Bryson’s 9th Birthday Letter

Bryson Alexander,

I was only five weeks pregnant when we told Grandma and Grandpa that you were on your way.  They were both so excited! No sooner had I gotten the word “pregnant” out of my mouth did Grandpa started talking about his big love for his grandson.  He just knew you were a boy.  There were no doubts in his mind that you were the answer to his prayers.

Bryson's Birth (120) (2014_02_28 06_27_15 UTC)

After 9 months of Grandpa constantly feeding me so his grandson would be born big and strong, you made your appearance.  You were almost 9 pounds! That made him super proud.  You guys were best buds instantly.  Joined at the hip.  Meant to be.  All the cliches.  Every one.  All true.  Bryson, you were born into so much love.  I know right now you’re young enough to think our family is the norm.  But one day you will understand what a blessing it is to be apart of a family that cares for each other the way our family does.   It is rare.

 

I remember those moments.  I remember Grandpa rocking you to sleep in his blue recliner.  I remember him walking hand in hand with you as you toddled along.  I remember you guys playing at the park.  I can still see it.  You tell me all the time that you miss those moments.  I miss those moments for you.  I wish I could make a million more of those moments possible.  I promise to help you remember them.  And I promise you that that kind of love never just disappears.  Love lives on, sweet boy.

You are going into another year as a very loved little boy.  And you give love away just as well as you receive it.  You are full of compassion and kindness.  You are always thinking.   Unless a conversation pertains to video games, you are often quiet.  But when Daddy and I sit you down and ask you about your thoughts, you blow us away.  You’re so insightful.  You think through hard things with great courage.  You speak about the needs of those around us and how we can help fill them with such conviction.  You speak of your dreams to pastor a church with enough property that you can build tiny homes for the homeless members of your church to live.  It is inspiring to watch you dream.  Keep dreaming.

Daddy always says that you look just like him, but your personality is just like me. And he’s right.  The older you get the more you look like your handsome daddy.  Be proud of that.  He’s a good man to look like.  But you are analytical, you have big feelings, and you need time to yourself to process things.  That is just like Mommy.  The truth is, though, you are so much more brave at age 9 than I was.  I admire that deeply.  May your courage and compassion grow with each birthday you have.

Every parent believes their child will grow up to be  a world-changer.  I’m no different.  The thing is, Bryson, if you never accomplish another thing, you have already changed my world for the better.  You’ve changed daddy’s world for the better.  You will be a world-changer, but you also already are.  Thank you for your kindness, for your sweetness, for your strength and for your love.  As a Mommy, I am so grateful that I get to call you son.  And as a daughter to your Grandpa, I am so grateful for the joy you’ve brought to his life.  I’m so thankful for the bond you two have shared.

Thank you for being who you are, Bryson.  I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea.  Happy Birthday, buddy.

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Psalm 100:5

“I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow.  Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state but a process.”  -C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

It has been two and a half years since grief fell into our family’s lap in the form of my father’s glioblastoma.  The blessing of time in this process has not been taken for granted.  We are thankful.  But also very weary.

In two and a half years I have said way too much, said not enough, said yes when I should have said no, said no when I should have said yes.  I have showed up when I probably should have just stayed home.  I have stayed home and hid when I really should have just showed up.  When your heart is aching, the simple act of making eye contact can be painful.  So, I have spent a lot of time alone.  Except that I’m never really alone.

The thing about this messy process is that it has put a magnifying glass over what I’m made of, how I cope, where I put my trust.  I’ve not always liked what I’ve seen.  But it has also shown me God’s goodness in a way I’ve never seen before.  And that has been beautiful.  I have never been more sure of God’s great love for us.  I have never been more certain of His presence in my life.  I have learned so much and I’m doubtful I would have learned these things without walking through the hard.  There is much to be gained in loss.  God’s kingdom is so beautifully upside down in that way.

There are days that every single phone call is a sad one.  Every bit of news is bad news.  And I have all the big feelings, even on the best days.  It’s the way I’m wired.  So my stomach starts to hurt, my head starts to pound.  My body gets achy and tired.  The weight of grief is something I experience so physically that I often want to crawl in bed and not get up again until this is all over.  My body shuts down.  It says, “Nope.  Too stressful.  Not doing it.”  But you know what my soul does?  It sings.  It confidently declares the goodness of God without fail.  Almost like that’s exactly what it was made to do.  Almost like I don’t even really have a choice in the matter.

We take hit after hit, and it would be easy to wonder where God is in all of this.  To be mad at him.  To decide I have created Him in my mind as a way of coping and turn away completely.  But even when my mind screams that this is bad, even when I’m so weary that my own flesh begins to fail, deep inside of me whispers over and over, “You are good, God.  I’m keeping my eyes on you because you are good.”

I couldn’t doubt His goodness if I tried.

I am so sad about this broken world, but I can’t stop remembering God’s sufficiency.  I don’t wonder where He is in all of this.  I know exactly where He is.  He is in our midst.  Right in the middle of all of this. Even in cancer.  Even in mass shootings.  Even in hurricanes.  When He doesn’t calm the actual storm, He speaks “Peace, be still” to our souls, instead.  If you listen, I promise you’ll hear it.  You’ll hear the reassurance that this isn’t all there is and that we don’t have to handle it by ourselves.  We don’t take one step alone.  Not one.  To sum it all up, I’d make a terrible atheist.

God is in this.  God is for us.  And God is good.

 

Jordyn’s 7th Birthday Letter

Jordy,

We made a very serious pact when you turned four that you wouldn’t get any bigger than you already had.  Enough was enough.  And, somehow, we have found ourselves here.  In four short days, you, my love, are turning seven! Because you are the baby in our home, it is extra hard to let  you go and grow.  You, sweet girl, are one of the best surprises this family has ever received.

In just a week, Jordyn, you will officially be a 2nd grader.  I remember being a 2nd grader, too.  I remember best friends, kids’ choir, trips to the library.  I remember getting to class in a hurry so I could tell my teacher I got baptized.  I remember having my first real argument with a friend- the way hot tears streamed down my face when she stomped on a pretzel in the hallway and announced that was our friendship.  (Don’t worry Jord, we were BFFs again before the day was over.  Girls are complicated.  You’ll see.)  I can’t believe that you are old enough now to have your very own experiences.  Experiences that you may remember when you’re an adult.  I want you to have so many happy memories to look back on.  I cringe when I think of the sad memories you might have, too.  I want so much to give you all of the good things and none of the bad.  Still, I know how important it is to experience both.

There are so many conflicting feelings in motherhood.  Everything inside of me wants to hold on so tight.  I want to keep you close to me.  Keep you safe.  Keep your ears full of kind words only.  Keep your heart unbroken.  And yet, I let you go.  Because I have to.  Because it’s my job to.  Because I would be failing you if I didn’t.  Because there is someone amazing God is growing you into and I will not get in the way of that.  It’s the strangest thing to feel sad in the letting go and, at the same time, to be full of such pride in watching how strong and independent you are becoming.  I love every part of who you are becoming.  I still can’t believe I get to be your mommy.

Jordyn, Daddy and I found out that we were expecting you during a hard season of our lives.  It was so scary to have two toddlers, to find out that we were moving to a state where we didn’t know a single person, and to have to figure out how to do life without our extended family right up the street.  It was even harder to do that with morning sickness.  But you were the most precious gift from God.  Your sweet face made all of that other stuff seem small.  You and your sister and brother were the reason why we were determined to figure out the new life we had been thrown into so quickly.  Seven years ago you were born.  And these seven years have been so much richer because you have been in them.  When you were born, you made every single step  we took just a little brighter.

You still do that. 

You make every sweet moment sweeter.  You make hard moments sting a little less.  And not just for me and Daddy, but for so many other people, too.  You are so good at being compassionate.  You give out love like you have an endless supply of it.  Keep doing that, okay?  If all you accomplish in this life is loving God and loving others well, I will be the proudest mommy ever.  I already am.  No one can convince me otherwise.  Daddy and I love you higher than the sky and deeper than the sea, Jordyn Elizabeth.  Happy Birthday.DSC_5154-2

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.