Friday, November 25, 2016

second and third and fourth and fifth chances

I'm about to get sappy about my spouse here, which doesn't happen often, but here goes. The reason it doesn't happen often is because for more time than either of us would like to admit, we have vaguely remembered loving each other, been constantly reminded of our deep commitment to our four, beloved children, yet treated each other more like enemies than friends, much less husband or wife.

It's the classic love story. It's the classic dissolution of love story. A mostly good woman married a mostly good man, and a mostly good man married a mostly good woman. Years passed, mostly good, happy years, but of course years with disagreements and arguments because we are humans. More years passed, and they had babies. The mama turned her focus to the babies, and the dada turned his focus to the job. They got into ruts.Communication faltered. Talk about money dwindled and led to arguments. Resentments grew and grew faster and bigger than Pinocchio's nose. She got bitter about all the travel, which he seemed to choose over her. He got bitter over her laser pointed focus on the babies, which she seemed to choose over him. Is it more complicated than that? Of course. Is it that simple? Actually, yes.

We all have our own story. Jim and I have been married over 19 years. It seems utterly impossible that it's been so long. It seems utterly impossible to remember a time that it wasn't "Jim and DeNae." A friend from church who has been married even longer than that recently told me that anyone married as long as we have who mostly likes their spouse have seen a counselor or gone on marriage retreats or done other things to help their marriage. Good marriages do not happen on their own. Even when mostly good men marry mostly good women, and mostly good women marry mostly good men. They need work. It's easy to get married and stay married because divorce is messy and expensive and who wants to enter the dating scene again, but that is no one's goal when they say I do. No one wants to wake up in 30 years sitting across the table from someone they vaguely remember loving, but have absolutely nothing to say to now.

Yesterday I sat around the Thanksgiving table with my husband, our four kiddos, my mom and her husband, and my friend from high school. When asked what I was thankful for, it was easy to choose. Through tears and lots of awkward pauses, I said something along the lines of, "I am thankful for second and third and fourth and fifth chances at getting relationships right. I am thankful that my husband and I didn't give up on each other. I am thankful for the four awesome kids we have as a result of that. I am thankful for family and friends that hurt for the world and then work for the world."

Jim and I have been clinging to the rocky ledge of a thing called marriage for a long time. There have been times it seemed that leaving would be easier than fighting for our marriage and staying, but we just kept clinging, fingers slipping, strength faltering. A few weekends ago we attended a weekend long marriage retreat that brought many things to light, reminded us of our commitment to each other, and reminded us that we are actually gifts to each other. Well, that felt like a newsflash to us! We decided maybe it was time to start acting like it. We also decided that we can't go back and fix 20 years of disagreements and hurt, but we can start here and move forward. So that's what we're doing. And it's really, really good. There are times it's also really, really hard.

I'm not going to run off and start my book on how to have a successful marriage. Not a chance. Instead, I'm going to write this, hopefully as an encouragement to those who are in the trenches of looking at their spouse with more venom than love, more anger than compassion. And I'm going to ask you to remind me, someday down the road when I've got more venom and anger than love and compassion, that I am his gift and he is mine.

I have always said that being a wife is the hardest thing in my life. I'm naturally selfish and I don't like to fold laundry and I don't care if it sits in random piles all over our bedroom and I get tired of having the same arguments over and over so I get sarcastic and use my words as caustic weapons. Trying to fight the natural tendencies of all of that to be a kind and loving wife just doesn't come easily to me. But I'm trying harder than ever before because I want to wake up in 20 years and love the man I'm sitting across the table from. I want to give my children the greatest gift I could ever, ever give them, which is the gift of seeing a loving and functional husband and wife relationship so they have a better chance at having one themselves.

Today I'm thankful for the second and third and four and fifth chance to do just that. I know I'll need many more chances in the future. Thankfully I married a guy who won't give up on me. I'll happily return the favor.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

moving forward

It's Thursday. Two days since I dropped off my ballot, well researched and varied among Democrats and Republicans, male and female. But the top was clearly marked for Hillary Rodham Clinton. I believed and still believe that she was the best candidate on the ballot. One day since I found out that our President-elect is a man named Donald Trump.

In that day, I have cried and screamed. I have taken my no-bra, smelly teeth, pajama wearing self and my pajama wearing toddler to the grocery store for doughnuts because I couldn't think about feeding the small humans breakfast and because deep-fried, sugary carbs seemed like as good an idea as anything. I have seen the first waves of racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred float across my computer screen like a horrifying dream. I have talked with my kids many, many times.

In that day, I gave myself time to be sad. I gave myself time to eat doughnuts and sit in my dirty pajamas and read books under warm blankets with my kiddos, cry and laugh and rant.

In that day, I spent too much time staring at a computer screen. I've read the article that says we're all going to hell in a handbasket, then another that says it won't be so bad, another that says we're royally screwed, another that says to pause, breathe, and give it time. I've tried to deliver thoughtful responses to ridiculously tricky situations and horribly racist statements, and sometimes I succeeded and sometimes I failed. When I realized that I really failed, I went back to delete my response and let the person know I had more time to reflect and realized it wasn't helpful or constructive. I'm still learning and growing. Aren't we all?

That day is over. Yesterday was the time to be sad; today is the time to rally. Today the kids and I bake bread for our church to sell at the Alternative Gift Fair benefiting many local non-profit organizations. We write thank you notes to a family friend who gave them candy for Halloween. We read books and build with magna-blocks and study Latin and trace maps.

I'm not sure what's ahead. There is uncertainty, and even more uncertainty than usual with a changing of the President considering our President-elect has no public service for us to base our best guesses on. In spite of national and international uncertainties, I am certain that when I look at this houseful of beautiful, intelligent, kind, flawed, loving kids, I have hope. How could I not? I am certain that the person residing in the White House doesn't change who we are and what we stand for and how we love.

I wake up clinging to the good of people and I go to sleep clinging to the same darn thing. Some days it leaves my knuckles white, all of that clinging. I wake up clinging to belief in the power of God and the love of Jesus and I go to sleep clinging to the same darn things. Some days the nails chip and break, what with all of that clinging.

I have to believe that most people want what is best for our country; we just believe there are different ways to get there. I have to believe that we have more commonalities than differences. I have to believe that more people will stand up, loudly, proudly, and vocally, when we see injustices against any of our brothers and sisters. I have to believe that love and light will win.

So where do we go from here? Where do I go from here? The kids and I have talked about the increased need to stand alongside those who are being mistreated. We've talked about volunteering our time. We've talked about being the peace and love that this world so badly needs. Then we argued about who had to clean up the Lego's in the family room, but we're not shooting for perfection here, people. Because we live in an unincorporated town, there is no traditional local government. That makes my quest to get more involved in local politics trickier, but not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. There are still refugees to support and hurting kids to love and struggling families to lift up. Meals to pack, hugs to share, money to donate, time to volunteer. More time to listen and seek understanding in our beautiful and terrible world. (quote by the brilliant Frederick Buechner.)

At this point it's just babbling. I just needed to put words on "paper." I just needed a reference point, a before, for what's to come for our family and country and world. I cling to hope. I do a lot of clinging these days. Whether you're cheering the outcome or lamenting the future or some in between hopeful hand wringing, we're all clinging to something. May we cling, celebrate, and lament together. May we all believe we are Stronger Together, even if we didn't vote for the woman behind the slogan.

Peace for the journey,

Friday, September 30, 2016

Gratitude and gifts

Once the aspens start to turn their magnificent yellow and my new planner arrives in the mail, I can't help but look ahead to the holidays. It's a little, or actually a lot, different now that we don't live by a lot of our family, but there is still so much to look forward to. We figure out if we'll have a smaller Thanksgiving at our house and invite people from the community or if we'll go to my mom and stepdad's house. We decide which 5k fun run our family will do on Thanksgiving morn and divvy up who is in charge of making what for the always decadent feast.

Then we figure out what cookies we'll make for Christmas and which church service we'll attend and what kind of soup we'll have for our special crockpot dinner on Christmas Eve and decide how much we can spend on people and what we want to get them. We make our wish lists to give to others, too. That's where things get dicey.

My fourth child turned 3 this summer. We had a grand time playing at a park with some family and friends. They asked what he wanted for his birthday and I couldn't really think of anything. Nothing. I mean, sure he'd love another hot wheels car, but after about 3 days it would go into the overflowing bin of hot wheels cars that we already have and he wouldn't even know the difference. Yes, he'd think a bright t-shirt was cool, but he has plenty of clothes already. Jim and I struggled to come up with ideas.

Now Christmas is around the corner and the question looms again. I'm in a major purge of toys mood in our house. Bags and bags of clothes and toys are being tossed out or donated. We've already decided that we're not getting our kids gifts in the traditional sense. They won't have anything under the tree from us. We are taking a road trip to California later this year and that is our gift to our family. They know about the trip and know that is their gift. I just can't buy another toy for the sake of buying another toy so the kids have something to unwrap. I think that might make me sound like a Grinch, but I really don't feel like a grinch. I have a heart of gratitude and love for the generosity of those around me, but I am also acutely aware of the excess in my life. And I really don't like it.

Am I alone in thinking that we buy stuff just because the calendar says it's gift giving time and we think we should, disregarding the fact that we don't actually need anything? What if this year was different? My kids' hands-down favorite gift from their very generous grandparents was a monthly sleepover. Once per month, one kid gets to spend the night and have some serious quality time with his or her grandparents. Every now and again, all three or four go on the same night. Talk about making memories. Other ideas I love are museum or zoo memberships or tickets to a movie or play. These things don't overwhelm our homes with more stuff, but they definitely flood our hearts with new memories made with people we love.

How do you handle gift giving and receiving? Will you do it differently this year? Do you have other "outside the box" (see what I did there?!) gift ideas to share?

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Jacob's Hope

Tonight I told my kids about Jacob Wetterling. I am organizing a little Colorado version of the Running HOME for Jacob 5k. My kids will attend and help prepare for it, so it was time.

I told them about the kind of kid he was. I shared a much sanitized version of his kidnapping and death. I stressed the insanely amazing ways his family and friends are fighting to keep Jacob's Hope alive in this world. We listened to the song "Listen" by Rod Grammar and "Jacob's Hope" by Douglas Wood. I was transported back to vigils and Hands across America and tears. My toddler sat in my lap and wiped the tears from my cheeks as we talked about the deep hurts of the world and the always redeeming hope and love. My 12-year-old recognized that he's the same age I was when Jacob was kidnapped and horrendously killed.

I sat and talked with my kids around the kitchen table as we ate fresh corn on the cob, "those sandwiches," veggies and hummus. I thought of all that has been denied to Jacob these nearly 27 years. I thought of the woman who never got to be his first love and the kids he never got to tuck in at night. I thought of the graduation his parents didn't get to celebrate and the slamming doors of teenagerhood that they would have given anything to experience.

I know life isn't fair. We all know life isn't fair. But there are some reminders of that cruel truth that knock the wind right out of my sails and I wonder how I can ever re-right the boat. The details of Jacob's death are too much. Every time I think of Jacob asking to go home, saying he was cold, asking what he did wrong, I am again blindsided by the fact that a human being could hear a small, tender, shaking voice ask those simple, innocent questions, and not feel a tiny crack in his hard armor to let just enough light in to let Jacob go. That he could hear Jacob's family and friends beg for answers and ignore their cries all of these years. It is beyond my sickest imaginings.

I want to shut down. I want to hide and cry and ignore the universe. But, once again, I have to answer the question of how one could possibly survive this pain with this answer: With faith, courage, hope, and a vision of a better, safer world for our kids. When those four things feel as impossible as they do right now, when the world feels so deeply dark and depraved, we need them all the more. I have to look to Jacob's family and friends and the strength they have shown. I have to call on my faith in God, who promises that we are never alone. Not Jacob or his family or you or me. I have to pray that Jacob felt that on October 22, 1989.

Many sports teams in Minnesota, from youth on up to professional teams, are honoring Jacob by wearing patches with #11 on their jerseys. Jacob's family loves the idea and came up with this list of 11 traits we can all commit to living.
  1. Be fair
  2. Be kind
  3. Be understanding
  4. Be honest
  5. Be thankful
  6. Be a good sport
  7. Be a good friend
  8. Be joyful
  9. Be generous
  10. Be gentle with others
  11. Be positive
I'll ask you again to join in being Jacob's Hope. It's easy today, when Jacob's name is all over the news and the hurt is fresh and all-encompassing. Let's keep it up next week and next month and next year, when our horror isn't so fresh and the news cycle has moved on about 592 times, but Jacob's family is still aching and raw. Commit to something today and write it down. Send a donation to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. Teach Sunday School. Help feed hungry kids. Foster an at-risk child. Do something. Write it down, type it into your phone, set a timer, and make it happen. Be Jacob's Hope in your corner of the world and pray it ripples far and wide and reaches someone who needs your voice or your money or your caring.

Let our lights be brighter. Let us be Jacob's Hope together. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It's all I can think to do

I'm not going to utter his name because his name doesn't deserve another thought. I'm going to talk about Jacob Wetterling and his family. I'm from central Minnesota. I am a year older than Jacob. My friends were his friends. My brother graduated from the same high school with his younger brother. We've hoped and prayed along with Jacob's determined, courageous, and incredible family. For 27 years we have hoped and prayed that Jacob was out there somewhere and that he would be brought home. This weekend those hopes and prayers were crushed. On Tuesday the details of the abduction, molestation, and murder were made known. I have thought of all of the adjectives I can and none of them come close to the disgust I feel.

I have a 12-year-old boy. How does one recover from this heartbreak, this sock in the gut, never breathe the same again, horrendous, incalculable pain? How does one go on?

I'm not going to utter his name. I'm going to talk about Jacob's mom, Patty Wetterling. While living a nightmare most of us cannot even bear to imagine, she fought hate and all the worst case scenarios that had to run through her mind on a daily, hourly, by the minute basis, She lobbied for change, created a foundation, ran for government office, and fought. She fought back against all of the pain and horror she was living and her weapons were, and remain, love and hope.

I have a 12-year-old boy. How does one recover from this? The pain that I assume must always be there, simmering beneath the surface sometimes, overflowing in weeping and horror at other times.

In Patty's case, she publicly worked for a better world for all children. Maybe that's all we can do. We can aspire to be a Patty Wetterling in a world too often marred by unfathomable murder, abuse, and pain. We can find our passions and use them to help people so that maybe, just maybe, we can help one person overcome hurt or offer another picture of life's possibilities to someone walking down the wrong path. It's all I can think to do.
quote from Jacob's mom after the discovery of Jacob's remains

I have a 12 year old. How does one survive this pain? With faith, courage, hope, and a vision of a better, safer world for our kids. When those four things feel as impossible as they do right now, when the world feels so deeply dark and depraved, we need them all the more.

I won't utter his name. I have thrown all of the swear words at him that I can think of. I have cried until I thought I was done and then cried some more. I know I will continue to cry, but, more importantly, I will channel this brokenness to be Jacob's Hope for my kids and your kids and your nieces and nephews and neighbors and students. I will hug tighter and love bigger and advocate harder. It's all I can think to do.

Join me, won't you? Be Jacob's Hope.

Friday, August 26, 2016


I have a new tattoo and I love it. It means many things to me and brings a happy little smile to my face every time I look at it, which is often since it's front and center on my right wrist.
Still red and swollen, it's my fresh new tattoo
Here is what it means to me: The balloon meandering away symbolizes life, the fleeting beauty of it and the teeny tiny blip of time that we have the honor of living and loving here on earth. We can watch it float away or we can grab on and go for a ride. I hope my life reflects my decision to grab on. Although my favorite color is blue, I chose deep purple to honor the lives of those who have died of pancreatic cancer, especially my friend, Jenna. It is another reminder that our time here is limited so we might as well live, really live, while we're here.

The string of the balloon says believe, which means many things to me. It means believe in Christ. It means believe in the good of this broken and hurting world. It means believe in the strength of myself. That last one is key. I've been battling myself and losing for quite a while now. That time is over. I got used to living half alive. I went through the motions, I put on a smile, and then I retreated into myself as soon as possible. The song "Jar of Hearts" was on repeat in my brain. At one time, the words felt like the only thing I would ever know. Now they remind me of where I was and where I am and where I can go from here.

On Wednesday I signed up for my second marathon. I finished my first marathon in October of 2015 and it is an almost constant reminder of how depressed and sick I was and of me giving up on me. I am in a different place now, I am working to be in an even better place, and I want redemption. I want to step up to the start line prepared and I want to finish the race proud. I believe I will succeed on both counts. Running is a mental game and my head is back in the game. I believe.

On Thursday I did my first training run for a trail half marathon in November, then I have a marathon next May, and trail Ragnar in June. I am setting goals. Last night I made lasagna and unloaded the dishwasher and corrected math and did the dishes and read books to kids and tucked them in. It's regular mom stuff, but it feels really impressive because just a few months ago getting dressed was quite a big accomplishment for me. But that's then and this is now and I'm setting goals. It's scary to put that out there. I don't want to fail. I don't want to fall. But trying and failing is better than living a shell of a life. I believe. I have to believe. I have to believe I'm worth the effort. Because it's still effort. It's still work. But I believe.

Also from "Jar of Hearts," this is my message for depression
We all have our demons. Mine overwhelmed my life. With my history of depression and my family history, I can't say they're gone forever, but I can say that I feel a lot better and I believe in me again. No matter what you're struggling with today, I hope you can say the same thing.

Peace for the journey, friends. We're all in this together.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Cuatro es tres.

Our littlest fellow turns three tomorrow. Well, actually he'll wake up tomorrow and the magical changing of the year will have already happened. I've hugged my two-year-old for the last time. Audrey and I had a good cry about that one when I tucked her in. She's so sad that he is growing so big because he's so cute and funny and sweet. I reminded her that she did the same thing. She even had the audacity to turn ten. It's a grand injustice of motherhood, is what it is. What I wouldn't give to rewind 12 1/2 years to begin again with all four of my kids. Instead, tomorrow marks the beginning of 7th grade, 5th grade, 3rd grade, and 3 years old. It's really too much for one mama to handle in one day. Too much new growing and changing of the guard and pangs of the heart.

I hugged Asher before bed, a nice and tight one that I never wanted to end. "I would start all over if I could," I told him. He smiled and laughed, oblivious to what that meant, oblivious to the tears trying to slip down my cheeks, oblivious to how incredibly happy and sad I am that he is turning three. I think mamas are especially good at the mingling of sad and happy feelings, at watching little people grow to big people, at mourning and celebrating the exact same moments.

All he wants is an ambulance. A few weeks ago, we purchased a used playset for the backyard. Jim and my cousin took it apart and hauled it here and were carrying it to the backyard when Asher boy looked down from the deck and incredulously shouted, "But I wanted an ambulance!" Good grief, we laughed about that. Really, we're still laughing about that. (He'll be unwrapping an ambulance in the morning.) Tomorrow he wants homemade pizza and sweet potatoes and cake and ice cream. We're having a small party next weekend. He wants to play at the park and have cupcakes and ice cream.

Those are the details. But then there's the boy. He's a nonstop talker, hugger, magnet block builder, car driving, game playing, game inventing, dog hugging, sibling chasing, bike riding boy. When he laughs or smiles people melt. His personality is as big as his buddha belly. He talks up strangers at the grocery store and gives peace at church while waiting impatiently for his communion bread. Carbs are his love language. He is a mama's boy through and through. He loves to help dada feed the dog or change the oil, and especially loves Ace  Hardware. He is ridiculously verbal, but won't use the toilet. He sleeps in a crib, but wants a big boy bed, which he'll get soon. He told me he sees an old lady in his closet. (creepy!) He loves books in laps, rocking in gliders, and snuggles. Then he wants to run like the wind! He wakes up in the morning, still early, but not so terribly early as he used to, and we snuggle and he tells me he loves me 1000 times and I kiss his cheekers and he drives cars on my arms.

Sweet boy, our sprinkles on top of our ice cream sundae family, will I remember you as you are now when three years more have passed? Your dimpled elbows and chubby cheeks and Ys that sound like Ls so you say Les instead of Yes. The way you open our dinner devotional, ask all of us to be quiet, and "read" it. "Don't kick. Don't kick a head off. Be kind." The way you wait mostly impatiently for communion at church so you can get bread, and then Pastor Vera gives me two pieces so I can give one to you and Audrey and dada tear off little pieces to share with you. The way you bike on the driveway with Elliot and chase Isaac around the yard while he plays disc golf. The way you play groundies with the big kids and they let you catch them sometimes. The way you fit in my arms just so with my head resting on your head, then you lean back and I see your eyelashes, long and blonde in the sunshine. The certainty with which you jump off the edge of the pool. The feel of your head nestled into my neck when you're unsure. That and more and all of it.

Our cuatro. Our Asher boy. We love you. You are our most unexpected gift and a lifetime of thank yous would never express our gratitude that you are ours and we are yours.

Happy third birthday, choochie face.