06 October 2014

Of the Blissfulness of Ignorance

It has been over a half a year since a momma on the other side of this state last held her sweet boy in her arms. And though I call her family, I still feel on the outside of this grief looking in, borrowing something I feel I don't have the right to call mine. And I watch her grieve and I hurt for her and I pray for her. And this past week, as she continues through this unending journey, she wrote these words - the words I can understand deeply,

"I hate "Angela Before." I hate that she let Maverick slip through her fingers, and that she didn't absorb every bit of his 108 days. I hate what she did to my only memories of my son. She paid no attention to the details and now those memories are foggy. I hate her, and I am jealous of what she had, and what she took for granted.
I don't miss her. But I do miss what she had. I, the new me, "Angela Now", would have done so much better with Maverick's short life.
If only she could have known before the reality and the frailty of life that I know now."

And though I see where she is coming from, I feel a need to respond, from the other side. I don't know that my words will ease any amount of pain, but I have wrestled this lesson myself and thought maybe we could all use the reminder. He gives us only the knowledge we need, because we couldn't handle the rest. So, I wrote her a letter, which is really an open letter to us all . . .

Dear “Angela Now,"

You have been through more than any person deserves and I know I can’t even understand the depth of your pain because I am over here on this side, as an “Angela Before,” trying my best to learn the lessons your laid-open bare, bleeding heart has been vulnerable enough to share.

And I need you to know.

“Angela Before” was neither stupid nor na├»ve. She was unaware. But for a reason.

Because as much as the old adage tries to tell us it’s possible, we simply cannot live every day as though it were our last. Living our lives with that kind of intensity for an indeterminate amount of time will simply burn us out.

Yes, if “Angela Before” had known she only had three and a half months, she surely would have done things differently. That kind of intense focus on memorizing every detail of a too-short life could probably be sustained for, literally, a season.

But take it from this ”Angela Before” – the one trying so hard to live the lessons gleaned from “Angela Now” – it’s not possible without the knowing. The knowing of how long these precious lives will last. And the not knowing, yet constant anticipating can, and will, drive an “Angela Before” crazy. Not knowing whose life will end first – mine or theirs? Which one relationship in my life needs this kind of constant focus before the flame is snuffed too early? Or is it possible to soak in every moment of every one of these beautiful little lives before me? To commit every second to memory – memories I can cling to if they’re taken before I planned or thought?

And this “Angela Before” finds herself in a curled-up, fetal, crying mess on her bed feeling it’s not enough. The unknown time will never be enough to capture all of this. And can I live every moment to its fullest while still creating some semblance of a home and a life for myself and my children. And when I have burned myself out in attempting to soak it all in and not miss one moment – what does “Angela Before” do. Because taking a moment for herself means missing a moment of them. And what can be done?

So, take it easy on “Angela Before.” She had a lot to focus on. She had a budding toddler establishing herself in the new role of big sister, but also growing in her own right. She had a home to manage – because drawers run out of clothes quicker than we imagine. And she had a husband that needed her to notice him, too.

So she loved her little boy with all she had and she did a fantastic job with the limited resource of time she had.

She wasn’t stupid.

She didn’t know – and that’s not the same.

God was protecting her fragile heart while giving her time - not to hoard like a maniac knowing it will never be enough, but to slowly savor in the sweet bliss of ignorance.

Don’t hate her.

Love that she is the one who held your sweet boy in those precious midnight hours. She calmed his tears. She gave him his first kisses and his last. Appreciate the fact that she was able to enjoy his soft snuggles without worry for the future, but in the beauty of living in the present. Thank her for taking care of him the best she knew how. Give her a sweet hug and let her rest now. Her job is done. 
It’s your turn now, to carry on where she left off.

And God is more than able to carry both a messed-up crazy “Angela Before” and a worn out, grieving “Angela Now” as we navigate the unknowns of this continual journey.

With love and prayers,
Just another “Angela Before”

08 September 2014

Of Why I Had Children

In yet another moment of motherly frustration this weekend, I thought to myself, sarcastically, "Why did I have kids, again?" It's a question my husband and I ask each other often, as we tease one another over the silly and genuinely difficult things our kids do on any given day.

It wasn't until that moment, however, that I heard God speak to me about how accurately that question reflects our culture's view of children. Because implicit in such an inquiry is the idea that we had these kids for us. For our benefit, our joy and as our accomplishments. Yet, so often, they bring us just the opposite - hardship, anger and a sense of failure.

So, it's a legitimate question, really. Why did we have kids? Why does anyone have kids?

If I took a truthful look back at that moment early in our marriage when we excitedly decided we were throwing caution to the wind and taking that next big step, I would tell you I had no better reason than that's what it felt like we should do. Because I didn't plan out this life beyond going to college, so I was kind of winging it. Here we were, young, in love, past that difficult, difficult battle called the first year of marriage. We had bought a house because, well, we thought that's what adults do. The next obvious step looked like kids.

And, yeah, the idea of a little baby to snuggle sounded kind of fun, too.

So, with reckless abandon, we jumped into the decision to make us a little person and were blessed with an instantaneous pregnancy. And I had no idea what I was getting into.

Because here's what no one really told me. Kids aren't just something you do or "the next step." And if you want something adorable to snuggle who is easy to train and will love you unconditionally, get a dog.

That is NOT why we have children.

But if you want to have a significant part in growing up the generation that will come after us, to lead our nation, create the next big innovations, raise the standards of our culture and continue to grow the generations after them, then by all means - go to it.

And that's what our society seems to misunderstand when they see mothers and their babies.

Children are NOT accessories.

They're not something we get because we think it'll be fun. They're not to be discarded when they're too difficult to handle. We don't surround ourselves with just the right number, as if there IS a right number. Because, truth be told, I can't handle four children - I can barely handle one some days.

But God doesn't give us what He thinks we can handle - only what He knows He can handle.

And when I rely on Him and recognize my children as real, live, imperfect people, living under the sinful consequences of the fall, I can see those little frustrations, not as personal setbacks to my own happiness, but as jumping off points to create character, in both myself and in them.

I can see them as individuals with personalities who are only mine to borrow, as I take on the task of guiding them where God leads. They will grow and, with God's help, develop into independent people with their own thoughts and ideas that may not always match mine.

But that's ok.

Because that's not why I had children.

09 August 2014

Of Changed Plans

I wake up earlier than I want on a Saturday morning (but that's nothing new, is it?). The plans for today aren't what I had looked forward to. I had anticipated a lazy day, where we had no plans, because sometimes no plan at all is just the plan you need to re-charge and reconnect as a family - particularly when the last time you had that no-plan, a mere week ago, Mommy spent the morning raging at kids who didn't deserve it, slamming cabinets until their frames fell apart, and finally leaving the mess for her husband to deal with, because something inside her just couldn't take it all - all of this thing called life.

Yet, on this same Saturday morning, another woman awakes - if she slept at all, because who can sleep when the warmth beside her is gone? When there were sounds through the night and your protector is missing - and won't ever return? She awakes, if she even caught those forty winks, through the night-sounds and the nightmares, to find she is still in the nightmare.

How had she planned, just a week ago, to spend this day? Was there a birthday party to attend? A gathering of friends, family? Was he finally going to get to that project she'd been bothering him to finish? Or just mow the yard so it could be clean cut for another week? Had she planned to snuggle in just a little longer next to that man of hers, pretending they couldn't hear the kids down the hall, for just a few minutes? Or do their boys toddle in to crawl into bed, asking where's Daddy? At work? No, not at work, because he never made it to work on Tuesday morning, when he slipped quietly out of the house in the early morning hours to go earn a paycheck and take care of his family.

I grieve for her. I grieve for the third time in less than a year and a half for a woman too young to be widowed. A woman now left alone with two little boys who don't understand why they can't wrestle with Daddy - one of whom may be too young to even remember his face a year from now. And then there's the one in her womb - the one they announced to the world only a few weeks ago - the one who will never meet this man called "Daddy."

And she'll have to do it all alone. Or at the very least without the one who is half of the life inside of her - who was all of her life on the outside. The ultrasounds, the first kicks, the first contractions, the first push, the first cry - all without him who helped her create this miracle (though, thankfully, she has Him Who is the creator of all miracles).

And I thought my life was too much?

So I awake on this Saturday morning, the same one where she will be saying final good-byes to a man with whom she had planned to spend her entire life, not realizing his would end at twenty-four, to serve her. A minuscule gesture of love to someone who is hurting more than I can imagine. In a world that is too much pain.

And it's not what I planned, but then, it's not what she planned, either.

01 August 2014

Of Losing Her Teeth (Literally)

Way back in January (which feels like yesterday), I took Micaiah for her regular dental check-up, where she received exciting news: she had her first loose tooth! Now, of course, as we all know, if it took a dentist to tell you your tooth was loose, it's probably not on the precipice of falling out just yet. But Micaiah, who has been waiting for this moment ever since she first watched The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist at the tender age of three, was ecstatic.

And for months we got to hear her tell everyone she met, "I have a looth tooth!" performing her best mimicry of Sister Bear's loose-tooth-lisp (try to say that without lisping). So, the day before Easter, on a Saturday morning visit to the donut shop, we smiled and nodded while she, once again, told us about her precious tooth. Until I got finished paying and joined my family at the table, where my husband said, "You need to see this"

Lo and behold, that tooth was loose! More than dentist-tapping-on-it loose, but tongue-wiggling-it-prominently loose. "That's going to come out in the next couple days," he declared.

He may have over-estimated.

That very afternoon, Micaiah came from her room after nap time to tell me a sad story, "I was playing with my tooth and fell out and now I can't find it!"

Wait. Back up. It what? "Wait, is your tooth in your mouth?!"

"No! I don't know where it is!"

Still processing. "It came out?"

"Yes, and then I lost it!"

You're telling me! She lost a tooth! Her first tooth! And she was more upset at the literal losing of the tooth than at the fact that she now had a distinct hole in her bite. No worries, though, Daddy came to the rescue and found that tooth in the thick pile of her new carpet (we had just moved in a few weeks before and the texture, thick enough to lose something in, was still new to her). And our baby girl got to leave her first tooth under her pillow. And the Tooth Fairy almost forgot for the first time to give her a dollar.

And of course, our precious planner, put that dollar right in her future-car fund. She has much more restraint than her mother.

Fast forward a couple of months. She had started it again, insisting the tooth right next to the half-filled hole, where her new chomper is pushing it's way into place, was loose. And sure enough, it was a little wiggly. And by two nights ago, as we prayed for her before bed time, her smile showed a distinctly crooked tooth - it was barely hanging on.

Thus, after breakfast yesterday morning, when she came to me with the same story, "I lost my tooth. I don't know where it is!" I was a little less surprised, but no less excited. We were able to narrow the time down to realize she probably lost it while she ate, but the little guy is still missing.

Thus, she wrote a note and left it dutifully under her pillow, hoping the Fairy would understand. Unfortunately, the Tooth Fairy's response must have fallen out from under the pillow while she slept, so the poor girl woke up thinking the Fairy had taken the note, been utterly disappointed in her and left nothing in return. I can only imagine the shame she bore for the hour or so until Momma found the new note and read it to her.

No worries, she found the dollar the Tooth Fairy dropped under her bed - and this one isn't going in the car money - it went straight into the money purse. This one is getting spent.

As for me, I'm ready for this little girl to stop taking the phrase "losing a tooth" quite so literally.

(Side Note: She's totally wearing the same skirt in those pictures. Considering she doesn't wear that skirt every day or anything, I find that humorous. Could just be me.)

28 July 2014

Of Continuing the Tradition

Once upon a time there was a little girl - a princess in her own right. And every month, as a part of the routine school day, she would receive a precious white sheet of paper containing the key to the realm holding her some of her family's most precious memories. For on that paper were coupons . . . to a magical place called . . . Skateland.

And just about once a month, the family would load up the car on Friday night, head to the edge of the kingdom of La Vista, Nebraska, and pull into the parking lot of the white brick building with bold black lettering spanning the length of the wall, declaring its name to the world. They would find a secluded table, lace up their tan rentals with orange wheels and hit the polished wood rink. The lights were always too dark to make out much, unless you were there, in the center of the action, or you donned your very own glow stick.

And when the announcer would declare a couples skate, the princess would push herself off the floor, except for that magical time of night when it was her turn with the king - her daddy. And they would hold hands as they floated around the rink to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus crying about his Achy Breaky Heart.

They were fond memories, indeed.

That same princess grew up. And though it had been years, the day she married her very own prince, they celebrated on a rink of blue. They danced their first dance and skated their first skate in their beautiful wedding attire. And her mother and father, who had spent months joining awkward pre-teens at their local rink, preparing their bodies for the task at hand, were there, too.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Thus, the princess found herself, eight years later - having not donned skates since that magical day she joined her life with her prince - at the same skating rink with her very own little princess.

The little one's legs were shaky and unsure. The orange wheels pulled themselves from under her more than once and she eventually needed a brace - patched together from PVC pipe and a little duct tape - to even stay upright without her mother using every muscle to keep her on her feet. The little princess was scared - terrified, even - but she pushed through. She would take a lap and take a break, but each time, she would muster up her resolve and declare, "I want to go back out there." She fell and let her mommy pick her up. She teased her mommy when she, too, took a couple of stumbles. She wore a brave smile and let loose cautious giggles. She was vulnerable and courageous. And they skated the couple skate (though no Billy Ray Cyrus was to be heard) and watched the glow-skate. The older princess was proud, heart overflowing.

And it was a fond memory, indeed.

Lacing her up (this task is SO much harder than it looks!)

Ready to roll!

This face, her expression after her first go-around, sans brace, sums up how she felt about the experience in the beginning.

Stretching her skating legs.

*Many thanks to the dear friends who invited Micaiah to her first-ever skating party and for letting me join in the fun!

19 July 2014

Of Vacation Bible School

I wasn't going to help with VBS. I mean, I really wasn't going to. Because, while I love my own kids, working with little kids has never really been my thing. I didn't baby-sit much when I was younger, and when I did, well, let's just say I never had repeat customers. Once upon a time I thought I'd actually teach elementary school, but an experience as a camp counselor with a crying fourth-grader taught me I'd much rather deal with older kids - the ones who could understand and appreciate my sarcasm and bump their heads without being sent to the nurse.

So Vacation Bible School? No. Not for me.

As the signs were going up, I was getting my excuses ready. I'd just had a baby - I should stay home with her. I was looking forward to the time with my boys, while older sister was learning about Jesus. We'd go to the library, maybe even go to the movies. It was going to be nice. And it wasn't going to involve me wrangling a bunch of other peoples' kids.

But God has a funny way of talking us into things. And He was real subtle about it, too.

Because first, it was that our church was taking a mission trip to my in-laws' church to do - guess what - VBS. And I wasn't necessarily going to participate in that, but wouldn't it be nice to at least visit Gram and Grandy while our church was there? But then we could just ride with the church, right? But I guess if we're going to ride with the church we should actually help. Darn it.

And so we did. I actually taught crafts (ok, I assisted someone else who put a great deal of time and effort into planning and then teaching - I mostly just manned the hot glue gun, a task I hate, but it was a mission trip after all, it's all about expanding the comfort zone, even if that means burnt fingers and strings of glue) while my littles, led by Gram, made the rounds.

And it was so darn cute watching little two-year-old Joseph, proudly holding his Bible Story paper, huge grin on his face, as he went from one class to another. And hearing him sing the songs on the way home each evening? Be still my heart.

Then it hit me. My boys love this. I mean, they really enjoy VBS. And now they know what VBS is. So, darn it, if I'm taking their big sister to VBS at our church and we're dropping her off together, they'll know what they're missing. And a trip to the library isn't going to cut it.

I was in a quandary. Until someone suggested I volunteer. Because the children of volunteers, particularly those in Emmett's age bracket, would get to participate in VBS.

So for the sake of not hearing a tantrum every morning for a week, I sacrificed my excuses and signed myself up. But maybe I'd just help with snacks. Because if there's one thing I can do, it's feed people.

But God had other plans. I wasn't just working with the kids - I was going to work with the littlest ones - the ones who just graduated from Pre-K and Kindergarten - the ones most apt to cry and be incapable of standing in a line. But who would have guessed? By the middle of the week, I was actually having fun. I had the privilege of watching my big girl answer questions in Bible School and make new friends. I hugged and loved on little ones who weren't my own, but gave me the sweetest grins. I held little hands and supervised bathroom visits. And I wasn't really hating any of it.

And this morning? On the last day? God showed me the purpose of all of it.

My big little boy, the one I did all this for - just so he could go to Bible School - told me he wanted to take "a lot" of money to church, so I took his monster bank down from the shelf. I pulled out bills from past birthday money. The first I pulled out was a twenty, which seemed like maybe too much, so I dug around until I found a five. And I explained to him which was which. He had been completely satisfied with the 17 cents he'd taken earlier in the week and I'd wondered if he might change his mind, after all, and opt for the handful of coins that had come out, as well. He chose the twenty.

I wasn't sure he understood what he was doing, so, just to check, I asked, "Why do you want to take so much money to church?"

I thought he would mention the balloon he would get to put in the big representative drinking glass, the visual reminder of why they were collecting money anyway. Or he might mention just getting to put the money in the green bucket.

Instead, he said, "So that lots of kids in India can have clean water!"

Oh my goodness. And a little child led me.

This VBS thing? The thing I fought so hard? It's changing the hearts of my children.

And to be honest? It's changing the heart of their mother.

I'm thinking God knows what He's doing. And my name just might be the first on that volunteer list next year.

12 July 2014

Of Raising Cowboys

The beauty of living in a smallish/biggish town is that it's the best of both worlds. We've got what this "city"(ish) girl calls civilization (because as soul-sucking as it is, I used to believe you couldn't call it a town if it didn't have a Wal-Mart - Oklahoma has well proven me wrong by now), but we've also got a little bit country going on over here. Which means we can take an afternoon drive through the back roads to see horses and cattle (and squirrels - which we didn't have much of in our old house, so Micaiah called them "wild animals" when we saw them on the outskirts).

It also means every summer . . . the rodeo comes to town! And this isn't your average small-town rodeo. I mean, it's a big-time deal, with participants from all over the nation converging on our streets and grocery stores for a week every July.

And I used to not really care. I'd notice the signs in town welcoming the visitors, and I'd notice the increase in traffic, but that was about it. The hullabaloo didn't have much to do with me (I was still clinging to the city in me, I suppose).

And then I had kids. Kids who, like all little ones, love animals and cowboys. And I saw the yearly rodeo with new eyes - an experience our children would adore. So, this year, we piled in and headed out.

I didn't tell them before-hand where we were headed (which can be a hit-or-miss strategy - sometimes it leads to squeals of excitement when they figure it out, other times it leads to, "But where's the surprise?"), but as we traversed the parking lot, spying teenagers in wide-brimmed hats grooming their steed, they started the squealing. Cowboys! Cowgirls!

And as we entered the arena, with a sea of real cowboys and girls atop their horses, waiting for their turn to compete, they were in awe. And so was I.

Here was this crowd of teenagers, mostly, who had the discipline and drive to devote themselves to the animals in their care - training them to move with precision and speed. They had trained their own bodies to endure the trials of being bucked from animals weighing hundreds of pounds. They had learned to wrestle cattle, throw an effective lasso and avoid the stomping hooves of angry bulls.

I want my kids to be cowboys. And if they can't manage to procure their own beasts of burden, perhaps they can find some way to at least rein in the spirit of perseverance and hard work that comes with the territory. I want them to own the courage and tenacity it takes to pick yourself up, dust off your pants, and get right back in the ring. I want them to tackle their problems with focus and determination, prepared to wrangle the issue to the ground and lift their hands in triumph upon completion (even if victory was more difficult and harder coming than anticipated).

And it wouldn't hurt if they'd don a cowboy hat every now then - because everyone looks good in a cowboy hat.

Suckers instantly make any experience that much better.

Look at all those cowboys back there!

It was a rainy day, so here she is, middle of July, cuddling from the cold. As she snuggled, I taught her to count the seconds during the bull riding, to judge how good the ride was. She got just as excited as we did when a couple riders stayed on for the full eight-count.