To the Twins, 13 Years Later

There are days sketched on my parents’ and grandparents’ minds forever. Pearl Harbor, crowded around the family radio, hearing the unimaginable. The day JFK was shot, my mom’s lunch lady was crying as she went through the line. The day that Martin Luther King was shot and there were curfews and chaos and sadness in their city.

In my mind…it’s this day. 22 years old and fresh to Texas, the second week in grad school, I was walking down the curved marble stairs after my 8 o’clock class. At the bottom, stood a mixture of students and professors, huddled in disbelief, eyes glued to the TV in the foyer. And the Trade Towers were on fire. And the world has never ever been the same; our innocence was lost in a moment.

That next summer, the youth group I was interning for took a trip to New York. There we were, over 100 of us, fumbling with subway cards, walking miles and miles in matching tee shirts (not exactly the way I wanted to experience NYC for the first time), and searching for bathrooms that weren’t to be found. I was feeling embarrassed. Ugh, why are we here? We look like tourists! Until we arrived at Ground Zero. Suddenly, there was reverence. Even among the 7th grade boys.

There’s something about standing on ground where people have fought for life and lost, that sends chills through your bones.

In the summer of 2002, there was a huge makeshift memorial at Ground Zero. A wall, with words from loved ones and total strangers scribbled all over it, US flags, balloons, pictures. There was too much to look at. I read a few messages and then took in the scene in its entirety.

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But then something caught my eye that has stayed with me clearly for 13 years: a snap shot of 2 babies in matching high chairs, with the words, “look how big we are now, daddy” written on the picture. And there I stood, and cried for those twins who didn’t have a daddy and their mama who didn’t have a husband anymore. And now, 13 years later, I think of them. They are much bigger now. Maybe they started 7th or 8th grade last week. Maybe they’ve moved to the Midwest, maybe they are still in Manhattan. Maybe they have an adopted dad, who loves them as if they were his all along. I don’t know. But every year I think of them and pray for them. While my false sense of American invincibility was forever rattled about this time on September 11, 2001, they were losing their dad. And now that I have twins growing strong within me, I think of their mother, who lost her best friend, her help, and likely her joy. And I remember. I can’t remember everyone who lost their lives that day. But I can remember the twins and their mama and one daddy who walked into work on a normal September day and never came home.

Sunday Morning Prayer

I often experience early morning insomnia. When it happens as early as 2am, I count the hours until morning, rueing my impending exhaustion. But when the day comes early for me at 4 or 5, I call it a night and brew some coffee, grateful for a chance to enjoy the quiet and the Beagle.

This morning as I was praying, I was thinking about my eldest and the fact that often, I’m just at a loss. Cut exactly from my mold, I somehow have no idea how to relate to the 4 year old version of me. Her emotions swing and flare and spike. Yet in the next moment, she is tender and kind and funny. I scribbled the words in my prayer journal, “I need you desperately.”  Then I crossed them out, “I need you every hour.”

And because I’m a product of the South, the words of that old hymn flooded my mind, I need thee, oh I need thee, every hour I need thee.

But because I am not proficient in the lyric arena (as all my friends know), I had to look up the rest. And what I found brought me to tears. The writer of this song was a wife and mother about my age, in the 1800s.

This is what she said:

“One day as a young wife and mother of 37 years of age, I was busy with my regular household tasks during a bright June morning, in 1872. Suddenly, I became filled with the sense of nearness to the Master, and I began to wonder how anyone could ever live without Him, either in joy or in pain. Then the words were ushered into my mind and these thoughts took full possession of me–“I need Thee every hour . . .”

The human condition has always been the same. I need my Savior every day, every hour, every moment. This morning I’m grateful for a mother just like me, who penned these words almost 150 years ago and a Savior who is always present in my joy and pain and need.

On Mother’s Day…

I’m sitting next to my early riser who is literally licking her plate clean after consuming a monkey bun from my sister’s bakery. My big girl and I get up and sit on the couch while everyone else is sleeping. She watches early morning PBS and I journal, read my Bible, and read my favorite blogs. She drinks milk, I drink coffee. Really without this part of my day, I’m a monster.  At first, I’d sneak out of my room, jumping from board to board in our little bungalow, avoiding creeks. Now, her circadian is set to mine. And she meets me in the hall. What was a frustration at first, her interrupting my “me time,” is now “our time.” And it’s the time she sees me loving Jesus, reading from his word, learning from him, praying. It reminds me of my mom…

DD, Mom, KT, Me

I love my mom daily, but Mother’s Day does lend itself to think, pause, and appreciate all the ways my mom gave and gives.

I can’t even look around my living room in my home, without seeing her influence:

Piles of books on the shelf. It was mom who taught me to love reading. It was mom who made me read the classics and wouldn’t allow me to amass a huge library of Babysitter’s Club, but instead Little House and Anne of Green Gables. It was mom who had us reading every day during the summer. Mom who bought us children’s books even as adults. Books I read to my own children. It was mom who nurtured my own love of story telling. She wrote down my narrations even as a 4-year-old, when I couldn’t write.

The Cityscapes and Photography hung on the wall. The way I hang pictures, influenced by mom. ‘Hang them at eye level, not too high, not too low.’ Her quiet sense of style and her way of making a home HOMEY and lived in, yet cute, (hopefully) transferred to us. Playing with color, playing with design, playing with room lay out. I’m never quite satisfied with a piece of furniture from a store. It must have a story. It must be a deal. That’s from my mom.

I can’t go through a day, without attributing much of it to mom:

Keeping life simple and fun. My mom didn’t force us to do sports or music or dance.  My youngest sister and I took piano. My middle sister took art. We all played softball briefly and lost every game (save one forfeit). And we took free tennis lessons one summer. But we weren’t a family going from here to there chasing college scholarships. We did what we liked. We were happy. We weren’t dictated by schedule or culture. We had people over for dinner and sat around the table for hours, laughing and eating. Life was simple. Life was fun.

Ordinary life was special.  In the summers we had popsicles every day at 3pm on the porch. On the first day of every season, we got little presents to celebrate the new Season, pjs’ on Christmas eve, travel presents for long car rides, tea parties, homemade cherry limeades, the list goes on and on.  Mom made life special.

Tea Party (mom and CB)

When the world criticized, mom esteemed. My mom (and dad) swear to this day that I was cute in 7th grade, even when I show them proof that I was NOT. But back then, I thought I was beautiful…because of them.

She loved dad and God first. My mom let me in on a secret over a cup of coffee, when I was about 17, “I always put dad first.” WHAT? Over us? I was offended…until my selfish little teenage soul understood. My mom and dad’s relationship gave us stability and confidence. It was good and healthy for us to see THEM love one another. It took me into my late 20s to find my own one and only. I think often, it’s because mom and dad set the bar so high in their love, that I could not settle. Now as a mom, I get it. She also loved God above all else, even dad. Every morning, mom and dad could and can be found, on the couch, coffee in hand, reading God’s word and praying. Perhaps that is the biggest gift they gave me.

The most important job in the world is shaping little souls, raising little people. Thank you mom, for how you raised us. I am endlessly grateful. I love you!

An Unsolicited Opinion about Frozen

Have you ever been a part of something and it felt like your heart was on the outside of your body? For me-it’s usually music or really good theatre.

The day to day swarms around me and my time is filled with goldfish, grilled cheese, and Daniel Tiger, so it’s been a while since I’ve been felt this way, until…

On Valentines Day, we took our big girl to her first movie in a theatre. And I felt it: the rush of awe and appreciation, the reminder that there are great story tellers and artists, and thoughtful and funny composers still out there-still making magic in our culture.

There are a lot of posts out there about this movie and I’ve not read any of them, because this post has been swirling in my head since February 14th.

Here are major themes and points that I took away from Frozen:

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1. Sometimes gifts can be our worst enemies. Elsa’s talent for snow making was innate within her.  BUT, gifts have to be used in the right context. They need to be humbly developed and nurtured by parents and loved ones. Just think about our personalities. We are who we are…but sometimes out of fear, we squash that, we hold it in, we pretend. Elsa had an amazing gift that she didn’t know how to use, and no one taught her what to do with it. Encouraged by her parents, she hid it. When she was true to herself and learned purpose in her gift…who she really was…only then was she beautiful and free (and sexy, for that matter-it’s true and it’s ok).

2. Anna and Elsa were products of parents who thought they were doing the right thing but were actually screwing up. As a mom-this is terrifying. But here’s the thing…Elsa and Anna could have blamed their parents for their predicament. They could have dwelled on it. We all could and can. But if we have loving parents, it’s a FACT that they did their best. They intended the best. So, the next time you feel tempted to blame your parents for something, remember that they love(d) you and were likely trying to do the right thing. And I am trying now, to parent the best I know how. I’m sure when my kids grow up, they will point to ways I’ve messed them up. Heaven help me as I try to be a good mom!

3. For a million reasons, Elsa was hurt, so to protect herself she built ice around her heart and refused to let anyone in-even those who loved her most. Are you doing this today? Am I? Pain often drives us away from intimacy. We were meant for community. Living outside of it IS the biggest tragedy.

4. Elsa was different and when people found out, they were scared.  Now you can be all PC and say “Differences don’t scare me!” But they probably do, and no one will know if you just admit it in your head. And different things scare different people. It is what it is. But at some point, we have to stop being afraid, and get to know people for who they are, different or not. That’s hard and it may take an entire lifetime.

5. For once, “true love” wasn’t the conventional boy meets girl and boy saves the day. First off, the GIRL saved the day. And secondly, the perfect love in this movie, was messy, gritty, enduring, painful, and beautiful-as only love in real life can be. Not only that, it was familial. And familial love rarely looks like it did on Full House or I love Lucy. It’s hard. It. Just. Is.

I’m so glad that this was also a story about sisters.  And if you have sisters…you know that there is no one on Earth who can be your best friend and soul mate like a sister, and almost no one you’ll fight for more than a sister.

6. Reconciliation is worth it…even if it’s hard and takes a long time. I believe that reconciliation wants to be the plot line of every story. Yours and mine.

7. The good guy won the girl. Maybe you’d say the underdog…but he was NOT the prince. He was not the guy she thought she wanted, but instead, the guy she needed and the guy who wasn’t too prideful to win her. He was also her friend, first. I loved this! I want that guy to date my daughters some day. That guy dated and married me. What a lucky girl I am.

My little girl is too little to see movies this way. All she wants to do is sing “do you wanna build a snowman?” over and over again. And my husband (because he’s a guy) prefers The Incredibles. But I’m grateful for what I consider to be the best Disney movie of all time for themes of redemption and strength and love in an age of cheaply made movies with weak and boring plots. When my girls are bigger…I hope we can chew on these themes whilst sipping coffee and eating dark chocolate!

 

Birthday Thoughts…

***I wrote this post on my birthday…but was too busy partying to post it.

Today is my birthday.

My wonderful husband has gone to great lengths planning out the most perfect day(s) for me. So far, he has succeeded. It even started yesterday.

Short recap:

After a morning workout and coffee playdate (code for mom date), we dropped the babies off with my in laws and took off for a day of shopping and coffee. I picked out a present. We headed to my favorite downtown on Earth, checked in to a hotel, enjoyed the view, ate steak at my favorite local joint, sipped coffee, licked a dessert plate clean from the ganache that spelled out Happy Birthday, walked among the city dwellers enjoying our town, and conversation (a novelty when you have littles).IMG_7961

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This morning, we strolled in the fog to get breakfast…me pretending amidst the sky scrapers that I lived in NYC (a weird Felicity-like daydream I always go back to), and now here I am, basking in my thoughts and coffee, awaiting a massage in one hour. My husband knows how to pamper me on my big day.

(UPDATE: I later returned home to the smells of my favorite comfort food and a carefully crafted surprise party…a la the best husband ever!)

I joked with a friend last week that although I love my birthday, that it’s had a history of leaving me wanting.

On the day before my 30th, in an attempt to not be driving on my birthday, we set off in a snow storm to see my parents in the Midwest. Somewhere in the hills of Northwestern Arkansas, after sitting on stalemated bridges for too long, we gave up and got a hotel room for the night. While grabbing dog food at a Walmart, my Beagle FREAKED out in the car. It went like this:

Us: Toby, come on. Shut up.

Toby: Pant pant, cry cry…

Us: Toby, you can’t ride in the front…get back. Toby…stop.

Toby: Pant pant freak out freak out….FARRRRRRRRTTTTTTTT. SQUIIIIIRRRRRRRTTTTTT.

And like that, hours before my 30th, there I was in the snow, wrangling two dogs, laughter to the point of breathlessness, while my Tall guy cleaned up Beagle diarrhea from the crevises of the car door. (I told Toby that entire pan of Chocolate Chip Oatmeal cookies he stole off my counter the day before would eventually bite him in the butt…).

On my 23rd birthday, I was new in town…and just my mama and dad and aunt even remembered my birthday. I watched Mystic Pizza alone in my apartment.

There have been good and bad birthdays…and people always will say, “It’s just a day.”

To that I say, NO!

Having labored for my babies now, it is never just a day. Ever.

I think so many of us have forgotten to celebrate. Life is a miracle and it is fleeting.

35 years ago, right in this very moment (as I’m looking at my clock) my mom birthed me into the world. And from that point on, she sacrificed all of her pre-kid freedom…for me. Because she loved me so.

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In our family, we do birthdays big. They are tailor made. Some of us like birthdays loud and raucous, with lots of family and even more food. Some like them quiet and simple, with coffee and chocolate, some family, and then some private contemplation. My little girl likes her birthday to be bouncy and full of pizza. Regardless-we CELEBRATE birth days.

Birthdays are the day we say THANK YOU…thanks to moms and dads for choosing to extend themselves in parenthood. Thanks to God for giving us a chance to make a mark on the world…hopefully a good one, hopefully one that makes others say, “I want to know God, too.” Thanks to friends and family for trudging through it with us…good and bad.

It’s a day to celebrate friendship, growth, another year, tears, triumphs, set backs, FOOD, all of it….

It’s a good day for a birthday.

On Motherhood

Long before I had children of my own, I dreamed of becoming a mom.

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When I ask my little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, she always says, “I’m going to get married and be a mommy.” And I often find myself resisting the urge to say, “Oh, but you can go to college first and get a job and this or that?” As if getting married and being a mommy is something less than.  As if there is a just in front of the words wife and mom. 

There isn’t.

My mom is one of the reasons I am who I am today (and my dad is, too-but this is a post about moms). Her influence and presence in my life is incomparable: diligently teaching me to study God’s word, reading to me for hours and hours of my childhood, teaching me the value of pretend, crying with me when I thought my boobs were too big in middle school (they were), rejoicing with me when I got an A+ on a test in college, thrilled beyond words when I became pregnant with my own girls.

Moms have more power in shaping the future than anyone else on Earth.

To this day, the moments that my babies were born were the most phenomenal snapshots of my life-redeeming work, tears, exhaustion, and pain into the cries of new life, beautiful new life.  Even now, I am desperately aware that ushering them through life is a tremendous responsibility.

But the thing is…we don’t have to be biological mothers to be moms.

Before I had my own children, I was a surrogate mom for a week in Venezuela nurturing a little girl named Roxanna-hugging her, loving her, meeting her friends, praying for her. I was a spiritual mom to a dear friend during her adolescent years, praying with her every morning, struggling with her as she sought her own identity. I was a mom to friends, and roommates, and sisters-listening, drinking coffee, laughing, making food…and they were moms to me. Along the way-older women nurtured me over coca colas at the student union, when my own mom was hours away.  Others cried with me and counseled me when my heart was broken in my mid 20s, rejoicing later with me when my real Prince Charming finally swept me off my feet. And when my mama was miles away, she was nurturing other people’s babies, too. Sipping coffee, providing nurture, feet tucked up underneath them.

We are all mothers deep down. It is distinctly female…to be Mother, whether it is biological, surrogate, adoptive, or spiritual.

My baby girl is four and we have no idea what her life will hold. She may grow old and serve the world without marriage and without children of her own. And she may have a million degrees and focus on her career and that is fine. Or she may decide to marry right out of high school and start a quiver. Regardless, I pray that she becomes someone’s mama.

Because relationships are the only glue that hold the world together…stronger than any man made technology.

And degree or no degree…when my little girl says she wants to be a mommy, I will esteem that desire in her because mothering is a beautiful and worthy job-the most important job. To be in the presence of a good Mom, is to see the face of God.

 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” 

Proverbs 31:29

The VERY Back Seat

I wrote this post in September of 2000 for a writing class my senior year of college. In honor of throw back Thursday, I am FINALLY typing it up (with a few, but minimal edits).

Up until the fall of 1999, my parents drove a 1990 Chevrolet Celebrity Station Wagon. We named him Tom Cruise.* Tom has a very back seat and upon buying this car, that particular seat was deemed the coveted seat. The lucky sister who got to sit on that gray and black fuzzy seat was a lucky soul. It meant that she could get away from two pestering sisters who would inevitably touch her during some part of the ride AND she could enjoy upcoming traffic from a completely different and exciting vantage point.** Sometimes we would solicit close friends to join us in the back seat adventure. Once, on the way home from a puppet rehearsal at church, my best friend and I crouched down at every stop light and performed puppet shows for unsuspecting audiences in cars behind us.

Yes, times in the rear seat were fun…until we rather spontaneously realized that maybe cool people didn’t and/or shouldn’t gain (and give) pleasure from making faces at cars behind us. We were also increasingly aware of the awkwardness that settled between us and victims during those moments after the funny face was made and before the light turned green. At this point, the fights between my sisters and I were more focused on who had to sit in the rear seat instead of who got to sit there.

Many moments of grief and embarrassment were realized in that seat, most of which occurred on family vacations. You know when you have a really fat PE teacher in junior high and they are making you do 100*** push ups in front of the whole class because your form is wrong and the whole time you are wondering why they aren’t doing push ups, too? Well, the same sort of resentment can arise against your parents when you are stuck in the back and it is sweltering because of the windows all around and your parents are up front with the air conditioner blasting directly on them and they are asking the impossible, “Will you just have a good attitude?” Ha! Some good attitude, you think, YOU try doing that in a 180 degree atmosphere, Mom and Dad!****

For some reason during these long car rides to the South in the summer, one of us was always required to sit back there. I think my parents didn’t want us all 3 crammed in the middle seat because we might get claustrophobic? I don’t know. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I was assigned the 8 hour stretch between Memphis and Atlanta. This stretch turned into 11 hours when we hit a traffic jam that was 2.5 CDs long, outside of Nashville. I know this, because in the way back, music is your only consolation. Without it, you have nothing. It’s too hot to fall asleep and there is too vast a distance between you and the rest of the car to carry on a normal conversation-everything is yelled. Anyway, by the end of this grueling trek across Tennessee, I was silently crying to myself.

That seat can make you crazy. You think when you are in the normal part of the car, that the person in the back seat is overreacting until there you are, facing the same guy for 2 1/2 CDs, crying like a baby when you are 20!! On the next leg of that trip my sister Katie, was stuck back there, and she turned into a blubbering fool-offering us money to let her sit with us and when that failed, trying to physically force her way into the middle seat. Of course there was room for her but of course we weren’t letting her climb over. The whole scenario reminds me of Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. He thinks he’ll be just fine in that big hotel, all locked up, and then he tries to kill his whole family.

Luckily, though, I am writing this a free woman. I have been liberated, along with my sisters, from the prison that is the rear seat. My sisters and I breathed a collective sigh of relief when Papa bought Parker, the Park Avenue. I am now the primary driver and care taker of the beautiful long white station wagon. He sits in my alley way, is littered with my sandals, tee shirts, church bulletins, and the like. No one needs to sit in the back anymore because Tom is the college kid car. He drives my friends and me around the town of Cedar Falls, IA. And when he’s feeling up to it, he does journey South, but only 3 hours away to see my parents.

The only unlucky souls that grace the back back seat are inanimate objects and I guess they aren’t even real “souls,” at all.

Epilogue December 2013

*There was a time, dear children, when Tom Cruise was worthy of having namesakes.

**This vantage point is likely no longer legal in newer cars.

***Obviously, this is a gross exaggeration.

****When my dad was a child and travelled with his 4 sisters and parents on vacation in a sedan, his “seat” was the little shelf behind the back seat. Obviously, he’d earned the right to the AC, I know that now.

Tom Cruise Chevrolet Celebrity lived a long life. Topping 100,000+ miles, he drove his final days in 2003 and has gone to car Heaven. His glorious/annoying memory will live vibrantly in our hearts forevermore.