The Smell of Home

The baby is asleep on my chest, the 5-year-old is snuggled so close that she has my left elbow pinned to my side, and the 7-year-old is seated between my feet, leaning against my knees. Clearly these children of mine have no concept of the idea of personal space. I’ll be honest, it’s enough to make an extrovert feel pretty claustrophobic. Plus, I have to pee, and I don’t know how I can do that without waking the two girls up.

And then my 7-year-old son nonchalantly turned his head to the side and sniffed my leg.

He sniffed me!

“Did you just smell me?” I asked him.

He got this goofy shy smile he has, and said, “You smell like home and being safe.”

At that, his 5-year-old sister peeked open an eye and chimed in with “You smell good and safe.” And then she sniffed me too.

As I sat there trying very hard to not pay attention to my bladder, I distracted myself by thinking about what an amazing gift it is to be safety and home to these small-ish people. The trust that they have in my abilities to heal injuries and broken hearts and to keep the boogey-man at bay is humbling. I’m just an ordinary woman, but to them I’m so much more than that. I’m MOM.

I eventually slipped out from underneath their warm selves (Freedom!!!!) and came back again, settling myself on the opposite end of the couch. My husband gave me a knowing wink seeing that I’d managed to carve out a little elbow room for myself. It lasted just long enough for the dog to see that my lap was empty and take full advantage of that. I guess I smell like home to him too.

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Next to Godliness

This summer has been one of us staying purposefully close to home. After a few years of us being on a constant run, we made the decision to slow our pace down, and allow our summer vacation to be a break from the never-ending whirlwind in which we live. We’ve taken the time to focus our energies on our children, our home, and our relationship with God. Unfortunately, no matter how great our plans have been, we can’t find the peace that we’re seeking.

We like to think that our home is a place where God is welcome, where we invite Him into our family and our lives, but can He be found in the cluttered chaos which is my home?  Not “Is He here?” but can He be found?  Or does the mess and the chaos shield His calming presence from us?

Messiness is very tedious and exhausting not just to my soul, but to my eyes and mind as well.  In all of that fatigue, where is God?  He is ever-present, to be sure, but who has the energy to seek Him?  I know that I do not.

I have spent the past few weeks fasting and praying in an effort to purge from myself that which is not “of God.”  I have left this part alone.  It is the most difficult because it is not just myself, but the whole of my family which has fallen into this trap.  I am truly beginning to see it as a trap of the Evil One.  There is a reason behind the cliche “cleanliness is next to godliness”  I have scoffed at this saying many times, but now am seeing it with clear eyes at last.  The mess is a barrier to the sound of God.  It is a wall between my Creator and myself.

I will be spending the weeks from now until the new school year begins in penitential cleaning.  Sweeping the cobwebs from my house and the clutter from my soul.  We will begin our new school year in a house which has been prepared to welcome the Lord to enter in, because if He knocked on my door today I’d be too embarrassed to let Him inside.

 

photo credit: dandelions in a bowl on my counter. I took it. Don’t steal it.

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It’s His Turn to Go

I’m the parent who gets to go, always. My husband works insane hours, so that means that when one of the children (usually Ella) has a trip, it’s me who gets to go. San Antonio, Los Angeles, Nashville, Louisville, Atlanta, St Louis, etc.; he stays home while I hop on a plan or take an epic road trip across the country with our child(ren). This summer it’s going to be different.

Ella will be in Venice Beach later this month for a skating competition, and her soon-to-be-16 year-old brother, Lincoln, is going with her….. So is their dad.

When I first suggested it to him in April, he was absolutely against it. He had no interest in going to LA, and he was happy to stay comfortably at home. As the date for them to leave gets closer, he’s starting to sing a slightly different tune. He’s actually getting excited to go. If you know him, you know that’s a huge thing.

They’ve decided to go to DisneyLand while they’re out there. None of them have ever been, and I’ve made them all to take lots of pictures. I know them, so I expect that they will take maybe five pictures between the three of them. I’m letting go and deciding that that’s okay, that life should be lived, it doesn’t have to be documented.

Ella is already planning to take them both to her favorite food joint by the beach (the Cairo Cowboy, baby!) and to teach her dad our methods for finding old and funky churches for Sunday Mass. Lincoln is excited for the adventure, and my husband is excited to just get to be their dad.

I often wish that we had the time, money, and resources for big family vacations together, but we just don’t. (One day of Disney for our family is close to $1000 just for tickets.) Instead we’re finding a lot of joy in these mini-vacations with just a couple of the children at a time. I think it’s something we will be planning for the next few years, and hopefully a few of them won’t revolve around basketball or skating contests.

We want to show our kids the world and let them see what is out there, but that can be hard when there are so many kids and a dad with a busy schedule. Taking turns is working for us right now, and this time it’s his turn to go. I’ll be right here when he gets back – eager for the stories and the sad five little pictures that they will have taken along the way.

 

 

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Here’s to My Useless Friends

“You seem a lot happier since we moved to Texas,” my 17 year old son told me the other day.

“I do?” I asked him. “That’s not surprising. I am a lot happier.”

“I think it’s your friends here,” he said.”They make you smile.”

He’s right. They do. When we moved to Texas six years ago, I made a conscious decision to find friends who were fun and knew how to laugh.

My Oklahoma friends are all nice women, but too many of them were friends of mine because of convenience. Our children played together, and our friendships revolved around our children. Their kids took dance classes, learned Latin, played sports, did boy scouts, etc. with my children. We were on committees together.We worked together. We helped each other in our vocation as mothers. We spent a lot of time together, and grew used to having each other around.

They were great working friendships, and that was the problem with them. Our relationships were revolved completely around the work of being homeschooling mothers. Eventually our lives were so enmeshed that neither side could walk away because to disentangle ourselves from each other would be so disruptive to all of our lives.

When you can’t be yourself  and find that you are parsing your words carefully and tiptoeing around each other in order to maintain the status quo, what you have is not a true friendship.

It wasn’t until I moved away from it all that I realized how exhausting it all had been. I decided that this time I would do better, and I have. Since moving to Texas, I’ve only been keeping and seeking out useless friends. The reality I have learned is that if people have a use and a purpose in your life, you’re not really their friend.

I have and maintain lots of acquaintances these days. There are the people I meet on committees and the parents of my children’s friends. I like them all and we are friendly. We chat and hang out, laugh and enjoy each other’s company. We trade favors and recipes but we are not truly close.

Then there are the few I love, a few from there and a few from here. The ones with whom I share my authentic self. The ones who bring nothing more than joy, peace, and comfort to my life. The ones without a purpose. They are the ones I keep for fun, the ones who make me truly happy just because I know them. They are my wonderful, beloved and truly useless friends.

I hope they find me useless, too.

 

photo: it’s my Bunko group – some of the most useless women I know.

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The Hardest Part Is Just Watching The Train

When my eldest children were two or three, I thought the hardest struggles of parenting were potty training them and getting them to stop biting each other.

When they were 10, I thought that the hard part of parenting was protecting their childhoods from the culture around them that introduced them to adult topics when they were still small-ish children.

When they were 12-13, I thought that the hardest thing I’d do as a parent was to guide them through the changes of puberty with its mood swings, flaring tempers, changing bodies, and first crushes.

When they were 15, I thought it was the heartbreak of mean girls, unrequited love, social pressures, and growing up.

Now they are in their late teens and early twenties, and I’m finding that I was unprepared for the heartache and worry that can come from being the parent of an adult or nearly-adult person.

The hardest part of being their mom is no longer being the ultimate authority, there are parts of their own lives that they are the sole authority on, and yet I can see, thanks to my age and life experience, the tragedies and heartaches heading their way. I was unprepared for the strength that it would take to stand and watch the train of pain and heartbreak speeding towards them and know that I’m helpless to do anything other than watch them get hit.

People talk about hindsight being 20/20, but they don’t talk about how it can make foresight 20/20 as well. Watching my children make really bad life choices is horrible. Knowing that the consequences will be horrendous and that none of the warnings I have shouted will be heard is devastating.

And they don’t listen. For the record, I didn’t listen to my parents either, but my children should be different. They should listen to me.

But they don’t. they stare at the headlight speeding towards them, dazzled and mesmerized by its glow. And we’ve reached the point in life where I’m not able to protect them. I can’t shove them out of harm’s way. All I can do is stay nearby to pray for those standing on the tracks, and to help bandage the wounds of the recently flattened.

Dear Lord, Please give me the strength and wisdom necessary to parent these almost grown children of mine. Grant me the strength to not meddle in their lives even when I know the train is coming, the fortitude to stay by their sides even when I can see the pain that is inevitable, and the generosity required to not indulge in saying “what were you thinking?” or “I told you so.”  Please give me the softness and grace necessary to help bandage their broken hearts and turn them gently back towards You. Help me to be the mother they need as they leave my protection and learn to navigate the world on their own.

 

Photo credit: Aleš87 via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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Through it all, there has been you

Twenty-one years ago today, the skies were gray and threatening rain. I wasn’t worried about the weather. No matter what happened, it would be perfect.

It was a year and a half since you’d called me and said very simply, “I think it’s time we go shopping for rings.” I’d been sitting on the floor folding socks and underwear, but it was suddenly one of the best moments of my life.”

Before I knew it, I was standing in a white dress, fidgeting with my long gloves, and preparing to walk toward you, and the rest of our lives.

All nerves and nervousness, that evening flew by, and then I was your wife. I’ll admit now that  I had no idea at all what that was going to mean.

We welcomed some babies and buried others. We cheered on first steps and lamented last ones. We’ve created home and left it behind. We’ve plotted, planned, and dreamed and then welcomed the unexpected.

Through it all, there has been you. And there has been us.

Twenty-one years ago, I thought I knew what love looked like. I looked into your eyes as we said our vows and I knew that that was love. And it was. But it is so small compared to what was to come.

We vowed to each other “for better or for worse,” hoping there would be more of the better than the worse. We had no idea that the “worse” was necessary. It was in those darkest moments that we learned to cling to each other. It was in those moments that love grew strong. I’m no longer afraid of the things life has planned for us.

So, my Love, here’s to the next twenty-one years. Let them be what they will be, so long as I can be by your side.

 

 

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He’s Praying for Her Already

My eldest son has a job, but not a driver’s license yet. That means that I get to drive him. It’s become one of my favorite parts of the week. Our 8 minute car rides to and from his job are often quick bursts of deep conversation.

Like last week when he asked me “How will I know when I’ve found the right girl?” He’s fresh off a heartbreak, and we’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about girls.

“It’s not in how you feel -butterflies in the stomach,” I told him. “Or that you can’t stop thinking about her, or that you’re all goobery and tongue-tied in front of her – those things are just signs that you’re attracted to someone….but when you find a girl who makes you want to be a better person, that’s the one you want to marry.”

He sat through a red light just thinking, then he said, “I pray for her already, Mom. I pray for the girl who will someday be my wife. I ask God to keep her safe and protect her, and that He keeps her close to Him.”

“What made you do that?” I asked him.

With a twinkle in his eye, he said “She’s already making me a better man and she doesn’t even know it.” He laughed and then said, “It just seemed right. Plus how cool will it be when I finally meet her to be able to tell her ‘I’ve prayed for you every day since I was seventeen.'”

Be still my heart.

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Belonging, Love, and Home

When I was 14 years old, a horrible car accident changed the dynamic of our family forever. Soon after that the house my family lived in was no longer a safe place for me to be. It wasn’t long before my single-and-never-been-a-mom-before aunt let me come and live with her.

She was glamorous. At least I’d always thought so. Her house was funky and cool, and unlike our house which felt lived in, hers was clean and bright. It was also packed with books. Each of her floor to ceiling bookshelves were often loaded two rows deep with novels, and she placed no restrictions on what I could read. So I did. I spent the after school hours until she got home drinking in the peaceful calm and silence of her house, I wouldn’t turn on the TV or radio until she pulled in the drive, and immersed myself in the eclectic library all around me.

It felt very sophisticated to be living in a house which had been decorated on purpose instead of a haphazard happening that just somehow came to be. The flower beds showed her love of gardening, and that was a revelation as well. The idea that yard work wasn’t a chore but a joy, and that back yards could be more than home to a swing-set or the place where the dog pooped. There was a hammock in her back yard, stretching out beneath the shade trees, where I would swing and listen to the wind ruffle the leaves all around me. It was the place where I began to find healing from the constant strife and fear my family home had become.

I didn’t live in that magical house very long, but the memory of it is written on my soul. When I close my eyes and imagine heaven, it very often looks like a small funky house on a side street in a coastal Texas town. Clean and bright. Sunlight flowing in through the windows and peace hanging heavy in the air.

I spent a few days with my aunt this past weekend, taking the baby to meet the woman for whom she was named. It’s not the same address, she moved years ago back to the college town she’d loved, but the feel of it is unchanged. The peaceful curl-up-on-the-couch-with-a-book and rest a while feeling is exactly as I remember it to be.

I haven’t been to her house in years. We have a lot of children, so it’s more practical for her to come to us, and so it was with amusement that I looked around her kitchen and saw so much that looked familiar. The colors. The dishes. The pottery collection. They’re all the same as mine.

I didn’t do it on purpose. Ten years ago I bought a Mexican pottery platter that I thought was pretty, then another, and before long I was collecting Talavera. Fiestaware dishes seemed to naturally compliment the vibrant colors, and so I swapped my plain white plates for a riot of color. Little by little, I slowly added pieces that spoke to me without thinking too hard about what it was that they were saying.

It was only when I stood in her kitchen early on Sunday morning that I realized they had spoken to me of safety and home. My time in her house was only a short season of my life, but the impact it had on me is still reverberating today. So much so that the platters and bowls sit on my shelf that whisper softly to me of belonging, love, and home.
Photo credit: Carl R Jr. via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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Three Years Later And Still Moving Forward

Today marks three years since Ella last walked. Next week will be three years since she could even stand with crutches. That seems unfathomable to me. There are days I struggle to remember a time when she walked, and other days I keep expecting her to jump up and run. Her brother ran down the hall last week in the familiar cadence that was her footstep. It sounded enough like her old step that I woke instantly from a sounds sleep, running around the corner to see that he was the only one awake. I struggled to breathe in that moment.

I miss the girl who walked. It almost feels a betrayal to admit that I miss her. I miss the shy girl with the bashful grin who wished for invisibility above all else. I look at old photographs of her, and they seem like someone else. I love the girl she is today, but I desperately miss the girl she she was and would have been. This is the one day out of the year that I allow myself to think of her.

I waited until she’d gone to the movies with friends, and then I took her worn out ballet shoes from the trunk where I store my mementos and memories. I cradled them in my hands, this last tangible remnant of a girl who danced, and at last I let myself apologize to her. I couldn’t find answers or get help fast enough to save her. I failed that little girl.

It’s taken a lot of therapy for me to be able to come to terms with not being able to keep her safe. That’s the primary job of any parent, but it isn’t always possible. You can’t protect them from enemies you can’t see. That doesn’t mean I’m not sorry. I would change all of it if I could.

And here we are preparing to run the gauntlet again. Although this time in a more predictable one. These next few years are the ones I’ve been dreading. She turns 13 in three weeks. The cute kid in a chair is rapidly becoming the young lady with wheels. She’s been at peace with her body until now, but I worry. Puberty is hard enough for normal kids, and I don’t want her to hate her body.

Until now, she has lived in a protective bubble of people who love her and tell her how amazing she is. That can’t go on forever. Last week’s first encounter with a mean girl at a party left her momentarily floundering. She’d never faced that kind of venom before, and I can’t shield her from it.

With all of the obstacles that we’ve faced in the past three years, all the fights we’ve fought and won, there aren’t many as destructive as the acid tongues of other 13 year-old girls. My girl is not going to safely blend into any crowd. She’s going to stand out, and not just because she can’t stand up.

And we’ve reached the point where all we can do is love her and pray; so please keep us all in prayer as we make the daunting changes from little girl to teenager, homeschooled 7th grade to traditionally schooled 8th grader, and shy little mouse to a lion that roars.

 

 

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Candles Out! ~ lessons from a Baptism ~

This weekend, our sweet Rita Lucile (known affectionately as Rita Lu) was Baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. Which means that she got wiped free from Original Sin, and I got to spend the weekend sniffing the holy baby head.

Saturday afternoon, our family and a few close friends came together to watch our girl officially get de-heathenated.

My beautiful friend, Heather Renshaw (writer, blogger, amazing human being) flew in from the Pacific Northwest to be Rita’s godmother, and our eldest son stood as godfather.

Do you see this joy? This is why we asked her.

The water might have been a little bit colder than Rita would have preferred. We told her that it’s never easy letting go of sin. I’m not sure she was all that impressed with our reasoning.

She’s the first of our babies to cry when being Baptized. We’ve had them be stunned, indifferent, or sleeping when the blessed water was poured on them; but Rita Lu was the first to screech in protest. Our normally easy-going girl sure was fast in letting us know she wasn’t happy at all.

It didn’t take long for her to settle back down. A little bit to eat, the heavenly smell of chrism oil, and some reassurance from Mom soon had her back to her own happy self.

It was a little strange to welcome our girl into the Church without the hoopla and fanfare that came naturally in Oklahoma when we were surrounded by family, but strange isn’t always bad.

While we may not have had a crowd of relatives, we did have a few close friends who joined us. Our friends aren’t even Catholic, but they love us so they showed up to celebrate our daughter with us. Thrilled to have been asked to share in our special occasion.

After the Baptism, we spent some time explaining the inside of our church to our friends who had never been in one before. They asked about the Stations of the Cross, what the altar was made from, and why there was a tabernacle. It was one of the best gifts we got that day, the chance to share what we believe with some of the people we like and love.

In the almost week that has followed, one of them has continued asking questions. I don’t think she has any interest in converting, but is seeking a deeper understanding of the theology and traditions of being Catholic.

It’s been a great lesson for all of us. We tend to be very private people despite my years of blogging, but maybe we shouldn’t be quite so much. We invited the people we never thought would come, those from other faiths and no faith, and felt almost like we were imposing on them when we did. Their saying yes gave us the chance to share something we know to be both beautiful and true, to evangelize painlessly to those around us. And we were reminded once again that we are supposed to be a reflection of God’s welcome and love, and not hide our lights from the world around us.

Candles out! We are called to enlighten the world and Baptize all peoples. That has to start with the people who are the very closest too us.

 

photos by Desiree Chapman and used with permission. All rights reserved

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