Of All That Matters

Lately the things that matter most are blending in with the things that don’t matter at all and all of that matter together is taking over the universe. I post these pictures now to remind myself of that which matters most.

Beaches and bonfires with loved ones…

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The fourth of July with friends and sparklers…

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Boxes full of baby chicks showing up on my doorstep in the middle of the day, drawing me away from the stress of all that resides at my desk and sweeping me away into balls of fur and sounds of gladness for a few moments…

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An impromptu bridal shower in Dallas for my impromptu daughter with so many people coming to shower love on her; including friends and aunts and grandmas that she’s known since childhood and wild little flower girls that are still in their childhood, but will be grown before we know it…

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A no-boys-allowed surf day, in which I tried (and failed) at surfing and had the time of my life trying, even though my foot cramped in the cold water the entire time and my muscles were sore for days afterwards. The pictures and the laughs and the conversation on the beach afterward were the perfect remedy to the universe full of matter that’s ready to blow inside my head. The other day, I saw a whale way out on the horizon, blowing huge fountains of sea water into the sky. The ocean and all that it contains helps to clear my brain of superfluous matter…

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A house blessing for my daughter and son-in-law (and the little grandson who will join us soon), where we prayed and laughed and received blessings ourselves as the holy water landed everywhere and the prayers were lifted up all around us…

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And one final shower, here in our new home of California, surrounded by love and laughter…

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And weirdness…

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And really serious cuteness…

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And girls who have spent a lifetime being tired of having a camera pointed in their faces…

Enough with the camera already.

Enough with the camera already.

But I don’t care. I’ll keep dragging this camera around and pointing away. Because it matters and I need to remember that and sometimes this is the only way I know how. And eleven days from now, when we celebrate the wedding feast of our second-born, we’ll be right there in the midst of the matter, having done all that matters to prepare, and waiting with expectant joy for the look of love on the bridegroom’s face as his bride walks through the door, pure and beautiful.

And then we’ll dance.

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One Breath at a Time

It’s been a tough week. My childhood has come swirling around me in the midst of it.

I had a conversation this week about mental illness and depression and it’s made me dive. It’s made me reflect on my life. It’s made me wonder why, of the two families my family was closest with when we were little, both of them have now lost one of their four children, and both of the women of the family are now alone. Beautiful, Godly women, with beautiful children, all younger than me. I loved those children like they were my own babies, back when they were babies. One lost to a tragic accident at the age of 24 and one lost to a terrible disease at the age of 33; the same disease that claimed her dad thirteen years ago. She leaves behind a husband and two young children and a family full of people that will miss her every single day for the rest of their lives. Life hurts like hell sometimes.

My work is so stressful some days that I honestly don’t know how to go on. Sometimes I can’t go on, pure and simple, and I lay my head down on my desk and quit for two minutes. I’ve decided that my job title should be “stress eater” because that’s what I do. Everything that has the possibility of causing stress to another is immediately passed on to me. I open my mouth and I eat the stress and I handle the stress and I flounder in the stress so that others can have less stress. The problem is that while I may appear to be pretty good at handling all of that, I end up with a belly full of stress that sits there like a lump of concrete. And it’s been weighing me down lately. I need somebody to come eat my stress.

But today, while I sat at my desk, inhaling all that stress, I listened to two of my girls as they made invitations to the bachelorette party that they are planning for the other one of my girls. They thought through how many people might come and how long they might stand around talking before sitting down to eat and how much the food might cost and what people might wear and how the invitation should be worded. It ate some of my stress away to listen to their youthful joy and their love for one another and their excitement in planning this special event for their sister and her friends.

And when the clock said it was time to quit work, I shut off my screen, put on a tank top and flip flops and went to the beach with my husband. We watched our shadows spreading silently before us as we walked. When we decided we’d gone far enough, we sat in the warm sand and let the wind blow our hair and we watched the crashing waves for a bit. And then we walked back while the birds padded through the retreating water beside us, looking for wiggly things to eat.

Stress is wiggly. I think the birds ate some of mine.

My heart breaks for the family of my young friend tonight. I watched her grow up and I worked in Mexico with her and her family. Her dad was my dad’s closest friend and my husband’s mentor in the ministry and her mom was a mentor in so many ways to me as I raised my own young children. I haven’t seen her since she graduated college and I never even met her husband or children. My heart breaks for the life that has been lost. My heart breaks for my own life that is fleeting away and the lives of all those who have floated in and out through the fleetingness and the years that sometimes feel wasted. Death hurts like hell.

I lay on my couch in my house in the woods and I look up through the window at the night sky. The sound of the frogs float in through the screen, along with the scents of the wildflowers. The tall pines are silhouetted against the deep navy blue sky while the stars twinkle through their swaying branches. It’s amazing, this life, this world, this love that knows no bounds. Sometimes it fills me with joy to the point of bursting.

I know my Redeemer lives. I know there is beauty in the midst of this suffering. When I find the beauty (and it’s not hard when I open my eyes), I try to breathe it in and exhale the stress. One breath at a time.

The Harrowing of Hell

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The Blessing of our Home

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O God, heavenly Father, we acknowledge that you are Lord of heaven and earth. Protect our going out and our coming in. As your children, dear Father, and in the strong name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, we ask your blessing on this entry way. Grant by the power of your Holy spirit and the prayers of your saints, the banishment of demons, the renunciation of all curses, and the entrance of your angels. May the hospitality of this home be shared with all who visit, that those who enter here may know your love and peace. Grant this through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord. Amen.

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Life As I Know It

I’m tan for the first time in my life. Some people might not know it but I know it. I don’t even recognize the skin on my arms. I will probably get used to that someday and not even notice, but for now I am enjoying noticing my new skin. Sometimes I don’t know who that is in the mirror.

Speaking of looking in the mirror, I’m battling the urge to keep dyeing my hair as it keeps getting grayer. I’m mostly losing the battle though and giving in to the urge. But it seems like the gray is coming faster these days, like I’m the president of the United States. Maybe that says something about the stress I’ve been under with all of the changes this year. I make appointments and then I cancel them and then I buy stuff at the store and do it myself and I don’t know if anybody can even tell or if I even care. I’m trying not to care. I’ll keep you posted.

I’m planning a wedding for my Sadie that I love so much. My Sadie that used to walk around with her baby dolls all day long, holding them, singing to them, gently rocking them to sleep. It’s suddenly becoming easy to picture her doing that someday soon with her real babies. How can this be? One would think that planning a wedding for the second daughter would be easier than it was the first time around since I now know how to do everything. HAHAHAHA. I’m coming to find out that nothing is ever easy. Ever.

Speaking of babies, my Callie that I love so much has my first grandbaby growing away inside of her. She is as cute as she can be, and even though I haven’t seen him yet, I’m convinced that he is the cutest baby in the history of the world. I can’t wait to meet that little guy.

We have now lived in four houses since last July. As stressful as that may be, and as gray as it may have made my hair, and as sick as I am of packing up and moving and unpacking, I can’t tell you how much I love this house. I know I said that about my last house too, but THIS HOUSE. Oh my goodness, this house. It’s the peace I’ve been longing for. I don’t even want to leave it ever. I work at my desk all day and then I do all the house stuff after work and I read and I sit on my deck in the sun and I listen to music while I hang pictures and unpack boxes and I sometimes go four or five days without ever leaving and I don’t even want to. I haven’t yet gotten stir crazy here and I don’t know if I ever will. If you’d like to come rest with me in my little haven in the woods, come on. It’s only an eight minute drive to the beach too, so when I do leave, you know where I’m going.

Speaking of my deck, we enjoyed a pretty fierce game of… something… the other day. My Grace that I love so much kept us laughing with her misuse of the English language, and her misguided sense of rhythm as she danced to songs she made up on the spot, and her misplaced competitiveness in a fierce game of…something…There was no winner because the rules kept changing. My two girls along with Sadie’s two sisters-to-be played whatever it was with all their hearts though. It was pretty awesome.

Speaking of awesome, I am finding myself thanking God with all my heart lately. Things may not be the easiest, (and they may not ever be) but this is a good place to be and my heart knows it.

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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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