Monday, April 20, 2015

All The Things I Did Not Say

I gave up talking smack about my husband for Lent.  But it is now Easter and I have some things to say:

I have more than once told the joke that when my friends in high school used to give things up for Lent I would tell them I was giving up dieting.  I would chuckle at the concept that they would give up chocolate or sugar or movies or anything like that.  A few years ago I started in to make Lent a time for resolving pieces of my heart as I took the journey with a billion other Christians to the cross and then to the glory of the empty tomb.

I started with giving up making excuses.  I tried to make my answer "yes" and "now" and "send me" instead of littering my every desire or goal with the self-destructing language of excuses.  It was challenging and life-changing.  The next year I gave up excuses and weighing myself.  It was the beginning of my pregnancy and I was gaining faster than I had with my first son and decided to use the time I would usually spend picking and prodding at a body that continuously felt a little bit foreign to instead remind myself of my identity in Christ.  I would be lying if I said that since then I haven't made a single excuse or stepped on any scales but it is good to be in the habit of transforming my heart.

This year, my husband started a "Lent for Everyone" Wednesday night, intergenerational worship service at our church.  We would sing songs together, everyone from the youngest to the oldest, and then three speakers would get up and give 7 minute "TED talks" on that week's scripture passage from the Psalms.  It was brilliant.  And it also provided me with my Lenten fast.

The first week the scripture was Psalm 25:1-10.  Speaking of putting your trust in God and not being put to shame.  It is chock full of things about forgiving our pasts and God's faithfulness but the thing that stuck out most to me was verse 3 which says "No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame but shame will come to those who are treacherous without cause."  It was a dagger to the heart, because as much as I don't find myself to be a treacherous person, I realized that I often fell into the same habit of many a married woman who vents about her husband to her friends and then they all join in the chorus.  I had already been feeling really convicted about my outside grumblings over dishes and laundry and the smallest things that I had hyperbolized for the sake of conversation but this Psalm honestly put me to shame, I was treacherous without cause.  I could not ask for enough forgiveness.

So there began my Lenten fast, I would keep my mouth shut and my texts kind and my phone calls positive.  I thought it would simply be a practice in staying quiet but it opened my mouth to great things and changed my whole self through and through.

I have never been much of "take your thoughts captive" kind of girl.  I have always been a fan of external processing and talking until I got where I was going.  I tell long stories and I love and remember details, I keep track of things said and things felt.   But all of a sudden I found myself thinking about the grip I had on all the little things I held so dear because I couldn't simply text them away.  I had to really take a whole view of the things that brought up the anger and frustration that I wanted immediate validation for.   I had to see what about my heated state was valid and what was simply an inconvenience in the kind of day I felt I was entitled to.  

Then, if the frustration was valid I had to try something remarkable, I had to talk to Noah about it.  Without working myself up in my head, justifying my every dissatisfaction but instead striving for humbleness, reminding myself that he isn't a mind reader, come to the love of my life and ask for his apology, his forgiveness, his help in our marriage, help with our children, help with my understanding and finding in the asking the realization he was asking the same of me. 

It was brilliant.  It was not always calm and perfect and idyllic but it was intimate because it wasn't shared outside the walls of our home or hoarded within the confines of my emotion.  And honest intimacy changes everything.

So, like I said, Easter is over and I have some things to say.  I have to tell you about all the things I wanted to yell from rooftops about my husband in the last two months -

He is so much more than I ever give him credit for.  I am guilty of sometimes putting him into a box of specific skills or titles like "pastor" or "dad" or "outdoorsman" or "dishwasher."  But he is astoundingly creative.  Our church's whole aesthetic was planned and built and put into motion by him.  He has a remarkable ear for harmony and balance in everything from a big sound stage to the new children's drum kit in our living room.  His inclination toward problem solving makes him driven to create a solution and not in a typical manner but always a manner that respects the people involved.

He is a remarkable father.  With our two-year old, Soren, the hardest moment of the day is when his dad leaves.  Soren is in love with his dad but that isn't an innate thing for every kid.  Noah has been intentional in cultivating a relationship built on trust and love and understanding and great fun with both of his boys.  They light up when he comes home as if everything they have ever wanted or needed just walked through the door.  And he doesn't take that adoration for granted, instead after a long day when Soren says, "Let's run!" Noah breaks into a race making laps around our couches with grateful kids in tow.  And as he closes the door to Soren's room at night is left in awe of his duty as a father, I am in awe of him.

He is a bringer of the gospel and a champion of justice.  I can't describe this here.  I can't tell you about all the ways he digs in to scripture to reveal the compassion of a big God who is desperate for love and justice and mercy and righteousness.  I can't describe the passion that consumes him when injustice is over looked or even more, conscripted against those around him.  But you can listen to him preach it here, and know that these few moments are a glimpse into his heart and conviction.

He is the lifter of my head.  I have never in my life experienced grace and forgiveness in such a monumental manner than through this man.  He does not let shame stand between us and when something has gone wrong, whenever I have made a mistake through the years, big or small, he doesn't let my self-doubt stand as an excuse not to run into his arms.  I am more than grateful for his mercy I am a better woman, wife, mother, human person for it.  He is a champion of my dignity and I am his biggest fan.

There is more but this is already really long but I think you get the moral of the story.

Gossip is more than simply small talk, it is treachery without cause.  But on the other side of treachery is intimacy, vulnerability, honesty and home.

In other words, everything we all can hope and imagine is well within our reach if we simply reach out with our eyes open and perhaps, our mouths closed.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Mom, Mom, a thousand times Mom

About two weeks ago I sent my mom the following text message:

"I don't know how you did this with four kids, I'm pretty sure if Soren says "Mom" again I am going to lock him outside, and it's not even 10am!"

Her response was simple and totally appropriate.
"I am smiling :)"

My mom has every right to smile at this.  She raised four kids, got her Masters of Science, taught college courses and has expertise in things I can't even spell.  And, frankly, I can't remember a time where she lost her temper with me as a kid.  She did a great job, this day in question, I felt I was doing a lousy one.

That particular morning proved to be more difficult the longer it wore on.  Tempers ran short.  Things that would usually be dismissed as the ways that happen simply because two-year olds are neither coordinated nor particularly aware of what things look like when they are "put away" all of a sudden became world ending battles for control of what can and cannot be on the carpet.  The hills I chose to die on that day ranged everywhere from the fact he didn't' understand that it is not necessary to take out every crayon in order to use just one, to the times he would consistently stop the stories on his cd player to re-listen to the beginning over and over to just how much water could be in his cup. 

And before the 10:30 mark hit I officially loathed the title of "mom."  I didn't want to hear it anymore and it repeated more often than the first 6 minutes of Winnie-the-Pooh on the little black radio.  The things that got to me most is Soren would repeat "Mom" without even stopping when I responded "Yes?" or "What, sweetheart?" or finally "Oh for heaven's sake, WHAT?!?!"

He would say my name as if it was the newest version of Marco Polo without any of the fun of summer sun and swimming pools.  I tried everything to get him to stop.  I would kneel down to his level and look him in the eye and try and get him to tell me what he wanted.  I would stop whatever  I was doing and let him know I was there.  I tried ignoring him.  I tried telling him that if he said my name one more time without telling me why I was going to put him in timeout.  That particular threat was quickly followed with a smile and a "Mom?" and me stifling a scream and putting him in timeout because I needed to be in timeout more than him but he can't be trusted with an open dishwasher and I can at least be trusted enough to ignore it.

His relentless inquiry of me without any seeming sort of purpose punctuated by his infant brother's teething screams, I cracked and the well of tears came cascading down in rivers of self-doubt and shame-inducing judgment on my character, my ability to do this job and how ashamed I should be because I prayed for these boys, I wanted them so badly and now look at me, weeping over everything and nothing at all.  I texted my husband who has an amazing job with flexibility that allows him to come to the rescue of an undone mess of a wife and he said he would button up what he needed to and come home. 

As I sat, thankful for his understanding, willingness to help and ability to do so, one feeling crept over me more than anything.  I wanted to call my mom.  I wanted to call her and ask her to come over and give me a hug.  I wanted her to hop in the car and be over in a few minutes or even hours.  I wanted to call her and say "Mom" and have that be enough because the words for what was happening were failing me. 

I didn't call.  I knew she was at work and that a call from me that was simply long silences peppered with my inability to stifle my crying would make her more worried than was necessary.  The grown-up in me didn't want to bother her, didn't want to worry her and in fact as I'm writing this I'm hoping she's not worried or bothered by reading it. 

But as time has gone on and as that day has passed and the wisdom of hindsight, coupled with a few moments of reflection and a few glasses of wine, has begun to sink in.  I realize now that more than my grown-up need not to bother my mom, there was a lie that has followed me my whole life that prevented me from calling.  It is the unsubstantiated and unfounded lie that, to my mother, I am a bother.  Somewhere, my self-doubt let in a little script that has followed me around trying to make me believe the lie that she doesn't want to run over an help, that watching my kids grow up over Skype is enough, that the3 kids, 3 children-in-laws and  8 grandkids she has within driving distance are all she needs.  The same lie says she doesn't desperately long to hear me call her name within the halls of the home we shared for  18+ years.  The same lie tells me that my siblings don't like me as much as each other.   The same lie will not shut up as long as I listen.

And oh, how I have listened.  I listened through years of teenage angst and early-twenties pride.  I listened as God told Noah and I we would move to Washington and that we wouldn't be "home" in Minnesota for the foreseeable future.   I let it corrupt holidays and trips home, I let it prevent me from calling my siblings just to check in.  Somehow, the lie that essentially has told me I could do it myself and then shamed me when I couldn't, has convinced me that not bothering my mom is the "adult" thing to do.

But if I had called, she would have taken the call.  She would have let me cry, she would have worried the way only a mom worries , worry that is more heavy-laden with love and the desire to help than with pity or impatience.  She would have told me I can do it, that she had a hard time too.  She probably would have cried with me a little.  She would have told me she loved me and when the phone call was done she would have prayed furiously.  She would have prayed that I would have peace, that Jude would calm down, that Soren would be sweet and that Noah would have the words to help.  She would have prayed that the ticket prices from Grand Forks to Seattle would dramatically drop so she could get on a plane the next day.  She would have called me back later that night to see if I was OK.  She would have been the mom I needed.  The mom whose name I just wanted to call out a hundred times simply to hear the reassuring response that she was there.  Because she is, and has always been, a good mom.

So, maybe, Soren just needs to know I'm there.  Maybe, when he can't see me, he calls my name to reassure him that I have not left nor will I ever leave him alone.  Maybe he just likes having me around and even though he could string together long and descriptive sentences to describe what he's doing, or what he's looking at or what he needs, he'd rather just get my attention by calling my name and knowing I'll look up.

And maybe, I'm the mom he needs. 

I'd love to say this time of reflection means I'll never be annoyed at the incessant "mom" droning that will inevitably happen, but I know I will be.  I just hope that when the day comes where I long desperately to hear his voice call my name, that he knows I am here, that he is not a bother and that I will take his call.

I also hope the airfares between Grand Forks and Seattle get cheaper soon.

I love you, mom.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Parenting 11 Minutes at a Time

You know those parents who get up early before their kids so they can get work done around the house and then be really present with their kids?  I am not one of those.  I love sleeping and when I have a four-month old who doesn't love sleeping, if my two year old sleeps until 8 I will cuddle that baby so I can catch just a few more of my less-than-40 winks.  Usually at 10pm I have the intention of getting up early, doing my long forgotten yoga practice and making a healthy breakfast.  But after multiple wake-ups in the middle of the night, the mere thought of getting up before my kids is ludicrous.

So it went with this morning, Soren slept really well last night, I would imagine it was because he finally had his lamb back, after a whole night without it, and he woke up relatively happy at about 8:15.  (And yes, I know that it's amazing my toddler sleeps that late, I am not complaining.)

I told him last night I would make him banana pancakes in the morning, and so I did.  I was going to make good on a promise I made.  Granted in order to make them and not irreparably burn either of my children, he needed an adequate distraction and when nothing seemed to suffice, I caved and gave him the Kindle so he could play train puzzles.  As I stood there mashing ripe bananas I felt guilty about how I was not present-enough.  I thought about how my mom and grandparents didn't rely on technology to keep us busy, they must have just had magical obedience charms and the patience of Job.  And so I made pancakes, and he ate five.  We giggled about taking bites and named the shapes that the pieces were in, I stemmed a melt-down when one of his square pieces fell apart by making funny faces and assuring him that the pieces would still taste fine after they broke.   Five pancakes for him, four pancakes for me, a little brother in a Bumbo seat watching it all.  From plating to wipe-down it was about eleven minutes.

Then came dishes and arguments over train puzzles and the ever-present task of feeding Jude.  Coupled with calls from the chiropractor and a message about Jude's appointment tomorrow at Seattle Children's to check on his kidneys, I was undoubtedly not present.  I was a mom but there was no active parenting happening.  I wasn't teaching him anything other than the fact he has my threshold for questions and breakdowns totally dialed in.  Finally I put on the movie Cars, which he has seen at least 30 times, simply so I could make my coffee.

I fed Jude, slathered Nutella on another banana pancake, immediately told myself I didn't need the extra calories, ate it any way, checked my email, Facebook and Instagram and pushed down the glorious plunger on my french press as a little blond tuft of hair stuck up over the couch, and the animated distraction raged on.  Here came the pangs of guilt again and again.

And then I did something different.  I stopped listening to the voice that told me that watching tv is the worst thing I could ever do.  I put Jude down in the swing and he fell asleep and I sat down next to Soren with my cup of coffee.  He looked up at me and said, "Mom, I want to snuggle you."  Done.

For the next eleven glorious minutes, I sipped my coffee and wrapped my arms around my son and was there.  I was present even with the tv on.  I whispered in his ears that I loved him so much.  I didn't check my phone as it buzzed on the kitchen table behind me.  I didn't think about the work I had to do, or how I was going to book my next wedding or how we were going to pay Jude's mounting medical bills or when the next time I was going to get a shower was going to be.  I didn't tell myself, "Ok, ten minutes here and then back to real life."  I let time pass, I cried momentarily as I realized how much taller Soren sits than he did last week.  It wasn't an hour of presence or a whole day but it was eleven minutes of heaven.

And then Jude woke up and pooped.  The phone dinged at me again telling me I had a voicemail.  I honestly had to stop Soren from drinking the bottle of syrup that was left at the table and then immediately had to comfort him at the loss of his syrup-drinking privileges, which he has never had but apparently felt a great mourning over the loss of them.  My eleven minutes were up.

But as I sit here, my coffee is cold and Jude is hitting his limit on his bouncer and Soren keeps listening to the first six minutes of Winnie the Pooh stories on the CD player he learned how to work, I realize that I will have another eleven minutes today.  And when I think of the times in my childhood that make happy memories, they aren't hours up on hours, they are moments.  I just hope he remembers these.  Until then, like I said, my coffee is cold and that needs fixing and Soren has his trucks.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On sweatpants and champagne: Learning to celebrate without the caveats

As January 1 rolled around I saw a bunch of people announcing their "one word" for the year.  I did a little research into this movement of "My One Word"(and by little, I mean I honestly just read the "about" section on the website and got the gist, heck ya research) and I am so glad it is working for people.  I have to say that I have too many words to pick one that would fit my whole year, and I'm planning on writing more on that later, but for now I have a Januray-ish word: Celebrate.

I grew up thinking celebrations were meant to be few and far between.  They were saved for the high holy days of Christmas, Easter, summer vacation, monumental birthdays and finishing your taxes.  And even thought I'm about to talk about celebrating without caveats, I want to add this one admonition: My idea of celebrations as uncommon is not in any way a reflection on my parents and their endless celebration of their children's major and minor accomplishments, it has entirely to do with the unrealistic media-induced portrayal of celebration that I was inundated with even through the puritanical 1980s.

I thought the idea of celebrating was always grandiose.  It had to be over the top to count.  I remember on my tenth birthday, my mom got home from work and asked if I wanted to help her make my cake.  I was aghast!  Even though I loved baking with my mom, and I am sure that she had better things to do after a long day of teaching, I was so incensed at the idea of baking my own cake that I broke down in tears and "ran away."  Running away for me at that age meant going to my porch and shutting the door, I was very rebellious.  I mean, how could I celebrate by doing something I loved with someone I loved and making something we both loved and then feeling loved by those people?  (I hope my sarcasm is coming across properly.  Oh, and sorry mom, I was a jerk. I love you.)

No red carpet or surprises or fancy getup meant it wasn't a real celebration.  In turn I have lived telling people that "I don't need a big celebration" while always hoping to come home to a beautiful dress and heels and roses and my husband telling me to get ready because we are celebrating big time.  I felt that I wasn't allowed to celebrate so I didn't.  And then Soren was born and the idea of celebrating daily began stirring in my heart.  I started to feel guilty about wanting to break out the bubbly every time he did something new.  I felt things needed to be bigger for a "real celebration" to occur.  So I made things small, birthday parties, milestones, first words, first steps, the first moment I found out he would be a big brother.  I made things small because I didn't have the time, the energy, the money or the inspiration to do them up in a great big manor.

But luckily, I'm married to someone wiser than me.

This past week I got a fun surprise a little earlier than expected when my photography work was published in Seattle Bride Magazine online.  I knew this was coming, it wasn't a new thing, but I didn't know exactly what date it was.  So when my friend Danielle texted me to tell me she saw my work I about screamed while I was waiting for my sandwich order.  I was ecstatic!  I saw the feature and nearly cried from smiling so much.  I was so happy!  I told family, I put it on Facebook and I wanted to go galavanting about.  But then my sandwich order came and I had to head home and still be a mom.  I quickly couched my excitement because as much as I wanted to shout it from the rooftops, the truth was, Seattle Bride isn't as big as it comes when it comes to being published.  This was not Style Me Pretty, this was not in print, this was not exclusive, it just was there.

I got home, I got a hug from my husband and a hungry baby to feed.  I got spit up on and hit in the eye by a toddler's steam engine.  I told myself to stop being so excited because it wasn't big enough yet, not grand enough.  But as the night died down and my husband suggested we celebrate he put the nice bottle of champagne in the fridge.  The nice one, the one that was a gift from a friend and cost much more than the $5.99 Trader Joe's brand that I like.  And after bath time and book time and bed time had passed.  After our littlest finally fell asleep late into the night, he opened up the bottle and toasted with me.

We toasted in sweatpants and REI socks.  We toasted in the midst of yesterday's dishes and tomorrow's laundry.  I tried to take an artsy picture on my phone to document the occasion, trying to make the reason for the nice bottle look better than me but the photo is in bad lighting on a dirty kitchen counter and no filter could save it.

But, my oh so kind husband lifted my chin and kissed me and said "Here is to the first of many."

I wanted to feel guilty for celebrating because it wasn't the best or the tip top.  But I didn't, I sat in my sweatpants and in the arms of my husband, watching the Food Network and drinking really good champagne to celebrate this one accomplishment.  Not to say, we will drink better bubbly when I get bigger recognition.  Not to say, I suppose we should do this as an obligation to commemorate something.  We celebrated.

I am choosing to celebrate.  I am choosing joy in the midst of bad lighting and stained nursing tank tops.  I am entering His courts with praise because I am His and He is mine.  I will not say that just because I can do better, this good is not good enough.  I will celebrate when Soren gets "LMNOP" in the correct order.  I will celebrate when he tries.  I will be joyful that Jude has already learned to roll from his back to his belly and I will cheer when he begins to crawl even though it terrifies me.  I will celebrate the fact my husband has a good job that he is good at.  I will celebrate the day I shoot enough weddings to buy a case of $5.99 champagne and we will toast without caveats.  We will not compare our joy to someone else's because comparison is the thief of joy and celebration.  I will bake a cake with my mom the next time I see her and hug her for loving me through my caveats.

I hope you can celebrate too.  The little things which are often big things.  I hope the enemy doesn't make your accomplishments small and I hope you have people around you to toast with.  I hope your sweatpants don't keep you from galavanting about.  But do be careful while galavanting with champagne, especially if their are legos on the floor.