fear that I could die from a stroke or heart attack because of the severity of both my weight and inflammation due to my RA.  I remember teaching my son how to dial 911 on my cell phone and how to give them our address in case anything happened to me or Todd.  I taught him this mostly because I was scared something could happen to me.  I felt stuck in a body that I didn't know how to care for and in desperate, desperate need for help.

I have cried out to God about this for most of my life.  I have prayed, confessed, prayed some more, and tried to do whatever it was that I thought He was leading me to do. But to be honest, I have always felt like God turned a blind eye to me in this place.  I felt abandoned by Him, left to figure it out on my own.  He has felt silent and quiet and all the years that I would cry out to Him - even for the strength to do anything in Christ like we read in Philippians 4:13 - it felt like He wasn't there or  wouldn't give me whatever it was I needed to have to stick to a healthy way of living. 

Last year as my fear over my body, my RA and my overall health began to mount, I began begging God to rescue me.  I asked Him to heal my body, to do something and get some of this weight off of me somehow.  These words are in my prayer journal:

Please God, I need Your rescue.  I don't know what else to pray about this anymore. Just please step in and rescue me!  Do something. Intervene.  Save me!  I beg you, please!  I need You.  I am so scared.  Please, rescue me?

And months later, He did.

It started on December 20th when I was hosting a Christmas party for some friends.  I was having some abdominal discomfort and began running a fever.  Two days later, my pain was so intense I decided to go to the hospital.  I was diagnosed with diverticulitis and sent home with medication.  However, my particular case turned out to be an infection of epic proportions.  Several ER visits later and a transfer to a different facility, I ended up in the hospital for 27 days to treat my infection and an abscess that had formed.  Once I was finally sent home, I was still ill and was treated with IV antibiotics and a liquid diet.  I then awaited a second surgery to remove the bad part of my colon that had been the most infected.

These five months have been both awful and wonderful all at the same time.  It seems as though when we go through something difficult, that there is joy and beauty to be found from the people that come to love on you and be the hands and feet of Jesus. 

I have been in intense pain and have experienced an equal amount of comfort from family and friends.  I have been out of work and our finances could have been in shambles.  But God provided all we have needed and we haven't gone without a single thing.  I went 27 nights without kissing my boys good night and tucking them in to bed, but they were loved and cared for in my absence.  My mother-in-law did my laundry and washed my dishes and vacuumed my floors and kept my home running when I couldn't.  I cried a thousand tears for all I knew my husband had to shoulder, and was blown away by his ability to hold and handle all of this with strength and grace.  Friends brought meals, watched our children, took down my Christmas decorations, came to pray, brought gifts and wrote cards of encouragement.  I have never been more humbled in my entire life by the love and support I was given during this time.

It is now the end of April.  I have now had the second surgery and I am almost back to normal and routine and work and ministry and doing the things I enjoy.  But, it was at the end of February when I was home sick when I finally realized what was happening.  This was the rescue I had prayed for.  He was doing what I had begged of Him.  It was happening and it had come through this awful bout with diverticulitis.

I feel as though I've been given new eyes to see.  My perspective has shifted on my body, on food, and on self-care.  My taste buds have changed because I have had to go so long without solid food.  My thought process behind eating is different because I want to nourish my body and care for my insides by what I put into them.  I realized that all of the time I dieted and felt as though I was missing out on something, I really wasn't.  Missing out is when you're bed-ridden and can't do anything for yourself.  When you can't live, and love and work or play with your kids - that is missing out.

So far, I've lost 75 pounds. While that loss has come with great cost and it's been the worst way in the world to lose weight ever - it is evidence of the rescue that I so desperately prayed for.  For the first time, I finally feel like I can keep going and lose the rest of what I need to be at a healthier weight.  My surgeon who went above and beyond to repair my broken body, offered to monitor my weight loss and continue to see me for maintenance.  She has been such a gift to know and has made me feel safe, comfortable and confident in her care. 

Over the weekend, Todd and I took a day trip to the coast with the boys.  It was our first really fun outing since before I got sick with the boys and we all needed it.  The beach is my most favorite place in the world.  I've always felt like I could almost reach out and touch God with my fingertips because  it feels as if He's just past the edge of the horizon.  As I sat there on the shoreline watching my boys play, basking in glorious sunshine and listening to the waves crash one on top of the other, I began to cry.

Thank you.  Thank you for all of it.  Every blown IV.  Every morsel of food I couldn't eat.  Every pain, every tear, every night I spent alone in the hospital.  Every face and friend and loved one that held me up.  I am so grateful.  You rescued me.  You've changed me.  You did this thing and I don't know what else to say but thank you. Thank you!  I praise your name!

And because I hear God speak to my heart.....

I love you.  I worked all of this together for your good. I am with you and I am for you - I have ALWAYS been.  I make all things beautiful in My time.  I love you.  I AM.

I don't know why it took so long to get here.  I don't know why God felt silent for so many years in this place. Perhaps He was waiting for me to come to this place of utter desperation.  I don't know why He chose to rescue me with diverticulitis or to answer this specific prayer in the way that He did.  But, I do know that this was His doing.  I do know that He showed up and rescued me here. 

My heart, my faith, my body, my life is forever changed by it.  Oh, may it ever be so.

November 28, 2015

Thanksgiving Traditions

It was early morning on Thanksgiving day 2008, when I was woken up by His voice.

"Meet with me.  Talk with me.  Sit with me."

Maybe not everyone believes God speaks to you.  And perhaps He speaks to everyone differently, but He was most certainly calling to my heart that morning.  I remember trying to ignore it, but I couldn't go back to sleep and figured I might as well start my day.  I remember spending most of that morning in prayer having some honest moments with Him, exposing my real thoughts and feelings. At the time, I was sitting in the reality that everyone around me seemed to be having babies and announcing pregnancies while I was left waiting, hoping and wondering if it would ever happen to us.

I didn't know then, but I was pregnant.  I was carrying life inside of me during those heart-wrenching conversations with God and I loved that He knew what He had already done before I ever had a clue.

Since that Thanksgiving seven years ago now, it's become a tradition.  I don't set my alarm or plan it out.  He wakes me up well before dawn, and I sit and meet with Him.  I put on some music, I make a cup of coffee, I write in my journal all of the things I am thankful for, and I read something from His word.  

This year, I ended up reading the chapters in Matthew where Jesus gives His famous Sermon on the Mount.  It was full of reminders on how we are called to live and love others.  It gave me peace in all of the unsettled places in my spirit with all of the hate and terror and danger that continues to grow in this world.  It convicted me on how much I really don't love or care for my neighbor, the lost, the poor and needy.  That if I'm angry with my brother I might as well have committed murder.  That I have nothing to worry about because He knows what I need before I do.  If someone asks something of me, to do it and then some. In a world so full of opinions and fears, the political loudness that never seems to never go away on social media, the words of Jesus are so simple really:

Love Him.
Love others.

I love that each year my day begins with a wake up call from Jesus.  It will always be my favorite way to begin a Thanksgiving day.

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.