Sunday, June 12, 2016

Dreadful Day

The evening of the Friday before Mother's Day, 2016, my sister Angie and I had a simultaneous realization with several states between us. Our mother hadn't been on Facebook for many days. I received a message from her moments after noticing.

"Have you heard from mom lately?"

I had last spoken with her on Facebook Messenger the previous Tuesday, but there had not been much to say, things were the same as usual. Friday night I called her home: no answer. Emailed: no answer. Facebook messages: no answer. I couldn't sleep that night, dread...dread...dread. First thing in the morning I called all the local hospitals, she had been hospitalized twice in the last year for pneumonia, but she wasn't there.

Dread. So much fear. Ice in my veins. Angie called the police.

An officer was on the scene within the hour, at our request, for a health check. All the doors were locked, no one answered, both of her cars parked in the drive with no signs they had been moved in several days. He reported being unwilling to enter. We called back. BREAK DOWN THE DOOR IF YOU HAVE TO.

Silence. Waiting. Trying to be hopeful. The call.

Angie: "It's not good. They found her on the couch."

Then tears and tears and lament and confusion and "what do we need to do?"

We set to work when our emotions over come us. We make ourselves busy. The pain can't reach us then.
And now it's been 32 days since we buried our mother and the missing starts to come. Today would have been the Sunday I would make an effort to call my mom. I tried to call her one Sunday a month. She didn't seem to mind that but, was irritated if I called more often.

Truth is, we didn't talk much, my mom and I. When I called I most often could hear the clicking of her keyboard, she responding with half listening answers, me grasping for conversation. Trying to be a good daughter, feeling like it didn't matter. Over the last ten years so much of our interaction was digital, social media creating a relationship that didn't hold up face to face. Online she loved and doted on her grandchildren, in real life they were too loud, too busy, too much. Online I was her wonderful daughter who married a doctor and wasn't I lucky for that? Real life there was so much criticism, nary a compliment outside of "You're lucky you have a good man." And I am! And I do! But I often longed for her to see something worthy in ME, to raise up who I have grown to become. Ever the child craving the praise of the parent.
,br> The strange truth, that everyone knew how proud she was of me, how she praised me, except for me. I wish I could have heard her say it. I wish I had a card, written in her beautiful handwriting, telling me all the things she gave away easily to others. But I don't.

And now I'm left with photos, a record player and a few nostalgic records, trinkets collected from her home, memories. I can't call her anymore. I can't agonize over what to send her for Mother's Day, her birthday. I can't log onto Facebook as I used to everyday, to make sure to like and comment on all of her gardening posts, because that's how she felt honored, noticed. And don't we all just want that? To know that we're noticed?

How do you miss some one who wasn't a part of your everyday? How do you miss a mother who seemingly stopped mothering when you went to college? Who, after spending every day of her life since her teens with children, was just ready to break free. Do you force yourself to miss her? Mostly I mourn the mother of my child hood. The mother who made me biscuits and gravy for my birthday breakfasts, who boiled home made noodles for chicken soup when I was sick, who taught me how to read. I had a mother who took me to the laundry mat and let me pick out a candy bar at the gas station next door even though we had so little extra. I had a mother who made sure I had a little more than I needed even when there was no surplus, a mother who worked hard for small pay for decades so I could be a straight A student, college bound, scholarship recipient, soccer captain.

It's easy to forget she's gone.

The nature of our infrequent connections means that life doesn't feel much different, but then I see a photo and my heart squeezes tight inside of me, and I remember.

This was the last time I saw her face to face, hugged her long, smiled at her, made her laugh. Even in death, I never saw her again. My good bye was to the shell of her, wrapped in a shroud, veiled from connecting to the actual loss. This final visit was shortly before our family moved from Texas to New York. We drove over from Houston, the kids and I and stayed in a hotel for the weekend. Mom met us at this park, the kids played all red faced and sweaty at 9am in the heat of a Texas June, ate lunch at the local deli that gave me my first job. I am SO GRATEFUL I did that. So grateful we ignored the expense of a hotel and dining out and gas and spent these two days with her. We ate dinner at Chili's where the service was slow and she marveled at how well behaved the kids were despite waiting over an hour for their meal. Impressed that I didn't just give them a screen to keep them busy. I soared for days on the compliment, felt loved and honored.

In those two days I noticed how slumped she become, how her back bowed and her breathing seem labored. Decades of smoking, of allowing that to be her "only vice" as she would say. I longed to take her with me. To pack her up with our children and fly her away with us. But that was never meant to be.

In the photos, I miss her.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


My mother has a grave.

This image is hard. It hurts to look at because I know it is my mother there, but also because it is beautiful and death seems as if it should be ugly and rancid, it is hard because it reminds me that we are all so close to this moment. Our mortality is finite.

My mother has a grave and a piece of my heart is left in it. All the questions I still wanted to ask, all the memories I was imagining we might make. She was to move in with us soon. We had plans for her own tiny house on our land and a path from me to her and her grandchildren skipping to her door. Hopes of digging deep in the earth together, a garden and silly chickens and dying surrounded by love. I didn't know. I didn't know it might not happen.

My mother has a grave and laying her there was too soon and uncomfortable and perfectly right. My faith tells me that God guided our hands to the place where she rests. I prayed and prayed and chanted in my heart and mind and begged God to make it right, to guide my siblings and I, to show us where she wanted to be, to show us HOW to be.


Every step was guided. Random internet suggestions told us about Eloise Woods, we found papers in her home about the very place. I walked the trails of that place, my heart crying to God. "Show me God. Show me where." And he did.

My mother has a grave and I am at peace that it is the exact right one. Walking the trails, my heart reaching out, He came close. The sun peered at me here and I knew. We walked through to find a quiet, secluded little place, sunbeams just plentiful enough to let the wildflowers in but not so harsh as to dry the land. Everything can grow here. Even in death my mother will do what she always loved. She will help beauty grow, she will be fully one with the ground and the most beautiful plants will thrive there. We planted Texas lantana at the foot of her special place. Together we sprinkled bits of her garden down deep with her. Soil and flowers growing in her garden, rose petals from the rose bush she had nurtured for so long. Momma rose will miss her careful pruning.

My mother has a grave and when they carried her past me the finality of it made sense. There she was, she was right there, but she wasn't. They wrapped her body carefully, beautifully, fully naturally she lay there. From dust she was, to dust she would return. Until this very moment nothing felt real to me. The day we worked through her home, collecting important papers and special keepsakes for the children, it felt like she was going to come home any minute and find us there. Maybe she was just at the grocery store, some one must have made a mistake. But no, in this moment every truth of that phone call the day before Mother's Day impacted fully. The tears my sister and I cried to together, the shock, the waves of grief and disbelief and all the careful planning in the days prior, it was all laid bare when her body was carried past. My sister, so strong and brave to carry her to this final place.

My mother has a grave and I no longer have a reason to visit the town where I was raised. The last ten years of life with my mother have been mostly digital. Emails and Facebook posts, phone calls where her typing was evident background noise. Our time physically together was never quite as joyful or comfortable as these electronic interactions. I often felt like it was two people I was pursuing. I see now that they were both the real her, just expressed differently. I wish she would have been fully herself for me, I wish I could have heard from her own lips and voice what she thought of me, I wish I had told her more of my favorite memories from my childhood. Memories of home made chicken soup on sick days, of biscuits and gravy on special weekend mornings, of playing Scrabble and being so proud the first day I beat her fair and square. I wish I had told her how glad I was that she never just let me win. I wish she knew how much it changed me to volunteer at the nursing home where she worked, how it taught me to value age and life and wisdom and to treat them with dignity. She was gifted at that. My heart aches that she never had a chance to meet Zoe, to smile at her and see how sweetly she smiles back. My children will never know their grandmother who was so proud of them, who posted their pictures for all to see, who filled her home with their photographs. Zoe met her grandmother in the most tragic of ways.

My mother has a grave and just a handful of us have touched its earth and seen it in its serene beauty. My heart is filled with determination now that she is gone. To not squander the gifts I have because of her. My love of books and writing, my desire to make life in the barren soil, and in the wake of her passing my heart finds itself empowered to connect in real time. To see the faces of those I love, to look up from the digital and touch the real in front of me, to make time for the family she left me. Brothers and a sister, an aunt who has always reached out despite my distance. If there is good in death, it is this. It forces us to truly see the people who might not always be around us, but who are HERE. To draw them into our own daily life. To begin our own lives anew, connecting more fully to the sacred, to the tangible, to the given gifts of our days. I write these words to work through my own shrouded understanding of this loss, but I do hope that if you have come here you will think deep about your own time. How you spend it, and whether the people near you know how special they may be to you. My hope is that I will be better about not holding back my praise, my sentiment, that people will know how very loved and important they are to me. I pray you will consider these things too. Let not the days of our lives be wasted.

Monday, May 9, 2016

so long

It feels an eternity since I wrote here last. So much life lived between now and the last time I worked in this space. The unfortunate truth that I am back here to process a loss, a loss I'm not sure how to articulate. Today is the day after Mother's Day, the first Mother's Day I celebrated as a mother of 5 and here I sit, delayed in the airport after missing a flight that will lead me to bury my mother. The sudden loss of her is both startling and somewhat expected and yet the irony of this, of my traveling to lay her rest with my sweet daughter, 5th in line, just as I was to my mother, born to me the same age my mother was when I completed her child bearing years. So full circle and continuous is life.

In six weeks time my siblings and I were to gather together for the first time, all in one place, to give our mother a chance to enjoy her children and grand children what was expected to perhaps be the last and only time. The heartache of this, that instead she passed alone in her decades old trailer, no one there to notify 911, no one close as she breathed her last breath. I can't stand it. I can't fathom this, why the trajectory of life lead her this way. I hesitate to even say God, though I know He allowed this. I am angry with Him over it, but also oddly placid. Things will happen the way they will after all. It benefits us not to dwell on the unanswerable why. The practicality of my nature that I inherited from my mother.

I don't want to do this. I don't want to go back to the town where I spent my entire childhood, where all my memories of her are so fresh. I don't want to step into that trailer where I grew up, the one I cleaned because she didn't, the one I was so embarrassed of in my youth, the one that made all of my belongings wreak of second hand smoke. I don't want to remember the man who lived in the trailer down the street and how she never knew. But I'm writing all this here because I have to. I have to process the loss of her, of a person who loved me so deeply but hardly told me. Who boasted of my successes in life to people she'd never met, but from whom I only received criticism.

I love her, she sacrificed for me, she worked hard so I could have the very opportunities that brought me to the college where I met my husband, where God met me, where my life unfolded into this beautiful masterpiece that it now is. I love her because she is my mom, but I still carry hurt and resentment and questions and I know that only the healing presence of the Father will walk me through this. I am an orphan now. No father. No mother. But I don't walk alone. I have a Father who adopted me long ago, who celebrates me and allows me to rest. It is my joy and challenge now to rest in Him.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


We are coming to a point of closure on our time in Peoria. While there is much to look forward to and be excited about I find my heart lingering here, this place where we grew our family, this place where God laid out so much of his will for me, my children, my marriage and my purpose. I am and have always been a very natural extrovert, I'm energized by people and groups and activity and find that my very soul thrives when I have plenty of this in my calendar. Yet lately, there has been a shift, something I've felt deep within that has been a slow and sure progression, a whisper of a plan for who my family needs me to be as these school age years approach us. I have come to consider it a holy calling.

I read recently about this idea of the "hidden years," a time in which we, as mothers, must sacrifice our play dates, our busyness about town, our frequency of activities for the purpose of investing in the future of our children. A time when our work is most valuable, but most unseen. This is not a martyrdom, is not a dying of self, but it is a true change of perspective where my heart and mind align to a hard truth that I am the most tangibly valuable person my children will encounter in their present stage of life. I have battled God on this, fought the required self sacrifice only to see that even the tiniest efforts on my part to pursue this path of devotion to little lives, produces so much good fruit.

When I slow down, plan less, have a more open calendar, my tendency to yell and rush and fuss slows. My children and my husband see on me a face of joy in being together more so than a face of frustration and exhaustion. Every effort I make to invest in and disciple the lives of my family, turns outward to produce people who in turn want to connect and relate to people in the world around them. I will be the one to teach them compassion, to care for the widow and orphan, to serve as we see need BY MY EXAMPLE. If I am so busy with book clubs and Bible studies and play dates I will miss out on the opportunities to bend low, listen attentively to the world questions my children ask of me, and answer slowly, and make the world right for them. This is my great privilege, to grow in my own wisdom and depth of self as I engage them and allow them the freedom to do the same in the safety of my attention.

To bring this back around, in June we will journey to Houston, where we will live for a year and then, hopefully, transition to our settle down home. But God has spoken to me about this year, this one, single year in Houston, that in it my family is meant to be the focus. That I do not need to panic about "plugging in" or extending outward at all hours of the day (as my extrovert heart feels compelled to do), but that instead it is a time to teach my children that they truly are the best friends they will ever have. Siblings have a special connection and gift that can be lost when too many other relationships are allowed to crowd in. Houston will be our time of connection, of discovering the world together, of reading so many great books and standing in awe of God's creation. We will still practice hospitality, we will absolutely serve the poor, the marginalized together, we will make friends, but the greatest purpose will be to create a special unity among the members of our family that brews a fierce devotion, a love of each other and a willingness to sacrifice self to make a whole.

I have needs that will still need to be met. The very fact that I write this now, at Panera, without the clamoring for my attention that home life demands, is proof that my husband understands this in me, this need to be "me" separate from "mom" at times. I thrive and feel alive when I am able to exercise, be fit, run the trails and push the limits of my abilities. I will figure out how to weave that into our days, because my health is vital to theirs. Oddly, I feel confident in this (confidence is not my strong suit in decision making). I am free from fear of judgment, as I know not everyone will agree with this choice, but I am glad for it. Glad for the chance to stand strong in the conviction laid privately upon my heart, and I look forward with gladness to the fruit of these hidden years.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Sometimes I'm standing at the kitchen sink, rainbow bubbles foaming from an old rag turned wash cloth, water so hot it's almost unbearable; my heart aches. Married life can be fun and fulfilling and joyous. More often it is a struggle, work, a balancing act of keeping quiet when all you want is to yell about your feelings and unmet expectations. It's a journey of learning to be vulnerable and true with another person, while still honoring their beliefs and needs and desires and perceptions. All this, and then figuring out how to still get your needs met while you pour out self to the other. It is growth. It is stretching. It can be pain, strife, bitterness, anguish. It can be connection, joy, loyalty, truth.

I was married under an ancient tree, friends and family looking on, crimson sunset forming in the west, white dress. My best friend watched as I walked down a grassy aisle to him, his face was stoic, serious, fighting tears and joy all at once. We kissed for the first time after profession of vows. I honestly don't remember everything we said to one another, but I know that when we proclaimed this rite, we proclaimed it forever. And we meant it. The sincerity between us and in front of God and fellows has brought me peace in these nine years, knowing there will never be an option in either of our eyes to not work, to not give it our all and fight for connection. I am deeply thankful for that as a woman who comes from a family wrought with divorce and brokenness. We will start a new story, a new path and example.

When we first got married, I remember saying that I thought it was silly for husbands to buy flowers for their wives. A waste of money on something that would quickly erode. So desperate was I to be a desirable wife. I see now how deep in my core is the need to be seen as beautiful, to be surrounded by beauty, to create it in my own space and to be showered with simple affections. I love flowers.

I think there are some truths that have taken me a long time to learn, and some prior thought truths that I now need to unlearn. As a Christ follower I created an ideal of constant pouring out, unceasing selflessness with an expectation that it would be returned naturally, that I wouldn't have to communicate my needs. I feared being a nag. I thought my desires for thoughtfulness, for giving and concern were obvious and would be met out of a natural response to my own giving. These years have taught me that unmet expectations that were never voiced are unfair weapons. The daggers of my tears over feeling unseen are only valid if I have communicated a desire to be noticed, and, specifically, what that best looks like for me. If I want my husband to act or serve, I should tell him that it is a need, of great value.

Today, if some one were to ask me what I think the number one most important thing in a marriage might be, I would answer with "communication." Any two people who are willing to bend and flex for one another can succeed in marriage, but they must work diligently to learn how to best communicate their wants and needs and hopes and dreams to the other. I am just this year really learning this, and wish I had known so long ago that being a "good" wife doesn't mean creating the appearance of not needing anything. All the years of living that way didn't create a bond, it created distance and sometimes, bitterness. All of which was brooding under the surface, hidden from the heart of the one who wants me to be happy, and who wants to share in that happiness.

Each day now is a challenge to be fully seen by the one my heart loves. To not be a false picture of contentment, but to be a connector of hearts, even if that means conflict or hard times have to be fought through. Those difficult times are worth it, they wash away the scabs of the fallen and heal with the balm of new a beginning.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

IF: then what?

"In your life, is Jesus useful...

...or is he beautiful?"

"Learn the unforced rhythms of grace."

These two phrases have echoed in my heart and mind since February 7th and I've loved what they have spoken in me. There is a renewal and a refreshing in learning to let go the hand that grasps so tightly at habit, at normalcy. A quenching of long suffering thirst when one is able to let loose the strict bound chains of worry and anxiety of doing it all right, in favor of just living.

These past few weeks I've set a goal of not having goals. Track with me, the goals here are really expectations for to-do list checking, clear counter tops and folded laundry baskets and Martha Stewart home making and I have dropped them in favor of the unforced rhythms of grace. Grace over myself, my children, my husband, my world. Expectations are some times these cell blocks that cage in our joy.

Husband doesn't say, do, help enough.

A bar goes up, joy with no parole.

Kids fight, argue, disobey, make messes.

The lock turned tight.

Friends ignore, say wrong somethings, say wrong nothings

Joy serving its death sentence.

What if...what if...we just lived? Lived with grace enough for people we share our lives with that we could enjoy daily living with out that constant let down of "not enough?" We fill our head space with those not enough thoughts. Of ourselves, our spouses, our kids, our friends. The endless list of not enough, making steal cages bar by bar so we can't feel full. What if all that grace we get from heaven, for all the mistakes and not so mistakes and full out poor choices...what if that was what we gave out? It takes time to LEARN those rhythms.

But I think we could.

I've started simply, with strangers. I realized how often my face of joy is hiding silent cuts at the other. My jealousy of ladies more fit than I at the gym, spouting into judgment that "they must _____ too much, not enough", blah blah. Or you know those thoughts about a friend who is dear to you, yet your mind cuts them for this or that choice? I've been making a conscious effort to TURN OFF THE STREAM OF JUDGMENT.

I realize that there are probably some of you who don't have this, who are naturally sweet, gentle, the criticism not surfacing so ugly. What a gift you have, truly. But for those of us who struggle with steel bars, we know it is mostly because we judge ourselves so harshly that we judge others as such. We have a choice, though strange and unnatural, to hear those thoughts rising, and crush them with the good.

So when I find myself saying, "Self! Why are there ALWAYS baskets of laundry unfolded?!? Why can't you JUST GET IT DONE?!" Or when I'm tempted to question some one's purchase, or clothing choice or tone of voice, or my husband for not doing what I had hoped, or my kids for JUST BEING KIDS...I turn it off, and turn it to good. I am starting to see this whole new world where people aren't just bodies, they are PEOPLE. They have hurts, and awkward moments and a back story that makes them exactly who they are and they are on their own journey and I am just. on. mine. I do the other no good with my negative inside dialogue, so I've been writing their stories instead. I try to see why that lady in line in front of me might be yelling at her kids, see her hurt making them hurt and then compassion wells up.

So here's this, this making Jesus BEAUTIFUL by seeing the beauty in those he loves. What would it take for me to TRULY love my neighbor, a stranger; to see the hurt they hide in their "flaws?" How could we, as women, choose to not compare, to not question motives, but to love fully and let the Spirit guide the rest?

Do we dare try? Could we change our very world?

What do you think? How do we start?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

IF: unpacking

I have a husband, four children, a dog. I say "I have" as if there was any truth to the concept that they belong to me. These are blessings, gifts, facets of my life in which I have great privilege and responsibility. I want, have always wanted, so badly, to do well by these pieces of the divine that I share my days with.

So I flew to Texas, ran to a gathering of women though I knew not how to explain to others what it was that I was seeking, what I would be given were I to attend. I just knew in my bones that I was supposed to go. So after mishaps with tickets, miracles with tickets, miraculously affordable air fare and perfect in-law baby sitters, I came. My Rachel and I, we came. Arms and hearts and minds open to whatever it was God was leading us toward. As I sat in the Austin Music Hall, at a farm table expertly decorated, my friend by my side, I prayed and wrote the first thing that came to mind in my journal.


I felt empty, I felt tired and weary from a life that I didn't feel I was living particularly well. This isn't self deprecation, it's an honest assessment of my feeling that my days were meant for more. I home school my oldest, I nurture my youngest, I serve and honor my husband in every way I can, I keep a relatively clean house, I cook from scratch, but it all has felt so empty and mundane, and at IF, God showed me why.

One of the speakers alluded to IF as to the manna in the desert, the "what is it" that was exactly what each person needed each day while wandering in the wilderness. And it WAS. Every one who attended or watched received something so different, but for me, God showed me that all the things I want to see in myself, my family, my home, my writing, my LIFE, can only be achieved with one thing.


So simple is this truth that it feels absurd. Truly "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." I have wanted to lead a powerful life, but have not, perhaps in my entire journey as a disciple of Jesus, ever loved Jesus. It feels uncomfortable and odd and foolish to even say that. I know that some who read this will not agree that there is power in it, but I truly believe, in my mind, that "God made foolish the wisdom of the world." I desperately desire for my heart to catch up.

Many facets of the many speakers spoke so loudly to me, but the one that keeps resonating and reverberating in my heart was from Shelly Giglio. She spoke from Psalm 84, verses 3 and 4 say this:

Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you

A term from my science studies of past was used, describing the sparrow as having a "cosmopolitan distribution," you can find them thriving on every continent. The only other animal with the same global representation? It's us. People. And much like the sparrow, many of us are plain, nothing flashy or attention getting in our very nature, yet God made a place for this bird not outside of his house, but near the altar. How much more does he have a place for US in his house? And I have sat in this emptiness thinking that I just can't "build my nest AND be near to alter of God" because of the daily busyness of life with littles. I think I need to do grand things, that I have to lead devotionals and pray arduously and fill every second of the day with God's goodness, but what I really need? To fill my own heart with a love of Jesus, a depth with God, and allow that to organically flow out in my home.

I don't have a plan for how this will happen, because no genuine relationship was ever built on a process or a plan. Instead I'm taking every day to remember Jesus, finding his love in the word, often just a small passage while my littles eat cereal and I stand at the counter over coffee. I'm choosing the Bible over Facebook, inspiring blogs over Instagram. I'm using different language to bring peace to sibling rivalry, expressing to them that they are each precious and made perfect in Jesus, how then can we choose not to forgive, not to love another? We've had some great talks already about what it means to be precious, and I'm finding that what comes out of my mouth about God, is formulating what I and what my family thinks about Him.

I have so much to unpack. Layers of baggage built up in my heart, layers of truth God spoke over me and my life and the power in this new Esther generation of women that we are. I will unravel it here, slowly, but mostly I will focus on Jesus. I will look at my children with mercy and grace, with less restriction and hard lines and more gentle guiding.

Speak God.
Your servant is listening.