Sweet Sixteen

Tonight at dinner, we talked about Grace’s birthday, which is tomorrow. She said that she thinks birthdays are more for the mom than the kid. Kids don’t remember when they were born, but moms do. Kids don’t remember all the years of their lives, or even notice time passing, but moms do. I think my sixteen year old daughter is wise beyond her years. Although, at the moment, she still has just a few hours left of being fifteen. At this time sixteen years ago, in the dark and lonely hours of the night, I was breathing shakily through lips that quivered, while sitting on a bouncy ball at the end of my bed. With my hands outstretched before me on the bed, in an effort to keep those hands from tensing up, my husband gently caressed one and my best friend tenderly held the other. My dad was asleep on my living room floor, and my mom and mother-in-law sat quietly waiting on the bedroom floor. My future sister-in-law was capturing every moment on video, in the hope that each contraction might be the one we were waiting for. The midwives readied the supplies while speaking encouragements and I focused on letting my body do what it was made to do.

Tonight, sixteen years later, I reminisce. The years are so clear and yet so cloudy. My little girl who has always loved to cuddle and has never lacked in confidence and has never known the lyrics to songs even though that has never stopped her from making up her own lyrics, has not changed one bit and yet I do double-takes all day long wondering who this young woman is in my house. You would think I’d be used to it by the third daughter, but I never get used to it. There is no getting used to it.

When we chose her name, sixteen years ago, I remember thinking that there could be no negative connotations with Grace. It’s a beautiful word and there can only be beauty and goodness associated with it and that was what we wanted for our littlest daughter. Little did we know how much laughter would be associated with it as well. She has entertained us her entire life with alter-egos that have their very own voices, purposeful mispronunciation and misuse of words, insisting that she has seen famous people in the most unlikely of places, and yelling “I’m okay!” as she’s in the middle of falling because she seems to have inherited her mother’s affinity for throwing herself around without considering the consequences until it’s too late. This was her bedtime prayer one night at six years old: “Dear God, thank you that I didn’t die today and I hope I don’t die tonight. Or the next day. I mean, I know I have to die someday, I just hope it’s not today or tonight or the next day.”

Happy birthday, Geesie Pie. You’ll always be my baby.

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All The Everything All At Once

Palm Sunday: We went to the beach with the family two Sundays ago. Chris’ parents were unexpectedly visiting and we took full advantage of the California sunshine with our loved ones after church. Grace asked if she could take my camera and climb the nearby hill to take some pictures. Next thing we knew, there were sirens and blaring police horns and three different official vehicles surrounding the bottom of the hill and waving at her to come down from that hill. Everyone on the beach was looking up at her while she happily and obliviously continued to take pictures. We were part of the people on the beach looking up at her, laughing and making jokes about we hoped our daughter getting arrested didn’t cut into our In-n-Out time that my husband so desperately wanted. At some point, I realized maybe I should go talk to the police and help them to get Grace’s attention. I mean, she is my daughter, after all. As she finally became aware and climbed down the hill with her embarrassed smile making her dimples extra deep, the police explained to me that not only was she on private property, but she was walking through poison oak in bare feet and bare legs. At least she got some cool pictures.

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The next day (our 24th anniversary, actually): We were once again surrounded by emergency vehicles with multi-colored spinning lights and noises when I called 911 because Chris appeared to be having a heart attack. One minute he was fine, the next he was doubled over in the worst pain of his life, unable to move, hardly able to talk or breathe, his face a scary green color, with rivers of sweat pouring off of it. We got an ambulance ride to the hospital, where they found a kidney stone. He has now worked on passing that thing for eleven days, through all seven services of holy week; the busiest week that a priest knows. I didn’t get any pictures of the ambulance ride or the time in the ER, or the green, sweaty face, although I did get to go the beach one day with two of my girls (because yes, all THREE of them live here now, along with my son-in-law… how can I be anything but thankful?). That was pretty much just as exciting. Even if we didn’t make it to our steak dinner that we had planned for our anniversary…

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Holy Week came to an end with my favorite service of the year: the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil, followed by the Easter Mass at midnight, followed by feasting and partying until about 3:30am. I really think it’s the most beautiful liturgy of the entire year.

Oh night truly blessed, which alone was worthy to know the time and the hour wherein Christ rose again from hell! This is the night whereof it is written: And the night is as clear as the day; and, Then shall my night be turned into day. The sanctifying power, therefore, of this night putteth to flight the deeds of wickedness, washeth away sins: restoreth innocence to the fallen, and joy to them that morn: casteth out enmities, prepareth concord and boweth down principalities.

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4. Our landlord called last week and wants to put our house on the market. Our house that we love. Our house that we have only lived in for six short months. And so, we are moving once again. Stay tuned…

This year, it seems like Easter is harder than Lent…. so far anyway. I am glad that we have a full 50 days to turn this thing around. We have a lot that is heavy on our hearts, and many of our friends and family are experiencing hardship as well. And still I know that my redeemer lives. I do know it and I am thankful.

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Alleluia, alleluia. Christ, who created all things, is risen: and he hath had compassion on mankind.

…how can I be anything but thankful?

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My Unreal Life

A few years ago, when social media was still new, and everybody had a little blurb next to their name that described everything you could ever want to know about them at a glance, a friend of mine put something that has haunted me to this day. She described herself as “Delightfully out of step with contemporary America.”

Reading that simple sentence affected me so greatly that I immediately sent my friend a note. I want that, I said. I feel like I’m definitely out of step, but not necessarily happy about it and even feel like I’m constantly fighting to get back in step. Or I at least want to look like I’m in step while continuing to live according to my conscience, which I notice is increasingly pulling me further and further from the American Normal. I want to find the delight in not caring. I want to not care about my dignity or even my individuality and I want to rest. I want delight in this good life.

I’ve always had a bit of that very thing that I feel like I so desperately want more of. I’ve always valued “differentness” perhaps because I’ve always been a bit different; perhaps because my parents were a bit different; perhaps because I have been given a different sort of life by a good and loving and different God. (Is “different” the opposite of “indifferent”? Interesting that this is the first time I have noticed that.) And yet, I always fight the pull toward sameness. Standing out is only good when you look cool. Whatever you do, avoid looking stupid at all costs.

And so here I find myself, years later, miles more out of step than ever before and ever so slightly inching closer to the delight. It’s definitely been a journey. I know I do things in a way others don’t understand. I hate more than anything when people think that I (or we; my husband and I) have not given serious thought to our decisions and acted based on honest conviction that this is the best thing for our family. I’m sure the old You’re-Too-Young-To-Get-Married-And-You-Don’t-Know-The-First-Thing-About-Real-Life perceived demon crops up regularly in my mind. But the good news is that I think the defensive stance I have been used to taking is slowly starting to melt away.

The other night, I went to a school function with Grace and one of the school administrators smiled at me in a welcoming way. I smiled back and approached her to say hello. She kept smiling while looking at me in a vaguely confused way as though she couldn’t quite place me. I let her know that I was Grace’s mom. The connection clicked as she remembered and said “That’s right! We haven’t seen a lot of you…” We kind of just stood there in an awkward silence for a moment before I nodded and moved on. In my mind, for a brief moment, I started running down the list of defenses for the not-so-subtle guilt trip.

I work full time, and then some (just like you, lady… I haven’t seen a lot of you at my job either), I get regular migraine headaches and battle depression and pain daily, I have regular church events with my husband and my church is more important than this school, I just moved across the country and I’m barely keeping my head above water here with all there is to do and learn, my children are battling their own culture shock and loss of their roots and they need a present and sensitive mom, my oldest daughter and her husband also just moved here and are living with us until they get their own place, my middle daughter is getting married, and good grief, Grace is in high school…I think she can come to school and do her homework all by herself at this point!

Yes, I found myself indulging my bruised ego for a moment. But then, I started to laugh. And while it could have been a bitter sort of laugh, my laughing was actually an outpouring of delight. I didn’t have to explain myself to anyone, least of all myself. I am totally okay with the fact that I am not too involved at my daughter’s school. I’m becoming okay with some of my other out-of-stepnesses. For now, I’m trying to focus on all the beautiful things surrounding me while I walk through yet another mental and physical valley in yet another Lenten season.

I get to smell orange trees in full blossom every time I walk outside my door. I get to sit on my porch and watch the slowly changing color of the wisteria hanging down over my head as the sun gently rises over the mountain directly facing me. I get to quietly share workspace with the last remaining woman-child in a house that’s filled with light and color and laughter. I get to take a drive with my family through hills that are impossibly green because it’s been raining in a land where it never rains. I get to live in such a way that I am surrounded by people that I love deeply and that love me deeply while we break bread and wine and plan a wedding together in a community that is truly, delightfully, out of step with contemporary America. What have I done to deserve such grace?

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How can I respond with anything other than delight?

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All The Things We Don’t Know

You could not have told me any of this two years ago. I could not have understood it. I could not have known. There is a list of things I could not have known. I could not have known how much I actually love sunny days and mild weather. I could not have known that my obsession with all things water and drinking and rain and floating would end here, at the Pacific Ocean, which is big enough to keep me satisfied (for now). I could not have known that I would live on the other side of the country from my oldest daughter and her husband and I could not have known what it would feel like to miss someone like this. I could not have known how little I care about the price of gas. Oh wait, I’ve always known that. I’ve never cared and you can’t make me.

But of all the things I could not have known, tonight I will only focus on one. I could not have known that my middle child; the mysterious, intense, philosophical, musical, stormy, quiet, unconventional one, would find love and find it so perfectly. It is one of those things that parents hope for but don’t really believe is possible.

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So yesterday, we went to the beach and the two of them went out in a kayak that belongs to a friend…

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…to a boat anchored out in the ocean that belongs to a friend…

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…and they climbed onboard and they were so far away that we couldn’t see them and then they came back…

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…and Sadie’s face looked really, really happy when she got out of the kayak…

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…and she came onshore and showed me this…
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…a ring that he made himself because, well, he just does stuff like that…you know…makes beautiful things…
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…she said yes!…
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…and we all celebrated…
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What else is there to say? It appears that 19 is the magic age in our family (no pressure, Grace!). It appears that the things I don’t know can turn out to be wonderful surprises. It appears that we are having a wedding feast this year and I will once again be the mother of the bride. I am thrilled. We are thrilled. We are truly and humbly thankful for God’s goodness to our family.

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Inventory (Part Two)

(Yes, in posting this, I found that I already took inventory once… seven years ago.)

In the post-Christmas mess of my house and my life, I wallow.
For weeks I have celebrated and loved with fervor and now I reflect and I wallow.
I am ever aware of the life that I had, and the life I now have, and how it all compares to the life I didn’t know I would have. And that makes me think about the life I might someday have.
And how, wonder as I might, I cannot know.

I cannot know.

I am ever aware of the me I thought I was and the me I now am and the them I thought all the others were and the them they actually are and the us that can’t even begin to figure any of them… or us…. or me… out.

Which reminds me of a conversation we had over candlelight dinner with my daughters, who are growing up, and my parents (who are also growing). We talked about education; the education my daughters received, the education my husband and I received, and the education my parents received. And once again, I was made aware of how I don’t think I ever truly learned how to compose a sentence.

And yet here I am, writing sentences.

I am ever aware of how much I am unaware of.
And while I wallow here in all of my unknowingness and indecisiveness, life goes on.
The tree comes down, the guests go home, the daughters continue to grow.
And I continue to have no answers for life’s questions.
But I get up each day and I work and I give my heart away and I try. I really try.
And sometimes I even sing.

I thought that I would have more wisdom by now.
I am coming to find that maybe wisdom is not so much knowing the right decisions to make as it is being able to live gracefully with the decisions (and non-decisions) that are made.

Sometimes I get this ache deep down inside of me, when others speak of their childhood home with longing. Sometimes people ask me how I’m doing with this transition (this big move across the country) and I get that same, familiar ache. I don’t have a childhood home to long for because we moved too much when I was a child. I don’t have that same feeling of homesickness that I think others have. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with the ache that I feel for something that doesn’t exist. I love where I am, I love where I came from, and I think I love what’s coming. And yet … and yet. The ache is always there. My husband says we all have it. He says it’s a longing for Eden.

He’s very wise, I think.

The cat can’t decide if it’s safe to walk past the noisy printer in order to lay on the comfortable bed. After much visible thinking about it, he has deemed it unsafe and decides to just plop right where he is, on the hardwood floor.

I can’t decide if it’s safe to let my children grow.

I think I’ll just plop here for awhile.

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Christmas – all twelve days of it

Each Day A Life
by Robert William Service

I count each day a little life,
With birth and death complete;
I cloister it from care and strife
And keep it sane and sweet.

With eager eyes I greet the morn,
Exultant as a boy,
Knowing that I am newly born
To wonder and to joy.

And when the sunset splendours wane
And ripe for rest am I,
Knowing that I will live again,
Exultantly I die.

O that all Life were but a Day
Sunny and sweet and sane!
And that at Even I might say:
“I sleep to wake again.”

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It’s too much to talk about, really. But my heart is quite full. It’s been a very, very good Christmas.

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Home for Advent

As fall leads into winter, and light turns to darkness, I live in my home and I wait.

Home. Where the pictures are not too high on the walls, the lights are not too bright and overhead fans that dry out my eyes are switched off. Where colors abound, and reminders of the cloud of witnesses that surround us are visible, even when it’s dark outside. Where pictures of loved ones, past and present surround me. Where the lingering steam hovers over the bathroom mirror like the smoke from the incense that hovers over the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary in church on Sundays. Where the light from the windows filters through that steam like the prayers of the people rising to heaven.

Home. Where the sounds of the sprinklers coming on and the car idling in the driveway and all the busy people in their cars on the freeway one block away have now been hushed in the darkness of winter. They are still out there but I have closed my windows on the noise and the cold and I have snuggled in deep into the quiet while I wait. Where the unmistakable sound of the kitty door being tap tap tapped (because you never really know if it’s safe even though you go in and out of it multiple times daily), makes me smile as I wait for the meow that I know is coming once he sees me watching.

Home. Where the smells of honeysuckle and orange blossoms have gone dormant but they will come again; for now they await their own advent summons. Where smells of coconut and herbs and spices waft out when bathroom doors are opened and newly shampooed heads and their lotioned bodies move about within my waiting darkness. Where a plastic spoon can fall onto the metal heating mechanism in the dishwasher and fill the house with its own unique scent that is hard to ignore. Where essential oils are disbursed both for healing and for comfort as they mingle with the smells of the candles and incense that fill my home daily. Where simple meals are shared with loved ones while we await the Christmas feast.

Home. Where I put my slippered feet into a heated foot pad beneath my cool, copper desk as I work through the daylight hours. Where I thankfully accept the undeserving neck and back rubs that I receive from the hands of my husband as he passes through my office. Where I love to feel his hand resting beneath mine on my shoulder, as I wordlessly thank him before he moves on to his own work. Where warm water runs over my tired hands as I wash the dishes after dinner. Where lotion soothes those same hands as I methodically rub them together, first all fingers together, then in between each one, carefully, purposefully, making sure that each nook and crease is reached. Where I give goodnight hugs to girls that I love if I can catch them after they’ve come home from where they’ve been and before they disappear to where they’re going. Where my soft bed welcomes my tired body when I finally give in to the call of the night.

Home. Where I taste both goodness and grace. Where I taste love. In the midst of all the rushing and the worry and heartache and the pain and the cars breaking down and the chimney catching fire. It’s there, in the midst of it all, like a sacrament. It surrounds me and it’s tangible and wakens my senses and it goes down my throat and flows through my veins and floods my being.

And I wait, with expectancy.

And I wait, with joy.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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