It’s been a bit breezier here this week. A slight chill is in the air. Fall’s just around the corner. The annuals are looking worn and torn from the dry, summer heat. Our garden is still vibrant for late August, but plenty of plants are overgrown, beyond bloom, and in need of a hearty prune. The kids have their school supplies. My youngest received a letter from her preschool teacher. Nine days from now, we’ll be operating on a September budget, which will include hot lunches, cold lunches, field trips, and more school clothes and shoes. Yes, we’re in the final days of summer now. I can feel it. I can sense it. I know it in my bones.
When I looked through my photographs from the summer this past weekend, it alerted me that I hadn’t taken nearly enough summer photos of my children. Having taken photographs obsessively since I was 10 years old, there’s a certain threshold in my mind as far as when an occasion has been properly marked or NOT marked with photographs. This summer has NOT been standard by any means, nor has it been properly marked with photographs. This summer’s photographs show a lack of routine, instability, inconsistency paired with utter craziness. Where are the beach photos? Where are the sidewalk chalk photos? Where are the “I love gardening” photos? Where are the fun summer stuff photos? Where are the easy, breezy, airy photographs of kids without a care in the world?
If there’s one thing I’m reliably good for under any circumstance, it’s a photograph. I have my camera with me most all the time, only this summer was a little (lot) crazier than normal, a little (lot) more out-of-routine than normal. My photos reflected what was happening, but they didn’t necessarily reflect what I wanted my children to remember as they paged through the photo albums I need to catch up on someday soon. (Yes, I’m 4 1/2 years behind on those photo albums!)
This morning, two of my children played with a Fisher Price doll house while the third spent an hour or more organizing her school supplies and getting them packed in her backpack. It was a poignant moment, for sure, one that brought tears to my eyes when I stopped long enough to look.
Summer and school.
I love summer. It’s my favorite season by a landslide. I’m quick to admit to my husband (and hesitant to admit publicly) that I don’t love summer quite as much when it comes to being a mom. I’m torn. I don’t know. I love summer with kids. And I don’t love summer with kids. Part of me longs to treasure this time, these days with my kids while they’re little and somewhat-still little because I know there won’t be many more. But part of me sees the kids bored, longing for friends and routine, stimulation and more interesting things than me and my not-so-fun mom ideas. I’m the kind of mom who’d fully embrace a year-round school schedule with more frequent 2-3 week breaks throughout the year. I’m the kind of mom who’d thrive in a hot, dusty village with kids chasing balls, and moms gathering greens and cooking all day.
Yeah, I diverted a bit. Back on track now. Sorry about that!
So when I teared up over one kid organizing school supplies and two kids playing doll house, I knew I needed to do MORE to wrap up summer good and tidy in my tender heart.
This is the ONLY summer my children will be 4, 11 and 13 years old. There’s no getting this summer back. And it’s not lost on me that five years from now, my oldest will be IN college.
Sometimes this season of littles everywhere feels like forever. But it isn’t long.
I told the kids we were going to do some special things these last two weeks of summer. Some simple summer things. A day at the park. A day at the beach. A picnic. More time outside. Maybe ice cream one random afternoon. I don’t know.
So yes! The plan for today was picnic at the park, a special park we hadn’t gone to this summer. Because sometimes the simplest things in life are the best things.
I loaded the three kids in the car + 1 friend for my daughter. Heck, a good summer day’s never complete unless my oldest daughter brings a friend.
We drove 25 minutes to grab a bag full of sub sandwiches. Then we drove another 5 minutes to the biggest, grandest, most modern park in the area. We ate our subs and chomped on chips at a picnic table, and the kids played their hearts out for an hour, maybe more.
I followed the kids around the playground like only a good mom would, and carried my camera around like only a photographer would. Kids climbed ladders, spun in circles, glided across zip lines, spun in virtual spider webs, and hopped on giant ladybugs. Moms, nannies, child care providers and day camp leaders watched and followed children casually. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like summer. The kids were being kids. And I was being a mom. Just a mom. In summer.
There wasn’t anything glorious, super special or incredibly poignant about that picnic and trip to the park, but it was exactly what we needed.
A little more summer before school starts.
A few more photos to properly mark the occasion, “The Summer of 2016.”
A few more moments together before those routines start back up again.
The 13 3/4 year old was the first to say he was ready to go.
The 11-year-old girls followed suit 10 minutes later. “We’re bored. We wanna go home now.”
The 4 year old was much more hesitant to leave the park. “NO! I wanna play more!” But after a while, she was ready to go home, too.
Everybody ready in their own due time.
As we left the park, my son even said “Thanks for bringing us to the park and getting us lunch, mom.”
This afternoon, he played XBox live with friends and is now outside playing with a neighbor boy. My 11-year-old daughter is playing with her friend. And our neighbor girl just rang the doorbell, asking if my 4-year-old daughter could come out and play. The doll house is out on the porch. There’s an empty water bottle blowing across the driveway. A bunch of boys played football in the neighbor’s yard. A little one rode by on his bike, another on a Hot Wheels. And that little neighbor girl who rang the doorbell? She called me “Maisie’s mother” and asked if I could raise my daughter’s bike seat.
It’s summer here for now.
The days are long.
The days are getting shorter.
Can she use my bathroom “really quick?” Can they play water guns on my driveway? Can he balance on the retaining wall running through our garden? Can he ride her bike? Can she hang on your porch? Can they scream, shout and fight? Can they eat an applesauce from our pantry or a popsicle from the neighbor boy?
Yes. It’s summer.
School’s soon enough.
Do whatever you need to do to wrap up summer good and tidy in your tender heart.
I held two long-standing dreams for my 40th birthday.
Run a marathon
Take a mission trip to Haiti with my husband
Run a Marathon
I was going to run Grandma’s Marathon in June 2016 or Twin Cities Marathon in October 2016. The dream to run a marathon for my 40th was serious and alive for a few good years until the rubber hit the road and I realized I’d need to actually sign up and start training. When I reminded my husband that this was a goal for my 40th and told him we were approaching the time I’d need to commit, he reminded me that my plate is full, that training for a marathon was super intense, and that I also have a book writing goal, so perhaps it would be better to spend time focusing my efforts on that dream instead.
He was right. His logic made sense. I made a cold and fast decision to drop my dream of running a marathon for my 40th birthday.
Take a Mission Trip to Haiti with My Husband
My husband and I were going to Haiti to visit our sponsored children through Compassion International. Better yet? We were going to Haiti to visit our three sponsored children there, then fly over to Dominican Republic to visit our sponsored child there. It was an idyllic 40th birthday plan in my book. My husband would meet all four of our sponsored children in one week, and we’d plan some sun time for the Dominican side so my husband could get the R&R he needed. I wanted us to take our first mission trip as a married couple. I wanted my husband to see me in my happy place. I wanted him to KNOW that very best part of me. I wanted him to understand why I can’t shake my trips to Haiti, Dominican and Kenya. My dream to make this trip for my 40th was serious and alive for TWO years until the rubber hit the road and I realized we’d need to actually book the trip and start planning all the details.
We had big conversations.
For a period of three or four weeks, it was official! We were planning a Haiti/Dominican trip for my 40th, sometime in the second half of 2016.
But things didn’t feel right. I knew my husband didn’t really want to go to Haiti, and was just agreeing to please me. I didn’t want this to be a check-it-off-the-list experience. I love Haiti. I love it so much I can barely contain my tears writing these sentences. But I also love Kenya. I love it so much that I’d go back today, in a heartbeat if I could. Having said that, I know my heart and I know my current reality. It isn’t realistic to keep both Haiti AND Kenya active and open in my heart during this season of life with three children, ages 13, 11 and 4, at home. I’d consider myself ridiculouslyblessed if I was able to take ONE mission trip a year until our two oldest graduate from high school. But that once-a-year-dream isn’t realistic. If I returned to Haiti, I’d open my heart up wide all over again, and would want to go back for a third visit. But then there’s Kenya. If I went to Haiti for my 40th in 2016, that would mean Kenya would have to hold off until 2017, more likely 2018. Could my heart bear the weight of that possibility?
I prayed. I thought about it. I knew what was safest for my heart and the best decision given my current reality, finances, life as a mom of three, and wife of a husband who’s crazy busy with work. One late night after the kids were in bed, I requested time with my husband and told him straight up, “We’re not going to Haiti for my 40th.”
I drew Haiti a beautiful little circle on our bed sheets with my finger, surrendered the final 40th birthday dream, and left it there with God. I never said I was surrendering Haiti for good. I’m surrendering it for now.
With tears and Haiti in a bed sheet circle, that left my heart open and committed to Kenya, and Kenya only. For now. For this season. If God sees fit to open the circle for Kenya AND Haiti someday, I won’t be surprised. In my heart of hearts, I see both. But for now, one. Kenya.
And with that, both of my 40th birthday dreams died.
Four to six weeks later, we found out that my dad was approved for a lung transplant. If everything goes as planned, he will be placed on the national lung transplant registry by mid-July, just days after my 40th birthday. My mom is first in care for my dad. But my mom is also first in care for my sister who has schizoaffective disorder – bipolar type; she has two children and lives two blocks from my parents. Since I’m oldest in my family of origin, that leaves me second in care for my dad while he’s going through the transplant, and first in back-up care for my sister and her two children while my dad and mom are going through the transplant.
My husband has an intense corporate job that often requires longer-than-normal work days, occasional work on nights and weekends, and regularly takes him away on business travel.
I’m home this summer with three children. It’s only my second summer home full-time since I became a mom nearly 14 years ago. Our youngest starts kindergarten in 14 months.
I’ve written and thoroughly edited TWO children’s book manuscripts, and have a third roughly drafted. I need to write the series proposal and get it in the hands of a literary agent. After that, I’d like to tackle an adult nonfiction proposal.
I’m EIGHT pounds over my most comfortable weight, and haven’t been able to get the weight off since it first started piling on in January 2015 after my husband’s eye cancer diagnosis. I’m wearing capri leggings every day this summer because I only fit into one of my size 8 drawer full of shorts. And my well went dry last weekend because I haven’t had enough time to replenish my soul these past seven weeks.
The Lord is so wise and graceful with his gifts.
He knows what we need and when we need it.
40-some days ago when I realized my 40th birthday was approaching, my emotions got the best of me. No marathon. No trip to Haiti with my husband. No marking of this momentous occasion. 40 is big to me. If you know me well, you know I’ve been looking forward to 40 forever. I wanted to do something big for my 40th, something special, something to honor who I am and how I want to live the second half of life.
I wondered if there was a way to still pull something off that resonated with my soul. Perhaps a Facebook campaign – 44 days to my 40th birthday – in which I’d collect 440 pair of new underwear for boys and girls at the orphanage in Kenya? Perhaps a party in which we could raise funds for a set of swings and slides for the children at the orphanage?
Creating a new dream out of nowhere was crazy, impossible and possibly stupid. I had a little meltdown on my bed, then headed to the gym with my 4 year old. As I pulled into a parking spot, I looked down at my phone and noticed an email had arrived from wise counsel, someone who has taken at least EIGHT hours solid just listening to me. I hadn’t communicated with this person for a couple months, so she had no reason to communicate with me that morning besides this perfectly-timed gem.
You do not have to look for anything, just look.
You do not have to listen for specific sounds, just listen.
You do not have to accomplish anything, just be.
And in the looking, and the listening, and the being; find Me.
Ann Lewin in Celtic Daily Prayer, Book Two, p 1483
Tears. Just tears.
The timing of the email was impeccable. God was clearly speaking. I didn’t have to do anything momentous or incredibly special for my 40th birthday. I didn’t have to find a way to celebrate and express the unique heart He’s given me for life. I didn’t have to prove to anyone except myself and God that I’m heading into this second half of life with passion, fervor, grace and an open heart for whatever He has planned for me.
I don’t have to work for the world anymore.
His dreams are greater than mine.
His plans are greater than my plans.
He needed me to know this.
My job from here on out is to look, listen, be, and seek Him first.
I know I’ll run a marathon someday.
I know I’ll return to Haiti someday.
I know I’ll return to Kenya.
I pray I’ll go on a mission trip with my husband someday.
I know, without a doubt, that I’m going to keep working on those books.
I know I’m home for a reason, for this season, to help my family.
I know I need to take care of myself.
I know God’s timing is perfect.
I know His gifts are good.
I surrendered two 40th birthday dreams. But God’s filling in the gaps with gifts aplenty.
Time at home with my children this summer.
Time at home so our family has a sense of stability.
Helping my parents with the CaringBridge and Facebook pages set up for my dad’s upcoming lung transplant.
Being available to help my parents when my dad gets called for the lung transplant.
Being available to help my sister and her two children.
Becoming a Facebook page administrator for the nonprofit, Love For Kenya, with whom I traveled last fall.
A photography partnership with a nonprofit that celebrates babies with Down syndrome.
A divine encounter with the president of MN Teen Challenge who confirmed that my idea would be an “incredible ministry.”
Joining a private writing community on Facebook.
“Yes” to an intense, three-day writing workshop in November 2016.
Two 5Ks instead of that marathon.
A compass from day camp with a message from my four year old. “If you don’t remember where you’re going, then you have that to remember. Okay?”
A perfect ending to the last night I could call myself “39” without lying, including a senior photo shoot, three end-of-season clearance outfits at my favorite store White House Black Market (so I don’t have to wear capri leggings every day this summer), and a beautifully-painted sunset to top it all off.
In loving memory of Olivia and Steve. In honor of their families.
Music’s pulled me through the two weeks between Africa and Christmas. It’s fitting that the only post I visioned for Christmas is inspired by song.
Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant’s rendition of “Almost There” caught me off guard this week. I’d almost forgotten I’d heard it and loved it before. This time it was fresh, inspired, divinely grand – more than before.
I’ve been thinking about you…and me.
We’re almost there.
You’re almost there.
It’s a promise of love. A promise of light, life and better days ahead. A promise of a Savior, Jesus. A promise of eternal hope that exceeds all earthly hopes. A promise that our pain is temporary, absolutely incomparable to the glory yet to be revealed. A promise that we can surrender and receive the gift of grace, no strings attached.
I could’ve mustered a light-hearted post, a Christmas giveaway post or a “Christmas Wishes for You” post. I could’ve skipped a Christmas post, just forgotten about it this year. I could’ve counted my sister’s words as my Christmas post and left it at that. I could’ve decided or written just about anything, really. But my heart of heart’s telling me a whole lot of people are hurting, hopeless, lonely, overwhelmed, and seeking something more this Christmas.
Sure, not everyone.
We’re hiding in the woodwork, aren’t we?
For someone to acknowledge. For someone to tell us…you’re almost there. You’ve got this, friend. You’re going to make it.
And your life? It’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. You’re here for a reason, a purpose. You’re part of a grand design, an epic story you can’t even begin to wrap your mind around.
Keep pressing on, friend.
You’re almost there.
Your firm foundation.
The place and peace you’ve been waiting for.
You’re almost there, friend. You’re almost there.
To the ones who lost their spouse this year, I see you. Whether your spouse’s death came tragically and senselessly, or you knew it was coming for years and years, it hurts all the same. Who knows WHY, HOW, or NOW? Only God, dear ones. Only God. Surround yourself with loved ones. Rest. Believe. Seek peace. Absolutely, without a doubt, cry when you need to. Know you were and are loved. Deeply. Wholeheartedly. Unconditionally. You are a fighter. You are a lover, a believer. Keep pressing on, friend. Life’s waiting for you. We’re here for you.
To the ones who felt lonely this year, I see you. Life’s demanding. Fast paced. Achievement oriented. Life leaves little time for relationship. Friend, if you’ve been lonely, take heart. Believe you’re worthy of pursuit, friendship and love. Reach out. Let someone know you’re not doing this alone, you can’t do this alone. Let your heart come undone. Be vulnerable. Take a risk. If someone strikes your fancy, make sure they know. “Hey, can we chat?” Or “Hey, you wanna go get coffee?” Let that guard down. Be a little vulnerable next year. Show your colors, friend. Start a friendship and relationship revolution. And when all else fails, turn to God. Tell him you’re lonely, trust Him to fill the void with Himself, with others.
To the ones who lost a child this year, I see you. Why was her life taken so soon, God? Why? We don’t understand. We don’t know why. Why show us the glimmer, the hope of a life filled with promise, then take her sweet soul home well before the timeline we deem satisfactory? To you, oh you, I see you. I don’t even begin to fathom your pain this Christmas, your love and your loss. Nobody will ever fill your sweet baby’s spot at the Christmas table. You don’t ever need to take down that stocking. That special spot, that special place she held in your heart and your life, it’s reserved for her and her alone. You move on, yes. Life goes on, yes. But your precious baby’s spirit lives on, too. Through your living. Through your being brave. Through your fragility, your vulnerability. Through your strength. Through your living example of what it means to trust and believe you’ll meet again, you’ll embrace again, you’ll be together again. And in the meantime, love like your heart’s on fire. Together or separated for now, LOVE.
To the ones sick and in forever limbo this year, I see you. If one thing’s for sure, you’ve been through a lot. While you’ve frequented clinics, hospitals and ERs, the world’s gone on. Sometimes it seems nobody sees, nobody knows the full extent of your pain, your half-living, half-dying life. Nobody knows the steps you’ve taken, the places you’ve limped, the ground you’ve wheeled. Only you, my friend, know what it’s like to live and know this life is truly temporary. I’ve not been sick, my friend, but I see you. I honor you. Lift your head high. Conquer that illness. Live fearlessly. Live each day like it’s your last. Be loved. Love. Trust that better days are ahead. Teach us how to fight the good fight.
To the ones wandering blankly through life, I see you. I saw you in Target yesterday, friend. Your eyes were empty. You barely saw me. You’re empty, friend. Life’s taken it out of you. You’re literally wandering, wondering, lost. I’m not sure if you even know, friend. I’m not sure you’re aware. I want to enter your world, stop you in your tracks. Stop moving, friend. Stop going. Stop trying all the things to fill the void. Stop believing you’re a robot. Friend, you’re so much more than this. So much more. You’re so much more than productivity, accomplishment and achievement. You’re so much more than your actions, your decisions, your duties and daily delights. Stop, friend. See. Be. Live. Connect. Look into someone’s eyes. Feel something, anything. Cry. Release it all. Sit down, friend. You are MORE THAN THIS. Take in the beauty. See the sights. Rest. You are not a machine. Life is better than it’s been. Take heart, friend. Take ahold of your heart. Open your eyes. I want to see your eyes. I want to see your soul. Wipe our eyes, God, so we can see. And be. All you want us to be.
We’re almost there, friends.
You’re almost there.
The promise of Jesus, a Savior.
The promise of love and peace and joy that passes all understanding.
To Mary, I see you. You’re carrying Him, baby Jesus. He who has…“shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”(Isaiah 9:4-7) Thank you for pondering these things in your heart. Thank you.
You’re almost there.
We’re almost there.
To God, our Heavenly Father, I see you. Thank you. For sending Jesus. For creating us. For releasing us from death, sin, loneliness, fear and pain. For giving us hope. For extending grace when we least deserve it and most need it. For living in us so we might see truth and life. For living in us so we can shine and be a light unto the world. For bringing and being beauty amidst our earthly existence. For everything, yes, everything. Thank you.
When my 10-year-old daughter wrote “berry picking” on a tiny piece of green scrapbook paper with white cameras all over it three months ago, I knew it had a good chance of being one of my favorite Summer Bucket List activities.
After all, we’ve been berry picking before. It’s not new to our repertoire of things to do. Once a summer, typically in August, we travel to a quaint little orchard to pick raspberries. It’s awesome every time. I knew this outing would be no different.
The kids kept asking WHEN we were going berry picking.
I kept saving it for the last possible moment, the last days of summer. I kept it for the last week of summer. In fact, it was our last Summer Bucket List activity for 2015.
When we arrived, we headed straight to the main building to pick up plastic containers and a wooden basket for gathering and carrying our raspberries. Then we made our way back to the raspberry fields.
There were two fields as far as I could see. In one, two or three retired ladies were chatting and picking raspberries peacefully. I saw no reason to interrupt their Thursday morning adventure, and to be honest, I wanted this to be an intimate experience, so I directed my kids to the other raspberry field where we’d be alone.
There was nothing exciting or grand or particularly noteworthy about our berry picking adventure. But it was peaceful, relaxing, and delightfully wholesome as usual. I wondered why we don’t do this more often.
The kids picked and picked and picked.
Picked and ate a few berries as I meandered.
I took photographs slowly, with purpose and intention, as if my life, my worth, my identity didn’t hinge on my ability to capture this one, beautiful moment in time.
I breathed some more.
Exhaled all the good and bad of the whole summer long.
And thought of the grace I so desperately need to embrace.
By the time we made it through the raspberry field, all three kids’ containers were filled. Well, except the baby’s. She’d hopped in the wagon half-way through and popped those berries in her mouth, one by one.
We slowly made our way back to the car, then back to the main building where we paid for our three containers of raspberries and added two homemade sugar apple doughnuts and a bottle of water to share for good measure.
I found us a nice table for four in the back corner of the orchard’s restaurant. It was lovely. Simple. Quaint. The wholesome I long for.
We broke our two doughnuts in half so we each had a piece. Three of us shared the water. The fourth wanted a Mello Yellow or Diet Coke instead. I calmly told him no. We were keeping it simple. We were staying under budget. If he didn’t want to share water, he’d have to wait to get something until we were home again. I didn’t berate myself for being a “bad mom” for saying no. I didn’t get all worked up. No was the answer and neither of us made it into a big deal.
We oohed and aahed over the goodness of the doughnuts.
And yes, I got a little sentimental with the piano music playing and us being in the corner of that little orchard restaurant on this second-to-last day of our first summer home together full-time, just the four of us. Tears began welling in my eyes. I tried to hide it from the kids. But after a while, they noticed.
“Mom, are you crying?”
“Did you have a good time today?”
“Are you sad this is our last day of summer together?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“The piano music doesn’t help,” noted my 10 year old.
They know me, those kids.
They know I can get stressed and overstimulated, but they also know I can be a sentimental mess over things like this.
We finished our doughnuts, then I brushed the sugar off their shirts.
They fed the goats and sheep. Jumped across hay bales. Popped their heads through a few orchard signs freshly painted for fall apple and pumpkin picking crowds. And just like that, our last Summer Bucket List adventure was over.
Mom Lesson: It’s all good moms. Summer’s been good and bad and everything in between. You’ve got this.
Kid Lesson: Kids thrive in the wholesome simplicity of summer.
She’s pregnant. Expectant. Waiting on something more.
She doesn’t push or shove her way to delivery. She wants nothing more than to birth when the time is right.
She’s beautiful. Ripe. Swollen with new life.
Moves my heart so.
She’s been on my dresser for a year and a half. I stare at her nearly every morning before I rise from bed.
Three weeks ago, I brought her to her rightful place. Downstairs. Where we move. Where we live. Where I write and ponder. Where she can be treasured, loved and remembered for who she was, for who is, for who she will be.