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. 

 

Surrounded By Heroes

My daughter’ picture as part of Robert Fogarty’s Dear World series on Joplin. His work is amazing. To see more click the picture!

Life is filled with contradictions; mundane mixed with miracle, tragedy with celebration, amazing strength with humbling weakness.  Contradiction makes life both difficult and powerfully beautiful. 

Ten years ago, on May 22, 2002, my first child David was born.  He turned my life inside-out and upside-down.  He taught me that love can be frightening in its intensity.  He made me look at the world differently.  Everything suddenly mattered so much more except, of course, for those things that suddenly mattered so much less.  Motherhood, like life, is also filled with contradictions.

Today is a day to celebrate his life.

One year ago, on May 22, 2011, our birthday celebrations came to an abrupt stop when the tornado pounded through Joplin.  The tornado also turned my life inside-out and upside down.  It also taught me that love can be frightening in its intensity. 

Today is a day to remember that loss and fear.  To, once again, allow myself to be swept away in gratitude that those walls bent but did not fall.

So today, at 5:40 in the evening, I will close my eyes and sit in silence for a moment with my community.  I’ll remember what happened a year ago today.  I’ll remember the lives lost and the neighborhoods destroyed.  I’ll remember that, like my girls’ picture reads, we are surrounded by heroes disguised as neighbors and strangers.  I’ll take that moment so that I can remember; once again, that everything we hold dear is fragile.  It’s a scary reminder.  It’s also the ultimate inspiration to live fully today.

But then I’m going to open my eyes and watch the young man sitting across from me blow out the ten candles on his cake.  David inspires words like hilarious, serious, sensitive, tough, kind, and brilliant.  He’s totally weird in a normal kid sort of way.  We’ll celebrate with pasta and chocolate and presents.  It’s good to be ten-years old.

We are taking this day back from the storm.

One Year Later in Joplin, Missouri

Almost a year ago, on May 22, 2011 a tornado hit my hometown of Joplin, Missouri.  The year since the storm was filled with joy, sorrow, tragedy, and miracle – sprinkled with refreshing moments of ordinary.  Most of you have heard the story:

On May 22 David turned nine years old.  The day started as a day of celebration. At 5:30 that evening, David, two of his friends, and I were in a movie theater watching pirates duke it out for the fountain of youth.  After the movie, we planned to meet Keith and the girls for pizza.  As we watched, I received a text from one of the boy’s mom saying “Stay put, Amy, the storm is bad and the tornado sirens are going off.”  The movie stopped in the middle of a scene, the lights turned on, and we were all instructed to go sit on the floor underneath the screen.  I called Keith to tell him to stay home with the girls and wait out the storm.  At the time, Keith and the girls were getting shoes on to head out the door and meet us for dinner.  Meanwhile, the theater crowd was laughing, talking, and in good spirits.  This is Missouri; we’re used to sirens and tornado warnings.  We were all sitting on the floor sharing any weather tidbits we could get on our phones.  Someone asked a manager why the movie was still playing in the theater next door.  The manager replied, “That’s not a movie.  That’s the storm.  Maybe a tornado …”

The mood changed.

I couldn’t reach Keith and the girls on the phone.  When the storm finally ended, people started to walk up the stairs to leave the theater as texts and calls began to come in.  It was terrifying to see people check their phones and start running, or crying, or saying “Oh my God …” The first text I received was from David’s friend’s mom.  It said, “Are you okay? Where are you? Tell M I love him.”  The next text was from Keith.  It said, “Our house was hit.” 

Across town, shortly after my initial call to Keith, he watched it turn black outside – he didn’t hear any sirens.  When his ears suddenly popped, Keith grabbed the girls and ran to the closest “safe” place – our closet.  He laid over Emily and Molly on the floor of the closet and listened as a tornado went over our house.  The tornado took our garage, trees, fence, roof, two cars, boat, and bent our walls as he and our little girls huddled together – fragile and exposed.   

That was our tragedy.

Here’s our miracle:  Keith, Emily, and Molly walked out of that closet untouched and unharmed.  In our family room, all the windows blew in, parts of our neighbor’s home came into ours, and the furniture was destroyed.  Our two dogs were kenneled in the only corner of that room without glass and debris.  They were also untouched and unharmed.  Our home, unlike the homes of most of our neighbors, stood.  It was fixable.  My parents came that night and took the kids to their home in Kansas City while Keith and I began the work of sorting through belongings trying to salvage what we could as the rain poured in.  We moved into a rental house.

And life went on.  David started the third grade, Emily the second, and Molly went back to her wonderful preschool program.  Keith continued his work at a manufacturing plant in Joplin.  I began a new job as a hospice social worker.  The kids’ usual flurry of activities continued. And, while all this beautiful ordinary went on, our home was slowly rebuilt.

Seven months after the tornado we moved back home!  Our neighborhood is still empty: the trees are gone, homes are missing, our view is a path of destruction instead of homes and trees, and many of our neighbors have moved away.  However, there is construction and progress every day.  We have new neighbors on our right and old neighbors have returned across the street.  Joplin is rebuilding and healing.  The community is a supportive place for those whose stories were more tragedy than miracle.  In fact, this city feels more like home to us now than it ever has in the five years we’ve lived here. 

Life is good and the ordinary is more beautiful than ever.