Human Thorns

IMG_9083We have these crazy fast growing, never-stopping, always-multiplying vines in our yard. They spring up in the front and back and everystinkingwhere. They taunt the pseudo-gardener in me. They seem to snicker and stick their leafy little tongues out at me as I walk out the front door past the bushes.

Some of them are so easy to pull out of the dirt. I reach down quickly in the middle of taking the recycling out. I feel strong. Proud. Accomplished. Other vines are a bit more established and sneaky too. They strategically tangle themselves up in flowers or bushes in difficult to reach places. I want to grab them at their roots so I’m not repeating this process every week or so. But this can be an awkward task and falling-into-the-bushes hard.

Lately, I have had the most challenging time pulling these vines out of our rosebushes. It’s a tedious and painful process, especially for a woman who never wears gloves. Every time I have tried to help the rose bushes, I end up bleeding. Poke. Ouch. Stab. Stab. Ouch. Cuss. Those thorns don’t mess around. They hurt. I suppose they are fulfilling their purpose. They are the aggressive protectors of some of the most brightly colored and fragrant flowers. I investigate and interrogate the thorns but they don’t care that I’m trying to help the beautiful flowers too. Our rose bushes are getting all choked up, literally, by the sneaky vines that wrap up and around their delicate branches and stems.

I sow some of my deepest thoughts outside. While I am bleeding from the thorn attacks, it occurs to me that we, beautiful and complex humans, have our own thorns. We often overprotect ourselves from things that may hinder our growth. We want to keep moving in the direction of light but sometimes our thorns injure those who want to help. Those trying to clean up our vines or prune our branches. Thankfully, if we are lucky, we have those relentless green thumb kind of people who won’t let a little flesh wound stop the weeding.

Those loyal and faithful friend, sister, and mother gardeners don’t give up. They keep after us even while we poke them, sometimes purposely, sometimes unknowingly with our ever-present thorns. Oftentimes, these vine gardeners are the people who know us the very best and still love us the most. They possess the instinctual power to feel the vines choking us. They show up at the times when we are trying our hardest to stop growing through the pain. Or stop growing altogether. Or perhaps we momentarily surrendered to letting our prickly thorns do all the talking.

It’s not so bad to have the thorns. After all, we are each such beautiful complex creatures. But, we have to recognize the potential of our thorns. To hurt. Isolate. And create physical and emotional distance from those who wear gloves and come ready to gently untangle the vines that surround us.

Letting others help us is one of love’s most humbling and delicate tasks. The practice takes root with a wheel barrow full of patience and our willingness to surrender control. I recently read one of Brennan Manning’s books, The Rabbi’s Heartbeat. I nearly copied the entire book since I borrowed it from the library.  I highly recommend it. Among so many others, I love this excerpt,

“The child spontaneously expresses emotions; the Pharisee carefully represses them. To open yourself to another person…is a sign of the Holy Spirit. To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened, cried, got frustrated, righteously angry, and felt sorrow for people in pain.”

When I untangled the vines creeping up their fragile branches,  the roses didn’t say “thank you.”  They didn’t need to. Their beauty, their fragrance, and their mere existence is enough. Just as giving and surrendering our entire selves for each other is enough. More than enough.

Freckle Constellations

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I may not recognize the constellations in tonight’s sky but I’ve seen the Little Dipper on your cheeks. As you tell me things like, “I really want a rhino to lick my face,” I trace an imaginary line back and forth between each freckle on your nose. I can’t help but soak in the beauty of your eyelashes, your freckles, your oversized grown-up teeth, a sweet new addition to your innocent six-and-a-half year old face. You may not remember these moments forever but I will hold onto them tight enough for the both of us.

I snapped a picture when you weren’t looking. While our brightly colored toenails dried. I’m so grateful and proud to be your mom. I will attempt the monkey bars, see saw, and superman swing with you on any beautiful spring day of the week. I love you a million, bazillion, beyond Pluto and back. I will dot to dot all the stars tonight and think of how grateful I am for your sun-kissed face. Your curious brain. Your welcoming, friendly, kind and inclusive heart. Your inquisitive and complimentary soul. Your strong monkey arms and your “supa fast” legs. Oh, and today, your perfectly mismatched pink, blue and purple toenails. I love every little beautiful thing that makes you special and unique and 100% pure therapeutic grade-Colby. I loved all of today. Every single drop.

Thank you for making me stronger. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for dropping pine cone bases for me so I wouldn’t touch the mulch. Thank you for waiting on me. Thank you for stopping and noticing so many gifts of new people, flowers, trees and the great outdoors. Thank you for loving the simple, wild and free things in life. Thank you for going to school in the morning and unknowingly becoming one of my wisest teachers in the afternoon.

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.

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.

“The Birds”

*This is a guest post written by my eight year old son, Asher. I sat across the table from him this morning as he gripped his pencil tightly and excitedly wrote and wrote these words down. I felt my eyes well up and my mama heart nearly explode with joy and pride as he passionately filled his page. Please leave any comments you have and I will happily share with him.

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The birds have colors that are mixed together like yellow and orange. Mixed it makes beautiful. The colors make you feel relaxed. Have you wished to fly? I have wished if I could fly. Soaring through the air, the wind up in the sky is soft. And the birds make a great song. It calms you down. It makes you come outside. It is high.

We have a big window and tons of birds come to the window to get some seeds and sugar water. My favorite bird is the hummingbird. It is one of the coolest birds to me. It has beautiful colors like red, orange, yellow together. One time, my mom had one fly so close to her.

The hummingbird could hover. I think that it is cooler that it could fly upside down. But keep bees away from hummingbirds because if a bee stung a hummingbird, it would die. So keep bees away from hummingbirds. One time, a dog saw a hummingbird on the sidewalk. The dog wouldn’t let his owner go so the owner picked up the hummingbird and took the hummingbird home. They found out the hummingbird was alive but he wanted the hummingbird to stay. He feeded the hummingbird sugar water. He trained the hummingbird. I was so amazed. I could watch it again.

When we saw hummingbirds, we would call them super heroes like Flash and Green Lantern and Batman and Robin. We called them those names because they had red and yellow for Flash and green for Green Lantern. Black for Batman.

DSC09510My second favorite is the cardinal. It has light red and black. It is funny that some male cardinals have mohawks. I think it makes them look cool. Some of them have black spots on them. My favorite colors are red and blue. Red and black are cool mixed together.

The blue jay is light blue with some white and some black. It has a cool beak. It has black close to its eyeballs. It looks like it has pretty scales on its wings. It has cool designs. The white with the blue looks beautiful.

I have seen a ton of birds in my life. Some are blue, red, green, yellow, pink, purple and a ton of colors that are beautiful. One of the hummingbirds has light colors. How hummingbirds got their name is because when you listen closely, you hear a humming sound.

Some woodpeckers sometimes peck on our house. Do you know why? Because they get worms out of trees. Have you went on a trail? You see tons of birds and you hear tons of sounds. But when it becomes winter, all of the birds have to go because they can’t survive in winter. Its too cold. But in a couple months, they’re back and maybe you see the same ones!

 

RIP “Rocky” the dead sidewalk squirrel

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Sometimes I write deep and plain sad shit. I know it. Whew. Then I feel like I need to write something funny. I actually have a blank blog post titled “Something Funny.” Tonight, I thought I could either do a birth announcement for one of my kidney stones or write about a dead sidewalk squirrel. Since I didn’t want Jesus to feel like my kidney stone was anywhere near as important as his upcoming birthday, and also Shutterfly is not running any specials on kidney stone birth announcements, I’ve decided to go with the dead rodent piece.

If I’m honest, I will admit to having had a bit of remorse for weeks about not writing an obituary and failing to have a ceremony for this unnamed neighborhood squirrel. If it makes me seem less cruel, I have been more kind lately to squirrels stealing our bird feed. I look at them with love instead of disgust. I feel like I want them to know I didn’t kill Rocky. I feel like if they saw me shoving Rocky into that Saltines box, they may have gotten the wrong idea about me. By the way, I just named him “Rocky” for this piece of writing. Prior to writing this story, based on a true story, I referred to him or her as “the dead squirrel in the Saltines box.”

I picture Rocky as a happy, young and carefree squirrel. Although I never knew him in this way. I only knew him as a bit creepy and a lot dead but I would like to imagine him alive for a few paragraphs.

Oh, Rocky. I can just see him being a big show-off climbing to the highest branches of gigantic trees, shouting,

“Hey! Look at me!” as he jumped from tree branch to tree branch. Rocky probably loved hiding his nuts in all kinds of crazy places. His acorns. Sheesh. Come on. Maybe the other squirrels resented him or absolutely adored him. Perhaps a bit of both.

The one thing that I think I know is that Rocky had one of those crazy awesome imaginations. Well, let’s face it, his creativity basically stemmed from the many hours he spent watching TV. He loved to sneak up to houses and peek in their windows. He pretended like he was looking for his nuts but he wasn’t. He always knew where his nuts were. Rocky absolutely loved watching TV. You would think Rocky liked funny shows like “Modern Family” or “Seinfeld” but he really gravatated towards the laughing, then tear jerking dramas. He liked to laugh, but he also loved a good cry. When “Parenthood” ended, Rocky didn’t come out of his tree for a few days. He was starting to get into “This is Us” before he died. Which is pretty sad in itself.

The night before he died, Rocky layed down on the highest branch of his favorite old Ash tree. Rocky always sprawled out on his belly and put his head in his tiny paws like he was laying on the floor watching TV. Every night to go to sleep, he would pretend he was watching a mini television set up in his tree and then he would doze off dreaming about where he hid his nuts and his favorite TV shows. Usually he would wake up in the morning when he heard the loud sound of the school bus’s engine flying down the hill. He thought the bus should probably slow down. Sometimes he even yelled, “HEY! Slow down, school bus!”

Something strange happened on the night Rocky died. The moon hit his eye like a big pizza pie. It’s like he had eaten a bad nut or something was in the air. He slept so hard that he fell right out of the tree, landing smack dab onto the ground beneath the tree, next to the sidewalk.

Tragically, he died on impact. (Sorry. The title warned you)

He rested on the cold ground. Dead but looking rather alive. Eerily alive.

My boys and I walk to school. Most times, we run to school. Because, well, we are always running late. One of my sons was running out in front. My other son and I chased him down the hill.

All of the sudden, the son in front stopped.

“MOM! Look. A squirrel.” (It was Rocky)

We made it to Rocky’s tree and looked down.

“Oh, no. He’s not moving. I think he’s dead.” I said. Although, he did look like he was happily watching cartoons on his belly. Or tear-jerking family dramas.

“That’s so sad,” he said.

“It is really sad. Poor squirrel. We will have to bury him.” Why did I say that, I immediately thought. We have a guinea pig cemetary in our backyard. What’s another rodent tombstone, right?

“Come on, guys, we gotta get to school!” I said.

I dropped my boys off at school, but I dreaded walking back up the hill. I hoped that maybe Rocky was a sick jokester and wanted to scare a lot of kids on their walks to school. It turns out he wasn’t or maybe he was. Not that day. He was dead.

I thought, “Surely the people who live in the house by Rocky’s tree will properly remove him and bury him or cremate him. Or maybe Viking funeral him.”

One time, I almost removed a dead opossum from the sidewalk far away from our house because it looked awfully sad and made my kids pretty sad, too. It’s not that I want to quickly remove or ignore or not grieve dead animals on sidewalks but it seems wrong walking past them time and time again. The problem is I scream a lot or squeal and my muscles tighten up and I freak myself out. I feel dead animals move or I trick myself into feeling dead animals move. Or strangely, I’m afraid other animals may be watching me remove the dead animal and they may think I killed the animal.

I didn’t want to have to remove Rocky from the sidewalk and put him into a Saltines box but my conscience told me it was the right thing to do.

Long story short, I got the courage up to get him into the Saltines box with some sticks and a bag and I threw some acorns on top of him. I’m not sure if that’s cruel or not. I felt awful putting him in our trash can but the ground was frozen. I didn’t know if guinea pigs and squirrels got along.

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As it turns out that night, after removing Rocky, I had to do a bowel prep. I had to drink Go Lytely which some real sarcastic asshole named. It does not make you go lightly, and it tastes like an awful combination between another person’s sweat and straight-up-make-you-wanna vomit ingredient. I encouraged myself to keep drinking by reminding myself that I do hard things. Like remove dead squirrels from the sidewalk.

Did the nurse need to tell me that I didn’t need to do the bowel prep the next day? Probably not. Did the spirit of Rocky and Mother Teresa help me get the prep down? Most likely, yes.

RIP “Rocky” the dead sidewalk squirrel. I’m really sorry about your fall. But congrats on living life to the fullest.

P.S. A deeper life lesson from Rocky: You must first acknowledge the dead squirrel on the sidewalk. It’s really there. It exists. Quit walking past it. Or ignoring it. Breathe deeply, now deal with it. Build up the courage up to do something about it.

P.S.S. Did you know that they have black squirrels in Canada? I was a but obsessed with getting some video footage. I will try to upload since you probably care.

Thanksgiving Day Birds

imageMy rational thinking mind knows that it’s pretty selfish to assume that God sent hundreds of different kinds of birds to my backyard this morning. It felt like a beautiful gift. Just for me. Perhaps, He sent them to bring me hope or joy or to peck away at my grief or sorrows, my heartaches and hopelessness.

Despite my disbelieving mind, my spirit-filled heart completely trusts and believes in a God that hears my cries and hates for me to feel the heavy burden of grief, loss and heartache. I believe that He hates for me to be trapped in my feelings. Isolated. All alone. I believe He lifts my chin and helps me see the beauty, the freedom outside my window.

So, as I sat staring out my kitchen window in amazement and wonder at the sudden appearance of all of the Thanksgiving Day birds, my soul surrendered to the simplicity, the beauty, and the ease at which His tiny creatures fly from branch to feeder to fence post. I made eye contact with one of my favorites, the yellow finch, “my Grandma bird,” whose feathers have transformed to accommodate the next dreary season. No longer the striking, bright yellow summer feathers. I sat close enough, only a few feet way, separated by glass. I could barely see the pale yellow neck feathers hidden beneath the new tree trunk-brown winter feathers.

In moments like these, I feel my Grandma and I miss her in an indescribable way. I want to be in her presence. I want to hear her voice. I want to feel like everything is going to be okay. I don’t know that she understood the secret gentle power she possessed. The ability to heal my aching heart.

She had this instinctual ability to relate to me on a level that few can. I miss her honesty. I miss her openness with her feelings, the joyful and sad, painful-to-hear ones and all of the complicated ones in between. I miss the little things, like sitting next to her and filling her cup up with fresh iced water. I miss watching my boys run down the hall to swing open her door and surprise her. I miss her sweet voice telling me some powerfully encouraging words. I miss hugging her and telling her, “I love you, Grandma.” I miss her habitual response, “I know you do. I love you, too.”

Holidays are typically supposed to be happy times but they can be so hard when you’re missing a person. They can serve as a painful reminder that someone who was always around is not here anymore. Just gone. The robins, blue jays, yellow finch, doves, cardinals, and all the other birds flying around today reminded me of my Grandma. I like to think of her as strong and totally freed from pain. I like to think of her. I’m grateful that the zipping crowds of birds outside my window helped remind me of her and her never ending love.