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.