Monday, December 5, 2016

Angels

Just a few weeks ago, my middle child pulled out a book that had been in storage since last Christmas. Last year, he wasn't quite ready for it. It had a lot of words that required the art of sitting still for more than roughly 4 seconds at a time. Not his jive just yet.

This year he can, just occasionally, enjoy a good book. And as we read through it for the first time, his eyes got big. He pointed and asked questions. And every day he asks to read it again.

The book?

An Angel Just Like Me by Mary Hoffman

It's the story of a young black boy during Advent who wonders why all the angels he sees are blonde girls. Who wonders if it's possible that an angel could look any differently. Who goes looking in store after store to find an angel just like him.

Ultimately, he can't find one. And a family friend, an artist, comes to the rescue and makes him one. He opens it Christmas Day in wonder...and then asks if his artist friend can make more for all his other friends that wonder if there are angels just like them.

It's a beautiful story. My son's very favorite.

And when we get to the end, my son always points to the black boy angel and says "Just like Nate?"

Yes, buddy. He looks just like you.

Maybe the concept of angels not all being white is new to you. Maybe the concept that people in heaven will not be some weird pale ghostly representation of humans is surprising. But God makes it clear in the scriptures that he has made us all in his image. And that when we share that heavenly feast some day we will not actually look all that different from how we do now. Because how we look now is beautiful and purposeful and good.

My son has noticed his skin is brown from before he could really articulate it. He would point to black characters in books and then to his own skin. He would run to black men on the playground and yell "Daddy!" (Yes, that was painful for most involved.) He thinks he is handsome with his dark skin and black curls and brown eyes. And he's right. He's pretty dang handsome.

But a lot of what he sees around him, in stores, on billboards, in the toys at school or the nursery? A lot of those things are white. White people playing. White people speaking. White characters in books.

And because he has white parents and a brother, he sees a lot of white at home, too.

And friends, it's ok. White isn't bad. God made me this way. And my husband. And my firstborn.

But if white is all he ever sees, he can unconsciously believe it's better. That it's more desirable. That it's somehow more important.

And that is the last thing we want him to believe about us or himself.

So when we read a book like that? And he relates to the character?

Well, Mama starts combing the stores. Where can I find an angel just like him? And one that he can touch and hold (read, not breakable) and doesn't cost more than I can afford?

Well, almost nowhere, to be honest.

I had just put on my list for this week to get to a craft store, buy an angel and paint it black. Because I wanted him to have that angel he so desperately wanted. And when you can't find what you need, you make it, right?

This morning, I posted a picture on my facebook page of a Santa canvas that I had painted for him a year ago. Well, really, I painted it for all my boys. I don't want my white son to grow up in a white-washed world any more than I want that for my black sons or for me. Culture and differences are rich. I want us to bask in them around here.

I posted that Santa picture and shared a story about how much it meant to him to have a black santa in our house.

And just a few hours later, I was out walking my youngest. A neighbor of ours, one I am just getting to know, ran out of her house with a gift for us. She smiled, walked up to me and handed me a black angel. A black boy angel. That happened to look a LOT like my boys.




I was almost speechless. I assumed she had seen my post this morning and was so grateful.

But no. She had seen me coming down the street. She had owned this angel for years and she just knew, in that moment, that it was for my sons.

Ya'll.

I picked up my son from preschool, brought him home and handed him that angel.

Pure. Joy.

"It's me?? It's me!!! I'm an angel!"

Yes, baby. You are.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Enough Already

I haven't written anything "political" on my blog since the morning after the election. I chose that day to share my own grief, my own fears for the future of my sons. I know a lot of people shared those deep feelings of heartache along with me and continue to do so.

I watched as the next few weeks have gone by as people have torn each other apart. How people who are angry have protested or rioted. How people who are hurt have shared that hurt in public forums for the first time. How people who are elated have either stayed silent to show restraint for those hurting or have gloated in hurtful ways.

Yes, my feed is full of many types. Those who are appalled right now. Those who aren't saying anything. And those who, largely, are telling the rest of us to move on. Get over it. Agree to disagree.

Yesterday, though, I watched a video. It was of an alt-right group hosting a conference in Washington, D.C. I felt like I was watching something that had to be fake. The anti-semitic remarks, the white nationalist pride, literally the use of the following words from Richard B. Spencer:

"To be white is to be a striver, a crusader, an explorer, a conqueror...And we recognize the central lie of American race relations. We don't exploit other groups, we don't gain anything from their presence. They need us, and not the other way around...We were not meant to beg for moral validation from some of the most despicable creatures to ever populate the planet...America was, until this last generation, a white country, designed for ourselves and our posterity."

To hear and see something like this, proudly broadcast, was like watching a scene from a documentary from Nazi Germany made into color. To watch this happening in my own country brought a deep sense of shame.

People have largely laughed off the comparisons over the last year that some people have made of Trump to Hitler as overblown or unhistorical - I myself quoted Martin Niemoller in a post 6 months ago about remaining silent in the face of hateful rhetoric and stand by that post.

Do I think they are the same? Of course not. I have Jewish ancestry. I remember the long, painful day I once spent with my aunt in the National Holocaust Museum and how we combed the database looking up family members to learn their exact fate. I do not think Trump is Hitler. I do not think we are on the cusp of a holocaust in America.

What I do think is that the way he has spoken about many people groups, the way he has unashamedly mocked people, used inflammatory rhetoric, refused to denounce hate groups who have supported him...I do think that that behavior has opened the door to the absolute mess we are now seeing.

People who have always existed in hateful lifestyles and opinions now feel free to do it publicly in a way we haven't seen in decades. At least not on a national scale.

And as a mother and, frankly, a human being, I am appalled. Appalled that in 2016 there is a rising tide of people joining white supremacist groups in this country. Appalled that people didn't see this coming, that wrote off his rhetoric as "mere words." Appalled by the rise in hate crimes. Appalled that the best Trump can do is say "stop it" and do nothing at all to convince us he means it. Appalled that he is more offended by the cast of a Broadway show respectfully engaging his running mate than by the words of this group in D.C.

Words are powerful, my friends. Haven't we learned that by now?

So yes, I've sat by and watched our country spew hate at each other. I've seen people say that those who are hurting are "sore losers" who just have to move on. I have wondered if I even have anything to add to all the words being thrown around. But if I don't say something, I'm not sure I can look my sons in the eyes any longer.

What in the actual hell are we moving on to? WHAT? 

What I wish I had seen over the past week was just one pro-Trump friend of mine denouncing the Muslim registry. JUST ONE.

What I wish I had seen over the past 24 hours was just one person in my feed who unashamedly voted for Trump calling for him to denounce the alt-right movement as distinctly UN-American and, frankly, more dangerous than the foreign terrorism he so clearly fears and uses to demonize large swathes of people.

What I wish I had seen since he was elected was family and friends who voted for him denouncing his choices for cabinet members, his cronyism, the ways he is already doubling back on promises he made to them to clean up Washington and do things differently.

Because the bottom line, at least according to those who voted for him in my feed, is that they found him more trustworthy than Hillary.

Really? Trustworthy?

Friends, what are our children going to see right now?

Men who have their hands raised in the same salute that Nazis made to Hitler 80 years ago?

Or a president who will come out and say "Enough is enough" and move towards the people he has alienated over the past year and a half?

Will they see us bickering and name calling?

Or a generation of adults who are willing to fight for what is right when hate is attempting to define our generation?

I, at least, know what my sons will see and hear in this home.

We will preach love. We will preach forgiveness. We will preach truth.

And preaching those things means that we will stand up and say "no."

No to white supremacy. No to the alt-right. No to appointments of people who clearly only care about one group of Americans. No to people who would attempt to criminalize being Muslim. (And to those who would argue that they aren't attempting to criminalize but just register them...please read your history books. Nothing good ever comes to those who are set apart as "other." Tutsis, Jews, Poles, Armenians, Native Americans...the list goes on.)

Unfriend me if you will. Tell me I'm being overly emotional or overreacting. I don't think having a visceral reaction to an white nationalist rally is overly emotional. I think it's human. I will not be silent, I will not be complacent.

I would much rather fall on the side of vigilance and wariness than on the side of "wait and see" on this one.

And I will not move on if it means our country will become a more dangerous, more openly hateful place.

President-elect Trump, it's your move. Are you going to keep wasting our time on twitter or are you going to speak up? Enough already.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Landing

This morning, I walked into what is now likely to be our new church for the second time. I dropped the littlest ones off at the nursery without incident and Josh and I had a little time to rest quietly and just soak in the anticipation of spending time with other believers. This is definitely a first since we moved. Getting three little people to church on time while my husband is traveling, let alone early, is no easy feat.

An older white gentleman sat down next to us. He didn't leave that semi-awkward empty seat that people usually leave when they don't know you. He just sat down, stuck his hand out, introduced himself to both of us and asked me this question:

"How did you find our church?"

I answered him honestly, trusting that what I was seeing in his church would enable him to receive what I said without awkwardness. (Some white people panic when you use the word diversity. They just do.)

"Honestly, sir, I went to the website and clicked on leadership. I saw that you have a diverse team of leaders here and that's not easy to find."

He told me that he'd heard that before and that if that's what we were looking for, we'd find it here.

I don't doubt him. One look on stage shows me a black woman on drums, a diverse choir and a range of people of different backgrounds playing the instruments. A black pastor gets up to lead a time in prayer ministry and a white pastor gets up to share the word. As we pass the peace around us, we shake hands of people older than me and younger, children, black, white and latinx.

I watch the rows in front of me who are filled with hearing-impaired people who are worshiping through sign language, their voices quiet but their joy evident. They are led by a woman who is signing the words and songs of the service and clearly loves what she does. I didn't even know they had a hearing-impaired ministry but it starts a great conversation with my son.

My younger boys are with women of various backgrounds and children who look like them and their brother.

We could fit here.

Some might think that looking at the faces of a leadership team online is an irresponsible way to choose a church. Even racist.

But here's the deal.

When we adopted our sons, we made a choice. A conscious choice that we would not white-wash their world. That we would live in neighborhoods where they might make friends of multiple backgrounds. That they would not be the only black boys in their classes. That the churches we choose, especially as they grow and learn and begin to wrestle with what it means to be black boys with white parents in a racist America, those churches would have racial mirrors for them. Leaders, men and women, with voices of truth in their lives. Friends, boys and girls, who might look like them and their brother, who would wrestle through the chaos of growing up faithful in a world that may not understand that choice.

Many people look at denomination first. Or style of worship. Or the core set of beliefs. Or the type of children's ministry available. Or the mission statement. Or the location or stance on women in ministry or centrality of communion or...well, any number of pretty important issues.

For us, those things had to come second.

And you know what?

We don't want a diversity of leadership and congregation just for our boys. We want it for ourselves. To hear from people who are different from me: who didn't, in my case, grow up in a predominantly white, middle class, northeastern town. To hear from people of different ecumenical backgrounds than my husband and I were raised in. To value the incredibly beautiful diversity of God's church both in our every day lives and when we gather with the physical representation of that church each week.

So, yes.

We look first at that leadership page. And if the church at it's very core isn't reflecting what we hope to see in the larger congregation, we don't bother. We are a multiethnic family. This is a non-negotiable.

Will it mean that we might be in churches during the course of our lives that we don't 100% agree with.

YEP.

But since that has pretty much always been true of any church we've joined because my husband and I aren't the same exact person with the same exact beliefs, we've been there. Done that. And finding a community that loves God, loves others, strives for truth and justice and looks like our family is enough for us right now.

We don't need perfect theological alignment to dive in.

So, after almost five months of trial and error and visiting and praying, I think we may be landing.

And friends, it cannot come soon enough. This introvert is just about out of Sunday morning visitor small talk.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Reclaiming the Mommy Wars

At some point last year, I was in a very low place about my parenting. Exhausted, short-tempered and largely without joy.

OK, if I'm honest, I feel that way more than I should.

But on that particular day, I recognized what was happening. I was buying into the facebook picture of parenthood. The happy, smiling children dressed in immaculate outfits that, while they look expensive, were somehow bought on clearance at a fair-trade, environmentally responsible store. The ones with kids eating out and not losing their minds in restaurants and pictures of 10 hour road trips with patient kids who would prefer to live in their carseats than anywhere else. The parents who were well-groomed and confident of every single parenting choice they have ever made.

You know the feeling. Your life is full of mess and noise and chaos and children who believe that carseats are the actual lap of Satan and everyone else is frolicking in a field of unicorns.

And the comparison causes you to lose heart. To feel like each choice you make is wrong. That you are no good at this.

I SO OFTEN feel that I am no good at this, friends.

And add in the mommy wars? Perpetually being told that there is a better way, a healthier way, a Godlier way...a WHATEVER way, that you aren't doing?

And we can drown. We can just drown in unmet expectations, in fears, in being unable to see our own strengths and recover from our own failures.

So on that day, I chose to do something else than just drink coffee, put in my earplugs and wish my kids would use their words. I was a part of an online moms group. Mostly, we shared about life online with each other. Occasionally we would meet up and do something if it could work out all the crazy alignments of naps and moods. But on that day, I just asked a few simple questions.

What do you excel at as a parent? What's hard for you or an area you need growth?

And then watched as people commented. As we rejoiced in what other people were good at. As we felt better about the areas in which we struggle when we heard that maybe other people do, too. We cheered for each other. We laughed. We were together in this thing.

Do we agree about everything in the larger sphere? Nope. I'm sure there are vast differences on what we think about vaccines or breastfeeding or school choice or religion or even who we just voted for in this election.

But, friends, we don't have to let our differences destroy us as parents. I can rejoice that a friend of mine loves the baby stage and thrives on her children needing her while I usually just feel exhausted and overwhelmed by touch and noise when they are little. And she can rejoice that I can put on a pretty awesome dance party for my kids once they learn to walk even if she is embarrassed to even attempt the electric slide.

It doesn't have to be a competition. It can be a chance to rejoice.

So, today, I don't know how you're feeling.

I don't know if you are discouraged or comparing yourself or feeling DONE with this parenting thing. I have been there, oh, how I have been there more times than I would like to remember. Maybe you are flying high on a parenting win. That's awesome. I love it.

No matter where you are, let's take a moment to share.

What do you excel at? And what's hard?

And then let's sit back in wonder and joy as we see the vast gifts and passions of those who surround us shared in a way that can, actually, only make us better at this crazy thing we call parenting.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tears in the Dark

It is 6 am in the morning.

You were up at 4:30 again because of the time change. I tried to rock you back to sleep but you were having none of it. I put you back in the crib and couldn't help checking the election results. I was way too tired yesterday to make it past 10 pm and went to bed nervous but hopeful.

I pulled up the screen and my heart flew into my throat. It happened. It actually happened.

And as I lay in the dark, now wide awake, listening to you protest your return to the crib, I tried to wrap my mind around the world you are growing up in.

But I can't.

So I padded quietly back down the hall and picked you up. We sat in the rocking chair, wrapped in a blanket together. I kissed your sweet, dark curls and let silent tears fall on them.

I am so sorry, little boy. So sorry.

So sorry that America isn't a safe place for you.

So sorry that sooner rather than later you are going to experience hate.

So sorry that you, my beautiful boy, are not going to be seen for who you are but for the threat you could possibly be.

So sorry that I can't protect you.

Even as you finally fell back to sleep and now lay peacefully ignorant of the way the world has gone mad, I can't stop crying. I don't know how to tell your brother when he wakes up. I don't know what he will hear today as he goes to school. I don't know how his friends of color will be treated today in the aftermath.

I know I should be saying something like "my hope is in the Lord" and my kingdom is not of this earth. Those are true statements.

But at least for today, I am going to mourn. I am going to lament with my friends who feel less safe today. I am going to choose to be kind and patient and not act in fear because I will not go low.  I am not interested in debating or arguing today.

I am going to continue to teach my children to love today. And do my best to do the same.

And starting tomorrow, I am going to pick myself back up and work my hardest to make sure that by the time my black sons are old enough to understand, things will have changed.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Those Business-Minders

Last week, I chased my youngest up and down the sidelines as my oldest ran in his school fundraiser. We cheered, we threw snacks, we dazzled onlookers with our delightfully cheerful mother-son relationship. (Because, you know, it was one of those days with very little screaming so I had a smile on my face and he was going full-on dimple.)

As happens just about every time I am in public with one of my two younger sons, I was approached by a total stranger.

Said stranger felt perfectly comfortable assuming he was adopted and asking me where he was from. (Some days I dream about asking people how they conceived their biological children just to illustrate how inappropriate their intrusive questions are. If I continue down the route of my current grumpiness, this will happen soon.)

I shared, tersely, that he was from the United States and tried to make it clear that more questions about his story weren't particularly welcome. I don't know this person. And his story is his own story to tell if and when he chooses it. Given that his only three words at this point are Mama, Lawnmower and Elmo, I don't think he'll be sharing any deep thoughts on his adoption any time soon.

She went on to share that she knew someone else who had adopted three kids because of infertility.

And then she said this:

"Later, she got pregnant with triplets. We like to say that since she saved three kids' lives, God decided to give her three more kids to reward her."

Me: ........

At that painful and horrifying moment, my youngest decided to attempt to make a break for it out onto the track with 100 running fourth graders, so rather than respond, I sprinted off after him assuming I should intervene and prevent his imminent trampling injury.

But.

Holy Crap.

Friends, let me make some things abundantly clear because, frankly, there is a whole lot of really seriously awful shit in that statement.

(1) People who adopt children are not necessarily (and possibly rarely) saving someone's life - the stories of why and how adoption happens are as varied as your own biological children's birth stories. Adoptive parents are not heroes any more than biological parents. God does not look down upon them with some kind of special favor and say "Wow, you are really an extra special kind of human; Well done, Creational Me." This kind of thinking is why the adoption industry is fraught with corruption and why birth parents are frequently villified or mistreated and, horrifyingly, ignored as a part of the adoption triad. It's saviorism and it's inexcusable.

(2) God does not work this way. He does not play our game of "let me be awesome and see how God gives me good stuff in return." Infertility is a serious biological issue that causes tremendous emotional ramifications for those who suffer it. And it is only one reason of many that someone might think of adopting, to be honest. Thinking that God would reward someone with a biological child because of her willingness to adopt is flat out blasphemy. My God is a God of grace who gives good gifts when He chooses to. NOT because we have done something to earn or manipulate them into being.

(3) And speaking of biological children, why is a biological child the ultimate gift? Her statement makes the assumption that the happy ending exists because they ultimately got pregnant. I cannot state enough how frustrating that way of thinking is. How hurtful it would be if my son could have understood what that woman was saying. "See...your mama brought you home and God was so pleased with her good works that he finally gave her what she really wanted." So many people during our own years of waiting on adoption would say "Oh, you know that once you bring that little guy home, you'll finally get pregnant." Um, no, we don't know that. And whether or not it happens that way for anyone is completely beside the point. Our children are our children - all three of them are amazing gifts to us. We are happy with our family's story

If I had known this woman better, I might have attempted to walk back over and share all this with her, once I got my speech (and toddler) back. But, more than likely, I was never going to see her again and when your toddler is attempting to eat dirt as a hoard of older children run by him, you concentrate on that and just move on. You sigh internally and hope the next stranger who approaches you just tells you your kid is cute and moves the hell on.

So friends, when you see a family that maybe looks a little less "typical", it's ok to just smile at them and say "hi." It's ok not to ask intrusive questions. It's ok to just be a normal human who minds his own business. My guess is if you eventually become friends with that person, he or she will open up a little more about their family's story. Just like you might about your own.

When, you know, you have a relationship that invites that kind of intimacy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Letter to My Firstborn on His 10th Birthday

To My Son,

Ten years ago on this day, I remember two things.

One, being absolutely starved and just wishing you'd be born already so I could finally eat again.

November 1, 2006
Two, being completely overwhelmed when you were placed in my arms. No words, no thoughts...just staring and wondering how it was possible that this tiny human was finally here.

And now, today, at 9:44 am, you turned 10.

What a ride it has been.

You were born in Virginia, came out of your shell in North Carolina and came into your own in Wisconsin. Now we are full circle and it's been, at least from your perspective, the hardest year of your life. You left all that was familiar to you, crossed the country with two very angry, very loud, toddlers. You searched unsuccessfully for friends during the longest summer of all our lives. You have struggled through your first bad teacher for a few months now.

But all that is beside the point.

I don't tend to wax too sentimental over the baby years. I have loved watching you grow and learn and become this phenomenal human. But there is something about this milestone that has got me thinking, pausing.

You, my son...well, where do I start?

You have the best giggle of any kid I have ever met. Your smile lights up a room. Your beautiful eyes are full of curiosity, full of kindness and hope. Your heart aches with those you love when they feel pain and rejoices with anyone who is happy. You play soccer fiercely and even though you aren't the biggest or the fastest kid on the team, you practice hard and you give your all. You read books about science before bed and want to grow up to solve global warming. You write books in your spare time and draw schematics for your Lego city. You consider it your responsibility and joy to keep your little brothers laughing and you make up better games for them than I ever could.

You are jocky and nerdy and funny and kind and sweet all at the same time.

The time is coming, though, when it won't be so easy to be kind. When choosing that road might render you uncool. When erring on the right side may mean you lose friends. When defending the humanity of your brothers gets you called names. When working hard at your schoolwork and wearing glasses might put you in the dork category.

When being unashamedly you will no longer be as easy as it has always been.

Son, don't let them change you.

Laugh when you think something is funny. Dance if your favorite song comes on. Play with any kid you want, whether or not the "right" label precedes his or her name. Continue to see girls as playmates, as humans with brains and brawn and creativity. As friends, not objects. Care deeply about justice and love.

Even when no one else does.

You won't look back in your twenties and wish you had tried harder to be like everyone else. You might, however, look back and wish you had the guts to be yourself, no matter the cost.

So, my beautiful boy, happiest of birthdays.
Ten years old!

I am not choosing the sentimental route, the route of wishing you were still little and I could hold you close. The truth is, I count it a joy and privilege to watch you grow each day. What I love and long for is to see you experience joy, right here, right now. To give me hugs if you want but to let go of you when I need to because it's best for you.

You have made me prouder than I ever thought possible.

Keep being you.

Fierce, loyal, funny, smart and kind.

And never apologize for it.

Love,
Your Mom

Friday, October 28, 2016

A Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

Given my middle child's recent obsession with Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, I am lucky my head hasn't yet exploded from having the theme song on a continual stuck loop in my head. Seriously...stuck there ALL. DAY. LONG.

But today, it felt a little bit like reality.

Some of you might remember that when we moved in here we saw a long list of yard projects looming before us. About a month ago, I decided to tackle the never-ending hedge that was attempting to take over the road on the side of our house. Rather than pay $1000 to have the hedge removed or severely trimmed, I decided to make it into a row of trees.

I'm not going to lie. I'm pretty pleased with my thrifty plan that turned out to actually look rather stately.

Used to be an overgrown hedge, now a tree lined street!
But the saving of the money in cutting them down also meant that I was left with a backyard full of tree limbs. TONS of tree limbs. And our county doesn't have any kind of limb or leaf pickup. (Really, Chesterfield?)

Last week I called a tree company to get an estimate on hauling all the limbs away. $350 to load up a truck, my friends.

Seeing all my hard work on saving money quickly slipping away, I tried to reason that this was at least still significantly less money than having that company trim or pull them out.

So.

I happened to mention this to a new neighbor who is fast becoming a good friend (and whose son is my son's playmate just about every day now and has thus made my day.)

Her reply?

"STOP. Don't do it."

And within minutes she had arranged for us to borrow a different neighbor's truck. His words to her when she explained what I was going to do to take care of the limbs: "We don't pay for stuff like that on this corner."

Well.

We said "yes" to that generously offered truck.

And then this morning, my neighbor shows up with my favorite starbucks drink and her work gloves and we go to town on that backyard. Together. Within hours, we've hauled a whole load to the dump and reloaded the truck and trailer. Most of the work was done while my littlest slept and my two older ones were at school.
Loaded up and ready for a second run to the dump
And the bonus to a now-cleaned-up backyard? Getting to enjoy my awesome neighbor's company while doing a job that feels very rewarding.

Were we the only two women at the dump mucking out a trailer? Yep.
Was my minivan the only one there? Of course.
Was my toddler the only baby watching a load of people empty backyard waste into a huge pile and loving every minute of said entertainment? Darn straight he was.

You see, friends, neighbors are pretty awesome. This is the fourth home we've owned. Every time we move, we pray hard, hoping that our new neighbors will be as awesome as our old ones. And each new place, we encounter a totally different set of people who surprise us in new and tremendously beautiful, human ways.

So, here's to my new neighborhood. To their generous and fun-loving spirits. To their smiles and welcomes and trucks and attitude that says "we are family when we live next door."

Richmond, keep up the lovely surprises. Perhaps God was planning some redemption for us here all along.

It really is a beautiful day for a neighbor.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Good

It's been a long year for our family. A really long year.

A stressful job search and decision, medical issues, an SPD diagnosis, a cross-country move, chronic insomnia for our oldest child, too many goodbyes, loneliness all around.

And now, my oldest son, who has always loved school, always thrived there and looked forward to it, has a rough teacher. I don't mean that she's tough or works them hard. I'd be alright with that. I mean that she's unkind. And grumpy. And sighs a lot. And, according to my son, makes a lot of kids in the class feel very discouraged every day.

And my son. Oh, my son. He is the kind of kid I wish I had been. The kind of kid who wants everyone to be included. Who aches when his friends hurt. Who sheds tears over a friend's parents divorce. Who invites the new kid to play with him. Who always, always, wants everyone around him to be happy.

So when he hears this woman sigh and shake her head as she hands back a bad grade and watches his new friends' shoulders hunch just a little lower, he retreats into sadness. He comes home with a heavy heart. He doesn't want to go back because he hates watching it over and over again.

And my mama heart? Man, it hurts. Hurts for him, hurts for his classmates, hurts that after a long summer of looking forward to school, a place that has always been safe and good and fun and challenging in the best ways possible, is now a place of dread.

But every morning, he gets up. He makes his bed, prepares his breakfast and packs his bag. I walk him halfway down the hill and give him a hug. (And silently rejoice that my almost 10-year-old will still let me hug him in sight of the bus stop.)

And as he walks away, I say "Find the good. Be the good. I love you."

I don't know why I started saying it.

He was really nervous his first few days. He was the new kid. The kid from another state who had never taken Spanish before and had to jump in. The kid who didn't know what SOL's are. The kid who had to look around the lunch room and hope that someone would invite him to sit down.

And those first few days, when he trudged back up the hill and tried, oh he tried, to be brave and tell me that everything was going well, I knew he was saying it for me. I knew he wanted me to be happy, to feel good about this decision we made to take him from all he knew.

But moms know. We just do.

So after a few days, we had to have the talk. The one about being bold and not caring that you are the new kid. About asking to play with the other kids and sitting down at a lunch table with an empty seat and saying hello and hoping they say it back. We talked about finding the good in each day. Finding even one moment where we could see God being God, where we could see kindness or fun or hope. And when we couldn't see it? BEING it. Making it happen. Making someone laugh or smile. Inviting someone that may already have friends to be your friend. Taking risks.

Finding the good. Being the good.

And now, over a month into school, I am so stinkin' proud of that kid because he put himself out there. He has made some good friends at school and in the neighborhood. He has worked hard at his schoolwork during a really transitional year. 4th grade is no joke, friends, and he's nailing it. NAILING it.

He should be able to look forward to school. But he doesn't.

So the conversations over the last few weeks have changed. I know he doesn't have the power to make his teacher smile or stop sighing or act kindly towards his class. When I'm telling him to be the good, I am helping him to find ways to see how she might be in need of encouragement. Make her laugh. Bring her a card or a flower. Something to show he's thinking about her. Praying for her.

Because if there is one thing I've learned about unpleasant people it's that we shouldn't rush to assume that's just who they are. Maybe something is wrong at home. Maybe she is grieving a loss in her life. Maybe she is exhausted and out of hope for our educational system. It could be any number of things.

Or maybe she is just one of those people who don't value kindness and encouragement and should likely not be an elementary school teacher.

I really don't know.

And some of you are thinking "Are you just going to let it go on like this?"

Not on your life.

Will I likely talk to her at some point? You bet.

Do I know yet what to say? Nope.

Am I aware that a number of parents in the class are already struggling with the same thoughts and dealing with their own discouraged kids and have already had conferences. Yep.

But for right now? Today? I am taking to heart what I say to my son every morning. I am trying to find some ways to be the good for her. To encourage her. To go that route first, rather than complaining. To find the things that she does well and thank her for them. To make her feel seen and appreciated.

After all, a little goodness never hurt anyone. Maybe that's what she needs most.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Playroom Fun

After moving a number of times over the last few years, we had two non-negotiables in this place that we are hoping will be THE home for the long haul.

(1) A circular layout so our inexhaustible children could literally run laps around the house.

(2) A room we could make a play/work room. Toys, desk, color, art. A place they could call their own but that could grow and change in it what it needed to be. When you've got an almost 10 year old doing homework while a 1 year old plays, you need a room with some versatility.

One of the practical things about being at a stage in life when formality and elegance isn't at the forefront, is that we were able to look at houses that had "formal dining rooms" and see them for what they would most likely be for us: the playroom. Because let's be honest- my kids LOVE to eat, but ain't no way we are trying to have any fancy dinners around here and our eat in kitchen is just right for our style.

So, when we found this house and our offer was accepted, I started dreaming about what I could create for my boys. I had found a color scheme I loved when I was fixing our Wisconsin house up to sell and I thought I'd stick with it. Cheerful, fun and isn't just "kiddish" but can fit in with the rest of the main floor.

So, the transformations...

Formal living room BEFORE: 

Green walls and ceiling, some seating areas and bookshelves.

Formal Living Room from Listing

Formal living room AFTER

Our Music room: soft grey walls, white ceiling and a place for our baby grand because why wouldn't you want live music next to where your kids are playing? We have a great room off the kitchen for our couch and tv and place to hang out so we really didn't need another formal space to sit. (Shout out to my in-laws for helping paint the white ceiling in the frantic days before the baby grand arrived off the truck.)

Formal Living room turned Music Room : Eventually when my younger ones don't torture
the guitars, they will be stored here as well.
Formal dining room BEFORE: 

Beige walls on top, black floral wallpaper on the bottom, slightly formal look, definitely used as a dining room.

Formal Dining Room from listing
Formal dining room AFTER

Our playroom! Light grey on top, medium grey on the bottom, lighter colored rug, custom made art by my son, an etsy find and my talented sister-in-law. Desk created by yours truly and my oldest.  Command center wall - an assortment of really cheap finds transformed by spray paint, different textures/patterns and re-vamps of previous DIY projects.



Playroom : Coral and mint bins from Wayfair. (Another shout-out to my in-laws, husband
and oldest for helping strip the wall paper and sand the walls.)

Command Center wall with homemade desk.

Most elements on the wall were re-purposed or spray painted cheap finds!

View from kitchen of desk area - I chose a long, thin style to keep ample room for
the boys to run around the circular layout and because they don't really need a deep desk.

My oldest walked in to the room this week once we finally had the desk done and the chairs in and said "Mom, this is my favorite room you've ever decorated. I could stay here all day."

If you want to know how I did any of the projects on the wall or created the desk, just let me know!

I call that success!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Rebel God

I think like a lot of people in my generation, I always felt torn between the picture of Jesus as this peaceful teacher who came to bring love and the one who tore the temple apart in righteous rage. On the one hand, He seems safe, good, whole, easier to digest. On the other, he feels unwieldy. What do I do with a God who can be angry and not in sin?

And I think that part of me, the one that really does love rules, the one who tends towards legalism, just couldn't relate on some level. Why so mad, Jesus? Why is it alright that you did that? Aren't you doing something illegal? Aren't you risking your very life just to tell some people they shouldn't sell stuff in God's house?

Over the last decade or so, however, I've begun to take solace in this latter picture of Jesus. The unwieldy one. The less predictable one.

In this Jesus who hated the status quo and wanted life for his people.

In this Jesus who stood against the people who had the power because they used it wrongfully.

In this Jesus who thought it was worth overturning tables in a holy space to make the point that God's leaders had their priorities wrong.

In this Jesus who was willing to destroy property to make it clear that the secular and religious authorities cared more about their temples, their corrupt systems, their rules and their money than they did about the humanity that suffered under those structures.

In this Jesus who was a rebel. A non-compliant. Who was ultimately jailed and murdered for asking the questions he did. For threatening a system that hat ruled for centuries, and ruled poorly.

Friends, if you call yourself a Christian believer, you cannot ignore this side of our God.

You cannot shout from the rooftops about conservative politics and abortion and then completely disregard "black lives matters" because some people are looting and you just can't "get behind a movement that might be violent." Um, if I recall, there have plenty of violent things that have happened in the pro-life movement, but I don't see you dismiss it. You can't tell people to find a way to protest peacefully and then crucify them when that means taking a very peaceful knee during our national anthem- they have that right.

Our allegiance is to God, not America. If seeing someone "disrespect" our anthem or flag makes you angrier than the issue that has caused that person to make that stand, check yourself.

It's really plain and simple.

You can't have it both ways.

If you want to follow this Rebel God, if you want to dig into this side of the man who walked this earth to bring us life, you must engage with this side of him. You must ask the deeper questions.

Why are so many people angry? MIGHT it be that something IS actually wrong? What do we do if that's the case?

Why do so many people feel threatened? And silenced? And unheard? And afraid?

What if things ARE unequal in our country? What does that mean to us as believers following a God who made his abhorrence for injustice clear?

Might the people protesting right now not be directly identifying with the ways the Jews felt 2000 years ago, a feeling we like to happily say we understand in our safe little bible studies but then ignore when millions around us are saying the same thing, as if humans have made some kind of amazing progress since then and suddenly rule with righteousness and peace and equality and so it couldn't possibly be true?

Today, I beg you, I implore you.

Take a step back from what you think you know. Take a step back from what you've read and been told about race in our country, especially if you were raised in the colorblind generation.

And ask God where he is in this. What He's doing. And what he might have you say and do as you engage it this rebel Jesus.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

His Dream Room

My oldest son loves 6 things.

His brothers, drums, legos, soccer, science and Star Wars.

So, a few years ago, when we were finally ready to admit that it was time to move on from the bedroom of his younger years, he started dreaming. He looked through google images, he went with me to find artwork, he picked out his own comforter. He let me create some art for him (to save us a bundle) and he even helped me with painting the room.

It was a truly delightful project.

We did most of it in Wisconsin so when we were moving I had to ask.

"Do we keep it the same? Do you want to change anything?"

"Mom, this time I want the drums in my room. And I'M going to unpack and put things where I want them."

Well, of course he did. So.

Without further ado, I'm sharing the fun room we enjoyed dreaming and implementing. We added in some new touches after we moved.

Here is what the room looked like when we bought the house (as per the listing picture):

Bedroom in Listing


And here is what it looks like now:

Because why wouldn't a storm trooper have drumsticks?

Science Corner

Brand new bed and art over it created by yours truly

Drums loaned by my amazing friend, Tiff and a dresser befitting a big kid

Needless to say, he's a happy kid!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paralysis

I had big plans this morning to finish painting our great room while the youngest napped. To finally be done with all our big indoor projects and be able to concentrate on the outdoors now that the weather is slightly cooler than hell.

Instead, I can't move. I'm just sitting here, sad, frustrated, angry, paralyzed.

A little over a year ago, my car broke down. It was at a busy intersection. My infant was in the back seat, not napping because apparently none of my children got the genetic memo that cars are restful to infants. I got out of my car and walked to the side of the road. At some point in my life, I remember being told not to stay in a car on the side of the road in case someone plowed into you. Probably there is a hole in that argument somewhere, but I was more concerned with the screaming infant than rational thought.

Shortly after that, a police car pulled past and then pulled over in front of my car. The officer got out, approached me confidently and kindly and said he had received a report of a woman with a car broken down and wanted to make sure everything was ok.

Was everything ok?

Welp, yes, it was. Just a popped tire.

But would it have been ok if I was a black man standing on the side of the road next to my vehicle? Would that officer have exited his vehicle calmly and confidently, weapon holstered?

Or would I have been another Terence Crutcher? An innocent man, a father, a college student whose car got stuck in the middle of the road and who happened to be in the way of some officers heading to a different call. And would they have gotten out of their cars and pointed their weapons at me? And would I have thought rationally? Would I have run? Would I have stayed still? Would I have put my hands in the air?

What would I have done if my car broke down and I was black?

Friends, I am seeing justification up and down on facebook. I am hearing people say "we don't know what happened" or "we don't know what the suspect really said."

Suspect? Really? Was I a "suspect" when my car broke down? Did I look like a "bad dude"?

Nope.

Because I am a white woman.

No fewer than 15 other people stopped that day to see if I was ok. Some people brought me water. Some people asked if they could help with the tire or if I needed a lift.

I was showered with trust and generosity.

Terence was showered with bullets.

And now I, yet again, have to tell my white son that our conversations about the world are going to look a little different than what his brothers will have to hear. I'll have to tell him that he will likely be given the benefit of the doubt. That no one will look at him, dressed in blue jeans and a white t-shirt with a stalled vehicle, and assume he is a bad dude who is probably on drugs.

But they might look at his brothers that way. They might.

My middle child is big for his age. Well, huge, actually. He's muscular and loud and tall. He wears youth small clothes at the age of 2.5 and you can hear him coming from a mile away. And I know from research that he will be perceived as a threat from a much younger age than a big white kid. I know from research that he will be more likely to have the police called for a school infraction. I know from research that his black skin may invoke a feeling of fear in people who see him and don't know that he is sweet and funny and only 2.

So there are other things I know.

I know that he will not wear a hoodie when driving when he's a teenager.

I know that he will not probably call the police if his car breaks down.

I know that he will never play with toy guns.

I know he won't be able to drive slower than the speed limit on a dark road if he is having trouble seeing.

I know that we will have to teach him that very scary line of learning to respect authorities and also knowing that many authorities will not have his best interests at heart.

And you know what?

I know these things because I actually know black people. I have friends who have told me their stories. Who have shared their frustrations. Who have LIVED with these fears and this knowledge their whole lives. Who share about the microaggressions perpetrated on them on a daily basis. Who are tired and frustrated and just about out of hope in our country because black lives clearly do not matter. Who are actual people, not statistics or articles or stereotypes in hollywood.

Who have lived and breathed a culture of hatred toward them their whole lives.

I've only been thinking about it for a little over a decade. And I don't have to live it.

But my sons will.

Today I am sad. So sad. Aching for Terence's family. Aching for all the parents out there who don't know if their children will make it home from the park or the bus stop or the football game on Friday night. Aching for my friends who aren't sure whether it's worth it to drive anywhere anymore. For the ones who have lost loved ones and had guns pulled on them for watering their neighbors flowers. Who worry about coming home after dark to their apartment in case their neighbors call the police on a "suspicious black person."

Aching because too many people in our country are never given the benefit of the doubt. Too many peoples lives don't actually matter.

And so even though I am paralyzed and my wall is definitely not going to be painted today, I continue to write. I continue to shout Black Lives Matter from the top of my lungs. I continue to listen and learn and teach my sons.

I continue to hope that things can change even in the face of overwhelming sadness.

Because if I lose hope, I fear I'll stay paralyzed forever. And that, my friends, won't solve anything.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Those Teachers

"Would it be possible for you to stay for a little while to talk after you drop your son off in the morning some time this week?"

A simple question, right? With my firstborn, any assumptions I might have made when directed this question would have run the lines of how we can give him extra challenges at home or "hey, we need a parent to volunteer for such and such."

With my second? Instant tension.

"Of course. Will tomorrow work?" (Best to get it done fast.)

Those who read my blog regularly already know that my son hadn't had the best first week of preschool ever. Meltdowns, tantrums, throwing toys, special trips to the director's office for "breaks." We went into our first weekend with an overtired toddler, a freshly written social story about how to use our hands in kind ways and the teensiest shred of hope that we might make it to October before being kicked out.

Enter Monday morning's question.

And then 24 more hours of wondering if we were about to be on the preschool hunt again.

This tired mama plodded into school on Tuesday, dropped off her toddler, who promised up and down that he would not be throwing toys today, and headed to the auditorium to meet with the woman who had substituted for his teacher the first week.

T: "First off, let me just say how much fun Nate is. He makes us all laugh.'
Me: "OK..." (She's trying to let me know nicely, right?)
T: "Second, he is just so sweet. He LOVES his little friends. And what a smile!"
Me: "OK..." (Wait, where are we going?)
T: "We just wanted to meet really quickly to see if you have some special strategies you use when he is frustrated that we can reinforce here at school? We can tell that consistency is key with him and just want to do what you are doing so he can have a fantastic year here!"
Me: (Finally breathing) "Oh...Oh, ok...yes, of course. I can tell you what we do at home, no problem! Thanks for asking!"

Friends, let me tell you something. When you have a "typically" developing child, you don't think about a lot of things that other parents might. You don't assume a phone call from school is about a problem that your child has caused. You can maybe go out to dinner or have guests come over without wondering if you will suffer for it for the rest of the week. You can do all sorts of things without assuming it will set your child on a course to meltdown mode.

So when you end up at a school where the teachers say something like they did to me on that Tuesday morning, you want to cry for joy. You might not have to cringe every time the phone rings because it is not you versus them. You might see your son light up when he sees his teachers because he can sense they are ON HIS SIDE. That they are FOR HIS GOOD. That they see the beauty and the sweet and the fun even through the frustrations and the sensory issues and the screaming. They see HIM, a little boy; they don't see a problem.

I have met a lot of teachers in my life. And most of them have been wonderful. I don't know how they would have handled my middle child. I think some would have only seen the challenge. And some would maybe have found it too hard. Some would have reacted like his new teachers. But there is no way to know who you are going to get when you take that preschool tour.

So today I am thankful for all the teachers out there who truly love children. Who don't just see them as problems to be fixed or challenges to be avoided. Who see the image of God in these little people who are so desperately in need of boundaries and love and structure and who maybe have brains wired a little differently from their peers and, therefore, need a little extra patience and creativity. Thankful that they see what these kids can contribute even now when they are challenging and see the potential of their persistent personalities.

Because of you, I know when I arrive to pick up my son, no matter what day he has had, you are working with me, with us, to help him and love him. You aren't waiting to tell me the worst of what you saw. I don't know how to fully explain to you how much of a gift that is to moms like me.

Keep doing what you are doing. You are heroes making a huge difference not just in the lives of those little ones but in their whole families.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Bounce Back

There's this time every night that happens like clockwork.

All of my kids have been asleep for awhile. No noise. The dog is snoring quietly on the couch. I'm finishing up emails or cleaning up from the day. Husband is working on dishes. It's almost time to start winding down for bed but for a few precious minutes, I am just alive.

And no matter what kind of day I have had, no matter how much screaming or how many meltdowns or how many times I've been pinched or kicked or punched, no matter how few minutes of quiet or calm there was in the day, I reset.

I call it the "bounce back."

It's that moment when I remember that tomorrow is new. That there is hope. That my life won't always be this loud, this out of control. That day by day we will figure out the special needs of my middle child and continue to learn how to meet them. That my other two will survive until we do.

It's one moment every day where I take a breath and say "I can do this again. I can."

Last night was different.

I had walked into my toddler's school for pick-up on his first day and could hear him losing his mind even though I was around the corner and his classroom door was shut. I peeked through the window and saw him sobbing on the floor under a table. I sighed. I braced myself, knowing that to get out of there with him and his little brother in tact, I'd need all my wits about me and an extra measure of arm strength. It ain't easy carrying a 40+ pound toddler in one arm and a 30+ toddler in the other, especially when one is totally unhinged.

I walked in, already ashamed. Already embarrassed. Already sure that he had probably treated his new friends poorly. Aware that there were other parents trying to pick up their smiling kids while mine made a scene in the corner. Trying to avoid their gaze, their stares. Hoping he hadn't hit their kids or if he had that no one was hurt.

Tired. Oh so tired of this.

We managed to get home, somehow. And later that day, he was asleep by 6 pm after a short nap and a rough afternoon.

And as I sat on the couch last night after the other two were asleep, the moment didn't come. I just felt defeated. Sad. Exhausted. And fell into bed, to the sweet oblivion of sleep.

People like to say "hey, you know this will pass" or "toddlers are terrorists" or "when they are little it's little problems, when they are bigger it's big problems so savor the little." The thing is, I don't know for sure that it will pass and it doesn't feel like little problems. And I don't like living my life based on a possibility that it will get better. It might not. There are no guarantees. It has been two years. TWO YEARS of screaming and meltdowns and defiance and injuries and isolation.

And let me be clear. I'm not looking for advice. We are still in the midst of lots of dietary changes, we just moved across the country, his teacher ended up NOT being there the first day of school and my son had to roll with a stranger we had not prepped him for. I should have expected the bad day. Especially after a weekend where we had people staying with us and messed up bedtimes. We know better. Sometimes I just can't handle the routine, the regimen, the sheer inability to do anything that might upset or mess his day and I say yes to actually having a life occasionally. But, there's no breathing room when I do. He can't handle it.

There was no bounce back last night. I woke up sad today and wondering if he's going to get kicked out of preschool. And hurting. Feeling so isolated in this. Tired of explaining to new people why he is behaving like he is. Tired of being embarrassed that he peed on the neighbors lawn (the ones we haven't met yet, of course.) Resentful that every day revolves around making sure we have the fewest meltdowns possible so that my other children don't end up with PTSD.

This morning, I walked my son in to school. We have been shamed before in these situations and I could feel myself tense up, waiting for some kind of warning or reprimand about my parenting.

"Nate! Hi! We're so glad you're back."

I looked at them and they smiled. "We've got this. He's a sweetie. We're going to love on your little boy and he's going to have a great time. Don't worry."

They could have said so many other things, but they didn't. They spoke life into my son. Which spoke life into me. They aren't going to give up on him too easily, at least.

As I sit here, he's asleep. My oldest is due back any minute from school and I am trying to muster up enough energy to greet him with a smile. He needs that. He SO needs a mom that looks like she did bounce back last night. And maybe I will tonight.

In the meantime, friends, do something for me.

Remember us the next time you see a mom who looks defeated. She might feel completely done. You don't know her story. Just pray for her. Or offer her a hand. Or a word of encouragement. Try not to stare. Don't say anything trite about it passing soon. She might not have gotten her bounce back last night. She might need a stranger's smile to give her what she needs to get through the rest of her day.

Do it for me, please. For my son. And all the other parents in my life who are going through this same thing for various reasons.

We love our kids but this journey can be so very, very hard.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Unhinged

About 10 years ago, I awoke from a dream wherein I had been scratching my face. As I was emerging from slumber, my fingers felt something real...something crawly.

A bee.

Yes, I woke up, indoors, in a bed, a place that is supposed to be a place of calm, of rest, of comfort, with an actual bee crawling on my face...in my very own 5th realm of hell.

Now, I'm actually an outdoorsy person. I love to sip coffee outside in the mornings. I love to take hikes and go for runs and play at the beach and dig my hands into deliciously fertile soil and plant things. I don't really mind spiders or worms or caterpillars or flies or frogs.

But flying, stinging insects?

I question God daily about why they need to exist.

I can't even watch videos about beekeeping. I can barely eat honey because it makes me think of them. I can't click on stories about killer bees or I will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. My fear of being stung is almost as great as my fear of being eaten by sharks. If a bee flies near me, I lose my mind.

I know on some level that this is irrational. I have no power over it.

This morning, there was a whole five minutes of calm. Not quiet, mind you, but no one was screaming or throwing or hitting. They were just eating. Sweetly. We might have even been a brief picture of domestic tranquility. It happens, be it ever so rarely.

And then this:

Nate: "Mama, big bug!"
Me: (Distractedly, as I'm packing bags to head to camp.) "Do you see a fly?"
Nate: "Nope."
Me: "Oh, what do you see?"
Nate: "Big bug. Mama, big bug!" (Pointing at the window excitedly)
Me: (Looks over where he is pointing and sees the LARGEST FLYING, STINGING THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. And it is INSIDE MY HOUSE."

I quickly run my options.

(1) I could run screaming from the house leaving all three of my children alone to deal with said insect. This could be asking too much of them.
(2) I could suck it up and go smush the thing against the window, but my instincts have always told me that if you go after something that large and dangerous, you will somehow miss and then it will attack you and then my three children will have a mother who has passed out on the floor from sheer terror.
(3) I could die.

None of those options were really frontrunners of rationality, so I had to regroup.

I frantically pulled all three boys out of the kitchen and stuck them in a corner of the living room. Miraculously, they stayed standing exactly where I put them because I am pretty sure they thought I was having some kind of colossal meltdown. (I was, actually, this was not an illusion. I was close to hyperventilating and my heart was banging around in my chest.)

I ran into the garage to find the wasp and hornet spray and came up empty.

Dialed the husband.

Reed: "Hello?"
Me: "PLEASE TELL ME WE HAVE HORNET SPRAY IN THE GARAGE!!!!!"
Reed: "What? Hello?"
Me: (Dog is barking frenziedly in background, Jayce has now managed to pull off his diaper and is peeing on the floor, killer insect is buzzing menacingly against the window and Nate is yelling "Big BUG!!! Big BUG!!! Mama CRY!)
Reed: "Umm...do you need the bug spray?"
Me: "YES! Did you unpack it?"
Reed: "No. But I know it's in a box in the garage."
Me: (Silent panic)
Reed: "I think there's only one box left out there."
Me: "Ok. Jayce, stop peeing! Nate, don't touch the bug!!!"
Click.

I race back to the garage, find the box, locate the spray and run back in. As I am about to spray a highly toxic substance in our home, I grab the two littles and drag them upstairs to Nate's room with Josh in charge.

And I take care of it - I use every ounce of bravado and adulting and caffeine in my body and I spray that bugger. I am literally dying inside as I do it. But that punk went down. I still don't know what it was. It looked like a cross between a hornet and honeybee that was high on crack. Maybe it was endangered. I DO NOT CARE. I would do it again. Unless Reed was around, then I would choose Option 1 above.

I washed the floors and the window. Things were miraculously (suspiciously?) quiet upstairs. I tried to resume normal breathing rhythms and slow my heart rate so that I would still not be in danger of passing out. So that I would look like I was in control when I went back up to my kids.

And I marched upstairs and opened that door. And found my 3 children sitting innocently and quietly on the floor reading books. (Friends, this has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE. Maybe I need to become unhinged a little more often.)

Nate: "Mama, bug gone?"
Me: "Yes, buddy, the bug is gone."
Nate: "Mama ok now?"
Me: "Yes, Natey. Mama ok."

But I'm not. I never will be. There will always be bees and wasps and unidentifiably large, hostile, flying, stinging things. I am still haunted on a weekly basis by the one that slept on my face. I will remember the killer one in my kitchen FOREVER.

And I'm pretty sure my kids will, too.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Follow-Through

Three times it has happened.

Three times we have met a new neighbor, a boy just my oldest son's age.

Three times we have been told that that boy would come knocking to play at a specific time.

Three times my son has woken up, gotten dressed, cheerfully done all his chores and waited for a potential new friend to knock.

Zero times has that boy shown up.

As a parent, there are fewer things more difficult than watching your child be sad. Almost two months ago, we took my son from all that he knew. A school he loved, a friendly neighborhood, best friends in the backyard, a fantastic soccer team, a church where he was learning to worship with other kids in a multi-generational setting.

And for two months I have watched him try to be brave. To smile for us, to help with his brothers, to power-wash our fence and help unpack the truck. To set up his room just the right way and patiently earn his way to new roller blades through doing extra chores. To find him sobbing in his room, wishing he were still in Wisconsin, unwilling to admit that he's probably mad at what we've done to him. Hurting.

And when these possibilities of friends, of humans his age living so close are dangled in front of him, I see his hopes rise. I see his step lighten.

When they don't show?

I see him crushed again. And in that disappointment, all the things he misses come rushing back in on him. The pain becomes even more acute. The homesickness grows.

I can't do much here. I can play with him and take him on special outings for taboo foods we can no longer keep in the house because of his brother's issues. I can teach him how to pray through this pain, how to invite God into it. I can do all this.

But I cannot be a nine year-old boy.

And what he needs is a friend.

So, I sit here and type as he plays legos alone and his brothers sleep. I asked if I could play but he wanted to be alone. I don't know how to get our neighbors to follow through. Today, after the disappointment, I marched him over to knock on their door. No one was home. Not once has anyone given us an explanation for the no-shows.

If there is one thing I have learned about my oldest it is that he never forgets anything. A promise, a casual comment, a word. They stick. If someone says he will give him a present, he asks every day for months if it has come in the mail. If someone says he will write, he asks me to check the mailbox all day long. If someone says she will come over, he waits by the door.

He trusts that people will do what they say they will do.

And I am so afraid that the more this happens, the more his nature is going to change. That he won't believe what people say. That he will have trouble letting new people into his life.

I don't know why that boy and his mama didn't come over this morning. I don't know why the other ones didn't come last week. I don't want to pass any judgments. There could have been an emergency. She doesn't have my number to call and let me know what's going on. Maybe she just forgot or decided it was inconvenient to stop what she was doing and go hang with the lonely neighbors. I don't know.

But man, I hate feeling helpless and I hate watching him let down. Again. And knowing that I, too, am capable of this failure, have not always followed through. Have not always been true to my word. Have flung promises carelessly at times. Have inflicted my own share of pain.

I cannot shelter him from the disappointments. I can only teach him to cling to the One who doesn't disappoint.  In fact, I know deep down that he has to experience this to truly be human, to develop empathy, to learn about the importance of his own follow-through. Of doing what he says he will do and speaking truth and life to the people in his life.

Friends, I don't know if you have children in your life. But I know we all have humans in our lives. And I know that as humans we crave to be able to trust, we desire to be sought after, to be followed-up. To be shown we matter.

Being people who say what they mean and do what they say has no small impact on the world. Following through on what we say is just one gift we can give to each other, one way we can be lovely in a world filled with so much unlovely.

Let's just be that, shall we?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Blank Canvas

You know that moment when you are walking through a museum and something grabs you? Maybe a glorious sculpture or the colors in a vivid impressionist painting? Something just touches you, your soul, and you stop. You breathe. You delight.

I always ask myself how someone went from a block or clay or a piece of paper to such a masterpiece. What went on in his head? Did she feel the need to create? Did it just pour out of this person? 

When I look at clay or paper or canvas, that's all I see. Maybe I want to write something on it, but there is nothing else. No picture, no image, that comes to mind. No creational force. I am grateful that so many other people in the world DO see what needs to be painted or drawn or sculpted. So grateful.

I used to believe that I didn't have creativity because of this particular lack in giftedness. 

But as I've gotten to know my God, my God who sees beauty in ashes, who creates out of nothing, I've seen that there is a piece of that image in all of us.

All of us have some area in which we see the potential of something. Not just what's in front of us, but what COULD be. Creational optimism. Vision.

This is our current backyard.

Used to be a playset, now a big bald patch with rubber mulch pieces embedded


Gate leading to more backyard that wasn't fenced...why?

All swampy weeds and overgrown landscaping

Old looking lattice covered in green and mud underneath the deck.
Deck (which is great!) leads to weeds and moss and, yes, more mud.














Right now, I type this painfully as I have poison oak rash between all my fingers and up and down my arms and legs. I am covered in mosquito bites from mowing what is not really a yard but a swampy, weedy, insect-infested forest.

That is the reality of what it is. 

For me, though, every time I look outside, every time I step on another weed or trip over an exposed tree root or look at the algae growing on the fence that has clearly never been power-washed, I see potential. I see beauty. I see God's creation in trees and shrubs and flowers and grasses just waiting to be tended and coaxed and given what it needs to flourish. I see a great storage space and a fort underneath that deck. I see little kids laughing in a sensory corner developed just for them. I see big kids playing on a jungle gym or jumping on a trampoline or climbing trees or maybe even riding a zip line from one tree to another. I see (if I look REALLY hard) a hammock hanging and my husband and I reading books together on a lazy Sunday when the kids are older. 

I see potential. I see a beautiful blank canvas.

I am SO glad that God sees us in similar light. Sees not just what is (and loves us there), but what is created to be. What can be. What should be reality and is already reality in his perfected grace even though we don't look that way on the outside quite yet. And that he's gifted us with that same ability to see the goodness around us in varied and beautiful ways. 

My backyard is not going to happen overnight- flowers take time to grow, we'll need a tree company's help and I'm not so sure my husband is looking forward to building another playset. It's too dad-blamed hot to plant anything right now. Really, it's too hot to even be outside looking at the yard. I can barely mow it without losing my entire weight in sweat during July in Virginia. 

So right now, I dream. I collect ideas. I draw them out in my head and on paper. I cross things out and start over. I scour the internet for creative and budget-friendly ideas, things I can create with my kids' help and on my own. I peer creepily into neighboring backyards to see what others have done.

And I go outside with the little ones anyway., when the heat index is below 105. We traipse through the weeds, we climb the trees, we water what little grass does exist.

Because even though it's nice to dream, you gotta dream while life still happens. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Relentless

I sit here drinking in the perfect summer morning. No humidity, timid, sweet noises from a nest of baby birds in a bush not three feet away from where I sip my coffee, they waiting eagerly for mama to bring their morning breakfast, me just stopping for a brief moment.

I tried to do this yesterday. To slow down, read, write, breathe. After about 4 minutes, my leg was jumping, my coffee cup was already empty, the oppressive lists closing in on me like one long, cruel tyranny.

But I need this. This five or ten or fifteen minutes that stops the chaos. My husband took the littles for a drive and the oldest is sleeping in.

Peace. Quiet. Calm.

It's been a relentless few years for us. We have gone through and are continuing to go through some of the most stressful transitions a family can endure. Two newborns, cross country moves, new jobs, mystery illnesses, chronic sleep deprivation, all the goodbyes and making of new friends only to say goodbye again.

Some days it just feels like too much motion.

And to put it bluntly, I am glad God is stronger than I am. Because there ain't no way I'd still be standing if His strength wasn't my anchor. If his hope and peace, even on our craziest days, weren't my truth.

We move in one week. We say goodbye, we load the van with reluctant children and we set off on a new adventure.

Not that I don't like adventures, but I'm hoping for at least a few years where we can have adventures to the beach or sleepaway camp. The kind that don't shake our family's rhythm, but just bring more joy and challenges into the everyday. I'm hoping for no more moves or jobs for awhile. For the chaotic daily raising of my kids alongside friends, of working and dreaming and lots of laughter. And way fewer lists. Of no major decisions for my husband and I to wrestle through. We have had our quota for awhile, thank you very much.

For my prayer each morning to be from a verse that has continually sustained me these past seven years of change and waiting and loss and hope.

"For God alone my soul waits in silence; 
from him comes my salvation, my fortress;
 I shall not be greatly shaken." 
Psalm 62:1-2

May it be so, Lord. May it be so.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Beautiful Church

This morning I led my final song as interim worship director at our current church. As I drove home, companionably chatting with my two-year-old , I felt an up-welling of joy and gratitude.

I have been in a LOT of churches in my life. I grew up in an amazing, non-denominational, small church family in NY where church lunches were full of lasagna, holy kisses and boisterous laughter. In college, I flitted around a bit- from a Presbyterian church to an Assemblies of God to an international church in London, finally landing on a semi-Pentecostal church in inner city Richmond where I was one of very few white people with a LOT to learn. That's where I was first trained to be a worship leader and when I really started to think about race in the church. From a country church in North Carolina to helping plant an urban church to a few more wonderful places in my early 30's, it's been an adventure.

And with all our moving around, I've had a lot of chances to be ON worship teams.

This was the first time I've really led one for more than a Sunday or two.

A number of people over the last few months asked me if this job was stressful with raising 3 boys, preparing for a move across the country and dealing with the special challenges of our middle one.

I never had to hesitate when I answered.

Friends, this job was life-giving. It was like a long sip of water after a brutal trek across a dry land. The chance to come together with other rational adults two times a week doing one of the things I love to do best? Well, it was magical for me. The laughter, the camaraderie, the moments we truly were able to worship together as we led (and those who lead worship KNOW what I mean)...well, it's making it even harder to leave, to say the least. The opportunity to work more closely with our pastors, to see their heart for our congregation and our city, the chance to see myself and those around me grow in our gifts and take risks together has truly helped me see again WHY the church is so good and so necessary even in all it's messed up beauty.

And as I sat in the pew this morning, having just participated in my youngest son's baptism with my church family, listening to my pastor preach about being at peace with one another, listening to his stories about the Rodney King trial, white privilege and racism, I realized again just how unique this place is. It's not the first time I've heard things like this from our pulpit. In fact, justice is woven into the gospel effortlessly around here all the time. It would be strange NOT to hear words about God's call for reconciliation and healing in our world. To be blunt, that is not true of most of the churches of which I've been a part.

I am really going to miss this place. Like all the ones that have come before, it has shaped me in new ways, challenged me in others and helped me to give of my gifts.

Have I been hurt by churches? Sure. Pretty badly. Have I been loved by churches? Yep, more than I deserved. Is it easy to be a part of one? Nope.

But here's the thing. There is no perfect church because there are no perfect people.  You can't put a bunch of broken people into community with each other and expect things to go beautifully. We are defensive. We are passive-aggressive or, some of us, just plain aggressive for no good reason. We avoid conflict. We seek it out unnecessarily. We thrive on and create drama. We keep to ourselves and don't let anyone really know us. We mess up all the time.

So, we hurt each other. It's just going to happen.

But after 33 years of doing this church thing (my mom started bringing me when I was 4 years old) I can honestly say this: church is good. NOT because it has all the answers. NOT because it is always a safe place. NOT because I can show up and consume things that might make me feel good for awhile. NOT because we sit around and sing Kum-Ba-Yah all the time while holding hands and throwing wildflowers around.

Church is good because it can be people, created in the image of God, struggling to figure out what that looks like together...learning what grace means, steeped in forgiveness of self and one another, rejoicing and mourning with one another, breaking bread together, pushing ourselves to be able to truly become the person God has made us to be.

That, my friends, is a beautiful mess.

So, as we say goodbye again, I pause to thank God for this current body of people, for one more Sunday to worship with them, for the relationships I know will continue and for the ways they have prepared us to take this next step of faith as a family.

Thank you to this family for letting us be our crazy family, for letting us be who we are, for being family when we have been far away from our other family for three years. I couldn't be more thankful.