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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Friendsgiving 2015

I've started this post three different ways and none of them are quite right.  I feel like I need to offer background on who I was ten years ago, in college, compared to who I am today, a mom.  I want to provide an explanation of the friendships I have from college and the deep connection we share. But the thing is, words are just not working out to do that. It all feels inadequate unless I commit to write an entire book explaining the history of our relationship, which isn't happening this morning.  I have limited time until I have to be Mom again so here's what I have to offer...

Once upon a time, last week, I got a shitty tattoo.  It's true.  Those who know me now would probably be surprised at what might seem an impulsive decision.  You see, the friends I have and see on a regular basis know me primarily as a family person.  I am a mom.  I stay home with my kids and most of what I do is for and because of them.  My days are simple and consist of diapers, meal making, cleaning, and whatever glamorous tasks come along with homemaking and parenting.  I make decisions based on the state of my crew; how close we are to nap times, who's hungry, the time span between bathroom breaks and general attitudes of the team. This is my life. Each tiny decision is weighed and measured along a subjective canon. 

Back up like a decade.  College.  I can't even begin describing such a time. It was full of so many experiences, most of which wouldn't even make sense to explain. Partially because my memory is terrible these days.  I can't remember details of actual experiences but I certainly have accurate memories of my feelings, if that makes sense. The primary feeling that I recollect from that time is connectedness.  I have a tremendous bond with a handful of friends that continues today.  I don't know if it's because of the vulnerability shared as roommates, the camp-like feeling of Bible college, or if we would have hit it off in any other time of life.  Regardless, we have a beautiful friendship and recently lived out a dream we shared back in the day.  

We met up in Pennsylvania for a friendsgiving reunion.  This doesn't sound like a huge deal, but here's the low down: Jeff and Allison have the youngest child so we met near where she lives. We rented a big house and all gathered there with 9 kids and 8 adults. Andrew and Chandra drove from Ohio with their son, (An)Drew and Amanda brought their two girls up from Miami and we flew (and drove) from Alaska.  It was such a long journey with three young kids but we made it.  The week was not exactly restful, but was so, so good!  There was a lot of coffee, food and fun.  It was beautiful seeing our kids together and getting to know each of them a little bit.  I love that I have an idea who each of them are now beyond what can be explained.  My favorite part of the whole trip was probably watching my friends interact as families.  In particular, having known each of these girls so well as individuals, it was extra special seeing them as moms.

The first night there, the guys were in the living room around the fire and the girls were in the kitchen with wine and chocolate popcorn (typical). One by one we had to leave the table as we forced our kids to go to sleep. We were discussing the possibility of getting a friendship tattoo together on the trip and wanted to come up with the perfect image for us.  We tossed around several ideas and went back and forth many times. We made a decision to get two arrows crossing, which is a symbol Native American symbol of friendship, with four feathers at the base of the arrow, to represent each of us. We wanted it to look more natural/organic like sticks with leaves rather than sterile, perfectly straight lines like the more presently trendy look.  It's funny now that we were concerned with something looking too perfect. Andrew drew it up for us and that was that. 

In true mom fashion, we had no idea what to do when we decided to take a girl's day out.  So we found our way to town and popped a squat at an herbery for some coffee/tea.  It was nice just being together, talking, with only one child present.  While we were there we called the local tattoo place and  when he called back he said he'd be ready for us in ten minutes.  OH MAN!  We got our hustle on and  showed up at the door to his tattoo basement.  Once again, words will fail to explain this situation. Basically we were greeted by a pirate/wizard hybrid.  An old eccentric dude with a long white beard and a crude sense of humor opened the door and assaulted us with bizarre comments, unexpected jokes and references to people we'd never heard of.  We told him we'd be in touch and walked out shaking our heads because there's no way that was going to happen.  But after talking with a tattooed husband, we filled out bellies with some Mexican food, stopped by the grocery store and called the tattoo guy back.  Next thing I know, the ice cream in the trunk was the biggest concern we had, which in hindsight, is also funny. 

First things first when we got to the shop one of us had to poop.  If you know the four of us, you probably already know who. We asked to use his bathroom and it was weird for several reasons but mostly because there wasn't a sink. What kind of bathroom has a shower but no sink? Anyway, Amanda went first, then Allison, then Chandra then me. My friend locally saw the tattoo and told me I'm a very good friend for going last.  That pretty much sums it up.  We each put our brave face on, took our turn and ended up with a tattoo that makes me wonder if his moonshine joke was a joke at all. I don't think any of us really realized in the moment how bad they looked until we stepped out the door and walked back to the car.  At that point we could either laugh or cry because TATTOOS ARE PERMANENT!  We chose to laugh and are continuing to do so as we settle back into post-vacation life.  A hilarious memory was made, and so are appointments for tattoo fixes.

All in all, this week was very representative of us. It was so much fun even though it wasn't perfect.  There was a little drama, vulnerability, laughter but most of all togetherness.  And that is the stuff friendship is made of.  We have remained in close contact since the glory days of Bible college.  We may not remember a whole lot of the academic components that seemed important at the time, but college brought us together and I'm so happy for that. Truly this Thanksgiving was one for the books, or at least for the blog. Here's to friendship, family and plans for future trips together... maybe with more ice cream and less tattooing.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

"The Church" is such a deeply abstract concept and the more I think about it and hash things out with my husband, the more I realize that our model is so fundamentally flawed. The things that seem to matter to the church in our culture would make zero sense to Christ's original followers and that is so very sad.  We have people whose lives are dedicated to building up this church and it's a box step that repeats itself until circles are spun but very little progress has been made. We can count our steps, add our events, tithes, studies and groups but unless disciples are being multiplied and led toward baptism by the actual hands of the church, this family is little more than a complicated math problem with no objective solution. I went to Bible college so it's extremely safe to say that I am no mathematical prodigy but I am also inclined enough to spot a calculation error.

I love the church and I love each of the congregations I've been a part of.  I've had the pleasure of walking through the doors under a variety of steeples. The one that meets in a school. The one with great worship. The one with soul touching sermons. The one where we all sit on folding chairs on a carpeted basketball court. The one with sermons that I can't understand or follow. The one that only sings hymns. The one where the preacher sits on a stool with carpets on the stage. (Let's get church-funky.) Candles, organs, drums, teams, information booths, communion services, foot washing, potlucks, small groups, VBS, Sunday school, Bible study, seminar, retreat etc.

The focus seems to have somehow shifted from collectively dirty fingernails to a very efficient, streamlined program where numbers somehow trump hearts and no one notices the ripe soil sitting next to them because everyone's too busy craving spiritual water and setting up chairs. Jesus created this church to be a family but it has been painted in hypothetical GMOs and pesticides, robbing the organic chemistry that is foundational.  Christ's bride has a veil so dense that it's created a lens through which she sees everything and spends her time and energy to fix things that aren't even the real problem.  If we could all just pull back the veil, look into Jesus' eyes and allow ourselves to be transfixed, we would not need all the silly things we count as "church."

Let us sincerely grab hold of each other and get real. Let's expose our inch thick dust and have people over for dinner. Let's bust out a bottle of wine for heaven's sake, play games, laugh and have conversation!  Let's be vulnerable to admit when we've screwed up and laugh at ourselves as we brush the dirt off our butts when we fall on them.  Let's be people we can trust to help raise each other's kids and not be afraid of the mistakes we will make along the way.

Our poor kids.  We love them and want the best for them, but they're being presented with a very confusing world that is not going to be gentle on a young, Christian heart. No matter how we may try to protect them, bits of societal ugliness will seep through their precious skin and will influence them in some way.  Social catchphrases will be the norm for them and they won't bat an eye at the concepts of transgender, abortion, divorce, sex, STDs, terrorism, polygamy etc. We can't just drag them along on the same spiritual wave we've been riding because it won't work.  Statistical observation shows that a good majority of them will fall off that wave and come close enough to drowning that returning to church will not even be worth considering. I don't know how to protect my kids on this level but I have to assume that keeping them sheltered and only exposing them to people who think exactly like we do is not going to help them in the long run; it will just delay the exposure to a time when my influence is eclipsed by the world. Meanwhile it is fully my job to teach my kids about Jesus, love, discipline, sacrifice, and what it all means to them.

I don't have all the answers, and I'm certainly not pointing fingers at anyone or any congregation in particular (unless you feel convicted, then roll with it).  I'm just having a hard time connecting the great plan for this family of God when it's so easy to get lost in weird details that we've unnecessarily created and progress seems to go sideways instead of forward much of the time. I want to look at the church and be proud of people banding together, loving people in their community with no expectation of repayment, association, or anything else that would detract from the ultimate goal; one person engaging with another person creating relationships that point to Jesus. It's got to be so much more simple than we've made it. Older people, train younger people do to it right and let's influence a healthy cycle. Elders, that's you! Lead the church and train people up. Let's get some mentorship going on up in here. Everyone, be like Jesus and get to know people, meet them where they are and show some love. Do it outside of the umbrella of "ministry" and let it be your life.  It's a good thing!  If it wasn't, Jesus wouldn't have said to do it.

While this is all coming from my heart, part of it is coming from the small corner of my heart that tends to be task driven rather than the bulk that is relationally driven.  There is a place for tasks, but I'm realizing that it is not my goal to do things for the sake of doing things.  If I can foresee something inflicting stress on me that does not center around relationship building, it is not for me.  There is a time and a place, and surely a person for the job, but it's not me.  Saying no isn't my cup of tea, but with the right parameters set, I might be doing more of that in the near future.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A fierce flourishing

A fierce flourishing... the MOPS theme for the year.  If you don't know, MOPS stands for Mothers Of Pre-Schoolers- A bimonthly meeting where moms come to support one another in our journey of motherhood while our kids are being cared for by someone other than mommy dearest (shout out to all the volunteers out there!). So yes, the theme, "a fierce flourishing" totally didn't resonate with me right away.  It's difficult to say and didn't strike much inside me.  This is my fourth year with our MOPS group and some of the previous themes definitely hit home, particularly "A Beautiful Mess," for obvious reasons.

The promo video had some catchy phrases to explain just what it means to flourish fiercely. Including the statement suggesting that we take "one year choosing to live our one wild and beautiful life with as much celebration as we can muster.  One year embracing healthy rhythms of play and rest, one year of noticing the goodness that is right in front of us..." Perhaps in other words, this year is about taking the time to live the way our kids experience life!  I witness on a daily basis an almost 5 year old playing and pretending with all her might; Fully succumbing to each emotion with exuberance. I see a three year old proudly presenting me with clover flowers as an expression of love, who so desires the affection of others that he alters how he naturally plays to become one of the big kids, yet tucks back into my arms when he is ready to be still and little again. The ebb and flow of the healthy rhythms of adapting. I see a baby who only knows love. Whose face lights up and chubby arms flap at a simple smile, the little flirt. These kids are flourishing. They celebrate each and every little thing and are aware of the good things surrounding them.

I am excited to get to know the ladies at my table this year.  I always love hearing each new story, connecting and letting the relationships be a mutual encouragement. I hope that everyone who came to our MOPS meeting this morning feels good that they did something positive for themselves and took a step forward in connecting. I am grateful for the opportunity to be around other moms as we make the effort to notice and celebrate the small things and find joy in the ordinary!

My sister in law told me in reference to a drawing, "you can't win if you don't play." Apparently that little phrase got people sucked into the Arizona lottery.  Regardless of it's origin, this little token phrase speaks volumes to life in general.  How can you make friends if you don't say yes sometimes? How can you connect with others if you are not really present? How can you grow if you don't open yourself up to learning new things? How can you flourish if you don't expose yourself to life giving elements?  It's all very logical! You really can't win if you don't play, but if you give yourself the chance, it just might happen, and who knows, you just might flourish.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Growing up

The thing about kids is that they grow up.  Each new stage a confusing dichotomy of excitement and grief.  I know all you mommas out there can understand! Every new skill, a wonderful thing that we praise them for, but also a kiss goodbye to the child from yesterday. Each much anticipated birthday an admission of time passing.  We know the time goes fast because that's what every stranger in the grocery store tells us.  But, my goodness, how can it be possible that I have a kindergartner? For that matter, how can I have a three year old and a NINE month old? Nine months is almost a year and that means walking, learning to talk and destroy things.  One year also means baby weight transfers to real weight so I have my work cut out for me. Maybe if I squeeze the baby tighter time will slow down? It hasn't worked yet.

Molli has caught on to my not so subtle vibe that I'm not ready for her to be a big kid.  So much so that she's declared that this will be hear last real birthday.  From now on they will be pretend birthdays. That means, she will turn five and stop changing ages but will still get a party each year.  I approved instantly. Yes, let's do that so you will always fit on my lap and want me to read books to you.  You will stay a gangly wild child who wants to run around in bizarre clothing options make believing and bossing, then make cookies. You will always accept that I know everything, the car has wings that come out when kids sleep and that it is whatever time I say it is.  Stay my little princess monkey butt, baby girl.

Unfortunately, you and I both know how that works.  Kids grow up and with that they do new and exciting things.  Molli's kindergarten teacher came for a home visit before school started and in one of the papers she left for me to look over was this suggestion to prepare Molli for school:

Have frequent open and positive conversations about kindergarten.  Don't show regret to your child about "how old they are getting" and "can't believe" but state it in a positive manner.

My bad... clearly I failed at that part!  That evening I began making an effort to talk about all the positive, exciting and wonderful things coming up for her even though I cried a little inside.  At that point I realized  two things that I can never, ever forget.

1) It's not about me! From the moment her life was even a conversation between Myles and me, my wants and desires became second.  My life stopped being all about me and became something so much more beautiful and satisfying.

2) What a honor it is to age and watch my children do so! This might come across a little bit morbid, but truthfully, if I learned anything this summer, it is that life is so terribly fragile and something to rejoice over. Not everyone is granted full or long lives.  My nephew, Jude, weaves his way into my thoughts anytime I feel sad about my kids to stop growing up.  We are designed for life! We are designed to move forward and progress.  To wish that away is to wish away life and that is incredibly selfish (see #1).

So yes, my little girl started kindergarten and it's emotionally conflicting for a momma's heart.  But on this day, I am soaking up the relationship I have with her, knowing that she will keep growing and everything will continue to change, grow and advance.  I can celebrate in her growing up because despite the things I will miss about her being little, one day I will travel with her, go on roller coasters, teach her to drive and plan her wedding with her. Our relationship will definitely change, but I look forward to all the incredible experiences we will one day have.  I am finding joy in the new experiences she is getting and hope that this will continue to be my mindset as each of my babies grow into older versions of themselves.  What a blessing and honor it is to be a mom and to be trusted with these amazing people.

(The girl who started school)

(The boy who turned three)

(The one who outgrew his carseat) 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Journey into the storm

You had to know it was coming.  A blog post only happens every so often.  They are certainly a rarity, but some things are far too important to not document in some way.  As painful as it is, as horrendous the situation, some things just need to be stated.

The water is calm, everyone is together and all is well.  Looking out over the horizon hope for this new day settles over us as we bask comfortably in the warm morning air, enjoying the salty breeze.  The sunrise painted hues of glory across the canvas sky.  A deep breath, a sense of peace. 

March 2 was a Monday and the kids and I were counting down.  It was a date that came up in conversation between my family and my parents regularly.  That would be the day my sister in law, Tamara, and my nephews would move to Alaska and Nate would come shortly after. We were all so excited that they would be a part of our lives on a daily basis!  This was a tremendous thing for me because I really want my kids to have a real relationship with their cousins.  We are a close family so the thought of living down the street was only met with happiness for the future.

The future, as it turned out, took an unexpected turn.  On Tuesday, May 12, I went with my mom and Tamara to Anchorage.  Tamara had an appointment with a perinatologist.  We pretty much thought we were going there to get confirmation that everything was fine.  Obviously, being at a specialist to begin with meant that there was a possibility that something wasn't perfect, but we had no idea what was about to hit.

There is a cloud making it's appearance known. It started very small and far away but as it rolls in, it's obvious that it is dark and undesirable. The sun isn't as bright as it was in the morning. Small waves splash all around and the wind is picking up. The breeze seems to swirl the darkness. The cold stings the eyes as they start to fill with tears.  A deep breath, a looming dread.

The doctor's gaze stayed fixed on the ultrasound screen. Images foreign to an untrained eye flashed across the screen and numbers were recorded.  A beautiful profile, ten toes, distinct bones and tiny clenched fists.  These are all amazing things to recognize up on the screen! I marveled that this machine can look inside a human to look inside another human, not to mention the impressive skill of the doctor to identify and inspect details of this precious growing baby. While I was transfixed on the beauty before us, the doctor silently identified multiple issues.  When she finished she said "Let me tell you what I'm seeing." She did.  And as she did, I felt the world get a little heavier and the blood drain from my face.  She said the words "Trisomy 18." I knew what that meant already and my heart absolutely sank.  I studied the other faces in the room.  It was clear that my mom and Tamara did not know the gravity of the condition.  Questions were asked and information was shared.  The prognosis was grim.

The storm has hit and it's here to stay. White caps surround us as wind and rain pelt the face. It feels like a bad dream because storms like this don't happen here. This is a safe place and things were beautiful, too beautiful perhaps. A deep breath, a lingering grief.

This was the day the world turned upside down.  We have all been grieving in our own ways and believe me when I say it's HARD.  I wouldn't wish this for my worst enemy, if I had one, much less for people I love dearly. I've spoken words that should never go together far too many times this week. I've had thoughts that shock me and conversations that break my heart.  I've crumbled and cried at unexpected times. (Sorry barista, you asked) I've made lists and taken care of business.

To say that Nate and Tamara have been faced with decisions that are nearly unbearable to make would be an understatement.  One decision though that has brought much joy though is chosing a name for their sweet boy.  Jude Lee.  It is so fitting.  Jude means "praise" and they have been touched by the song "Praise You in the Storm" by Casting Crowns. Lee was chosen as the middle name in honor of Tamara's sister who passed away when she was 17.  Before I knew their reasoning behind the name I looked up the meaning.  In addition to meaning praise, Jude is also the patron saint of lost causes (think St. Jude's children's hospital) and one meaning of Lee is "healed or healer." A friend of mine also pointed out the definition of lee as a noun is "shelter from the wind or weather; the sheltered side, the side away from the wind." Jude Lee, just as a name, has such beautiful, positive associations.

If you don't know the song, this is the one mentioned earlier:

Casting Crowns

I was sure by now
God You would have reached downAnd wiped our tears awayStepped in and saved the dayBut once again, I say "Amen", and it's still raining
As the thunder rollsI barely hear Your whisper through the rain"I'm with you"And as Your mercy fallsI raise my hands and praise the God who givesAnd takes away

[Chorus:]And I'll praise You in this stormAnd I will lift my handsFor You are who You areNo matter where I amAnd every tear I've criedYou hold in Your handYou never left my sideAnd though my heart is tornI will praise You in this storm

I remember whenI stumbled in the windYou heard my cry to youAnd you raised me up againMy strength is almost goneHow can I carry onIf I can't find You

But as the thunder rollsI barely hear You whisper through the rain"I'm with you"And as Your mercy fallsI raise my hands and praise the God who givesAnd takes away

I lift my eyes unto the hillsWhere does my help come from?My help comes from the LordThe Maker of Heaven and Earth
[Chorus x2]