Stingy with my Heart

Tears ran down my face as I drove home last Friday. At 5:00… quittin’ time… one of our residents clocked out of this life. I said goodbye to one of my friends. It was Dwayne’s birthday and I had planned a fun night. I wondered how I was going to pull off happy birthday when I was trying to process these emotions. My knee-jerk reaction was to think about something else, get it off my mind, and try to detach.

Then I thought again.

I leaned in to the emotion and went ahead and cried great big sobs for my sweet friend. He had no wife or children. He lived a bright and interesting life and I loved getting to care for him. I let the tears flow, knowing that there are plenty more where that came from. I thought about God, about His love for me and about His grace. I realized that there is enough of my heart to go around when I don’t hold back the parts He asks me to give away.

I cried all the way home and drove up to the house where my beautiful husband was waiting on the front steps. I went straight into his open arms and cried some more. Then I went inside and hugged my three babies. Tight. “We can stay home.” Dwayne said. But no way was I missing a chance to celebrate our life… his life. The tears subsided, mascara on, and out we went.

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We had a blast!

I cried that day. I lost that day. I loved that day. I laughed that day. I LIVED that day.

I realized that I’m the one who really misses out when I’m stingy with my heart.  It’s giving my heart, open and real and honest, that gets me the riches of life.

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Minivan Mojo

I’ve finally got my dream car.  It’s a sleek silver seven-seater. My husband is way too cool to drive it, but when I get in it I feel like the coolest, ever.  I’ve called her Sylvia.

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There’s nothing quite like the feeling of being a minivan mama.

First, there’s the fact that it’s the ideal mode of transportation for children.  The seats are just at the right level so that my toddler can get in and I can buckle his seat belt while standing up straight.  No longer do I have to lean in and over to wrestle with the buckling two-year-old while my rear end (“trailer” as my daddy would call it) is the only part of me out in the daylight.  Try this in a skirt and you’ll go directly to your local minivan dealership.  No longer do I have to try to figure a graceful way to back my behind out without hitting my head or falling, readjust the clothing, and look around hoping nobody was watching my show.  Sylvia’s got my back (side) and has preserved my dignity many-a time.  There’s a veritable playground in there, so I can open the back, toss in the toddler, and load groceries to my heart’s content knowing he’s safe and sound, out of the parking lot… and he thinks it’s the greatest since he got to climb in the back.  There is room for several gadgets at once, so the two-year-old, ten-year-old, and teenager can all travel in harmony and comfort.  Whether we’re going two blocks or a thousand miles, this does untold wonders for my sanity.  Since my minivan is practically a living room in itself, I can climb in with the kids, close and lock the doors and take my time getting everything situated and ready to go.

Second, there’s the thrill of driving the minivan… alone.  There are the compartments and pockets and cupholders, all with MY stuff tucked away just the way I want it.  I get in, shut the door, start her up, and breathe in the cavernous space behind me.  Space.  My space.  Quiet space.  Maybe this isn’t a big deal to you, but I haven’t peed by myself on a regular basis in almost 15 years.  I share a bedroom with a guy who likes everything just-so.  I’ll often come home and my bedside table will be bereft of the books I’ve been reading or the earrings I stuck on the dresser top so I could grab ’em quick will be back in their hiding place… and he’s a chef so the kitchen isn’t exactly my domain either.  But my van… (hear soft music) my van is my space.  Drop the last kid off at school and honey, you’ve got a bubble bath on wheels all to yourself for ten whole minutes!!  I’ve got napkins, snacks, a change of clothes (for a two-year-old, but still…), magazines, makeup, and a little money all right where I want and need them to be.  I’m sorry, Sylvia’s not available for loanership. But I just may invite you in by calling you on my hands-free blue tooth system.  Sylvia knows all my friends’ names and numbers and calls them on voice command.  I’m not trying to show off, I’m only sharing my shock and awe that I actually figured out how to make her do it.  Sylvia’s very discreet and won’t leak a word of our conversation.

Haven’t made a believer out of you yet?  Well, don’t discount the minivan’s romance factor.  Add a couple of pillows and the right beverages and “parking” takes on a whole new level of luxury.  (Also disproves the misconception that married people with kids no longer have fun.)  We can steam up windows with the best of ’em.  (So what if we don’t leave the driveway?)

Sylvia holds my extra brochures and business cards and keeps the pee-pee accident kit discreetly hidden.  Or she’ll proudly display the toys and dirt and roll up to the playground lookin’ like the mommy-mobile extraordinaire, with extra wet-wipes to loan to the mom with the Camry.  She’ll seat a business executive and won’t (hopefully) leave an old french fry stuck to his pants.  Or she’ll open her doors to six of my girlfriends and become the ride of our lives.  Sylvia can serve a family dinner if need be, and even has a kid-watching mirror so I can glimpse mine enjoying ice cream or cheeseburgers or whatever we’ve found to get into.

Maybe it’s silly… but ol’ Sylvia makes me feel like I’m ready for whatever my wonderful life demands of me.  I’m thinking about getting a theme song and some loudspeakers… maybe hydraulics….

Maybe not.  But it’s still ON like pecan when Sylvia and I get on the road.  Grab ya sunglasses and let’s go for a ride!!

 

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Mama’s Peace

Her fingers clicked across the keyboard as she typed a few words.  Then, just as many times, she tapped the delete key.  How to pull some kind of coherent thought from the fragmented bits that swirled incessantly in her head?

Lists.  She could make lengthy, detailed lists of all the things she needed to do.  She could bullet the bills, errands, library books, phone calls, emails, notes to teachers, and plans to arrange.  Grocery lists, menu lists, and birthday gift lists.  She could jot forever the undone tasks that haunt her mind at night, keep her from focusing at work, and steal her miniscule lunch break time.

Laments.  She could wax poetic about her stress and shortcomings.  She could write long complaints about the way things are, and paint wistful pictures of how she wishes they were.  She could give in to the longing sob that lurks in the back of her throat at every thought of her mother, father, sister or brother.  She could explain why everyone should cooperate with her plans, and expound on the misery that results when they don’t.  She could compose a heartbreaking account of betrayal and brokenness, nearly drowning in the sorrow of it all.

Laugh.  She could throw up her hands and laugh at her ineptness.  She could give in to the cheshire cat smile that would make anyone wonder what she’s up to.  She could let out the giggle that erupts instantly at the sight of her two year old boy.  She could snort with her ten year old son at words like “fart” and let herself thoroughly enjoy that his presidential candidate choice is based on that candidate’s opinion of McDonald’s.  She could roll her eyes with her soon-to-be fifteen year old daughter and enjoy the inside jokes just the two of them share.  She could send her husband a steamy, silly text message and wait with baited breath for his reaction.

Love.  She could let herself feel the painful tidal wave of love that threatens to burst her heart each time she kisses her children goodnight or good morning or goodbye.  She could plan an unforgettable birthday celebration for the husband whose love overtook her life.  She could try… just try to love that someone she just can’t stand.  She could bake something, write something, give something to try to show her adoration for those friends that see her through the best and worst.  She could mail something to her mom and dad, Fedex something to her sister, fix up the guest room for when her brother comes to stay.  She could forget the remark, overlook the mistake, let go of the offense.  She could remember a name, remember to hug, remember to look an old person in the eye.  She could let the tears fall because she knows no way to contain her affection for a God who loved her first.

Her chest heaved a sigh and she did the thing she hadn’t yet dared to consider…

She let go.   She let go of it all and let it fade with the daylight.  She loosened her grip and let the load she’s carrying settle into a pile that will still be waiting for her in the morning.  She dropped the notion of perfection and propped her feet up on the ottoman of “good enough.”  She popped the top of something cold and slipped into a tub of something warm.  She kicked back and let Jesus take the storm of wife, and mother, and professional, and writer, and sister, and daughter, and friend, and citizen, and believer, and somehow bring about….

Peace

Night moon

 

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Birthday Fun

This week we reached a milestone: Levi turned 10! That’s a whole decade I’ve been mom to this incredible boy.

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Levi brings a smile everywhere he goes. He’s funny and witty. His voice is unmistakeable and though I have to remind him to be a little more quiet sometimes, I love hearing that voice. He can sing like an angel. As a matter of fact, a complaint from one of his teachers was that he would “sing out” in class. Regarding that complaint, Levi told his Papa and Nana: “When you got a song in your head, you just hafta sing it!” Levi is kind and caring. He’s a great big brother, and a great little brother too. Two nights before his birthday, Halloween night, we were heading out to another neighborhood to attend trick-or-treat festivities. I was especially tired from a long day at work and wasn’t really looking forward to going. Levi noticed I was dragging and said, “If it helps you, Mama, I’d be happy not to go.”

That’s Levi. That’s my amazing kid. And of course I replied “Just for saying that, baby, I’m definitely takin’ you!”

We had a blast for his special day. Since Disney celebrated his birthday with the release of Wreck-it Ralph, Dwayne took Levi and a couple of friends to see the film. They had an awesome time, since Dwayne has a knack for knowing what ten year old boys will think is “SO COOL!” They no doubt frazzled a few movie theatre employees and then headed back to the house for pizza.

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And Whoopie Pies!! (Nothing better for ten year old boys than eating something with “whoopie” in the name. Whoopie cushion references were in plentifulsupply.)  The whoopie pies were unbelievable if I do say so myself.  Something a little different, not really any more difficult than regular ol’ cupcakes but SO much fun to eat and they taste fantastic.  Think Oreo Cakesters but homemade and better tasting.  Quite fitting for young boys dontcha think?

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They laughed and yelled and made tons of noise and played Wii. I went to sleep to the sound of boys laughing and woke up to the same sound.

Hanging out with ten year old boys is good medicine. They’ve got the effervescence of testosterone, but haven’t yielded to it’s total control. They’re bright-eyed, full of energy and fun. They’re a mix of all that’s right with the world.

Next morning, birthday pancakes, of course!

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An awesome celebration of an awesome young man.  Levi grew inside me during a very difficult time in my life.  He kicked around in there and provided a much needed reminder that God wasn’t finished with me yet.  Once I sat, very pregnant, on the couch at my mom and dads and my brother sat next to me.  Levi’s hand or elbow poked right at my belly button. You could see him poking it out, almost as if to say hello.  So I poked in.  Levi poked back.  Then my brother poked at him and he poked back again.  We played around with him for a while, having the most fun thinking he was playing back.  I’m still convinced he was.  He was a delight to me then, and has never ceased to be an absolute pleasure.  I’m lucky to be his mama.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Origins: Journeying On

For three years now, I’ve been on a journey.  A pilgrimage, if you will, into my own heart.  Three years ago, we began what is now called Origins, a group of house churches who lean on one another for support and encouragement.  For most of the three years, my house has been the meeting place for “house church.”

By now, I’m accustomed to the double-takes and odd looks when I tell people my church meets in my home.  I’m confident about what we do and why.  I’m able to easily tell another person what a house church is and why it’s a perfect fit for our family.  Three years seems to be a milestone of sorts.  In a human life, the first three years are crucial to setting beliefs, behaviors, and “bents.”  After three, most kids are out of diapers, moving toward school, and asserting more and more independence.  Babyhood is definitely over and toddlerhood is quickly nearing its end.

So what about our house church journey?  It’s three years old now.  Infancy has passed, and I look around and think “Hey.  We really ARE doing this!!”

So what has house church meant to me?  Here’s my top three:

1)  House church has given me confidence in my faith.  When we began, there were many scary moments for me as I let go of things that were part of brick-and-mortar church.  Would I “stick it out” with God if no one was expecting me to play the piano, teach a class, or show up lookin’ good on Sunday morning?  Would I love God as much without the “game” to play that I was so accustomed to winning?  Could I separate myself from the things I’d always used as outward proof of my love for God?  The answer is:  YES!!!  Yes.  With 100% confidence I can now say that I am God’s daughter.  He is my Father.  I love Him more than ever.

2)  For the first time in my spiritual life, I have experienced unconditional acceptance for who I am as a person, not for how well I play, sing, speak, look, or what I know about the Bible.  That is not to say I haven’t HAD this type of acceptance.  There are many beloved friends, teachers, pastors, fellow believers who have extended this acceptance to me in the past.  I simply could not let myself experience it while still attempting to earn it by playing well, lookin’ good, and being the poster child.  There have been moments in my living room when fellow believers have prayed for me, and I for them, we’ve struggled and celebrated, and kept on being there for each other, all without the trappings I was used to.  I NEEDED to know, deep down, that not only would I still love God if stripped of my church “position” but that other believers would still love ME.  And they do.

3)  It’s OK to let God take care of me.  In the past three years, people have come along who’ve needed what house church offers… the healing, the acceptance, the rest.  But for the group that meets in my home, there hasn’t been an explosion of numbers.  No one’s beating down the door to get in.  Not that I expected or was shooting for a group that is bursting at its seams.  We do not have a goal of building a church building to house our meetings.  In all seriousness, I… we have needed the past three years to let God work in us, care for us, and knit us together with Him.  I’ve learned that it’s ok to let God teach me and lead me, even if the steps are miniscule.  I’ve learned that big crowds, microphones, offering plates and the latest tunes are not necessarily evidence of God’s presence or His blessing, or His work in my life. 

I’m so grateful for the simplicity, the straightforwardness, the purity of BEING the church.  I in Him and He in me.  In us.

Our hands in His, we journey on.

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Biscuit Maker

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I’m on a mission:  Re-create my Granny’s homemade biscuits.  My Origins house church family has become my test group.  (They haven’t complained too much about this.)  My first try involved regular milk and butter.  Nah… not so good.  It’s not that they tasted bad… just not like Granny’s.  So the second try, which created the mess you see above, involved buttermilk and yes, that little jar you see toward the left is bacon grease meticulously preserved for just such a purpose.  I also tried a different technique with the cutter.  Straight down, straight up, no twisting the biscuit cutter.  Into the oven…

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At this point, I wanted to bottle the smell in my kitchen.  Sausage in a skillet on the stove, buttermilk biscuits in the oven, and coffee brewing in the pot.  Add in my family and friends laughing together in the next room and you have BLISS!

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And there they are… ta da!!!  Still not Granny’s.  BUT better than anything you can get in a freezer bag or a can, I guarantee!  Made with my own two hands.

I think perhaps biscuits are one of the finest expressions of southern femininity.  Maybe it’s just me, and the biscuit-making women I knew growing up.  But there’s something about a woman who can make biscuits from scratch.  Something that says love and comfort, patience and peace.  It takes practice, so the biscuit maker must be a woman who has cooked for someone else more than once.  It takes some intuition, since biscuit making is shrouded in a certain mystery about just when the dough is ready and just how much handling it can tolerate.  It takes some willingness to get dirty, since there really isn’t a better tool for biscuit making than one’s own hands.  It takes determination to go the extra mile, since these days anyone can make do with a can or a mix, or a fast food drive thru, and fewer kitchens know the kind of time and effort involved in from-scratch anything.

More than just possessing the culinary technique, I want to BE the biscuit maker.  I want my life to emanate the sweet, smiling softness that is a biscuit maker.  I want to put a few extra minutes and a bit of extra thought, and a lot of extra love into the tummies of those who sit around my table.  Biscuit makers have open arms for babies and hot coffee for friends.  Biscuit makers know that a few very simple, very inexpensive things can come together to make something delicious.  Biscuit makers know sweet tea and porch swings and what to do with both on a Saturday afternoon.

I’m blessed to have memories of lovely biscuit makers, and now I’m giving my own kids biscuit making memories too.  I hope they’ll not only have a yummy recipe to emulate, but a way of life, too.

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Imperfection

Last Saturday while at the library with my darlings, I picked up a little book, The Art of Imperfection. Those of you who’ve cheered me on during my struggle to let go of perfectionism are raising your eyebrows at that choice. You’re fervently hoping I don’t find a way to be perfectionistic about being imperfect. I promise not to do that.

The book’s main idea is that being perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that our little idiosynchrasies are actually what make us more lovable to those who really care for us. When I think on it, that’s true. Take my husband for instance. He’s nearly perfect in the physique department, and I could indeed go on at length about his beautiful eyes and olive skin and… you get the point. But there are these little wrinkles right behind his ear and just above his neck that are so incredibly perfect for kissin’. Few would notice that little quirk but it’s so endearing to me.

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I gotta tell ya when it comes to idiosynchrasies and imperfections, I’ve got plenty of ’em!

Just last week, I wrote a note to my son’s teacher, specifically designed to get her to call me. One problem: I gave her someone else’s phone number! She wasn’t amused, but you’ll love me for it, right?

I have this weird thing with napkins. I need them. I hoard them in my vehicle. I find them balled up in my fist hours after I’ve eaten. But need to sneeze in a public place? I won’t have a napkin on me anywhere!

Sometimes random words come out of my mouth and they have nothing to do with the conversation at hand. My thoughts just get on the wrong train. I once yelled out “Winn Dixie!” to my kids in the car for no apparent reason. They’re still laughing at me for that.

I hide a tatoo under my sophisticated businesswoman costumes. I have a weakness for all sweets but an abhorrence for skittles and tootsie rolls. I drink my coffee black unless I haven’t eaten breakfast… then I add enough cream and sugar to trigger a tremor in my hands for the rest of the day. I sometimes skip my kids’ bathtimes and let them behave like this in a restaurant: (Note, one of those kids belongs to my sister, she does this too!)

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I sleep through my alarm at least once or twice a week. I sometimes stay distracted for days and can’t get motivated. I recently called my beloved counselor in such hysteria all I could choke out was “You pray. I can’t talk.”

I love the smell of new Bibles, old churches, rubber tires, and Yankee Candles’ leather car jar. I have three pregnancies’ worth of stretch marks and coloring my hair is no longer something I do just for fun.

I have a great life. There are a bunch of people who are crazy enough to love me for the shortcomings listed above. The art of imperfection is about learning to love life when things go your way and when they don’t. It’s about laughing at yourself and living in the moment. It’s about letting go of the idea of perfection enough to see the wonderfulness right in front of your face.

It is, however, an art. One I’m practicing with enthusiasm.

 

 

 

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Everyday OK

My house is quiet. Everyone’s asleep except me.  It’s that time of day to take a deep breath and evaluate.  Plus it’s much easier to blog while my two year old snoozes and the only sticky fingers vying for my laptop keys are my own.

Ya know I’m kind of liking this “being ok” thing. Ok really liking it.

During Hurricane Isaac, I was blessed to have someone with me like Bex, who needed no coddling or special treatment. She gave me the space to mostly be silent and stare at the rain, and the grace to deal with my children through a difficult situation. I didn’t have to come up with fascinating topics of conversation and was able to just process the situation as it went on. That girl knows true friendship. In hindsight, probably the hardest part for me was that faith crisis brought about by possible impending disaster. Will God keep me and my family safe? What will I do if He doesn’t? Is it worth it to even ask? Can my faith withstand what would happen if things go badly? But I processed as I went, wanting to hold more tightly to God Himself than to my expectations of what He would or would not do. And through it all I was ok. Perfect, no. Ok, yes.

I’m also rediscovering some things I enjoy. Like taking my kids to the library:

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And being at least a little domesticated:  (Or a LOT domesticated since this from-scratch waffle recipe called for egg whites beaten until stiff peaks form and then folded into the batter.  My mixer bit the dust last month so, yes, I beat them by hand, all the while growing in respect for the women of former days without such conveniences as electric mixers and Bisquick.  But hey… if we’re ever alone on a desert island I can beat egg whites to stiff peaks.  Aren’t you glad to know that?)

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Reading a great book: (This one I’ve read twice through at least. It’s from Jan Karon’s Mitford Series.  I’d call it the “macaroni and cheese” of literature as far as its ability to comfort and soothe.  Make that BACON macaroni and cheese. I never, ever get tired of these books.)

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And watching my sister sing at her church through their Sunday morning webcast. Thank you, technology!  Right after I took this pic came the best shot of all three kids giving the “mom’s boo-hooing again” look as I burst into tears at the sight and sound of Angie on the screen.  Too bad I was blubbering too hard to capture that one.

 

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Life and love, my friends, are good things.  Even just everyday ok is chock full of blessings.

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Hurricane Schmuricane

Here we are, seven years out from Hurricane Katrina, and what comes along on the EXACT anniversary of ol’ Kat? ANOTHER HURRICANE!! This one was named Isaac, which means laughter. For some reason that fact has been recurring in my mind the whole time we’ve been dealing with Isaac, and I’m happy to report we’ve done a lot of laughing through this. No real traumatic feelings or flashbacks, thanks be to God. Just did our best to be good to each other, make the most of what we had, and have fun however we could.

We stayed home for Isaac. Oddly, though my big kids experienced losing most everything in Katrina, plus the crazy aftermath, they’ve never actually experienced a hurricane weather-wise. So here we are, playing in a hurricane!

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Bex, my bike mom and dear friend, weathered the storm with us. Here we are making smores the night of the storm. (Smores maker courtesy of my awesome mom, queen of thrift store finds and As Seen on TV bargains)

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A few shots of the damage around our area:

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THE WORST part was being without electricity. Here’s our little man sleeping in front of a fan. Thank God for friends with generators!  WE will soon be the proud owners of just such a thing.

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Here we are waiting in line at McDonalds. All the way down the block. When everyday stuff like ol’ Mickey D’s isn’t available, all of a sudden you want some. Real bad.

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Since St. Francis Villa got electricity a few days before our home, the kids spent some time there. Not a lot for kids to do in an assisted living home, but my darlings made the best of it:

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When Friday rolled around and one cook was able to get back to relieve Dwayne in the kitchen, we got out of town for a night. (Residents gotta be fed, storm or no storm!!)We swam in the hotel pool, met some sweet people, relished the air conditioning, ate breakfast at Cracker Barrel where I sniffed Yankee candles, Harvest scent, to a fare-thee-well and found my happy place!!

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We came back home to this!!

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And now it’s over. Well, I guess when schools finally start again Thursday, it will be over. I’m grateful to God for choosing, this time, to bless us and spare us the suffering we could have had. He giveth and He taketh away. This time He giveth, and I’m glad He did.

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Forgetting Your Pants

What’s the #1 hazard of biking to work, bringing your clothes, and dressing in your sophisticated businesswoman costume once you get there?

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Forgetting your pants!!!

 

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My friend Pam says the only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize. Notice I didn’t forget my necklace. Or my lipstick. Priorities, people! I assure you, at least 30 out of our 60 residents have thoroughly enjoyed giving me grief over coming to work without pants, and sitting behind my desk in my bike shorts.

Thank God for a husband who’d bring me pants even on his day off, friends (Christy Sallee) who buy me unforgettable necklaces, for raisinberry lipstick, and the ability to laught at myself.

 

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