Double Digits

Today is my 44th birthday. As is my way, each year on my birthday, I have spent the morning reflecting. As often happens with my reflections, this one has turned into a very long blog post. But as a wise person once said, it’s my birthday and I’ll post a long blog post if I want to. Since it’s a year with matching double digits, I’ve decided to look back on all the matching double-digit years that came before…

leslie-age-11Age 11 was a year filled with many changes in my life, including three different schools in two different countries for my 6th grade year. I started the school year out in Los Gatos, CA (which was different from where I was in 5th grade, by the way). My parents were beginning to raise support to go as missionaries to Mexico. I have no idea how we ended up with a large church outside of San Jose as our sending church, but end up there we did. I was enrolled in the church’s school for the first few months of 6th grade. I remember a girl in my class talking about how it was impossible for our finite brains to understand an infinite God and I thought she was the smartest girl I had ever known and I determined to start using the word finite on a regular basis so that I could impress people with my smartness too. When support was fully raised, my parents had to go to (weeks? months? i just know it felt like forever at age 11) of candidate school in Dallas, TX, so my brothers and I went to live with my grandparents in Nashville, TN for a few (weeks? months?) and enrolled in the public schools there. I remember riding the bus with a bunch of scary middle schoolers who said “ah” instead of “I” and going to science class with kids who said “ole” instead of “oil”. I remember trying out for a solo for the school Christmas program and everyone talking to me after that when they hadn’t noticed me before. We ended up leaving Nashville before the Christmas program, so I never got to sing that solo that I got. I finished out the school year in a small, English-speaking school in Guadalajara, Mexico, run by American Catholic missionaries while my parents went to language school for American Protestant missionaries. I remember spending many hours in the way back seat of our station wagon that year (remember how they faced backwards?). In all of the thousands of miles that we put on that station wagon that year, I spent most of it facing backwards and pretending like the whole world was looking at me, while I was on stage, singing, dancing, acting. It was especially magical at night when all the headlights of the other cars were spotlights on me. I wrote many songs, stories and plays in the way back of that station wagon. I was all alone and I was a star and I knew it. I was on my way to save the world with my adventurous, passionate, big-hearted parents.

leslie-age-22Age 22 saw me become a mommy for the first time. Chris was in Bible School in Dallas, TX during the day and working the graveyard shift as a courier at night. I spent my days with good friends who lived in the same apartment complex as me who also had baby girls within six weeks of mine. It was a magical time, there in the part of East Dallas where it was not safe to go out at night. I would often call 911 when I would hear gunshots outside my window while Chris was working. I remember never feeling scared since I was on the second floor. I just felt like someone needed to let the police know what was going on in case someone out there needed their help. We rarely had extra money, but I loved my simple days spent with my baby. I loved the routine that mommyhood brought. Feedings and meal-planning and laundry and turning our apartment into a home full of pictures and music and laughter was all I had ever wanted. Chris and I would spend the evenings after Callie went to bed getting down on the floor and imitating her moves and sounds and faces and we would die laughing at each other before he went to work each night. Babies really are the best kind of free entertainment for poor people.

leslie-age-33Age 33 was very much a year of stability for me. I had hit my rhythm as a mommy and now had all three girls in school. After spending ten years as missionaries traveling back and forth to Mexico, constantly trying to raise more support and constantly never ever ever having enough, we decided it was time to step back and Chris got full-time work doing traffic counting and we settled into the “normal” American life. We finally had regular income, and I very much enjoyed the days of elementary school with my girls, watching them grow and encouraging them to be who they are. I started writing more and exploring my creative side with music and photography. I finally realized my dream of starting a gospel choir at church, while Chris and I together led worship on a regular basis with other wonderful musicians and friends at our little Bible Church. I started this blog when I was 33, as a matter of fact. That was huge for me, as I finally had a place to put my thoughts into writing and people that I loved were actually reading it. As an introvert, this changed everything for me, and I don’t think I fully realized how much this blog changed who I am and how I relate to people until today, as I started typing these words.

grandma-leslieToday I am 44. This past year has been almost more, if not actually a whole lot more, full of change for me than the year when I turned 11. I moved a few times, including across the country, said goodbye to Callie and Jeremy with tears, then welcomed them to California with even more tears when it worked out for them to move here, watched Chris receive his ordination into the priesthood, made a few different new school choices for the other girls, watched Sadie fall in love and get married, watched my grandson be born and watched Callie become a mommy at the same age I was when she came into my life. This morning, Chris got up and made me french toast and bacon and coffee while playing his “mood music” playlist. We sat down to eat his amazing breakfast with our little family of three (still getting used to this!) as the song below came on. I looked out the window at our beautiful deck and the woods surrounding us and the grass that turns green here when it’s dying all over the rest of the country. Sometimes I let my eyes well up with tears and then I stop, but not today. Today is my birthday, so I let the tears spill out.

I hate it when they say
I’m aging gracefully
I fight it every day
I guess they never see
I don’t like this at all
What’s happening to me

My hope for this year is for stability. I’ve had it in the past, so I do believe I can get there again. There has been so much that is good in the many changes of the past year. Truly. So much. My heart is more grateful than I know how to express. But in every change, so much is lost. I missed my dad and mom and brothers more than I was ready for as I watched the Cubs win the World Series a few nights ago. I miss my many loved ones that have passed on and I’ll never see again in this life. I miss the comfort of relationships that took years to build. It’s hard to start over. It’s hard to be new and unknown, while at the same time trying to navigate all the new and unknown, while at the same time trying to love people deeply while not offending them in the process. It’s hard to have my kids grow up and go through hard times and not be able to help like I could when they were little. It’s hard to work so hard all day every day and not have time for the things I used to have time for. It’s hard to let the years go by.

But today is not the years. Today is today and today I am 44 years old and today is where I am. And tonight I will go out to dinner with all these amazing adult children and one little precious tiny human being that now surround me and then I will go to the beach to watch the sunset and then I will see who I can get to play a game with me. And if the tears want to fill up and spill over at any time, I am going to go ahead and let them.

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Become, Find, Listen, Own

img_2122Words escape me lately. Words escape me a lot, actually, but especially lately. They say it never rains in California but it’s raining tonight. I have a huge skylight in my kitchen that makes the rain sound especially beautiful. I have a crackling, orange fire going in my fireplace that makes the rain feel especially beautiful. I hear it hitting the deck in pitch blackness beyond the window behind me, where I sit on the couch wrapped in an afghan made by my mother-in-law, while looking through my pictures from the last few weeks. Where to begin? Words escape me.

In between the regular stress of life and work and heartache and pain, we’ve had a house blessing and a birthday and a birth and a baptism as well as many gatherings of family and friends over good food and drink. These things have a hard time working themselves out in my mind.

My shoulder hurts. Like bad, hurts. Like I’ve been going to physical therapy three times a week and acupuncture once a week. Like the pain wakes me up at night and I cry often when moving the wrong way, which is all the time because when my body does things, it tends to do them big and loud.

And then my grandson was born. I held the full weight of my daughter as she labored through contractions with determination and beauty in the stillness of her house on a rainy Sunday. As her arms wrapped around my neck and we rocked together, while she worked through the pain that countless women before her have worked through in order to bring forth life, I was transported back to when she was a baby and I would sing her to sleep with her head on my shoulder and her arms wrapped around my neck. And in spite of wanting her to be delivered from the pain, I also wanted the stillness and the beauty of the moment to last. And then the stillness was broken when we finally saw his little face after many, many hours, yelling and telling us all about it. And we cried and laughed and kissed and hugged because never in the history of the world has there been a more glorious sound than the yelling of a newborn baby, safe at last in his mother’s arms, after coming through one of the most perilous journeys that both of their bodies will ever know.

Are there even words out there that can be said? The worst of times and the best of times, all in one week. Bags under eyes and gray hairs and aching bodies and family and love and arms wrapped around necks and grandchildren. Rain and green grass after months of dryness. Isn’t that just how life goes sometimes.

The house blessing:
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The birthday:
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The birth:
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The baptism:
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"Become what you already are, Find Him Who is already yours, Listen to Him Who never ceases speaking to you, Own Him Who already owns you." ~ St. Gregory of Sinai

“Become what you already are,
Find Him Who is already yours,
Listen to Him Who never ceases speaking to you,
Own Him Who already owns you.”
~ St. Gregory of Sinai

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Callie’s Baby Shower

Some people laughed really, really hard at the little guy Grace drew that was supposed to be Baby Ezra.
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Some people laughed just stirring up the salad dressing.
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There was actually quite a bit of laughter going on that day.
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Although little boys chewing blue bubble gum cigars definitely were not laughing because that blue gum was serious business.

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There were many beautiful hand-made gifts.
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And amazing food and drinks shared with lovely friends.
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Things got a little on the wild side with the song game. Probably because certain people are a little on the competitive side.

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And when it was time to open presents, I was overwhelmed once more by what is right here, in front of my eyes.
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And while the little boys went a little nuts by this part of the shower…
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Throwing all the wrapping paper and laughing and running around so fast, my camera couldn’t keep up with them…
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The little girls took that same wrapping paper and discarded boxes and colored beautiful things inside them, while I heard one of them say to the other, “We’re really calm, right?”
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But of course, they were also chewing the blue bubble gum cigars…those calm little girls.
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These three girls are what is right in front of my eyes, almost all of them fully grown, and for now, all living near me. Two of them married to amazing young men. One of them about to deliver my first grandbaby. I simply can’t get used to these facts. I am overwhelmed when I consider them.
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And as grandmas often do (because yes, I am almost a full-grown grandma now), I reminisce.

I see this picture…
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… and it’s the exact same as this picture…

I am overwhelmed.

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To Even Exist

This song has now randomly come on my Pandora shuffle twice over the last few weeks. The first time was right after I got finished walking on the beach after a hard day at work. I walked and I let the wind and the water heal my tired soul. I stood with my pants rolled up and let the waves wash over the bottoms of my legs and gazed out at the afternoon sun, sinking into the western sea and I remembered how beautiful life was. Then I got in my car to drive home and this song came on. It was the first time I had ever heard it. I turned it up while I drove and somehow made it home through the tears that threatened to blind me. That night I played it for Chris, loudly, with all the lights off, while we laid on the floor and watched the stars through the trees silhouetted against the night sky out our living room windows.

Today, while in the middle of a good day at work, it randomly came on again. And just like that, I was wasted at my desk. I thought of my Uncle David, possibly in his last moments of the fever of this life in ICU on the other side of the country. I thought of my parents, who have given me so much, all four of my grandparents who have now gone to their rests, and my great-grandparents before them, some of whom I never knew but I am here to carry on their legacy nonetheless. I thought of lovely faces much-loved and now gone: Jamie, Jay, Nathan, Christina… I thought of the many faces and names still here, living at the same time as me. I thought of all that we give to one another, all that we need from one another, and how amazing it truly is, this life.

I thought of my grandson, Ezra, yet to be born. I have not yet seen his face, but I can’t wait to kiss it. I can’t wait to know him and others that will come after him. I can’t wait to continue to pass on this legacy. I can’t wait to rock him in my living room with all the lights off, and show him the stars through the trees silhouetted against the night sky out our living room window.

When I was young, I used to invite my friends over for the latest “Mood Music” I had discovered. There were rules to listening to Mood Music. The entire house had to be pitch black and we had to have really good speakers turned up as loud as they could go. We had to lay on the floor in the darkness and just feel the music while it played. I’d like to invite you to do that now. Even though we’re not in the same house, please follow the rules as you listen to this song. I figure since it’s now killed me softly twice, I must share it.

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Sadie’s Wedding

We got over 1000 wedding pictures and they are beautiful… all of them. I have been overwhelmed, looking through them, by all that we have been blessed with in this last year.

There is so much that I don’t want to forget…

I don’t want to forget that my Sadie wore no shoes at her wedding, just like she always told me she wouldn’t, even though I always told her she had to. I have spent a lifetime just trying to make that girl put shoes on her feet just for school and church. Nothing else. Just those two places. And yet, for her whole life, as soon as we got inside the door of the church each week, the shoes would come off and I never knew where they were or if we would ever see them again. And lo and behold, when she knelt for the final blessing at the end of the wedding ceremony, one foot stuck out the side of her wedding dress, the bottom of it completely black as always. I stage-whispered to her sister (the maid of honor): “Grace! Cover her foot!” And Grace did cover it, but not before the photographer took the picture, for which I will be eternally grateful.

I don’t want to forget that my dad, who officiated at my own wedding ceremony over 24 years ago, stood at the front of the church while my husband walked his baby girl down the aisle. Then my dad asked who gave this woman to be married to this man, and then stepped aside after the answer came (“her mother and I do”) so that his son-in-law could now officiate at his own daughter’s wedding for his first wedding ever as a priest.

I don’t want to forget Sadie as the cantor at her own wedding. She is normally the cantor at our church on Sunday mornings and we didn’t see any reason to change that for this wedding. There was something especially moving about seeing the bride, in a white wedding dress, singing the prayers on behalf of the entire church at her own wedding feast. If only we could always pray that way, as the loved-beyond-measure bride of Christ that we are.

I don’t want to forget Sadie singing the song she wrote to Elisha at the reception, with her comfy gray sweater over her wedding dress and her (still) bare feet, and Elisha’s reaction to the song. I don’t want to forget that my son-in-law is more perfect than anything I could ever imagined for my daughter. He lights up rooms wherever he goes and loves life in a big way and laughs in an even bigger way. He lights up her face too, in a way that I have never seen it light up, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoy watching them relate to one another.

I don’t want to forget the bouquets, handmade with love from Anna’s garden; the rings, handmade with love by Elisha; or the 900-plus lightbulbs that were individually screwed into 900-plus light sockets that were already strung up over 9 feet high on the tennis court at Elisha’s family’s home for the reception.

I don’t want to forget that as we uprooted our family and moved halfway across the country, leaving behind friends and family and a church community full of loved ones, we landed smack dab in the middle of some of the most generous, artistic, honest, hard-working, sacramental, and just plain weird people we ever could have never imagined knowing. These people know how to party, let me tell you. Which is great because our family? Yeah, we like to party when it’s time to party. And at the wedding of my second-born, we partied.

I don’t want to forget my very favorite toast of the evening, given by Elisha’s uncle:

“Three toasts:

To Chris and Leslie, who have made a family that readily and graciously stretches its tent over all who draw near, and who have raised a daughter full of music and life and festivity, who took her vows with flowers in her hair and and no shoes on her feet…

To Nate and Anna, who were given a tennis court and used it as a lumber yard, and took that lumber yard and transfigured it into this party, and who poured that ingenuity and big-heartedness into their son, who just before the wedding was asking instructions for how to tuck in a shirt…

And to Sadie and Elisha, full of music and creativity, who can’t tie a shoe or tuck in a shirt, whose hair is full of flowers and the ocean and the sun, who’ve been fastened together in the love of the Father and the Son and the Ghost, who are to be made into something wildly beyond anything anyone here can imagine…

To the praise of His glory.”

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Well now, look what I’ve done. I was only going to just post a few and I’ve gotten myself all out of control again. But what a day it was! I will not post 1000 pictures here, but I will give the link to Sadie & Elisha’s Wedding Day Album which is a (much smaller than 1000 pictures, but much larger than what’s posted here) Flickr album that I made of the entire day, in case you are my mom and you care.

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When Now Catches Up to You

You watch a video that somebody links on Facebook of a man being surprised by his mama from Africa that he hasn’t seen in ten years and you can’t stop crying. You think about how much we all really just long for home. And for our mamas. And for all the life-giving love and beauty and dignity and strength that they represent. And you think about the mother you are still trying to get to know. And you wonder why exactly you’ve been so afraid of getting to know the one who points the way to Christ.

And you try to remember who you were before two daughters got married. And you try to understand who you are now. And you try to imagine what it will be like to watch your daughter give birth to your grandchild. But you can’t imagine such things.

And your girl that is left spends her day making gifts for her sister who will give birth to her nephew in about a month. She asks if she can cut up the duvet cover that you use on your bed. When you say no, she finds other scraps from random places and sews and irons and creates, quietly and thoughtfully. She is probably trying to understand who she is now and she is figuring it out as her hands guide her through the work of today.

And you all decide together that tonight would be a good night to go watch the sunset on the cliff. And your husband makes jokes about you dressing for the winter storm when you go outside in California. But you’re no dummy. It ain’t no 100 degrees out there on that cliff.

And you walk out the door in your Arctic gear with nothing in your hand but your phone to type thoughts on in the car while your husband drives. And when you get halfway to the car, you yell back to him that you sure hope he has money for ice cream because you’re not bringing your purse.

And then you get to the cliff and you lay on your back and you hear the waves crash and you smell the sea and you watch the birds fly overhead and your husband lays down beside you while dogs named Lilo and Stitch run around your heads, panting. And you comment on how it’s hard to focus on the birds flying overhead because your eyes have so many black floaties in them and your husband comments that you are now at the age where the black floaties are just going to keep increasing until life is just one big black floatie thing. But for now it’s not. For now, it looks pretty amazing. You take a picture so you can remember.

And then you go get ice cream, and your husband pays.

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Eschaton

(my dear friend over at Ethelweard wrote this poem as a wedding present to my daughter and her new husband. I think I’ve never read anything so beautiful. It must be shared.)

For Sadie Jasper and Elisha, on their wedding-day.

An old man exiled on an island
(who when young had leaned back
on the Heart of God) at last
found his eyes so steeped in love
that the present moment melted
and Jerusalem descended dressed
as a bride for her husband, bright
as burnished jasper. From a sky
swirling with thunder and angels,
stars in flight and a dragon
ravening for the world, swords
springing from mouths and a Lamb
alive but somehow slain, the city comes
clad in familiar gems: no wilder things
than the things we know can offer,
embodied, the wedding of strength
and light.

At last the stones cry out: at last
no longer fleeting, beauty
is tuned to earthward, homing
to the center of love. And the bride
comes down, the treasure revealed
for which the wise man ran to give up
all.

So the men who heard God call
through the lilt of a human voice
have always run–from fathers, fields,
tax-collections, nets: so the one
who offered his oxen on the wood
that yoked them, turning
from the pyre of what he’d been
to chariots of fire.

The jewel and the prophet both
are sacraments of yes, the promise
made when morning blessed the deep:
one, the covenant gleaming
on Aaron’s breastplate and the streets
of Christ’s beloved; the other’s voice
and vision burning with the news
of coming day.

May you, the bride, simplicity
gilded with grace, glistening forth
from untold facets sparks
of sudden flame–even
in shadow may you be still
a harbor for the light. And bridegroom,
you whose forebear felt the whirlwind
smolder with God, may your fingers
listen at the edges of wood and stone
for the voice of Him who sounds
this world to bring us home.

May He without Whom nothing
is strong or holy bless you, keep you,
and shine on you in the place
where St. John came; and may He
Who joins you now fulfill
the promise of your names.

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