Heaven and Matchbox Cars (guest post at Deeper Family)

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I’m an orphaned adult, I have been since I was 28. It’s about as tough as you would
imagine it is, this parentless existence, but the pain is sharpest when I reflect on all my
children are missing out on, the grandparents they will never have.

There is a very real ache that comes from realizing that your parents will never meet
your children. Never play out all the imaginary scenarios they created in their minds
when they projected their lives forward.

It flies in the face of how things were supposed to be. They should be here, grilling at
birthday parties and buying cutesy outfits at SAMs club. Their faces were supposed to
grace the snapshots of our lives, all covered in mud and frosting and childhood.

As a parent, I have to swallow this lump most of the time and focus on what we do 
have, how richly we are blessed and all that can still be. So I bring them to life for my
children with stories and photographs and a few old VHS videos of family camping trips.

I tell them about Mommy’s Mommy and Daddy, that they’re in heaven and that I miss
them a lot.

On my brightest and best days I raise thankful hands, for we are loved as a family,
adopted and held by a group of people I count as family, as essential, each one an
unspeakable gift.

On my darker days? I feel jilted and harbor jealous resentment toward my friends for
simply having parents. For posting grandpa pictures on Facebook and sending their
kids to “grandma camp.” This sucks twice because it leaves me feeling like an orphan
AND a bad friend.

The other day, in a slump of melancholy, I let it slip to my four year old daughter that
everything dies: people, animals, flowers, all of it. At first I thought she’d brush it off and
go back to her daydreamy play, but instead she burst into tears.

Because I’d just hit her with one of life’s harshest realities, the one that breaks our
hearts from the moment we internalize it.

Please click over to Deeper family to finish up this post and if it’s your first time there, dig in, it’s really one of the most beautiful blogging collectives online.

Big news, Big fears and lots of feels.

I think that some of the best news you ever get to announce in life is usually two parts excited and one part scary.  Like pregnancy or a book deal or a big kid job… exciting but, pretty scary and fraught with thoughts of inadequacy.

I have news like that, news I’ve had to keep under wraps for a bit… while things became a little more…. official.

Our family is planting a church.  Technically Kel is, as it’s going to be his full time work, but this sort of thing is best done as a family endeavor.  

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It’s a church replant in downtown Grand Rapids, in a 100 year old building that is sitting empty right now. All except the food pantry in the basement (something which makes me feel better about everything)

We’re going to be moving to an area where the schools are a little sketchy and I won’t be able to leave my car keys in the ignition anymore.

And I’ll be an official pastor’s wife, with all the expectations and feelings that go with that and trust me when I say that I am feeling all. the. feels.

This journey doesn’t kick off until January, so right now we sit in a time of in-between, more optimistically a time of preparation… I guess. Kel is so ready to start the somedays I wonder if his head is going to explode with excitement and really beautiful, tender, God-given ideas.

Even among the scariest moments of anxiety over this church planting journey, I believe that God is working through Kel. That He is in this.  It gives me something to hang onto when the ride feels a little too wild and I sort of want to get off.  

Some moments I wonder why the city needs another church just like most days I wonder why the internet needs another blogger. Some days my melancholy gets me all “lamentations-ey” and I start in with the “meaningless, meaningless… a chasing after the wind” talk.

Other days I yell at Kel and tell him that our family isn’t strong enough to do this right now.  Although in my bones I truly believe that God calls us to do the hardest tasks when we feel the least equipped, the weakest, the most wobbly.

I know that we’re experiencing an attack of sorts. I hate even writing about that because so many of us got SO SICK of that phrase and concept: “I feel like the enemy is really trying to attack us right now.”

But does that mean that it stopped being true? Continue reading

Dragons, Big Fish and doing Art with preschoolers

So you know how the second you find out you’re pregnant you run to the store to buy your very. own. copy of “What to Expect when you’re Expecting?”  The what to expect people have resources to see you through from pregnancy to preschool and today I’m writing for them about preschoolers, dragons and art.  

photo copy Every year, our hometown of Grand Rapids transforms the heart of the city into an interactive art competition known as ArtPrize. Visitors and citizens are encouraged to spend three weeks visiting the 168 venues and taking in more than 1,500 pieces of art.

Then, the winners are entirely decided by a vote of the people, and the winner walks away with $200,000.

Enter me, writer, blogger, art lover, and mother of two vibrant preschoolers, ages 4 and 2.5. Not only do I want to engage in this explosion of creativity for myself, but I want to use it as a springboard for which to introduce my children to the breadth and heart of the art world.

I have to admit, I didn’t have a plan going into it. I just loaded the mini van with sippy cups, snacks, and a backpack harness for my wandering toddler and headed downtown.

I navigated the highway on-ramp while thinking about how to frame the meaning of elusive concept of art in a way my children would understand, at least a little.

“Hey guys, what you think art is?”

My two-year-old son looked up from his bowl of grapes, gave an emphatic “I don’t photo copy 3know!”and returned to his snack.

My four-year-old daughter, however, was keen to engage the topic. “Mom, art is something you make with crayons and paint and paper.”

Right on, good start.

“Can art be a statue or a sculpture, something bigger than paper?” I asked her.

She agreed that a statue could be art, but struggled when I asked her if music, dancing, and special food could be included under the art umbrella.

I allowed the gears of my mind to turn for a few stoplights. How to explain something as complex as ALL THE ART to a four-year-old?

Then something struck me, something that might help it click. “Hey guys! What if art is anytime you take what you feel on the inside and turn it into something you can see, touch, taste, or hear?”

Head on over to What To Expect’s Word of Mom to finish this up.

Stop Counting Beavers

My four year old Noelle has no interest in drawing pictures or coloring inside the lines.  When presented with a blank piece of paper, she takes a few crayons to it, hastily draws a circle or a blob, and moves on.

I’ve googled this issue repeatedly spent a lot of time sweating it.

I know coloring inside the lines is overrated, but I just need to to know that she’s able to do it… if she wants to.

I have mini panic attacks when I see the art of my friends’ preschoolers online, they’re drawing people!  With faces and recognizable limbs!

I regularly freak out over this as though this is huge benchmark in Noelle’s future life success.

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But this past Sunday afternoon, during a rainy-day painting session, she painted a beaver!  With a pond!  And a tree!

All the !!!!!!!

Real understandable things, on paper!  

And the mother rejoiced!  There was much celebration and high-fivery and fist-bumpery.  

Because finally, we arrived!  We were going to be okay!  We had beavers!

Wait a second.  Where were we yesterday?  Were we any less awesome in out pre-beaver existence?

Am I really going to be the kind of mom who only believes in her kids when they’re hitting the pre-prescribed benchmarks?

Ewww.  No. What?  Continue reading

Apple by Apple

Today I’m blending the pictures and poetry of our trip with to the orchard with the Burden Family into a prayer for autumn.  All photos compliments of my lovely and dear friend Jillian Burden.  

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Like any good Michigander, I can measure my years by trips to the apple orchard.

I can still remember with vivd clarity my kindergarden trip to the pumpkin patch and cider mill.  After wandering the fields of orange and green we were rewarded by a warm donut and fresh pressed cider as we squeezed together on the picnic tables.

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There is nothing in the world like a cake donut with fresh pressed cider, If you love it, you know it’s a comfort food born early.

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Trips to the orchard ring altogether wholesome, holding hands while crunching apples and leaves as you fill heap your wagon full of fruit.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 9.47.48 AM Continue reading

Ugly Cabbage Bowl

I’d packed soup for lunch but forgotten a spoon. Again. Packing lunch AND the silverware to eat it with eludes me utterly.

So I walked next door to the thrift store with a pocket full of dimes in search of a used fork and spoon.

The one-block walk to the thrift store turned out to be a good choice, sometimes you can get so cooped up in your office that you forget there’s a whole other world going on outside, one with sun and weather.

I hurried inside to the housewares and kitchen section and was soon rummaging through caddied of donated, hodgepodge silverware.

As I looked over my shoulder I could hear two silver haired women with perms speaking to each other loudly, through heavy dutch accents and hearing aids, about the finer points of used tupperware.

There was something about those two old women in the kitchen section of the thrift store that made me smile.  

I think we all start out on our high horses and end up completely happy with an old friend in a thrift store. That’s grace, and it smells a little musty.

Did they set out good with thrifted housewares or did they pick up the habit along the way, after life mandated that pricey, new bakeware was out of the question?

When we were newly married I was fanatical about tableware, everything had to match and I found plastic cups tacky.

I was snobby about thread counts and towels.

I had a clear vision of how things were supposed to be in a marriage and a family.

My current reality looks nothing that.

The factory that produced our Crate and Barrel dishes burned down, before we could complete our set.  And our fancy square drinking glasses went the way of the garbage as well, because they didn’t hold up in a sink full of dirty dishes.

So much of what I thought mattered went the way of the trash can, piece by piece and year by year.

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Now when I go for water, I ignore the sparkling clean glasses and head for the plastic mugs with the handles, because they hold more and don’t condensate.

I haunt thrift stores, looking for old furniture, funky home decor and used clothing.

And I have a ridiculously ugly cabbage bowl on display in our dining area, mostly for irony but also for personal reasons.

I thought that those things mattered and that they were the reasons my family would feel safe and loved in your home.

Turns out it’s night and day.  Babies don’t care about nursery decor and husbands don’t care if their fork matches their spoon.

Turns out that your people are far more interested in your ability to love well, to be tender to their pain and to encourage them even when you don’t feel like it.

They’re far more interested in the state of your heart than the state of your kitchen.

But it’s so much easier to throw ourself into the easy surface work than to keep delving into the hard work of soul health.

It’s easier to cultivate muffins and clean sinks than it is to learn about real, lasting Joy.

But I want to laugh in an ugly sweater when I’m 80 over tupperware and used cookie sheets.

So my only choice is to keep showing up before a God who loves me in spite of my many chips and cracks rely on him as I’m remade and patched up, ugly beautiful all over again.

In many ways I’m an ugly cabbage bowl, loved, cherished and enjoyed whether I deserve it or not.

How to stay sane while parenting solo & drinking your coffee in the bathroom.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m laying in bed, it’s difficult to say what woke me up, maybe it was the sprinklers or (more likely) the cat, but either way I’m awake and I’m not going back to sleep.

Then the lightbulb in my brain bursts into brilliance, I could get up and be ALONE.

Alone people.  In my house.  With my couch and coffee and maybe my computer.  I could write out a prayer, one to get me through the weekend without Kel… again.

I glance at the clock, the green digital numbers indicate that it’s 6:15.  Not too shabby, I’m up alone AND I got 8 hours of sleep.  

So I sneak to the kitchen, start the kettle for the coffee and then I hear it.  The sound of  little, sock covered feet heading my direction. I let out an automatic “CRAP!!!!(probably the wrong thing to do) before I fumble out a fake, cheerful: “Good morning buddy!”

He immediately starts in with his endless list of whispered demands:
“Hi mom, I want coffee, I have to go pee pee, Can I have a snack? I want my robe, it’s cold, I want to watch Mater’s Tall Tales, what are you doing mom?”

ten minutes later….

“NO MOM THAT IS NOT HOW I WANTED MY RICE CAKE!  NOT THAT PLATE, I SPREAD THE JELLY!  I WANT TO OPEN THE MICROWAVE AND PUT THE LID ON!  AHHHHHH!!!!!!”

At this point, I seriously consider a melt dow of my own. The day has only just begun and already I feel burnt out.  In an hour or so Kel will get up, pack a bag, and head out of town.

I’ve made no kid friendly plans for the day, I’m on the verge of tears and starting at a blank canvas of a weekend.

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Me too baby girl. Me too.

I don’t feel like being a solo parent, I don’t feel like entertaining two preschoolers, I don’t want to make their food and reff their fights and “help them” pick up their toys.

I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna.  But that doesn’t matter in the slightest.

This “I don’t wanna” feeling happens to me every weekend now. When people at work say: “hey it’s the weekend!” I give them the hairy, stinky eyeball.

I used to love the weekends, but now? Loathing, dread and yuck. Continue reading

Fall, death, meltdowns and wine.

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It’s fall now, I can feel it settling on us like gold dust, tipping the leaves in orange with a slow and steady rhythm.

Pumpkin spice everything is popping up everywhere and the apple orchards are staring to open their gates as the bushels come in empty and leave overflowing with green and red sweetness.

It’s my favorite season, even though at it’s core it was created to be the season where everything dies.  Where everything shrivels up and withers away to make room for something else to be born.

The ripeness of summer never lasts forever, everything in life, including life itself, has rotated in a seasonal march since the beginning of time.

So, is it ironic that the season of dying is my favorite one? The one in which my heart comes alive?  It doesn’t extend beyond the seasons, I assure you… I don’t like death in other areas of life.  (Except for earwigs, those can die, I’m good with that.)

Lately I’ve felt a hard truth start to settle onto my brain, filling in the cracks between the gray matter with an unpleasant reality, one I’ve tried to ignore for a while now.

I have some dying of my own to do.  

I’ve known it for a while, but it hit my like a frying pan in the face last Saturday night.

It was one of those moments that every parent dreads: a total kid meltdown in the middle of a quiet roomful of grownups.

I watched in horror as my four year old got up from her seat, yet again and ran between the tables of quiet adults, all of whom were trying to ignore her as they listened to their pastor talk about his recent sabbatical.

When I got up to retrieve her, she darted away from me with a grin on her face.  She thought it was a game and given the parameters of quiet in the room I couldn’t call after her.

I couldn’t use “that tone” to communicate to her that this was no game, that I was serious about her need to return. to. her. seat. for. the. love. of. God.

Finally a stranger grabbed her by the shoulders and restrained her as I walked over to collect her, red faced and on the verge of tears.  I knew it was time to go. Stat.

As I marched my children out of the room, they wailed over the forced exodus begged me to let them stay for a brownie.

I was crimson angry and mortified beyond words. There was no smacking or shouting, just the sounds of car seats clicking and preschoolers howling.

We took the long way home as I fumed, hot tears streaming down my cheeks.

All I could think was: “I need a drink.”

So, I got home and poured some wine, taking long sips between deep breaths. As I drank, Noelle finished her time out and Caedmon sent cars zooming down the hand rail of our staircase. (a banned activity that I didn’t have the energy to correct)

We dressed for bed and I got them tucked in their beds, Caedmon got out of his more than a dozen times before finally falling asleep two hours later.

Somewhere in there I poured a second glass of wine, because… you know… sanity.

When he finally fell asleep I made a sundae with cookies and chocolate sauce and watched TV until almost midnight.  I needed sleep, but with Caedmon’s bedtime shenanigans the “me time” came at the expense of my sleep.

After the ice cream and the wine a terrible feeling washed over me, not because I was sick to my stomach from the sugar, because I was sick in my soul over… all of it.

I had nasty feeling that I’d crosse some unhealthy line a while back. I knew on a deep, dark level that the ice cream and the wine had become too needed.  Too important.

I was using them to cobble together a sense of sanity that seemed to be elusive without the mind numbing practice of sugar, alcohol and television.

Wine and TV aren’t evil or sinful, it’s just that in my life they were frightfully misplaced.

I was using them to patch the holes and they weren’t holding.

I don’t need to throw them out and label them as evil.  This is where religion can screw you up and turn you into a burdened pharisee.  It’s not the thing itself it’s how we use it.  Where we place it in our hearts that becomes the issue.

That night I looked into the mirror and saw a women with bags under her eyes being held together by something that was never going to hold.

The wine wasn’t life giving and celebratory, it was a crutch, a mask.  I hoped it would wash away the heart of my issues with it’s warmth and detachment but everything was still there in the morning, all pent up inside me as I marched the empty bottle to the recycling bin.

So wine isn’t gone from my life, it’s just back on it’s correct shelf for a while.  It’s not the thing I want to use to get me through my life.

My faith and my soul are wise enough to know that there are better practices to engage in and I’m on the watch for them.

I’ve noticed that my fists have become tight with grasping, self-survival and that my soul has closed off a bit.

I have some dying to do, some demon to stab with point pitchforks.

Wine is one of them, but so is selfishness and self-reliance, and other nasty phrases that begin with self. me.

This season of dying is normal, the one that’s happening all around us and the one that’s falling upon my heart.

I’m giving in to it because I believe in what can be birthed when winter gives way to spring.

Home Again (or Why I Need The Church)

There aren’t a lot of positives about losing your childhood home, losing the ability to “be home” for Christmas or whenever you crave it.

But, there is at least one and it is this: Home ceases to be a place and becomes something intangible, an elusive feeling that washes over you like warm sun through leaves.  Warm. Soft. Safe. Lovely. Held. 

There are moments in life where you take a breath and suddenly realize that you’ve come home.

I can’t perfectly plan these homegoings and I don’t fully understand them, but I know that it has everything to do with Soul nourishment and feeling safely known.

Yesterday was a home-going for me as I returned to the church of my twenties, the one where I began to make own my faith and grow into it.  Where it all came together and fell apart again.

For years I pulled my battered navy Saturn into the busy parking lot and walked through the doors to take my usual spot, near my friends, behind the drum pit.

Today I parked my aging mini-van into the same lot and walked through the same doors.  But this time, each of my hands held that of a small child and together navigated our way down the long hallways and through our first check-in with the children’s area.

As we walked, I ached for Kel, the missing soul in our Sunday quartet….

After settling them in their respective rooms I walked alone for once, completely thrilled at the prospect of sitting through church without my kids for the first time since April.

I didn’t even feel the smallest pang of guilt about not being a pew parent or desiring my children at my feet in worship.

I love that this concept is working so well for some of you, but every Sunday we’ve attempted it, I’ve returned to the van in tears after spending the entire service keeping my children entertained and hushed.

Our family likes to break up on Sundays, big church and kid’s church. We do life together all week and we have different learning styles on Sunday. We’ve accepted this fact and we’re done feeling guilty about it.

Okay, back to my story.

My eyes welled with tears the instant I settled into the plastic, gray chair.  Partly because I was available to meet God just as I was (a soul that extends beyond the parameters of motherhood) and partly because I felt like home.

As I waited for the service to start, the theater or my mind began to play my History in this place.

I saw myself with funky purple hair kneeling at the front with corduroy clad knees
Wearing a bandana and holding a guitar at a makeshift hoedown.
Walking slowly to the front in purple shorts and a T-shirt, being baptized alongside a new friend.
Praying with a pastor over my Mother’s illness and hospitalization.
Warming a similar gray chair the Sunday after we buried my father, weeping with grief.

This place has seen me lost, found, broken, pissed, smug and humble.

And now, here I am, back again to worship, my feet once again bare, naked and expectant on the gray, industrial carpet.

Back to join the community of the broken who gather together under a shared need for God.

A shared longing to serve him together as we lean on him to make sense of our lives and learn to live with him a rhythm of spirituality that was always meant to be more than just Sunday.

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I thank God for this home-going and the faithful practice of finding me on Sunday mornings.  It’s not because I went to church, to a jesus-themed building, it’s because I stilled myself to meet with him, something I’m terrible at outside the parameters of church.

In the past, my lips have uttered phrases similar to: ” I don’t need church to find God

But these days?  I really do because without it, I dry up.  I’ve been burnt out and I’ve stayed away.  I’ve been cynical and scared and angry, I don’t need church to survive or be more religious. I need it for my soul and spirit in the least religious way imaginable.

I need the words and familiar melody.  I need the feeling of being in the midst of the people of God.  I need the truest reminders of who I really am and what on Earth I’m doing with my life.

I needed a flood of home today, replete with the nourishment my soul was hungering for.

Then later that night I gathered with my family to celebrate my sister’s 30th birthday and you know what?  That was church too, home certainly.

Is your church home for you?  What expectedly brings you home?

Just Drop (Hey, At Least it’s Not Jr High Gym Class)

You know the phrase: “I’m at the end of my rope?

We’ve all used it and we’ve certainly all been there.  For me it conjures up images of Jr. High gym class, my classmates gathered around the bottom of a fat cluster of burlap fiber as I climbed upward with stinging hands.

I hated gym class, for me it was an hour designed to point out all the things I’m bad at, followed by a soul-sucking public shower with girls who didn’t like me with my clothes on thank you very much.

If anything ever sent me to “the end of my rope” it was the misery of that Junior High torture.

When we use this turn of phrase with each other we’re insinuating that there’s more rope than we can climb, or that there’s no more rope and we’re barely hanging on.  We’re out of energy to climb upward or we’re about to let go of the rope because there isn’t anymore.

Either way what we really mean to say is that life’s giving us more than we can handle and the climbing can’t go on much longer.

Sometimes this is because of a central and all consuming heartache.  Other times, there isn’t one central issue but the cumulation of little, constant struggles are what’s got us running out of rope.

Both of these seasons can be formative and completely awful.  We climb and we fight until one day we wake up and realize that the waves are still coming and we’re plumb out of resolve.

This is when we typically use the “end of my rope” phrase.  It’s because the idea of another day of climbing seems beyond us.  It seems as though it would be easier to drop than to spend another day hanging on or trying to add strands to our rapidly fraying lifeline.

Rope Continue reading