I Am You, Or I Easily Could Be

I wrote this, from a bar on a Sunday while I am drinking Beer and eating onion rings, so … just keeping it honest.
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me and Caedmon, just loving on an ordinary day.

me and Caedmon, just loving on an ordinary day.

Yesterday I was doing a little work at the dining room table while dinner was simmering on the stove. My 3 kids were in the backyard playing in rotation with the sprinkler, the water table and the sandbox, these are outdoor toys that Kel and I provided for them, to help foster a love for playing outside. Those things didn’t just grow there, we budgeted for them, filled them and regularly make sure they have fresh water and no cat poop (because sandbox).

Type… Type… Stir Dinner… Type.. .Check on Kids.
Type… Type… Stir Dinner… Type.. .Check on Kids.
Type… Type… Stir Dinner… Type.. .Check on Kids.

This was my rhythm, and again, I wasn’t drinking gin and painting my toenails, I was working to pay my husband’s seminary bills while my children played in the sunshine.

Suddenly, in a flash, I realized something horrible, the baby was not on the INSIDE of the chain link fence, but the OUTSIDE. Just 50 yards from the busy-ish road where she could have easily chased a butterfly into traffic and gotten hit.

I shrieked and dashed outside, scooped her up and held her close, making a mental note she must have learned to open the fence I had triple checked was closed. So next step is a deadbolt I guess?

Oh Dear God thank you, for life, she is fine, that could have been so much worse.

And if it had been wore, oh world, what would you say about me? That I was selfish, career driven, neglectful? That the fence latch alone wasn’t safe? That our patio wasn’t close enough?  Continue reading

31 Letters to my Mother (in law) {Day 27} Hi, it’s Kel

 Dear Mom-in-law,

Hey!  Its Kel.  I’m writing today because Leanne is still feeling pretty bad.  I thought I’d write you tonight and talk about something that Leanne can’t really talk about here.  I thought I’d let you know how she’s growing as a person.  Its been two years now and let me tell you, life has been full of challenges, joys, and more surprises that we ever thought would possible.  Over the last two years Leanne has been going through the grief process, this is true, but she has also gone from working to being a stay at home mom.  She’s gone from a mom of one to a mom of two under 2 and now a mom of a 3 year old and an almost 2 year old.  She’s gone from tossing around the idea of being a nutritionist to working on and becoming a writer.  All that to say there has been a great deal of life going on while we’ve been dealing with all the grief.

The thing that I really wanted to speak to more than anything else though is Leanne’s growth as a woman of God.  Leanne’s faith was definitely shaken throughout these last two years.  Who’s wouldn’t be? Yet, this shaken faith, this brokenness is not where Leanne has chosen to live.  Leanne is a fighter and as you know, when she sets her mind to something there’s nothing that is going to stop her. She’s chosen to live this faith, even though it hurts tremendously.  She’s chosen to trust and have faith even though it was one of the hardest choices of her life.  And now, here we are two years later.  I’ve been going through some crisis of my own as of late and guess who has been supporting me?  The other day I was having a really hard day and Leanne could sense it in my demeanor so she started speaking encouragement and scripture into my day.  I can’t even begin to tell you how great it is to be married to a woman like that.  It makes my life as a pastor so much easier when I’m able to know that when I have problems that I have a partner in faith.

Well that’s about it. I just wanted to write to you and brag on Leanne a little.  She really is an incredibly woman.  I know that her writing these letters has really been great for you & your daughter’s relationship.  I pray that as these 31 days come to a close that this healing with continue.  You have a great daughter and as I look to the future keeping in mind all of this spiritual growth, I know that Leanne is going to do some absolutely amazing things in life.

With Love,

Kel

31 Letters To My Mother {Day 2} daughters and forgiveness

Dear Mom,

The house is quiet right now, everyone is tucked in, warm and peaceful in their beds. All except Kel who went back to work to paint a banner of a Tiger that also looks like Clark Kent / Superman.  Life is funny, eh?

I love the evening quiet, it’s such an ordeal to get Noelle down to sleep each night.  She pops up again and again with ridiculous requests.  Tonight I grimaced as I realized how often I did the exact same thing to you and Dad.

I remember creeping down the stairs to the basement and sit on the top steps for a while watching you both.  I’d sit there in my care bear PJs for long stretches before nagging you to come up stairs and turn over the tape in my fire engine red boom box.

I wanted to avoid bed as long as possible back then.  Now, as the mama I can’t wait to crawl between my sheets and drift off.  Oh irony, thy name is motherhood, at least sometimes.

Noelle’s a lot like me, you know, full of energy and short on focus. She keeps me on my toes from the moment she wakes up until I realize that she’s finally drifted off to sleep.

I love her, but she seems to sweetly demand all of me.  All of my grace, patience, attention and energy.  But God, I love her Mom. Through parenting her, I’ve found grace for you. Hindsight can be mean like that.

I yelled at her today, grabbed her arm harder than necessary.  I was drained and exhausted and before I realized what I was doing, I’d handed her the brunt of it.

Only moments later I scooped her up and apologized, receiving a bounty of grace from her deep brown eyes and forgiveness from her lips.  Grace, childlike and sweet.  For now, available to me readily for the price of an embrace and an apology.

It won’t always be like this, will it?  She will make me work harder for forgiveness, maybe she will be angry with me, blame me for her inner struggles.

I think I’ll drift off tonight imagining our moment of reconciliation, in some far off land where you’re both whole and alive. We could scoop each other up as we weep, apologize and release our mother / daughter shortcomings.

I think we could both float away after that embrace like that.

Love you, miss you,

LeaRae

31 letters to my mother- Day 1- If Wishes and Hopes…

Dear Mom,

God I miss you.  Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’ve been gone nearly two years and then other moments I know that you’ve been gone so much longer.

Sometimes I wonder about the last moment I experienced the “real you,” before depression and disease took over.  Remember how we danced in the kitchen together when I was in high school? Can we talk about how obsessed you were with Celine Dion? We almost staged an intervention (and clearly I’m kidding)

When did you fully disappear?  I saw you come through a little bit the first time you held Noelle, I still remember how tenderly you kissed her on the lips, over and over again.

It bugged the hell out of my at the time but now that I look back, I know it was a lesson, a gift. I kissed Caedmon’s lips every day when he was brand new.  I wish you’d gotten to meet him, Mom.

I wish that I could go back and love you better.  I wish I knew how broken you were, had extended more grace, smiled more and scowled less.

The therapist I saw assured me that I did what any normal daughter would do when trying to cope with a mentally ill mother, one who was unable to be the Mom she needed.

But still, remember when you got the flu when you were staying at our house? I treated you like a big inconvenience and was truly awful to you that entire trip, but especially in those moments where you laid ill on my couch.

I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for not understanding and I’m sorry for taking my frustrations out on you.  I’m sorry for putting high, healthy mom expectations on a woman who was too sick to meet them.

It’s not fair is it? Mom with depression don’t get half the grace that the cancer moms do.

I’ll never understand the balance in the trinity of personhood: body, mind and spirit.  Where does the soul go when the mind falls ill?

Where were you for those last years?  Did you see me somehow, through the pain and darkness?

Did you really ever know me at all?  Did I know you?

Someday soon I’m going to hunt for you, interview Cheryl, Cath and all your sisters.  I’ll ask questions and catalog stories.

Somehow, even though you’re gone I’ll figure out who God created you to be.

I love you, I miss you,

LeaRae

31 letters to my Mother

A while ago I heard about a challenge that a blogger known as The Nester is doing for the month of October: Write 31 posts in 31 days on the same topic.

And tonight I sighed as I realized that tomorrow the calendar will change over to October and I have no idea how I am going to deal with the 2 year anniversary of my Mom’s death, which falls smack dab in the middle of the month on October 13.

Then it clicked and these two things connected.  I can write about her every day for the entire month.  In fact, I can write her a letter every day.

This is what I will do about my grief, this is how I will remember her this year.

This will take the form of hard questions, unearthed memories and whatever else I uncover while spending 31 days of digging into all the baggage I have surrounding her death.

Sometimes the best things go from inspiration to execution in a matter of minutes.

I am praying that this is one of them.

If you’d like a little backstory on my mom’s death, click here

Pain Credentials- There is no passport needed to love well

 It was eight years ago but I can still easily go back to that room in my mind, all of us crammed on the couches, chairs and floors.  The air heavier than any I had every experienced in my life.  My Father had recently been taken out of the basement where he had died the night before and we all sat together in shock and love.

Family, friend, neighbors, all of us breathless, speechless.

I could write a thousand words about the people beside me that day and how their face to face love changed my life.  Yet the one person that will always come into focus for me is my sweet friend and college roommate Becky.

We had met at a pizza place and our lives were totally the same and completely different.  I was casual and went to class in hoodies and funky hair.  Becky was (and still is) the modern day Audrey Hepburn and always dressed in flawless jeans and heels with carefully coiffed hair and makeup.

So it said something when she skipped her makeup and shower to rush over to my parents house when she heard the news.  Neither of us had ever lost a parent, so I know that she was completely unsure of what to do, or say.  Yet I remember with tender thankfulness how firmly she stayed by my side, offering even to come with me when I went to the bathroom, in case I was reluctant to be alone.

She was my maid of honor and threw a thoughtful shower and bachelorette party.

She bought a last minute plane ticket when our firstborn Noelle arrived, because she couldn’t bear to miss out on those first days of excitement.

At my Mother’s funeral she and her husband Adam, stayed with Kel and I for much of the visitation and she was by my side through all the confused and dark details.

She never flinched, never waivered, never let things get awkward.  She had no credentials that gave her permission to speak into my life other than the simple fact that she was my best friend, and belonged there.

So often when we don’t know what to say we make one of two mistakes:

  1. We say something trite that makes us sound like we know more than we do and we inflict pain.
  1. Or we say nothing and keep our distance because we feel ill equipped to speak to something we don’t understand.

Surprisingly #2 is far worse than #1.  The last thing a wounded friend needs is to wonder if their pain is too awkward for you.  To question if you were only there for the good times.

Don’t buy into the lie that you need credentials to enter into the world of the broken.

I have loved people through loss and pain that I have no understanding of: miscarriage, chronic pain, divorce, abuse.

A Friend loves at ALL TIMES isn’t a phrase that should only be sweetly needlepointed on a pillow, but actively lived out with late night phone calls, tears over coffee, surprise meals, flowers, books, pop-in visits and oceans of love.

Real hands and feet love will speak louder than your nervousness, every time.

Go there, love them.  Say something like: “I have no idea what this is like, but I am so sorry, and I’m all in, what can I do?

You aren’t going to understand everything, yet you are called to love your people well and doing so will and should make you uncomfortable at times.  This is how we grow stronger and closer and more beautiful to Our Father.

Another year, grief over time.

Melissa Pullis, of Hazlet, N.J., stands at the engraving for her husband Edward at the World Trade Center site in New York City during memorial ceremonies for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2012. (Getty Images)

This morning I walked my daughter up the stairs to her preschool, and realized that she no longer needs help climbing those steps.  It feels like only a few months ago when I was holding her left arm tightly while she climbed each one with focus and effort.

Yet, it’s been three years.  Time seems to both drag and fly, doesn’t it?

As I packed up backpacks and tied shoes this morning I noticed my husband had ESPN on, and it was showing images of the towers falling.  Playing clips of teary eyed daddys and grief stricken mamas who had lost their athletic sons in the catastrophe of that fall.

My mind clicked to check the date, that’s right, it’s September 11.  Deep Breath,  Flashback to that day, watching the towers fall on my parents television and later delivering those tragic newspapers to the doors of hundreds of homes.

Each paper felt heavy in my hand, a piece of history and tragedy leaving its inky mark on my hands and my life.

I can’t believe 11 years have passed since that date, the one I’m sure my children and grandchildren will ask me about the same way I asked my parents about the challenger explosion and the day JFK was shot.

We talked a lot in the raw days that followed Sept 11, 2001 about all that we lost as a country, our sense of safety was gone and we realized that war would no longer be easy to identify or contain.

We grieved as a nation and I think that we still do, even though the years have healed our wounds into scars.

Sept 11 is a grief that we all share, in a way.

But eleven years later, this shared grief has been easy to put on a shelf and convert into a memory, a story.  Eleven years later Sept 11 is a fairly easy day for me to endure, there is sadness and remembering, but there is routine and normal life in spite of it.

But there are days on my calendar that aren’t easy to endure because for me the loss on those dates is personal, it marks another year without someone I love, someone who shaped me, gave me life.

The two year anniversary of my Mother’s death is coming up in just over a month and anytime I think about it I hyperventilate a little bit.  Two years seems like a unbearable gap between this moment and our last conversation.

I long to go back and save her, to intervene somehow.  But I can’t, and so I live in a world where train whistles chill me to the core.

This grief, October 13, is personal and scoffs at the thought of life going on as usual.

And it is this feeling that the mamas, daddys, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends of the 3,000 lost in the twin towers feel today, right now.

I’m sure that for them, watching the towers fall on TV is a lot like a train whistle is to me.  Not just a piece of history or technology but the gut wrenching thing that brings them back to the moment of impact.  The moment they lost someone senselessly and permanently.

It’s the that they wish they could go back and change, to convince them not to go to work that day, not to respond to the call.

The strange thing about grief over time is that it feels like it flies by and drags on all at the same time.

We rail and shirk at the idea that another year separates us from those we love, and that there is no bargaining chip, no option B, nothing we can do about it.

So today as the thought of shared grief arises within you, may we prayers and dedicate our tears to those who can’t get off the couch today, who can’t watch the news, who can’t believe that another year has come between them and their dear one.

Amen.

Church People

We’re almost always late to church, and someone is always missing a shoe / shoes.  We may or may not have remembered to bring Caedmon’s pacifier and there is a good chance that Kel or I got a touch hostile in the getting ready process.

This is largely to do with the fact that even after 18 months, it’s still a production getting everyone out the door for a scheduled event.

As we drive I’m usually putting on my mascara and lip gloss as I check the clock and field car seat drama.

By the time we get to church both kids have likely taken off their shoes, so we re-shoe the children and schlep them into church, diaper bag in tow.

A lot of weeks we’re so late that miss worship entirely, which I hate.  Eventually I settle into into my seat glance around at the faces surrounding me.

Some weeks,  I feel like the only mess in the room.  On a good week I cry in worship as I scribble down thoughts of God and life on my talk notes or on offering envelopes.  On a bad week I try to find the darkest corner of the church where I can have all the God without any of the community wondering why my eyes are all puffy.

Without fail I marvel at all of us seeking God, sometimes finding and sometimes missing him.  Here we are, church full of God’s human people: some barely holding on, some rejoicing and some hiding behind a facade.

We come to church in different seasons, some of us grieving, some rejoicing, some of us on fire, some jaded and burnt out.  Still we come, we bring it all to the altar, we take, eat and remember that although we will change and flip seasons, our God remains stable and faithful.

We don’t stay where we are forever, you know.  If this Sunday you found yourself with no makeup and puffy eyes, wondering if you should have showed up at all

Know this:  He will not leave you here, a wound given to God will be healed and used for glory.

Everyone, and I mean everyone has weeks where they crawl into church on fumes and plop down in desperation, waiting to be filled with God.  Longing to swap out their hurt for his healing.

There are no pretty perfect people of God, we are all his people stumbling to see and to be the light.

So this week if you cried through worship, take heart, this is just a season.  It will pass.

And this week if you saw someone cry in worship who wasn’t you, I hope you were filled with mercy, that you took compassion and prayed.  I hope that you offered a shoulder, a coffee date, a listening ear.

May we always remember that just because it wasn’t our week to cry, doesn’t mean that we haven’t wept through sermons and it doesn’t mean that we won’t.  It only means that we are in a different season.

Oh church people, may see the needy in our midst and uplift, support and intervene.

May we be the church more than we look like it.

Rain, Hope and One Mother of a Hard Day

and then it rained.

We’ve been having a drought around here.  I’ve written about it and the weather channel has mentioned it so it’s not a big secret.

When the heavens opened up with torrents of water on Saturday I gasped and took pictures of it through windows and open doors.

We let the kids play outside in the cool, wet backyard for hours and then plunged them in a bubble bath after warm cups of stovetop hot chocolate.

Kel and I kept looking at each other thinking, we made it! Made it through the crazy summer, the heat, the lack of routine and all the traveling.  Now fall was almost here, our salvation, our quenching rain, our return to the steady life.

We ended the day on the couch with Hunger Games and huge bowls of popcorn just like everyone else in America did on Saturday. It was blissful.

The next morning was supposed to be THE day, our no work, very sabbathy, family oriented day.

I wasn’t counting on the ghosts to come out of the closet.  I didn’t plan to fill up with anxiety and crippling fear about my memories of my mom and her death.

But the honest trust it that yesterday was ghosts and fears, one mother of a hard day.  I spent the day sifting through my mother’s illness and all the parts that were passed on to me.  Wondering and worrying, then worrying and wondering some more.

I wondered, as I often do, is this just an anxious day or the start of something worse?  The beginning of some terrible, final pronouncement on my life.

Yesterday was horrible, humbling and yet somehow absolutely normal.  You can’t go where I’ve gone and not wrestle with it sometimes.  You can’t ever totally get over it, it’s a piece of my puzzle that I have to work out somedays.

I had to ask for Kel’s help to get through the day without breaking apart.  I had to ask some friends to help me get a prescription filled.  I had to ask God over and over again to show me how I’m supposed to process this depression thing.

Will I have it forever?  Do I pray against it or come to terms with it?  Do other people think I’m crazy?  Should it really matter?

Am I see as one of THOSE people who need a pill to function?

Am I seen as one of THOSE people who has a messy family with a suicide on the record books?

I won’t pretend these questions don’t surface sometimes, that’s of no good to me, to my family or to the world.

Trusting God never means ignoring the pain for his glory, it’s all about plowing through the troubles of the world, that’s what brings the beauty.

The sun set on yesterday and today I long to climb a mountain, to surround myself in azure blue offset by marshmallow clouds.  To get perspective from somewhere higher than I can see right here, right now.  I want to climb and ponder and to return home with deeper perspective.

But these stolen moments in my closet office may be all I scrounge up today.  So I will breathe thanks for these few quiet moments, even though the cat is in my face and making my quiet moments smell like tuna breath.

Is it all better now?  All good?  All gone?  No, but there is always something fragrant and hopeful on the horizon, isn’t there?  May we never stop scanning the horizon for hope.

******

Now for a total change of pace, the Rug Giveaway announcement.

The winner (selected at random) is Brenna D!

Congrats, the Rug is yours!  Hooray!  Now I get to send you a rug and hug you in Chicago at the Story Conference.  A hug and a rug, it doesn’t get better, eh?  (it probably does)

Thanks to all for helping me with Facebook page numbers, you guys amaze me.

Abba love, my Daddys

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend requesting prayers for her daughters who were dreading father’s day because with their daddy gone they had nothing to celebrate.

My heart ached for them because I spent many father’s day weekends like that.  It’s so beautiful to celebrate fathers and mothers on these holidays but it always brings accentuates the voids for those of us who have an ache for our parents, or ache to be parents.

Kel has redeemed Father’s day for me, because I have a purpose and a target for all the traditional celebration.  Someone to cook for and painstakingly select greeting cards for, his fatherhood journey absolutely worth celebrating.

Part of my heart will forever miss my Daddy on this Sunday in June.  I reflect on all the Father’s Days we shared together over cinnamon rolls and gifts from Sears.  He was witty and wise and above all one of the most faithful and loyal men I know.  His unconditional love for my Mother still amazes me today.

I ache for my father and my Grandpa Mac who have left this world.  Yet if loss has taught me anything it is to focus on what is here in spite of what is fallen and lost.  These men are in heaven, they have been restored feel no pain.  My father will meet his grandchildren and share his heart with them forever, just not today.

Yet, I am surrounded by earthly, Daddy Love, Abba love that is breathtakingly beautiful and worthy of celebration.

There is my grandfather Arie, who is 86 and reads this blog faithfully, always full of encouragement for my writing.  He is the grandfather of 14 and the great grandfather of 10.  He takes fatherhood seriously and intentionally cultivates relationships with all of us.  He and my grandmother set out to build a close family of cousins and siblings, and this plan shaped my childhood.

There is our adoptive Grandpa Dave who takes time to play with our kids and chat with me on the back deck.  He knows what kind of beer I like and is always ready to share life over a double lined beer koozie or coffee and the morning paper.

And then there is our Kel, currently enjoying his favorite Father’s Day gift, sleeping in.  I’ll have to get him up soon and start the day lavishly him with Bacon, hugs and banana pudding.  Kel’s father love breaks boundaries and has amazed me from day one.  He will change any diaper, paint Noelle’s toenails hot pink, build any animal out of duplo blocks and he is abounding in grace and love for all three of us.

I truly have a partner in the parenting journey and although we are still learning our strengths and rhythms I rejoice that this is the man I share children with.

One things these three men have in common, besides a love of bacon, is that they are able to love profoundly because they spend time receiving the love of our heavenly Abba Father, and then they give it away.

Days like these can be so painful, and I will certainly spend part of my day honoring the space left my father, which I forever reserve for him.  Yet I am surrounding by so much Abba love, Daddy love that I can’t help but see the beauty and gratefully praise these men.

Abba love is relational, it is intimate, it is torrential and shaping.  Abba love is all around you, I pray that you are able to drink deeply of it today.