Layla’s 9th Birthday Letter

Layla Jean turns NINE on Monday!! Time for her annual birthday letter!

PicMonkey Collage

My sweet Layla,

Nine.  Years.  Old.  WHAT??!  How is that even possible?  It is hard to wrap my brain around the fact that nine is halfway to eighteen.  I know how quickly the first nine years went by.  How do I slow down the second half?  It’s like I woke up one morning and you suddenly went from infant to big kid. From Sesame Street to Cupcake Wars.  From rocking you to sleep every night to telling you, “One more chapter, and then lights out!”  Will I one day wake up and suddenly find that you’ve gone from big kid to teenager?  How quickly will you transform?  Am I going to close my eyes for a moment and then open them to find you getting ready for prom?  How do I make sure I’m appreciating each moment God gives me with you?  I don’t know.  But I will continue to beg the Lord to help me savor every second, every season.  I hope you know, even when time escapes us, that I am so, so grateful for my days with you.

Layla, you are doing so great!  When you were a toddler you had so many words.  You would start talking and I would think to myself, “What is she going to be like when she gets older?  Who is that baby girl going to become?”  And now you are a child and I get to see who you are becoming.  I am so impressed.  You love science projects and crafts.  You have a hunger for reading.  You love Jesus and your family passionately.  You sing from your soul. You have the best laugh.  You are unique.  When we go to the library, Jordyn searches high and low for unicorn books, Bryson makes a beeline to the Sonic comics and stays there, but you….you are all over the place in the very best way.  I love to watch you go.  One moment you’re lost in a Judy Blume book and the next you’re reading about Harriet Tubman.  Oh, it makes my heart so happy.  Recently, you watched a history video about Rosa Parks and spent the rest of the evening reciting facts about segregation and Jim Crow.  You are only nine.  But you understand things I would have never expected a nine-year-old to comprehend.  Your hunger for knowledge is insatiable and I hope that never changes.

In your reading about activism, and in your every day life, you’ve learned a lot this year about bravery.  You did a project for school on Ida B. Wells and I watched you awaken to the idea that we can stand up for what is right, even if it is unpopular.  Even if it is hard.  Even if we are all alone in the standing.  As a young child, you learn to avoid consequences by following the rules.  When you get older, rule-following becomes more nuanced.  You are learning that people have had to break the rules when those rules were unjust.  You have learned that people have faced consequences for doing so.  You have learned that sometimes you have to stand up despite the consequence.  That being silent about unjust things for the sake of avoiding consequence is wrong.  I am still learning those things, too.  We can learn them together.  It is so, so important.  The world will need more of that kind of brave.  The kind of brave that I see growing inside of you every single day.  I promise to help you grow that bravery.

I promise to support you when you stand up for what is right.  I promise not to teach you how to be safe and quiet and comfortable.  I promise to teach you to be bold and fearless and strong enough to stand for what is right, even when the whole world tells you to sit down.  I promise to stand beside you.

Layla, you are nine.  And just like you have quickly grown from infant to toddler to child, you will inevitably grow from child to teenager to adult.  But I will be here for every part of it, baby.  I will be in your corner.  Ready to lead the way when I need to, ready to step back when I need to do that, too.  You are going to be amazing.  You already are.

Happy Birthday, Layla.  I love you with my whole heart.

Mommy

 

 

 

 

Anticipatory Grief is a Selfish Toddler

When I awoke this morning I had exactly zero desire to talk about hard things.  That’s been pretty common lately.  Besides the word vomit my sister and I exchange by phone (how’s that for a visual?!), my mouth stays shut.  When someone says, “How are you?”  My response is usually “Good!”  Not because I’m a liar, but because I am still, in fact, breathing and if someone was able to ask me how I’m doing, it means I managed to make it out of the house to join the real world.  So that IS good.

But anyway, yeah- I had zero desire to talk about hard things.  I’m going to do it anyway.  Let’s discuss anticipatory grief.  Which basically means that you get to experience all the grief that comes with loss before loss actually happens.  You may not have heard of it, especially if you haven’t been in therapy.  You may have heard of it, but not spent a whole mess of time thinking about it.  That was me.  Until 2015.  And if you are a part of my life, you probably know way more about 2015 than I currently wish you did.  It is so important to be vulnerable, to tell the truth, to not walk through things alone.  But that doesn’t mean some times I absolutely hate that people know so much about the ugly in my life.  I’d love to just share the pretty.  But that’s not realistic.

I can’t tell you my daddy’s story the way I want to.  I can’t chronicle his doctor’s appointments or share what happens behind closed doors.  It’s not my story to tell.  But his story is forever interwoven with mine.  And the only way I know to make sense of all this mess is to share my part in it.  Because you might be dealing with hard things, too.  And you might need to remember you’re not alone.  I need that reminder, too.

Along with terms like “anticipatory grief,” I have gained a lot from sitting and saying all the things on a big comfy couch, in a quiet office, sound machine in the background, tissue on the table.  One of the phrases I’ve heard over and over is this- “If you do not deal with your grief, your grief will deal with you.”  I know this to be true.  But I still avoid dealing with it.  It’s been two long years and I’m sick of dealing, so I try to put it away in a box or pretend it’s not there.

But grief, anticipatory or otherwise, demands to be felt.

     Of all the feelings, it’s my least favorite one.  Love isn’t pushy, but even if it was, it feels so great that who cares. Joy is sometimes evasive, needing to be searched for or chosen, but it is never an inconvenience.  Even sorrow can be soothed and rocked quietly back to sleep.  But not grief.  Nope.  Grief is a selfish toddler in full on meltdown mode.  It throws itself on the ground, kicking and screaming because it wants to be heard.  And those tantrums- well, you don’t often see them coming.

I haven’t been dealing with my grief.  And today, my grief dealt with me.  I walked the aisles slowly because it’s not often I get to walk aisles alone.  I thought about the editing I needed to do for a photosession.  I thought about finding time to get some files done for work. I thought about trying to make the popsicle stick bracelets that Layla and I had found a tutorial for.  I did not think about anyone’s cancer or doctor’s appointments or anything else.  I made my way to check out and the cashier said, “A Hulk fan, huh?” as she noticed the bright green bracelet around my wrist.  The one my sister made while Dad was still in the hospital.  The one I wore as he fought through chemo and radiation.  The one I fidgeted with as he told us he had decided not to go that route anymore.  It is so much apart of me that I don’t always notice it’s there- just like my grief.  But as she noticed my bracelet, I noticed my heart ache.  Oh, it hurt.  I shook inside, but smiled and laughed and said “Oh yeah.”  The tears were unavoidable.  But I didn’t want to make this poor lady feel the heaviness of it all.  It’s not her fault I don’t just deal with this stuff.  So I put my head down when I grabbed my bag, made a bee line for the car, and sobbed.

All that to say, I still believe Jesus is the big answer to all this.  It’s just different from what I expected.  Instead of taking it all away, he beckons me to come sit awhile with Him and tell Him all about it.  (Sometimes in a parked car in a parking lot when grief throws it’s latest tantrum.)  Instead of offering me a shortcut through the grieving, he challenges me to feel it, to experience it, and to trust that He is enough in all of it.  There is a lot to learn, but the lessons don’t come easy.  Here’s what I do know though- I call my grief a toddler.  And in watching my own  babies grow at rapid speed, I know that toddlers don’t stay toddlers for long.  They grow, they mature, and they learn how to use their words instead of losing their junk in public.  I’m holding onto hope that my grief will do the same.

When They Reunite

We heard her before we saw her, a high squeal echoing across the parking lot. It is a universal motherhood truth that if you go any length of time without seeing your child, they will insist on rapidly growing during that period. It’s just a guarantee. The 5 weeks they spent apart turned her little guy into a big boy and she could not believe it!

My favorite thing to do when we bring one of our little house guests back to their family at the end of a hosting is to watch their expression. How does a young mind process the roller coaster they’ve just been on?  Leaving everything they’ve known to be normal and comfortable, settling in to our home’s routine not totally understanding where their parent is or what happens next and then finally being reunited with their parents is a lot. The reactions have been varied.

Sometimes a little one’s reaction to our saying goodbye can make walking away very difficult. But when this little cutie cuddled up into his Mommy’s neck and closed his eyes and smiled so big, we knew what we’ve always known. These little loves that come into our home are not meant to stay forever. They belong somewhere. He belongs with his Mommy. We love them hard and let them go. We let them go, but we never stop loving them.

We have spent four years practicing the art of loving well and letting go. Learning the differences between charity and servanthood. Figuring out what it means to walk alongside someone in their time of need instead of assuming we have a quick fix to solve their problems. Mostly we’ve learned how much we don’t know.

When you start serving people in crisis you do a lot of wondering why they don’t just dig themselves out of the hole they are in. As much as you try not to judge, you have all the opinions and all these ideas about how to solve their problems. “Just dig,” you say. That’s what you would do, right?

After some time, you learn that the tools you always had access to, and the training you just assumed everyone had on how to use said tools are not guarantees for everyone else. You assumed we all were born with the same set of tools: including that shovel. So dig. Dig yourself out. But you were wrong. Not only does this momma not have a shovel to dig….she’s never even seen a functioning shovel. So she doesn’t know HOW to dig. You can tell her until you’re blue in the face that she just needs to dig herself out but it’s not going to change anything.

I refuse to do that now. I’ve found it a lot more effective to hush my mouth and listen. When I listen, I learn that it’s nearly impossible to dig yourself out when all you have are your hands and it continues to pour rain so the ground stays wet. And there is no one around to help you up when you slip in the mud. Instead of saying “just dig” I’ve learned to show someone what a functional shovel looks like and tell them that if they need help digging, I’m here. I’ve learned that, instead of being all talk, it’s a lot more effective to just get in there and get a little muddy.

Today we said goodbye. And we don’t know what our little houseguest’s future holds. But we will love him and love his Mommy and walk alongside them as they learn and grow. And make no mistake about it, it will be messy. We will get muddy. But Jesus isn’t scared of a little mess. So I won’t be either.

 

Thinking

Hi friends. I’m still here. And there is a lot I’ve been wanting to say. Especially to the Christians. Especially about how social justice should be a natural extension of serving Christ. Especially about how loving our neighbor should take priority over political preference. Recently though, I’ve been doing a lot more listening and a lot less talking.  While I think bold, prophetic voices who will proclaim truth are needed (and I refuse to be someone afraid to say hard things) it has been important for me to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Now, what I don’t want to do is be complicit in all the wrong by keeping silent. But what I also don’t want to do is just add to all the noise, noise, noise going on right now. It’s a delicate balance. But I’m still here. And I’ve  spent a lot of time thinking.

I’ve been thinking about the little house guest in our home. He is cute y’all. His happy brown eyes and deep dimples are the most joy inducing things I’ve seen in awhile. Strangers stop and notice him. And I hear a lot of “Oh he’s the sweetest thing.”

And I wonder what the magic age is when a black boy stops being the sweetest thing and starts being intimidating. I wonder this for him and I wonder this for my own son. How old will they be when society stops looking with adoration and starts being afraid?

I spend hours on the phone with the warrior mother of the toddler we tuck in at night. She is college educated and hardworking and has never had to get clean because she’s never been not sober. She is the opposite of the assumptions we make about homelessness. She calls at night and bares her soul in words. You would think her being homeless is the scariest thing about her life. But her biggest fear is not homelessness. No. She knows she will work her way out of that. She is afraid of what will happen to her son when he is no longer a child.  That is something she can’t escape. A home won’t allow her to escape it. A career won’t allow her to escape it. Her son growing up to be respectful,  to work hard, make eye contact and obey the laws won’t change it.  Some day someone will decide he’s not safe because he is large in stature and dark in skin. They just will. My own husband is living proof of this.

And I’ve been thinking about how many people, in the climate we are in today, would clutch their purses or look suspiciously at Jesus Christ himself if he walked in the flesh with his brown Israeli skin and dark eyes in the United States today.

I have no point to make. I have no solution to offer. I just wanted to say that I’m still here. And I’ve spent a lot of time thinking.

My Word for 2017

For the past few years instead of making a New Year’s Resolution I have chosen a word. That word sticks with me throughout the year and is something I hold on to when I’m doing life. For example, 2016 I chose the word joy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into with that word. It was a hard word to live by. But probably the most important for all that 2016 brought.

In the beginning of 2016, we had a baby in our home who was not our own. Her Mommy was homeless and unstable. Navigating all the crisis that came along with that hosting was chaotic, but we did so joyfully. When they were successfully reunited, no longer dealing with homelessness, our hearts were so happy. We chose joy.

My parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew all came to Texas. We all slept under the same roof, we took lots of pictures and did lots of things. We shared meals and worshiped together at church. So many precious moments on that visit. It was so easy to choose joy.

In April, we experienced a first. The first time our family of 5 all had the flu at the same time. We were in pajamas with blankets all over the floor and it was all about the Kleenex and Netflix. A hailstorm quite literally ripped through our roof. I will never forget the way the kids screamed at the windows shattering or the way I pushed them into the closet not fully understanding what was going on. Church family came to the rescue, risking our flu germs to board up windows and tarp holes in the roof. Although we were overwhelmed, we were reminded that God has placed some of the most incredible people in our lives. So we chose joy.

We spent two months hotel-living while the house was being repaired and that was a low point. There was a lot of eating out and taking walks to keep from getting stir crazy and a lot of “please-for-the-love-of-everything-go-to-sleep-already” with the kids. Getting a call during our time there that my father was in the hospital felt a whole lot like getting kicked while I was down. It was ugly. I planned to spend another summer in Florida and tried to wrap my brain around what was happening. I’d like to say that I reached out to my support system and refocused and got my junk together. But mostly I cried a lot and introverted. I did a lot of writing and deleting, I did a lot of giving God a piece of my mind in the car alone with the windows rolled up. But when I did all the shouting and bore my ugly heart and was still met with undeserved grace, I was reminded to choose joy. And that’s what I did.

When dad got poor news from the doctor, when dear friends heard the diagnosis of cancer for the first time or lost people they loved dearly, when there was a messy house and piled up laundry and 504 meetings and “Mom nobody at school likes me.” When the days were too long and the nights were too short it was always, always about choosing joy. Sometimes right in the middle of ugly, painful sadness.

By no means did choosing joy mean living in denial. It meant living in confidence. Confidence that God knew what He was doing even when it didn’t make a lick of sense to me.

When there were highs- like the kids coming home with great report cards or our church starting a clothing closet to minister to the community  or the same dear friend diagnosed with cancer successfully completing radiation or family time at the North Pole Express in Grapevine, or the way Jordyn’s face lit up Christmas morning- the joy that came naturally was not taken for granted. I’d venture to say it was even more sweet.

On the rollercoaster ride that was 2016, I chose joy and the joy of the Lord was my strength.

For 2017- I am choosing a word that is literally tattooed across my wrist.

Hope.

I will admit that a lot of my time has been spent preparing for the worst case scenario. Maybe I have forgotten to hope for the best. Okay, not maybe. Perhaps in the process of learning to choose joy in hard things, I have lost sight of holding on to hope that it won’t always be the worst case scenario over and over. In my life, I have become so busy bracing for what will come next that I have stopped hoping. I don’t want to go into 2017 bracing for impact. I want to hope for a good year. It’s been about survival since March of 2015 and I haven’t been able to dig myself out of that. I’m ready to now.

cfh2bhjuyaaimftSo I will hope. I will look forward to the days that lay ahead for myself and my  family instead of trying so hard to make sure we are ready for every bump in the road…I mean, we’ll still wear our seat belts and everything, but maybe I can just start to enjoy the ride a little more. Maybe I’ll look out the window on our road trips and notice something beautiful. Maybe I will spend the ride in hopeful anticipation of our destination instead of spending the entire time trying to prepare myself for what will happen and how we will handle it if the car breaks down, so to speak.

In 2017, I will hope unswervingly.

What word will you choose?

Merry Christmas!

picmonkey-image

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! We have been busy, busy, busy- decking the halls and fa-la-la-la-la-ing. We Christmas so hard around here that we are allowed to use it as a verb. Yes, we love Christmasing. This season has been full of moments where I have laughed so hard I’ve cried- but I’ve also had moments when I cried so hard I had to just laugh. I have learned (and am still learning) that deep, deep joy can coexist with grief or sadness. I am grateful for that hard lesson.

Friends, whether your days have been merry & bright or you’ve been white knuckling it through the entire season (for me, if I’m being honest, it’s been a little of both), I pray that you know that you have value. That you are loved. That there is always, always a reason for hope. Hope in the baby in a manger who caused angels to sing. Hope in the teacher who shared radical truths about loving others as yourself and about how absolutely nothing could ever separate you from His love. And, if all of that fails to bring you solace because of whatever 2016 brought you, I pray you will hope in a man laying down his life so that death, in turn, would lose it’s sting. Hope in the promise of heaven. A promise that one day, no matter how hard things are now, He will wipe every tear from our eyes.

This Christmas, I just want you to know that it’s okay if that’s where you’re at. If that’s the only peace you can find. If the songs and the gifts and the twinkling lights just aren’t doing it for you. If everyone else’s holiday cheer is only serving to make you feel isolated because of your pain. If this Christmas finds you angry. Or sad. Or broken. There is grace for you, friends. If this Christmas finds you feeling a little like a misfit, be encouraged. It is my suspicion that God has a special place in his heart for the misfit. My guess is, it was no accident that Jesus was welcomed into the world so humbly, surrounded by stinky animals and socially awkward shepherds. God was telling us something so very important. The kingdom of heaven is so beautifully upside down, the last being first, the ones once sowing in tears reaping in joy. All are welcome. You are welcome. So there is hope. I pray you will know that hope this Christmas. I pray that hope will carry you through to the next season of your life. Merry Christmas, friends.

(NO)More silence.

Do you remember the horrible video that was trending on the internet showing the aftermath of Philando Castile’s death?  The week all of that happened, was the week that I started to feel alone. Because I couldn’t quit crying over a traffic stop turned murder.

I started reminding Kevin to be safe on the road and checking to make sure he made it to work. I started looking at my son and trying to imagine him as a man that the world would look at differently than I do. But the statuses I read on Facebook, many from people we know and love, didn’t reflect that same kind of upset. Instead, these were the general (and frequently repeated) ideas that I saw:

  • The media just creates racism to separate us. Don’t feed into it and it will go away.
  • Philando Castile probably didn’t have a permit to carry.
  • IF he did in fact have a permit, he probably did something stupid like move abruptly or reach for it.
  • Philando Castile was wanted for a robbery and if you don’t commit crimes, you have nothing to worry about.

Fast forward to present day.

The DA announces that charges will be filed against the officer. After reviewing the full dash cam video, he refutes every single assumption made about Philando Castile. He did have a permit. He did inform the officer correctly. He did keep a calm voice and made no abrupt movements. He was profiled by the officer, pulled over for having a wide set nose which the officer claimed matched a suspect in a robbery. He was NOT involved in a robbery. He was just black.

And guess what? My Facebook feed is silent. The total opposite of the day that video went viral. Make no mistake about it- had the investigation revealed Philando reached for a gun or threatened the officer or was involved in a robbery, my feed would have blown up with comments. It’s happened before.

As long as you believe racism isn’t “a thing” anymore
As long as you are silent when implicit bias happens
As long as you believe that there aren’t people of color who are suffering or that it’s not your job to care or that if people would comply we wouldn’t have problems
NOTHING will change.

Can media coverage inflame things? Sure. But you guys- actual real people are sharing their stories. Real life discrimination is happening and you aren’t listening. Mostly because you aren’t even stopping to ask.

And so for now, there is a large community of people who will continue to imply with actions or words (or maybe with lack of action and silence) one strong belief- that black bodies are dangerous.

It hurts me to type that sentence out. But you can’t tell me it’s not true.

For as long as white women clutch their purses when my husband walks by them, it’s true. For as long as he is watched in stores, it’s true. When he gets pulled over for forgetting to use his turn signal in a turn lane and the officer wants to look in his vehicle with a flashlight and asks why he’s in the area (not expecting he would actually live here) it’s true. When the doctor is sharing the importance that he stay on top of his asthma but feels the need to strongly emphasize that asthma causes death in “inner city people” it’s true. (We live in the suburbs-but whatever.) When guests at his place of business are (unpleasantly) surprised that he’s the one who runs the building, it’s true.

And he just deals. He lets go of the anger and prays for peace over and over again. He rises above. But I resent that he has to do that.

I resent that Kevin is a father, that he nurtures babies in crisis that are not his own, that he provides well for us financially and loves Jesus and works hard and loves to sing along to Journey or Prince and studies spelling words with the kids no matter how tired he is- but to people who don’t know him-he’s reduced to being just a black body. And that underlying belief is there- that black bodies are dangerous to people. So they will fear him or be suspicious of him or assume to know something about him.

And what hurts most is that if you DO know him, you might view him as the exception to your rules. Rules that you may not even admit out loud that you’ve made. Rules you may not even realize you’ve made.

Maybe the media does make things worse. But maybe just because you don’t personally know people who are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin, it doesn’t mean racism is being made up out of thin air because someone wants attention or is playing the victim or is causing division. I got permission from my husband to talk about him today. But I know lots of other stories from lots of other people. Some of those stories much, much worse than anything my husband has experienced. Not media stories…real living and breathing people. And it doesn’t go away just because you ignore it or refuse to acknowledge it. Silence makes us complicit. So I will stop being silent.