When I lay me down to sleep…on tuk-tuk and cow parades

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The days are long, the nights are short and sleepless, and troubles are plenty. Throughout the day my eyes settle on the clock hung on the living room wall. The hour hand inches forward, a slow progression counting down the moments until the closing chapter of the day. The minutes dilly-dally, the second hand drags on and tired mommy that I am, I daydream about my pillow. Actually, my husband’s pillow (his is better).  I drink too much coffee. I change diapers, wipe noses, settle squabbles and chug choo-choos around and around and around the tracks. I drag my exhausted limbs about the kitchen, chopping and stirring and scrubbing. And then the glorious moment arrives. Bedtime. The littles are tucked away sweet and snug and safe. Husband too is snug and snoring and has not yet noticed his pillow has been switched out for my slightly-less-than-adequate lumpy stand-in (the benefit of matching pillow cases). At the end of each long day my body is tired. But my mind is perniciously awake. So when everyone else is off to bed and the house is finally quiet- this precious, hallowed time that all moms look forward to- it is overrun by a frantic procession of noisy tuk-tuks and fretful cows parading around my mind.

The mind is, after all, a flashy place of pageantry and illumination and rumination. It provides a wide toothy berth to chew over a vast assortment of wild ideas and fears and anxieties. It is an excellent space for an endless procession of musings to parade themselves down the Main Street of the mind, glinting and gliding and beauty queen waving as they pass. It is imaginative and beautiful but also dark and menacing at times, as all great parades are want to be. Just think Disneyland’s Main Street Electrical Light Parade. Which, by the by, scared the dickens out of me as a child. Now, every night when my head hits the pillow I have my very own front row seat to a private petrifying parade. I think it is the way my subconscious tries to process latent fears and blatant worries. What if they don’t like me? What if this time he doesn’t get better? What if that was the last chance I had to squeeze her oh so tight and tell her that I love her oh so much?

These late-night worries (I like to call them my midnight thoughts because it sounds eerie and poetic and that makes for nice writing) it’s like they are all riding around together on rickety old tuk-tuks with bells and whistles and grime and smelling of diesel fuel, sort of sweet and putrid at the same time. Then there are the cows. Can I let you in on a little secret? I am deathly afraid of cows. These cows bellow and snort and their woeful lowing bespeaks the coming tragedies of life. Oh, the cows! Sad and gaunt and supposedly sacred, they waddle right into the middle of the road and halt and stare blankly on. They have been stealing my sleep. The thieves!

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The thoughts on parade bend and twist and take varied forms. Last month in the midst of a sardonic depression the floats carried loved ones long since passed dressed in high school marching band uniforms and cheese… giant wheels of cheese. I have yet to sort that one out. More recently I’ve been struggling with anger issues and doubt. I’ve also been binge watching Anthony Bourdain’s shows on CNN and the Travel Channel. I have sort of a love-hate thing with Anthony Bourdain. In working through anger and doubt issues it is fitting he should assume the role as Grand Marshal of the parade. He is charming and mean and says what needs to be said. He also looks quite dashing in top hat and sash.

And with all these goings on, I simply cannot rest. Forget sleep, I am a mom of littles after all. But I would kill for some quiet, eyes-closed, not thinking about anything, certainly not worrying about everything kind of REST. Alack, instead of rest I get cows and tuk-tuks and a very agitated me wide awake at one o’clock in the morning. Good times! So up on plodding feet I make my way to the kitchen for water and Benadryl. Back in bed I toss and turn. Instead of counting sheep I try counting cows, since they are already here and the poor overworked sheep are probably sleeping soundly after being hardily availed by my three year old who happens to think counting sheep is just the-most-funnest-thing to do at bedtime, especially when dear sweet hubby play-hops around on sweet toddler’s floor, bleating and laughing and carrying on. So I decide to give the cows a try and close my eyes and conjure up a fence… in a pasture… somewhere green. It’s very bucolic. “Up and over!” I order them in my mind. Nothing. The parade has stalled. Maybe they’re hungry. I fatten one up a bit and add an iconic bell on a leather strap around its neck. Nice touch. Unfortunately, Christopher Walken, who also scares the dickens out of me, is now chiding, “Need more cowbell!” Being the accommodating gal that I am (read people-pleaser) I heartily oblige and suddenly I have a field of dairy cows each bedecked with a noisy bell on a mountainside high in the Swiss Alps. Not wanting to miss the fun and sporting a fancy pair of lederhosen whilst hoisting a giant Bavarian stein to his lips, Grand Marshal Bourdain saunters on to the scene.

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I try to rest in the comedy. Maybe the cows are not so scary after all. I gaze out on big, sad eyes and a sea of fuzzy ears and docile faces amassed to touch the tip of the horizon. They stare and puff breath out of their wet nostrils. Sigh. I reach over finger and thumb to click the light switch off. In the dark I see them still. Silly creatures, they just stand there, licking their noses with their long black tongues. I swear they are smiling at me.

Ripples

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Sticky little feet came charging through the kitchen. The roar of a make-believe lion followed close behind. I heard the timer on the washing machine ding as my eyes landed on the pile of dishes soaking in the sink. I paused, distracted by sweet music softly seeping in and tugging my heart away form the to-do list. I closed my eyes and raised my hands. Worship. My soul is called to come out and bask in His presence, to take Him in and be taken in and filled up and to sing out the awesomeness of God. I sang to Him and through shut tight eyes I saw ripples, concentric circles like waves of water gently pushing out from a singular spot. Ripples.

I thought back to the weekend, to the trip we took as a family to the regional park in the foothills. My sweet little three-year old loves to go hiking as a family. He rides most of the way in a pack on his father’s strong back, enjoying the view and giggling every time his daddy bends down low to save his son’s precious face from an encounter with a mossy tree branch. He sing-shouts the whole way, “A-hiking we will go, A-hiking we will go, all through the forest A-hiking we will go!” He enjoys the ride, but what he really loves is the last section of trail that winds down toward the basin of the park. For it is here that daddy lifts him out of the metal frame and canvas enclosure and sets him free to run and play and do the hiking himself, on his strong yet tiny preschooler legs. He wiggles with excitement as daddy loosens the straps of the pack, almost tipping the whole thing over. He squeals in delight as his very own feet hit the dusty, rocky path. And off he goes. This is my favorite part. But instead of watching his precious blonde head bobbing up and down as he navigates the terrain, I turn back and watch his daddy’s face. THIS is my favorite part. I watch his daddy. His father smiles the biggest smile. I see how proud he is of his precious son. How he adores him and is just as excited to be watching his son explore and learn and play as his three-year old is to be doing the exploring. I watch him inhale slowly, deeply as if with his very breath he is showing his satisfaction, his contentment, his joy in being this boy’s father. I see my husband’s ‘daddy-ness’ and oh my! It makes me weak in the knees! My heart is filled to the brim, to overflowing actually, with love and gratitude to God for allowing me to witness this moment, to see with my own eyes a father’s love for his child.

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In my mind I watch him watching our son run-wobble down the uneven path, and with just a few long strides of his fast long legs he is there, right beside our little one. Together now they scan the sides of the path for stones, smooth stones for skipping on the pond and heavy stones for kerplunking in the pond. This is serious business. Dear sweet three-year old’s pockets are bursting with the weight of his stone treasures as they reach the outlet of the path. Turning the corner, the pond greets us with her earthy, wet, mucky smell. Dragonflies, fiery orange and brilliantly blue, zip to and fro over the tops of the reeds. Father and son reach the water’s edge and send their pebbles plunking into the cold green and brown hued little lake. They bend and giggle and high five as their treasures sail across the air and sink into the water. I watch the surface of the pond as it breaks and ripples beautifully from center to shore, the effects of one small stone. Ripples.

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The memory fades. The music has stopped. I tug open my heavy eyelids and the brightness surging in through the kitchen window stings my teary eyes. My hands return to the countertop to busy themselves with the produce on the cutting board. But my heart remains in His presence, a heart that is being molded and changed and shaped and pummeled and led into His likeness. It is a good pummeling, for He creates beautiful ripples. It hurts sometimes but it is worth it.

For you see, unless He changes my heart, it will remain stuck in selfish, prideful places. It will lie and trick and deceive and create brokenness and chaos. I used to believe the lie. Do you know the one? The pretty lie that feels oh so good and smells sweet and glitters and gleams and says, “Follow your heart.” Well my dear friends, my heart is a liar. I have seen and know intimately the dark paths where my heart is want to wander and what it leaves in its wake. The ripples it creates on its own are self-seeking, they hurt and tear down.

But the ripples left in the wake of my heart yielded to God, the ripples created by Christ in me, those are beautiful. They soothe and nurture and build. They bring healing and give life and quench thirst as His streams of Living Water flow from within. Ripples begin within and ripple out. So I ask Him today, “Please Jesus, be with me and please change me and make me more like You. Please shine Your light though me to touch the lives of others as Your love ripples from my center. Let me not hug the shore but be willing to venture deep and may these ripples be a blessing and bring You glory.”

Gift

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Dear sweet toddler is crying crocodile tears, red-faced, somewhere in between anger and sadness. “Why Mommy? Why did you throw it away!?!?” Oh man. I blew it. Amidst the cups and crayons and stale popcorn bits laid a precious treasure, a morning’s worth of play and fun and love; a gift to me from my precious first born. And I, in my hurry and rush and bustle, had thrown it away. Dear me!

I hurried to get the table cleared, dishes done and bills paid. I rushed along prepping dinner, making lunch, nursing dear sweet baby. I bustled about, eyes focused on the laundry piles, dust bunnies, and matchbox cars strewn atop every single surface in the living room. I saw the mess.   That’s all I could see. And because of that, because I chose the wrong focus, I failed to see the gift. I saw the paint smeared on the table and on the wall and on his cheek, but I failed to see that it was a beautiful part of his display of love, a byproduct of his creative handiwork. And now I am digging through the garbage can trying to salvage the painted masterpiece my son intended as a gift to me.

Epic Mommy-fail. I missed it. And I wonder… how often do I miss the gift because I’m focused on the mess?

Breaking Place

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I lean in and kiss the top of her salt and pepper head. She is so petite, so beautiful. Age agrees with her. She will protest such a comment but I tell her anyway. “You are so beautiful my dear sweet Mimi.” She shrugs and laughs and disagrees but I see her smile as she leans in for another hug. These arms feel like home. They are the arms that raised my mommy. They held my tiny newborn body and rocked me under the Arizona stars while she sang sweet lullabies. They’ve now held my babies too, and rocked them to the same sweet lullabies. These arms are tired now, weaker, but still full of love for me. Full of love for me even when for a brief second she looks at me as though she is looking through me, not really seeing me or seeing me but not quite sure of who I am. I hug her and don’t want to let go. Maybe if I hug her hard enough, long enough I will squeeze the memories back into her. I squeeze her tightly until she pulls away and I am breaking and breathless.

Breathless…not in that oh-my-stars-so-beautiful-it-takes-my-breath-away kind of way. Breathless because every last molecule of life-sustaining air is emptied from my lungs.  The present moment ripped away from my perception. Heartsick. Frozen. In a blink I am back in that place. The place-less space where moments pass and time ticks by and yet my mind, my soul are helplessly unaware, heedless of the when and where and who is speaking. Voices sound. Words are spoken. “Moderate to severe.” “One good year left.” “You and the babies bring out the best in her.” “Not much left.” Some part of me hears them. They are trying to get in, to worm their way down to that soul level where they can make their mark, deep digging marks that wound and deliver another message of pain, of suffering, of loss impending. I HATE this place. My soul knows…this place will hurt and rip and tear and bend my inmost being. This place begs me to open the door to doubt, to allow suffering to callous the precious softness that God has been molding and shaping in my heart. This is the sooty visceral place of the breaking point.

Not wanting these dear loved ones to have the added pain of the weight of another broken heart, I am choking on the inside, hiding tears and truth and anger behind a furrowed brow and slightly upturned smile. They know. We all know, but we silently agree that the emotions of the moment will remain inside. Not one us can handle this new heaviness. The heaviness of Papa’s death is still thick upon our hearts and minds. We are still journeying through the sacred suffering, sorrow that is weaving with hope into a sacred healing. We still ache as we share stories, memories of that amazing man. Our stories, our memories connect us and bind our pain and bring us together in the healing. We cling to him in this way and ache and long to see him again in heaven. But now, his precious wife of over fifty years, she is unable to cling. She tries and struggles and we watch and wait while her words don’t come. She just repeats over and over again, “He sure did love all you kids.”

I do not feel ready for this. Grieving, mourning, breaking, mending; the cycle is starting again. As we approach the door she waves goodbye and says matter of factly, “I hope I see you again, but I may not.” I am not ready for this. I pray one word, “Jesus.” I steal another hug and kiss and with fierceness and unending love I almost growl at her, “I LOVE YOU! Do you know that? I LOVE YOU!” I am not ready for this. I will never be ready for this. But… He is. I don’t how we’ll make it through. But…He does. He has gone before me. He is going before her. He is going before each of us. And He is here now with me. He is with us in the muck and ick and grief and ache, in our breathless moments. He is right here with me in this breaking place and He will not leave me here. He will bring me through. He will bring us through.

Long

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The days have been long. LONG. Weary yet wired, too many cups of coffee, my husband ate the last brownie…kind of long. And full. Full of the good and the hard and the beautiful. Spilling over with broken and messy and enchanting. Full of toothless baby smiles and sticky toddler kisses, flat tires and broken ovens, cuddles and all night coughing fits. Time is passing and my heart is swelling, aching, overflowing as the love in our little family grows each day. Extravagant, complicated love that is growing in the rich soil of hard moments and sleepless nights, in tantrums and giggle fits and endless stinky piles of laundry.

It is a profound love that comes easily and yet it is not an easy love. It is hard work. I am worn and frayed and easily angered these days and increasingly aware of just how selfish I am.  I dream of home cooked meals and freshly pressed suits for my hubby, of kind smiles and gentle words as I instruct my littles. I dream of actually getting dressed and maybe, just maybe leaving the house. I wish that my tone of voice were more sweetness and light and less bedraggled-barking-seal. I desperately want to be patient with my sweet little blessings. Really, truly I do. But why, oh why is ‘WHY?’ dear sweet toddler’s favorite word these days? He is cute and loud and dedicated and stubborn and controlling. My little mirror, he is exceedingly like his momma. It is precious (and irritating). And when, oh when will dear sweet baby sleep at night…like for more than two hours without having to be nursed and rocked and soothed back to sleep while mommy cries? It’s often through bleary eyes I see most clearly. These long, full days (and nights) are packed with goodness, with grace, and with the stretching, growing love of Jesus. I breathe in this truth and breathe out my weariness and accept the gift of a sacred late night meeting with my truest Love. And I pray.

I pray and ask Him to love my precious little tribe through me. I ask Him to stir their souls and tug at their hearts and show them His perfect love each day as I surrender myself and my plan to His. I pray that they would see Him and His great love for them in the way their mommy lives out this motherhood calling. I pray that He would remind me each day that they are a treasure and a reward. They are a way He shows His love for me, like handpicked wild flowers, a beautiful bouquet from the Lover of my soul. I will carry this picture with me into the new day. I will see my gorgeous growing boys, and my dear sweet husband through His eyes. With His help I will choose calm and kind and gentle today. I will protect and trust and hope and persevere today. Not in my own strength but in His. I will fiercely guard my own heart so that they may have the best of me. I will not be enough. But I will point them to the One who is.  I will fall short. But I will point them to the One who never fails.

The days are long. And I am glad. Someday I will look back and they will not have been long enough. I pray I will cherish every.single.minute.

Held

10456011_10152293034383759_2955576266794930039_nMy throat tightens. Blinking back tears I look down at my beautiful baby boy, smiling sweetly up at me. Dear sweet toddler is hard at work with wooden trains on a wooden track in his safe make believe world. Dear sweet husband and I speak in hushed tones about hard things happening in a harsh world. I am a wreck. My words run together and tears flow for this broken world. Dear sweet hubby speaks. He is calm and steady, always.

He points to the sleeping child in my arms and smiles. He reminds me that no matter what we go through in this world, we are held. Comfort and healing can be found. There are arms big enough and strong enough to hold us all. Whether we are delivered from the trial or carried through it, we are held by the Everlasting Arms. Our shelter, our refuge, our strength.  God Himself is our ever-present help in times of trouble.

And these, dear friends, are troubling times. Brought to our knees, we pray with an ache in our chests. We intercede as we struggle to breathe. We pray through eyes blurred with tears, vision distorted, as we stare at the screen. Pain. Chaos. Fear. Comfort and security day after day ripped away and replaced with a deep soul-ache, an afflictive need. See the pictures? Hear the stories? I see and hear the heartbreak and confusion, the loss, the grief. It is tragic and poignant and I can’t look away. We wrestle and struggle and bleed to make sense of the evil in this world.

But it doesn’t make sense. I sigh…a deep soul sigh weighted down by grief.

And then…another sigh. This one is different. I look down as my little one snuggles in, face buried in the crook of my arm. He breathes steadily, warm and peaceful. This little sigh is one of comfort, the trusting sigh of one at rest, of one who is held.

I smile and breathe. No matter what is going on around me, in my life or in this harsh world, my soul can rest because I am held. And I trust the One who is holding me.

Power

IMG_20150510_112620_988My eyes linger over the page. My conscience pricked and heart opened to an uncomfortable truth. Anger. I am angry. All.The.Time. And I feel helpless. Unable to hold back. Powerless against the tide of angry thoughts and feelings that rise up so quickly in my heart and mind. I am quick to react in anger; to snap at the ones I love, to yell at the washing machine when the clothes come out smelling slightly of funk and mildew because I forgot to unload the clothes the night before (totally the washing machine’s fault, right?), to glare and grumble  against the passerby who dares to move into my lane without first properly signaling (like I’ve never done that?). The cat is meowing too loudly, I growl on the inside. The lightbulb went out in the fridge, I grit my teeth. Dear sweet hubby is home five minutes late from a work appointment, the world… is… ending! What is going on???

Is it really just the post partum hormones taking control? Is it the extreme fatigue caused by living in Newbornlandia? Maybe it is just frayed nerves caused by dear sweet toddler and his penchant for emitting bloodcurdling screams every time the baby cries, every time. The list grows…reasons why I am angry. I begin to justify the anger. It’s reasonable. Look at everything I have going on. My soul whispers, “Excuses.” My eyes return to the page where freshly underlined words pierce my unruly heart. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19,20 NIV).

Ouch. Everyone… I suppose that includes me. Slow to become angry… well I suppose I could be a bit more patient. “More than a bit dear one.” My soul nods in agreement. The Lord is speaking. I am not getting off the hook. I realize that this is a heart issue. I am not angry because of external circumstances, I am choosing to react in anger because this internal soul-level issue has not been confronted, dealt with, repented of. I need a heart change, an attitude change. He is able. And He is faithful. I agree with Him and ask for help. Please. Help. Me. His power can work this change in me.

And He does. The cat is back meowing at my feet. I bend down and stroke her soft fur. Hubby calls to let me know he is running a few minutes late from work. I smile, truly grateful for his job, that he works for a great company and actually enjoys what he does. The next day I load the littles in our dear sweet mini van. I am running late. I back out of the driveway and the gas light comes on…followed by the check engine light. I am not angry. I breathe and thank God that I have a car to drive today. At this moment dear sweet toddler realizes he forgot his beloved choo-choo train on the front porch. The baby starts crying. I brace myself, waiting for dear sweet toddler to become dear sweet hot mess. But instead he softly begins to sing, “There is power in the name of Jesus” (dare is power in da name of Chee-sus). Over and over again, in that precious toddler voice; it is sweet, soft and innocent. I pause, breathing it in. Thank You Lord. There is power in Your Name.