Where Does My Help Come From?

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121

I’m mesmerized by Mt. Rainier! So enamored, I’ve been driving erratically, scanning all directions for just a glimpse at every stopped traffic light. Truth. So totally distracted by the view, I failed to stop behind the car in front of me and my fancy-shmansy Subaru Outback rental car’s safety navigation system slammed on its brakes independent of me, protecting us from smashing into its rear end. I’ve never felt attached to a mountain and even though I know it’s an inanimate object— it has my heart. 

Here’s the thing about Rainier. I haven’t actually seen the whole thing yet and I have exactly zero decent pictures to prove I saw it at all. The locals say that if the drizzly dinge blows through, I’ll view it in all its glory but so far it’s been veiled behind a puffy cloud right near the tip-tip-top.

Rainier is gargantuan—a 14er surrounded by respectable mountains ranges like the Cascades to its north, St. Helen’s to its south and the Olympic Mountains to the west. I’ve hiked their foothills and I promise you, they’re significant, but next to Rainier they look like midgets on the horizon. 

Rainier stands alone. Visible from all around the Sound, it plays hide and seek. You turn a corner, the fog lifts and it jumps out in front of you squealing “peek a boo”, and you want to giggle like a toddler for the sheer delight of it.

About 5,000 technical climbers summit Rainier each year, like “King–or Queen- of the Hill” for a few golden moments, peons sharing in its glory, but nary the amateur hiker whose best ecstasy comes from getting acquainted with its midsection when the roads are passable and the risk of avalanche low. 

And, Rainier is an episodically active volcano which makes its intrigue all the more mysterious. Under 54 feet of snow, molten lava mostly rests, an unpredictable eruption risk. Like Lewis’ description of Aslan in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, Rainier isn’t safe, but it’s good. 

Rainier can’t be harnessed or caught or conquered. It can’t be described or even fully encountered. Any picture I paint using words is woefully inferior to the live experience but for starters imagine my mouth- gaped-open-awe at the first glimpse of this creative genius of God. Indeed, His works declare His glory! He used a star to lead the wise men to baby Jesus and it’s Rainier that’s giving me a fresh glimpse of His help.

Scrolling back through the archives of my story, August 1996 was when God’s words about where to look when I’m desperate for help gained a lot of traction. I found myself lying in a hospital bed on Blodgett 4th floor, IV line taped to my forehand, Pitocin pumping through my veins. Only a few hours prior, the ultrasound tech had slathered my tummy up with warm gel and rolled her probe all over my belly, but that staticky, rhythmic “bong, bong, bong” was nowhere to be found, leaving only the blaring sound of silence. My tiny boy died inside my cocoon, leaving me incapable of waking up out of the nightmare of a stillbirth. During the next 12 hours of labor, Brian read this passage aloud to me. 

I lift up my eyes to the mountains–Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not slumber;indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.  Psalm 121

Over and over, he spoke the Words, my muscles cramping, me whimpering as I breathed through each contraction. Sometimes, there’s no other way than through “it”, whatever “it” is and in those moments, thinking about the mountains reminds me that big, strong, creator Jesus can help me when I cannot help myself.

That has not been my only mountain moment. Scanning through the archives of my memories, like choppy, amateur, home movies, there are other moments, other trials, other challenges, other heartaches, bigger, stronger and harder than my capacity to endure. Cheesy as it may sound, Jesus has always been my Mt. Rainier. 

The One I’m on the lookout for at every page turn on a 365 day calendar.  

The One I’m acquainted with at His base but whose very essence is shrouded in incredible, unfathomable mystery that I cannot fully know, explain or fathom. 

The One who’s not going to be conquered or destroyed or changed by human exploits or circumstances. 

The One who sits enthroned, immovable, omniprescent, inviting me to glimpse His glory, to marvel at what He’s made and how it represents something about who He is and how He loves.

Several years ago, I took up a challenge to look for tangible signs in creation of God’s love for me in the shapes of hearts. On a particularly steep switchback up Rattlesnake Ledge in the Southern Cascades, I spotted a rock, embedded in the muddy trail—a heart. God’s tangible reminder that I am loved. 

He loves me in all the moments that I don’t think I can survive and I’m not sure I want to. 

He loves me in all the moments that I wish would last forever. 

He loves me when I try hard and excel. 

He loves me when I offer my best effort but fail miserably. 

And, He loves me when I’m too tired, too discouraged or too lazy to keep trying. 

He loves me even when I don’t feel loved or even lovable.  

Memories are always my favorite souvenirs and I’m stuffing my mental suitcase full of excellent adventures to take with me from my vacation in Seattle. 

Like the moment the car rental customer service rep revealed our pre-paid “mystery” vehicle as a 12 passenger van. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I replied, and even through my mask, he correctly identified my look of horror and swapped it out for that Subaru Outback with a sunroof and the all-important safety navigation system.

I’ll remember kayaking and paddle boarding on Tapps Lake, chatting in the hot tub, lights dancing on the water after dark. 

Playing King dominos umpteen times without a single win.

Driving through rainforests with mature trees growing toward heaven and up mountains straight through the clouds.

Walking and talking ascending and descending each trail, one switchback after another– raincoats…. or not. And how the sun peeked out, and the clouds evaporated just as we summited the top of Hurricane Hill.

I’ll cherish being close to some of the ones I love best for 6 solid days and celebrating exactly 23 years since Lily made her live debut into the world.

I don’t think I’m going to capture a good photo of Rainier except for the one etched into my memory, and that’s mercy enough.

The 12 Stories of Christmas

Dear Jesus,

It’s almost your birthday again.
The day we celebrate that God got dressed in mortal flesh.
Humbly, controversially, miraculously, you entered the scene of the human story as one of us.
In the most vulnerable way.
Without regard for social rank or convention.
Under the most unlikely circumstances.
You are the protagonist in an epic story that changed everyone everywhere for all time.

Each year, I try to decipher your unorthodox redemptive plan.
But it never gets more sensible or logical.
I find no satisfactory explanation except for unfathomable love and underserved mercy.
Thank you!

Here, in my little world, this year’s festivities look different and I miss our dog-eared traditions…. every single beautiful one.
So much has changed on the home front.
The cookie ingredients are stocked but nothing’s baked.
The felt tree waits for the ornaments to be attached on its Velcro tabs.
The nativity puzzles sit stacked in their boxes.
And the Christmas book bin’s gone out of circulation.

None of my little girls is thumbing through the holdings, piling up their favorites and beckoning me to the oversized chair with “Mommy, read to me” anymore.
It’s quiet here. Too quiet.

Magnetized to the book bin, I sort through the collection and make a small pile of our besties. What I wouldn’t give right this nano-second to be a time traveler, to pile my 4 little princesses on top of and around me delighting in the simple pleasure of sharing stories together.DSCF7085

Then, I have an idea!
How about if I read the stories again? Aloud.
And send them out through the internet to all the places each of my girls call home.
That way, they’ve got them when they need them.
And, we both know, some gray-blue day, they’re going to need them.

So in honor of your birthday, Jesus,
And dedicated to the girls you entrusted into my care,
Here’s my present, given sincerely with gratitude.

Happy Birthday dear Jesus. Happy Birthday to you!
 
The 12 Stories of Christmas
#1 The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey

#2 My Birthday, Jesus Birthday

#3 The King of the Stable

Enough.

Our Thanksgiving festivities survived the pandemic and this year’s celebration of gratitude, it was a grand adventure.

From chopping, stirring and peeling together around the table on Thanksgiving eve,
To crafting cookie cutter cinnamon ornaments,
And potting amaryllis bulbs for all four households,
Brennan squeaked out a victory in the finals of the whipped cream game.
And thanks to Meredith, Lily’s roomie, my photo memories are now archived onto iCloud.4DA4E08F-2C70-4759-A8EF-C920BBCE960D

The best of all traditions is our gratitude walk. The inaugural year that I enthusiastically unveiled this idea almost a decade ago, it met with strong opposition. We’re talking weeping, scowling, foot stomping dissent. But, we’ve persevered, and that meandering walk along the White Pine trail where we recounted the blessings uniquely attached to each of our stories last Thursday, it was nothing less than worship.
Then came the annual family video reveal.
And our banquet, it was perfect right down to the non-lumpy mashed potatoes.

The fall decorations, they’re tucked away in Rubbermaid bins.
The puzzle isn’t quite finished yet but we’ve polished off the Thanksgiving left overs.
We cut down the perfect Frasier fir Christmas tree according to Starla’s specifications. “It must be majestic.” It’s accessorized for the occasion and tucked cozy in the corner right next to the fireplace.

We did it. Boxes all ticked.
2020—it hasn’t gone the way I wanted it to but after a turbulent year, God brought us together on that day postured for gratitude, recounting our blessings with and for each other.
Another year of mercies, fresh and new each morning.
Abundant.
Generous.
Enough.

The Next Right Thing

Our family add-on, the resident plant expert, he’s got a greenhouse tucked behind our garage, a secret little incubator for growing bonsai trees, succulents and other arborist specialties. One year, on my birthday, he walked through the front door with a baby wisteria tucked tenderly into its cozy, little pot. For me. That’s when I knew he was a kindred spirit.IMG_0167

Come winter, I tucked my wisteria on a corner shelf in the garage because he told me to. After a while, the leaves made a puddle around the planter exposing a bare-naked twig in pebbly soil.

I took a picture and texted him with a sad faced emoji. “Did I kill it?” I queried.
“If the leaves fall, it doesn’t mean the plant is dying,” he responded confidently. “It’s just part of the life cycle.” Truly Profound.

Fast forward to 2020–a year of Shedding. Uncovering. Stripping down to a stick in a pot. And sometimes, I wonder if it belongs in the bin.
The pandemic.
The relational disconnection.
The change.
The losses.
The quiet.
It’s Jarring. Discordant. Like looking at the world without my reading glasses and everything’s fuzzy.

Last year, Christmas Eve morning, I cuddled into a heated recliner seat watching Frozen 2 at the theater with my tribe. Who would have guessed Disney could be prophetic? Depressed, Anna sings,

I’ve seen dark before but not like this.
This is cold. This is empty. This is numb.
The life I knew is over. The lights are out.
Hello darkness, I’m ready to succumb.
I follow you around, I always have, but you’ve gone to a place I cannot find.
This grief has a gravity that pulls me down.
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind.
You are lost. Hope is gone but you must go on.  And do the next right thing.

Like Anna, I wake up these days feeling uncertain too. And I’ll be honest, I generally don’t really want to rise and shine. But I kick the covers off my night-sweaty body, sometimes as early as 5:00 and ask myself the same question every morning–the one I learned from an animated princess. Go figure. God works in mysterious ways.
“God, what is the next right thing?”
He replies gently.

Take care of your body.
OK.
So I jog, not because I love it. I don’t. It feels like death climbing the hill up the street but afterwards I’m grounded and energized.
I try to drink more water and eat less sugar.
And I hike when and where I can.

Take care of your mind.
OK.
So, I read more books and I enroll in a graduate degree program because after 26 years of educating my children, maybe it’s time to interweave my own life learning with a formal plan of study.

Take care of your emotions.
OK.
So, I get a job because I need to find an identity that gives my contributions to the world a monetary value too.
I keep writing in my locked journal document, catharsis at the keyboard.
From time to time, I unload on faithful friends who listen long and give me a safe space to feel what I feel.
And I grow things in my garden that are beautiful and make me happy.

Take care of your spirit.
OK.
So, I go on long prayer walks and give everyone and everything to God.
I read His words to me and other people’s words about living their stories yoked to His greater one.
And I add meditation, posturing my body to receive what God gives– quietly, breathing deeply.

Love and serve your family.
OK.
So I plod along with all the dailies—the dishes, the laundry, the housekeeping, the transportation, the grocery shopping.
And I keep stepping into opportunities to fortify each one to walk their own unique journeys.

Love and serve other people.
OK.
So, I volunteer because I can and I want to contribute to ministries that salve the wounds of hurting people.
And I mentor, because even though I’m a piece of work, my compassion is sincere.

Then, at the end of each day, I pamper my arthritic shoulder with an ice pack, shape my pillow around my neck for just the right amount of support and go to sleep in peace because God’s got me. I’m safe in His hands.
And every day, one day at a time, I just keep breaking it down to this next breath, this next step, this next choice, to do the next right thing.

And about now, gearing up for a long, gloomy Michigan winter after a lingeringly bleak pandemic year I tell myself what my kid said– “If the leaves fall, it doesn’t mean the plant is dying.”

And Thanksgiving, it’s a big, bold, brazen megaphone pronouncing this reality;

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning.
Great is His faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23
.

I carry a lot of hopes into this holiday. Every year.
I want the food to be amazing.
The conversation animated and engaging.
I’d like to finish the puzzle without the dog eating any of the pieces.
I wouldn’t mind winning the whipped cream game.
And Lord knows, I want a good family picture wearing our gratitude shirts.
But when I dig a little deeper, what I’m really hoping is that we’ll come together postured for gratitude, attuned to God’s mercies, counting our blessings. Naming them one by one. Thankful we get to share them with each other. All day long.
And, really, that’s more than enough.

Election Day Mercies

I gotta admit, I was a lot more excited to find that Meijer re-opened the express self-checkout lanes for cash paying customers today than I was to vote. No more ugly orange signs announcing a coin shortage at my favorite store. It’s the little things really.

And, if that wasn’t mercy enough, and it was, Indian summer weighed in all sunshine and 62 in early November. It just doesn’t get any better than that!

I’m grateful for my 1 vote. Really I am. I just wish that the 2 primary contenders better represented the dignity of this great land that I love. But here’s the thing, at the end of the day, or maybe tomorrow, Biden or Trump will be elected President for 4 years. Biden’s already got 8 under his belt as White House sidekick and Trump’s been in the driver’s seat for 4. Nobody says it like it is better than the Teacher.

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

Here’s the thing. We’ve survived the leadership of both of these political hacks before and we’ll survive again.  So I’m going to sleep in peace because this election, it’s momentary. I know who the real King is and He’s got my vote forever. 

Good night.

Round 2: Donald Trump and My First Teenage Boyfriend

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day for Alexander. He woke up one morning and everything went wrong! Gum in his hair, didn’t get a window seat on the way to school, fights with his friends, no desert in his lunch, had to get a cavity filled and his mom served lima beans for dinner. Remember that story? By the end of the book, you’d like to gently pat him on the back, telling him it might have been better to pull the covers over his head and stayed in bed all day. But it’s too late. I’d be inclined to slap the same title on this political season—actually maybe the whole year—on steroids. We’re down to single digits for the upcoming election and early voters are proudly donning their “I Voted” sticker for selfies on social media. Ughhh…. I’ll be glad when it’s over. But then we’ll have to endure the morning after and it doesn’t take an Enneagram Six to be able to threat forecast the rhetoric. Like a couple of kids playing Candy Land after somebody wins, the loser candidate will accuse, “You’re a cheater!” while the other retorts “I am not.” Until mom breaks up the kafuffle. And the sad thing is, both sides have their own posse of toddler-like tantrum throwers in the ready to pitch a full-blown fit. On the bright side, at least my mailbox won’t be cluttered with political propaganda anymore. My recycling bin won’t have to be emptied as often and I can quit blocking the callers blowing up my phone with automated messages incessantly mining for voting data.   

I’m not very political. I’m disillusioned with the way it brings out the worst in people. But I have friends who are immigrants. One more year and they’ll be card carrying naturalized citizens. I sat in their backyard six feet apart awhile back. “We’re so excited to vote!” they declared, a broad smile spreading across their faces. “We’ve never been able to do that before.” Wow! I can’t even wrap my brain around that reality. I guess it’s easy to take my rights for granted when I haven’t had to flee for my life under dictatorial rule. This privilege to participate in the process, it’s a mercy and my vote, it matters.  

4 years ago pre-election, I wrote a blog post entitled Donald Trump and my first Teenage Boyfriend. Honestly, I kind of forgot what I said in it until I pulled it up on my phone this week and reread it aloud to the cute kid in the picture, now my 16 year-old daughter, who found it hilariously entertaining. Here’s the thing, I need to make a retraction. In the post, I asserted that Trump was sweet-talking republicans, specifically evangelicals, wooing them with their litmus test issue to get their votes, intending a mean break up after he got what he wanted. That’s not what happened and I humbly recant on that point. You could legitimately make him poster boy for the pro-life agenda. You could paint a 30-story high mural with the headshot of President DT on one of his casino towers and say “Thank You, President Trump for being pro-life.”  I’ve seen murals like that on Trump Tower in Atlantic City. It’s just that rather than a headshot of Trump, a half-nude woman with a sad smile and creepy eyes, you know, the kind you see on I-94 billboards going into Chicago, the ones advertising a “gentleman’s” club or a cheap XXX rated shop, that’s what adorned Trump’s entrepreneurial empire instead.  

1 term into the presidency, Donald Trump has a rah-rah cheering section amongst many prominent evangelical Christians for championing the lives of the unborn. Problem is, that the unborn are not the only people who should be treated with human dignity. I can feel the gasps as I type. Before writing me off as a liberal who’s about to denounce my faith in Jesus and go over to the dark side, hear me out. I’m a pro-lifer. I was one of those sign toting, perimeter praying abortion clinic protesters in my 20’s. I’ve never voted for any presidential candidate who does not claim to value the life of the unborn. You can read more about that here: Politics and Bad Hair.  

God cares about ALL human dignity. Created by His design, his love extends to every demographic which includes but is not limited to people whose skin color is pigmented differently than our majority culture, seasoned citizens who are infirmed and vulnerable, human beings who are immigrants—either legal or illegal, children who were born rather than aborted into poverty, instability and danger, males and females who feel confused about their gender and disoriented about their sexuality, and girls turned women victimized by sexual perversion, harassment and assault.   

While Trump has championed the pro-life agenda, he’s decimated the dignity of many other image bearing creations before and after his election to the office of President. Just scroll back through his twitter feed over time or watch his TV appearances on Youtube. He’s regularly crass, careless and compassionless with his words and he takes verbal shots at anyone who crosses him faster than a semi-automatic weapon can unload a round of ammunition. His mouth is a like a cesspool and if that’s not repugnant enough, he’s a sexual predator too. Reports of fondling, grabbing, gawking, forcing his mouth and his penis in places that they aren’t invited are as copious as his real estate holdings. His first wife even accused him of rape. To bottom feeder Howard Stern, Trump boasts about his voyeuristic strategy of using his position of power as a pageant owner to intentionally walk in on and take advantage of naked contestants in their dressing room. And on Access Hollywood tape, he gloats about behaviors that are blatantly sexual harassment at the very least. Meanwhile, in a Business Insider article dated September 17, 2020, 26 women made accusations of sexual misconduct against Trump that substantiate his own admissions and he both denies the allegations and threatens to sue the victims for crimes he publicly boasted about committing. What kind of psychopathology is that? Narcissism maybe? 

With the nature of predatory people and the way they tend toward excessive narcissism, anything that challenges the perpetrator’s grandiose opinion of him or herself is an invitation to a fight. Some perpetrators launch public character assassination campaigns against their victims, while other are litigious, threatening legal and economic ruin to any who would come forward.

We Too: How the Church can respond Redemptively to the Sexual abuse Crisis, Mary De Muth

I’ve heard people defend Trump claiming his victimization of women is in the past. Let bygones be bygones, they assert. Maybe even slap some cheap and easy forgiveness into the mix for good measure. Others take a boys will be boys approach. Some choose to overlook his character flaws because they support his policies. To those individuals, I say, it’s a free country and we all get our own vote. 

My blog represents just me. And I can not stand before God, before my daughters or before my gender with a vote that disregards the human dignity of women. I will not make excuses for a perpetrators behavior. I will not disregard sexual trauma. I will not multiply disgrace on victims who’ve already endured the shame of exploitation. I will not communicate a double standard to the world that makes exceptions for perversions of God’s design for sexual integrity in order to achieve political expediency.

The lives of the unborn, they matter. And I won’t vote for someone who isn’t committed to protecting them. The dignity of girls and women matters too. God says it does. And I won’t vote for a sexual predator. That is my political manifesto.  

In this land of milk and honey where we enjoy Wisconsin dairy frozen custard, Colorado 14ers, all things Apple, Pure Michigan freshwater lakes and Chicago Pizza, surely, we can do better than this. Neither of these candidates represents the great nation that we actually are. With my 1 vote, I get a choice and it’s not just a choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. I can choose whoever I consider a worthy candidate for the office of President of the United States of America. 1 vote. No more. No less. Fair enough.         

A Grand Adventure

IMG_065926 years ago today, everything changed for me!

That cheesy little Hallmark sentiment about being a mom means you forever have your heart walking around outside yourself, it’s gospel truth.

And that first little person God writes into your story, introduces you to yourself as a mom. It’s not that you love any of your children more than you love the others but the order in which God brings them into your life, it’s distinctive. There’s something about first-time motherhood that can’t be replicated.

JJ Heller describes it like this,

“Through your eyes this beautiful life comes into view. 

Through your eyes I didn’t see ‘til I saw it with you.

On a grand adventure, I’m along for the ride.

And I feel it all again for the very first time.

On a grand adventure with you by my side ‘cause I love to see the world through your eyes.”

(A Grand Adventure)

IMG_0646That’s how it’s been for me.

From dollyhouse, 

To stuffed animals turned “real”, 

To block towers and duplo architecture,

Questions about “Why?” And “What’s that?”

Piles of picture books,

Pretend play,

Backyard circuses, holiday programs and homemade movies,

Nature walks,

Swimming lessons,

Learning to ride a 2-wheel bike, a lawn tractor, then driving a car.

There were cottage industries, creative creations and entrepreneurial endeavors,

Music making,

Cooking, baking,

Conversations about faith and femininity, politics and people-groups,

And a voracious appetite to read, to know and to understand.

We’ve worked together, played together, learned together, worshipped together, travelled together, celebrated together, grieved together, and in recent years started hiking together.

It hasn’t always been easy between us. Growing pains have left us both nursing our own separate wounds.  But here’s the thing, neither of us ever did this gig before each other and there’s a learning curve on both sides. That, too, is part of the adventure.

Now-a-days, I mostly watch her back, from a distance. Listening. Praying. Trusting God with her unfolding story.

I marvel at 

Her courage.

Her tenderness.

Her passion.

Her beautiful soul!

She’s already lived plenty of her own epic adventures, but today, on her birthday, I celebrate the ones we’ve shared. From the simple everyday delights to the adrenalin rush thrills and all the moments in between, how kind of God to introduce me to motherhood with Angela. Being her mom has been one of my grandest adventures of all!

Starting and Ending

IMG_0882Labor Day was all different in the days when I packed my lunch, loading up my new Holly Hobbie thermos with warm Campbells’ chicken noodle soup, eager and anxious to see the list of teachers and students posted on the big picture window at school the next morning.
And in high school, somehow, I managed to spend the bulk of my holiday stressing over which outfit I should wear on the first day of class. All of my new school clothes were too warm for an Indian summer day but I had an image to present and if that required sweating, so be it.

My recollections are all fuzzy after that until the infamous Labor Day of 2002. On that afternoon, five of us and a 75-pound pooch parked out front of our new house in Dallas, Texas just before noon. The day was a scorcher–a few degrees cooler than my perception of hell. We unloaded our road weary bodies from our black Chevy Venture van, the dog especially eager for some exercise. The yard wasn’t much coming from a couple of country acres but enough to take care of her business. The house smelled like some sort of obnoxious aromatherapy blend of mildew and cat urine. I hadn’t remembered that from the showing…. Our moving truck wouldn’t arrive until the next day and already, the kids looked like somebody popped their imaginary pink Texas balloons.

“Hey, I have an idea!” Those could be the 4 words they write on my tombstone someday.
“How about if we make tonight a super fun camp out in our new house?”
“I’ll run out to the store to get a few supplies.”

Privately, the tears dripped like a leaky faucet through all eight traffic lights, and I parked in front of the nearest Target, feeling like I’d entered some sort of alter-reality. I meandered through the store like a lost puppy looking for a familiar scent. My cart half full, I checked out and headed home. We all laid down on the carpeted floor that night confirming the cat pee. The AC wouldn’t switch on and we might as well have been detoxing in a sauna. I tossed and turned uncomfortably wondering what we had done, sirens blaring in the distance. My final waking thought was straight out of The Wizard of Oz—“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”

Most of my memories of the next 13 Labor Days are connected with the return to our Dallas life. Memorial Day kicked off our summers in Michigan. Labor Day launched another school year in Dallas. Mostly, I’d scramble around our house organizing schedules and gathering up textbooks to start homeschooling, except for the year we spent Labor Day weekend dodging a hurricane along the Atlantic coast instead. But, the summer of 2015, our Toyota Sienna minivan got a new license plate that read Pure Michigan and that Labor Day, we adopted an inaugural tradition. Summer starts and ends at the beach.
It was Robyn’s idea.
“That, I can do,” I told her.
And we did.
And we have.

But this year, it was just me. Closing down the summer. On the beach.
Gratefully melancholy-musing over the memories.
Like the picture perfect Spring day our beautiful girl wore a white dress and made lifelong promises to her handsome man in the blue suit.
And the sunset walk up to Maranatha’s prayer tower with Angela when we were quarantining together for 2 weeks.
Dune climbing with Lily at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.
Kayaking with the fam at the Mackinaw bridge.
Hiking the shoreline ridge together then swimming in our clothes in Lake Superior.
Watching the windsurfers catch air from the Grand Haven pier with the hubs.
Birthday camping at the beach with my tribe.
Dune walking to the Big Sable lighthouse with one of my besties.

Today, a red flag with a crude white graphic of a swimmer, a diagonal line across the image, blew in the breeze from the park deck. Not an invitation to swim safely.
I watched little bitties digging holes to China with their shovels,
Mamas and kiddos bouncing around on the white caps in floaties,
Daddies and children constructing magnificent castles,
Doggies paddling out into the water to get sticks.
I saw grandmas and grandpas wave jumping with their grandkids,
Insecure teenagers trying to impress each other with their bodies instead of their character,
Mature friends perched up on the dune reading novels and drinking sweet tea.

Me? I arrived heavy-eyed and like some sort of magical spell, the waves lulled me to sleep. When I woke up, the sun sparkled all diamond-like on the water. I lingered long watching seagulls soaring and diving, dodging waves as they feasted on a decomposing fish floating in the water. I found myself reluctant to leave. To check the box. Another summer complete.CCG5O+fLSwyFFP5PAj48iA

On my way home, I pulled into the Starbucks drive thru, the same one Robyn and I happily ordered our drinks from at a few years back. Hers was a peppermint mocha. Mine a double chocolaty chip frappucinno. Always. We drank to a summer full of everyday graces and anticipated fall mercies.
Honestly, I don’t feel very celebratory this year.
Maybe I need to re-frame my thinking. To repurpose a timeless truth.
The teacher in Ecclesiastes talks about an ebb and flow, like the waves crashing onto the shore then backpedaling their way into deep waters.
Starting and Ending.
Ending and Starting.
The seasons.
Life.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes says it’s all part of God’s plan for this broken-beautiful world He made and loves.
So, I guess I need to embrace it too, cause if I don’t, I’ll miss the mercies.
That first Monday of September it’s not just the end of summer. It’s the beginning of Fall.
And To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)IMG_4161

How Do You Know When You’re Who You Are Becoming?

“Every daughter needs to see how life can wrinkle you and this is what makes you beautiful….We are connected to one another—mothers who have quietly grown the bones of their daughters’ spine so she can walk honest and brave, mothers whose own blood runs like a river through their daughter, so she can live open, fluid and willing…..What kind of lives would our daughters live because they did life with us?”     
Ann Voskamp

Last weekend, we drove across the Mackinac bridge, windows down, happy songs blaring over Spotify.
On our way to our second annual camping vacation in the UP.
I’m not a camper! Never did it growing up and didn’t like it as a twenty-something.
So much dirt.
The ground’s a terrible mattress.
Yicky bathrooms.
A bunch of junk food.
Besides, once I loaded up all those Rubbermaid bins down south, and carted them back up north for 13 summers switching it back again in August on the return trip to Texas, I felt like our little 2 bedroom apartment on a small college campus with the big hill and the apple orchard next door was camp-like enough.

But times change and I’ve learned some things..
Like how to scope out and secure a premium campsite on the DNR website thanks to my friend Lesley.
And a bunch of my camping veteran buddies, they’ve got the goods and are generous to share.
Then I discovered hiking. Sleeping Bear Dunes was my inaugural expedition and since then, I’ve climbed the wee hills of Scotland, the red rocks of Arizona, the Colorado Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the California coast, Algonquin Park in Canada and last weekend, Pictured Rocks.


We took a kind-of-hike at Tahquamenon Falls too.
I’ve been there before.
25 years ago, I carried my first little sweetheart on my hip. She was almost ready to take her first step. Now, look at her…

Since then, God’s written lots of other little people into my story. Big people too.
My wrinkles, they’re evidence I’ve put on the miles. While I’ve resisted their beauty, they prove that I’ve smiled wide, worried hard and cried all squinchy-faced. I guess I’ve lived and loved a pretty typical life.
My gig hasn’t been glamorous. There’s been a lot of peanut butter toast, after dinner dishes, bathroom cleaning, tidying up messes and read alouds.
Living open, fluid and willing, that’s part of the official “mom” job description.
The blood, sweat and tears, they’re mostly over this cluster of people that I’ve held in my arms and close to my heart.IMG_0481

I look at my tribe and see them walk brave in their stories.
I watch them try to step forward as honestly as they can on their journey of self-discovery.
I ask myself, what kind of lives will my kids, my husband, my tribe, my circle of influence live because God wrote me into their stories.IMG_6111IMG_0379

Honestly, on this birthday, I’m feeling pretty lost. I resonate with the melancholy ballad I hear playing softly on my Bluetooth speaker,
“Fast and slow we’re circling the sun,
And how do you know when you’re who you’ve been becoming?”
(Purple Horizons, Canyon City)
But this gift of life, the years, the experiences, the growth, it’s been bought and paid for, the price tag exponentially beyond my capacity to reimburse. The “debt-free” receipt serves as my compass to guide me through the forest when all I can see is trees.
So much feels uncertain on my expedition, but not this– That the mercies of God past, present and future are fresh and new every morning. Somehow, always enough.

IMG_0814And so, as I blow out the 9 candles on my Ryke’s cake, 5 for the tens and 4 for the ones,
I turn the page to chapter 54 resolved to journey well through its pages.
My compass is in hand. I’m travelling due north.IMG_0560

Sandy Pony, Mama Robin and the Velveteen Rabbit

“Due to a national coin shortage, self-check out aisles are limited to credit and debit card transactions only.” That’s what the orange signs posted near the registers said. “You’ve got to be kidding!” I mumbled under my breath. Sigh. Frown. At least nobody can see my pouty expression under the mask. I begrudgingly made my way to aisle 16, the shortest line in the store. Still, a couple of customers with overflowing carts stood in front of me.

Call me a grazer. I go to Meijer almost daily for my supply of items to sustain us through the next 24+ hours and I almost always pay with cash right out of my envelope marked “Living Expenses”.

I love Meijer! I grew up walking a mile each way with my mama for groceries. Coming home was the workout, a bag in each hand. And when the weather was cold or rainy, we’d take the bus. When I turned into a mama, we drove to Meijer instead. I buckled my littles in the cart seat and we made a bee line directly for the donuts. They munched and chattered while I shopped. Right in front of our favorite cashier, Selma’s lane, Sandy the pony was plugged into the electrical outlet waiting to be fed a penny and give little boys and girls a bouncy ride. We were religious about riding on Sandy. No Meijer trip was legit without Sandy’s bumpy blessing.let them be little 112 copy

As I impatiently waited for my turn to buy groceries, I spotted another sign, straight ahead of my lane. “Sandy is resting in her stable. She can’t wait until she can see you again.”
“Wait, not Sandy too. If you have to take away self check, fine, but don’t take away Sandy!” I conversed silently with myself. And, at that moment, I wished my mask covered my eyes too because they both started swelling like a dam about to break. You see, Sandy isn’t just a mechanical penny eater, when I walk past Sandy, somehow, for just a split second, my girls become little again. I hear their carefree giggles and watch their innocent delight. Sandy represents a time when “I Love you Mommy” cards with wobbly handwriting and stick figure artistry were as regular as the daily mail. When long cuddles in an oversized chair reading a pile of picture books together was routine. When a “bed-night” drink of cold water was always set on my night stand to make sure I didn’t ever get thirsty. When love was simply given and received without barriers.
And now, Sandy is gone.
_______________________

Just before my very own Robyn donned her white dress and spoke her forever vows, I  noticed mama Robin noisily hovering near the deck as I watered my baby annuals. I walked down the hill to the porch swing to peer up into the underside of the rafters looking for a nest. Every year, she’s built one. And sure enough, like me, she’d been busy about her work. I peeked through the deck boards right near the pot of zinnias and saw 3 blue eggs safely tucked inside mama’s carefully crafted home. After that, I kind of forgot about mama Robin until I spotted her nest, lying disheveled in a pile of stones, dislodged from its shelter after a blustery storm. There were no blue eggs and I hoped, by some miracle, her babies had hatched and fledged prematurely. Then, I found one of those eggs lying a few hundred yards away in my sunflower garden.
My sad-o-meter registered high. That mama, she did her best to provide a safe, healthy environment for her babies to thrive but failed. I’ve been there and done that too.

IMG_0314Thankfully, both robin and human mamas possess resiliency by design. And a few weeks later when I peeked up into her nesting corner, I saw a brand-spanking-new nest. And when I squinted down through the deck boards, I saw 3 new blue eggs. Inspired by her determination, I’ve followed the progress of her nurturing every day since. A little over a week ago, I saw 2 baby robins, their tiny featherless chests rapidly rising and falling like they’d just run a marathon. Most of the time, though, they sleep peacefully, laying belly up, in the most vulnerable position possible, beaks wide open waiting for mama to provide everything they need to survive, trusting her to take care of them. And she does.

They’re getting close to fledging now, their swelling bodies squeezing over the edges of the nest. So I googled what’s to be expected next in their rite of passage. Apparently, when a young robin first jumps out of its family home, it can’t actually fly so it tumbles to the ground where mama hovers close for a few more weeks helping it to stay out of harm’s way, teaching it about the dangers of life outside the nest and showing it how to forage for itself. But even with a nurturing mother, only about 25% of hatched robins make it through their first November. And once they fly off on their own, mama can’t watch over them anymore. Not that one or this one either.
They might break a wing, mastering their technique.
Fly to close to a car or a cat or straight into a closed window.
They could inadvertently ingest pesticides or chemical pollution.
Or just end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But if the young bird survives, she might be next year’s nest builder, next year’s resilient caregiver. Next year, she might even come back to the very same deck to make a home for her babies, just like her mama.
__________________________

DSCN2797DSCN0118Our family stuffed animal collection numbers in the hundreds. All the second tier friends live in the gigantic bean bag chair I sewed for them at least a decade ago, but the girls besties are Choco and Oreo, Ethan, the blue owl, and Mr. Bear and Mrs. Bear. When our biggest little girl was three, she left Mr. Bear in the dugouts at a park one summer evening while we were taking a family walk. That night, bedtime felt like a life altering catastrophe on par with COVID 19. Daddy drove back to the park with a flashlight and retrieved Mr. Bear, brought him home, and tucked him under his baby girl’s tear soaked pajama arm. Mr. Bear’s been through it all. He’s known every place she’s called home. Heard each of her bedtime stories, songs and conversations. He’s watched her smile and felt her tears. His clothes are thread bare so we dressed him in a new outfit to keep the stuffing inside, but honestly, he’s a lot like the Rabbit in Margery William’s famous children’s story. Worn down by love. And so am I.

Maybe that’s why I resonate with Christa Wells song, Velveteen. It tells my story too.
Love spoke my name and I felt life run through me.
Reborn in the flame. Nothing can undo me.

Shadow and light, I learned to let them find me.
Coming alive, feels a lot like dying.

 
So if my beauty starts to fade, well, I’ve been held in a thousand ways.
And if my heart looks broken in, then I’ve been brave enough to live.
If perfect turns to perfect mess and all Your love is all that’s left.
I’m as real as real can be.
Call me Velveteen.
________________________

Chapter 53’s had a lot of plot twists.
Transition. It’s hard.
And confusing. I don’t know if I fit or where I fit or how I fit. Into anything.
And I’m grieving what isn’t anymore. And disillusioned by what is.
It’s been a quarter of a century that the primary work experience on my resume reads mothering. I’m not even sure what else I’m good at and depending on the day, my kids’ gold star rating would rank pretty low for that.

Going into Chapter 54, feels like a plot hole. I can’t see the path to what’s next. Not yet. I don’t know if I’ve already lived through the climax of my story but I do know that where I’m at now feels a lot more like a reversal than resolution.

I read through an old journal the other night, and glimpsed another time when self-doubt derailed me. In it, I confessed to my mentor, “I don’t feel like I have what it takes.” And she responded matter-a-factly,  “You don’t.”
Then she paused, placed her hand over mine, looked at me with incredible compassion and continued, “But God does and He will help you.”
And that timeless blessing applies to every chapter.
Including each page written in 53, all of the ones still blank for 54 and right straight through to the end of my story.DSCF4955

PS: Tonight, when I got down on all fours, peered through the deck boards, derriere pointed toward heaven, mama robin’s nest was empty. The young birds are one step closer to their own great adventure and mama’s “cheerio”-ing them on.