Big Kids

Recently, Facebook did what it does best, which is essentially act as the scrapbook I don’t have the time or talent to make. It sent me a memory of a cute little five-year-old in a hospital gown, ready to go into surgery in a tiny hospital in Guatemala. Immediately, my heart and brain were back in that waiting room, squeezing hands with my husband and willing the door to open and the surgeon to walk through, saying all was well. 

Facebook sends me these reminders all the time...how cute and tiny my people were, the funny things they did, the adventures we had. And I hold them in my heart. And I know that, ten years from now, the memories from these present years will look a lot different. There will be photos of trips with friends, lovely sunrises, adorable dogs, all manner of memes. But there won’t be the day-to-day documenting of my people’s lives. Because Moms of big kids know that the meaningful moments we share with big kids aren’t the ones we can also share on social media. 

Maybe you’re a mom of a big kid, and the decisions and their consequences seem to have mushroomed even more than they proportionately should have.

Maybe the hurts and struggles of your kids are too tender to speak. 

Maybe the wishes and dreams are all upside down. 

Maybe your kids are nothing like you’d thought and yet….more than you’d hoped. 

Maybe you’ve crossed into the new borderlands of understanding that your love for them controls none of the outcomes. 

Maybe you sleep less than when they were newborn although you never thought that could be possible. 

Maybe prayers in your heart and words in your soul don’t match the anxious, frustrated words that pour out of your lips into their ears. 

Maybe you apologize and start over. 

Maybe you have had to battle for what your child needs when the experts cannot care enough. 

Maybe you fear the truth that you cannot make sure they are going to be ok. And then you set down the guilt you’ve been carrying when you accept what seems so horribly selfish at first: You can only make sure YOU are going to be ok. 

Maybe you’re loving the people they have become while saying goodbye to the dreams of who you thought they’d be. 

Maybe, when they were little, you allowed yourself the luxury of daydreaming….what would it be like when they graduated high school? Got their first car? Experienced the beauty and breaking of first love? Maybe now you know that daydreams and reality rarely line up. And that it is ok. After all, it was never our life to begin with; it only felt like it was, since we held it and shaped it and tried so desperately to protect it. But now we watch and we wait and we pray more than we DO anything else. 

Mom of big kids, you are not alone. We are all navigating this alien landscape. We are all amazed by the hugeness of the joys and the steepness of the difficulties. There is no MOPS group for Moms of young adults, so we need each other, to remind one another of the good news, too: That having big kids means no more animated movies. No more drippy “leakproof” sippy cups. No more paying more for your babysitter than your dinner itself. It means meaningful talks together about politics and learning that your kids have more insight than you on some things. Enjoying car rides and 80s music. Getting to savor a book while they swim freely without you. 

Moms, we need each other. So in case someone hasn’t told you this lately: You are raising good humans. You are doing a good job. You are exactly the mom they need. Whether or not Facebook knows.

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Heaven



I sat on the edge of her bed, holding her thin, soft hand. Her eyes never opened, but she knew I was there. I could tell by the periodic squeezes she gave me, the tiny nod of her head. 

I sang every hymn I could remember, making up lyrics to the stanzas that we frequently skipped in the Baptist churches of my childhood. 

I sang every hymn I could peek at on my phone, long-lost melodies coming back to my mouth from the crevices they’d carved in my brain four decades ago. 

I was about to leave, sure she’d never remember that I was there, sure this moment was more for me than for her, when I got to her favorite song, one I’d never liked but that she adored. When I reached the chorus, that weak, pale hand shot up in the air by her head. I’d seen her do that same motion, again and again, over and over, during a Sunday morning worship service. She was worshipping. She was in the stale air of the nursing home. And she was in the very presence of Jesus. 

Soon, she will be in his real presence. I don’t know what that will look like, feel like. I’ve never read a satisfactorily sound theological explanation of it, and I’d like to think that Jesus has decided that we humans who need to know it all should have something we can’t unlock.If we knew, we would probably argue or complain or wish something were different, better, with more cellphone reception. 

But lately, I long for something beyond what we can explain, beyond the medical definitions and predictions. After the months and months of watching both my grandmother and my dad suffer, all I ache for is an end to pain, an end to the loss of dignity. I hope for redemption and healing and wholeness, and although the experts and scientists and doctors cannot unravel what that looks like, I am learning to plant my feet in the swampy murkiness of “I don’t know” and live there.

I don’t know how the brain decides to let go, to stop, to tell the lungs to cease pulling in and pushing out, but I have the hope that my grandmother will walk peacefully through that thin veil, that she will use that pale, soft hand to brush aside the thin curtain, the breath of air that separates her from a beautiful rest. And raise it in worship to the one who will make all things new. 


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The Walk

I spent the afternoon with my grandmother, but I don’t know if she remembers it. 

When someone you love has dementia, there is no manual or handbook on how to walk gracefully down that path. 

How do you laugh at the most ridiculous moments while still showing respect to the person you love?

How do you protect someone’s dignity when they cannot do it for themselves?

How do you have a relationship with someone who doesn’t remember the very memories that built that relationship?

How do you recover from the exhaustion of your soul?

None of these have simple answers, but the overarching rule is just to keep loving: Loving her and loving yourself enough to take time for rest, for respite, for renewal. To remember that her eyes that now fill with confusion once filled with sparkle and excitement. And while she cannot recall those memories you shared, you are now the vessel that can gather their scattered pieces and hold them in sacred trust for her. 

When she asks the same question again, know that she is just reaching for a thread, something to weave together the tapestry of her day, to make it stay fast, to find some sense of it all. 

Allow yourself to feel the frustration and tiredness because it is all very real. You are walking through an unfamiliar land, just trying to get each other home, but this time home is a much different place than either of you have ever been. So be patient as you take wrong turns. Be gentle with yourself when you need to stop for coffee. You are taking a holy walk, but a wearying one. 

When you walk her safely home at last, you will know the peace of a job well done. It is enough that it is not perfectly done. It never can be. Then you will pick up your own path again, grateful for the views along the detour, knowing that your heart has been made stronger because of the climb. 


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The Story of the Butterfly



I sat on the park bench, next to my friend. She was older, wiser, someone who had known the painful shrapnel wounds of addiction, both as the one throwing the grenade and the one caught in its explosion. 

In those days, I was the one caught. Two people I loved were addicts: blow-torching their destructive ways across my family and relationships. The hurt and betrayal and agony had become so much that I’d crawled back into the only cave of control and safety I knew: that of an eating disorder I’d fought my way out of back in college. Yet here I was again, back in its comforting, suffocating arms. 

My friend did very little talking, mostly listening as a good friend does. She heard my hurt. She was a gentle receptacle of my rage and despair. I recounted to her how I had tried and tried; I shared all I had done and how nothing was changing. Then I quieted, exhausted and empty. 

And that’s when I saw it: On a tiny, insignificant yellow dandelion, a plant nothing more than a weed to be mown over and crushed under hurrying feet, a butterfly landed. Understanding washed over me. I knew, to the one who had created me, I was enough. Just as I was. That butterfly was just...existing, just being, not proving anything. It opened and closed its wings a few times, and then it flew away. 

Since that day, every time I see a butterfly, I’ve always remembered what I understood in that moment. I would still struggle. The addiction and the hurt were still there. Nothing in my world had changed, but my whole world had flipped upside down. Now, when I see a butterfly flitting about, I remember that I am loved, I am enough, exactly as I am. 

 And so are you. 





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Consider

You’re headed to work, and all you can think about is money. There’s never enough, and your brain begins the complex calculations of what will have to wait until the next time you get paid. You sigh. Will life ever get any easier? 

You’re riding the bus today, and it’s as crowded and stifling as always, but it’s just a means to an end, a way to get to your job, one you cannot afford to lose. You comfort yourself with the small hope that everyone else on the bus is likely in the same position as you. 

You know the route as if its turns were the lines of your work-worn palms, so it surprises you when the bus lurches to a stop. Everyone groans, figuring the delay is from more construction. That means you’ll be later than you thought. 

Until an unfamiliar pop sounds. A whoosh of air releases, and then another, and you realize that the bus’s tires are flattening beneath you. That’s when the screaming starts and the heat you felt before melts into icy fear. Those pops are no accident. They come from guns. 

Chaos takes over as mothers cover babies, as children’s eyes widen in confusion. But then: Silence falls like a dark wave as a man steps through the blown-out door and slowly climbs the steps, calmly staring at the packed rows of humanity. He holds his gun with the ease of someone who is used to wielding its power, aims it at the driver, and shoots him directly in the head. 

The noise is shattering and the shrieks that involuntarily follow are rapidly shushed by the other passengers. Who will be next? The quieter you can be, the better your chance of becoming invisible. 

The man sneers, kicks the bloody body slumped before him, and, taking his time, steps slowly off the crime scene. 

No one moves. No one dares. All you can hear are the sniffling sounds of people weeping. All you can smell is the warm stream of urine that has escaped down your leg. 

This is not a scene of fiction. This event played out on a very busy highway in Guatemala City, just moments before my own family drove by in our safe, comfortable car. We saw the carnage and had no idea what had occurred until we read about it later online. Tragically, this is not a one-off, a strange incident in many Central American countries. People, like the owners of this bus, are randomly selected and given an impossible choice: Pay the gang or die. Payment can come in many forms. You can sell your daughter’s body to them if you’d like. Or your son’s. Maybe your wife? They have plenty of ideas of what they’d like to do with her. If you cannot pay the impossible fee, more than you would earn in months and months of work, they know where you work. They know where you eat and walk and live. They will find you. And they will make an example of you. 

If you don’t want to turn over your sweet, innocent daughter to them, what will you do? None of your neighbors have any more money than you do. You are lucky to have the job you do. No one around you is building businesses or creating work. There is no way out. 

So you choose the most desperate of paths. Word has trickled back to your town that this path has worked for a few, that they have reached safety. You will flee in the night, leaving behind your house, the community you love, your job, most of your family. You will find a way to get your wife and children to safety. If you can just cross the U.S. border, you can call out for asylum. That is the only hope, the only way to turn away from the horrors that await your son, your wife, your daughter if you don’t at least try. 

Immigration in all of its forms is a complex issue. But the next time we think that we know, the next time we sit in our safe, un-threatened, air conditioned homes and tell people to go about things in one way, let us stop and imagine if the guns were knocking down our door. Let us at least consider what we would do to save our own sons, daughters, husbands and wives. Let us consider that there are true emergencies. 

Let us consider that, for every ten people who abuse any system, there are thousands for whom that system was put in place, thousands who are quite literally dying for it to work the way it should. 

Let us consider that living without a safety net to catch us in our need is something most of us will never experience, not in our country where the nets are built in for the vast majority of us. 

Let us consider that every life is divine and sacred, ours no more than another’s. 

Let us consider that we may be wrong. Or we may be right. But at least let us honestly and carefully consider all of the sides: the vast, prismatic mass of them. 

There is no wisdom without consideration. And oh how we need people of wisdom right now. 

Let us step away from the noise, the way we thought things were and at least consider. With prayer and silence and stillness, the kind that will then lead us to considered action. 

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24


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Dear One

Dear One

You’re about to head down a new road, take a new turn. Sometimes you’ll have trouble finding the turn, but that’s why you have GPS. Your old parents had to stop at sketchy gas stations and ask for directions and even then continue to get lost. But anyway. When you begin, you might be overwhelmed by the choices: So many people who seem to know the way. So many careers that might be The Right One. So many credit cards that promise to give you breathing room. 

Don’t believe them all. You have the answer, right in your gut. You will often know exactly what is true, what is right. Sometimes you won’t. When you don’t know, just wait. Breathe. Talk to people you trust (I hope that will sometimes include us, but I’m so glad you have a multitude of wise folks to talk to. Use them.) When you choose the wrong way, and you will, remember that there is always a way out. You may have to take down that old machete hanging on your bedroom wall and hack a path through the underbrush, but you can always, always find a way. And there is always, always someone who has also chosen that path. You only have to call out and find each other. 

I wish I could show you the secret shortcut around pain, but there isn’t one. When the hurts come, know that heartache can leave you tender and bruised, but don’t let it break you. Let it be heartache, not heartbreak. You can bend and not shatter. There will be times when you will think that love will never be yours again. It will. 

Sometimes you will ignore all the blinking lights and Road Work signs and will end up in a ditch because of your own mistakes. We will tow you out. People you love will pull you free. Friends will pick you up. The shadowy side of your brain will tell you you’ve messed up too much this time, that you’ve disappointed yourself and others. But there is no ditch too deep where Love cannot reach you. I once read the phrase, “You are hardwired for Hope.” You are. Hold onto that Hope even when life tells you you can’t. There is always morning and light, and you can begin again each day. 

The most important things you learn when adulting will turn out to come from your goof-ups, slip-ups, hurts, mistakes. It won’t ever seem like it at the time, but it’s almost predictable how consistently it works. You will buy the wrong couch and live with its squeaky, ugly floral awfulness for years until you can afford another. And this one will be better. You will learn what to look for by what you didn’t know the first time around. 

Most of all, as you walk into the world, don’t lose that sense of marvel at the magic all around you. It’s half-living to walk in a world where there's no mystery; where we can explain it all. It’s flat and one-dimensional to exist where there's no wonder, where we humans can take credit for everything. Because in the end, there is logic and there is laughter. There is data and there are dreams. There are maps and there are uncharted miles where footholds must be felt out, one at a time. You will find them. You already are. The view from the top is going to be amazing.


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On Freedom. And Ducks.

We accidentally bought ducks who could fly.

It’s not supposed to happen that way. Most ducks you purchase that aren’t already dressed for your dinner plate are designed to be well, dressed for your dinner plate. That means their wings are stubby little things that will only allow them to flap about crazily and reach the thrilling height of three centimeters off the ground. So that we humans can easily scoop up their eggs or their um….duck thighs. I am unclear on how the whole duck-eating works, as my house is full of non-duck-eaters.

These flying ducks were a random purchase since a predator had stolen a few of ours for his own dinner plan and we needed to build the flock back up, quickly. Instead of choosing a breed, we bought cute, fluffy babies from the local farm store, and all was well.

Until it turned out that they were Mallard ducks. The only ones who can actually fly. Farmers we are not. We discovered this phenomenon only because we pulled into the driveway to see a random duck standing outside of his pen, looking around like, “I am so not sure how I got out here, but this is amazing, and the rest of you should join me,” or something along those lines. Fluent in duck-speak I am not. He should possibly run for office, because his speech must have been quite inspirational as, day after day, we would arrive home to escapee ducks who had found their non-genetically-modified wings.

We clipped said wings (and let me be clear that any mention of “we” and a duck procedure means the “we” is my animal-expert daughter. But it was too late. They had tasted freedom, the bliss of life outside the pen, and we keep arriving home to see them wandering about, with happy noises in their throats and plenty of bugs in their bellies.

As often happens, I have learned a lesson from these silly ducks. When I reflected on their raucous leap to freedom, I thought how similar we who call ourselves Christians should be to them.

But we aren’t.

We stay in our cages because we are trained to. Our wings have never been clipped, but our brain tells us they don’t work. Maybe the church told us a list of things it “means” to be a Christian: What clothing we should wear, the political party we should vote for, the special lingo we should use, the way we should practice behavior modification.

We don’t fly. Oh, but we could. We could soar.

The ID card of our faith is supposed to be such crazy freedom that we appear drunk with it. The first people to ever be called Christians were so overflowing with love and liberation that they were accused of day-drinking.

Our entire identity is supposed to be love. Christians? Oh, watch out for them. They’re the ones always first in line to help and love people! Christians? All they talk about is love! Especially when they’re interviewed on those cable news shows.

In reality, our identity has become putting people into groups, classifying: This one is “in.” This one? For sure “out” and let’s give her a shove with our Bible on the way, just in case.

We are known by our politics, our legislative leanings, our opinions. We say we base those opinions on the scriptures, but a cursory glance at the Bible leads us to the inescapable conclusion that the early faith was radically different than ours. That the tenderly new Christian belief was so radically freeing and loving that people were drawn to it, puzzled by it, frightened by it; not because of its classifying of people, but because, in a shockingly new way, all of the groups that usually were excluded were now included.

It could turn out that these ducks will figure out how to fly right off our pond one day. They’ve certainly tried. They are not afraid of freedom, afraid that it will be too much. That they’ll be too duck-like out in the beautiful world. That they’ll influence other ducks to join them in their exploration. That their way of life will change. They welcome it. And perhaps, so do I. I will wish them well in their free new way. It certainly won’t be safer. But it will be truer to who they were always supposed to be. And who wouldn’t want that.


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Stay

STAY


It happens around every major election.


It happens on both sides of the aisle.


People start tossing around that threat: “If (fill in the blank) gets elected, I’m moving to Canada.”


But there’s another phrase we could try on for size:


How about you STAY?


How about you STAY for the friend of yours who made that stupid choice years ago and now has a mark on her record which means she can’t vote for far too long? STAY for her.


How about you STAY for the neighbor of yours who doesn’t have the privileged luxury of plunking down a credit card for a plane ticket to anywhere? STAY for him.


How about you STAY for the cousin who is caretaker to her aging parent and has to decide which medicine she can afford to buy that month? STAY for her.


How about you STAY for the child stuck in the system for whom a tiny, moldy dorm room on any college campus is a dream too beautiful to dare hope for? STAY for her.


How about we all decide that we will not hide out in our dark living rooms,  armchair-quarterbacking a one-dimensional world on our flat screens?


How about we all decide that, in the end, it’s not a choice between Red or Blue? It is black and white and every shade of the rainbow. It is all of us choosing to STAY because we are privileged enough to even have that choice, and there are thousands upon thousands who aren’t.


STAY for your neighbor, your veteran, your school, your community. STAY because the moments in life when we want to leave are the exact moments when our tenacity is most tested. STAY because you finally understand that the first step in making this country the way you long for it to be is not actually a step. It’s a rooted, committed, unwavering stand.


STAY.


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A Homeschool Mom's Thoughts On Back To School, Or The Struggle Is Real

First of all, let’s clear some myths up. Yes, people call us homeschoolers “weird.” We prefer “uniquely amazing educational travelers,” but let’s not argue semantics. Unless we can count that as a debate class credit.

 

The next most commonly-expressed concern is probably how unsocialized our kids might be. Yeah, well, that’s why 1. We blessed them with siblings and 2. We moms have to work 18 side hustles in order to pay for the 84 extracurricular clubs and activities we put them in. And then the entire family unit whines that we don’t spend enough time at home. The struggle is real, and we’ll assign a writing assignment about it to make it *actually* real.

 

We get the misconceptions, the myths, the muttered comments by cashiers when we are shopping with obviously school-aged humans during obviously school-related hours. We get that some people think we flutter around to parks and zoos and Starbucks, taking advantage of off-peak hours. Ok, that part’s true. But here’s the thing nobody talks about: Homeschoolers miss out on a lot of typical “school” milestones. Our kids don’t get an awards program, unless you count them standing in the living room with a piece of printer paper that Mom crayoned a gold star onto and being applauded by grandparents who are Skyping in. They don’t get homecoming or prom (no, those homeschool dances with the dress code that requires girls to not show .000018th of a square centimeter of flesh do not count, people) or state championship games or detention. Wait. Let’s institute that last one, STAT. But the biggest thing our kids miss out on, the golden snitch (everybody knows homeschoolers are not allowed to read Harry Potter, so they’ll have to override Safe-Search on that one), the Coveted Social Media Moment of the season is the Back To School Day. We homeschool parents scroll through our Facebook feeds marveling at the cuteness of plaid skirt uniforms and freshly-cut hair and ginormous backpacks and Instagram-worthy lunchbox feasts. We sigh. We may imagine we identify more with the parents who mourn when the kids return to school or the moms who break out the bubbly and sob with deep delight, but we don’t know either feeling, really.

 

Because when we send our kids back to school, there’s just one little correction: There’s no “to.” Unless it’s TO our dining room table. Or a blanket fort. Or a bike ride when Mom/Teacher/Principal/School Nurse/Guidance Counselor Has. Had. It.

 

Here’s the thing: I’ve been lucky enough to homeschool my kiddos all the way through, with a generous dose of online classes, co-ops, and friend groups. I know it’s a gift, and I love it. I wept openly when I realized that my oldest had successfully made it into college despite all my mistakes, imagined or not. But I also don’t want to teach anyone to read for awhile. Like, ever. Or have them repeat the times tables back to me. Or help them line up their decimal points. It’s not harder or easier than traditional schooling. It’s just a different kind of harder and easier.

 

So, if you send your kids off to school, I wish you a perfect Back To School moment and a wonderful year. And if you send your kids to their rooms to school, I wish you the same. Come October, the latter of you will be glad you don’t have to help the kids load up those ginormous backpacks and pack up those blasted bento boxes. Whatever your educational journey, we’re all in it together, and we’re all just trying to get these kids to retain 9/5 of what we teach them. Which is why I don’t teach math. Stupid fractions.

 

Happy Back to School. May your year be more full of lightbulb times than meltdown moments, but two things are for certain: It will contain both, and you will make it. Maybe with less hair and more pizza nights, but you’ll get there. We all will.

(Pro Tip: We decided to take the whole "back to school" thing and flip it on its head, so each year we take our own homeschool version. Here are some recent examples....)

 

Entitled, "When Big Brother Flies the Coop"

Entitled, "When Big Brother Flies the Coop"

Homeschool Myths: The Struggle Is Real

Homeschool Myths: The Struggle Is Real

The Summer Missions Trip

It was before the days of essentially being strip-searched before your flight. It was even before the days of the climate-controlled, enclosed ramp to the airplane. We braved the hot, windswept tarmac and climbed the questionably-secure metal steps to board the flight which would carry us to our life-changing adventure.

 

The year was 1986, and I was an eighth-grade student in a group of church friends headed to a small island country in the Caribbean. Armed with modest, floor-length skirts, a flannelgraph or three, and polish-free toe nails (the only cultural knowledge I had about our destination was that toe nail polish signaled you were a woman of the night, and though I didn’t even fully understand what that meant, I knew it was nothing a good Christian girl should be), we spent a week taking in fantastically beautiful beach views, bleaching our drinking water, and teaching local kids about Jesus.

 

I came home with a new appreciation for paved roads and ice cubes and promptly entered my ninth grade year thinking about cheerleading tryouts, making the honor roll, and not at all about my life-changing experience.

 

Years later, my husband and I moved our family to the country of Guatemala to lead missions teams.

 

Most people who came on teams were sincere-hearted, wonderful folks who wanted to help the world.

 

Most people who came on teams were kind and good and hard workers.

 

Most people who came on teams brought our family gifts and loved us well.

 

But during our four years there and after hearing the stories of missionaries who had spent decades welcoming U.S. Christians in, summer after summer, some common and worrisome themes began to arise. So if you or yours are considering a summer missions trip, I’d like to offer some boots-on-the-ground truths.

 

First, let’s be honest. Many of us send our church teens on a summer missions trip hoping that it will rock their worlds or at least get them to look up from Snapchat. Don’t waste your time. Your teen will come home with photos (and Snapchats) of precious children, with stories of how terrible the poverty is there, with cheap souvenirs which will end up buried in a closet somewhere, and then….he or she will go back to life, mostly unchanged. It doesn’t mean your kid has failed or you have failed or the $3,000 you spent on the trip was a complete waste. Just mostly a waste. But seriously. It means that your child is a teenager, and one week in another country is not enough to change a lifetime of culture and family and habits. My own children spent four of their most formative years living in a developing country, and while that length of time and breadth of experience did shape them profoundly, they are still normal teens with normal struggles. Although, they don’t use Snapchat, so I might be able to give Guatemala some credit for that small victory.

 

If you’re going on a trip hoping it will change your OWN life, don’t.  It is an insult to the beautiful people who live in that country and work there and have real-life relationships. The indigenous people you are serving are not stupid. They know how it works. They know that North Americans show up for five days, throw money and “superior” skills at the problem, get a good feeling and, for the most part, walk away. These people you are helping are just trying, like most of us, to get through the day, to have enough food, to raise their kids, and so of course they will take your help and say what you want them to say. But they are not fooled. They know exactly how it works.

 

Of course there are exceptions to the rule. There are friends who come, year after year, to foreign countries. Who build actual relationships and keep in touch when they leave. Who give money and real support to the missionaries and aid workers on the ground. Who provide respite and care for them. Who invest in the country and its people...without trying to take over, as we Americans are so wont to do. But the reason they are the exception is that they are the listeners: They talk less and listen more. They come in with open hearts and no agenda, except to find out what the real problems are, not the imagined ones. They come in with open hands and no opinions on issues that they have zero knowledge of. They listen to the missionaries, the local business people, the aid workers. They are not there for themselves, but for the people they came to serve.

 

And really, when you think about it, that is something we all can do, right now, in any country or city where we work. We don’t know the intricacies of a problem unless we are the legitimate experts in that field. We all have more to learn and less to say. And while we’re learning and listening, we can humble ourselves to work under the instructions of those who know what they’re doing, those who have put in the time and tears.

 

In the meantime, send your kid on that missions trip if you want. Or consider giving that same money to a missionary, NGO, or local church in that same country. I guarantee your $3,000 will be multiplied and used over and over again in wiser ways than we, here in our comfy American homes, can conceive of. And you won’t even get a crappy souvenir you have to pretend to like, so it’s a total win. Just make sure if you or your teen DO go on a trip, it is with a posture of willingness: Being willing to work in a way that is less about the feel-good for us and more about how it truly helps those on the receiving end.

 

Let’s do better. We can and we have to. This breaking world needs us to be loving, but love and wisdom can walk together.  

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Top Ten Reasons We Know The (Home)School Year Is Almost Over Already

 

10. Our once organized-by-subject bookshelves bear no resemblance to their former selves. Our new filing system is much more technical. We like to call it, “Let’s Hope We Can Find The Spelling Book Today.”
9. We do not dare plumb the dark, murky depths of our backpacks. And let the record show that, as homeschoolers, we only use them once a week, so we have less than zero excuses. But hey, in a pinch, we could conduct a science experiment out of them.
8. Having clean socks every day is overrated. I’m not naming names.
7. September looks like this: Everyone is up, dressed, teeth brushed and chores finished by 8:30. May looks like this: Everyone is up. Clothing? Eh. Let’s call it “Pajama Day.” And hey. It’s 8:30. Ish.
6. There are no longer any functioning pencils in the house. Let’s just look at it as a math problem: 1 pencil with lead plus 1 pencil with an eraser equals 1 complete pencil. Algebra complete.
5. Freshly baked, Paleo, warm-out-of-the-oven muffins? Those are soooo last fall. I hear “Choose Your Own Breakfast Adventure” is what all the kids are doing these days.
4. “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.” Someone once said those were the only subjects that really matter. Please tell me that “someone” was right. Please???
3. We have calculated all of the snow days that we haven’t taken as homeschoolers, and using a very specific, very technical formula, we have come to the conclusion that our school year should be finished about…..NOW.
2. Observing your own paper cut under the microscope counts as a science lab.
1. We’re laughing a lot more than we did in September. And we’re more relaxed. And that’s a good thing. And somehow….we still might finish that science book, and that math book, and that grammar book. And we’re still going to love each other at the end of it. So I’d call School Year 2017-2018 a success in my book. If only I could find it.

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On Concerts. And Facebook Posts.

If, like me, you grew up in the church culture of the 80s and 90s, it’s likely that you experienced the phenomenon of a CCM Concert. For those of us who grew up in the great state of Florida, the sparkling diamond in the Christian Concert Crown was the much-hyped “Night of Joy,” held each year at Walt Disney World. It was ostensibly an evening where youth groups from all over the state would ride questionably-safe school buses in and would enjoy any number of popular Christian bands who were performing all throughout the amusement park that night. But let’s be real: The true reason my friends and I were there was 1. To see what cute guys were in attendance, and bonus! Their presence must mean they were Christians, so that automatically meant they were dating material, and 2. To ride a few Disney rides and, pretending we were scared, scream until we lost our voices, which in reality was just a ploy to 3. See what cute guys were in attendance, and bonus! They’d notice us by our adorable screams.

 

We had, of course, carefully chosen just the right pair of acid-washed, high-waisted shorts to pair with our oversized, tucked-in-and-tightly-belted tees and perfectly coordinated with our scrunchie. Now, everyone knew you wore the scrunchie around your wrist so as not to mess up your highly-hairsprayed spiral permed hairdo, at least until the Florida humidity of approximately 8,000 % melted said hairspray, and then the scrunchie was ready to perform its God-intended purpose. But not until the cute guys had seen your hair in all its crunchy, Aussie-scented glory.

 

I have fond memories of those sweaty, Diet-Coke-fueled concerts. They were innocent and fun and we all rode the sticky bus seats home with tired feet and worship-depleted vocal chords. But I recently read a Facebook post about this Night of Joy event and found out that Disney World was cancelling the event after 34 years. The facts (which were not fully explained on Facebook….gasp!) are that a nearby amusement park has its own very popular, competitive worship night, and that Disney World, which has expanded exponentially in the past three decades, still hosts Christian groups for concerts in its other venues and in other ways. These details were lost on the Facebook post commenters, however, who emphatically stated that the cancellation of Night of Joy meant, and I am not joking, that Christians were being persecuted.

 

Since we Christians love to invoke the scripture about “speaking the truth in love,” I am going to lovingly lay down some truth:

 

We have no idea what persecution means.

 

We could ask the families of the men ISIS lined up on the beach; the men who, simply because they were Christians, had their heads sliced off of their bodies as the seas behind them turned bloody.

 

We could ask Abraham Ben Moses, who has been imprisoned in Indonesia for talking about his faith to a taxi driver. And whose wife left him for this action of his.

 

We could ask Twen Theodros, imprisoned since 2004. She took beatings on behalf of a fellow prisoner who was too weak to survive them, and she has spent these 14 years in prison simply because she attended church and worshiped her God.

 

We could ask the men who, instead of looking under every headline for imagined persecution, night after night, walk into the grittiest, nastiest clubs in the darkest parts of town. Who risk their lives posing as men who want to buy young girls for sex. Who offer to do despicable things to those girls and then, risking their own safety, rescue those girls, quite literally saving lives. Who undertake these dangers over and over again because they believe in the holy words that teach us that we are all equal, that there is no slave nor free, no male nor female.

 

If we use the word “Christian” to describe ourselves, then we need to use other words just as intentionally. The word “persecution” is one we cannot toss about. We can humbly and carefully educate ourselves on what it means, and then do something to help those who know exactly what it means.

 

In the meantime, if you live in Florida, I’m sorry you won’t get to experience the fun that is Night of Joy. I’d humbly suggest that you take the money you would have spent on that night and donate it to a family whose father or sister or mother or daughter or brother has been arrested. Someone who is experiencing persecution. Someone who knows.

 

If Night of Joy were still a thing, I’d probably take my kids. Or better yet, send them without me. In the wisdom that comes with old age, I’ve learned the important things in life: That rollercoasters and over-40 equilibrium don’t line up. That the ozone doesn’t appreciate my former hairspray addiction. And that those cute boys are all grown up and having knee replacement surgeries. But thanks for the memories, Night of Joy. At least the ones I still can remember.

 

(For more information on these stories and more, see the websites for Voice of the Martyrs and The Exodus Road).

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The Longest Game

It’s hard being The Good Kid in the family.

 

My oldest brother was the firstborn but, let’s be honest, I acted more like the textbook first-born kid. He had (and still does) charm in an unfair abundance, the knack of knowing exactly how to lighten the mood with a dry joke, and the good looks that made it all supremely impossible to compete with him. Except when it came to not getting in trouble. I gold-medaled in that category for all of our childhood, even when my youngest brother came along and tried to dethrone me. I’d give him a solid silver for effort, though.

 

Part of being the good kid meant calling my older brother (let’s call him Travis. Since it’s his name and all.) on his slip-ups. I was so annoying that I annoyed myself. However, there were random off days when I’d let things slide. One of my favorite memories of this was when we’d wait at the bus stop each morning and all of the other kids would be talking about the previous night’s episode of “The Cosby Show” (this was in the innocent days when we never knew what was really happening with Dr. Huxtable, so be gentle, people). Travis would “hmmm” and “oh yeah” along and nod and laugh with his friends’ comments, recalling the favorite moments of the sitcom, and inserting his opinions here and there. Then the bus would arrive, and we’d all swarm on in the mad race for the back seats.

 

There was only one problem: We didn’t own a TV.

 

I wasn’t about to call my brother on his bus stop performance because 1. I was impressed with his dramatic abilities even then and 2. I did not want the other kids to know how very, very deprived we were. I mean, no TV?!?! It was the 80s! Who would abuse their kids in such a way!

 

It wasn’t until my baby brother began walking and talking and asking questions that none of us knew the answers to (the kid was a certifiable genius) that my parents finally broke and bought a TV at a neighborhood garage sale. Finally, we could adjust the rabbit ear antenna and, if we squinted just right, could make out the shadows of the sitcom on the snowy, grainy screen. It was Utopia.

 

In the ridiculously long time it usually takes for these things to happen, it wasn’t until I was a parent myself that I appreciated my parents depriving us all those years. It forced us to be BORED, a word no one knows anymore. It forced us to read, all the time, so much so that my mom would make me put my book down and “just stop reading” for awhile. It forced us to conscript neighborhood kids into watching us put on elaborate dramatic backyard productions with props and sets and not really a working plot, and pyrotechnics (those lasted approximately .0003 seconds, until my dad put a stop to them). It forced us to think. To be still. To not have constant digital input. It was probably the best parenting decision they ever made.

 

For all of the times we (by we, I mean Travis, of course) argued with them about letting us have a TV LIKE EVERYONE ELSE DID, for all of the times we felt unlucky and peered through imaginary windows into other living rooms where other, cooler families gathered closely around glowing screens WITH COLOR IMAGES, my parents did not budge. It was like they could see something we couldn’t, something called an end game, and what it has taught me is this:

 

Parenting is the longest game.

 

We make choices for our kids sometimes based upon research and reflection and sometimes based solely upon our gut instincts. Trust those choices.

 

We sacrifice the good feeling of our kids liking us all the time. We sacrifice an hour of their fuming or being disappointed for the hope that their characters will eventually be the better for it. Trust those sacrifices.

 

We stand up to their sass and we stand up FOR their protection. We stand with them when they’re hurt and we stand up and draw a hard line when it needs to be drawn. Trust those stands.

 

We give our hearts, we give our advice, we give Yeses and we give Nos. Trust what you give.

 

We do all of these things never knowing how it will turn out. Will they eventually leave home and never look back? Will we have prepared them enough? Will they ever understand how much we love them and why we made those choices? We don’t know, and we may have to wait decades for those answers.

 

If you’re in the midst of the Longest Game today, and your heart is breaking for a kid who struggles with depression, a kid whose choices completely baffle and worry you, a kid whose words pierce your tender feelings over and over again, or a toddler who just plain wears you out, don’t quit. Find others, those ahead in the journey and those behind, those without kids, and talk to them. Ask them questions. Tell them what’s really going on with your kids, not the overly-filtered Instagram story you want them to see. You’ll probably discover that it’s true for them, too. Even if none of you have the answers, you have each other. Don’t sit alone in your hurt, because loneliness multiplies pain.

 

I’m lucky enough to still have my parents around. If you are, too, call them and thank them for being so mean to you when you were a kid. Thank them for never quitting on The Longest Game, even when they wanted to, even when they put up with all of our mistakes: The silly, immature ones, and the big, painful ones that cost them hours of sleep and gave them more pain than we ever understood until now.

 

It’s so much pressure to parent, to “get it right.” We haven’t, and we won’t, not any of us. Let’s trust the love and gut instinct we have for our kids and know that, with others on our team, we can stay in the game, strong and renewed.

 

But I’d highly recommend a TV along the way.

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#Blessed

If you are currently eating something, I’m going to need you to put that down.

 

No, really. Set the peanut butter cup aside. It’ll keep for just one second.

 

When we lived in Guatemala, I bought each week’s fruits and veggies at an open-air market, a place to which said produce had traveled by truck over dirt roads and was now sharing a space with flies, both live and dead iguanas (I jest not), and all manner of flora and fauna.

 

Now. The fruits, especially, were the most delicious things we had ever tasted. In fact, when we moved back to the States and my son ate a banana purchased at the local grocery, he promptly spat it out and declared, “This doesn’t even taste like a banana!” He was not wrong.

 

The only price we had to pay for delicious, perfectly-ripened produce was a little one. Microscopic, in fact. Just a teeny tiny thing called a parasite.

 

We were diligent about bleaching and washing and sanitizing our food and water, but those little boogers were tenacious, so getting sick now and then was simply a part of life we all dealt with. In fact, once a year we had to de-worm our kids with meds, a liquid which I’d naively assumed was reserved for canines. Silly, silly gringa. Whenever we felt the….um….effects of parasites, we would simply drop off a….um….sample at the local laboratory building, get our self-diagnosis confirmed, and then stop off at the pharmacy to choose from an assortment of tinctures and pills. No prescription required. We’d feel better in mere days.

 

The only problem arose when I kept getting re-infected, over and over again, and not getting better. At one point, I even had to fly back to the States for testing, and I still have what will be lifelong health struggles related to that time. But, during the height of my illness and discouragement over it,  I opened my email one morning to find a note in my inbox which basically read this:

 

“Dear Jessica, I am so sorry to hear that you have been sick. I wanted to let you know that, if you had more of the Holy Spirit in your life, this would not be happening. Sincerely, *&!?$”

 

Ahhhh, sooooo...what my intestines were lacking was a filling of the spirit. If only I had known, I could have requested that at the pharmacy.

 

I laugh about that email now, but at the time I was a bit, shall we say, PISSED OFF. And hurt. And bewildered.

 

And the thing is, I feel much the same way today about the conversations happening in our country.  I was recently informed that, because someone’s bank accounts were overflowing this year, it was clear evidence that the blessing of God must be upon the USA.

 

I was additionally informed that we are all #blessed because employment rates are looking pretty good these days. In another conversation, I overheard someone declare that, since they were getting more cash money in their pockets this year, the Lord had favored our land.

 

This is how twisted our thinking has become. If we have the spirit, we won’t have health problems, like I did.  Really? Because I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul was told his thorn in the flesh wasn’t going anywhere. And we all know what a slack-off Christian he was.

 

I’m also no financial planner, but I’m fairly positive Jesus’s 401K was not returning good dividends. And we all know how far from the father he was.

 

I do know every time Jesus mentioned money, it had more to do with ways to share it and how to worry less about it than ways to hoard it and how to obsess over it.

 

The problem is not with saving, investing, being health-conscious. The problem begins when we apply our own lens to what Jesus said, and we all do it. I’m doing it even now. But when we carry our conclusion to its logical end, what does it mean?

 

In my case, it meant that sickness was a result of lacking faith. Does that mean that every sweet mother who died too soon from breast cancer, every tiny baby who never took a breath, every child gunned down by violent hands was any less precious, any less valuable, any more a sinner than anyone else? Who sinned in these cases?

 

In the case of the economy, the argument means that abundance equals blessing. Does that mean that every family toiling in those fields of Guatemala to bring their offerings to market each week is less loved by the divine? That because they struggle and have to feed their babies coffee instead of milk; that because they will never even own a home with running water; that because “saving for college” is a phrase they will never, ever utter...are they less loved, less #blessed? What wrongs did they do that exempted them from prosperity?

 

If one more person utters the phrase “God is good, all the time,” to me after they find a great parking space or get a new shirt, or find a great deal at the store, I will first politely key their car, in Jesus’s name, and then I’ll remember this truth: It’s hard to believe that God is good all the time. I can and must choose to. Every day. Especially on the hard days. I have to believe that the divine does not have a Dark Side. Perhaps you are trying to as well. But God’s goodness has exactly zero to do with prosperity and lack of trouble in this life. In fact, the most faith-abundant people I know generally are the ones with little money and the most struggles. That is where faith shines the greatest, when it comes from those with the least.

 

You can go ahead and pick your snack back up now. And if your 401K is overflowing, great. If your health is stellar, amazing. These are things to be thankful for, to never take for granted, to celebrate, but they are never things by which to measure our faith. That is something I’d rather leave up to Jesus, whose ways of teaching and living flipped the world’s system on its backs.

 

So have a #blessed day. And I may not have enough of the spirit, but I do know one thing: Stay away from those veggies.

 

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The Last Diet You'll Ever Need

It’s late January. Also known as the time by which the New Food Plan, the one that was going to rock our world, cause our skin to glow with an unearthly radiance, and mostly get us into back into those jeans (you know...the ones where we’ve popped that top button back open by 11:42 a.m.) has gone the way of every other diet we’ve ever attempted.

 

It happens every year, after we have relaxed and enjoyed (read: ate) our way through parties and holidays. We resolve that this time, this year, we will get “healthy” (read:skinny).

 

As a former professional dieter, I have decided to save you approximately $840 in cookbooks, $1,125 in special ingredients, and countless hours of frustration, which is valued at infinity dollars. Here are my expert reviews of the top diets:

 

The Low-Fat Diet: This is the one for you if you want your food to taste like….well, nothing. Fat equals flavor, so when you take that out, you are left with chicken that is dry, turkey that is NOT bacon (it’s a sacrilege, is what is is. Truth in love, people), and eggs that are missing the only part of the egg that contains any taste whatsoever. What you get in return is, basically, yogurt. With floaty pieces of things that resemble what once was a fruit. Enjoy this diet for the five days it lasts until you find yourself straight-up gnawing on a stick of real butter, bless your heart.

 

The Low-Carb Diet: I’d like to take this opportunity to point out that all of these diets start out with the word “low.” That’s a clue: It is a reminder of how you will feel once you are a week into them. Anywho. This diet is for you if you’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a case of the gout. Enjoy all of the meat and all of the animal parts. Drink bone broth (maybe it’s just me, but “bone” is not a word that ever gets my taste buds revving). But whatever you do, don’t eat that evil bread. It is the work of Satan put on Earth to destroy you. Of course, all that this restriction means is that you will want bread more than you’ve ever wanted anything in the history of ever. You will dream about it, fantasize about slathering it with all of the butter you cheated on your Low-Fat Diet with, and eventually, you will steal a biscuit right out of the hand of a baby, but only after you’ve successfully alienated your entire family with your grumpy, hangry behavior.

 

The Low-Sugar Diet: Sugar has recently been listed as a huge threat, right above ISIS and just next to nuclear war. It has been credited with causing disease, digestive issues, wrinkles, pimples, and crankiness. Oh yes. And happiness. What would the world be without chocolate and yummy coffee drinks and ice cream? That’s a world I don’t care to know, so I recommend putting this diet right back in the Seventh Circle of Hell where it belongs.

 

The Keto Diet: I recently read an article detailing this particular plan, which is having its moment in the spotlight (better turn down that spotlight, however, because everything you can eat on this diet will melt within moments, since it is comprised entirely of fat). The author  completely lost me when he detailed how he eats an entire stick of butter during the course of his dinner. Unless you are bailing on Diet #1, butter is a condiment, not a main course. Also, I have questions about how, on this plan, vegetables are treated as more of an option: Take them, leave them, wrap them in grease, whatever. So, on second thought, this sounds like the perfect diet for my kids, whose faces register abject terror whenever a veggie sneaks onto their plates. Sign them up. Stat.

 

The Juicing/Liquid Diet: Years ago, I had extensive jaw surgery which meant I had to subsist on liquids for six weeks. Unless you are recovering from a similar thrilling experience, I offer this advice to you: If you have more than five working teeth in your head, use them according to their intended purpose, which is to chew things. Surviving on liquids alone will make you either 1. Feel as if you are on the verge of fainting at any given moment, which is a super-productive way to spend your day, or 2. Ponder the pros and cons of putting lasagna straight-up into your blender.

 

The Low-Calorie Diet: This diet just involves eating less than you expend, which 1,000% of the time evolves into trying to out-exercise your eating. And although math tells us that 2 + 2=4, calorie math after a certain age is basically this: Run an ultra marathon and find that you have burned enough calories to eat one tablespoon of sour cream. Congratulations!


 

The Everything in Moderation Diet: As someone who battled disordered eating for far too many years, I wasted so much time reading and studying every latest and greatest diet. I am convinced that, apart from counseling and therapy, laughter has been my most powerful weapon in this fight for balance. Laughter at the absurdity of it all has helped me calm the ?(*&! down about food. It’s always a journey, a process, but that journey reveals that every diet road will eventually lead us to disappointment and discouragement. The only lasting way to health is to eat all of the food groups, just not all of them in one sitting.

 

So here’s to 2018. May we all be healthy. May we choose strong over skinny, and may we wonder over the flavor and beauty of food more than we worry over it. I’ll raise a stick of butter to that.

 

 

 

 

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There Are Women

 

Last week, my grandmother had heart surgery. It was supposed to be minor, but there is nothing “minor” when 1. It involves one’s heart and 2. The aforementioned heart is 84 years old and the proud owner of a pacemaker whose battery has decided to die. There were a few glitches that made the surgery more difficult than we’d thought, but she is here and she is getting stronger, and she is spending her recuperation time at my home.
She’s an early-morning person (and by early, I mean that she would give the roosters a run for their jobs), and so we have had some sweet (albeit sleepy) conversations over coffee while waiting for the sun to catch up to us overachievers. This time together has reminded me anew that there is a whole breed of women who have overcome betrayal and pain and horrific loss and abuse and have emerged with grace and loveliness. This is not by some crazy chance, but by their vulnerable choices and by open hearts and by the steel-strong love which can say “enough” when it needs to be said.
I am inspired anew. So today, I remember that there are women…
Women whose hands are freckled and bent, wrinkled and worked.
Women whose feet have stood firm on this planet: on the hard ground, cracked with days and months and years of wanting; or on the washed-out waste of too much.
Women who have thrust themselves arm-deep into the learning of living. Of loving. Of losing and giving.
These are the women.
These are the mothers I want for my daughter.
These are the sisters I want for myself.
These are the women whose eyes are full: sparking, tumbling, thick with battle-won wisdom, the kind that only comes from staring strong into the dark sockets of death and despair, of horror and helplessness. The kind that only comes from wading into the waters, not unafraid, but brave in spite of the fear.
These are the women whose tribe I want to join. Not the kind who whisper secrets and stories behind backs. The kind who reach into the fire and pull a sister out.
Some days, I am the woman I want to be. Some days, I am a mess, and I need a sister to be that woman for me. Could we be these mothers and friends and companions? For us and for our daughters…whether they be daughters of our bodies or daughters of our hearts? Could we hold each other’s arms and hearts up? Could we be louder in each other’s ears than the insidious lies wafting all around us and within us?
The truths that we are loved and we are so very needed. The truth that the world would be strangely off-kilter without each one of us taking up our part, or maybe passing it on to another when we are exhausted and it becomes too much.
It’s about realizing that we are all on the human team, that we are braver and better and brighter in our light when we battle together, instead of against each other.
So today, every day, I applaud and salute you, fellow fire-reachers, fellow generation-teachers, fellow strong and tired and overwhelmed and yet-still-giving women. I’m proud to be in your Tribe.

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The Man in the Santa Hat

  It’s a time-honored tradition of parenting: Attending The Christmas Program. Because in December, when our schedules are already booked so full that a glimpse of the long lines at Target is enough to give us a Yuletide panic attack, let’s put another event on the calendar! Let’s all gather together in a stuffy auditorium and watch kids we don’t know warble their way through songs and remember every third line while we prop our eyelids open with coffee stirrers. Because we are so stopping at Starbucks before the show. Mama has her limits.

 

   Last weekend was one such event, where parents and grandparents filed into theatre seats and settled in for a twelve hour performance of Oliver Twist.  Oh, I jest. I’m pretty sure it hovered around the 9 and ½ hour mark: A downright Cliff Notes version of the classic. My daughter had never performed in a drama before and was understandably nervous, so of course I waved like an idiot and signed, “I love you” when we made eye contact and generally over-Mommed like usual. I do want her to have consistency in her life, after all. At some point, I glanced over at my husband, because I enjoy watching people watching things more than I enjoy the actual watching of things (if you understood that sentence at all, kudos to you) and my brain vaguely registered the fact that he was sporting a cheap polyester Santa hat, a cap whose origin was unknown to me.

 

   Sometime after the show (which, to be fair, was performed by students with actual talent and ended up being enjoyable), we were standing around the lobby in the also time-honored tradition of parenting: Waiting around for your kids so that you can taxi them home. My husband off-handedly mentioned that he’d worn that Santa hat so that our daughter would not be anxious in her stage debut. So that she would be able to spot him easily and watch his smiles and encouraging nods to her. And she did. And her bubbly chatter and euphoric smile after the show confirmed that what he had done had worked. There was no fear, no stage fright; just a reassurance that her people were there cheering her on and embarrassing her, of course, since we would not want the time-honored parenting tradition trifecta to be incomplete.

 

   Later that night, when wiping off the kitchen counters for the eleventy-hundredth time of the day, I thought about that man in the Santa hat, realizing what a gift he had given a nervous teenage girl. He did it without a thought for how a silly one-dollar hat made him look in a nice theatre full of church-dressed folks.

 

   I don’t often write about marriage because, when I was in dark times in my own, my heart would shatter when I read pithy essays about how wonderful someone’s husband was or how deliriously in love the two of them were, how they were in complete sync and were the best of friends and had the cute Olan Mills photos to prove it (For you youngsters, we used to take pictures indoors. In actual studios. With nary a chalkboard or Mason-jar candle in sight. They were desperate, hairspray-filled times). I would wonder what was wrong with me. Surely no one else in the history of marriage-dom had ever gone down the painful roads I was travelling. Why did everyone else have it all figured out? Why was my marriage so very hard?

 

   There’s a gift in being in your mid-ish-forties, though. It’s not that you learn how to take better family portraits. It’s an unsexy word called perspective, but it changes everything, because now I realize that the romantic ideals I wanted in my twenties, like a proposal in front of the Eiffel Tower (well, ok, I still wouldn’t turn that down) are not the things I want anymore.

 

Marriage is about being on the same team, even if you have to fight like hell to get there.

 

Marriage is about forgiveness: For the big, painful things and the everyday annoyances.

 

Marriage is about consistency: Knowing that you have a partner to manage life with. Being angry with them when they let you down and forget the errands you asked them to run, and then erasing the score and moving forward, knowing that you will need that same grace shown to you again and again.

 

Marriage is about parenting, for many of us: It’s about late-night conversations with a child who needs to talk, even when you and your spouse are both beyond exhausted, because you desperately want those kids to do it better than you did.

 

Marriage is about acceptance: Life will bring devastating pain. People will get sick. There will be loss and disillusionment. So you accept what the truth really is, and you grieve and you get back up and you take turns being the strong one.

 

Marriage is about getting help when you need it: If you are in the place I once was….if you feel alone in your hurt and sadness, you are not. There is not a relationship on the planet that has ever lived up to its partners’ expectations for more than 5 minutes. There is healing in talking to a trusted friend, a counselor. And don’t stop with just one advisor. I have received the most ridiculous marriage advice from well-intentioned pastors and teachers, and there is no guilt in letting the wind blow that chaff away and going elsewhere to get a second opinion.

 

Marriage is sometimes about staying and sometimes about leaving. No one else can answer that question but you and the still small voice within you. There is no shame in either choice, because you must be able to say, in the end, that it is well with your soul.

 

   Today, for me, marriage is about remembering again why I married that man in the Santa hat: Not for the adventure, although there has been plenty, and not always of the fun variety. Not for the love story, because I would rewrite some of our chapters if I could. Not for the companionship, because no one human can erase the deep loneliness that rises to the surface in each of us. Marriage is for the family and the life we have created, in whatever shape that takes on, in whatever twists I know will be on our travels. It is for the promise that there will be roads ahead. It is for the knowing that there is a man in a Santa hat who will love his kids enough to look like a crazy person in a theater, smiling and waving and reminding them that they are never alone in this scary world. It won’t be perfect, and I have no guarantees that it will even be forever: Life and loss have taught me that hard lesson already. But it’s about finding and holding the small moments...the Santa hat moments….that, one by one, make up a life and a love and a family, on the days that we like each other and the days that we need a little space. It’s no script a movie will ever be made of, but it’s a truer love story than any screen could tell.




 

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My Realistic Christmas Letter

 I’d like to be one of those people who sends out family pictures at the holidays. You know the photos: Every member of the tribe has used actual deodorant, has allowed a hairbrush to float about the general vicinity of his or her scalp, has donned clean-enough clothing and will stand still long enough to smile or at least to crack open his or her lips and show off that grill, also known as braces. Or more accurately known as the reason they’re getting fewer Christmas gifts this year.

 

    I’ve been a mom for 19 years now and I’ve recently used a complicated mathematical formula by which I add 56, divide by good intentions, carry the pets, cross multiply by exhaustion and end up with the sum of my average: Over those 19 years I’ve sent out exactly one Christmas letter. Yay underachieving!  I’ve accepted the fact that I’m just not ever going to be a family Christmas card person. But recently I’ve wondered, if I did break my impressive non-communicatory streak, what would my Realistic Christmas Letter look like? One that wasn’t perfect and polished? One that told the actual story of a year? Now, don’t get me wrong…I love reading people’s years in review. It brings me holiday cheer and goodwill toward all to know that they are doing well. But I think my letter would look a little more like this:

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

    Let’s be honest. I’m never going to mail this out because just driving by the Post Office is enough to make me ponder the pros and cons of working Valium into my life. I’m leaning in heavily toward Yes about now. I mean, I keep meaning to go to the pre-paid postage website and sign up for the Magical Never Go To The Post Office Again subscription I’ve heard tales of, but I’ve been a little busy.

 

    Busy doing what, you ask? Well, settle in and I’ll tell you. Maybe, in fact, your year looked just a little bit like mine…..

 

    The topper to my list this year would be Momming. I have achieved the Eagle Scout-level patch of “You are raising and feeding three teenagers” this year. At some point along the childrearing journey,  I had read in a parenting book, oh blessed work of fiction that it was, that parenting big kids would be less tiring than parenting toddlers. To that author, I have my own well-thought-out, calmly-composed literary criticism to offer and it is thus: Liar, liar, your pants had better be on fire or I will at least set your book ablaze in an alternative yule log ceremony of my own. Moms. If you got nothing done this year but make it through with your sanity more or less intact and with one or maybe 3/4 of your kids’ names remembered, and with those kids still mostly loving you? On every third Thursday? That’s a win, friends. Write it down. Raise yourself a glass of whatever. You hero, you!

 

    This year brought a new challenge to my parenting plans, as I worked full-time outside of the home for the first time in awhile. Necessity is the mother of getting a job, or whatever it is that they say. Working mamas. Seriously. I have questions. How have you done it? WHY do your people still expect crazy generous things like dinner each night? When do you sleep? Is coffee offered in a portable IV bag? Are washed and folded and put away clothes really a “thing” that people do? I’d like to salute you, but I’m fearful that I’ve developed carpal tunnel syndrome from the work hours I’ve spent on my computer and the googling of “is there a silent monastery retreat available in my area?”  Or any area? I’m totally saluting you in spirit, though.

 

    This year I’ve stared down the tunnel of a new journey I didn’t want to take: That of watching people I love grow older and step into the health challenges that this stage of life brings. For those of you who are caretakers to parents and grandparents and other loved ones: May your new year bring new moments of respite and rest and may your heart know the tricky balance of acceptance and grieving. It’s harder than they told us it would be, isn’t it?

 

    There’s not time or caffeine enough to list in detail all of the other events that comprise a year: Celebrations. Loss. New friendships. Broken hearts. Work stress, for ourselves and for our extended family. Trying to do right by others in time and resources. Household maintenance. Animal maintenance. Political breakdowns. Nights full of worry instead of sleep. Daylight Saving Time.

 

    But throughout the 365-give-or-take-one-weirdly-tacked-on-day time span, there’s a thread that pulls through, that ties us to each other, that holds us all as one: Love. Whether our year has been measured more with Love’s loss than gain this time around or whether our year has overflowed with the joy of connection, Love’s presence is always the constant soundtrack humming underneath our lives.

 

    No matter what did or didn’t occur this year, what dreams were put to bed for good, what granted wishes surprised us with their appearance, what hearts opened or closed to us, we can still hold to that thread of Love, whether it feels wispy and inconsequential in its weight or heavy and thick with substance.

 

    Here’s to your year. As you close the door on the passing months, may you open your heart to the possibilities waiting in the moments to come.

“Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Moments so dear

Five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you measure – measure a year?

In daylights – in sunsets

In midnights – in cups of coffee

In inches – in miles

In laughter – in strife

In – five hundred twenty-five thousand

Six hundred minutes

How do you measure

A year in the life

How about love?

How about love?

How about love?

Measure in love.” (“Seasons of Love,” Jonathan Martin, “Rent,” 2005)

 

 

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It's Beginning To Sound A Lot Like Terrible Christmas Songs

I have a sibling who is quite a bit younger than I am. There’s enough age difference that, upon my parents’ announcement of his existence, all of their friends gave them the wink-wink-elbow-poke-to-the-ribs remarks of, “Ohhhh hey, a little surprise there, huh?” and then my parents had to sigh and politely explain that no, this was not the case and hey thanks for wanting to explain how these babies happen and let us also politely clothesline you on your way out the door. Anyway. After the explaining and the looking for new friends, we settled into life with a baby. My older brother Travis and I were thrilled. Let’s be honest. I was more thrilled than he was since I’d maintained my status as only girl, thereby securing for all eternity, or at least for all childhood, my rights to my own bedroom, leaving big brother with a new roomie, one who cried at regular late-night intervals and stunk up the space with his lack of potty training skills. I still don’t feel a bit bad about my glee.

 

Somewhere along the road, however, Travis and I realized that this younger brother journey had a few potholes. We navigated the new adventures like being called upon to babysit, teaching the kid everything he needed to know, giving him our wise guidance, and, oh yes: Watching our parents turn into unrecognizable creatures who suddenly threw things like rules and standards and discipline out the window. Travis and I were raised by a mother who gave us HEALTH FOOD STORE purchases in our Easter baskets. I didn’t know what a real M&M looked like until adulthood, people. And now? Now that the baby of the family was here and the shop was closed for good? Mountain Dew for breakfast! Christmas stockings overflowing with a strange new substance called...I think...candy. We had just begun to adjust to this traumatic new life when the greatest challenge of all occurred. Justin, the blessed baby child, was in elementary school and was faced with the time-honored tradition of having to choose which musical instrument he would pursue in the esteemed required class known as grade school band. He had mentioned, in passing, that he’d always been interested in the drums, a comment which caused Travis and me to roll around on the Lego-covered floor (Justin’s Legos, of course. No MegaBlox for this kid) and cackle. Ha. Mom and Dad would never allow the drums! When Travis had asked for this musical option years before, they’d informed him, with great gravity, that drums were not a REAL instrument.

 

I think you know how this story goes. Justin got the drums.

 

I share this tragic tale as more than just the world’s longest introduction to my actual point. I believe this childhood trauma reveals why I’ve always disliked the song Little Drummer Boy. Or perhaps it reveals that I need therapy. That’s more likely. But in reviewing my distaste for the above-mentioned song, I realized that there are several strange Christmas tunes we all listen to each year, and perhaps you have found them odd as well. In no particular order, here are my top offenders:

 

  1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas: I first heard this ditty when Judy Garland warbled it out a window in the classic movie, Meet Me In St. Louis, and all I could think was: This is anything but merry, Judy. The dreary, dragging tune sounds like you are sarcastically eye-rolling your way through all that talk of holiday cheer. Also, would you kindly pick up the pace a bit?  This song runs on for the length of an extensive root canal and is about as much fun, and the line telling us our troubles will be far away next year is what we all told ourselves at the end of 2016. Such innocent times those were.

  2. All I Want for Christmas Is You: When Mariah first blasted into our boomboxes with this classic, it became an instant hit. But I think the truth is, it describes our Instagram selves more than our real-life feelings. It’s who we say we want to be, but it’s nobody I want to be friends with. The lyric which states that we don’t need a present under the tree and we only need you? Whoever this mysterious you person is? That is what’s known in psychology terms as bull crappery. We all want presents, and if I sing that song to you, for the love of Amazon.com, don’t actually believe me, or Christmas morning will not go well with you, which is to say: It will not be a scene your Instagram self will want to post. Amen.

  3. We Three Kings: Oh, who am I kidding. We only sing this one so we can work in the verse you won’t find in your hymnals: the one about them puffing on a rubber cigar. You haven’t found the true meaning of Christmas in your heart until you’ve sung that one.

  4. Mary, Did You Know? Actually, no, she didn’t. Other than that whole Angel Gabriel monologue, which was a little sketchy with the details, and it also seems he didn’t stick around for a Q&A, that sweet teenage girl had no clue what she was getting into. So we could sing the first line of this song and promptly reply with, “Negative” and save ourselves 3.5 minutes of our lives.

  5. The Little Drummer Boy: I have to round out my list with this beauty, since it is the cause of my aforementioned angst. This song is problematic from the get-go. I’ve been a mother of a newborn. I’ve been around many mothers of newborns. And what I’ve never heard them say is, “You know what I wish someone would bring us right now? A little kid playing a drum solo.” No. Just no. What Mary was obviously too kind to declare was that she had just spent 124 minutes feeding and rocking and shushing her newborn baby while trying to keep barnyard animals from chewing on his toes and he had finally gotten to sleep and you’re going to come in here with a DRUM? Would it have killed you to bring something useful like, oh...it’s hard to know what they needed, and this could be a reach, but….a CRIB? The other, just as irritating part of this song is that you have to suffer through 18 verses for the big finish which, spoiler alert, is this: He smiled at the kid. I hate to be a Scrooge but a newborn smiling? Any parent worth his salt can tell you it’s gas, little drummer boy.

 

So there you have it. Five of the most annoying Christmas songs ever. But they’re part of our soundtrack, so we’ll sing along (or at least mumble the lyrics we can remember) and deck the halls and laugh all the way and long to be home for Christmas.

 

But I really, really mean it. I want presents. Even if I sing that I don’t. I’m serious. Mariah was way off base.

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Thanksgiving

Sometimes Thanksgiving is the loneliest day of the year, and you just want to be part of a family, loud and boisterous and warm.

Sometimes Thanksgiving is the liveliest day of the year, and you just want to be alone, quiet, and still.

Sometimes you have grand plans and even grander menus, and the rolls flop and the casserole is too salty and the dessert is just...blah... and the kids suddenly become vegan.

Sometimes you have expectations for meaningful conversations and fun party games and, instead, everyone is staring deeply into his phone or watching TV.

Sometimes your heart is missing a person you love. Maybe you know you'll see him or her again. Maybe you know you never will. And there's an aching current running underneath all of your laughter and words today.

Sometimes you want to be home with the people and food and traditions you love, and circumstances keep you apart. And no matter what the substitute you choose that day, it's still just that: a substitute for what you desperately long for.

These days can be beautiful. And these days can be so difficult. So these days, whether your heart is overflowing and everything has gone perfectly, or whether your heart hurts with a physical, pulsing pain for someone you love, let us be kind. To others, but also to ourselves. Let us listen to each other's stories, even when the details are not our own. Let us seek a quiet corner alone if we need to, or let us seek out other people even when it feels needy.

If these are the hard days, hold onto the hope that there will be lovely, memory-making, exhilarating days ahead. If these are the good days, hold onto those moments to treasure and cherish when the rough days come.

So, if it's not a Happy Thanksgiving for you, here's to a brighter and better one ahead: next week, or next month, or next year. If it is the Happiest of Thanksgivings, soak it in and celebrate it, and be very gentle with those for whom it may not be. Because we cannot control much in this wildly spinning world, but we can show each other a little more love and kindness today, and that in itself is something to be thankful for.

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