Soul Searching

(Our President asked for a little soul-searching. Here I go …)

I know with absolute certainty that I live a powerfully privileged life – largely in part because I was born white, straight, and to middle-class, educated parents in America. My privileged reality is that I’ve never had to choose if I’m going to pay for medicine or food.  I’ve never had to teach my son to fear an armed police man. I’ve never feared being shot by the people sworn to protect me. I’ve never considered that my daughters won’t be educated. I’ve never had to hide who I love or been made to feel broken or less because of how I was born. This is privilege. I did nothing to earn it.

And sometimes, in a moment of awareness, I’m swept away with conflicting emotions. I feel heartbroken about the way our world is … I feel guilty that I was born into a position of privilege … I feel lucky.

Lucky.

What a shameful way to feel about the hardships of people I care for deeply.

So I sit and stew in my guilt and shame until my mind finds a way to reason it away.  I’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not even remotely racist or homophobic. It’s ridiculous to feel guilty about how the world works.

But is it?

I don’t know if I do or don’t deserve to feel guilt. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe it just matters that I do feel guilty. Sometimes, good or bad, we just need to feel. And perhaps those are the moments when God speaks through our emotions. My guilt makes me feel uncomfortable. It makes me feel like something isn’t right, like something is very, very wrong.

And it is, right?

All I know is that, for those of us feeling guilt and working so hard to feel differently,  it’s time to look inside the guilt. We spend so much time preparing our children for this broken world. Maybe it’s time to spend some energy fixing their world. 

Clothes Pins, Family, and Forty Years

About a year (ish) ago I bought a bag of clothes pins. The plan was to use them for closing bags of things in the pantry and for some never-realized craft for the kids. The clothes pins were plentiful for a while and I happily closed our bags of stuff with ease.

And then they began to disappear.

It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice at first; they just started to become more and more difficult to find until, finally, they were all gone. Occasionally when I’d go to close bags of things I’d mention the disappearance to Keith or the dog or myself. But I never really fully investigated their vanishing – there are plenty of other mysteries that took precedence in my mind – like why Keith can only read every other item on a shopping list, or why my entire family always wants to talk to me when I reach the last twenty pages of a book.

Today, however, I happened to mention the clothes pin disappearance to Molly:

“Molly, I wish I knew where all those clothes pins went.”

“They’re in the princess piñata.”

(We happen to have a princess piñata that’s been hanging out on the floor of our pantry for the past couple of years. Don’t ask – I’m sure there’s a story there but I can’t remember it.)

Lo and behold, the piñata is filled with clothes pins.

Matter-of-fact Molly just shrugged and told me, “That’s where I keep them.”

Of course it is.

So, I was actually kind of excited a bit later when I had the need to close a bag ‘o something. I went straight for the piñata. But, once again, the clothes pins were all gone. I knew who to go to this time.

“Molly! Where are all the clothes pins?”

“I made a person with them.”

“Oh! Can I have one for this bag of rice?”

“No, Mom. I need all of my clothes pins.”

“YOUR clothes pins? I thought they were mine.”

“No, Mom – they were in my piñata.”Image

This is my life.

I live in a world where a four-year old is in charge of pantry management and piñatas are mainstays in the kitchen. It’s a magical place of stale cereal, spilled rice, and the need to be prepared for impromptu fiestas.

And, to give credit where credit is due, it’s all my parent’s fault.

Because forty years ago today they got married and started something chaotic, enduring, messy, loud, ever-changing, solid, and beautiful. Forty years ago they created my family. And they taught my siblings and me what a family looks like, a lesson that I think we’ve all taken to heart and used when creating our own families. So, my pantry problems (and dare I say my missing socks?) are their fault because they showed us that family is …

A place where pantry organization takes backseat to childhood

A place where humor wins and laughter heals

A place where tempers run hot and forgiveness flows freely

A place where ukulele, or guitar, or banjo, or harmonica music is the background to all family gatherings

A place where children are seen and heard and cherished

A place where dogs are loved (and the occasional cat is tolerated)

A place where the stories of our past are the folklore my children are raised with

A place where our differences are part of our strength

A place where creativity is embraced and love is quilted and strummed and sang and composed and danced

A place that has never been less than home – no matter where it’s located or how far apart we are from each other.

I think it’s such serendipitous timing that my parent’s fortieth anniversary is the same day as our Molly’s last day as a four-year-old. It’s such a cool connection to me. Forty years ago when they stood at that altar there’s no way they could have known what they were creating.

And today I spent the day soaking up my littlest girl’s littleness. I inhaled her twirling and singing and knock-knock jokes and clothes pin people because tomorrow she turns five and that feels like a big deal to me.

And, really, it’s all their fault.Image

Magic Sneakers

It’s two years post tornado and one year after I promised myself I was done writing about the tornado. But I’m fickle and I promise not to write about it again! (Unless I do …)

A while back I registered the kids for the Joplin Memorial Fun Run. Molly is four, so I envisioned that Emily (8) and David (10) would run out ahead and Keith and I would walk/slow run with the Mollster. Ha.

I hadn’t told Molly those plans.

She’s trained for the run for weeks. This mostly involved sprinting the loop in my home from kitchen, to family room, to living room, and back – again and again and again. A couple days before the run we bought her new sneakers. They instantly became magic sneakers. You remember the type – the ones that made you run faster than ever before.

She was ready.

And it wasn’t a walk with her parents that she was ready for. That girl ran the whole mile with a huge smile on her little face. It was awesome. (But far from leisurely.)

The race wasn’t just about running though. It was a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the tornado two years ago. There was a sign hanging at the beginning of the race and it had the name of each of those 161.  When my exuberant racers arrived, Molly saw the sign and, assuming it was a list of the racers, asked, “Mommy, where’s my name!? Am I on there?”  If she hadn’t been so excited about racing she may have wondered why it took me a moment before answering her.

“No, baby girl, those are the people who died in the tornado and we’re running today to remember them.”

And then my mind swirled with the rest of the answer …

BUT …

Had the rotation been slightly different …

Had the walls twisted a bit more …

Had the ceiling been blown away over that closet …

Then the names on that list could have included my Molly and Emily and Keith. So close; they were so close.

In the past two years we’ve made the decision not to live in the land of “what if’s” because that can be life freezing and maybe even disrespectful to the people who did lose someone they love.  But the sign with the names (and the t-shirts that read “Running in memory of my Granny”) spoke of those whose loved ones couldn’t get into a safe place, whose ceilings collapsed and whose walls fell.  And I grieve with them for their loss with awareness that the happy ending to my tornado story could make their grief more powerful.

Because their loved ones were so close too – so close to safety, to shelter, to survival.

None of us will forget the storm that hit Joplin on May 22, 2011. My family and I may have decided that the storm doesn’t define us but we would be kidding ourselves to say it hasn’t changed us.

Because when I remember, it reverberates once again through my soul – life is precious, time is fleeting, and the people we love are so vulnerable and so fragile.

When faced with the memory of that day, we will do what we’re left here to do.

We will savor.

We will strap on our magic sneakers and run.

God bless the people whose story ended differently. Hopefully they have found some peace.

Image

And I’m afraid of no one

Today Keith and I went to parent/teacher conferences at Molly’s pre-school. We basked in that particular parental glow that comes when your kid’s teacher tells you how well they’re doing – shapes, colors, letters, beginning reading skills – we’re all over it.

It was a good conference. There was a lot of laughing and love shared in the room about this little person named Molly. With a mind like a sponge, she is learning more and more each day.

There were some things we didn’t discuss.

We didn’t discuss if it was right for her, as a girl, to receive an education.

We didn’t discuss if attending school would make her a target.

Where we live we discuss homeschooling, public school, private school, standardized tests, grades, college prep, etc. I engage in these conversations frequently.

But I have never been in a position to have to defend my daughters’ right to learn. I have never had to put my life on the line for their education.

So, today, as I leave Molly’s conference, I can’t stop thinking about Malala Yousufzai and her father. I am simultaneously in awe of their bravery while heartbroken over a world that required such bravery.

I can only hope that if I’d been born an ocean away, I would have had such courage.

In an interview with CNN from 2011, Malala said:

“I have the right of education. I have the right to play. I have the right to sing. I have the right to talk. I have the right to go to the market. I have the right to speak up.”

It’s sadly easy to sit in my safe life and take these rights for granted.

There will always be tyranny and oppression in our world. There will also always be people like Malala. She is just one person … one girl … one child. Yet the ripples of her bravery and intelligence are felt across our globe. I can’t help but think about all the other people, like Malala, risking their lives for rights that I take for granted.

I can only hope for a sliver of her courage. If she can stare down the Taliban, I can speak up for the injustices I see in my safe corner of the world.

After all, in Malala’s words, “I shall raise my voice … If I didn’t do it, who would?”

Your voice is not raised alone Malala. 

I’m at Teachers & Twits Today!

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I’m consistently inconsistent. My plan is to start blogging more regularly; I find it helps me maintain my sanity. However, one thing I’ve been doing consistently ever since I found Renée Schuls-Jacobson’s blog Teachers & Twits is reading it. She is fantastic – makes me laugh, cry, and think. I tend to read her posts while drying my hair in the morning. And while I love Renée, she has been solely responsible for some pretty bad hair days.

So, it is with no small amounts of blogging awe (nerdy giddiness?) that I’m linking to her blog because today I’M HER GUEST BLOGGER!!! Me, she of the inconsistent posts and bad hair.

Please click on her picture below (I know, I know … she’s beautiful and smart) and comment at her place. Her place! Because that’s where I am!! (Have I mentioned that Renée has some of the best discussions in blogland in her comment section?) 

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage

Today Keith and I have been married for nine years.

The traditional gift for a ninth wedding anniversary is pottery and willow. (Mighty in the ways of Google searching am I. (Sorry, Google brings out my inner-Yoda.))

We happen to be good in both the pottery and willow categories. So, for Keith’s gift I’m giving him the gift all men secretly hope for – a blog post.

(But wait. This gift gets better.)

Keith and I didn’t write our own vows nine years ago and I think it’s time. So I started to write my vows to Keith. And then … inspiration hit. I should write Keith’s vows to me. What an amazingly thoughtful, selfless gift, right? (Yes, he is a lucky, lucky man.)

So, Keith, in lieu of pottery and willow, I give you this:

I, Keith, take you, Amy, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

I vow to kill every spider in the house without commenting on the size and/or making Amy look at it so she can learn to identify spiders.

I vow to accept that Amy does not like fish or peas. I promise never again to scoop more peas on her plate in front of the kids and say, “Look, Mommy loves her vegetables.”

I vow to put the remote back in the basket conveniently known as “the remote basket” and not place it in between couch cushions or in the pantry.

I vow to always buy Amy popcorn at the movies.

I vow to stop reminding Amy about the time she hit the babysitter’s car with my car.

I vow to always hand over the final bite of an ice cream cone to Amy as I know it’s her favorite part.

I vow to sleep with a fan on. Always.

I vow to not end compliments with, “There. How was that?”

I vow to not use ordinal directions with Amy when a “left” or “right” would do.

I vow to subscribe to Amy’s blog.

(Seriously, he changed his email and is no longer subscribed. I know. Wow.)

If life is a metaphorical journey then our marriage so far has been an extreme journey with mountains and sharks and epic quests (metaphorically speaking, of course; we haven’t had any issues with actual sharks). These nine years of marriage included three years in the interior of Alaska, three moves, three kids, two (at least!) career changes, one year in Afghanistan, and one tornado.

I’m just glad to be on this journey with you.

I love you and I can’t wait to see how we finish off our first decade together.

What vows would you like to write for your significant other?

I Remember

On 9/11/2011, I was a 2nd Lieutenant stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base. That morning my colleagues and I stood in our Commander’s office and watched the towers fall.

Shocked. Stunned. Scared. Moments etched forever in memory.

And then the day became a blur. The base went into complete lock-down. Everyone focused with intensity on their role.
We were the secure location the President was taken to but I, personally, felt anything but secure. I felt acutely vulnerable as we braced ourselves for the further attacks we feared might be coming.

I can remember thinking that everything has changed; nothing will ever be the same.

Shortly after 9/11, I was working a deployment line filled with men and women heading to Afghanistan. It was during the first rounds of post-911 deployments. While there was a renewed sense of purpose and energy in our military community, it was also a difficult time. Families had not yet grown accustomed to war.

One moment from that deployment line will always stay with me. The large room was filled with spouses, children, and parents having final moments with loved ones in uniform. It quickly became time to end the farewells. This was my job. I walked around the room making eye contact with the airmen or tapping them on their arms. They understood that I was telling them to say their final words, give the final hug, and walk out of the room. Unfortunately, they weren’t the only ones who understood. A little girl, maybe five or six-years old, watched me tap her father. She looked at me, burst into tears, and yelled, “NO!”

One week later, I found out I was pregnant. It was one of the most joy-filled moments of my life. And then I became that little girl.

NO!

No, I do not want my child born into a world where this can happen.

No, I do not want to raise my baby in a world that no longer feels safe.

No, I do not want to have to say goodbye to this little one I haven’t even met yet.

No.

But here we are – eleven years later.

And with time comes perspective.

We all still raise our babies and live our lives in a world where terrible things happen. But it’s also a world where men and women ran towards those towers to save people. A world where passengers in Flight 93 exhibited bravery that defies explanation. A world where men and women put on uniforms every day with purposes like protect and defend.

And yet, like all of us who remember that day so vividly, my heart breaks again on 9/11 each year. Because so many will never get to write the words, “eleven years later.” So many in those towers and planes never knew that they were saying final goodbyes and giving final kisses. So many, both that day and in the years of war that have followed, never came home.

Because the world, while still so beautiful, is still so changed.

What do you remember about that day? How has your world changed?

A Joyful Noise

It’s the little things in life that seem to give me the biggest joy. The miracle found in the everyday. Tonight, it was some beauty found in bathtime.
 
My girls (8 and 4) were in the shower and, as usual, being way too loud and taking way too long for me. I went back to give them the riot act and instead was stopped in my impatient tracks by what I heard.
 
These are my babies in the shower reminding me, once again, about joy.
 

I hope your week goes smoothly and you find little, unexpected moments of joy throughout.

Oh, Parenting

I talk a good parenting talk. It goes something like this …

I’ll not be a helicopter mom, bulldozer mom, snowplow mom, or tiger mom.  I’ll not look at my phone while my kids are talking to me or at least won’t talk to my kids while I’m messing around on my phone. I’ll walk that line of involved but not intrusive. I’ll be a fun-loving disciplinarian and practice structured flexibility. I’ll balance the roles of cheerleader, leader, stand-up comedian, mentor, counselor, tutor, confidant, and parental authority. I’ll teach my children about suffering and the need for compassion while sheltering them from some of the harsher realities of our world. I’ll live in the moment while planning for the future. I’ll nurture while challenging, protect while stepping back, and go to battle while letting them fight their own fights. I’ll keep my superhero cape pressed at all times and I will make homemade crackers, organic.

But, regardless of all these good intentions (or sometimes because of them), I’m instead the mom who sometimes forgets to sign the permission slip, who has to carefully select the picture for Facebook that doesn’t show the laundry basket of shame, and who sends the kid to school with clothes that didn’t have time to fully dry in the dryer. Fortunately, I do normally manage to compliment the wet clothes with mismatched socks.

I occasionally bulldoze and frequently text. I sometimes step forward when I need to stand back. I discipline out of anger and give in out of exhaustion. I am human – flawed, tired, and misguided.

But today, in this moment, I’m going to stop.

I’ll stop measuring myself and comparing everything to some elusive, imaginary standard. I’ll face the fear at the root of my expectations – the fear that I’ll leave my babies wanting, leave them less than whole, less than prepared. I’ll acknowledge my fear that I will fail them in ways so much more important than permission slips and laundry.

So, today I’m going to stop, take a deep breath and enjoy them. And tonight, when I fall asleep, I’m not going to evaluate and replay and second guess. I’m going to pray.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity to love so powerfully in my life. Thank you for the moments to step outside of expectations and fears. Thank you for their growing minds and tender hearts. Thank you for making me, with all my flaws and fears and expectations, their mother. Thank you for making me enough. Thank you.”

Jesus in the Bathroom

My religious knowledge failed me.  I went to Baylor University, for goodness sakes … surely my stint in the land of the Baptists would give me the right words.  Nope.  Nada.  I had nothing.

It started with three-year-old Molly on the toilet yelling, “MOM!!! CLOSE THE DOOR SO JESUS DOESN’T SEE ME!”

I closed the door and walked away tickled by her precociousness and the hilarious Facebook status this would make.

But she wasn’t done.

“MOM!!!”

I walked back into the bathroom.  She was still sitting on the toilet (obviously physically uncomfortable at this point) and said with a tinge of panic, “But MOM … he’s INBISIBLE!!!” She then looked up to the sky with wide eyes that conveyed her discomfort at this situation. 

I went for the easy answer, “That just means you can’t see him right now but the door will still work.”

 “MOM. He is EVERYWHERE.”

I tried to go with creationism, “Sweetie, God made your bottom … he’s allowed to see it.”

She responded with an answer I’d been drilling in her head for the past three years, “The bathroom is a place for PRIVACY!!!”

I replied with a comment that I’m fairly sure has no Biblical backing, “Baby, Jesus respects your privacy.”

“Can you ask him?”

“Ask him what?

“TO RESPECT MY PRIVACY!!!”

So we said a prayer … in the bathroom … while Molly sat on the toilet. 

“God, we ask that you respect Molly’s privacy while she goes to the bathroom.  Amen.”

**********

The faith of a child, even when coupled with a bathroom emergency, is refreshing.

As adults we complicate things by either over-thinking or, ironically, under-examining. 

For four-year-old Molly it was a no-brainer; the presence of God is as real to her as the laptop I’m typing on is to me. 

In fact, her belief is so solid that she instantly felt uncomfortable when her belief in privacy (can I get an “Amen!” on that one?) came head-to-head with her belief in an ever-present God.

There’s something awesome about that.

I want that.  I want to feel uncomfortable at times because my faith is so powerful that it comes in conflict with my day-to-day life.  There’s quite a bit going on in our complicated, adult world that should hit a discordant note when it comes head-to-head with a belief in divine love. 

We should cringe when we force truth to fit our own agenda.  We should feel embarrassed when we desperately attempt to strengthen our faith by weakening the faith of others.  We should experience shame when we ignore our duty to stand by our neighbor in the face of prejudice, poverty, or hardship. We should grieve when we let judgment replace love. 

The faith of a child is so simple but so difficult for an over-thinker like me.  I don’t have all the answers.  I don’t know all the whys.  I don’t even fully understand where this story is going to end.  And while there’s definitely a time for seeking and questioning, there’s also a time to just stop and take a moment to believe. 

May you all find moments to sit in the certainty of love and, of course, find privacy in your bathrooms. 

 

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