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! 

Spewing Waterlemon and Tears, Summer Fevers and When Rest is Best

This year we had a 4th of July we won't ever forget. Peter and I were trying to be all patriotic and make memories for our kids and stuff, so we dressed in our red white and blue, snapped a family selfie (of course) and went to the parade down at Town Hall. Even just saying it makes me feel all Americana. We were late (also of course) and Royce was moody (ditto again on the "of course"), but we were making the best of it, ya know, getting way more excited than the event warranted in an attempt to raise family morale. "Look guys! I know its a bazillion degrees and we can't find a spot in the shade, but there is POLITICIAN riding in the back of some guys pick-up truck!! And they're waving at YOU! Whoooaa! I am so glad we came to this parade! Isn't this AWESOME!??"

Royce was still complaining, this time that her tummy hurt, so Peter took her to the bathroom. On their way back to our spot of sweaty death prime parade watching real-estate, he decided to cut through the parade in between two "floats". Why? I'll never know. But it was hot, and Royce and porta-potties were involved, so we will just chalk this one up to "Dad brain", (not to be confused with "Dad Bod").

And that's when it happened, perhaps my most surreal parenting moment to date. Royce started throwing up everywhere, right in the middle of the parade, literally-the middle, you guys. Right in between a judge throwing tootsie rolls and a Kid's Bible Sports camp squirting the crowd with water guns. Peter was carrying her and they were walking towards us in slow motion and she just started spewing and couldn't stop. Now, I don't want to brag or anything but she attracted more attention than any of the politicians I saw there. She didn't even have to throw tootsie rolls. To make matters even funnier worse, she picked her spot right in front of the town's video tripod set up to document the whole thing for public television. (We have since spoken to Royce about the dangers of downsides of reality television and about finding more appropriate means to get her 5 minutes of fame.) When it comes to public displays of sickness we go big or go home. And in this case we did both.

Royce ended up being fine. We chalked the whole big scene up to the fact that the day before she had eaten enough "waterlemon" to feed half of North America and swallowed enough pool water to hydrate Africa. Girlfriend was full to the brim and couldn't hold it in any longer.

I can sympathize.

"I need to schedule time to cry". That's what I told Peter the other day.

Life has been coming at us so fast and hard for the past year, and even more so the past few weeks, really heavy stuff, one right after another where if I wasn't living it I wouldn't believe it could be possible. I have felt no space because of the pace and weight of it to ever take a few minutes and just process it all. Every time the feelings start surfacing and my eyes well up with tears, I look over my shoulder and someone needs a reassuring cuddle or a juice box or a shoe tied or a 'pankin. A 7 year old artist wants to show me her latest chalk drawing, 5 year old man-child is hungry...again, a 3 year old needs her butt wiped and the baby is up from his nap. The phone is vibrating with another text bearing a bad news update or a request to add to my to-do list. I look at the clock only to see we have to be out the door in 10 minutes and nobody has had a potty break and even knows where there shoes are, or has brushed their hair today, including me...and the 5 year old is hungry again. So I twist the cap back on the tears, like a fizzy bottle of coke about to explode, and press on. One foot in front of the other. No tears right now.

I knew a breakdown was coming. If I didn't schedule it in, it would erupt at an inoppritune time.

Then I woke up yesterday to another day scheduled to the hilt, only to find poor Royce was sick again. This time with a fever, nothing waterlemon induced.  So the plans were canceled and new plans were made. We rested.

Yesterday we let rest settle down deep in us, as we settled down into it, Royce to a little Disney Junior and me to my own rest-to let it speak honesty to the parts of me where the Truth has gotten twisted up, to let it rub grace over the calloused places in me, and give space for held in tears and laughter. We settled into rest to let it cure what ailed us.

I am not going to pretend there wasn't an untimely meltdown mixed in there for good measure, but it was a long time coming. Girlfriend was filled to the brim and couldn't hold it in any longer.

I took time to process some of the crap-ton of stuff that has happened the past couple weeks. Life has left my soul screaming for some truth, but my heart aching for a hug of grace.

Suffering is brutal, but it is also a teacher in lessons of truth and grace. Sometimes a bit of the grace offered in that place of suffering is learning to take time for deep, holy rest. Summer fevers suck. But without that being on our docket for yesterday, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to add the rest I was craving to the docket either.

Sometimes, in a twisted way, suffering gives me just what I need, if I will just take it.

Yesterday it was a little space to process and grieve and be okay with not being okay. Sometimes the gift in suffering is encountering God in ways I never would have otherwise. Sometimes it is learning to trust farther than my eyes can see, or to experience comfort and peace that transcend understanding, or to grow in compassion for other people who I see suffering. Other days suffering shines the light on the sinful crevices inside me that need to be cleaned out, another gift of truth and grace.

There are dozens of other gifts I have found in suffering, gifts of hard grace. Suffering doesn't always take, although it robs us of so much. I never want to minimize that, please believe me. But I have been in the place that only wallows in what suffering takes and its no where I want to stay. I am allowing the suffering to hurt, not pretending that it doesn't, but I am trying to look for the gifts in it too. I have learned, to my great joy, that the gifts are always there if I am looking for them. They might sting a little. They might need to be brushed off and shined up a bit in order to really look like the gift they are. They might not be the gifts on our wish list. But they are there. The gifts are there in suffering because my God is there too. And He has promised to never leave me or forsake me. He has promised to bring all things together for my good. That's truth and grace, sweeter than any waterlemon.

Who do you follow? {Walking in Freedom}

Recently I have had the opportunity to be involved in some exciting things, good Kingdom building things. But like he tries to do with anything good, Satan is trying to use these things to start a storm in me and keep me bound up in things that either don't matter, or matter less than what really matters. I have felt tangled up in the comparison game, which if we are being honest is often more of a competition than a game. I look around and it seems like other people have been given such an audience, such a platform to shout truth about the glory of God. I vacillate back and forth between shameful envy and shameful guilt thinking that I must not be putting the right message out there, or God would be blessing me more in this area.

{Isn't it ugly when we treat God as if He is a puppet on our strings?}

Worrying about who is following you is a bound up place to be. While I am grateful for the opportunities I have been given lately, the greater opportunity that comes from this seems to be the chance to look inside myself, see what I am bound up by, and begin to let God untangle me. Once again, His grace is more.

{God isn't the one tangled in the puppet strings, I am.}

The Chase Part 2

The other day I shared about the not-so-fun game my kids and I play, the game where they chase me down and corner me. I imagine them as villagers wielding pitch forks and torches but in reality it is more likely that they are carrying plastic swords and parasols. The villagers keep chasing me with their incessant requests & needs and I keep running away. No one is winning this game. You can read Part 1 of "The Chase" here. 

Today, I am super excited and honored to be sharing Part 2 of "The Chase" over at "To Choose Joy" ! You can read Part 2 here. It promises to be full of ridiculous 7th grade me, in all my sweaty, nervous glory! How is that for a draw, right?

To Choose Joy

And while you are there please be sure to look around at my friend Becky's website; it is as beautiful as she is! Becky is one of the most genuine, faithful, inspiring, JOYFUL people I have ever met. Read her story. I promise it will encourage you and draw you nearer to God!

 I would also ask that you take a couple minutes to pray for Becky and her family. It is not an easy road they have, but they walk it with such grace- bringing God the glory.

I hope you enjoy Part 2 of The Chase and meeting my friend Becky!

The Chase Part 1

I have a confession. I have never read or seen The Hunger Games. Hopefully that statement is not so polarizing that it prevents you from still being my friend, either Internet or flesh (if that doesn't sound too awkward). I don't know a ton about it either, but I know enough to feel kinda sorta like there is a real life game going on in my own home. I not-so-affectionately refer to it as "The Chase". (Apparently we have upped our intensity since I wrote about our game of Hide and Seek.)

The basic premise of "The Chase" is for the children in our home to relentlessly pursue the mother in our home, to corner her, badger her, and surround her on all sides with requests for snacks, TV shows to be played off the DVR and craft scissors from the top shelf. The mother has no safe zone, not even the toilet or shower is considered safe. She does, however, get bonus points if she can eat a peanut butter chocolate chip granola bar without anyone finding her out and pouncing. Sometimes though, even after the fact, a stray wrapper or crumb may do her in. The mother must be crafty, and not just in the pinterest-y way. Meanwhile, from their strategy it appear that this is the breakdown of how the children in our home earn points:

Thoughts from Gethsemane

Sometimes the internet just gives you the best gifts: the perfectly worded meme, an inspirational (and unattributed) quote, a video of someone making a fool of themselves-just what you need as a mid-afternoon pick-me-up. Many a time during witching hour the internet has saved me. Yesterday it gave again. With Easter in just a few days so many of you are sharing inspirational truth. My facebook newsfeed (let's use the word "news" loosely here) and my instagram are littered with pictures of  three crosses silhouetted on a hill and hand-lettered scripture nested in a bouquet of water-colored flowers that I most certainly do not know the name of because I am no botanist. I kill everything green, or that is supposed to be green.

This Easter I have felt myself feeling a bit angsty over all these posts. Don't get me wrong. I love them. I love their beauty. I love their meaning. I love their truth. I even love to let out a slightly troubled laugh at the occasional Easter themed Jesus Juke. The problem isn't the posts; its me. For some reason this season I wanted more. To be honest, I have felt a little blasphemous about the whole thing. I have sat with my Bible and read and re-read the story of Jesus' last week on earth, his death and resurrection, in every book of the Gospels. I don't know what I was looking for. Did I really think I would find something new? Could there really be anything better than what was already written there- that Jesus took MY sin upon him, undeservedly suffered MY punishment and then conquered sin and death to claim victory for ME?

The story could never get old, but yet I found myself tearfully pleading with God for Him to let it wash over me with new, personal meaning. Give me something new in the Good News-some new sprout of hope, one that even I can't kill.

And then the Internet delivered in the form of a John Piper quote.

Encouragement for the Mom Hiding in the Bathroom

First off, let's just be clear. I am the mom hiding in the bathroom. I am my own audience here, guys. I totes hide in the bathroom on the daily, sometimes with a secret sugar, until the bathroom gets too filthy to be considered much of a refuge and then I just hide in there and shake my head at how inept our cleaning lady is. Seriously though. She's the worst.

I thought you should know that because I would hate for you to think I was preaching from some non-hiding-in-the-bathroom-and-stress-eating-mom-pedestal. And apparently I would also hate for you to think that my house was any cleaner than one notch above "hazmat". I am sure you are encouraged already. With that firm foundation laid we can move forward.

A few months back I read a familiar passage in Mark and it struck me anew, as scripture has an awesome way of doing. It was the passage from Mark 6:30-44 where Jesus feeds the 5000. Now, if you grew up in church you have probably heard this story yourself what feels like 5000 times. That's a bit how I felt reading it, but with this read the story touched me like it hadn't before, and I don't think I can ever look at it the same way again.

Hair-lickers and Mothering Ideals

I looked in the backseat and there she was, eating leftover breakfast out of her hair. Never mind the fact that her usual hairstyle looked like something out of "The Boxcar Children", now she was using her hair as a spoon, and with more accuracy than I had ever seen her use any utensil before, hence  this whole scene unfolding in the first place. I remember turning to Peter and remarking that she was going to show up to church looking like she had just climbed out of a puddle, if puddles were made of oatmeal, and she was wearing the purple rainboots to match. Maybe she would at least smell like sugar and spice.

Something kind of funny happens the more kids you have, and I say "kind of funny" because it is also kind of pathetic and terrifying and embarrassing too. So its the "laugh and throw up your hands but your eyes are really pleading 'help me' " sort of funny. The more kids you have, the more your ideals go out the window. At first this is probably a good thing. I mean what newborn was ever happy with a flower headband the size of her entire body and what 15 month old is thinking, "man, this sitting on the potty seat is so fun. I wish we spent all our Saturdays this way, every hour on the hour. I have no desire to play with blocks or poop my pants...or play with blocks while I poop my pants ever again! Diapers are so last year. And I bet we are having trapezoid shaped tofu as a reward for dinner tonight, because I am a vegan who totally already knows what a trapezoid is. Why is Mommy sweating and crying in the corner?" (I don't mean to offend. I'mean just saying we can all let our ideals get out of whack.)

In fact I think the main purpose child #2 served in our house his entire first year was helping me break down my ridiculous ideals. At the time I was pretty sure his purpose was to let me know I was a horrible mother, but time has given me a little perspective on that one. I know now that I am not horrible, but marginal. And if abolishing crazy-lady ideals was not the main purpose for #2, it was hands down #3's purpose: my purple boot wearing, hair licking, free-spirit. And then by the time #4 came 5 months ago, I realized I didn't really have many ideals left. Turns out that isn't the best place to be either.

My biggest problem: 2 years after the diagnosis

755 Days. That's how many days ago my dad got his formal diagnosis of Younger Onset Alzheimer's. 2 years and 3 1/2 weeks ago our lives were forever changed when we were told what in the dark, unadmitting places in our hearts we already knew. There is something about a diagnosis that slaps denial in the face and punches optimism in the gut. A couple of words can carry with them so much weight that after they trample over top of you, you lay there for a while, nursing your wounds. And that is exactly how I felt on January 15, 2014 when I got the phone call. My insides caved in on themselves at the words, and moments later I found myself still on the bed, in a heap, battered and whimpering like a wounded animal. And the truth is, I still find myself there sometimes. Because the grief that a few words carry with it can be tricky. It sneaks up on you and takes your feet right out from under you sometimes.

In these past 755 days I have learned more than in the thousands of days before. Pain is a very good teacher, if you pay attention. For most of the first year I learned a lot about grief, suffering and God's amazing, tender, un-ending, far-reaching, wrap-me-up-in-a-hug kind of love. (You can read a bitty synopsis of what I gleaned from the first year after the diagnosis here. )

This next year, I have learned entirely new things, things that might actually be more painful, which I would not have thought possible. For the first year every song at church, every inspirational quote from all the wise meme makers out there, every bible verse, applied so perfectly to the magnitude of my grief. It was daunting and right in from of me. I couldn't see past it, so everything I did see I was seeing as I looked through it. Alzheimer's became my rose colored glasses. So while I was facing deep sorrow I had been largely unfamiliar with prior, I was also presented, by the grace of God, with incredible comfort, insight and strength.

I won't say the grief subsided this past year, because the horrible thing about Alzheimer's is that the grief keeps coming in waves, a slow, steady grief, that never really lets you get your footing before it comes crashing in again. But I would say that it has changed a bit, or I have changed. Maybe it is growth. Maybe it is my tendency to stuff and deny. I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, I can see past it a bit. It is always there in the corner of my eye, and sometimes comes back and blocks my vision again almost entirely, but for the most part not everything is seen through the lens of Alzheimer's and all it brought along with it. This past year I was seeing with new vision.

And because God is gracious, because God loves me and wants what is best for me, I did not like what I saw much of this past year. What I saw told me that my biggest problem isn't Alzheimer's. It isn't grief. It isn't suffering, or pain, or injustice, or challenges of any kind. My biggest problem isn't carbs. It isn't my struggles to spell or type or proofread. And no guys, it is not the fact that man-buns are trendy now...or that there are men whose messy buns look better than mine. (Poor bald Peter is missing out on this one. Light a candle for his hair.) This past year God allowed quite a few more proverbial punches to my gut, and they came in waves much like the grief-one right after another, punches that made me realize what my biggest problem really is. My sin.

When did I become that mom?

As I am writing this Titus, our 4 month old, is being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic swaying of a swing. That's right. He is, (dare I even say it?), a swing napper. Today I got Braxton and Royce Wendy's for lunch and I didn't even try to convince them that apple slices taste just as good as French Fries. Pretty sure Royce is napping with ketchup in her hair. Hayleigh got off the bus yesterday, took off her winter coat which desperately needs to be washed (girl friend's a magnet for just about every salty, slushy car she twirls past) and I noticed that her shirt was on backwards. Unless she's suddenly taken up streaking at school and hastily redressed herself before the principal caught on, I am assuming she left the house that way. That is super unlikely though since Royce is my streaker and I am pretty sure each family is only allowed one...right? When did I become that mom?

Now before you take up your side to either comfort or condemn me, can I just say something? I don't really care. I don't know if it was the 4 kids in 6 years thing that forced me into this somewhat freeing, somewhat disconcerting space-almost like a purgatory between "good" moms and deadbeats. I am over the false or self-fabricated guilt. I honestly just do not have the time to sweat if someone (okay everyone) is wearing mis-matched socks or to even remember the last time we windexed the fingerprints off the windows. I've got much more important things to worry about.

Like how  over the past 3 days Titus has developed this sort of whine-howl thing that escalates every 20 or so seconds that it is ignored and seems, from what I can decipher, seems to indicate he is somehow unhappy laying on the floor mat or in the bumbo seat or basically anywhere else but in my lap. I looked at him the other day, my perfect, fat little cherry on top, and said through clenched teeth "will you please just shut up?!". I tough talked a baby, guys. (And Braxton of course reminded me I had used a "knife word", leading me down a trail of thought involving more knife words. Wasn't pretty. I need so much Jesus.) When did I become that mom?

Ands and Be (Words of the Years)

I would be either a dirty liar or a living in delusional denial if I said that I was not mostly glad to see 2015 go. Or if I said it did not leave me feeling like I was a school girl walking to class, going against the sea of people. And they kept bumping me knocking my books out of my hands, and every time I would turn to pick one up, another person would barrel into me knocking down two more. And then the gust of wind came through the open window and blew the stack of papers I was carrying, but it wasn't just a stack of papers. It was my final essay, one I had been laboring over for months, years even. It contained pretty much everything I knew about pretty much everything I know. And it was written with passion & tears and it was filled with just the most perfect words strung together in the most eloquent way. And then the wind took it in its gnarled grip and with a gust none of it was quite the same. Some pages were just wisked out the window, some were trampled under the feet of all the students racing by to beat the bell. The sea of navy uniforms (because I went to Catholic High School), sweeping them up in their waves, spitting them out the other side, only to be swept away by the current of them, coming. It happened so quickly, too quickly for me to stop it. And so slowly, as if I was watching it happen to someone else. And I saw my exaggerated slow motions grappling, feebly chasing down what was lost. The papers never went back in the stack the same way. Some gone, some torn, some smudged, some hopelessly out of order-out of line. And then the bell rang. And entire year, gone, as if it was only a 3 minute passing time. 2016 found me choking and sputtering on all the "ands". The nds that kept coming from every direction, each one so blindsiding yet so familiar, like the pit in my stomach.

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