mine for seven years : river

Today you scraped your knee in front of everyone. I could see it all in your eyes: the embarrassment, the pain, the need for your mama but the apprehension to ask for my attention. I asked you if I could give you a mama kiss to make it feel better and you shook your head no, a slight smirk and poker face in place. A few minutes later you tapped my shoulder when all the attention was off of you, and you requested that kiss you earlier refused. You all at once broke my heart and fixed it again! I have never wanted to think of the day when you wouldn't want a mama kiss in front of other people. Your innocence is so pure and I'm grasping at your childhood like water, but it flows between my hands.

Thank you for being my sweet boy always. Thank you for forgiving me, for being my guinea pig. I'm sorry that by default, you are the one I make the most mistakes with because you are the older. I get it -- I'm the oldest, too! I know right now, I can do no wrong in your eyes. I know someday that will change. I always feel like I need to try harder to be a good mommy to you, but you let me know all the time that I am the best mama. (I'm pretty sure it's because I am your only mama and you don't know any better, but I'll take it.) I hope someday, when you realize the ways I could have been better, you will give me grace and forgiveness. I know for certain that day will come; I don't doubt it.

We just moved into our new house here in Pennsylvania, and as I was scrubbing baseboards and hanging curtains and putting your toys in bins one quiet afternoon, I had a moment. I was listening to a song written by a mother to her growing child, and I just sat there on a kid-sized chair in your dusty, empty room, and I wept. I was realizing that many of the toys I was putting away, you had grown out of. That this Christmas, I will be gifting you with smaller, more expensive things -- things with which big boys play. Gone are the days of wooden stacking toys and chunky Little People. Why are you no longer my baby, and what can I do about it?

I've never "mourned" your babyhood before, but it struck me so hard that day that my tears could only be described as mourning. I was suddenly shocked with how quickly everything has passed. When you're a child, seven years is a lifetime. When you are an adult, it's a season. It's a chapter. It's one of those things that causes you to say, "I feel like it was just yesterday." And it does, it feels so like yesterday, I believe I could almost touch it.

It was just yesterday you were lying on your belly with drool dripping down your chin to the carpet, smiling up at me as you worked those little neck muscles. It was just yesterday that you crawled for the first time to your "bup bup." (That's what you called dogs... just yesterday.) It was just yesterday that you ate strawberries in the front yard speckled with sunshine, red juices staining your naked belly. It was just yesterday that you got into the glitter, sprinkled it with reckless abandon, and swiped it all over the table, the floor, yourself. It was just yesterday that I turned around for two minutes and you used your ranch dressing and celery sticks to make a log cabin, and found the need to rub it all over your hands and face, as well. Just yesterday.

I can still feel your soft, sweet baby cheek beneath my lips as I kiss you. I can still see the little dimples on your knuckles and the one on your chin, in the quiet light of your bedside lamp as I pray for you while you sleep. It was just yesterday.

That afternoon, I cried because I'll never get those days back. I cried because, with you being my oldest, I didn't know how damn fast it would go by, and now I know, and now I wish I had cherished them more when I was going through them.

But your 7th birthday is anything but sad! It is a celebration! Because I have been able to call you my own for seven years. For seven years you have brought me light, you have been my ray of sunshine, my optimism, my example of forgiveness and love and joy! I don't know why you are so much your own little person -- despite my struggles of figuring out the kind of mama I needed to be during your toddler years, despite human mistakes and regrets on my end, you are exactly the little boy God created you to be. You are forever sweet, forever helpful, forever positive. Keep that light, my sweet boy! Hold it tight and don't let anyone make you feel different for it. It's what makes you, you. Your compassion, your positive nature, your forgiveness -- they will be your strength, as long as you let Christ be your strength.

I love you so much, my baby boy!!



The trip was long. When people ask me if it was fun, I think, it was fun in its way, but we did it. We survived. Fun is not the word I would choose first to describe it; exhausting, interesting, incredible... Those are words that come to mind. My goal was to keep my eyes on the road in front of me and just get there. Just drive. Keep the kids happy. Drink water, eat chips. McDonald's for lunch, again. Don't fall asleep. Keep the music loud, the air blowing in my face. And drive.

During those 3,000 miles, there were moments of wonder as we drove through the red, jagged, dry mountains of Wyoming, moments of silliness when we drove through Chicago with Chicago by Sufjan Stevens bursting out of every window and crack and crevice of my car, moments of conversation with my sister that made me even more thankful for her than I already was, and moments of relief when we arrived at our hotels night after night and the children finally fell asleep, albeit two hours after their usual bedtime. We saw geysers spit from slabs of rock. We drove twenty miles down a steep mountainside going 30 miles per hour. We saw dozens of landscapes in thousands of colors, and took hundreds of photos of eight different sunsets. I was left in awe of how expansive, unique, and diverse my country is.

But mostly I felt the need to reach the northeast. A six-year-long goal. I did it. I am here. I write to you from my bed overlooking the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. We are smack dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood, and those hills are still rolling. I see the white silos of a farm behind one of the houses. That's what I've always loved about Pennsylvania.

When we arrived (and by "arrived" in such a large and anonymous space as "the northeast," I mean the moment I stepped from my car into the state that is Michigan), I was immediately hit with about three tons of humidity and also the unbelievably giddy realization that I would once again have fireflies in my life. There are no fireflies in western Washington or south Texas, and sometimes I react to things in much the same way that one would expect a four-year-old to react. I may have chased them. I don't know if there's anything in this world closer to a fairy than a firefly.

The kids and I camped in my mom's best friend's pop-up camper that night in her backyard. There was a storm, and do you know how excited I was to hear a storm? The wind blew. The thunder roared. I was awoken by tree branches slapping up against the top of the tent. I googled "safe wind speed while camping." But y'all, I was thrilled. I hadn't heard a real storm in almost five years. It doesn't thunder much in Washington, and in all honesty, while living there, I probably heard a total of five or six soft rolls which sounded like nothing more than my upstairs neighbors pushing their kitchen table across the floor. This thunder was like sweet music to my ears. In Texas, the storms are real, and I missed them. I missed torrential downpours and the kind of lightening that makes you scared to stand by your window. This storm wasn't like that, but the wind! Oh, the wind. And the thunder, yes. It was wonderful. Since we've moved to Pennsylvania, we've had about ten storms, and I've relished each one.

Sand then six weeks ago we dropped bags from tired limbs in the middle of an empty, echoing house. Today it is a home. Almost every night, we jump into the pool without testing the water because it's hot, and we already know it's perfect. I swam twice in Washington. I am a Texas girl, and anything less than 80 degrees is too "cold" to swim. My mom and I trade off who is making dinner. My dad cooks out often; grilled chicken and hot dogs and burgers after a swim, eating out on the porch furniture, dripping and content. My sisters and I watch movies several times a week. My brother drove with us across the country and is going back next week to Washington where he goes to school; it'll be strange without him. I've eaten more salt and vinegar chips and Pop-Tarts than I am proud to admit, and tell myself when we are in our own house again (next week!), I will go back to eating healthy. I know I'll keep that promise until December hits and all I want is pumpkin pie and iced sugar cookies in the shape of stockings and stars.

There are six souls in Washington that I will miss entirely, and my heart will always ache for one more conversation with each of them over coffee, but I will not miss Washington itself. I came with the weight of postpartum depression and debilitating self-loathing, and while there, because of God's deep and overwhelming grace, I was able to slam it to the ground, stomp on it, and tell it "never again, asshole." I feel free. I am different than who I was when I arrived there, 4 years and 8 months ago. I will always be grateful for Washington and the people there who touched my life. I will always be grateful for the way God changed me. And because of that, I am happy to turn the page on that chapter, tears in my eyes and a grin on my lips. I am different, I am victorious. Life is good as it always was. Pennsylvania, it's your turn. Let's go.


whatever is lovely

My heart is heavy. Last night I prayed myself to sleep... I couldn't sleep, images in my head of a toddler being torn from the hand of his mother by an unexpected wild animal, images of a hate-filled man taking 49 lives in a terrorist attack, an innocent woman being shot in the head after a concert. This flurry of violence and tragedy has hit the city of Orlando hard this week, it seems so sudden... and we all feel the ground shake beneath our feet. But then I remind myself that tragedy and violence and senseless loss happens every day in other places. My sister went to Uganda for three months and saw toddlers dying on the side of the road. Orphans thirsty and hungry and without family to love them, hold them, sing to them. Babies taking care of babies.

When alligators drag children into the water, we are naturally shocked and shaken and angered and ask God why. But let's not forget this happens every day... only they're not alligators, they're other human beings.

The world groans. People die. Meanwhile, I'm protected in my bubble of ease and comfort. I know I don't understand what it's like to live in a cardboard box next to a dirt road or have my baby ripped from my arms.

That's what makes it the hardest... feeling that pain. Crying yourself to sleep, conjuring images in your head, asking yourself, why not me? Why them and not me? what if it had been my child? My family? What if, what if, what if. It doesn't do any good to think and dwell, yet it doesn't feel right to not feel it. To not let myself ponder. As if my unease at the very thought helps the suffering people in the world, as if my empathy does anything.

I spent years in bondage to the fear of tragedy. I have stopped watching the news. I don't read true crime anymore, or watch shows like Dexter or Law & Order. I try not to read articles about tragic events (key word: try. It's been difficult this week.). But it's everywhere these days, if you are online, you simply cannot avoid it. And I feel like pull, this need to empathize. I am a melancholic, and I like to feel deeply. But sometimes, it hits me in places that are too deep, and becomes a part of my mind hour by hour, as often as the question of what is for lunch, when is nap time, and what book should I read next. What if.

Also, a need to "prepare." What would I do in this situation? How would I handle someone stealing my car with my children inside? How would I handle a home invasion or house fire? A drowning? A wreck? But that thinking helps no one. It certainly doesn't help me.

"Whatever is true, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely and honorable, think about these things." Philippians 4:8

So I've stopped. I have tried to stop thinking about the things that are outside of my control. I have tried to stop putting myself in the place of a grieving mother. It fills my head with a whirlwind of thoughts that spiral down and creates anxiety. I cannot help a grieving stranger with my grief. So I let myself feel those emotions, I cry, and then I move on. I stop reading the articles. And I pray.

One thing I love about the Catholic church is that they teach you can offer your suffering up to God as a prayer. This is the only redemption among tragedy that I have ever heard of. Tragedy seems so senseless, but to be able to offer up suffering as a prayer is so bittersweet.

Prayer is something that has changed my life significantly in the past year. I've never been much of a prayer warrior. I pray at desperate times. I worry instead of pray. But lately, I've been praying instead of worrying. I am certain it has much to do with the lessening of my anxiety.

So though it seems like trying to put out a forest fire with a bucket of water, I pray. I pray for grieving mothers. I pray for families torn apart. I pray for the hearts of those who are angry, lonely, confused, misguided, whose backs are turned from God. I pray instead of worrying. Worry does nothing, I know this to be a fact. But we will never have an idea of the impact our prayers make.

"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5:17


the Lamb has overcome!

One of my favorite verses is 1 Corinthians 15:55: "Oh death, where is your sting? Oh hell, where is your victory?"

It is so simple, yet encompasses all we celebrate on Easter.

Death, which wracks our world with pain and grief. Death which does not discriminate, which to our minds is the worst possible that could touch our lives -- to be separated from the people we love. It's quite a claim... victory over death. It says there is more...

Jesus has conquered. Jesus has won. God, our omnipresent, omnipotent, most high God, who is before and after, who cannot be contained by heaven and earth, chose us! It was his good pleasure for all things to dwell in him.

I hope for every believer that the story of the cross never grows old. We can't really wrap our minds around it... but I hope it always enthralls and brings people to their knees.

"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." Colossians 1:19


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