Orphan heart

Right now I have friends in Ghana who have taken the final steps to adopt their unspeakably beautiful five year old daughter. I have another set of friends who have just received the first pictures of their son in Ethiopia. I have still another dear friend who is fundraising her heart out to bring her son home from Russia. To top it all off I have even more friends who are searching their heart for what it means for their families to support or pursue adoption. Kel and I are are definitely in this last category, we have always talked about adoption as a big dream, someday sort of thing, but lately we have been fleshing it out with some deeper conversations.

It isn’t anything that will happen soon, my plate is currently full. If you ask me about more kids I will tell you this, almost verbatim: “My plate is full, my life has been crazy with people coming and going, being born and dying, I need to figure out how to live well with who I have and don’t have right now.” And I am sticking to it, unless God intervenes I don’t have any children on the horizon right now. I’m only 30, I have time.

Nevertheless my heart has been swelling and rejoicing for my friends who are walking the long road of adoption. When I see the faces of the children awaiting a family, my heart breaks and I’m ready to move three of them into bunk beds in the playroom tomorrow, or yesterday.

I have asked myself if I would be able to love adopted children as much as the two God gave us naturally, those I carried and nursed myself. My immediate answer is yes, because I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the love of people who aren’t my birth parents, those who adopted me later in life. I was an orphan at 29, which is not 3 or 5 but it has still left me with a parental hole, and God has placed aunts and friends in my life who love me dearly so I feel less adrift. Because I have received adoptive type love, I think I find it easier to give it, But if I’m honest with myself I find that this sort of love is easier to give than to receive.

For me I find it easier to give unconditional love than to believe that I am loved unconditionally, perhaps I’m not alone on that. I believe that I could love adopted children unconditionally, or at least as well as I love the two I conceived and carried. I love them pretty well and only threaten to bring them back to the hospital when their screaming sessions exceed two hours, which is pretty gracious if you ask me.

When I see the faces of these adopted children my heart brims and overflows in a matter of seconds. As if something in me is realizing that yes, deep undeserving and unconditional love is for real. That the Spirit of God is weaving his way into the hearts of those around me and through their hands and hearts Love is spanning the globe and filling up lives that stood in great need of the labors of love. I absolutely see these children as the sons and daughters of dear friends and I long for the day when their African children are just one of the kids running around our church, natural, comfortable and loved.

God calls us to care for all of his children, but my faith in this call must involve my commitment to giving receiving this love.

I keep imagining this picture of our family on the wall that includes the four of us and one or two african daughters. For now I will pray, support and search my heart. I want to let the spirit weave itself so deep in my fibers that I am his hands and feet, always. Bringing that love wherever and whenever I go. I want To learn to receive this love better, so it flows out of my imperfect heart beautifully, and changes a life or two.

How bad do you want it?

What is your passion?  Is it epic parenting?  Health or Weight loss? Medicine?  Art?  College or Grad School? Healing something broken?  Adoption and Orphans? What’s your thing?

How bad do you want it?

What are you doing about it?

Just a few months  before my Dad died he got big into the CD Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw, the first track on this Album is How Bad Do You Want It?  

One day in my parents kitchen he played me the song How Bad Do You Want it extremely loud.  As the song played he danced around and jabbed me in the ribs (typical Dad move) trying to get me into it.  I was preparing to move out on my own and start at a new school.  I was terrified I couldn’t cut it.  His question to me was in the title of the song: How Bad Do You Want It?

Essentially the song explains itself, if you want your dream badly enough you will eat, breathe and sleep it to make it happen, no matter what.  I wanted college, so I worked three jobs and crammed studying into the cracks in-between.  Now I want to write, so I’m up at 5 am trying to get a jump on things before the rest of the house spills from the back bedrooms with their morning attitudes and demands for a hot breakfast.  I’ll be tired later, and I’ll likely be in bed with my book at 8:30 and asleep by 9:30, but I’ll be chasing my God-given dream, so I’ll be happier for it.

I floundered for a while in-between high school and my first days at Kuyper College, and as my dad told me:  “you just haven’t found that thing you want to do yet.”  It’s hard to have focus and passion when you haven’t found your thing yet.  But remember, even if you’re searching you’re still required to live a life of integrity and follow through.  Just because you’re searching doesn’t give you the right to be a flake.

It’s Monday, when means that we have a whole new calendar week sprawled out in front of us.  Do you have something on your heart that you want badly?  Do you want it bad enough to shake up your life and make it happen?  You won’t make a big dent in the world unless you’re willing to change it up and run after what you want like your hair is on fire.  You will get tired, you will run out of steam and you will need encouragement.  So remember:

1) Finishing is harder than starting, the middle and end of your dream will be the hardest part. (Check out Jon Acuff’s finish year for more on this)

2) You’ll need support so share your dream with friends and family and ask them to encourage you.  Also get you some running buddies- find some people who are similarly passionate and learn from each other.  See each other as fellow runners, not competition.

3) Talk to God about your dream, ALL.  THE.  TIME.  Ask him to keep refiling your rapidly emptying tank and giving you perspective, energy and direction.

4) Check out stories of perseverance.  Nearly every successful person tripped and fell dozens of times before reaching their peak. Tim McGraw is actually one of them, that’s why he wrote How Bad Do You Want It.

I would love to pray for you and your dream, if you’re willing to share it with us here.  What’s Your Thing, what are you doing about it?  How can we help?

Dear Father, renew us, refresh us and direct us as we arise this Monday morning, mugs in our hands and dreams in our hearts.  

Choosing Joy 2-26-12

It was Thursday, it was windy, it was warm.  We were are the park, all four of us trying to cram a little family time in-between work and a board meeting.  My Soul-eyes were wide open and I was fully at the park with my family, undistracted and tuned in.  My daughter ran for a pile of last October’s leaves and started tossing them around.  The Oklahoma wind picked them up and send them flying and swirling, delighting her two year old spirit.  We were letting my son crawl around at the park for the first time ever and upon seeing the flying, swirling leaves he made a beeline for his sister and tried tossing them himself, hoping for the same effect.

There were so many giggles and grins and wide-open eyes.  Were they always this joyful?  How often was I missing moments like this, hiding behind a sinkfull of dishes and an iPhone screen?  How many joyful moments did I waste?

Oh God, remember how you put mud on the blind mans eyes and the scales fell off?  I want that for my heart and soul, I want to see more moments like this, I beg you.  Amen.

Here are a few ways I chose joy this week.

In Pictures

Gift 46- She discovers the wind in the leaves and we are not too busy to notice.

Gift 47- He discovers her in the leaves and imitates, his learning on display for us to see.

Yup, I get on the slide too, I'm all in with them at the park this week.

Gift 51- My Kel carrying little man around Lowes because he was so tired that he slept on his daddy's shoulder.

1000 Gifts Dare– Didn’t log as many gifts this week, as usual I am behind but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop counting, I am over 50 now thought!  Gallery here

In Food
This week was crazy and I didn’t cook anything new or exciting.  My favorite two meals were takeout actually.  First a late night chinese dinner of broccoli chicken with Kel as we just breathed the silence of the house.  Then a pizza picnic on the living room floor which was low key until my little man sat on his big sister’s pizza.  I found joy in the simplicity of easy food enjoyed with people I love.

On Screens

What song have 75% of our family been singing to themselves this week?  Why the Oscar nominated “Man or Muppet” of course.  I haven’t gotten to see the movie yet, but Kel has and since we do enjoy the muppets I’m sure I’ll check it out.  Please enjoy the cameo by Jim Parsons!

This week was busy, this week was long, there was sickness, poop and overtime at Kel’s job, yet Grace abounded and we chose to see the joy even in the less than ideal moments.

Abundance- No one else can do your thing.

Describe Squirrels in one word.  If you’re like me you may use the word anxious, they’re always out there skittering around, gathering nuts and staring us down nervously.  They’re worried you’re after them or their stash, you’re probably not, but squirrels be crazy like that.

Want to know something about my past?  I used to be a productivity consultant with Franklin Covey.  I used to assist other people in becoming more organized and productive.  Before you get too impressed, you must know that this gig was mostly me in high heels selling planners at the mall.  However, in those days I was highly efficient, hyper organized and I wore really cute shoes and pants that were non elastic.

Nowadays I feel so disorganized that I barely remember to pay our water bill, in fact, crap, I need to go do that.  Sit tight…

Okay, water crisis averted, now back to Franklin Covey.  Many of you may have read or at least heard of the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s not new or obscure.  Its long and life changing and if you don’t have time to check it out you should at least give the concept of the 7 Habits a once over.  It’s all very responsible and grown up, but don’t let that make you nervous, ordering your inner self is a good thing, it will leave you feeling ultimately more free.

One of the things that stuck with me from this book is the concept of the Abundance Mentality, which basically means that there is enough success and happiness out there for everyone, it’s not a pie, when someone else succeeds there is still a 100% chance that you can too.  We can be great alongside of each other, not in spite of each other.  Yet we turn everything into a competition.  Whatever your passion is, we all compare ourselves with each other, and feel jealous sometimes, it’s just a sinful human thing.  I do this more than I care to confess, somewhere deep inside me I worry that my success banks on other people’s lack of success.

For example: when I visit the site of an blogger who is getting more comments than I am or had been offered a book deal, I get a touch jealous and a wee bit anxious.  Inside I am screaming, they’re sucking up all the readers and book deals, I’m screwed!  I’m too late!

This is ridiculous because no one else can do my thing, or yours for that matter. Comparing our success to other people’s reduces us both to one dimensional people.  We’re all so deep and God molded us so uniquely that there is no way someone else is remotely capable of “doing your thing”.  Your success is comprised of what you were given, where you’ve been, what you’re surrounded with and what you choose to do with it.

This shouldn’t make us lazy or cause us to procrastinate rather it should reduce our hoarding, squirrely mentality.  The abundance mentality opens our eyes to the fact that God has placed us in a world where there is room for all of us to bloom under his nurturing and in his time.  God didn’t set us up to compete with each other, forever anxious that someone else is honing in on our nut.  No, no that’s not of God at all.

I wrote this mostly for me, to remind myself that whatever God has in store for me, he has created space for it.  When I worry that he hasn’t what I’m really saying is that I’m worried someone can express my heart better than I can. And that’s hogwash, poppycock, and other fun antiquated phrases that mean dumb.

No one else can do your thing, so stop worrying about it.  Say it out loud right now, and make everyone in the room feel a little awkward. Then go put it on a post it note or needlepoint it if you’re feeling like getting your inner granny on.

yes that's supposed to be a needlepoint-ish heart at the bottom

NO ONE ELSE CAN DO YOUR THING, FULFILL YOUR PURPOSE OR LIVE YOUR LIFE.  So get after it.

Sucker for Hope- The Pirate Elephant Saga

This is my one year old son’s little toy elephant.  When you pull his tail he plays a lullaby and our little man can’t nod off without him.  He was intended for a soft snuggly life of comfort and happiness.  The only problem is that when I was painting my sons room “peaceful meadow” green a few months ago, I dropped a big drip of  paint directly on his eye.  My son wasn’t even all that attached to him before I maimed his eye with “peaceful meadow” but after I blinded him in one eye I started putting him in bed with our son every night, to try to make up for maiming him so badly.  I feel very real guilt over what I did to this poor elephant, so much so that I’ve spent real time thinking about ways to make it up to him.  I feel like in his current state he’s probably the creepy guy of the playroom, that when we all leave the house and the toys come alive that he’s probably singled out and alone.  The thought of this breaks my heart, so I have decided to give him a cool orange eye patch and give him a sort of “dos equis most interesting” toy in the world persona.

I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about why I got so broken up about the one eyed elephant.  I came to understand that it touched on something deep inside me, I have a real passion to see people realize their created potential.  My heart breaks for those who experienced pain that has stunted their growth and screwed with their hope.  I hate the thought of orphans across the world that go uncared for, unloved and unfed.  And yes, I experience real guilt when I maim a stuffed elephant.

I am a bleeding heart when it comes to hope, restoration and redemption.  I love to go out to the salvage yard and give an old chair a new chance to bring warmth and comfort to our home.  When a marriage fails, a diagnosis is terminal, a small business doesn’t make it or a friendship cannot be reconciled something aches within me.  All that hope down the drain instead of growing and bringing beauty to our world, it’s just not the way it should be.  Our world and lives are full of moments where hope doesn’t pan out, where potential isn’t realized but rather squandered, every moment holds potential for beauty but as we grow up we stop seeing the world for all that it could be and we start to give up hope.

This passion for hope and restoration is something that God put inside all of us, in my world sometimes it comes out in silly ways but mostly it defines my calling.  I feel called to help people restore their hope, to unload their brokenness and exchange it for the easier yoke of God through Jesus, whose entire life’s purpose was to bring restoration to everything.  When you see something broken, full of unrealized hope and potential and something stirs within you, that’s God using you to bring about his redemptive work.  His business is to restore, renew and reunite.   Romans 8 says all creation groans to be set right again, from the fields all the way up to the cosmos.  It’s funny what God will use to remind us of our calling.

All around us are is brokenness and God works through our hands and feet, I so want to be used this way today.

How are you being nudged and broken to redeem and restore?

Well I’m off to sew an eye patch for a musical elephant.  Hope you get after something quirky and wonderful of your own.

Parenting in the Valley

  

This week, I’m excited to be guest posting over at my good friend Jenni’s parenting blog Just-Mama Jenni.  

I’m the proud and busy mom of a 1 year old son and a 2.5 year old daughter.  Just before the birth of our son, as I was plowing through my third trimester, my own mother took her life after a long and hard fought battle with depression and anxiety.  Processing the pain and shock of her suicide has been a big part of my parenting journey, so when Jenni offered me the option of writing for all of you I thought long about what unique insight could add to the archives she’s already shared with us.  I would like to write about what its like parenting your way through a difficult season in your life.  I feel this important because it will to all of us at one point or another.  Be it grief, divorce, illness or something entirely other, you will find yourself parenting in the valley.  Here is what I learned that helped me hold our family together even when it seemed as though things were falling apart.

1. Seasons- When we hit a valley season in our life we can fall into the trap of thinking that our family room will always feel gray and depressing.  It won’t, life is composed of seasons, both light and dark.  This is just a chapter in your family book, a formative one yes, but not the defining one.  If you fight on, there will be others and that spirit will be what defines you.  Don’t lose hope, instead grasp it tightly, you will need it.

2.  Back to Basics- When you’re struggling, it’s okay to strip your routine and to-do list down to the essentials and just “get by” for a while.  Eat a few pizzas, let the dust build up, buy jarred baby food and do whatever you need to do to make things easier for your family.  Real pain takes real time to work through and heal from.  Graciously cut yourself as much slack as possible.  My mom died just before Christmas and I stayed in on Thanksgiving, didn’t do Christmas cards and I didn’t decorate the tree.  I took baths and read books, I didn’t do much more than take care of my daughter and breathe and I have no regrets about that.

For the rest of the post please visit her blog to read on

Choosing Joy 2-19-12

I’m still wandering through Ann Voskamp’s 1000 gifts and I have started using her nifty app to count the gifts I see in my own life.  I am trying to do 1000 this year, but as is always the case with my bible reading plans and devotional guides etc, I’m a bit behind.  Typically I let this make me feel bad, but I’m just going to keep counting gifts, reading on and breathing deep.

I love the concept of choosing joy no matter where life takes you, because attitude is a choice.  And its one that effects the day of everyone you interact with.  So on Sundays I like to sit and write about some of the ways that I managed, by the grace of God, to find and choose joy this week.

In Pictures:

These are taken from my flikr photo stream, which I use via Ann Voskamps 1000 gifts app on my iPhone.  Hopefully before 2012 comes to a close I’ll be counting gift #1000+

Gift #40- This year, inspired by our friends Andy and Katie, we celebrated ValenTOMS day on valentines day.  1) because we needed new shoes and 2) we like this company.  TOMS shoes are perfect for us because they slip on, work well in the Oklahoma climate 80% of the year and make us look hipper than we really are.  Win Win Win.

Gift #41- Is there anything that makes a gal happier than a fridge full of useful, delicious and healthy food?!  With Berries on sale in February?!  I mean diamonds are great but they don’t help me when both kids are screaming for a post-nap snack, but blueberries and string cheese do.  This right here, this is a gift.

Gift #44- Last night as we unwound in bed Kel filled me in on the Joshua Bell Washington Post Experiment, click the link if you need to be filled in too.  The whole idea behind this is that we walk by immaculate beauty all the time and are too busy to see it.  That concept caused me to hop outside barefoot this morning to snap this photo of the sun rising over our neighbor’s farm and the light shone like a prism through our glass front door.

On the Blog (in case you missed it)

The most popular posts this week were 5 valentines tips for imperfect marriages, like mine and The Coldest March, the loss of my Dad.

This week was the biggest week I’ve had on my blog yet and I am so thankful to all of you who commented and shared my story, please continue to do so anytime God speaks to you through this space.  

In Food:

Kel made us the pioneer woman’s pork tenderloin on Thursday night and it melted in our mouths.  There are still 4 slices leftover, and I think we may have a rock, paper scissors duel for them at lunch.  I’m going Rock but don’t tell Kel.

Jessica Seinfeld’s Banana Peanut Butter muffins as found in Deceptively Delicious.  I always have what I need in the house to make them, and this week it was one of our 2 yr old’s first baking experiences.  She got to enjoy something she made herself and I didn’t have to cook breakfast this morning, special stuff right there.

In Books

I feel like there is so often a pull to read only non fiction, and for almost my entire 20s I adhered to this mantra.  I purchased Donald Miller, Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne and to be honest, I didn’t always read them all the way through.  I learned that I need to layer fiction and non fiction to make reading work for me.  Fiction is like a treat and it helps me be a better thinker, mother and writer.  It’s an escape from my daily life into someone else’s and sometimes it has a more positive effect on me than non fiction.

Currently I’m enjoying The Island by Elin Hilderbrand and it’s a good, easy read that lets you in on some family drama set on a tiny New England Island.  A Perfect bath tub read, which is exactly what I did for over an hour last night.

On Screens:

This week I enjoyed a little Grey’s Anatomy, the Movie Crazy, Stupid Love, and The Big Bang Theory of course.  I still have yet to start Downton Abbey (ack!), but honestly the thing I enjoyed most was this ridiculously fun you tube video about a guy singing his order at sonic.  More songs should include lyrics about Cheese Tots.

I pray that this week, you become a bit more talented at choosing joy and counting gifts in your own life.

Old Faithfuls- My first Toms

ye ol’ faithful Toms

These are my first pair of TOMS.  They’re burlap on the outside and soft, flag-print fabric on the inside.  I love them and I don’t think I could ever bring myself to throw them out.  I’m not a sentimental person, I throw everything out, one year I got trash-happy and threw away all our W2s during tax season (I’ll never live that down).  On our great MLK Day purge of 2012 I threw gave away my favorite pair of lacy ballet flats and I have no idea why.  Yet these shoes may stay in a box, in my closet forever.

If you read the bible enough you’ll learn that feet are a big deal spiritually.  People were constantly removing their shoes in holy places, or washing each others feet as  acts of service.  I’m sure it has everything to do with the fact that feet carry us on our life journey.  They are quite literally what connects us to the earth God placed us on.  I bought these TOMS in Waco, Texas with my sweet friend Ally while we were attending the David Crowder Fantastical Conference together.  I was helping lead the trip and so, because I’m not entirely perfect, I encouraged a few of our students to skip an afternoon session to play hooky to get coffee and shop.  I’m a fantastical leader but I was pregnant and falling asleep from too much sitting and a post-lunch brick wall.  We all needed a break to wake ourselves up if we were going to absorb anything else of value later that evening.  So on a whim, in a trendy college shop at Baylor, I adopted these now tattered and torn burlap shoes.

I put them on immediately and they carried me through the rest of the conference where my soul was fed with words and music I needed more than I could ever describe.  I fell in love with Gungor, Common Grounds Coffee Shop and Baylor University on that trip, it was an immensely live giving weekend in Waco.  I never knew how much I would need it, it was only a week later that my Mom took her life.

These shoes carried me from a Spiritual High, through the challenges of processing suicide, to the hospital to welcome a son and on walks around the lake to sift through all the new pieces of my life.  They feel like old friends or faithful companions who walked with me through a searingly painful and transformative season.

But how does one honor shoes?  I know its the  Father-God behind that season who is worthy of all the praise, yet I see him, I feel the enormity of that time through these two, well-worn burlap shoes.  I simply can’t throw them out, so perhaps they deserve a special resting place, a Shoe-box shrine where they can rest safely on the top shelf of my bedroom closet.  They’ve been so good, so faithful to me, a gift from God and a reminder that he unceasingly carries us from spiritual highs, through lows and back again, and again and again.  Well I’m off to decorate a shoe box before the kids wake up from naps.

My Story Part two- The cold march, the loss of my Dad

No matter how much I grow in faith and trust in God I still don’t trust a ringing phone, it could be bring something as simple as “pick up milk” or something far more serious.  I have good reason for my disdain, my world has been rocked by ringing phones.  I shared about the phone call I received from my Dad that brought the news of my sister Laura’s car/train accident.  That one was bad, this one is worse, but first a little backstory.

I got a late start on growing up.  I wavered and quit, trying different colleges and majors before I found my place at a small bible college.  My transcripts were a mess of failed and dropped classes.  I spent my paychecks at TGI Fridays or the mall and I borrowed money from my parents, which I never paid back.  Even with the hopes of another new college on the horizon, my Dad was frustrated to his breaking point and in an effort not to enable me, he kicked me out of the house.  I was 22 and terrified, and really pissed at him so I left without anywhere to go.

For a while I lived in a make shift bedroom in my cousin’s basement, sleeping on the worst pull out couch imaginable.  When my best friend Becky got back from a semester in Spain we started apartment hunting together and decided on a 3rd floor, two bedroom apartment mostly because it was cheap.  We paid no attention to the fact that it was in a really ghetto and high crime neighborhood.  We ended being the only apartment on our floor whose tenants weren’t evicted at least twice during our lease.   Some lessons you have to learn the hard and dangerous way, like don’t live in a drug neighborhood even if it means more square feet.

We moved in the first week of January, the same week that I started a new job, a new college and turned 22.  I was so busy that my Dad and Mom set up the apartment for me and my Dad even painted us a couple of wine red accent walls.  We were so crazy proud of our new place.

Amidst the pride however, I was terrified of my first round of bills.  Pay Rent? Utilities? Groceries?  I was anxious that I couldn’t cute it so I took the next logical step and got three jobs and stopped sleeping.  My brilliant plan was to work days in an office after my classes, overnight at a coffee shop and weekends delivering newspapers with my Dad.  I wouldn’t sleep from Tuesday morning until Saturday afternoon, but I got free espresso so I was determined to make it work.  I sustained that pace for two weeks, and after sleeping through all my classes and sobbing from lack of sleep I quit the coffee shop for a weekend waitressing job serving burritos and margaritas to mall shoppers.

February rolled around and I managed to pay all my bills, I had no money for food buy my end of the roommate agreement was fulfilled.  I decided that my parents would feed me so one night I headed to their place to watch My Dad try out his new George Foreman Rotisserie.  After dinner my Dad headed to the garage to work on one of our 4 mini vans, which were always breaking down from the start and stop of the paper route.   Immediately I put my head in my hands and sobbed apologies to my Father as he laid on a dolly underneath the blue Dodge Caravan.  I was ashamed of how irresponsible I’d been and how I had made my parent’s life harder with my debt.  I apologized up and down for my behavior and told him that I couldn’t pay him back just then, because I only had $37 left for two weeks of food and gas, but someday I would make things right.

He rolled the dolly out from under the car and beamed at me, clearly his strategy of kicking my butt out the nest had worked as planned.  He forgave me and I could see the pride in his eyes, it was something I hadn’t seen from him in a while, I hadn’t given him much to be proud of.  He stood up and started filling grocery bags with frozen hamburger meat and boxed potatoes au gratin and there in that moment our relationship changed.  He saw me as an adult, he took pride in me, he answered every phone call and he was my biggest fan.

One freezing cold morning in mid March, four years almost to the day after my sisters accident, I was working my job as a Driving School secretary when my cell phone rang, it was my mom.  I was on the work line with a customer arguing about a failed road test so I let my cell go to voicemail.  Immediately it rang again so I politely put the angry mother on hold and answered it asking my Mom to wait just a second.  She said she couldn’t wait: “Leanne, you have to come home, I think Daddy’s dead.”  

I hung up with numbly, she thought he was dead?  Thought leaves wiggle room, right?  But I had heard the terror in her voice and I knew.  I managed to pick up the line with the angry  road test mom and tell asks her to call back Monday because my Dad had just died.  I locked up the office and called my  then-boyfriend Kel to fill him in.  I had no information to give him other than my mom thought my Dad was dead and that I was headed home.  He begged me not to drive in my current state, so I found a friend to meet me halfway and deliver me home.

As we pulled up to my parents house I saw ambulances and police cars.  I was so confused, he wasn’t sick so I was guessing car accident on the paper route but after a quick inventory I realized that all the mini vans were accounted for, undamaged in the driveway.  I jumped out of the car and ran through the garage to find our neighbor Bob, sobbing on the front steps.  He hugged me and said “I’m so sorry Leanne, he was such a good man.”   Confirmation, my Dad is gone.

I walked in the house, my Mom grabbed me,  I learned that she’d gone downstairs to the office to file a few bills and found him in his chair, the life long gone from him.  He had died sometime around 2AM from a massive heart attack while playing a game of spider solitaire on the computer.  I wasn’t allowed to see his body but I from the way they laid him out at the bottom of the steps, I could see his hand.  He was wearing his yellow fleece jacket, the one we had gotten him that Christmas.  They sent use to a back bedroom while they carried him out to the ambulance to deliver him to the coroner. Everything after that is just blurs and flashes from that day.  Family and friends came in and out, we exchanged words and tears.  Becky forced me to eat a piece of pizza and followed me everywhere, even into the bathroom.  I couldn’t tell you where I slept that night or how I got there.

The next morning we all gathered again and descended the stairs at Cook Funeral Home to plan our formal goodbye.  I remember weighing in on so many surreal questions, which flowers?  which casket?  What photo for the obituary.  You don’t know until you’ve walked through it, but there are a lot of whats and whens in death.  Somehow we got it all arranged and in the middle of coffee and phone calls to Kel I realized that I had nothing appropriate to wear to the funeral.  So we headed to the mall and I let me friends dress me up like a paper doll.  They chose a flared black skirt and jacket, with a bright green lace camisole underneath for a pop of color.  I loved my Dad, he was energy incarnate, the least I could do was add a pop of color to his funeral.

When you lose someone the moment usually arrives when you go to view their embalmed body for the first time.  Many people will tell that their soul is in heaven and that its just a shell.  They are correct, but for me there is a lot of sentimental attachment to a human body.  If its okay to be attached to a house, a car or a piece of jewelry then surely you are allowed to have a fond attachment for the body that housed the soul you loved.  I loved his face, his blue eyes always hidden behind paint speckled glasses, his tight and tired muscles that body was how I saw my father’s soul come to life.

Approaching his lifeless body in the casket was a cold cold march through the funeral home doors.  There he was, and there he wasn’t anymore. There he would never be again.  Dead skin is so  jarringly cold, it’s lifeless flesh a shock to the touch.  That cold touch confirms every fear, there is no escape when death is laid out in front of you.

The funeral process was exhausting and as I took my place in the parlor, greeting and receiving those who came to grieve alongside us I gazed across the room at my Mother.  There she stood in her black dress pants and Merrill hiking shoes.  If I had seen her drift away with mental illness before that moment, then it seemed as though she was totally gone on that day.  Her eyes looked hollow and empty, as if her soul had left and laid down in the casket with my father longing to join him in his peaceful end.

Kel flew in from Oklahoma for the funeral and one of my brightest memories during that week is of him, walking around the funeral home and handing out water bottles to my family.  If they were on the fence about him before, his supportive and loving presence there solidified things.  As I followed the casket out the church, scattered in easter lilies, I saw his face and my world felt a bit brighter, a bit safer.  I knew he was “my guy” now.  The one who had my back, would kill my spiders and talk to the mechanics on my behalf.  I breathed a silent prayer as I marched, for my Oklahoma boy.

We gathered at the cemetery to return his body to the earth, it was the coldest moment of my life.  I’d stepped in a puddle and my black ballet flats were saturated with melted snow.  The funeral home had set up a walled tent around the grave, but even those thick strips of canvas couldn’t keep out the bitter wind of that March. My uncle prayed and I wept bitter and long.  My little brother played his trumpet for our Father, the man who never missed a band concert or a booster meeting.  The casket lowered, we threw our flowers and it was over.  There were no more formal events, just lives tattered with loss.

That night I tried to sleep at my aunts house, just two blocks from the cemetery.  I couldn’t stop thinking that his body was out there, growing colder and farther away.  I was restless, desperate and terrified.  God provided my friend Melissa a milk shake, and the energy to drive to my small ghetto apartment and sleep long and hard.  I had lost but I was never alone.  God sustained me with constant blasts of warmth.  Tn the midst of the cold there was soup, warm embraces, comfort and even laughter.  I was bathed in prayer, swimming in support and I never marched alone.

When a week passed I had to take Kel to the airport and head home without him.  It was the first time I’d been alone since the phone call.  The void felt infinite and terrifying, I was all by myself, alone with all that loss.  That’s when I realized that even in that dark, frozen cold moments there were always beams of hope and spots of light all around me.  There were so many break downs and get-back-ups on my journey through grieving my Dad.  There was anger and depression, and an ocean of tears but always, always hope.

I grieved the only way I knew how, fiercely and with hope.  I’d gotten half a dozen lilies that were making my apartment smell like a funeral home, so one night Becky and I threw them off the balcony  and watched them slowly die in the snow.  I did what I needed to do to survive and survival meant an apartment that smell normal, not like death. As I reflect back on what I wrote just days after Dad’s death I breathe deep thanks to God for helping preserve my hope:

March 25- 2005: “I am broken and I am barely breathing. But I promise you that somehow, someday I will go on. I am forever altered. I will need to be built up again. I don’t know how, I know it’s God, I was just given another breath, and for now that will sustain me.”

April 5- 2005: I really am trusting in God, taking steps in that direction. I can either let this destroy me or change me for his work and his world. Lots of people tell me that God is preparing me for something, and right now I don’t think about that. Mostly I just keep breathing. And try to sleep at nights, which is a new sucky problem that I have been having…Life is not good right now, but I live in faith that it will be again and I shall emerge better, somehow… and of course never the same but, a different me, I guess every day brings a different you, and if you’re not changing then… stop staying the same, there is too much life for stagnancy.” 

I am forever thankful to God that through my journey, he has always sustained and fed me, allowing my hope to stay alive even when it was tiny bud fighting up through mud and pain.  There is no guarantee against the inevitable sting of death, it has come and it will come again.  The more of your hope and life you transfer into the unfailing hands of God, the more peace and hope you gain.  This is just one painful piece of my journey.  Thank you sharing it with me.

The Pizza Paradigm

I like to make things complicated and I love to go over the top.  If it were up to me everything would be healthy, fancy and made by hand or from scratch.  I would also like to write a book and run a 5k… and be an epic parent… and an gracious and loving wife… and a volunteer at church… and a great friend…and a gourmet cook …and…. anyone else exhausted just reading this?  Then allow me to tell you the lesson I learned last night over a valentines pizza.

Last night my husband had to work late, like 10PM late.  Nevertheless I was determined to find some space to connect, so we decided to share a very late Valentines Dinner together.  I got a Pork tenderloin which I was going to season with Herbs de Provence and then glaze in peach preserves and serve next to garlic roasted asparagus and pink champagne.  Fancy and Romancey, eh?

All day I found myself entirely drained by simply keeping up with the day’s tasks.  I had organized the preschool party and made 24 individual heart shaped mini pizzas for the kids.  Made pink pancakes in the shape of hearts!  Also, it didn’t help that my daughter painted the couch with vaseline when I wasn’t looking, no, that didn’t help at all.

By 8 PM they were both asleep and I surveyed my house, the vaseline couch, the pink pancake batter splats and the gold fish crackers smashed into the carpet.  It would be hard for me to relax and find my romantic place in chaos, plus there was the dinner to start on and candles to scatter and light.  I found myself with a decision, should I find my reserve tank, pull out all the stops and exhaust myself for the sake of Valentines Day?  Or could there possibly be another way?

I usually shoot over the top, and I’m learning that it drains me.  When it’s finally time for the party, the moment or the big reveal I have nothing left to give and no energy what I worked so hard to perfect.  The pork tenderloin would have put me over the edge last night so when I opened the fridge to put the milk away my solution presented itself.  There on a pan were three leftover, unbaked little heart pizzas.  So I preheated the oven, whipped up a simple salad and dust busted the goldfish out of the carpet.  Then I poured a glass of wine and picked up my book to wait for Kel to get home.  When he walked in 45 minutes later I had something in my heart to give him.  Making the pizza / tenderloin swap gave me margin and allowed time for me to recharge.

We ate our little pizzas, drank pink champagne and had two cupcakes a piece.  And I didn’t count calories or freak out about the piles of laundry visible just over Kel’s shoulder.  I just soaked in the moment, because it was rare and beautiful.  It reminded us of our sparky beginnings, the difficult middle and the sweet right now.  The evening was bathed in simplicity and contentment, perfect in its imperfection.

Preschool leftovers and ikea tea-lights scattered among plastic farm animals turned out to be the most simple, beautiful Valentines Day ever.  The pizza swap taught me a valuable lesson about living.  So often we think that our kids, friends and family need something over the top to feel loved.  Or maybe we feel like we need to show off through posting pictures of perfect decorations or expensive gifts.  We get wrapped up in the details and forget the people at the heart of it all.

In the end the people we love really just want a small gesture and our full presence and whole hearts.  If we don’t take it easy on the prep work and details, we will miss out on the beauty of the celebration, the huge smiles and the little moments that make up the full life we really want.

So I found a paradigm shift in little pizzas, and Kel bought me a new pair of Toms shoes too.  All in all, Best. Valentines. Ever.