25
February

Ash Wednesday

We are not Catholic.

I feel like I should say that up front because it sets the context for just how unique the experience was.

Being brought up as a Protestant, this day was not even a blip on my radar. Sure, I noticed the ashes on people each year, at the mall, at the grocery store. It always looked very strange to me. I remember being tempted to alert one woman that she had some dirt on her forehead. Thankfully, I did not, as I was reminded that evening of  the significance while watching the news.

Last year was our family’s first experience with the ashes, as our new church community (with Lutheran roots interestingly enough) invited everyone to the front on the Sunday morning before the week of Ash Wednesday so that they could have the sign of the cross marked on their foreheads. I passed on that, as it felt very foreign and honestly, a little uncomfortable for me. So our family stayed seated instead. At home, Julia asked some questions about it, and I did my best to answer them for her, although I was out of my element based on my lack of experience in that area. And then we moved on. Nothing else was said about it.

Until this past Wednesday. Ash Wednesday.

Julia approached me as I was getting dressed for the day. ”Mom, I want you to put ashes on my forehead today for Ash Wednesday.”

Huh?

I was taken by surprise. But I was open to discussing it with her. After all, I had been ordained a decade ago as I took on a ministerial role at the Bering Drive church of Christ. Surely I was qualified to “ash her up”.

“Why do you want to do that, J?” I asked. I don’t know what I was expecting her to say. But I was shocked by the pure spiritual maturity of her answer.

“I want kids to ask me about it at school so that I can tell them about Jesus – how he died for our sins and was raised back to life.”

Ta-da. That’s the faith we’ve been instilling in her since she was born. And now, at nearly ten years old, she was owning her faith. Even being prompted by her own conscience and conviction to want to share it with others. I was stunned. Overwhelmingly proud and stunned.

“Well, Julia, I cannot think of a better reason. Let’s do it.”

I had no ash on hand. But I did have a candle that had recently burned. The wick was quite fat with the remnants of its past burning. I ran my finger and thumb up the wick. Then I faced my little missionary and began to draw the symbol of the cross on her forehead. I had no clue what the liturgy would be for such an occasion, so I made up my own.

“Julia, as I draw this cross on your head, we remember Jesus’ great love for us and his sacrifice. You are God’s child and you are loved by him.”

She smiled and seemed quite content with our impromptu service.

Then we went back to the kitchen and ate cereal.

As I dropped her off at the school and watched her walk confidently through the doors, I marveled at this child. She is so much braver than I was at that age. I was painfully self-conscious of being different from the crowd. She has always been confident. Confident and very strong-willed. There are moments of great struggle when you have a child with these traits. However, this was the beautiful side – the fruit of those sometimes-challenging traits. As she disappeared from my sight, I said a silent prayer for her, thanking God for her courageous faith.

And I smiled.

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14
February

Choosing the Better

Valentine’s Day comes with many traditions in our family. Since the kids were old enough to sit at the kitchen table, there has been a card waiting for them each year on this special day. Most years I also include a special treat in their lunch boxes. And most years, we end the day with a scavenger hunt throughout the house, leading to a stuffed animal or Valentine-themed book. One of my favorite traditions on this day is the Valentine’s breakfast. This consists of heart-shaped pancakes topped with strawberries and bacon or sausage on the side. Although this was easier to pull off when I was only working part time, I have continued this tradition, even as my work load has increased to full time status with Melanie’s Melody.

The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I hit the ground running. Literally. I wanted to get my run in before the busy day began. A 5:45 run would still give me time to shower, dress and prepare the Valentine’s breakfast that the kids were expecting. Well, honestly, that I was expecting.

I have found that I am far more reluctant to deviate from “the plan” than the kids are. I have seen it a gazillion times since I became a mother. I have my own blueprint of what things are going to look like – what they are supposed to look like.  And then, even when I want to be flexible, I find it hard to go with the flow. A change of plans begins to look like failure to me. I realize that this is not healthy, but it is a struggle for me. I suppose it is the perfectionist inside.

As I got out of the shower, the clock revealed that my window of time had shrunk quite a bit. I would still be able to make the pancakes, but I would need to dry my hair and finish my make up while the kids were eating. No big deal. The kids eat alone most mornings as I work in the kitchen, packing lunches, emptying the dishwasher, filling water bottles, etc.

And this is when it hit me. Mary and Martha.

I think about this story from Luke 10 quite a bit. You see, Martha was a real go getter on the domestic front. Mary was more of a contemplative personality. Jesus came to visit and Martha could not pull herself away from the kitchen preparation. Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and be with him. Martha complains to Jesus that Mary will not help her. Jesus responds lovingly, but very clearly. . . Mary has “chosen the better”.

This morning I thought of that story. And I changed the plan.

I finished getting dressed. And I summoned the kids to the kitchen.

“Are you making the pancakes?” Julia asked.

“Nope! We are going to do something different this year!” I pulled out three packages of instant cinnamon raisin oatmeal and popped three pieces of bread into the toaster. “We are going to sit down and eat together!” I sliced bananas on three plates. I took out the heart-shaped cookie cutter intended for the pancakes and cut the toast into the shape instead. The whole process took all of five minutes and no skillet was required!

And then, we sat down together. What followed would have made even Mary clap her hands with delight! We prayed and thanked God for the food. I read 1 Corinthians 13 to the kids from the children’s Bible. I told each child the story of their birth day. They delighted in hearing the details of how little they were and how loved they were, even from their first breaths. As we finished our meal, Julia volunteered to clear the table. Zeke gave me a kiss, unsolicited, and told me he “really, really” loved me. I glanced at the clock. We had time to spare. Julia offered to rub my feet for me. I rubbed Zeke’s feet. Then we all cuddled together on the couch and rubbed each other’s backs. It was a love festival! And it was way better than pancakes.

It was a blissfully happy morning. One that I will not soon forget. And no one was sad about the absence of pancakes. Turns out, they just wanted me.

Today, I chose the better.

And it certainly was.

 

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28
January

A Less-Than-Flattering Epiphany

Some epiphanies are nobler than others.

Movies are full of them. Who can forget that moment when the beautiful ingenue realizes that it’s actually her loyal best friend, not the hunky self-centered guy, that has her heart! Who can forget that moment when the spiritual seeker comes face to face with his own mortality and realizes there is a higher power at work!

My moment of epiphany will most likely never make it to the big screen.

I have been struggling with my knee for the past month. I noticed the pain after my first 12 mile run. My coach quickly attributed the discomfort to a tight IT band. This assumption was confirmed by my family doctor and I was treated by a physical therapist for the tight muscle and knee pain. I stretched. I rolled. I medicated.

I thought it was strange, however, that even when I had followed the advice of the medical professionals, the pain kept coming back. The half marathon was successful, but did not come without pain. Even when my muscles and IT band did not feel tight, the knee would cause me trouble.

Baffling.

Well, until my epiphany.

It was last Thursday when I began to put the pieces together. “There could be something about the way you are running that is causing the problem”, the physical therapist had told me. What could it be? What could it be? As I went out for my first post-marathon jog on Thursday, I went through a mental inventory.

Was I running on uneven pavement? Nope.

Were my feet hitting the ground in an unusual candence? Nope.

Was there anything about my stride that was off-balance? Nope.

Was I running too fast? Nope.

As a car approached, I did what I have done a gazillion times. It was such a habit, I had never even considered it – never even thought about it. I probably would never have even noticed it if I hadn’t been in the hyper-vigilant, mental inventory mode.

I don’t think this move has an official name. I would call it the Moving Squat. This is the move that resets your shorts from “riding up”, if you have a little meat on your inner thighs. The move is achieved by bending one leg while dipping down slightly, allowing the legs to part a little while still remaining upright.  Do you know what I mean? Can you picture it? The ladies will relate, I believe. Michael tells me this is a “female thing”.

But there I was, on the road, actively running through a Moving Squat so that I would be presentable for the oncoming traffic.

It’s a subtle move and it happens very quickly. But the main area it affects = the knee.

My subconscious vanity was sabotaging me! 

I confirmed this hunch last Saturday by running in my brand new, longer running pants. Without the risk of “ride up”, I was able to run without the Moving Squat. And guess, what? No knee pain.

So, why would I admit to this, less-than-flattering realization about myself? Why not just pretend that my legs have never met each other while running? Because the truth of the matter is my inner thighs have been BFFs since 5th grade. And while I am an athlete now, I don’t try to pretend I am a swimsuit model. Consider this a PSA, people! So, for all of my running sisters with a little more meat on your bones, heed my advice:

Just let the shorts have their way.

And maybe consider drawing the attention to your face with a nice necklace or an up-do.

 

 

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22
January

A Lapse in Motherhood

It’s completely understandable how it happened. That’s what I am telling myself.

Ever since the day that the invitation came in the mail, inviting me to be a speaker at the annual Pepperdine University Lectureship in May, I have been on cloud nine. After all, this was a tremendous honor! On the tails of my book being published in April, this will be a double-whammy of joy for me. Besides having the opportunity to speak, I will get to be in the mix with other wonderful, more experienced speakers, many of whom I have admired for years. One of those being my own dad!

Since accepting the invitation, my mind has been racing thinking through what I might focus on for my class. I could share pictures to go along with my stories. . . and there was a great song that I could share, if it fits my theme. . . Logistically, there was a lot to consider as well. But, most of that is taken care of by the university. Pepperdine provides a meal ticket for the speakers as well as housing and transportation to and from the airport. I would just need to save the money for my plane fare. And there was plenty of time to do that.

I was taken by surprize when my dad’s email came, generously offering and insisting that I “allow” him to cover my air fare.

“We are going to leave on Tuesday, fly into L.A. and then come back home on Saturday”, he shared in his email.

Anticipation and gratitude filled my heart, and I responded to his email immediately.

“I will just do that too then! Please include me in your plans.” I copied Michael on the whole exchange and went to bed.

This morning I cheerfully followed up with Michael. “Did you get my email?”

“Yes, I did”, he said, with a strangely puzzled look on his face.

“So, I am going to leave on Tuesday and be back on Saturday”, I reiterated.

He looked concerned. “That’s all great,” he continued, “but. . .

 

 

What could the “but” possibly be? It was all taken care of now!

 

 

He continued, “. . . but, what are we going to do with the kids?”

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20
January

Song of Affirmation

When Julia was born, I received a bookshelf full of parenting advice. I was given books about breastfeeding, books about discipline and books about raising children with healthy self-esteem.  One of the books talked about the importance of verbally affirming your child, from the very beginning of their life. Being a musical person by nature, I took the affirming sentences that were listed in the book and put them to a tune. The song goes like this:

“I love you. I want you.

I’m glad that you are you.

You’re special. You’re important.

And I’m so glad you’re here.”

I sang it during feedings as Julia, and later Zeke, would look up at me with their eyes full of innocence and wonder. I sang it during diaper changes, as it seemed to bring comfort on the often chilly changing table. I must have sung the song hundreds of times. Years have passed since I first began singing it.  Julia and Zeke are now almost 10 and 6 years old. Baby rooms have given way to big kid rooms. Furniture has been replaced, wall colors have changed, and old clothes have made way for new clothes many, many times. But the song has endured. The song is a part of our tuck-in ritual at night. For Zeke, it is even more important than the bedtime story!

“Mommy, I’m ready for your song!” he will loudly request from his bed when he is ready to go to sleep. Although Julia is quite grown-up now, having lived nearly a decade, she still pays attention, closes her book and looks up at me while I sing. Sometimes, they are silly during the song. Julia occasionally makes tooting noises with her mouth during the rests. Zeke sometimes cannot bring himself to stop playing the Leapster. But, I know they are listening. It is my hope that the words are sinking into the vulnerable places within them, as we all have those places.

There are a multitude of moments in raising children that you don’t realize are important or powerful until you review them years later, in hindsight. But this song, well, I know the power within it, even as I sing it. Because no matter the situation, what bad choices may have been made during that day, I sing the song. I have sung it over each of them as they lay in the bed with fevers, with runny noses, with bad breath. I have sung it to them after giving consequences for misbehavior. The power comes in this: the words never change. Just as a mother’s heart never wavers in her love for her children. The song is as much about grace as it is about love.

Recently, I sang it through tears. Julia’s conduct grades had gone down this past  six weeks as a result of her talking in class. One of the school’s consequences for a low conduct grade was her removal from the school’s choir. We had diligently made every early morning rehearsal. To add insult to injury, she was only one week away from the Christmas concert. I was beyond disappointed, as choir was a love that we shared. Our family crest may as well be a treble clef! I was in choir. My mom and dad were in choir. My grandfather was a song leader and sang in a small performing group. We are a family of singers! And now, she was not. As I began the song, the words flowed freely along with my tears.

“I love you.”

“I want you.”

I’m glad that you are you.”

I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts. “I’m glad that you are you.” If I could change her, would I? Wouldn’t it be easier if she were more like quiet Lauren down the street, or  eager-to-please Sally or introverted Mary or. . . someone else? No! Because for better or for worse, she is a beautiful mixture of me and of Michael. And, she is still becoming the woman that God will guide her to be. She is uniquely equipped to be. . . Julia! I looked her in the eye. I did not try to mask my disappointment in her behavior or the consequence. But, I continued to sing. Until all the words were done.

“You’re special. You’re important. And I’m so glad you’re here.”

Indeed.

As I wiped the tears from my cheeks and leaned down to hug her, we shared a gift called unconditional love.

Don’t you wish you had a song like that? You do, you know. The first chapter in my book is called “Children of God”. In it, I am reminded that just as I love my children, I am, myself, a child of our heavenly Father. And you are too. The Bible talks about Him singing, over me and over you!

“The Lord your God is with you,

he is mighty to save.

He will take great delight in you,

he will quiet you with His love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.”

(Zephaniah 3:17)

He delights in you. Did you catch that? No matter what your day looked like. No matter what you may feel like. No matter what others may have told you about yourself. No matter what you believe about yourself. No matter.

So tonight, as you climb into your bed, cuddle up in your blanket the way you did as a little child.

And listen.

I love you. . .

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17
January

Sleep for Cinderella

Only a kid would try to wake you up by poking you in the face.

As I cracked open my sleeping eyes, I could make out Zeke’s shape. Standing beside my bed, holding his pillow in his hand was my six year old. ”What?” I grumpily grunted without parting my lips.

“I’m scared,” he answered.

I remember so many occasions like this one. In cooperation with the rule that Michael and I had set in place when our first born came to join our family, kids were not allowed to get in our bed with us at night. Although there have been a couple of occasions that I “snuck” a child into our bed (usually Zeke), we have stuck to that rule. The problem with a rule like that, however beneficial it may be to the marriage, is that one of the parents (usually the mom) ends up having to get up from the bed and tromp around the house in the middle of the night to solve whatever problem the child is having.

There were plenty of nights that I have done just that, responding to their calls as if I am Cinderella, answering the demands of her stepsisters.

“Mommy, I need you.” Tromp, tromp, tromp.

“Mommy!” Tromp.

“Mommy!” Tromp.

So much tromping and no fairy godmother in sight.

 

Poke. Poke. Poke. “Mommy.”

 

I think somewhere in my heart, I did feel the impulse to get up and get to tromping. After all, it would have just taken a short trip to escort him back to his bed, reassure him and bid him goodnight. But, on this night, I just didn’t feel the compulsion. For one thing, I was in the perfect cozy spot in the bed, perfectly warm and relaxed from head to toe. And, after all, he was obviously safe from harm and in good health. His robust pokes were proof of that.

I debated within myself how to respond. And then all at once, I knew precisely what I should do. Gathering my resolve, I sat myself up, kissed him on the check, and covering my face with the blanket as protection against future pokes. . .

. . . I rolled over and went back to sleep.

 

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12
January

Chopped Liver

For as long as I can remember, I have loved traditions. I suppose some of it is that I love having something to look forward to. And, being somewhat of a control freak, I generally like to know exactly what it is that I am in for. It is out of my appreciation for tradition that I have filled the lives of my children with them. For instance, everyone gets to pick their breakfast on their birthday. On the first day of school, I have a card for each of them in their lunch boxes. On Valentine’s Day, I give them waffles cut into the shape of hearts with a cookie cutter. On the Friday after Thanksgiving we decorate the house for Christmas - while drinking hot chocolate, listening to Christmas music and wearing pajamas and purple socks. I am just kidding about the socks. That would be too much. I am not a lunatic. The kids look forward to these and other traditions and I do too. It was in this spirit that Frozen Yogurt Friday was born. Here is a picture from our very first F.Y.F!

Our very first Frozen Yogurt Friday!

It wasn’t just about me getting to eat frozen yogurt, although over the past few months I have developed quite an affinity for it. It was about the fellowship that it allowed and encouraged. Most days after school I teach voice or piano lessons until dinner time. But Friday afternoons are special. No lessons are scheduled. It was an intentional choice on my part, although it has meant turning away potential students. Friday afternoons are just about me and the kids. Problem is, when we got home from school, Julia would make a bee line for the television and Zeke would dive into the world of the Nintendo DS. We were home together, but not actually together at all! This is how the idea came to me – we had to go somewhere besides home – a place where we could all enjoy ourselves together, without the usual distractions.

We have three places that are close to our house, and we alternate between them. I have a punch card for all three places and we go wherever I have a discount or a reward to cash in. Over time, we have expanded the circle to bring others into Frozen Yogurt Friday – a sweet family friend, Uncle Jon, and even a friend of Zeke’s from school. We have enjoyed this tradition on sunny Fridays, rainy Fridays, even cold Fridays. There are traditions even within the tradition, as every visit begins the same way. Upon arrival, Julia gets three sample cups and passes one out to each of us. We peruse the options, joyfully sharing with each other when a new flavor is spotted. Once everyone has made their flavor selection, I do the honors of serving the yogurt. Self serve, pay by the ounce = recipe for disaster if you let the kids get their own. I learned that lesson on the first F.Y.F.! Everyone gets to pick one topping. Zeke asks me every week which toppings he can get the most of. Then I spend a couple of minutes pointing out the lightweight toppings – sprinkles, rice krispies, marshmallows. Nearly every week, he ends up picking gummy bears, one of the heaviest toppings. I sprinkle about 6 around the top of his yogurt and he is content, even knowing that he turned away a couple of spoonfuls of a lighter option. After I pay, we sit together, share about our day what we are looking forward to that weekend. We just enjoy not having to rush off anywhere.

I love Frozen Yogurt Fridays. I look forward to them all week. And the kids do too. I think.

This week, Zeke was invited to have a play date with a friend from his class. In an attempt to encourage my children to have friends, I went out of my comfort zone and agreed to the play date, even though I knew that a Friday play date would preempt F.Y.F. I explained to Zeke that if he did have the play date, he would be missing F.Y.F.. I imagined him being very sad, his eyes filling with tears, his voice shaking as his trembling lips said, “Mommy, I don’t want to miss that! I will play with him another time.”

“That’s okay!” he chirped instead. “I don’t care if I miss it!”

Hmmm.

Turning my attention to my one remaining good child, I cheerfully presented the situation to Julia. “We will get to have a special date, J! Just you and me!” Since she is frequently annoyed by the presence of her little brother, and often begs me for some “alone time – just you and me”, I knew she would be thrilled at this serendipity.

Then I heard a sound that vaguely reminding me of. . .  Was someone crying??

My daughter, formerly known as my one remaining good child, was sitting at the table actually shedding tears at the prospect of having Frozen Yogurt Friday with me.

“Why does Zeke get to have a play date and I don’t?” she lamented.

“Zeke’s friend asked him, J.  But we still get to have our date! Frozen Yogurt Friday is our tradition, you know.”

“Mom, no offense”, (too late) “but will you PLEASE call Lauren’s mom and ask her if I can have a play date?” Thankfully, she added, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate our tradition, mom. I just want to have friends like Zeke does.” Well, at least there was that.

I started to feel a bit of anxiety at the prospect of having to cancel our end-of-the-week ritual. I also realize this is how people start out down the road to inflexible, old person kurmudgeonness. Tradition is great. But one must also learn the art of flexibility.

“Sure.”

Now don’t you worry about me. Frozen Yogurt Friday will live on – next week’s attendance has been proclaimed to be “mandatory” – but this Friday I will be sitting at Mango Tango, or Swirltastic, or Yogurt Spot. . . alone.

A small cup of cheesecake-flavored frozen yogurt topped with one scoop of blueberries in the hand of me, chopped liver.

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8
January

“Sugar and spice and everything nice…”

You know the rest, right?

“. . . that’s what little girls are made of.”

The day for the lottery came. We were to find out by email if we had been selected to partcipate in the 2012 Houston Aramco Half Marathon. It was June 2011. As I opened my Inbox, I had conflicting hopes. If I didn’t get selected, I would not have to follow through on my decision to start running. If I did. . . I would find out what I was really made of. I suspected that it might be sugar and spice, but I was fairly confident it was something more akin to marshmallow creme.

Send / Receive. Nothing.

Send / Receive. Nothing.

Send / Receive. . . Email.

“We are pleased to inform you. . . ” the letter began. And the fear and self-doubt began to sink in.

You can’t do this!” my brain screamed. “You are no runner!” Then, as it frequently happens, I began playing the tapes that I remember so well. I remembered all the dieting failures. I remembered all of the aborted New Year’s resolutions. Fight or flight started duking it out. And flight was going to win.

I could still get out of it! “I can tell Michael that I really don’t want to do it. He won’t MAKE me!” But deep within, there was a seed of excitement, an energy building inside of me.

What if. . .

What if I could?

The first week of Katy Fit was a near disaster. I showed up too late for the crowded parking situation, missed the group start and took off too fast with an experienced marathoner dictating the pace. But, I finished. It was a 2 mile run. I felt like I was walking on air on the way back to the car.

The week that we ran 5 miles, I cried. I would never have dreamed I could do it. And yet, 5 was just 1 more than 4. As the weeks went by, each mile added was only another twelve or thirteen minutes of running. The conversations along the run were so enjoyable, I hardly noticed the increase in time.

I met Nan, who became one of my closest friends during the six months. She is an amazing 69 year old woman, feisty and energetic, a little bundle of energy and life-experience and wisdom. She has traveled all over the world, crushed grapes with her toes in Santa Barbara wine country, hiked in Patagonia, gone on safari in Africa. She has a new grandson, who lives in California. We talk about him a lot, as he is her joy.

I met Jeanelle, who is from Trinidad and Tobago. I loved listening to her talk about anything, simply because it enabled me to enjoy her beautiful accent! We talked about our children and what was going on each weekend.

One Saturday, I ran with a man who has beat prostate cancer. One Saturday, I ran with a woman who has a severely autistic son. One Saturday, I ran several miles listening to an experienced triathlete give advice to a new one.

One by one, Saturdays came and went. One by one, we added miles. I sailed through the 12 mile run. When I got home that morning, I bragged to Michael, “I am just having the easiest time with this! I cannot believe how great I feel. I am not having any problems at all!” “Just be careful,” Michael advised. “Things can change very quickly.”

Sure enough.

The next week was an “easy 10″ (this is the lingo they use once you have exceeded that mileage). Pretty early on, I began experiencing some pain on the outside of my knee. I continued running, knowing that I could be doing damage, but not wanting to throw away my long run of the week, in case it was nothing. I thought it might work itself out. It didn’t.

By the 8 mile mark, I was hurting pretty bad. I finished the 10, but was almost limping as I did. This is when I had my first massage. Not the “terrycloth robe, sipping cucumber water, listening to waves” kind of massage. This was more of the “bite on your shirt sleeve so you don’t scream” kind.

“It’s your IT band”, one of my coaches explained. “Congratulations! You are now a real runner!”

I was given orders to rest it for a week. No running at all. I learned a few stretches which I would be doing during the week, several times a day.

I could not hold back my emotion as I walked in the door at home. “I’m hurt”, I said to Michael,  in a voice that reminded me of my young children. He held me close. He encouraged me. “You are going to be all right”, he said. That afternoon was spent with an ice pack on my knee. I really wanted to believe him. I had invested so much. I had run through the summer months of Houston heat. I had logged miles in the dark, in the rain, in the early morning, on vacation. Resting that week was as difficult as starting had been. By this point, running was something my body craved. But, I followed directions. I saw a physical therapist. I stretched. I waited and hoped and prayed for improvement.

The last four weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, as I have continued my training. I have runs that are good and some that hurt a little. But, I have not quit.

Yesterday was the last official training run with Katy Fit. As I walked through the dark, pre-dawn parking lot towards the starting area, as I have every Saturday since July, I had some time for reflection.

Six months have gone by. Six months. I am struck by how quickly the time has gone. I am also amazed by what is possible in six months. Half a year ago, I was proud to take a 2 mile walk through the neighborhood. Next weekend, I will run 13.1 miles.

Six months can bring tremendous personal growth or six months can change nothing. It is up to you. And it is a decision. How much of life is like that!

As I proofread my book manuscript for the last time a couple of weeks ago, I made a monumental change in the biography section. For as long as I can remember, when asked to describe myself, I have written, “Melanie enjoys singing and playing the piano.” As I added the words, “and running”, it looked so foreign on the page.

“That’s not me!” the critic inside myself argued.

I had to smile to myself and silence the voice. And I pressed the “Save” button.

Here is what I have learned: I am sometimes made of sugar. I have a sensitive heart and I love to make the people I love smile. I am sometimes made of spice. I can be feisty and sassy and occasionally, downright ugly inside. But there is more to me. I am more than the experiences I have had. I am more than the recordings that play in my mind. I am more than what I see or what I feel. I have endless possibilities. My story has not seen its conclusion yet.

In just a few days, I will celebrate my 39th birthday. And in just a few days, I will earn my very first athletic medal.

You see, I am not made of marshmallow creme. I am strong. I am capable. I am tenacious and determined and tough. I am still surprising myself with what is possible.

And that is what little girls are made of.

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26
December

Comfort and Joy

The songs were so familiar, I could sing them without a book. That’s the way I grew up. Singing out of a book. It seems old-fashioned now, as most churches have moved to the projected words on a screen. Don’t get me wrong, I like the change. Either way, as each song began, the words poured from my lips without any need for conscious recall.

“Hark, the herald angels sing…” The immediate emotional impact takes me by surprise. So many emotions. I miss my Little Granny. She’s been gone several years already, yet this song has transported me like a time machine. I am little again. Sitting in her living room. Such a small room, a tapestry-printed loveseat is the main seating option. There is the television which picks up only the network channels, across the room from my granddaddy’s recliner. There is a candy dish on the marble table, filled with hard candies that have stuck together from neglect, only disturbed when grandchildren visit or the occasional church member or neighbor drops by for a chat. And there, against the wall, is the piano. My Little Granny could play anything out of the song book. And for a moment, I am there, seated on the couch, listening to her play as her crackly voice sings the words.

I am brought back to a more recent past as the song transitions into another. “Silent night, holy night…” This was my favorite part of the Bering scripture and song service. I think this was the week of the year that highlighted best the beauty of our a cappella singing tradition. Christmas carols are meant to have harmonies, I think. At a small church like Bering, you could even make out the individual voices of some of the church members. That bass, that was Ed. The tenor was Bill. And the alto. Oh, the alto was my mother. The alto will always be my mother to me. And now, as we sing, my little girl is attempting the alto line. I change from soprano to alto to lend her some assistance. She is growing up in a different church now. And although it is not an issue of importance to God, I would really love for her to be able to sing alto. Somehow, maybe that will carry on some of the tradition. My tradition. Last year was my last year to lead that service at Bering. And although we love our community church that is becoming our new home, the song makes me yearn for the familiar voices.

“O come, all ye faithful…” My heart shifts back to the present, as my eyes scan the row which holds my precious family. Mom and dad are not here this year, as they are spending this Christmas with Jeremy, Kristy and the kids. Although I am happy to share, it is a poignant reminder that they will not be here forever. I feel for the first time, the weight of my mother’s absence. For the first time, I am the matriarch. It is almost a disconcerting feeling. I still feel like a little girl. But yet, I am not. The little girl is standing beside me, leaning in to snuggle under my arm. She strokes my skin and smiles at me. I am her mama. And as complex as that relationship can be, Christmas brings out the best in us all. I smile back at her and draw her in close to me, determined to give her beautiful memories of loving and being loved. One day, she will be the matriarch. She will be the one remembering.

Zeke is being held by Michael, and they both are singing heartily. Thankfulness fills my heart as I know that this place is nourishing my husband’s spirit. Zeke is beginning to read now and I can see his eyes scanning the screen for sight words that he recognizes. It seems like just yesterday I was pleading with God. “Please, let him talk.” I just wanted to hear “mama”, “dadda”, something. So many worries with this child. And then the Asperger’s diagnosis this year. It’s mild. But, it is not going away. Now, as I look at him, he turns his head and for a few seconds, our eyes lock. My beautiful boy. My heart is overflowing with love, love and concern, which always seem to go hand in hand.

I realize that there are tears welling up in my eyes now as the song medley is ending. I want to take out my phone and take pictures of Julia smiling at me, of Zeke cuddling up to Michael, of the love and the candles, but it seems out of place. These are precious moments of comfort and joy. The lights are coming back up and they are instructing us to extinguish our candles now. If only I could freeze time.

But that is not the way of life, is it? The challenge for all of us is to live each day with our hearts full of love and tenderness for the ones we hold dear. Not just on Christmas. May God help us to do just that.

 

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11
December

Revised!

The final revisions have been made after receiving my manuscript from the editor. I must say, after re-reading it for the umpteenth time, I am so proud of this book! Thanks to my experienced author dad, Edward William Fudge, I almost have a complete list of endorsers. So eager to see the final product!

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