Things have been really quiet here on the blog, because things in real life have been anything but. Life is full of seasons, and some are more challenging than others. I won't lie. It's been a cruel, cruel summer so far. (Hey. You might as well sing some 80's Bananarama in the midst of it all, right?!)
So for any friends and/or family interested in keeping up with all things "Us"...
The Roof - We knew when we bought our house three years ago that we would have repairs and work to do. The major-est of the majors? A roof replacement. We noticed leaks, disintegrating asphalt shingles, and got put on a one-year waiting list with a local company for a replacement. This past late spring our number came up. And it has been up ever since.
What should have taken 2-3 days to complete, is now at day 57. Eight weeks. And it is still not finished. I will try to take the high road here, but it has been eight weeks of misordered materials, damaged materials, miscut materials, leaks which have resulted in water coming into our attic and home (we found seven in all), lies from the contractor and crews, no shows from contractor and crews, more running out of materials, more incorrect materials ordered. It will be at least another week before they will be finished. (We were told today that our gutter materials won't arrive until Thursday afternoon, and they don't work on Fridays. They might be able to come out next Monday. Or Tuesday. Maybe.)
John has had to research so much in and through this process that he wishes he had installed the roof himself. And you know what? He could have. And he would have been finished long before now. He has had to get up on the roof (twice in the rain) to try to patch places were the water kept coming in. He has been up and down, in and out of our attic more times than I can count. Our neighbor, a long-time Steamboat resident, shook his head and confirmed: this is the trade off of living in a ski resort town in the middle of nowhere. His wife smiled sadly and said, "Welcome to Steamboat!" Once the roofing crew is done, John will then begin the task of repairing the water damage from the leaks.
I told John this is what the ninth month of pregnancy feels like. You stand there and think, "This is never. going. to. end." Good times!
The Penalty Points - So Emma has discovered Taylor Swift. She has about a dozen or so songs on her MP3 player that she brings with her whenever she and I get into the car to go somewhere. After hearing said songs about a million times, I know them pretty well myself. If anyone knows me well, they know that I sing. All the time. Anywhere. It's a stress reliever, a mood lifter, and it's just fun, okay?
Emma decided that she doesn't want me to sing along to Taylor Swift in the car anymore. I tried to be good, honest I did. But that kid has NO IDEA the massive amounts of self-control I must tap into to keep my mouth shut. I negotiated a compromise: I am allowed to sing one line from each song. Just one. That's it. Whenever I sing it, she invariably tells me, "That was your one line, Mom. That's it. No more."
This week I made the mistake of belting out a second line. (It was "Mean". I couldn't help it.) "GASP! Mom! You already sang your one line! Now I'm going to have to give you a Penalty Point!" Penalty Point??? When did Penalty Points become a part of this deal? I didn't agree to this.
I quit singing and started dancing from the waist up instead. (Because it was now "Shake It Off".) "Mom, no dancing!" "But it's THIS song!" I told her. She wouldn't budge. Then she took a preemptive strike. "And no lip syncing!" I racked up four Penalty Points by the time we got home.
Life is so unfair.
The Feels - Perimenopause is for the birds. And that's all I'm going to say about that. Otherwise, I might start crying. Again.
The Shower Stall - I meant to share pics and post about this last summer when John was working on it, but it didn't happen. My bad. You might remember from this older post that when we bought our house, our master bathroom was in need of repair. We haven't completed all of those projects yet, but last summer John completed a big one: the shower stall.
After doing the demo, he discovered that the shower had been leaking for a long time. (More leaks!) The floor joists and subfloor were rotted. After replacing those, he installed the Schluter-Kerdi shower system (which he highly recommends!), took a deep breath, and did his first tiling job ever. I think he knocked it out of the park! We chose large tiles set in a brick pattern for the walls, two white shelves for the corner, and flat stone mosaic for the floor. That stone floor is my favorite.
We priced a replacement glass door, but that was not jiving at all with our budget. I found an extra long shower curtain liner and a spa-like white extra long shower curtain on Amazon.com to use instead. They work wonderfully, and I actually like it just as is. The curtain softens up the hard lines of the tile, I think. The chrome shower curtain rod, shower head, and valve handle were all affordable options on Amazon, as well.
John picks apart the work he did, but can I brag on him? It is gorgeous. Just beautiful. He did a great job, and I think it is the best shower ever. He never ceases to amaze me.
The Needs - I started this year with a business venture, and it has been an amazing experience so far. Difficult, but amazing in that I have learned so much about all things business and taxes and such, about myself, about my family, about my needs. I am challenged to really hone in on what my priorities need to be. I am challenged to take better care of myself.
I am lucky to have three amazing easygoing kids and a husband that encourages me to do things to treat myself. Trouble is, I usually don't. I am perfectly happy to take the backseat. John calls it the Chicken Neck Phenomenon. The mother takes the time to go to the store to pick out a whole chicken to feed her family. She lovingly seasons and trusses and roasts the chicken. When the family sits down to dinner, she sees to everyone else's needs. To make sure everyone gets what she thinks is enough, she looks at the chicken carcass left on the platter and says with a smile, "Oh, I'll just have the neck! I really wanted the neck anyway!" (Unless there's chocolate involved. I always take my fair share of chocolate!)
Am I alone in this? Self-care just doesn't come naturally to me. But I find myself in a season of life where I am seeing how important it is for me to be kind to myself. To give to myself, not just to others. Maybe it comes from my personality. Maybe it comes from being the firstborn child in a large family. Maybe it is, quite honestly, bad theology that teaches the sin of self. A teaching that ignores the importance of setting limits, or the importance of protecting oneself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. (Just thinking out loud here.) I understand that in a narcissistic and selfish society such as ours, caring for others in so vitally important, it's just that I also understand that, for me, things can get out of balance.
I think I'll make myself a hair appointment and read a good long book. :)
The Little Things - The best things so far this summer have been the little unexpected gifts. A day full of tears (see The Feels above) is the same day that the first Rufus hummingbird of the season shows up hovering right outside my bedroom window. A little personal reminder that God sees me. I am known by Him. He keeps me in the palm of His hand. It will all be alright.
Because we can't mow a lawn piled up with metal panels and construction materials, daisies are allowed to grow wild all over the backyard. I never realized until this summer that they grow there.
John and I take a walk down one of the hiking trails, and with every step I take, little yellow butterflies flit and flutter up from the grass and fly all around me.
The foxes walk through the yard regularly and stop and stare while I try to engage them in conversation. (I have decided that if I ever go to a Native American naming ceremony, I will ask to be called Talks With Foxes.)
A bear (A BEAR!) hung around our yard for 24 hours last month. He brought with him respite from roof drama and excitement for weary souls. Oh, I wish I could've hugged him. I feel quite certain he would have welcomed it.
A deer eats sarvis berries from our bushes. When she sees me at the window taking pictures, she turns and faces me for a photo op. I talk to her through the window, and she steps closer to listen. (The animals around here make me feel like I am living in a classic Disney Princess movie!)
John calls us out to the deck to watch bats flying overhead, their wings flapping erratically against the dusky blue sky. Emma giggles as I squeal when one flies right in front of us.
The roses bloomed and bloomed this year after their pruning from last. I walked through the flower beds every day, noticing every new leaf, every new bud, touching every stem, pulling every new weed, feeding every plant. I practically hovered and mothered over it all. I was thinking as I walked through the roses one day that this is my Heavenly Father's way with me. "The Lord will perfect all that concerns me." Not perfect (the adjective), as in perfectionism, but perfect (the verb), as in complete. He notices every detail, every change in growth, every hurt, every joy. He feeds and waters. He gives wisdom. He comforts and heals. He sends a meteor to blaze across the midnight sky for me to see at the exact moment I look out the window one last time as I climb into bed.
The same God that hovers over me and my small concerns, hovers over all of creation and hears its cries for peace, for hope. Life is hard, but God is good. <3
John came home from grocery shopping (and stocking stuffer hunting) yesterday and recounted a conversation that he overheard down the canned goods aisle. He noticed a family of four, a couple with two young children. While the wife studied the shelves of condiments, the husband leisurely strolled on ahead down the aisle with his son.
The man said smiling to his son, "We are standing in a grocery store...in Colorado."
And then, "We are shopping for pickles...in Colorado."
His son smiled back up at him and said in response, "And we are watching it snow right now...in Colorado."
I know that feeling. The I-can't-believe-I'm-really-here feeling. I still feel it. I told John that I hope it never ever goes away. I am so thankful that I could burst.
December has been a blur. The snow has fallen. The ski mountain has opened. (We have been skiing!) The vacationers have returned. After two and half years it has gotten easier to identify them. Of course, there are the out-of-state license plates. There are all the selfies. There is the wide-eyed staring at the falling snow. (Oh, I understand!) You can also usually tell a visitor by the contents of his or her grocery cart. The groups of college-aged guys always have steaks and brats and beer. The young families always have chicken and burgers and peanut butter and jelly and fruit and cookies. Tourists always look much more "put together" than the locals. (Local gals don't wear make-up or jewelry when they ski, for example.) Vacationing girls look like ski bunnies in their beautiful, shiny, brand-new ski clothes. Everyone is smiling. I love it.
Apparently, the other way to spot a tourist is by the multiple ski rental stickers attached to every single piece of their ski gear. Many locals own their own skis, boots, polls, and snowboards. We are in the minority on this one. We made the decision to hold off purchasing any gear. Our kids are still growing (and at a rapid rate), and John and I are still getting our legs under us. (Well, I am anyway.) Anyway, our rental stickers tell everyone, "We're on vacation!" This doesn't really concern me, but it gets John's goat. He frequently hears, "Where are you visiting from?", "How long are you in town for?", "On vacation, huh?". He told me one day after skiing, "I think it's my stickers." Whatever. Nobody's looking at your stickers. They just assume you're a vacationer because there are so many of them here now. Well, it bothered John enough that he decided to peel the rental stickers off of his ski poles. Y'all, he hasn't been mistaken for a tourist since. Who knew?!
I have been Christmas-ing since the end of October. Cutting and crafting, stitching and sewing, knitting and purling, always with a Christmas movie or Downton Abbey on in the background. Emma has a little tabletop real live tree in the room this year. I figured on buying her a star for her treetop, but she went straight to her room and made herself a yellow star made of paper. Her way is better. We strung popcorn together and had planned on making handmade ornaments, but when she saw the simple strands of popcorn on the tree branches, she said, "It's perfect." Simple and beautiful. I learn so much from her. I am especially contemplative this year. I decorated the tree, decked the halls, and played Bing Crosby before Thanksgiving, and I never do that. This year I needed it. My heart has been so hurt over the events of the world. Perhaps with the madness out there, I needed the peace and rest of traditions. Those traditions remind me that God is in control. I do not realize all that He is doing now, but one day I will understand. (John 13:7) I sit in quietness with a cup of tea on the side table, knitting and needles in my hands, love and hope in my heart, and prayers on my lips. The prayers mingle with the plies of yarn, and my heart becomes entangled in the fabric of the sweater I am knitting.
Gifts have been wrapped. Packages have been posted. Cards have been received. Now it is time for baking and cooking, for giving and receiving, for loving and giving thanks...in Colorado.
"Ragamuffin Gospel is kind of that thing where you go, let's not all pretend like we're all great. Let's say that the pressure is off. That you don't have to have it all together. Let's meet God, and allow God to meet us where we are. Maybe I'm confused, maybe I'm scared, maybe I'm beat down, maybe I'm a lot of things. But that does not change the character of God. That does not change the love that God has for me. That does not change the fact that He longs to be compassionate." -Rich Mullins
September 20, 1997
It was late morning when Tasha called to see if I had heard the news. Rich Mullins had died in a car accident. I hadn't heard. I was busy, rushing around getting ready. Company was coming to my parents' house for dinner, and there was still much to do.
It couldn't be true. But then, of course, it was true. He had always said that he wanted to go out like Elijah.
I had heard Rich's music for years, but I didn't really discover, didn't really listen until "Hold Me, Jesus."
"And I wake up in the night and feel the dark/ It's so hot inside my soul/ I swear there must be blisters on my heart"
How could he say so clearly what I felt, what I could never put into words? I bought the CD. A Liturgy, A Legacy, and A Ragamuffin Band. I listened and listened and listened. And I learned.
I bought every other CD. Brother's Keeper (my favorite) presented a theme of love.
"Let mercy lead/ Let love be the strength in your legs/ And in every footprint that you leave/ There'll be a drop of grace"
I had reached the point in my walk where I wondered if there was anywhere in the Christian church that I could be honest, transparent, real. Was there a place where I could admit my struggles, my failings, my pain without fear of being judged, criticized, and misunderstood. Rich gave me hope that there was.
I was introduced to the writings of Brennan Manning, a former priest who broke open the truth of grace in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. I soaked that grace up like a sponge.
Everything that Rich sang about flew in the face of all that I knew, all that I lived. A revolution of grace took root in my heart. And I wanted more.
July 19, 1997
A group of us took a van to Lufkin to see Rich in concert. I had seen him twice before. As much as I loved to sing along to Rich's recorded music, I loved to see him live in concert much, much more.
Rich would take the stage with absolutely no fanfare, without a flowery introduction. No lights, no gimmicks. Just Rich, dressed in a simple t-shirt, jeans, and in his barefeet. No image to maintain. No appearances to keep. (The first time I saw him in concert, he walked out on stage and I thought he was a sound technician.) I want to be like this, because maintaining an image and keeping up an appearance is exhausting, and it drains the life from your soul.
"Joy and sorrow are this ocean/ And in their every ebb and flow/ Now the Lord a door has opened/ That all hell could never close/ Here I'm tested and made worthy/ Tossed about but lifted up/ In the wreckless raging fury/ That they call the love of God"
It was not only what he sang that I came to hear; it was what he said. He told the story behind Irish aran sweaters, knit full of cables and patterns and designs. Wives, mothers, girlfriends, sisters would knit their fishermen unique sweaters. If a fisherman, caught in a storm, lost his life out at sea and his body washed up on shore, he could be identified by the distinct designs knit into his sweater. Likewise, each of us is uniquely and distinctly designed by God, and one day, after we have been tossed around and beaten about by the waves and storms of life, we will find ourselves washed up on God's shore, and He will look at us and know us. "Yes. That precious one is mine."
One day I will knit myself an Irish aran sweater.
September 20, 1997
Six weeks later, Tasha was on the phone. All I could think was how glad and grateful I was that I had just seen him. I couldn't think anything beyond this, because there was a house to clean, food to cook, company to receive and entertain. I pasted a smile on my face for the rest of the day to hide my feelings, because that's what I always did. I never said a word about it. The evening went on without a hitch, because it had to.
No, I was not a ragamuffin yet.
January 10, 1999
So big, so important was this awakening to grace in my heart, that it had to be understood and shared by the man I would marry. Whoever he was, he had to know Rich's music. Does that sound odd? What I mean to say is, there are some things that are hard to explain to someone who hasn't understood those things for themselves. I couldn't explain this personal revolution of grace to someone else, when I wasn't even sure how to live it out, wasn't sure what it looked like in day to day life. My Mr. would have to understand it for himself.
The day that John and I met, we sat at a table by a fireplace in an Italian restaurant and talked and talked and laughed and asked questions and gave answers, free of the painful awkwardness that usually accompanies a first date. The topic turned to music.
"Do you know who Rich Mullins is?" I asked him.
Emphatically, "Oh, yes. He is without a doubt in my top three artists of all time, if not my favorite. I once drove across the state line into Louisiana to see him in concert."
In that moment, I caught myself smiling. He understood. And he has understood everything for the last sixteen years.
I wasn't going to watch the movie. I didn't really have much hope that it would be very good. How's that for judgement? As much as I am becoming the Ragamuffin that I want to be, I am not her yet. I had heard that some people were bothered by the rawness and reality of Rich's life. Well, he was a Ragamuffin, he was human, so of course, the story would be raw. That didn't bother me. I think the more aware people are of their own darkness, the more they love, appreciate, and cherish the lavish, even scandalous, grace of God.
"I tell you, her sins- and they are many- have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love." -Luke 7:47
What struck me most was the reality that he shared, he loved, he ministered from a place of deep pain, a need for acceptance, and a complete dependence on the grace of God. One broken, imperfect person can make a difference in this dying, hurting world. And I am filled with hope again.
The thing I mourned most for at the time of Rich's death was the music that would never be written, the songs that would never be sung. But just this last week I was deeply touched by one of the songs on Rich's last project.
"He chose to use his hands to heal" , "This man of no reputation/ Loved the weak with relentless affection"
Jesus. Misunderstood. Rejected. But he loved. Always. He gave no thought for himself. All of his thoughts were for us.
Eighteen years later, the truth of Rich's songs still impact me deeply. Thank you, God, for that.
And thank you, Rich.
"I don't think finding God's plan for you has to be complicated...God's will is that you love him with all your heart and soul and mind, and also that you love your neighbor as yourself. Get busy with that, and then, if God wants you to do something unusual, he'll take care of it." -Rich Mullins
1. I lost my will to blog this spring. I started feeling that feeling of overwhelm creep up on me some time in March. One week off of social media turned into three weeks off of Facebook and an entire season off of blogging. But it was a good and needed break. No regrets. Doctors' appointments, schooling, grading papers, giving some much needed extra attention to a dear child's math issues (Math was the bane of my existence in elementary school, too.), deciding what to make for dinner, cleaning and filling hummingbird feeders (THEY'RE BACK!!!), preparing for standardized testing, etc., left me feeling like something had to give. The "something" in this case was blogging.
2. I think my introversion sneaks into this blog sometimes. I will share, write, photograph, comment, and then need to sit back and recharge, so to speak. Then I am ready to share, write, photograph, and comment again.
3. Some days after the kids have been schooled, I look around at the four piles of clean laundry that need to be folded and put away in one room, the stack of dishes waiting to be loaded into the dishwasher in another room, the dust on the furniture that needs to be dusted in another room, weeds that need to be pulled in the flower beds, and the stinky (but adorable!) dog that needs to be bathed in the other room and I can't decide what I should tackle first.
4. Some days I look around at all of the things that need to be done, and I go straight downstairs and lock myself in my sewing room and play with fabric. Because patchwork squares and pleats are prettier than piles of laundry.
5. Spring in the Rockies is the most bizarre season I have ever lived through. We get sunshine, thunderstorms, mud, and snow. Often all in a 24 hour period.
6. What's even more bizarre is that I love spring snows. While winter snows are quiet and cozy, spring snows are busy and chattery. Birds call out to each and sing through the snow. Hummingbirds come and sip nectar from the feeders. The wind blows. And in an instant, the brown, muddy ground is covered in pure beautiful white. It still takes my breath away.
7. My Bestie asked me a couple of weeks ago if I was going to quit blogging. I would be lying if I said that I hadn't toyed around with the idea this spring. It is very time consuming. If it weren't for the fullness of our life, maybe it wouldn't seem that way to me. However, I really can't think of a better way to keep our friends and family up to speed on our adventure here. No, I won't quit. I'll just give myself the grace to take care of whatever is most important at any given moment. I was all set to sit down and finally write this blog post last evening when my daughter walked up and asked me, "Do you want to watch Peter Pan and eat popcorn with me?" Yes, Baby Girl. More than anything.
8. I was talking to a young mother this spring. We were talking about diapering and breastfeeding and losing sleep and not losing baby weight despite everyone saying that you will if you just breastfeed. (That's bunk, people.) I told her that if I could tell my younger-mother-self one thing, it would be this:
"Be kind to yourself. Don't worry about what our culture says you should weigh. Don't listen to others' opinions about how soon your baby should be sleeping through the night. Don't stress over the fact that you can't get through every single rep of a workout dvd six weeks (or six months) after having a baby. No, your house isn't as clean as it was before you had a baby. But, YOU.ARE.WONDERFUL. You are doing a fabulous job, because you are loving and caring for another. These days will be over before you know it. Be kind to yourself. Not just physically, but mentally. Don't tear yourself down. You are loved."
The truth is...I have need of this kindness still. The truth is that I am far harder on myself than I am other people. I am learning yet another facet of grace. I wish I had begun earlier.
9. A sweet friend posted the link to a beautiful article written by Ann Voskamp on her Facebook page this Mother's Day. It meant so much to me that I shared it on my Facebook page, and I would love to share with you here.
Grace. May each of us, mothers or not, be blessed with truckloads of it. Every day. Always.
"Grace...says she doesn’t have to try to measure up to anyone else because Jesus came down — and He measures her as good enough, as worthy enough, as loved more than enough." -Ann Voskamp
Music has always, always been an important part of my life, whether I was listening to it, playing it, or singing it. I sing all the time. All.the.time. My kids know this full well. I am regularly reminded by them not to sing out loud as we walk down the aisles of the grocery store. I am told not to sing along with the soundtracks of favorite movies or the theme songs of television shows. (Gilmore Girls. Tell me, how am I supposed to just sit there and not make a peep while Carole King sings "Where You Lead"?) People say things in conversation that immediately remind me of a song lyric. My husband teases that, to me, life is just one big musical. Well, of course it is!
I borrowed the idea of this journaling list topic from the blog Get the Words Out . Songs and the Memories They Hold. Oh, couldn't I write a book full of them?! Songs have a way of taking you back to such specific times and events.
Play Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" or Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and I am nine years old at the roller skating rink with one of my best friends (Shelly or Cammy) getting cokes and candy at the snack bar, giggling about cute boys, and wishing that I had a cute boy to skate "Partners Skate" with. (Although I would have been fine settling for Shaun Cassidy.)
Play any song from Randy Stonehill's album Equator and I am twelve years old at summer church camp. My friends and I are swimming, jumping on a trampoline, playing games, and, oh yeah, giggling about cute boys. Songs like "China" and "American Fast Food" are playing over the sound system. I go home at the end of the week, collect my babysitting money, and purchase the album on cassette tape. My first ever music purchase.
When I hear "If You Leave" by OMD, I am immediately transported to all things "80's". I am fifteen and at a formal school dance. I am in a red dress and high heels and I wear a wrist corsage of white roses. My date is in a tuxedo. The hotel ballroom is darkly lit. Everyone is excited. Dinner is served. The DJ is playing a mix of Duran Duran, Madonna, Thompson Twins, and Huey Lewis and the News. Hair (big bangs!), makeup, jewelry, and the smell of Polo by Ralph Lauren cologne are everywhere. I have a big crush on my date, but to him, we are only friends. My heart beats fast, my stomach is full of butterflies, but he doesn't know. Oh, the melancholy. Why must I be a teenager in love?
Then there are memories of my wedding day when I hear Steven Curtis Chapman's "I Will Be Here", remembrances of Joel singing to me in his toddler years when I hear Bobby Darin sing "Beyond the Sea", events of adulthood which permanently placed Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" on the soundtrack of my life. I could go on and on, but when I sat down to write this post, one memory stood out above the rest.
"Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise" - The Avett Brothers
It was a warm Sunday morning. A rare and beautiful sunny spring day in Texas. Not too hot, not cold. Blue skies full of white puffy clouds. But I was indoors. The music team was setting up for Sunday service on the stage of the school's auditorium where we met every week. The speakers, the monitors, the mics, the instruments all had to be set up. Maria and I had set up our mics and music and now stood waiting as the musicians did the more involved work that their instruments required.
Jason, the bass player, walked in the through the back doors of the auditorium. I heard his voice before I could see him.
"Hey! There's a cardinal trapped in the foyer!" he said.
Now, I love cardinals. Love them. He had my full attention. "What?!"
"Yeah. It's flying around the foyer and can't figure out how to get back outside."
I looked at our leader, Kelly, expectantly. He nodded. Your part of set-up is done. Go ahead. Go check it out.
Maria and I rushed up the long aisle of the auditorium, through the double doors, and into the foyer. There straight in front of me I saw him. Vibrant red. Beautiful. And terrified. He was sitting in front of one of the several huge panes of glass that ran from ceiling to almost floor in the front of the building. He was looking outside, and then he suddenly threw himself into the glass trying to get to the world that he saw beyond it. I was afraid he would hurt himself. Maria and I stood and watched as he swooped up to the ceiling and flew back and forth the width of the room almost as if he were pacing. He couldn't find his way out. The glass double doors leading to the outside were there. He just didn't see them.
I was transfixed by him. I wanted to help him so badly, but what could I do? Perhaps he could tell his frantic flying wasn't working, or perhaps he was tiring himself out, but he finally landed on the same window sill that I had first seen him on. He threw himself into the glass again. Wings flapping wildly. Beak tapping. He called out. But he was trapped. He fell back down onto the sill stunned and tired. I could feel tears in my eyes. And then I stepped forward slowly and deliberately trying not to scare him. I wasn't sure what I could do. There was no way he was going to let me pick him up. But he did.
I reached my hands forward and gently but firmly grasped him in front of me. He didn't fight. I lifted him up from the window sill and held him out in front of me in shock. "I'm holding a cardinal!" I thought. I could feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest. I could feel his quick short breaths. His bone structure was so delicate, his feathers so soft. He didn't peck at me. He didn't try to flap his wings. He made quiet, little, pitiful, soft chirping sounds. My heart was hurting for him. He must have been so scared, but I knew what he didn't. His fight was almost over. Freedom was coming.
I walked slowly to the glass double doors that led outside, talking quietly and calmly and softly to him all the way. "It's okay. I've got you. It's over now. You are safe. You are beautiful. You are okay."
I got outside to the front porch and slowly cupped open my hands. He sat still for a couple of seconds, looking around and getting his bearings. Suddenly I felt his muscles tighten as he spread his red wings and flew straight up into the high branches of a nearby oak tree. He was safe. He was free. After a minute, he flew across the big, never-ending Texas skies.
It was then that I realized that my heart was pounding, too. My hands were slightly shaking. I looked up at Maria. Both of us were wide-eyed. Neither of us said a word. We walked back to the auditorium's stage and told the team that the bird was free. Set-up was almost complete. I stood and thought about that bird and how deep my emotions went.
I was that bird. I had spent years flying around in circles looking for freedom. I had thrown myself into obstacles trying to release myself from my cage. Oh, we all have cages. Some are forced upon us. Some are put in place by our own doing, and some are sadly put in place by our own choosing. But no matter how we ended up in them, all cages bring hurt. I, like that cardinal, had sat staring outside at the big blue sky, longing for what I saw there. Colors, breezes, warmth, sunshine, white clouds. Freedom. I didn't know how to get there. My efforts had only left me exhausted. I cried. And Someone heard me.
While I sat tired, afraid, and broken, I was picked up by arms bigger than my own. I was held in gentle but firm hands and carried to freedom. He knew the way. He spoke truth quietly, calmly, and softly to me. "You are okay." He did it all. I sat dazed but comforted in His hands. And now He beckons me to fly.
This happened about five years ago, but every time I hear "Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise", I remember. I don't know what Seth and Scott Avett were thinking about when they wrote this song, (I'm sure it had nothing to do with cardinals.), but I know what it means to me.
James Avery Jewelry in Texas has a silver charm of a cardinal that I want to add to my charm bracelet. The next time I am back, I will buy one.
"There was a dream / And one day I could see it / Like a bird in a cage / I broke in and demanded that somebody free it." - The Avett Brothers
I dreamed every winter of my childhood of snow and cold. That way I could wear scarves and mittens and hats and boots and sweaters every day. I could always find fall and winter clothes at the mall that I wanted to buy, but when the new spring and summer lines would start showing up on the racks, I would walk around and around in circles and leave with nothing. Spring and summer clothes seemed so, well...plain. I loved one particular sweater of mine so much that I wore it outside one summer day to talk to a friend. I lasted all of ten minutes before I couldn't take the heat (or my sweat) any more.
Even though we only enjoyed a few weeks of cold temperatures every year, I wanted to learn how to knit, so that I could knit all the sweaters that I so wanted to wear. One year, I thought my dream would come true. A young woman from Austria came to live with our family for a time. She could knit! So one afternoon we sat down with yarn and needles, and she did her best to teach me, but I just couldn't get the hang of it. Truth be told, I think I lacked the patience and perserverance to stick with it. In my mind, I just couldn't knit. I couldn't do it.
Twenty-five years later I still wanted to learn how to knit. Maybe I could give it another shot, but I didn't know anyone who could teach me. John and I had just started attending a new church. It was uncomfortable for me. I had lived and worked and shared and studied with the same group of friends throughout my adult life. I had had plenty of friends and a very full calendar, but things had changed. Now I was the New Girl. I knew no one. My days and nights were spent at home with three little ones. I discovered in this new situation just how much of an introvert I was. I discovered how difficult and awkward I felt trying to make new friends. I discovered that I didn't like being the New Girl.
It was an effort for me connect, and I wasn't finding an immediate pay-off. Perhaps it was all me. Perhaps it was partly the blame of current culture with its texting and facebooking. It seems fewer and fewer people connect face-to-face. But there was a baby shower at the new church coming up. I could go to a baby shower and sit with my one friend and hope for the best.
The mom-to-be started opening adorable little baby gifts. One particular gift caught my attention especially. It was a baby hat, handknit to look like a pumpkin! Someone there knew how to knit! Turned out, it was my Forever Friend Carolyn. But I didn't know that then. What I did know was that surely I would have some things in common with the maker of that hat. No, I didn't knit, but I loved crafting. Surely we would find some common ground.
At the end of the shower I walked out to my car. I had had a few nice conversations with other ladies, but now I was second-guessing myself and those conversations. Then I looked up and saw Carolyn walking to her car parked on the street a few car lengths ahead of mine. And then I sat and argued with myself. I should go introduce myself. But I hate introducing myself. Maybe I'll see her at church and meet her then. But, why not now. This is silly. I shouldn't be nervous. But I am the New Girl. I'm not used to being the New Girl. *sigh*
Before I could chicken out, I jumped out of my car and walked quickly up to unsuspecting Carolyn. I can only imagine how odd it must have looked to her. Here comes some woman walking purposefully up the street, making a beeline for you, smiling. (In fact we have laughed about it since!) But I did it anyway. I introduced myself to nice Carolyn, but because of conflicting Sunday schedules we didn't talk again for another six months.
Small Group sign-ups started up that spring, and John and I soon discovered that we had signed up for the same group as Norm and Carolyn. Little by little, week by week we connected with the most amazingly wonderful families in that group. Families that John and I dearly love. Friends that have stood by us, encouraged us, made us laugh, helped us move, loved our kids. The awkwardness of being the New Girl is nothing compared to the joy those wonderful friendships continue to bring.
One day I got up the nerve to ask Carolyn if she would maybe, possibly be willing to teach me how to knit. I didn't want to be a bother to her. Her reply surprised and delighted me. "Of course I'll teach you to knit!"
She told me that she had taught many people to knit. All she needed was fifteen minutes, some yarn, and some needles. I'd be knitting in fifteen minutes, she said. It took me all of five. Five minutes and a good, patient, encouraging teacher.
She taught me about the love of a good yarn shop (Park Avenue Yarns in League City, Texas!). She taught me about gauges and yarn weights and fibers and blocking.
I practiced and practiced for the next two days and then walked up to her at church that Sunday morning and said, "Now teach me to purl." And she did. I practiced and practiced some more. And I made mistakes. I hated those mistakes. A perfectionist always hates her mistakes. I had somehow managed to make a hole in my work. I sat and stared at that dumb hole. I didn't want Carolyn to see that I had messed up and made a hole. But I wanted to learn how to knit. Badly. So badly, that I would risk Carolyn's disappointment. I would show her my mistake. "After all," I reasoned. "She's nice. She'll correct me, but she'll surely be nice about it. Right?"
I showed her my progress that next Sunday, and I showed her my mistake. I told her that I didn't how what I had done to cause it. I would try harder. Practice more. She took one look at that hole in my work and said, "You made a buttonhole! Look at you! A buttonhole!" And she smiled. And she hugged me. And I soaked that grace up like the dry and thirsty sponge that I was.
So, you see...for me, knitting is grace. Each project takes time (sometimes a very long time). It takes patience. It takes stick-to-it-ive-ness. I make mistakes. Every new technique is a challenge at first, but I learn. I don't hate those mistakes anymore. I am learning that those mistakes make me a better knitter. They can be fixed. And when those mistakes have been fixed and I have been patient with the process, I am left with a beautiful piece of fabric art. Of course, the analogy is not lost on me.
Yes, knitting is calming. It is peaceful. It is my very, very, very favorite to hold a ball of soft yarn and a set of smooth wooden needles in my hands. I love to hear those needles *click*, *click*. I love to knit cables. Now I can make myself all those scarves and mittens and hats and sweaters that I always wanted to wear. But when I sit down with a cup of tea, some pretty yarn, my needles, and a new pattern, those aren't the things that I think about. Sweaters are why I learned. Grace is why I continue.
Ah, September. I think I have decided that it is my favorite. (Of course, this may or may not have to do with the fact that I was born in September.) There is so much beauty. The green aspen leaves begin to turn to gold. The air turns crisp and cool in the evenings, so much so, that we can take the box fans out of the open windows and sleep under quilts again. It is the time of year when it is perfectly acceptable, yes, even expected, to enjoy everything "pumpkin".
A friend asked me last month if I had any "epic plans" for my birthday. This amused me. I told him that if taking a day off from housework, going out for dinner, and going on a hike were considered "epic", then, yes, I had epic plans. Well, those kinds of plans are perfectly satisfying and epic to me.
Two miles uphill to a wonderfully rustic historical landmark, Mad Barn. Despite the climb, a scraped knee, and the hot Steamboat sun, we had a wonderful time being together and enjoying the views of Mad Creek and the changing landscape, exploring the old barn, and spotting cows grazing along the trail. I could hardly contain my excitement. Why do I love cows so? I never grew up with or around them.
I look at these pictures now in the middle of October and cannot believe how quickly things change this time of year. There is still so much green in these September pictures. I find myself looking out the window watching the winds blow through the aspens, gold leaves falling to the ground below like confetti. "Please stay. Please keep your colors. Don't go yet," I beg them. Thankfully, they have this year, more so than last. We have not had the early snows of last year to shorten the season. Most of this year's greens have now faded into golds and oranges and rusts and browns. I can't decide which I like more. There is something so alive in the greens, but something so peaceful and restful in the browns.
As we hiked the two miles up and then back down from the barn, I noticed beautiful crevices in the rock formations we passed. Some were large enough to stand in, some small enough to provide shelter. Some out on the open trail, some hidden away. I thought about all the events of last year. Times when I felt as if my very soul was on fire, like the fiery gold of the Aspen leaves when the sunlight hits them just so. But I was never alone.
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock/ That shadows a dry thirsty land/ He hideth my life in the depths of His love/ And covers me there with His hand.
...we stood in front of over 900 people and said, "I will". I was so nervous. He was so handsome. The flowers were beautiful. The music was perfect. And we had no idea what the next fifteen years would hold. How could we? Life brings joys and hurts and trials that one can never anticipate.
Our story is non-traditional. We met during a time that many young people were kissing dating good-bye. I was lonely and tired and struggling to hold on to the hope that God indeed had a plan. He was heart-broken and trying to fully know God's will.
One day, my bestie, Stephanie, found me in the parking lot after church.
"Um,...there's this guy named John. He's a friend of Eric's (her husband). They went to school together. And, well, I can't help but think you two should meet."
I had heard similar words from friends in the past. Everyone had a friend, or a cousin, or someone they knew that would be perfect for me. But, as it turned out, they didn't seem to know what "perfect for me" actually was, because as nice as everyone's friend or cousin or someone was, things never panned out. And besides that, I didn't like the thought of a set-up. I'm an introvert at heart, and the thought of having to force small talk with someone who might be checking me out wasn't very appealing to me. Why couldn't mine be a "Gilbert and Anne" story? So, I wasn't very intrigued when Stephanie shared her thoughts with me.
"Oh. And he looks like Troy Aikman!"
Troy Aikman. All-American. Dallas Cowboy. Quarterback of God's Team.
Okay, I'll admit, she got my attention for a second with that piece of information. I replied as graciously as I could to Stephanie and bowed out of the conversation.
Her high opinions of John were seconded by dear friends of the family. Kids that grew up with me and my siblings, who had met John at Eric and Stephanie's apartment. Casey and Corey and Shea said, "You should meet him." One of the twins smiled at me and nodded. "John. Yeah, he's a cool guy. You should meet him."
But I didn't. And he followed his heart states away to Virginia, never to return, so he thought. I stayed and my heart hurt. I struggled longer and harder. But I couldn't stop holding on to a tiny, faint glimmer of hope that God could see my heart, could hear my prayers, and that He did in fact have a plan for me, for my future.
History repeated itself. Two very long years had gone by. John had returned to Texas, healing from a broken heart. He reconnected with Eric and Stephanie. And Stephanie found me. Again.
"I'm sorry. I just can't help it. I just can't help thinking that you are supposed to meet John. I know it's been two years since we first talked about this, but I can't get it out of my mind."
I sighed. "Okay. Bring him to church some Sunday." I didn't really think that she actually would. But she did.
Early one Sunday morning the phone in my bedroom rang. My dad had already left to open the church building and get ready for Sunday School. I was walking out the door when the phone stopped me. It was Dad.
"I met your friend this morning," he said slyly.
"What? Who? What friend?" I asked.
"You know what friend." He was smiling. I could tell.
"Oh! THAT friend! He's there?!!! Well, what do you think?" I wanted to know.
"Just get here," he said.
My dad. The conservative man who didn't like it when family members teased me about "boys". The same dad who required any of my potential high-school dates to ask his permission to take me out. This man said, "Just get here."
Well, there's a switch.
The first time I saw him, I was standing on the stage getting ready to sing. He and Eric and Stephanie were stepping back into the sanctuary after greeting people in the parking lot. When he walked into the double doorway of the foyer, sunlight flooded into the room from behind him. I swear it looked like he was surrounded by a full-body halo. There may as well have been a choir of angels singing.
I met him after service. Stephanie introduced us. We giggle about it now, because John looks nothing like Troy Aikman. "I don't know why I ever even thought that!" she says.
A group of us went out for Italian food for lunch after service. John and I sat next to each other and talked. And talked. And never ran out of anything to say. I was trying to keep a calm, quiet demeanor. My other best friend went with me to the restroom, and I took deep breath and giggled and tried to shake off my nerves. Tasha said, "I've never seen you like this!" while Italian opera played over the loudspeakers.
John and I got engaged five months later. We got married four months after that. Fifteen years ago today.
I am leaving out so, so many details. They are personal, and for now, I keep them locked away in my heart, because, you see, our story is not only the story of our meeting. It is the beginning of the story of my freedom. Everything changed the day I married John. We embarked together on a journey of grace. My heart began to heal. And the healing of a heart is no small thing.
A number of weeks ago, I talked Joel into going out with me to walk Molly. He's my indoorsy child who understands the joys of a mug of hot chocolate and a good book, (yes, and the thrills of winning first place on a Mario Kart race track). I was happy when he said, "Yes." I love to hear his thoughts, his perspective. I was glad to have him to myself for a time to talk and be together.
It was the middle of the beginning of Mud Season. Chilly outside. Snow on the hilltops. Streams of melted snow flowing down from the hilltops. (Such a beautiful sound.) Last autumn's dead straw-colored grasses and gray Aspen leaves reappearing from under the snow. Wet mud everywhere waiting for the new grasses of spring to sprout. Spring wind blowing, making it feel colder than it really was, so unlike the still cold of the winter months. The wind seemed to be awaking the branches of the trees. "Wake up. Winter is over. It is time to grow." And growing, I am finding, is very, very hard work.
Molly didn't like the mud at first. She didn't want to get her paws wet. She seemed to be frustrated that her beloved snow was leaving. We had a huge snow drift behind our home that she would run and up and down. She even figured out that she could put her front paws straight out in front of her and slide down the drift as if she were sledding. She stubbornly ran and sat on her dwindling snow drift until it crushed under her weight, and one day it had melted away completely. She walked into the backyard that day looking for the familiar, and instead found cold, soggy earth. Molly, is growing, too.
Now she has discovered that with melted snow comes the joy of grasses, leaves, twigs. I have never seen a dog more captivated by a rock or a stick or a ball of roots. Then I remember she is a terrier. "Terrier" from the Latin terra, meaning "earth". Now she buries her head in mounds of tall grasses, drinks from cold streams, and comes home with burrs in her fur. One day she walked into a bush and walked out with hundreds of them stuck to her. They were everywhere. She wore a full beard of them. They got inbetween her paw pads, making her cry whenever she took a step. Poor little Mollers. We sat together, and painstakingly, I removed them all. Yes, growing is painful.
Joel and I walked with Molly that day, still bundled up in jackets and me in gloves. We stopped and looked out over the side of a hill where water stood and long grasses lay.
"Like a Van Gogh painting," he said as he stared. And he was right. My smart boy. He was the one of my three children who most understood the art lesson entitled "Texture". He saw the texture in the fields of Van Gogh's paintings. He expressed it in rows and rows of geometrically-drawn fields when he drew his own interpretation of The Starry Night, my favorite of all paintings ever.
Van Gogh's texture was a summer texture with bright golds and vivid greens. Mud Season texture is a drab texture with damp grays and dry wheats. But I can't help but look with expectancy and hope at that drab. Today, weeks later, that same hillside is covered in lush, grassy green. It has come alive again. I loved winter. I really did. But looking out my windows today, I am crazy in love with what finally looks like spring. Growth is so painful, but with hope it produces a beauty that I cannot, with my simple words, express.
"Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him." - Psalm 62:5
Nothing missing. Nothing broken.