Used gifts

I watched them through the lens of my camera so I could hide the tears. "Who gives their kids used gifts?" Two of them tore through the paper like semi-rabid animals. One was more delicate, taking off the wrapping paper one strip at a time while her siblings twitched with impatience on the sidelines. The forth one just sat on daddy's lap, drooling on himself, enthralled with the commotion. I knew they were too young to notice that the bat mobile or Doc McStuffins doll had been bought off Craigslist. I knew even if they could tell they wouldn't care. But it still stung my pride. The other used gifts bothered me a bit less. They were more of the heirloom variety.

Peter's football. When Braxton opened that package he also opened up memories of Peter playing catch with his brothers, stories of the Buffalo Bills of the 90's and anticipation of backyard games of catch with his daddy, his uncles, cousins and even Titus when he was big enough.

My first "real" bible: its peach cover and gold lettering creased and faded with time. I found it amusing yet fitting that the color combination was trendy again. Before I gave it to Hayleigh I fingered through the pages smiling at the places eight year old me had scrawled in the margins and crookedly underlined passages with such gusto that I had ripped a line right through the fine pages. I prayed over this gift for the heart and future of my girl, my kindred spirit, that she would find the same life in those pages that I have found (or that has found me) time and time again.

Preparing for Christmas, knowing what we had to offer them that year, I felt simultaneously like the worst and best mom ever. I knew what really mattered, the real meaning of Christmas. I knew we were doing the best we could with what we had. I knew our kids really weren't suffering, but that didn't take away  how much I wanted to give them "good " gifts- shiny new ones that made them squeal with delight as they opened them, ones that would be proud to show off to all their friends.Yet I found peace in knowing in reality we were giving them something more, something that wasn't wrapped up in paper and bows, something never sold in stores.

Pray, cry, laugh. (a new season and an old hope problem)

It snowed today. (or rather, by the time I get my act together enough to post this: It snowed yesterday). Enough that when I was sneaking down the stairs before the kids were up I saw it covering our car and was a bit taken aback. I don't know why. I live in Rochester, NY. Snow, enough to stick, before Halloween is kind of par for the course. I know what season follows Fall (it's winter, guys. Winter follows Fall.). I knew the forecast for today. But as I stumbled, foggy-eyed down the stairs before 6 am, I was still startled. (I might have also been a bit startled I was out of bed before 6 in the morning. I am trying a new thing. It's called "pretending you are a morning person without becoming a family annihilator". So far, so good.) Anyways, the snow. There it was. It reminded me of what's coming.

Sometimes seasons change quick.

I haven't really mentioned it here, but we are in a change of seasons here too. Two months ago Peter started a new job. If you read any of my past annoyingly vague posts (if you missed them but love annoying vagueness then read here and here ), you probably know that this past year and a half or so the monies, they have been tight. Like poverty line tight. Like breezing right past "after Thanksgiving dinner loosen the belt a notch" tight and onto "that shirt is two sizes too small and 20 years too late" kind of tight. Peter is in sales and while he is pretty stellar at peddling the goods (goods meaning cable and internet...c'mon. Although it got pretty bad. I won't say it didn't come up in conversation once or twice) his company changed his pay structure last September making it nearly impossible for him to make enough money to support us and our small herd of children. Hence the inappropriate tightness.

After months and months of working two jobs, praying, crying, applying, praying, crying, interviewing, praying, crying, selling furniture out from underneath our tired behinds, praying, crying, finding out he was chosen for the job he had tried to get for years only to find out when he went in to sign the offer sheet that there was no job, yelling, crying, praying, then finding out that his position was terminated because of a merger, just flat out losing our crap, God gave Peter the exact job he thought he had here in Rochester, just in Buffalo, NY. (In case you aren't from around here, that's a hour and a half away, so he is commuting.)

There are at least a bazillion details making this story stunning beautiful, achingly ugly and just plain long. I will spare you those. God could not have made it more clear to us that this was Peter's job. The fact that he didn't have another one was a key indicator as well.

We are thrilled. And relieved. Sometimes we look at each other and say crazy things like "hey, maybe let's pay all our bills this month!" Or "I can breathe." And then we high five and maybe snort-laugh. Because we are dorks. Some people think Peter is a bit looney to commute 3 hours round trip every day in one of the snowiest parts of the country. I am here to say he is not that looney, just majorly desperate because our kids are majorly hungry...all the time. And food doesn't grow on trees...well at least not the trees in our yard. Besides being desperate we are grateful. God answered our prayers and has brought us into a new season.

Photo by Hayleigh Gavenda
 But can I peel back the layers of honesty a bit more with you and say that I am other things besides just desperate and grateful? Well, I am going to anyway. Here it is.

Looking for the Somethings

This past weekend my family, including my parents and sisters, went to Geneva, NY for the day. My dad grew up in Geneva and even though it is only about an hour from home, we had never spent the day there all together seeing the various places of significance in my dad's childhood. We kept referring to Geneva as my dad's old "stomping grounds", which was humorous and fitting for me, mainly because my dad is not a small guy (6'5) and he is not exactly what you would call fleet of foot. In fact, God love him, my dad is probably the noisiest walker I know. I can still hear the rapid, booming thump-thump of his dress shoes down the front hall when he came in from work each evening. Or what sounded like a rock-slide when he ran down the stairs.

We all have the sounds of our childhood. Mine included my mom screaming at the TV during Syracuse Basketball games, the echos of which weaved all through the house and curled up the stairs to my bedroom while I drifted off to sleep. Who needs a lullaby when you have that? And who needs an alarm clock with you have a an entire men's varsity rugby team and the cast of "Stomp" going up and down the stairs outside your bedroom.  As an added bonus, my has a habit of leaving his shoes everywhere. His size 14 shoes. In the most random and hazardous spots. I don't even know how many times one of us has tripped over his shoes growing up. Conservatively I would say, at least 12 million times, because that seems both accurate and fair. Somethings don't change because now my kids will regularly collide with one of his giant sneakers and go flailing. My sisters and I are eternally indebted to his hazardous shoe placement because without having to stick those landings we would never have grown into the graceful, coordinated women we are today... So yes, the idea of his former stomping grounds made me laugh to myself, because I can just picture my dad as a kid and teenager tromping all around the streets of Geneva, leaving giant footprints (and shoes) wherever he went.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day. We walked all afternoon as my dad pointed out the landmarks of his life. The house he grew up in, with his bedroom window in the top left-hand corner. The front door is a different color now. The rectory he moved into when his dad became the head priest at the Episcopal church in town. That house was his favorite. It was big, like a maze, perfect for exploring. And his best friend Billy Summer's house, right across the street. We saw "Dead Man's Hill": the story behind one of his scars, where he went sledding head first into a guard rail. The florist shop where one holiday when he was in elementary school he bought his mother a cardboard flower. My dad had saved up his money but couldn't afford a real flower. Timidly he offered up what he thought was a meager gift to his mother, my grandmother, and to his delight she pinned it right onto her fancy dress and showed it off to everyone at their high society holiday party. The college where his dad taught. The frat house my dad lived in when we attended the same college. The store his mom used to shop at for knick-knacks. And the grassy area overlooking Seneca Lake where he first learned to hit a baseball.

It was strange and pleasant to put a "face" to all these places, from all these stories I had heard. I had never envisioned Dead Man's hill to be snack dab in the middle of some cheery 19th century row houses. The church was ornate and grand, one of those old grey stone main street churches I would have commented on if we had driven by on any other Sunday afternoon drive. As he spoke telling a story about being woken up by the sound of car accident below, I could almost see his five-year old face peering out the window under the street lights.

When we came home and in the days afterward I have felt a restless feeling in me.  It's nothing new, really. Often times I find myself wrestling with some event or circumstance, searching for a metaphor.  I scrolled through pictures from our day looking for some lesson to come from the day, some inspiration. I toured over the the streets of Geneva again in my mind. What symbol held deeper, spiritual meaning? You might think it's a little strange at best, and down right pathetic at worse. And you'd totally be right. I'm just a girl with a weakness for symbolism and deeper meaning. A good metaphor is my Kriptonite. Along with apple crisp.

All the Septembers

For the past two Septembers, right around the time the leaves change color and begin to fall, I've felt this lump begin forming in my throat. It seems to reach all the way from my throat down to the pit of my stomach. Sometimes I will just be washing dishes or sitting on the floor playing with the baby and I will feel tears rolling unbeckoned, unannounced down my face.

It's like my body remembers before my consciousness what happened three years ago- that at this time in 2013 the writing was on the wall, and as each leaf fell from the majestic trees I felt pieces of my life breaking apart and cascading down too, just out of reach, only to get crumpled under the feet of a world that just kept moving on.

I knew it was coming this year too, but yet somehow even though I expected it, grief snuck up on me. I am still not sure how. I posted a guard. I even prepared a place for this unwelcome guest, but he must have snuck in the backdoor of my heart because the other day I felt a familiar lump rise up in my throat and I had to remind myself to breathe. I sat on the couch with my kids piling on my lap for a bedtime story and I had to dig my fingers into my thigh in a feeble attempt to hold back the sobs. Yesterday morning Titus and I took a walk while the other three kids were at school. One single leaf dropped down from high up in a tree. It fell slow but steady and landed among others in a muddy pile along the side of the road. I found myself down on the concrete rescuing leaves. Gathering them up, washing them with my tears and trembling fingers. I brought them home because I just couldn't stand the thought of them laying there in the mud, without a meaning, without anyone noticing.

Anywhere but here: What about when God says "Stay"?

It's our last week of summer, and we are spending it just how any suburban family dreams to: being struck down by Hand Foot and Mouth Virus...aka Leprosy. (See also: the plague.) Two of the kids have it for sure and at the time of writing this Peter just called up from giving the baby a bath to tell me he is pretty sure there are sores forming around Titus' mouth. So that's awesome. I think I will just shimmy out this third floor window and run away. Think anyone will notice?

This might be the right time to confess something. I am a total quitter. When it comes to fight or flight, I think I was skipped over for the fight gene. I am a runner. And I don't mean exercising. My running consists more of hiding or useless coping mechanisms or flat out quitting. When the stuff of life piles on, I slink down under it. So I guess that makes me a slinker too. Whatever that is. Quitting gets a little harder when you have a brood of kids, so I have had to learn to fight a little, but its mostly done dramatically, sulkily and with no shortage of martyrdom. 

At different times in my life the stuff has gotten so thick around me that the tension of it is palpable. I feel a desperate need to escape it all. The pressure of it all is squeezing me so tight, that I just want to pop myself out of its grip and scurry away, like the poor Rabbit my daughter almost strangled. That bunny waited for just one more tight squeeze around the middle, used the force of her throttle to propel itself and then jumped head long. That bunny bolted for some greener pasture. There are moments or seasons where I just feel overcome by the need to escape.

When Depression and Anxiety were holding me captive. This past year when things were kind of horrendous at Peter's job and we had no idea how we would pay for our life. When my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Anywhere but here. 

Hard Dreams: Olympic and Otherwise

We are pretty big Olympics fans in our house, in case my posts on social media have not made that clear. We have trained for the the last four years to get ourselves in condition to sit on the couch for five hours straight every night like a true American, and occasionally during the day if the right events are on...or if there is a sink full of dishes to avoid. We in the sports world call this "two a days". And guys, its not for the weak. This is where it is important to stay hydrated, take stretch breaks as you fast forward through commercials (a DVR is one of the perks of being a wife of a cable man) and make sure you are eating Olympic size snacks. Gotta fuel up. Our training also includes time invested in reading articles about returning athletes, newbies and obscure athletes in obscure sports that have backstories that may make you shed a tear. Education is key. We aren't super political ( as in we hover somewhere around "let's never talk about politics ever or I might pretend to be choking on an imaginary meatball just to skirt the conversation") but we earn big patriotism points by doing our part in supporting our athletes. Its the least we can do, really.

We promised our kids we would have an Olympic viewing party. Since NBC gives us a little snack of the events we actually want to see and then ropes us into to staying awake until the wee-hours to watch tape delays of the other half of said desirable events (its like they have some marketing gurus over there at NBC or something!) we knew the best way to do this would be to use the trusty old DVR and watch the gymnastics final a day late with the kids. (Peter and I watched it live. I mean what are we, communists?!)

Last night was the night. Since you weren't there to witness it, let me paint a picture of the scene for you. We went shopping for red, white and blue themed snacks. We busted out the glow sticks leftover from the 4th of July debacle. We ate pizza on beach towels on the floor in our PJs. Real classy stuff because #merica. Let's just say that for a moment in time Peter and I were gold medal Olympic fans and gold medal parents. Watch out Michael Phelps. You might be an okay swimmer but we can watch you swim with the best of 'em. And Boomer might have some snazzy noise canceling headphone thingys, but my kids are wearing almost clean pajamas and sitting on not at all clean beach towels...which, strangely enough, might be cleaner than the floor they're on. So yeah.

As Peter and I climbed onto the podium there were kids clamoring at us, waving hands up at us like something out of a 90's R&B song. There were tears. Signs made in our honor complete with hearts and pledges of undying love. Guys, Peter might actually have enough supporters to run for president on a third party ticket. (That is my only political mention. If you try to engage me further I will find the nearest patriotic party meatball and gag myself with it.) The kids were making bold claims, ones I may have documented to rub their faces in later  look back on fondly. At the mere mention of pizza we were dubbed "the best parents in the whole world". As ridiculous as that title is, it felt good for a minute. And all it cost us was a cheap pizza and some stale bulk gummies in patriotic colors.

 As I heard the absurdity of "best mom EVVERRRR", I may have smiled coyly, blushed and fanned myself a little, but inside I was thinking "what about all the other stuff I do for you? The things you don't even notice, or worse yet the things you fight against or whine about? The things that are really way more of a sacrifice of love than a floor pizza party? I mean I didn't even let you on the furniture for goodness sakes! You are only saying these things because right now the gift feels and tastes good!" 

To Be Still or To Slay (and a question for you)

Lately I have been working on something that has me giving a lot of thought and research to seasons of suffering and waiting. There is so much to say about these topics, from equally as many perspectives. I would love to hear a little bit of yours! (Read on for how you can help me and earn my undying love.)

The hardest thing for me about waiting, you know other than the whole impatient "I want it now and I hate not knowing when it is coming or even if it is coming" thing,   is the constant tension between being still and doing something.

It appears to be most obvious to me as I peruse social media. I scroll down my feed and read hand scripted verses like Psalm 46:10 "Be still and know that I am God" or Exodus 14:14 "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still". Like. Like. 

Then I scroll a little further and I see bold, italicized quotes that tell me to get it done, live a life of purpose, dream big, hustle, give excuses a round-house kick to the face, drink 5 gallons of water a day, be a warrior, be fierce, slay. Like. Like. Like.  

You guys. My feed is straight up confusing. I mean, I don’t know if I am entirely sure I know what "slay" even means. I am pretty sure that I don't slay nearly as much as I like to use the word in conversation, just to see people's reactions.  But other than not being up on pop culture, I am confused because now I am wondering, am I supposed to be still and let God fight for me? Or am I supposed to get it done on purpose without excuses but with lots of hustle like the fierce fully hydrated warrior I am?  And for the love of chocolate covered pretzels, how can I slay if I am stopping for as many bathroom breaks as 5 gallons of water would require? 

See? Confusing right? 

This isn't a a new struggle for me. I have been trying to figure this one out for years. It is not just the Internet that seems to contradict itself on this one. I can back up both the thought of being still and thought of doing with scripture. I already mentioned two verses for team "Be still" (Psalm 46:10 and Exodus 14:14). Team "Just do it" (not sponsored by Nike) has plenty of scripture to support its side too. There is imagery of war and commands to take action throughout scripture. 

Ephesians 6:11-18 tells us  
"Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the Devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand, Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the Gospel of peace. In addition to this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit,which is the word of God. And pray on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind; be alert and always keep on praying for all of God's people."

I think we all feel more comfortable suiting up for one team or another, especially during seasons of waiting. also think sometimes we end up on a team for the wrong reasons and if we are not careful we can use scripture to defend our sinful tendencies. More on that later. 

So, my question for you is this:  Especially during seasons of waiting, what team do you find yourself on most naturally- "Team Be Still" or "Team Just do it"? And why do you think that is? 

Okay, I guess that was two questions, but I would love you forever, maybe even more than chocolate covered pretzels, if you would let me hear your thoughts! Email me, Direct Message me, Comment on the blog or on Facebook, whatever you gotta do. I promise to keep your words/identity confidential, unless given permission. Thank you in advance for trusting me with your hearts on this; you will be such a help to me! 

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