Smaller, Weaker, Loved, Held.

I never had any reservations about moving back to West Michigan, even though I knew that the ghosts of my life hover more prominently in the curbs and corners of this place.

As I drive the tree lined roads of my hometown, my mind flashes back to the days I when experienced these streets not from the driver’s seat but from the back seat of the mini van.

Back when I was the little one with small control and big questions.

Now I have big control, or at least big responsibility, and the questions have only grown and gained weight.  Losing both my parents so quickly stole all my rights to feel like a kid and left behind the awful realization that I can’t “go home again.”

I know that I’m the parent now and I know that the home I’m cultivating will become my own children’s childhood, with all it’s wonders and perhaps all it’s resentment… but still I want to be the kids sometimes, to go home.

Don’t we all?  Don’t you?

Most of the time I love my motherhood and I love being the woman of the house… but sometimes?  I want to curl up on my mom’s lap and feel her flannel nightgown against my tear-stained cheek.

I long to confess to her that there are moments when I don’t feel like I can do it.  And would she tell me it’s okay?  And would she please run her fingers through my hair, just a little while longer?

I want ask my Dad why our mini van sometimes shimmies when it’s changing gears, I want to know that he’s there with his dolly to check things out should they go awry.  I want to serve him a plate of balsamic pork tenderloin and listen to all the ways he loves his grandchildren.

I’ve moved back home and realized that this Orphaned adult thing is so much harder when you’re constantly driving past the spots where it all fell apart.  The house, the train tracks, the cemetery.

I ache for them as I begin to create some of the same memories we made with my own children.  I can’t bring myself to visit their graveside yet.  Not even on memorial day.  There are other spots where they are no longer alive that I must deal with first.

Sometimes, in the middle of the day, sometimes in the middle of a task I fall onto our bed exhausted and pull my knees up to my chest and I feel way too big and not nearly brave enough.

nesting dolls

Continue reading

Unpacking the blessings (an update)

I think we’re long overdue for an update on the what-abouts of the Penny 4, yes?

It’s hard to write an update without it being really and truly a session of blessing counting, a run down on all the unimaginable ways in which God has showed up for us time and time again.

We are nearly completely unpacked and at least mostly settled into our new home, which couldn’t be more perfect.  This home came to us through the Hand of God via a dear old friend.  It has three bedrooms, it was spotless when we arrived, it’s gorgeous upstairs with a huge basement in a family friendly neighborhood.

While I busily googled duplexes God already has this home in mind for us.

Update College 3

We hosted two birthday parties for Noelle only a few weeks after we arrived and the feeling of having my family in our home was precious to me beyond words.

When it comes to the job situation, Kel accepted two pastor positions yesterday, That’s right Two!  One of them is short term and will require a commute and a few nights a week with Kel out of town each week.  The other is local and very exciting, we hope that it turns into a full time position sometime in 2014  and Kel is able to drop the weekends away from our family.

Yesterday when he returned home from his second interview he grinned at me and said: “I told you we’d be okay baby, 20 days here and I have two great jobs, God’s good.”

And he’s right God is so good.

God is fields of tulips good
God is last minute dinners out with friends good
God is Noelle serving my Grandma lemonade on her birthday good
God is bird watching with Caedmon in the early morning hours good
God is cool evenings with a Michigan breeze through the huge slider door good
God is local craft beers on Mother’s day good
God is fresh Rhubarb crisp in bed just before dozing off good

Life Collage

And as for what I’m up to?  I’m doing some work but I’ll include more about that later.  Right now I’m packing for a weekend away with writer friends that I couldn’t have ever made happen on my own. God sent it and I think it just may save my life because with all this good has come a whole lot of tired and overwhelmed.

No, the packing and the unpacking of life has left me little time or energy left to sift and unpack the musings of my heart.  So I think I’ll go pack one more thing… just a little bag of essentials so I can take the weekend off from… well everything really.

So I’ll see you on Monday, yes?

In the meantime, what are you up to?  What joys are you bursting with?  What are you unpacking?

Life lessons from Potato Salad

Memorial day is nearly upon us and with it comes the official beginning of summer, complete with all it’s sun warmed activities and delicious produce heavy food.

We all have our classic summer recipes, some go back generations and some are a gift from the google gods.  However you came across them I bet you have “your recipes” just as I do.  You know the ones I’m talking about right?  The ones that you are specifically asked to bring to picnics, cookouts and pool parties?

photo copy

Well my classic summer dish is “that potato salad,” which I make from scratch.  I’ve already made three batches this year and I see no end in sight.  I still have the leftover chilling in the fridge, waiting to cozy up to a burger or be enjoyed as stolen afternoon snack.

People who don’t like potato salad LOVE my potato salad, because it’s perfectly firm, lightly dressed and sprinkled with bacon.  It always surprises people when they try my potato salad because (and I quote) “I never even thought of making potato salad from scratch.”

Ugh, we are so conditioned by goopy store bought tubs of potato salad that the idea of starting with real potatoes never even crosses our minds anymore.

This disturbs me on several levels, one because your average potato salad has an artery clogging amount of mayonnaise and two because I worry we have gone too goopy and easy across the board.  I’m talking food, relationships, hobbies, clothing… all of it.   Continue reading

A prayer for the aftermath

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I don’t know about you, but today I find myself once more broken over the state of our world as I weather a day of heavy hearted tears for towns ripped apart by a wave of deadly Tornados.

Something about moments like these cause us to pray “Come Lord Jesus” and “Lord, don’t take us home yet” all in the same breath, wishing to return home and clinging hard to here.

Our heavy hearts find a deep sense of gratitude in the small things that only hours ago seemed so ordinary and everyday.

Dinner dishes in safe homes with hungry mouths still open wide and chattering loudly.

We go for seconds and thirds on bedtime hugs with our children, embraces that would last for hours if it wasn’t for the wills of clean and wriggly little ones.

We wonder why we still hold so much in our hands when others are going to bed wracked and empty.

With each tragedy it all makes less sense to me and I loosen my grip on the reigns realizing that we live in a gorgeous, broken place and serve a loving, gracious God who isn’t pulling the strings on these tragedies but reminding us that he will set it all right someday.

My tears are hot with grief and salty with hope.

I shake my fists at God a little less these days and spent much more time in prayer, 1 part grateful and 5 parts desperately asking for supplication.

We may sing “Where oh death is now your sting?” but in reality even the most faithful feel that sting like a persistent fog.

So I walk through the house, I flip the news on and then off again, I put my heart into basement play time realizing that as much as I think things will never change, they already have in an instant.

How dare I waste a day of this gift?  How do I remember this feeling in a few days when my life goes back to normal so unlike so many families in Moore.

I want to scribble this truth on my arms in sharpie: “You are blessed!  Grieve with those who grieve and delve deeply into your life!”

Because I have life, and I sustain life with the gift of momentary breath.

So Oklahoma, even though I’m newly removed from your soil, I will keep washing and wearing my crimson T-shirt to remind me who I am and what you gave me.

I will turn on News 9 and pray and cry for by the grace of God my Oklahoma children are still here, still making messes and asking for warm milk.

I pray yours are too.

Peace to you, the Peace of Christ to you

To Noelle on her fourth birthday




Oh my sweetness, we woke up this morning and you were four. Technically it all happened yesterday but I was so busy party prep that reflection time was non existent until bedtime.  Poor planning on my party.

But as evening fell we laid in bed together, readying Busytown books and reflecting on the day that you were born.  And all the beauty and spirit of your life washed over me like sweet music, pure and perfect.

I can’t believe it’s been four years since you burst onto the scene and we started this mother, daughter journey together.

When I watch you navigate your days I’m brought to tears by your gorgeous soul.  There’s a lot of talk about creativity these days, but you don’t even know what that words means even though you embody it in it’s purest form.

When you play outside with your imaginary bunnies, Piner, Buzz and Heinz, I wonder if perhaps you shouldn’t teach a segment on creativity at a conference somewhere.  The way in which you engage our world is astounding and watching you discover and explore life is truly one of my life’s greatest gifts.

These days I’m committing myself to tuning into what God poured into you and doing my best not to get in the way of it.  No, my job is to teach you discipline, patience and perseverance among a thousand other things.

I think you were born with the gifts of kindness, selflessness and hospitality.  We learned this deeper still yesterday as you greeted your party guests with hugs and served them each a blue, plastic cup of lemonade whether they wanted it or not.  You manned your station long after everyone had been served, pouring a dozen spare cups “just in case.”

We decided that it was your party, you could pour if you wanted to.

And pour you did, until the counter was full of cups and the floor was sugary sticky.

We had to peel you away from the lemonade station, there was too much lemonade poured.

Too much baby.

This reminds me of something I want to tell you, now and for the rest of your life:  The world is going to do a damn good job of telling you that you’re too much.  It does this to all of us but I worry that you’ll encounter it more than most as a creative, busy, beautiful girl and someday woman.

They may tell you that you’re too loud
Too wiggly
Too busy
Too curious
That you talk to much
That you weigh too much
Or that you’re too tall
Too ambitious ( I hope )
Too emotional

Too much.

And the worst part is that I know for a fact I have joined in the chorus and will continue to do so.  And that I’ll be the first one for whom you try to change, to please.

But try not to concern yourself with pleasing us.  Please God.  He’s the only one that matters when it comes to the art of pleasing, I know it won’t seem like that but it’s true beyond words.

My prayer for you today, on the occasion of your fourth birthday, is that you are already forming a resolve of inner contentment.  That you fall in love with the person God created you to be.  That your creative, lovely, compassionate core is protected from all who tell you that you’re not enough.

I pray that our home continues to grow into a place where you are loved “as is” and that we, your parents and family, are most interested in doing God’s work in your life.  That we are listening to his plan for your days and disregarding our unimaginative notions of who you should be.

I pray that God blares his will for you into our ears until it drowns our our human preferences.  

That he protects your from those who aren’t interested in loving you “as is” and try to conform you into something for their own selfish sake.

Most of all I’m thankful for the gift of Noelle.  You have undone and rebuilt me baby girl, in four short years with more to come. You have been a balm to my own relationship with my lost mother.  You are more than I could have hoped for, asked for, prayed for.

You are everything I was afraid of and exactly what I needed.

And God?  He is all knowing, so good, so worthy to be praised.

Grace, Selah, Amen and a Thousand thank yous to our Father.



Dear Mom, I’m not judging your tantrum

I think it’s possible that the best writing topics are the ones that bear a sense of deja vu.

The ones you’re fairly certain you’ve written about before, perhaps several times.  Those are the ones we need to keep processing and pursuing because clearly there’s something there.

So along those lines… mothering is tough.  And I think so often we feel judged by well, everyone really.

We feel judged by the people at the table next to us in the restaurant.
We feel judged because of the noise coming from our cart at the grocery store.
We feel judged because we’re just so crabby sometimes in public and doing a poor job at portraying the ethereal mom-gasm we’re supposed to be embodying.

The other day Kel and I decided to screw the budget and take our two lovely little ones out for breakfast at Holland’s The Biscuit before we ran new-house related errands.

I regretted this decision within the first minute we were in the door.  Caedmon threw two tantrums before we were seated and two more before the waitress arrived.

When I picked him up for a time out and some stern words he slapped me in the face and I swear to you, everyone saw it.  I promise that I heard the restaurant gasp in some sort communal oh “Oh snap!” and “What now, Mom?”

I was sure they saw me as a terrible mother with out of control children. I was so embarrassed that I wanted to melt into a puddle on the floor.  Surely they were all wondering why we brought our tantrum-y son out for breakfast to ruin their dining experience.

tatrum These are the moments of parenting that suck the strength from your soul and send you wondering if 11:00 A.M. is too early for a glass of wine… and does wondering this mean you’re an alcoholic?

But, with every terrible grocery shopping trip and taxing dining experience I’m coming to realize that most people are giving me grace when my children and their tantrums hijack my sanity.  Either that or they just don’t care.

Most people around you have been there before, the other Moms regard you with sympathy and the older ones just remember it with nostalgic fondness … somehow.   Continue reading

Our “Yes but not yet” Adoption Journey (a guest post at Adding a Burden)

Gods will is never completely clear to us while we’re still treading dirt. Yet, we cannot deny that we catch breathtaking glimpses of it now and then.  I may never be fully aware of the thousands of reasons behind our time in Oklahoma, but I have a pretty good idea that one of them centers around adoption.

A lot of people talk about adopting someday because it’s a neat idea, yet a small percentage of them pursue those words into reality.  We were always a couple who talked about how cool “maybe someday” adoption would be. Then we spend our time in Ada in a close knit group of adopting and fostering families and went from maybe… to when?”

Alongside those friends my fuzzy visions of adoption took on faces and names which came with a hearty dose of the realities of the adoption journey with all it’s paperwork and fundraising, all it’s highs and lows.

So today I’m over at my dear friend Jill Burden’s site today writing about our “yes but not yet” adoption journey:

I’ve read somewhere that if something makes you cry, it’s because your heart is
connected to it. It’s part of it and within whatever it is lies a resonance you shouldn’t

This concept perfect fits my heart for adoption. I can’t talk about it without crying and I
can’t relay my friend’s stories of adoption joy without tearing up. I often envision our
future family portraits on the mantle and they have a couple more children in them, and
they’re not necessarily ones I gave birth to, and I love that.

I’m currently not in the process of adoption, but I wish I was. I am however an adopted
Aunt to an 8 year old Ethiopian boy named Fetinet and my daughter started calling him
her brother without any prompting from us. He comes over on days when his school is
closed and he’s so comfortable in our home that he bosses my kids around a bit, but
that wasn’t always the case.”

To finish up please head on over to Jill’s space and while you’re at it follow her on all the social medias.  

Crap, I’m a sexist.

Earlier this week my friend Anne wrote a thought provoking post about women in the workplace.  You should go read it, really.  

We were texting about it as I folded laundry and my thoughts turned away from women in the workplace and onto my own life as a working woman.  True, I’m not in the workplace at the moment, but I AM working nonetheless.

I get up before most every morning with my early risers and start changing diapers, reading books and refereeing toy disputes.  I prepare three meals a day unless we’re reheating leftovers, and cycling laundry.  I am diligent about using my creativity to create a personal and comfortable ambiance in our home.  In between all of this I work on my writing career as well.    (This isn’t a post about about why women should be “at home” with the kids, it just happens to coincide with my current employment status)

I’m a mother, A chef, A Decorator, A writer, An engineer of blocks, A seamstress, A housecleaner, A book reviewer, A lover AND a fighter

See?  I’m working.  I don’t think many people dispute this, in fact I think a lot of people respect the life I lead and the way I balance my time.  

crap I'm a sexist Yet, there is one person who doesn’t respect me at all.  In fact the language they use is sexist, disrespectful and it degrades me to my very core.

This person is Me….  Crap I’m a sexist.

This is most prevalent in my language and thought life.  Allow me to illustrate:

Let’s say Kel offers to take the kids to the park so I can get some writing done.  I will always inevitably respond with: “Thanks, I’m sorry, Thank you, I really appreciate it.” Continue reading

home feels like…


Greetings from my dining room table in Michigan!  As you’d expect there are still boxes everywhere and my brain is fried… and then some… then some more.

But guys?  I’m just so happy to be back in Michigan, I’m feeling all the feels but mainly the overjoyed kind.

The most random things bring out the happy tears from me these days like green grass and grocery shopping.  I always thought that I would be adventurous and live somewhere truly exotic but it turns out that there is something about West Michigan that will always feel like home.  And now it feels like right here!

I want to write a sonnet for you about what coming home feels like… but for now I can only manage a list-style post, forgive me?

So here are the things that are thrilling me these days, the stuff of dreams that ring of home, of the right here right now of our life.

1) Sprawling lawns, carpets of soft fescue grass
2) Springtime flower beds dotted with every sort of tulip
3) A short drive to hobby lobby for creative supplies with Noelle
4) Cool breezes through our slider door, which looks out onto tall trees.
5) My Aunt Mar stopping over for a walk in the evening
6) Neighbor kids riding bikes down the street outside my front window
7) Tall trees, with bright spring leaves
8) Oberon on tap
9) The lure of Lake Michigan only 20 minutes away.
10) Drive through coffees at Biggby
11) Neighbors who stop over with cake and welcome cards
12) Planning girls nights in downtown Grand Rapids
13) Old friends asking to stop over and bring dinner.
14) Playing soccer on the front lawn.
15) Sleeping with the windows wide open and waking up to the morning song of bird life.
16) The joys of having a basement!
17) Crab Rangoon from Great Lakes Chinese enjoyed with friends who unloaded the truck
18) The promise of the Tulip Time Parade on Saturday
19) Grocery Shopping at Meijer
20) The hand of God doing more than I dared hope or trust in… like always.

Perhaps I’ll try to do a photo post soon of our new life here in Michigan?  It’s all weird and in-between as Kel finalizes job stuff and we head into summer but we are settling in and oh so happy.

What rings of home for you?  What simple pleasures bring silly, satisfied tears to your eyes?

What Oklahoma Gave me: A Beginning


Hello from a laundry basket in the middle of our mostly empty living room floor.

I have a grapefruit sized lump in my throat that makes basic function tricky.

I can see the sun coming up through the oval leaded glass window on our front door and it rises on my last moments in this home.  (and it’s all soundtracked by Jamey Johnson’s “In Color“)  

(If it looks like we were scared to death like a couple of kids just trying to save each other… you should have seen it in color)

And suddenly I’m watching a music montage of my own life happening all around me Continue reading