Oh, Christmas Tree

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One of my boys asked me how I hurt my forehead. Oh. Ouch. Sweet compassionate boy. However, it’s not quite the story he might have hoped for. The knot protruding from my forehead is the result of what I’m assuming is wacky hormones in the form of a megazit, (not a “megabit”, spellcheck) a zit that shames all others. No filter can hide the new life force that has landed on my face. It may have a tiny brain but I don’t feel like getting a CT scan. What if my baby zit brain has a sympathy baby tumor on its pituitary gland? That would be a real pain.

I know I’m not the only one who gets gigantic hormonal zits. As a grown ass woman.

Wait. What? But who cares? What’s the point? The other night I was feeling joyful about our Christmas tree and our life. But it’s not perfect. It’s a bit weighed down, a bit crooked. It’s really messy, literally and figuratively. “The Christmas room” has all sorts of stuff in it. I wanted to take a picture and write a brief post, but then I got to feeling inadequate. It seems like this is the time of year when everybody posts these pictures of perfectly clean rooms with runway model Christmas trees. Perfect family photos. Sometimes, I tend to care more about the zits. Of life. The imperfections. The messes.

Our house is a mess. I can’t seem to get it all cleaned up. What a satisfactory homemaker I make.

I try my best but I get so easily distracted by people. So, I leave the house. Strangely, when I come home, the secret cleaning, organizing fairies have not come. I told a few new small group friends that I thought if I could just get all my messes cleaned up and organized, surely some transformation would occur. But I think that’s a lie.

I sat with the sweetest woman today who constantly reminds me of what life really is about: helping each other out. She lets me give her a hand massage and rub the old nail polish off of her nails. She tells me beautiful love stories. She speaks to me gently and genuinely. She matters and she reminds me that every small act of kindness and love matters. She has experienced loss. So much loss in her life. But she keeps on living and saying, “thank you” to those who surround her. Everybody wants her to live forever. How do I get so lucky to know so many heart filling people? I always wish I could give her a giant hug but I would hurt her. Yet, again, she teaches me how to be more gentle. More present. More aware.

She teaches me to be kind. Always. She unknowingly reminds me of my freedom, my gifts. And I love her for who she is and I love her for loving me, a stranger who turned into a friend. She asked me, “did you know you were going to help take care of another child when you signed up for this?” I laughed and told her that it’s my pleasure, that I don’t have a daughter. She smiled. God continually stirs up this beautiful pot of Love stew.

It’s heart work. Soul shaping. People work. And so I will boast of my insecurities, my uncertainties, and my fears because I know God moves in these times. He shifts the fragile ground on which we all walk. He moves us in the direction of love if we let him. He crosses our paths with people who teach us, guide us, help us and love us.

God loves me. Imperfect, messy and easily distracted me. God loves me more than I love my joyful, dancing tree decorators. Hard to believe because I love those boys in heart pounding, heart stopping ways. I look up at our Christmas tree. We are the the most weighed down branches. He is the tree. He holds us up. He carries us through. He shines light and love in our lives. No matter what.

God’s pulse. Ever present. Strong as ever. Never leaving. Steady. If you slow down, place two fingers on your wrist. You can feel it. It’s fascinating. Your heart pumping blood throughout your entire body. God’s working a never ending shift out of the love He has for you and your life.

Keep up the good work.

Paralyzed Butterfly

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This morning on my walk, I stumbled upon a Monarch butterfly struggling in the grass. I wondered if she, too, had just dropped her kindergartner off at school. She kept reaching out with one of her legs to find the next piece of grass but she couldn’t quite get there. I pushed the piece of grass closer to her and she moved. She flopped her wings. I looked to see if one of them was broken. I pulled my dog away from her. Perhaps, she was dying. Did you know that Monarch butterflies have hairy backs?

I decided to pick her up without touching her beautiful wings. So delicate and vibrantly patterned. As I held her on my hand, she flew away. I nearly cried. Then, I started thinking about how God is here. In everything. He sees the broken-hearted mamas and he lifts us up. He changes our perspective. He shows us that we weren’t meant to be down in the grass. We are meant to fly.

For nearly twelve years, I worked with hospitalized kids and families enduring horrible traumas, never-ending sicknesses, and unimaginable accidents. I’ve played with orphaned siblings and cried with grieving mothers. I’ve found blankets for lifeless children. I know for a fact that every single one of these families would have given anything to see their children walk into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Growth is a beautiful thing. Growth is an honor. It’s a privilege.

But growth is still hard on a mama’s heart.

Especially this mama’s.

My older sons walked their little brother into his kindergarten classroom today. He didn’t need me, his mama. On day two. I watched their three backpacked bodies walk away. Their little healthy lives flashed before me. Their giggles. Their first steps. The enthusiastic ways that they jump off of the couch onto the pillow forts they have created below. Suddenly, as I walked away, I laughed at the goofy way Patch, our dog, runs through tall grass. I smiled.

Then, I looked down and saw the struggling butterfly.

One of mine and my boys’ favorite memories of my grandma is when she held a flower from my mom’s garden and suddenly, a butterfly landed on that flower. Today, a struggling mother, me, held a struggling butterfly. It’s undeniable proof that God can use the most fragile and tiny creatures of this world to shift our perspective from the dirt to the clouds.

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I have broken into the extra school supplies, especially the boxes of Kirkland kleenex. I have sat in my Grandma’s chair and cried with the dog staring awkwardly at me. Yesterday, I  told my husband that I was not going to share my writings because when you’re vulnerable and raw with your emotions, some people try to proofread your feelings or predict or edit them altogether. This really  hurts and can feel like someone is rubbing alcohol or lemon juice on an open wound. He said that’s not everybody and that’s not fair and that I have to keep writing. He’s right, I suppose. Thank you for those of you who say comforting things like, “I’m sitting beside my mama. The mother/child bond sure is a strong one.” I will keep sharing for those of you who do the hard work of feeling emotions deeply and as a result, sometimes feel like a paralyzed butterfly.

You’re not. You may just need to be gently lifted up. You’re beautiful and capable. You have unique and extraordinary wings and you will be flying again soon.

Peter Pan

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I tend to get a little sentimental and/or sad on my children’s first and last days. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the birth of my third son. But tonight, I’m secretly grieving the last day of having a five year old. He came running into the kitchen with his older brother’s costume on. Ahhhh. Peter Pan. Well, it was supposed to be Robin Hood but he changed it to Peter Pan. It was a bit too much on my aching mama heart. He proudly placed the blue heron feather in his hat that we found at the creek. I took a picture of him standing in the kitchen. His shadow even hopped into the shot. All I could think of was Peter Pan and why, oh why does this sweet one-dimpled smiling boy standing in front of me need to grow up?

Because “All children, except one grow up.” Thanks, J.M. Barrie.

Every birthday, starting school year, or developmental milestone, we, as parents, are reminded that our child will not be the exception. Growing up is extraordinarily beautiful. It’s a joyful ever-changing gift. A privilege. Yet, I still console myself. Because it’s also tricky. Unknown. Ever changing. New. Challenging. A bit heart grasping, tugging, pulling, and twisting. How many ways will my beautiful boy change and grow over the next year? Will he stop saying, “You blunked!” when he wins a staring contest. Will my right hip finally get a break because he won’t need me to carry him when his “legs are too tired to walk.” Will his smile forever change with the loss of his baby teeth? Will he lose a bit more of his innocence as he encounters unkind children or adults at school? Most likely yes. And yes. I know this.

As he proudly holds up another finger on his second hand to tell his age, six, we will keep on loving him and encouraging him and praying for him. We will continue to do our best to protect him and teach him and learn from him. We will hope and pray that we provide an environment where he will grow to his potential. In the midst of the long, short, chaotic or melancholy days, we will never cease to be fascinated, humbled and completely overwhelmed by him and by his growth.

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Happy two handed birthday to the most persistent little(big) mama’s right hip hitchhiker, the always eager to sit-on-the-kitchen counter helper, the first to volunteer for any-boring-old errand runner, the greatest question asker and late night conversationalist, the sweetest middle-of-the-night snuggler, the most perfectly timed one-dimple smile-turned-giggler, and the most accommodating little brother. And even though he sometimes claims he doesn’t like to “always be third,” he’s a better third than we could have ever imagined.

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We all love you so dang much, Colbs. Thanks for giving me the best job in the world, being your mama.

 

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Patty Griffin helps me work through my kids birthdays. All the feels.

Dragonflies

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I wanted to say that I am sorry. But I didn’t want to become a sobbing mess. I wanted to tell you that I am sorry for a thousand different things. I’m pretty sure its the mother in me.

I am sorry that your mother never got to proudly walk you into school and be there waiting and smiling for you at the end of the day. I’m sorry that you didn’t get to grow up with her sitting next to you on the couch. Or that you didn’t get to watch her make a mess in the kitchen. I’m sorry if you ever were scared during thunderstorms and needed the comfort of your mom.

I’m sorry if the tooth fairy never came. Or Santa. Or the Easter bunny.

I’m sorry if you wore dirty clothes or needed someone to braid your hair. I’m sorry that your mom couldn’t be there for your birthdays, graduations and your wedding. I’m sorry that you couldn’t call her or just show up at home when you didn’t feel right, when you needed the reassurance of her presence.

I’m sorry for the far too many times that life was harder for you. I’m sorry for your pain. I’m sorry for the hundreds of responses you’ve buffered when people found out that your mom died. I’m sorry that you never got to sing her a “Happy Birthday” song or make her homemade cards or cake. I’m sorry that “Mother’s Day” is so damn hard.

I’m sorry that you had to search and search to grow up and be like your mother. I’m sorry for all of the insensitive comments you’ve endured as others complain about their mothers.

It’s not fair.

Life can be cruel and uncertain and unfair. But you know that.

You learned that lesson.

You’ve lived that lesson.

It doesn’t change her death. It changes the way you live. Her life runs through yours. She lives in you. The same way that you lived in her. You are forever her daughter.

And she will be forever your mom. And she will be proud of you forever. And always.
I will always remember that you love dragonflies.

You may truly never comprehend the gift that you gave me when you shared your story with me. You may never understand how beautifully weighted your words are to me. You gave me one of the most amazing gifts when you compared me to your mother. You unknowingly gave me strength and hope to push through the grueling moments of life. Thank you. I will forever be grateful for you.

I hope to do something as courageous as you one day.

 

 

Park Moms

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I stood on the outskirts of two different playgrounds today watching my children. I sat and listened to their voices bounce around as they chased each other and created imaginative games, peeking their freckled noses out from the highest places.

We spend a ton of hours at the playground. We always have because parks are free, there are limited rules and they provide a near-perfect environment for energy release and all sorts of growth. I’ve sat on grass, benches, pavement or turf. I’ve often played “tag” or chased my boys. Or I’ve stood on the edges, shivering, perhaps chatting with other moms, nannies and grandparents. Recently, when a fellow mother of boys’ mom friend of mine and I ran into each other at a new park, she said, “we used to go bar hopping, now we go park hopping.” Yes. We save a lot of money and our livers nowadays.

Some of our kids used to need help, a boost or a mama’s hand going down the slide or crossing the monkey bars. Not anymore. Now, they need the open space to run, yell, climb, jump, tag and play. They still need to show off their mad climbing or monkey bar skills, “MAAAAAHM! Watch me!” Occasionally, if other kids are not around, my boys will ask me to play “dog monster” where I run around bark-growling and attempt to catch them. It has gotten harder and harder for me to win the game.

There are so many different seasons of motherhood. I have always tried my hardest to cherish each and every fleeting one. This has been one of the greatest teachers of having a chronic illness: be present, be grateful, enjoy this time. Today. Right now. This doesn’t mean I don’t have moments or hours or days I wish away. I’ve truly wanted to embrace and experience all of the chaotic, innnocent, simple, and breath-robbing moments. I don’t want to have big motherhood regrets.

I had so many meaningful playground conversations today. I talked with other mothers who stood or sat with me. I listened as mothers spoke of both the loneliness and the beauty of motherhood, the many ways kids grow up, and how they need moms in different ways. I had the opportunity to share my own stories of trying to take a relaxing bath or needing a bit of space in my closet or crying in the parking lot, shower, or kitchen.

As our children exhausted themselves, we, the mothers, filled each other back up. We needed to hear each other’s honest stories. We needed to hear each other’s laughs. And feel the collective mother sighs. The moments not glorified on social media. The moments of real unfiltered life. We needed to look compassionately and sympathetically into the eyes of another woman doing her best as a mom. We needed to see our reflection. We can be so hard on ourselves until we hear our own honest stories being told by another mother.

Our kids need us.

And we need each other.

Because it’s true. It takes a constantly growing village.

I’m grateful for the diverse community of mothers surrounding me, whether it be a stranger that talks with me for twenty minutes about her thirty year old son as she shares her motherhood journey or the familiar face of a friend that regularly sits on the outskirts of the playground, just like me.

Women need other women. Like us. And different from us too.

And sometimes, on playgrounds or in kitchens or in grocery stores or online, moms need to be mothered from time to time. By other moms who just get it. All of it.

Jesus and Mama Tears

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There is something extraordinarily healing and powerful that takes root inside of me knowing that Jesus wept.

The other night I had my head bowed in shame as I sat at the kitchen table. I had just overreacted to one of my boys climbing on the outside of the steps, resulting in a broken thrift store umbrella holder. After I cleaned up the mess, I sat there alone and began crying so hard that my tears dropped down onto the kitchen floor. I think it could have been classified as “weeping.” I mentally backed myself into a corner and beat myself up about all the ways I fail as a human being. As a mother. As a wife.

Because isn’t that we do? Beat ourselves up when we don’t have the strength to go grab a Kleenex or some toilet paper to soften the blow of our tears. And when the tears of guilt flow, they sure know how to awaken the dried up wells of inadequacy, loss and despair.

In my heightened emotional state, I texted my husband and a friend letting them know what an asshole I had been. They each kindly offered to help me out of the pit of doom. I thought it may be helpful if I created a hotline for parents, “1-800-ILOSTMYSHIT.” The operator could have a file folder ready to remind you of all the other times when you handled chaos better, a bit more gracefully. The kind person, probably a volunteer, on the line could perhaps console you and tell you about a time that they also overreacted to routine kid chaos.

The thing is that I usually can cry it out, apologize to my boys and hope and pray for their forgiveness and God’s strength to do better next time. Then, we move on. To the dog park or to a game of checkers. Or whatever. My boys, thankfully, have this crazy awesome ability to forgive me and love me through my guilt and shortcomings as a mother.

In hindsight, like a few days later, who really cares about a thrift store umbrella holder? Obviously not the person who donated it to the thrift store. I don’t want my boys to be wreckless and purposely break stuff, but if anyone should understand breaking stuff accidentally, it should be me. I realize that I had some built-up, constant mud and mess-cleaning up anger that I should have released at ripple glass therapy.

Sadly, and not so sadly, sometimes, those we love the most intensely get to see the yucky, jagged and broken sides of us. Inside of our homes. Our cars. Unfiltered, not touched-up, the raw ugly-cry moments. The moments when we feel exhausted, sad, hopeless, helpless and burdened by our own imperfections. The difficult and painful moments of growth, roots shifting or branches getting pruned.

As I did my Lenten sharpie marker art this morning, I realized just how grateful I am to cling to the belief that Jesus gets me the most. So, I am reminded to grab on tightly to the hope offered in the extra soft, aloe-infused Kleenex He hands me. Time and time again. Today, I’m humbled and gratefully aware that his grace daily protects, strengthens, and carries us.

Amen.

Spring Break Snowflakes

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I held our new shivering puppy, Patch, tightly as I watched and listened to my boys race up and down the slippery slides at the school playground. They all giggled nonstop as the cold wet slides launched their bodies onto the turf below. Time and time again.

“This is FUN, Mama!” they shouted.

I looked down in amazement and wonder at the beauty of the snowflakes that landed on Patch’s black fur. How can each one be so different? So beautiful. So perfect. The tiny, intricate, unique patterns and designs of the snowflakes that became gently trapped into the hairs on his back. He nuzzled his nose under my arm.

Each of my boys ran over to pet him or attempt to temporarily shield him from the snow. Their pink cheeks, grown-up front teeth and their bright eyes quickly peered into mine from beneath their stocking caps. They each tried to tell me something different. I can’t remember what. They looked so happy, so perfect. And then they each ran off.

I sat there, temporarily stuck in the moment, mesmerized and overwhelmed by their existence and the beauty held in their precious freckled faces. I will never tire of looking into their big brown innocent and smiling eyes, framed by their gigantic snowflake-trapping eyelashes.

“Do you feel the snowflakes trapped in your eyelashes?” I asked one of my boys.

He responded by blinking. The snowflakes melted or disappeared. Gone.

I will always thank God in these outside, overwhelmingly peaceful and joyfilled moments. I will count them. My boys. My blessings. Over and over and over again. I will marvel and wonder and nearly implode with thankfulness for the gifts of their lives. I can’t help but feel a varying combination of being utterly humbled, confused, worried, imperfect and beyond grateful for the privilege, the honor, and the responsibility of being their “mama.”

And then, most likely, later in the day, I may be tired or short-fused, perhaps even close to near-exploding at their fighting or complaining. But I promise myself that I will take a deep breath. I will gently tap myself on the shoulder and whisper in my head,

“Hey, you tired mama. Remember sitting at the picnic table earlier watching your boys like the most proud mom in the universe? With the spring snow flurries drifting down. And a new puppy on your lap as the confused birds sang, the highway traffic buzzed, and the irresistible sounds of those three rosy cheeked, giggling boys bounced around….”

I will tell myself to remember the powerful moments and my prayer of thanks. And I will shape up. I may even need to take an extra deep breath or two to activate my secret stash of patience.

Spring break snowflakes.

Remember their beauty, the quiet power they possess. They disappear too quickly.

I will slow down and remind myself to notice, to pause and to embrace the ever changing, beautiful and raw moments of motherhood.