Posted on April 17th, 2013 2 comments
Spring’s here, finally. Winter stayed past its welcome, but the tree outside our house budded anyway, defying day after day of snow and gray skies. It’s not pretty yet, but the grass is greening and those buds are promises hanging from the branch, ready to pop. I open the windows even though it’s still cold. I need to inhale spring, to close my eyes and remembering how sunshine feels on skin.
Everything’s ready to bloom, but I’m thinking about falling.
We love living in this community. There’s a lot of love growing in this place, and it often feels like we are smack-dab in the middle of it. As a mom, the fastest way to my heart is to sincerely love my kids, and I didn’t know so many people could fit in there.
There’s the friend who sent us this, back when my daughter’s tiny heart was just a flutter, back when only a handful of people knew she existed. Already in the heart of God, oh yes. What a sweet reminder.
There are the friends who brought meals and encouragement and rocking arms for a baby who was nicknamed “cry-cry” (and this new mother could’ve shared that title.)
The friend who helped us plan financially for our first child, teaching us one-on-one in her kitchen, my nauseous self nibbling my way to debtless one cracker at a time.
The friend who came over and taught me her couponing system, bouncing my little girl on her hip as she talked.
The friends who knit blankets, prayers stitched into the fibers that my kids snuggle even today, still covered by love and yarn and prayers.
When I got sick with baby number two, the friend who rushed over with a hospital-grade thermometer and swept my one-year-old off to the zoo.
The friends who, when my husband traveled out of town and my Caesarean stitches were not yet healed, stopped by to lift my toddler out of the crib each morning. And put her in at nap time. And lift her out when she woke in the afternoon. And back again at bedtime.
The friend who offered, instead of a meal, to clean my bathroom, Christ-hands scrubbing my grout.
Everything’s ready to bloom here, but I’m thinking about falling. They’re tied together, newness and birth and falling under the weight of it all. Falling, and being caught.
I think of those trust-falls that groups do for teambuilding, where one person stands with their hands across their chest and falls backwards into the arms of everyone else. When I was overtired and post-surgical and sick and falling, so many arms caught me.
When I think of that catching time, my hands still go to my heart.
My list above is from just one season of many we’ve lived here, and they’ve all brought blessings like sunshine. We can breathe deeply here. Extend our roots deeply. Fall a little more deeply each day.
Posted on March 30th, 2013 2 comments
For S and T
When I was growing up, I loved dandelions. My parents didn’t use chemicals on our yard, so as soon as the ground thawed and a couple spring rains came, dandelion weeds would pop up everywhere. I loved their sunny faces, their tiny lush petals, and the wispy puffs at the end of their life that would carry wishes off on the breeze.
(Once I picked a bunch and tried to sell them like a lemonade business. My mom bought them all up, either as a nod to my entrepreneurial spirit or a desire not to be known around the neighborhood as the weed sellers who lived on the corner. Now the local CSA has dandelion greens as a product, which proves I was just before my time.)
Usually, I’d pluck a bunch and make chains. I’d dig my thumb nails in to split the hollow stems in two, then tie the halves around the bloom of another flower, over and over. It was messy work, dandelion juice seeping out of the fibers. Sometimes I’d accidentally brush my hands to my lips and taste the bitterness. But at the end, I’d have a garland, a necklace, a crown.
I have a friend who blog is Blooming Joy. The subtitle reads “Finding the joy springing up out of the dirt.” In my head, I’ve always envisioned tiny seedlings in carefully edged gardens, rising up from tilled soil to burst into bloom. Today I’m thinking of those dandelions, leaves jagged like the jaws of their predator namesakes, pushing up and out in unexpected places.
My friend’s had her share of weeds. Stephanie and her husband Travis have dealt with some excruciatingly painful events invading like dandelions, unwanted and unexpected. They parented their infant daughter through health, illness, terminal diagnosis, and death. They carry wounds that are healing but not yet scars, that maybe never will be completely. They have experienced deep grief and sadness, but they’ve handled it all with such strength and love and honesty. They are not sad people; they are people of joy.
I appreciate their joy. It’s not greeting-card joy, born out of tidy platitudes that reduce life to simple sentiments. It’s faith-joy, joy that can stand even against the unanswered questions. It’s faith that God is not dead, that Christ’s absence from the tomb means God’s presence with us always, even in the shadow of the valley of death, even beyond. It’s faith in a Christ who, in the midst of his own suffering, knew there was still joy set before him.
They know, too – there’s joy still coming.
Joy rooted in faith doesn’t stop when we’re split open and hollow, when the bitterness is strong enough to taste, when our breaths exhale wispy prayers that fade into the sky. Faith-joy holds it all up to God, the bitterness and the blooms together, trusting that he will weave them into crowns of life.
Posted on August 5th, 2012 No comments
It’s summer. We do summers especially well here in the north, where snow may fall in October or May. Even early June sometimes keeps us in the occasional sweatshirt, so when summer really comes it’s like cracking an egg, sunshine and warmth running thick and golden across our town.
I take the kids to the town festival – my two little ones, and two more who fall into the sweet category of chosen-family. I’ve known them since their momma could hold them both at the same time, one on each hip. They’ve known my kids from birth. Even before that, when my babies were still in my womb, the boys prayed for them by name, earnest and velvet-rich words of children who know their prayers are heard and avail much.
My children are silent and awestruck. They take it all in: fried foods and flashing lights and music and crowds. I’ve got a strip of ride tickets in my hand and a couple of guys who can’t wait to use them. The rides seemed so innocuous five years ago, but now I feel my stomach plunge as I watch them careen into the sky. They go so high. They go so fast. I lean forward to tell my kids the screams are fun screams. I say a quick little prayer that the boys will choose rides that aren’t named after ways to die.
They’re preteens now. Their faces grow more angled, their shoulders broaden, foreshadowing the young men they are becoming. They choose the Matterhorn, which, despite its mountain moniker, stays blissfully low to the ground. They’re old enough to catch the eye of two whispering girls who hop into the car behind them, and young enough not to notice. They wave at us enthusiastically before the ride starts. We wave back, standing in the shadow of a midway stall where a dunk-tank clown taunts the passersby. For the next ninety seconds, the boys are a blur. Our eyes search for them, but before we can point them out, they’ve flown by.
They exit the ride smiling, and my daughter decides that she wants to ride too. We’re nowhere near the kiddie rides, but she is adamant. I’m about to tell her no, to offer a bribe or consolation prize, when I see the Tilt-a-Whirl. It’s bubble-gum pink with cupped benches that spin in small circles. This ride’s greatest risk seems to be centrifugal vomit, so I say yes and hand over three tickets.
She hops out of the double stroller and they climb the stairs hand-in-hand. The sign says she has to ride with a responsible person, and I debate that definition in my head. We wait forever, my mind contriving possible disasters. What if her shoelace gets stuck in the track as they walk to their car, and no one notices, and the ride starts up? What if she hates it, screams in fear for the next two minutes? I call up instructions to have her sit in between the boys, and they nod. One puts a protective hand on her shoulder.
They board the ride. She’s snug in the middle, like when they play video games on the couch and she wedges herself between them to watch. They pull the bar down across their laps, and she grabs on. When the ride starts, their car spins and I can’t see them. When it spins into view again, her face is pure joy. Her eyes dart from side to side as she tries to focus, mouth agape, laughing. The boys laugh with her. Her head lolls forward a little, and then the car catches a hill and spins faster. She leans back, looks up, laughing harder. I laugh, too, suddenly amused and relieved and sentimental all at once.
It’s so beautiful, this moment blinking in the midway lights. How did we get here so soon? Sometimes it terrifies me, the speed of this life, the dips ahead I am blind to see. It’s warm and gold like summer, though, this journey with the people I love. We sit leg to leg and shoulder to shoulder, holding tight and laughing, heads thrown back to the sky.
Posted on May 15th, 2012 8 comments
To My Daughter
Dear daughter in the future,
You may be a mom someday. (No pressure on this. That may not be God’s plan for you. I am very glad that you have examples in the strong, nurturing, loving people around you who are not parents.) But I am a mom, and you may be a mom, and I’m writing you this for someday, if.
Right now, that “if” is twenty years away, more or less. In twenty years, I think I won’t remember as much about day-to-day life parenting preschoolers. It’s like each memory is a rugged little rock I’m adding to a velvet pouch. After rolling around in my bag for twenty years, they’ll be smooth, weathered treasures. I’ll be able to pull on the drawstring and pour them into my hand, hold their cool beauty and remember. But they won’t be quite the same as they are now, before they knock against each other and the sharp edges turn to dust at the bottom of the bag. So I’m telling you now, when you are our spunky tutu-clad cherub spinning across the living room.
We aren’t very far into our parenting journey, but we’ve learned a lot along the way. Here is what I’d like you to know:
1. When you’re expecting, you’ll probably read a lot and research a lot. After all that work, you’ll feel pretty good about the decisions you make for your child. Wait until you’ve had two or more kids before judging other people’s decisions. After you’ve seen how different and challenging each baby can be, you won’t feel much like judging anymore. (Two examples: I thought I’d never introduce pacifiers until you ended up being a colicky baby, and I thought I’d always breastfeed until I got sick when your brother was born.)
2. The secret truth is that none of us actually has this parenting thing all figured out. Find mom friends you can shrug shoulders with and link arms with, and forge on together.
3. Memorize this phrase and repeat it constantly: “I am not going to feel guilty about ______.” Guilt steals joy. Do your best, love your kids, and choose joy over guilt.
4. The best parking spot is not the closest one to the store; it’s the closest one to the shopping-cart return. (Do they still have those twenty years into the future?)
5. Be OK with being imperfect. I used to think that embracing my imperfections meant making excuses for them and enabling them. I thought chiding and guilting myself was the way to break habits. It turns out that I’m much more successful at bettering myself when I’m being nice to me. (A corollary to that one: don’t wait until the house is perfect to have friends over.)
6. The first few months are insanity. Everyone will ask how you’re doing and you’ll say “great” and you’ll mean it, because you will have the most amazing baby. But life will also be a crazy sleep-deprived cryfest. Expect amazement. Expect greatness. Expect insanity.
7. You will feel like nothing is getting done, especially the first few months after a new baby comes. You are actually doing AMAZING things. You are learning how to parent a very tiny individual. You are learning a new language. You are bonding with your newest family member. You are recovering. Unfortunately those things are hard to remember when the dishes are piling up in the sink and you haven’t washed your hair in two days. At the end of the day, try to name three or four things you did successfully (took a shower, folded a load of laundry, etc). It helps to frame the day.
8. Your kids will want every moment of your time. You won’t be able to give it. You will feel guilty. (See #3.) Be intentional about giving what you can. If you’re having a busy day, carve out a little time throughout the day for a puzzle or a story or a quick ring-around-the-rosy.
9. You will have to say things over and over again. It will be annoying sometimes. Be intentional about repeating the truly important stuff. Tell them you love them over and over and over. Remind them that they are beautiful and strong and kind and you would love them even if they weren’t. Remind them that they are treasures to you. Remind them that they are treasures to God.
10. One of the very best parts of parenting is watching your child sleep. Before you have kids, you may read this and nod your head and think “I can see how that would be awesome.” It’s even better than awesome. Just wait.
Ok. That’s what I’ve got so far. You keep us from ever feeling like we’re experts, but I love learning with you and from you. You’re amazing now, and I know you will be even more amazing by the time you grow up and read this.
All my love,
Posted on April 30th, 2012 6 comments
Throughout most of my years at our large public high school, my friends and I floated comfortably in the middle echelon of the popularity spectrum. Due to my middle-school years at private school, I was largely unknown. I didn’t usually draw attention, positive or negative, and that was OK with me. So I was caught off-guard one day in sophomore year English class when I felt something pressing into my back. It was the edge of the empty desk behind me. Two girls sat at the back of the room, kicking the desk forward into my back, snickering.
As you can guess, it felt lousy. One of the girls, Chris, was in my homeroom. She was popular mostly because she had popular friends, and she kept her rank with sharp, cutting wit. She spent a lot of time in homeroom making jokes about people who weren’t sitting in her corner – including my friends and me. And now, here we were in English; they were bored, and I was an easy target.
Chris and I both ended up in the same Art History class senior year. I shared one of the heavy two-person tables with my friend and locker partner. Chris sat ahead of us with her friend, who dropped the class a couple weeks in. One day, we decided it was time for paybacks. We slowly pushed our table forward. Chris scooted forward a bit. We leaned on the table more, gradually inching it up until it was pressed against her chair, wedging her between her table and ours. Chris got frustrated, turned around with an angry sigh and shoved our table back at us. We were engrossed in the art history slides for a few minutes, and then gradually started pushing it forward again.
At the end of the class, she rushed out. We felt victorious. We rode that high for a good part of the day, but as the high wore off, it felt tainted. Our happiness stemmed from her unhappiness. Of course, I rationalized that she may have learned how hard it is to be on the receiving end of taunting, but her actions clearly stemmed from insecurity. Disrespect and cruelty from us certainly didn’t make her more secure. I don’t think she became a better person that day, but for part of the day, I became a worse person. A vengeful person. Someone who took pleasure in the discomfort of others.
Now, as a parent, I want to make sure I remember all of those feelings. As they grow, I hope to teach my kids that being powerful is not the same as being honorable, that no one grows by stooping, that one person’s revenge is not another’s redemption. On the other hand, being kind doesn’t always win people over either. Neither arming my kids with witty retorts or boxing lessons will make people respect them, and no matter how much they want to be liked, not everyone will. They have choices anyway – a million little chances each day to love louder than the haters hate. To choose to act in ways that make souls stronger, and in doing so, grow stronger themselves.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. – Romans 12:21
Posted on March 13th, 2012 No comments
A few months ago, I had the very unfortunate experience of brushing my teeth with diaper cream. In my defense, the backs of tubes are almost identical. It wasn’t until I was already scrubbing my teeth with the brush that I realized something was wrong. It took a lot of gagging and rinsing and gargling – and a lasting greasy feeling on my teeth – to learn that lesson. It looked like toothpaste, but inside, it wasn’t.
I’ve been thinking today about integrity. I’m wondering how to teach my son and daughter to find people of integrity – not people that give the appearance of greatness, but people that possess internal greatness.
My first boyfriend was very good at presenting himself well. He said the things I wanted to hear. He knew I liked poetry, so he wrote me poems. He knew I didn’t like smoking, so he didn’t smoke. He portrayed himself as honest and trustworthy and intelligent. He was very good at appearances – especially to someone who was relatively naïve.
The problem was that his insides didn’t match his outsides. Sometimes his clothes and breath smelled like cigarette smoke. The poetry he’d written for me was actually plagiarized from Edwin Markham, the former poet laureate of Oregon. The girl that he hated who spread crazy rumors about the two of them – he didn’t hate her, and the rumors weren’t so crazy. When it came to internal greatness, he was about as pleasant as a mouthful of Desitin.
Truthfully, I harbor no ill will toward him. We were very young and immature, and I assume we both have grown considerably since that time. I learned a painful lesson in that relationship, but an important one. The people I dated after him may not have been the best matches for me, but all of them are people of integrity, and my husband is a man of inner greatness.
I know my children will have their own unpleasant opportunities for growth, from toothbrush mishaps to brokenhearted tears. I realize I can’t shelter them. But I want to prepare them as much as possible. I want them to be wise but not overly skeptical, innocent but not naïve. I want them to not just seek people of integrity, but to be people of integrity.
(And also, I want them to double-check the fronts of their toothpaste tubes.)
Posted on February 19th, 2012 1 comment
When we brought our daughter home from the hospital, it was a long, dark night. I remember thinking that I would probably never sleep again. I kept sitting up, trying not to use my recently caesareaned stomach muscles, to peer over the wicker sides of the bassinet. I worried about her breathing. I was worried that she was too cold. Mostly, I worried that no one would be watching her if I slept.
Finally, I picked up my tiny little girl and carried her into the hallway. I stood there, sniffling and feeling utterly helpless. My husband and my mom heard me and came out to see what was wrong, and I raggedly explained that I couldn’t go to sleep and leave her unguarded. What if she needed something? What if she stopped breathing?
I am so thankful for my mother. She took my daughter downstairs and held her so I could sleep. For hours, my mom stared at my sleeping daughter – her soft hair, her wideset eyes, her full cheeks. For hours, my mom held her in her arms, and in doing so, held me too.
Obviously, that wasn’t a long-term solution. I had to come to terms quickly with the fact that there would be times when an adult in our home would not be awake. That is when I learned to pray for my child. Every night, I would pray and mentally place my daughter into God’s arms, trusting him to watch her while we slept.
This week, we will go to church on Ash Wednesday. Someone will dip their finger in a bowl of ashes and rub it on my forehead. It’s a humbling experience. They’re dirty. They itch after awhile. And the message given is, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Even with our church’s lovely addition of “…always in the arms of Jesus,” it is a sobering message.
After my daughter was born, I realized that having a new baby on Ash Wednesday changes everything. I wondered if they would put ashes on babies’ heads, too. I decided that I would decline if they offered. As a new parent, humility was already my friend – any grand ideas of self quickly dissipate in those first few months. But to hold my sweet little pink-hued baby, so fresh and life-filled, and to have her marked with a reminder of death – to remember that someday she would return to dust – was more than I could bear.
At the same time… I love Jesus more now that I’m a parent. I know this whole season points to Easter. As much as I love that Jesus died for my sins, I love him even more for dying for my daughter’s sins – even now, when they stretch ahead of her, guilt and pain and suffering lined up like hitchhikers on the road she has just begun to travel. Christ died for that. For her. No amount of dust or dirt or sin will separate her from God. I love knowing that through even the darkest night, she continues to be always in the arms of Jesus.
Posted on February 9th, 2012 4 comments
I love leaving the house in winter.
Let me rephrase that: I love the idea of leaving the house in winter. In reality, it is a long, tedious process of potty and hats and boots and coats and zippers and mittens, all while one child or the other is talking loudly or removing a mitten or trying to play with the cat food – sometimes all at once. Usually, by the time we are ready to leave, I am ready for a rest.
Today, in the middle of our fifteen-minute leave-the-house routine, my son grew silent and still. He was captivated by a sunbeam, one hand outstretched, chubby toddler fingers moving slowly as he tried to grasp the particles of dust. And then, he leaned his head forward, light and warmth washing over his soft, round face. He closed his eyes and smiled for a moment before standing upright again. Then he leaned in again and basked some more.
I once had a dream that felt like that. I dreamt that I visited heaven. I spoke with a friend there and asked her a bunch of questions like “Do you miss life on earth?” Then I asked her if she’d seen Jesus. She pointed to a dream-building and told me I could go see him myself. The whole way over, I was playing out conversations in my head. I had no clue on the etiquette for initiating face-to-face conversations with the Son of God. The best I had was, “Hi Jesus. My name is Jaime. I’m visiting and my friend told me I could come in and say hello.” And suddenly I was there in a room with Jesus, and before I could say a word, he smiled and said, “Hi, Jaime.” I was bathed in this beam of intense, magnetic love flowing from him. I sat down at his feet and talked with him and basked in the warmth. It was greater than any feeling I had ever experienced. As we talked, more people came, and I remember feeling a bit of panic that this love-beam-bond would break. But it didn’t. I could tell they were equally connected, equally bonded, equally loved, but our connection didn’t lessen at all.
I had the dream over ten years ago, and it is still very vivid in my memory. I just forget it sometimes, in the tedium of hats and coats and mittens.
My son gets it though. It’s about leaning into the light.
Posted on January 27th, 2012 No comments
I miss my friend.
Bryan died a few months ago. He was young, brilliant, and healthy. He was not the die-young type, if there is one. I expected him to spend years and years jousting with political adversaries in online discussion boards. I thought someday he’d be the well-dressed old man at the coffee shop who caught people off-guard with his witty banter. And I wouldn’t have been surprised to find his name linked with some piece of legislature that made our town beautiful or greener or more progressive.
I did not think that, today, I’d be resting my fingers on his name etched in glass on his niche of the columbarium wall. The temperature-control in this room is not working. It is hot and terribly smothering, and I am thankful for something measurable, something external to blame. The church basement is only half-underground, and the narrow window high on the wall pours light into the room like grace, like life. I suck it in.
When I leave, I call my brother and tell him I have closure. My brother doesn’t believe in closure, he says. He believes in time.
Weeks later, I’m at home playing with my kids. Or I’m on the computer, or I’m taking a walk. And I’m caught off-guard by sudden memories of my friend, like crumbs in places I’m sure I’ve swept. I try to brush them all up, to gather them together with the rhythm of a broom. Sometimes, I have a beautiful story. And sometimes, all I have are crumbs. Ashes. Dust.
“His oath, his covenant, his blood sustain me in the whelming flood…”
I think of the window and it’s grace-light pouring in.
Maybe that’s enough.