Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Rose Petal Jar

My mom wouldn't say that she's a gardener, but that doesn't mean she hasn't tried. I'd say she's more of one than she admits to- she did help plant and maintain an entire vineyard, for Pete's sake. I remember having a plot of land next to our house in the country with seemingly endless amounts of okra. God, how I thought it was torture when she made us help her with it. I'm sure she gave up "family gardening time" after a few tries, because it was better to do it in quiet solitude than with our endless complaints.
She's always grown roses well, though. The roses in front of that house exploded with blooms and the plants grew large and wild. Roses are easy though, she'd say. (She's not very good at taking compliments.)
This week, I was planting the flower bed in front of my own house, and feeling so much peace, calm and earthy goodness. My mind wandered back to my childhood, to our house in Hamlin. I was young then, 5 or 6, which would make my brother around 2. I remember playing outside in the front yard by ourselves. I'm sure Mom was checking on us through the windows, but I wasn't cognizant of it. I can distinctly remember finding a Mason jar and picking every single petal off the blooming rose bushes in the front. Not just pulling the blooms off, which would have been bad enough, but destroying the roses- plucking them apart and putting them in the jar. We took the water hose and filled the remaining space in the jar, delighted as the many-colored petals spun and sloshed in the jar. It was our home-made snow globe, with petals instead of white flakes.
We couldn't wait to take it inside and show Mom. I can just see us standing there, wet shoes leaving footprints on the floor, dirt-caked knees, and proud smiles. "We made you something!" we proclaimed, holding the gift aloft like the treasure that it was.
And I can imagine what it would be like to be the parent to those kids, who were probably sent outside to give their mother a moment's peace. I can imagine many reactions from a scolding for ruining the flowers to a curt 'thank-you' through gritted teeth. A sigh, maybe. But not my mom. I remember how she gushed, how she acted as if we were brilliant, as if we'd created the rose bush itself- instead of taking a big step toward destroying it.
My mom has a gift of seeing past circumstances into the hearts of people. I think it's maybe the most important gift that a person can have, because it is hearts that really matter and not circumstances. Being in those shoes now, parenting small children, I can see that motherhood is continual practice in this. It's so easy to get carried away in the circumstances of dishes and laundry, yard work and housework. It's too easy to bring the stress from work back home. It's easy to get snappy with bickering children.
It's not easy to stay calm when everything feels like it is exploding with toys or muddy footprints or ungracious words. I don't always stay calm in those situations, and neither did she. But motherhood is an endless amount of tries. That day with the rose petals, she was gracious and perceptive, two words that I think describe her most days. And these days, when the mother's heart inside my own chest gets buried beneath the roiling circumstances of the day, I try to breathe and remember the rose petal jar.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


This week on Facebook, Donald Miller posted, "I believe people need affirmation slightly more often than food and water. Let's affirm our loved ones that often." This struck me as true, at least for me; though I've always thought that I am a little more needy than average. It got me to thinking, why would I need to be affirmed over and over? Why is it so hard to hold on to what is true? 
I think it is because the person with the most scathing criticism, the person who throws the hardest punches, the person who tears me down the most is me. For some reason, the same things that I wouldn't allow someone else to say to me sometimes creep into my own head. And if I let those thoughts linger, I start to believe them, at least until someone sets me straight. 
I have lots of teenage girls in my life, and I know from experience how hard that time is. When I was a teenager, I remember people saying these were "the best years of your life." And I remember thinking, "I sure as hell hope not."  I wouldn't go back to those years if I had the offer. Now, I get to surround myself with awesome, encouraging, loving people. My loudest critic is the one inside my head. You girls don't always get that chance. You have to battle that voice inside your head, and still sometimes listen to assholes. So I wanted to take a minute to affirm you.
You are beautiful.
You are kind and sensitive. You are vulnerable and passionate. The world tells you to hide those things because they are weakness, but the world is wrong. Those things are your strength. Gentleness when it's unpopular, boldness when it's awkward, passion in the face of apathy- that's what a real woman is made of.
Your beauty does not come from bottles of foundation, the size of your skinny jeans, or the look in that boy's eye. Your worth does not equal how fast your time is on the track, how many points you score on the court, or how many times the soccer ball hits the net. Those things are good things, and we celebrate you for them. But you are beautiful without them.
You are beautiful because you are God's child. The world had this huge gaping hole in it, and God looked down and made you the perfect size to fill it. The world needs you. YOU, no more; no less. 
You are God's child. I'm not sure if you know the fullness of that phrase, because you are not yet mothers. (My daughter teaches me more spiritual truths than I could ever have learned on my own.) She is the same amount of beautiful when she's rolling in the mud as when she is dressed up for church on Sunday. She is just as precious to me when she is throwing a fit as when she is curled up in my arms. My heart aches from her beauty and innocence, from her stumbles and her triumphs. 
That's the way He feels about you. You are beautiful. He made you exactly how He wanted you to be.
You know this already, but sometimes our own heads tell us lies.

Be fierce. Be wild. Be vulnerable and passionate. Be kind and compassionate. Be sensitive and strong. (Those things are not mutually exclusive.) 
You already are beautiful.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Candy Land

"If you will skip your movie before bed, we'll all play Candy Land together."
 She'd never go for it, I thought. It had been a busy evening- enjoying the weather outside by raking leaves and playing soccer. We still had dinner and bath on the agenda, and time was running short. To my surprise, she heartily agreed.

After awhile, the game was running long. We'd been playing about 30 min, which is about 10 times the length of a 3-yr-old's attention span. Cory started rigging the cards so Cate would get the candy cards that move you several spaces. She seemed to have the concept down that to win, she wanted to move closer to the castle at the end. She seemed disappointed when she got moved back toward the beginning. UNTIL.
Guys, you should have seen her face when she drew the card that took her to that star. She gasped and her eyes grew to twice their size. She flashed the card around and sang, "Igot the sta-ar, I got the sta-ar!" We were all close to the end when it happened, so she had to go quite a ways backward. She didn't care. She had been saying the whole game, "I sure wish I would draw the star." We were almost done- I was about to win, and she was like, "Go ahead. I think I'll just stay here at Gummy Pass."
And I can't blame her. It is pretty cool. As she pointed out, it has a train, lots of giant gummies, and that awesome bridge short-cut. She thought she'd just camp there for awhile.
Just a reminder today, that life's about the journey.

(And also, the hubs is pretty much a genius since he can rig a game so Cate gets what she wants most, and I still win. That man knows me well.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

More Lessons: Hand Holding

Today an amazing little almost-two-year-old and her grandmomma went for a walk and ended up in front of our house. Actually, the grandmomma told me they usually turn at the corner, but when they saw us playing in the yard, they came to visit. I thought that was brave. I need to be the kind of person who walks toward people instead of hiding behind trucks until they go away. Or looking very busy with child-scolding or dog-walking that I can't make eye contact. It's silly, but it's true. I'm working on it.
The girl, M, was a beautiful newly-articulate red head. (You guys must know that I have a weakness for red heads.) She had tiny little ponytails folded over in what my sisters call "messy buns" all over her head. Purely functional, grandmomma said. I liked her already. I have to admit that the first thing I noticed about M was her hair, and the second thing I noticed was her little hand. She had one normal hand, and one tiny one, with little nubbins instead of fingers.
Oh, gracious,I thought to myself. Please, Lord, don't let Cate say something embarassing. Already I'm having to remember to breathe, thinking of all the horrid things that could come spilling out of that mouth. She's only had three years to develop the filter; hers still has huge gaps. Kids are just so inconveniently honest. I'm reminded of the time in Target when a woman spoke to me in passing and then Cate said loudly, "What did that big lady say?" Luckily, that's been the worst of it so far. I'm sure that today is the day that changes.
The girls greet each other shyly. Then grandmomma says something brilliant. "Cate, did you notice M's little hand?"
"What little hand?" Cate asks, curious. First she notices M's normal hand, and points out that M's hands are littler than her own, since she's almost four.
"Wow! You're almost four? That's great! M, show Cate your little hand."
M holds her little hand out very close to Cate. Cate looks it over and gives it a squeeze. "Hm," she says. "You wanna see my tricycle?"
M and Cate run full-speed across the yard. Cate shows her how to ring the bell.
"Ooh, I ride it?" M asks.
"Um, sure." Cate shares it easily. Two miracles already in this short conversation.
Later, when it is Cate's turn on the tricycle, she wants M to stand on the step on the back. She helps her off, holding her little hand. She runs her fingers over the nubbins, back and forth, back and forth. I tell her to be gentle, just because I don't know what else to say. She gives me that you're-exasperating-me-Mom look (She already has one!), and I know she's right, because her touch is caressing and curious.
Cate climbs on the seat, and tells M to stand on the back and hold on to her.
"I'm not sure it's a good idea," I say, picturing wheels careening and children rolling onto the concrete.
Grandmomma isn't worried. She positions M with her arms around Cate and stands back.
"Go slow," I instruct, and Cate pedals forward. M stands grinning wildly, arms wrapped around Cate's shoulders. Cate drives M around the driveway, steady on the pedals and careful on the turns. She has the most precious, proud little smile. I hover, but Grandmomma chats. She has raised four kids of her own, she tells me.
We spend a good half hour together, talking about the neighborhood and our families. When it is time for them to go home, they make us promise to come visit them soon.
"You know what?" Cate says to them before they walk away. "M is different than me."
I hold my breath.
"She calls you Grandmomma. I call mine Grandma...or Grandi or Mimi."
Exhale. A golden hallelujah moment.

I learned so much today. I want to connect all the dots for you, but I'm still working them out myself. How M held out her flaw, her thing that made her different, for all to see- without self-consciousness or hesitation. How Cate took her little hand in her own. How it was such a non-issue. How Grandmomma handled it all with grace, with the wisdom of an experienced mother. And how I have so much left to learn.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lessons in Prayer from a Three-Year-Old

A couple of nights ago, I was in the middle of the endless bedtime routine. Seriously, the child has a knack for elongating it somehow. What started out as bath, story, prayers, bed has turned into bath, pretend monster chase, movie, story-telling, song, prayer, drink of water, medicine, repeat those last five steps with Dad. Then several rounds of her last-ditch-efforts, in which she comes out of her room and interrupts something very important like Downton Abbey or Walking Dead, and requires that we kiss a hurting fingernail or something equally urgent and then walk her back to bed.
Essentially, it's a small miracle every night that she falls a sleep.
Where was I? Oh yes, we were mid-bedtime-battle and about to say prayers. I started, "Dear God," and noticed she chimed in with me when we said, "Thank you for..." I paused to see what she would say. She immediately got shy and said she couldn't remember.
Me: It's ok. You can say anything. You can be thankful to God for anything.
Cate: Ok. God, thank you for Grandma and balloons... and all my family and paper and crayons and Eli and Morgan and dinosaurs and food. And BIRTHDAYS!
Me: Amen.

I can't get this conversation out of my head. If I am completely honest, I would have to say that my faith has been floundering a bit. It seems like hard life stuff is happening to everyone I know. That's silly, of course it is- that's kind of the way life works. But, since I'm being really completely honest, my faith is floundering because hard life stuff is happening to me! I can be selfish that way. The fertility treatments, miscarriage, and other health issues are suddenly screwing up my life plan and have left me wondering where God is in all of this.
I've found myself either praying angrily or giving Him the silent treatment. And when I feel like actually praying, for real this time, I don't know where to start. I am shy and self-conscious like my daughter. And I am reminded of what I said to her. "It's ok. You can say anything. (Even angry things.) But you can also be thankful."
So, I am thankful. For family. Balloons. Friends who feel like family. Paper and ink pens that feel like silk in the hands. Eli and Morgan and Cate. Dinosaurs and food (especially coffee and red wine). And birthdays. (Though I'm not sure that I'm quite as excited about those as my daughter.) For wisdom, once more, through the eyes of a child.