Wednesday, May 24, 2017

this kid

I have never felt so unprepared for something in all of my nearly 40 years. I have spent 13 years parenting small humans, and the oldest one is now almost as tall as me, and the youngest one still needs help getting on the toilet, and I am so out of my league. When pregnant with Isaac, I read parenting books and went to all of the classes and obsessed about accidentally riding a roller coaster at the McLeod County Fair while about 4 weeks pregnant.

Then they put Isaac on my chest and, while I was in no way an expert, I could just love and snuggle and instinctually feel my way through motherhood. More kids and older kids meant new challenges, but we worked through them. Please don't read that we worked through them seamlessly. I cried and ranted and raised my voice and questioned my ability to do pretty much every single thing. But, we kept on chugging along.

Now I'm looking at this one teenager and this girl about to be 11 and this boy about to be 9 and this youngest one who still needs help on the toilet, and I really see how short a time I have with them and how fast they will be grown up and how tender their hearts are and how brave their souls are and how easily tender and brave souls can be busted open for the world and by the world. For the world and by the world. One small word changed, but that one small word changes everything.

I tucked a kid in tonight. Prayer. Song. Chat. Then, all of a sudden, tears. I gently asked what was wrong. "I'm just so sad for all of the people who don't have people who love them." This particular kid has a heart of gold, a heart for loving others and more empathy than a little person really knows how to handle.

We talked about adoption, homelessness, thieves, family, murderers, church, kidnappers, Christ, foster care, hunger, lack of drinkable water, alcoholism. We talked about loving others, saying goodbye to people we love, serving others and being served so we are well enough to keep serving, having fun so life isn't all about fear and worry and sadness. We talked about God and Satan and shining God's light and courage and fear. Other kids came into the room to see what was taking so long and we sent them away. This was important. This was deep soul work and deep soul work requires time, hugs, and Kleenex to wipe away the many tears. But mostly time.

This kid has so much to offer and is so quietly, unassumingly strong. Bending with the wind and wilting in a storm, this kid comes back stronger, roots stretching deeper, back a little straighter. How did I get chosen for this grand honor of watching this kid grow? I want so much for this kid. This kid has so much to offer to this hurting, beautiful world. Please, world, don't bust this kid up. I know you're rough around the edges, but be gentle enough that this tender and brave soul can be busted open FOR you, not BY you. You need this kid. We all do.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Finding my way from disappointment to joy

A few years ago, I ran a marathon that I wasn't proud of. The training was a train wreck, I wasn't physically or mentally healthy, and my end time reflected both of those realities, but still left me completely bummed out and doubting myself as a runner. Ever heard that running is 90% mental? Yeah. True story. Except maybe it's 99% mental. Since then I've struggled to find my happy place while running. Since then I've also felt like I needed a "redemption marathon." I guess I thought I needed to prove something to myself. To that end, I signed up for the Colfax marathon for May 21, 2017. Yesterday.

I started training for it and things were going well enough. I was getting my long runs in, but not being as consistent with mid-week, shorter runs due to parenting duties, Jim's travel schedule, homeschooling four kids, and generally being a grown up with responsibilities. I assume almost all of you reading this know what I'm talking about. Being a grown up is just so much less exciting and freeing than I imagined it at age 7! At any rate, I was still feeling good about training. Then I went to Mexico with my oldest son to build a home with friends from church with the organization Casas por Cristo. That meant I missed two big runs, an 18 and 19 mile run. I was sorry to miss the long runs at a key point in training, but would also do it a million times in a row for the experience I got to share with my son, people from church, and a truly amazing and deserving family from Mexico.

I tweaked my training schedule and set out for my 18 mile run on the Saturday I got back from Mexico. I had my route planned, but was dreading the run from the very start. I drove to Flying J ranch to get the show on the road, started running, and just stopped. It was a gorgeous morning, the temperatures were perfect, I was healthy, but I just didn't want to run 18 miles by myself. I just didn't want to. So I decided not to.

There are plenty of things in life that we have to do. DMV. Laundry. Wash the dishes. Gynecological exams. Here I was dreading running, which, by the way, is something I choose to do for fun and for release and relaxation. If I am dreading it, it has fully lost its joy and just becomes another thing I *have* to do instead of something I *get* to do because I love it and it clears my mind and helps me feel strong and capable.

So I just didn't run 18 miles that day. Instead, I hiked for about 2 hours on the beautiful trails I intended to run and assessed my goals. How important was this marathon to me? Why did I even think I needed a redemption marathon in the first place? Would training for this marathon add to my joy or detract from it?

After a few weeks of soul searching, I decided the marathon wasn't that important to me, I didn't need a redemption marathon because my first (and only, so far) marathon was the very best marathon I could have run that day, and continuing to train would only detract from my joy and love of running. These decisions didn't come easy because I psychoanalyze myself to a fault and took just enough psychology classes to be a danger to myself. Annoying. Plus, I felt like a loser for dropping this race. Also annoying.

I finally started telling some friends that I wasn't doing the marathon, and a few of them were kind enough to inform me that I could drop to the half. (I should also note that none of them taunted me and called me a loser for not running the full. We really are stupidly hard on ourselves!) Well, I can run a half any day, which is both a blessing and a curse, since a person really should train for 13.1 miles, but since having a fourth child, I just never do anymore. So, instead of running a full 26.2, I dropped down to the 13.1.
Race day. Downtown Denver with the Rocky Mountains in the background
That happened yesterday. I'd love to say that I trained well and consistently for it, but that would be a big, juicy lie. Instead, I showed up with no goals or expectations other than to finish. Thankfully I wasn't shooting for a great time because I forgot my watch at home. Whoops! Therefore, I just got into my corral and ran a pace that felt good. I figured that if it started to feel hard, I'd slow down, and if it started to feel easy, I'd speed up. Novel idea, huh? Listen to my body and do what feels good.
It's go time. My corral inches closer to the start line.
I ran my slowest half marathon (2:18), ran a negative split (second 6.5 miles was faster than the first by a hair), didn't run with a single person I knew, had no family of friends to cheer for me or meet me at the finish line, and loved it. It felt good, comfortable, fun, and easy. I shouted thanks most of the volunteers. I looked at all of the animals during the mile that took us through the Denver zoo. I gave high fives to all of the kids. I smiled my biggest smile for all of the race photographers in hopes I'll have a nice race photo. I had fun. That little word, fun, has been missing from running lately. I hope yesterday's race serves as a long term reminder that run and fun belong together.
Happy runner earns cool medal.

Friday, March 17, 2017

the beauty of possibility

Moving to a new state with four young children, moving 1,000+ miles away from most of our family and all of our friends to a state where we knew literally three people, was difficult. When I say difficult, I am under-exaggerating to the thousandth degree. There were many times I questioned not only our decision, but our actual sanity. The most difficult part by far, as in like 84,539 miles, was seeing how it affected our daughter. At the time, I kind of hated myself for doing that to her.

Today my spectacularly awesome and sometimes sassy daughter got picked up by a friend's mom to go to a homeschool day at the roller skating rink. When I told her about the invitation, her face transformed into joy. It was so beautiful. She went with two friends from our homeschool group and I imagine giggling and jokes in the car. I imagine more giggling and silliness at the rink. I imagine her coming home tired and happy.

I really couldn't have imagined that smile and friendship and sense of community two years ago when we were living in a rental house and not sure about a homeschool group and searching for a church and not sure if anyone would accept one of our nine offers on eight houses and clueless about where we would live. It was a mess. An absolute mess. We were off the charts stressed. We also believed we were in the right place for our family. On paper, that makes no sense. In our hearts, we believed we were in the right place, even when it was messy and painful and downright awful. Yet here we are two years later and we are making our way. We still miss many of our favorite people in Minnesota and miss being closer to family in Michigan, but Colorado is our home. We have started to create community here. We have friends here. We have new jobs here. So much has changed in a little over two years.

None of the positive or negative changes take away from the love and friendship we miss in MN. Instead it adds to our life experiences, it enriches us, it challenges us, and we grow. In fits and starts, sometimes drowning in rain and sometimes scorching in sunshine, we grow.

Am I recommending a cross-country move to the great unknown for everyone? Ummmmmm. NOPE! I'm recommending we all stretch ourselves a bit now and again. I'm recommending we think about why we're here, what we're made for, and what makes us giddy. I'm recommending that we're open to the possibility of good in the unknown. Because down the road, new friends are waiting. New opportunities are calling your name. There might even be roller skating. And it's scary and beautiful and bonkers and good.

Are you a creature of habit or do you routinely stretch yourself? Have you tried something new lately?

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

tick tock

I'll be 40 in May. I'm not staring down the date with dread. I don't feel or act 40, whatever 40 is supposed to feel or act like, although some days I think I look about 59. It's a lovely combination of wrinkles, prematurely gray hair, and continued adult acne. I'm painting a pretty picture here, aren't I? But this isn't about my looks. It's about my life. My time here.

I find myself at this point in my life where I feel the deep need to start carving time and space for what matters to me. It's becoming all too clear that life is stupidly and ridiculously short, so what the heck am I doing wasting my time? Instead of burying my head in the sand and ignoring the tick tock of a traditionally major birthday that signifies I'm over the hill so it's all downhill from here (ha!), I'm changing the things I don't like. I'm stepping back from time commitments that don't suit me or speak to my passions. I'm saying yes to things that ignite a flame in my soul and serve others with the best of me.

It's so cliche, this evaluation of life as a major birthday approaches, but it's for a good reason. We wake up and we're like, dude, I don't have time for this nonsense. I am who I am and this is my skill set and these are my passions and it's about time I use them and use them well and wisely. I'm as old as I've ever been, but I'm also as young as I'll ever be again. So, let's get to it already.

Truth be told, I had a major freakout when I turned 25. I was really close to graduating from college, which took longer because I transferred approximately 8.32 trillion times because a)started at the wrong school, b) met and married my husband after my sophomore year at school #2 c) began moving all over with the Air Force husband and picking up college credits whenever we lived somewhere long enough. We were living somewhere that didn't feel like home. I didn't have a degree or a "real job." It just wasn't what I imagined 25 would look like. Then I graduated and we moved back to places where it snows every winter and I started cranking out little people, and I haven't freaked out about a birthday since, so I really see no reason to start now.

I don't know where my end of the road is. Will it be sudden or long and drawn out with plenty of time for me to armchair quarterback the bejesus out of the way I used my time here. (Don't you just know I'll armchair quarterback, if given the chance. Tis the life of a non-bovine ruminator.) I hope I'll know I did the best I could with what I had for as long as I could. I hope I won't be filled with regret on how I spent my time. I pray I'll know I answered God's nudges and outright shouts to use this precious life to share love and Jesus and hope. I pray that the people I love will feel up to their eyeballs loved by me, no questions asked and no doubt about it.

To that end, I'm dropping some things from my life. I can always pick them back up later, but they don't fit right now. I need some wiggle room for other stuff. Aren't I fortunate to be in a place in my life in a country in this world that I can make decisions not based on how I'll feed my children or where we'll sleep tonight. I don't take that for granted. Really, most of us that write blogs about living our "true life" or being a good parent or blahblahyadayada are coming from such a place of surplus. We have so much. I take that very seriously.

It's one thing to say I take that very seriously and another thing entirely to live like I take that seriously. 40 is telling me it's time to kick it up a notch. Here's to a life well lived and love freely given. Today and tomorrow and the next day, too.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


When he was a new baby, I would cry every night at his bedtime. I am being literal here. Every night. I was so terribly sad to put him to bed because it meant another day with him was gone. Even then I didn't understand how time could move so quickly.
Last night he stayed up late to watch Avengers with his dad and me. When it ended, I felt tears welling up. He sat up, stretched, and I said the truest words I had. "I am so glad that you're my son." An understatement, yes, but true.
Elliot loves to hear the stories of when my babies were born. He usually thinks to ask when we are in the car, so every now and again I get the request. The other week the three big kids and I were going to see "Hidden Figures," and he asked to hear the birth stories. I obliged. After I told Isaac's, tears streaming down my face as I vividly recalled the moment I became a mama and as I realized that wee babe was about to be a teenager, Audrey, between sniffles, stated, "I don't want Isaac to be a teenager. I don't want him to go to college because it'll always be different once he's not home all the time."
Today my first baby becomes a teenager. It is a wave I cannot break. Ready or not, here it comes. I'm not scared to have a teen. I expect ups and downs, growth and regression, deep conversation and seemingly impassable silence. I expect times I will want to pull my hair out and times I will want to hold him close forever and times I will want to kick him out and times I just won't have any clue what's going on or what to do about it. That's pretty much my experience with life and parenthood summed up in one sentence.

I'm not scared to have a teen. I just realize that once I have one, soon I'll have two, then three, and then the first one will leave the house, and things will never be the same again. I have loved each stage with our children, but so far all of those stages have included them in my home.

I look at my firstborn son and I see this handsome, bright, kind, stubborn, silly, ornery young man, but I also see the babe they put on my chest that changed everything for me. Everything.

So I celebrate. Gosh, I celebrate. I have had the grand honor of knowing and loving this boy for 13 years + those in my belly months. We will have his requested breakfast of Wild Rice Porridge, open gifts, and work on Valentines and Latin. Then we'll pick up his friend and spend the day at a waterpark. This evening we'll meet my mom and Keith for Indian food. Then we'll put our brand new 13 year old to bed. Nothing will have changed. Not really. He'll still wear the same clothes and share a room with his brother. He'll still hate when Asher knocks down things he builds and still love to play "Get down, cupcake" with him on the couch. He'll still shoot hoops with Audrey and ignore me when I ask him to wash his hands for dinner when he's reading a book. He'll still love onions, books, sports stats, and weird food combinations. He'll still be our Isaac. But he'll have turned the corner. He'll be a teenager.

So I cry, too. Gosh, I cry. I greedily want more. I want time to slow or even rewind so I can start over 13 years ago and love these four kids from the very beginning all over again. I want to balance him on my feet while we play airplane. I want him rubbing his ear or my ear to soothe himself. I want to pick him up and slow dance with him in the kitchen. I want him to feel Audrey kicking in my tummy, pull my shirt up, and shout, "what in there?" I want to read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom another 8,036 times with him. I want to sing his lullabies in just the right order and put the CD on and sit in his rocking chair in the dark while he falls asleep. I want that stage where he could not walk anywhere, but instead danced and twirled and skipped everywhere. I want him meeting his siblings for the first time. I want to pull my hair out trying to get my cautious little man to ride his bike without training wheels. I want to watch him at his first dance recital and his first baseball game. I want to see the pride in his eyes when he does something new or masters something difficult. I want to see him with his friends as they discuss Harry Potter and play board games. I want it all. I want it all.

But the beautiful thing is that I've had it all. What a life we've lived with our firstborn. It has been love. So much love. It has been ridiculously challenging and full of learning and failing. I have felt like I was ruining everything. I have felt like my heart would burst out of my body with love. I've had that because of this boy, this young man, our firstborn son, our bug, the boy with the million dollar smile, our teenager, our Isaac. I couldn't ask for more.

Isaac, I look forward to the chance to watch you grow. I look forward to seeing you step into this world and share yourself in the unique way that only you can. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are a gift I will treasure always. The chance to watch you become your own young man is an honor I never understood until you taught it to me. You have taught me so much. I still have so much to learn. Thanks for being patient with me, my 13 year old guinea pig. 

Happy 13th Birthday, Isaac. I love you million times two.