Thursday, January 29, 2015

The apron.

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

After a few years of being a homemaker, I came to a frustrating realization. . .I was ruining ALL OF MY CLOTHES!  Basically every top in my wardrobe had some sort of stain on it from cooking, washing dishes, putting lotion on squirmy kids, or from my primary role as "human Kleenex."  Also, I was pregnant and my maternity clothes had a frustrating lack of genuine pockets.  Why do they think storing a baby in your belly automatically negates your need to store other things. . .like, say, in YOUR POCKET? One day, after finding a Hot Wheel in my bra I realized it was time to do something real to solve this problem.  So, off to Target I went (the solution to every problem seems to start at Target, right?) and grabbed the first apron I saw- white canvas with bright red apples, a nice full skirt and TWO pockets!  Problem solved!  I started to wear my apron every day, and stopped finding puzzle pieces in my undergarments and giant grease stains on by belly.  It was lovely.  After about a year, the apron started to look a little beat up and used. . .as it should!  I wore it most of the day, every day, doing my "mom stuff".  So, as husbands do, Paul insisted that he buy me an even NICER apron from a fancy website, with cute ruffles and even a diamondy-looking thing set in a bow on the front.  It swooned over it that Mother's Day.  I put it on and felt like the cutest mom of a two year old, three year old and almost one year old on earth.  So long, old worn apron!  New Jen is here and she is FANCY!

The next day was a pretty epic (and by epic, I mean standard) day of parenting three little kids.  At 5:30 p.m. it culminated in a completely trashed house, a ruined batch of muffins that I forgot to add the sugar to and a three year old tantrum that ended in a mommy COMPLETELY covered in vomit (right in the middle of a visit from Paul's parents.)   Oh, I was so upset, embarrassed, and discouraged, not to mention my new fancy apron was drenched in puke.  And when it came out of the dryer it was completely ruined. . .wrinkly, floppy, sad and now a light gray as opposed to a vibrant black with polka dots.

I shoved the "new" apron in a drawer.  If you can't handle a little vomit, you can't hang with me, cute apron. Back to the old apple apron I went.  That was almost four years ago, and despite multiple offers from Paul to get me a "new apron", I now have a greater appreciation for the old model.

It may not be pretty anymore, but my kids know me in this one.  One pocket may be falling off, but the other holds Lego minifigs like a champ.  It makes a phenomenal Kleenex for thigh-high kids.  I am pretty sure ingrained in my kids' childhood memories will be my apron, up close, because it is just the right height to be the recipient of a face-plant in every hug.  I have grown to appreciate my ratty old apron for what it does, not for what it looks like these days. 

Today as I hung the trusty little apple apron on its familiar hook, I came to a powerful realization.  I need to extend the same grace I give to my apron to myself.  I have been struggling a little lately with the changes in my body that I see in the mirror.  My belly is, if I am being completely honest, COVERED with about a hundred stretch marks and wrinkles and floppy skin from the four pregnancies.  In addition to that, I still have about 8 extra layers besides the ones my hairstylist adds from the waves of postpartum hair loss.  Not to mention the wrinkles around my eyes and on my hands.  When my husband looks at me, he says, "You are so beautiful!  I have the most beautiful wife in the whole world!"  But, sometimes, when I look at me, I just see someone who looks used up.  Kind of like my apron.

But, just like that apron, this body right here is how my kids know me.  They don't see any of my perceived flaws, they see me with their hearts.  And when they do, they just see "Mommy". . .my squinty smile, my really loud laugh, my big old hugs.  My belly may be permanently squishy, but it makes an awesome lap for cuddling.  My eyes may be crinkly, but that's because I get to smile and laugh ALL of the time, and smiling's my favorite.  ;)  My hair might be eight lengths, but at least I don't have to wash it every day anymore (hello, dry shampoo!?) and my hands have aged about 20 years in the past 7, but that means they have been working hard to take care of a little family that I love.  My body has worked hard for me.  What a gift.  I need to take care of it, because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that's my responsibility, but I need to stop criticizing the natural changes I see as I go about living my earthly life in it.  I wouldn't trade the changes in my heart in the last seven years for anything, so if the changes in my body come with that I need to humbly accept them as the privilege they are.  I'm working on that humility and peace within myself. Everything doesn't have to be perfect to be lovely.  I'm getting there.  Articles like this help.  And my desire to walk the talk- if I tell my kids I love them as they are, I need to show them that I treat myself the same way.  

And when my kids look back on their childhood, I want them to remember ME: a happy mommy, who kept their treasures in the pockets of her apron, read them stories in her squishy lap and loved them with her whole heart, JUST THE WAY they are.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


Baby Daniel, Spring 2009

One day when I was a new stay-at-home mama to baby Daniel and baby Philip, I found myself in a pickle.  I had a sorority alumni function and was scrambling to look pin-worthy when I realized. . .every. single. pair. of pantyhose I owned had a run.  ARGH! Since I am the whitiest white person on earth and it was early spring, I dared not leave my home with exposed legs lest I blind unsuspecting passers-by.  So, I had no choice.  The kids and I had to go to the corner CVS and get some nylons.

As you probably know, it takes a unique amount of effort to get two littles to the store, but I was fiercely determined and propelled to CVS by my vanity.   I popped the kids in the tiny cart and headed to the legwear section to grab some Sheer Energy.  Queen.  Nude. Control top.  Sheer toe.  CHECK.  "But wait!"  My queenly self thought.  "We're almost out of beer!  I went to all this trouble to get here, so I had better grab some."  Over to the liquor section we went and I plopped a 30-pack of Busch Light into the cart with 20-month-old Philip.   Daniel, in his typical sunny 8-month-old fashion, was giggling and babbling in the top of the cart as we made our way to the register. The cashier didn't even blink an eye at my juxtaposition of selections and we smiled at each other.  Then, as I turned to walk out the door I stopped dead in my tracks.


"There is no way I can get this cart out the door!" I thought as I began to sweat a little bit.  At the intersection of 10th and Arlington, shopping cart stealing was apparently an issue so each cart had a giant pole attached to it to prohibit it from going out the door.  DARN DARN DARN DARNY DARN DARN!  I cast a glance at the cashier, and we both glanced at the pole.  And the full cart.  And back at the pole.  I had my purse, my beer, my pantyhose, my toddler, my infant. . . and only two arms.  

This, friends, was my defining moment.  

A fierce determination washed over me. I was not leaving ANY of these essentials behind.  OH NO-OH-OH.  I made it this far. Now, since the baby and the beer couldn't walk and it was a busy corner of Indy for a wobbly toddler who could barely hold a hand, there was no way I was putting any of them down.  So, I took a deep breath.   Purse on shoulder.  One baby on each hip.  Bag over wrist.  30-pack of domestic goodness in hand.  BAM.  I was off.

The cashier looked at me in my heavily laden state and laughed.  "WOW!!"  She said with astonishment in her voice.  "You are SUPERMOM!!!"

I grinned.  HELLS to the YES.  I AM Supermom!!!!  I could have been flying through the parking lot that early spring evening.  Her compliment had me feeling even more golden and effervescent than that Busch Light in my hand.  Nothing felt heavy anymore. Not the kids, not the beer, not the whiteness of my legs or the urgency of getting ready for this function.  I was Supermom.  So what if the criteria for that title was my ability to juggle two babies and a case??!!!  

I like the sound of that.
(And the cashier at my corner CVS said it so it must be true.)

Although that day was years ago, I still reflect on it often. It can be easy through the lens of social media to get so caught up in our perception of what other people are doing that we lose sight of the Supermoms we all are in our own homes.  Truth of the matter is, God has mindfully gifted us with the particular children and circumstances that we have, and a unique set of gifts that will make the best and bring out the best in each of those.  We need to reject the idea that we have to be good at EVERYTHING.  We need to put our energy where our interests, talents and passions lie.  We just have to be good at OUR things, whatever those things are.  We have no reason to doubt that we are THE SUPER MOMS that God intended for the kiddos we love.

Of course, the temptation is always there when we look at another woman and think she is Supermom to believe that there can only be ONE.  She's super.  I'm inadequate.

Not true.  Reject the lie.  There's plenty of Super to go around, and we are all owning it in our own way.  In fact, the more we recognize the Supermom in others, the more we can see it in ourselves.  So, the next time we see a mom doing something AMAZING to us. . .whether it is homeschooling or teaching all of her kids to ride bikes or rocking her career or managing her child's illness or having 9 kids or planning a month's worth of freezer meals or being a single mom or doing Pinterest crafts or getting up at 5 am to work out or breastfeeding multiples or dressing her kids in coordinating outfits or looking stylish or whatever other rockstar stuff she's doing, we can take a moment to think about how awesome she is.   We can honor that and wonder how she does it. . .and we should!   In fact, we should probably go ahead and tell her that we think she's great, too.  But, we are dishonoring ourselves if we don't stop to take a moment to think about how awesome we are, too.  Let's find what we are good at and embrace it.  Work it.  Own it.  Enjoy it.  Thank God for our unique gifts.   Let go of the things that aren't ours.  No more negative self-talk.  If we can look at the things that other women are doing and call them Supermom without a hint of shame at our own set of interests and abilities, we have surely found the key to a happy and contented life.

So, since it takes one to know one (and I learned this at CVS), let me say it to you. . .
You're Supermom.

Now. . .
Go fly!

 There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone."
1 Corinthians 12: 4-6

Friday, December 12, 2014


Noah, December 2013

'Tis the season of expectation.
But for me, along with the "Come, O Long Expected Jesus" variety of expectation, comes the (EEEK!) do-everything-just-right kind of expectation.

It is hard for me to release the need to be all the things to all the people.  It is also hard to reconcile the pressure of hungry bellies/ laundry mountain/ pile of dishes with the desperate sense that time is fleeting.  How can I do all of the things I have to do and also do all of the things I want to do?  How can I always feel so unprepared for the season of preparation?!!!????  I have no idea, but I feel like it sneaks up on me every year. I want to make this season magical for the children while the magic is still fresh and young and sparkling in their little eyes.  But the first Sunday of Advent comes whether I am ready or not, and life with these four boys rushes by in a whirlwind of meals and baths and diapers and homework faster than the Polar Express.  I know my time as "Mommy" is so short, but how do I stop and savor it?  How can I do it all?  And can I do it all just right?  Jen, you only have one chance. . .you can't miss it.  They are so sweet and little and they are growing right before your eyes. . .

See how the expectations keep mounting?
See why I was crying in my minivan the other day on the way to preschool pickup?
FOR NO GOOD REASON except that I love my kids and I want to be a good mom?
And I love the world and want to be a good person?
What can I DO?
However. . .

Jesus gave us one big commandment.

It was not give our kids the perfect childhood, bake the most delicious cookies, wrap the presents impeccably, send the most amazing cards, get the just right picture with Santa and trim the tree to look like a magazine.

It was just love God.  Heart, soul and mind. 
We can ALL DO that, amiright?

Now, all of those other external things are SUPER.  Santa is the man, cards are lovely and cookies are just about the best thing ever.  And for heaven's sake, no one should make anyone feel bad if they like to do those things.  If baking magically delicious cookies is how someone expresses love, then they should DO IT!  But, we also shouldn't feel ashamed if we see our friends doing that and that's not our thing.  It takes all kinds.  That's why Archway makes those Bells and Stars every year, people!  And no matter WHAT we choose to do or like to do or want to do, we will never be able to give our kids a Sears-Roebuck-catalog-perfect childhood Christmas.
So. . .

I'm going to be honest that the mountain I need to level during Advent is the mountain of expectations I put on myself.  What can I do during the season of expectation that adds to our collective joy?  What can we do in this home to truly ready the way of the Lord?  My guide for myself is that if I can't do it in love, I probably shouldn't do it.  We can't expect more of ourselves than God does. 

So, let's release the expectation of external perfection on ourselves.
So we can receive the gift.

God came to us as a gift in human form.  A tiny baby.  Born in a dirty room, to a humble woman, into a messy, broken, IMPERFECT world.
He can be born, too, into our imperfect hearts.  Our messy homes.  Our dirty kitchen.  Our hectic lives.
That's what Jesus is FOR.
That's why He came.
That's why He's here now, and comes again.
Once He's in, everything is perfect.
His grace makes it so.

Christmas will come whether we are "ready" or not.
(The Whos down in Whoville taught us that.)
Let the un-done be a symbol of all that we wait for.
The half-trimmed tree.
The messy-haired kids.
The pile of unwrapped presents.
The yet unopened Christmas cards.
The imagined and unbaked batches of cookies.

Because Jesus will arrive whether we get these things "right" or not.
This life is not meant to be perfect.
Only Heaven is.
God has given us the gift of grace.
Now, our task is to give it to ourselves.
To release the expectations, and expect only Love.

The gift of Christmas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thank You, Neighbor.

Philip, Daniel and baby Josh, winter 2011

About four years ago, I was struggling.  I had two-year-old, three-year-old and 8-month-old baby at home. In the middle of the winter.  In INDIANA.  I was feeling a bit a bit desperate in general, particularly for any sort of validation that I was worthwhile.  The tiny people around me seemed to be crying most of the time, everything I did got undone, and the house, the kids and I looked mostly like a hot mess, soooooooo, yeah. I wasn't getting any cues there.   Although the feelings I had certainly weren't ones that I was proud of, I thought maybe by sharing them it could help encourage someone else.

So, one day I pounded this out on my keyboard and sent this to a friend who has a blog and he posted it for me.  He called it, "Cold coffee. . .and Mister Rogers."  I liked that.  I am going to share it again now in case anyone else is out there and needs this message, too.  I have always loved our favorite "neighbor", ever since I was a little preschooler, and it's incredible to me how many messages Mister Rogers has for me as a grown-up.  I am so far from being perfect, but he always reminds us that people can love us just the way we are and to keep on growing. Sometimes I feel like I have needed his show even more than my boys, and if you read below you'll see one of the many reasons why.  

January 5, 2011
I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about what my vocation is in life.  I mean, I guess I know what it is now. . .if it isn't being a wife and mother I am not sure what it is!  I guess Facebook is something that really gets you thinking. . .you see all these people you went to high school and college with and they seem so. . .successful.  Wow- they are doctors, lawyers, professors, ministers, politicians, artists. . .these are the people you sat next to in class (or maybe skipped class with to go to a bar. . .not that I would ever do that!), clowned around with, went to parties with.  You took the same tests, competed or performed side by side, worked on teams together, and you always felt like equals.  But, all of the sudden (or maybe not so sudden. . .it has been a while, right?) you look around and realize that everyone has become their grown-up selves with all sorts of grown up accomplishments.  I am pretty confident that I have friends are going to cure diseases, write bestselling books, compose great music, make amazing contributions to the world and be remembered for a long, long time.  It's not that I'm jealous, it just makes me wonder what I'm doing for the good of the cause, or what potential I may have inside me.  I look down at MY grown-up self. . .a cushy mom/human kleenex wearing a purple sweatshirt and leggings, hair in a ponytail, baby formula all over my collar and smudgy mascara.  No awards on my wall or accolades, no advanced degrees, no need for pantyhose or manicures, no time for social activism, never mind time to finish my coffee before it gets cold.  As I am sure every mother does, I have puzzled over this a lot.  When you stay at home with your children, it is easy to feel like you don't get anything done.  There is no satisfaction of a straight A report card, pile of freshly graded papers or a completed project to turn in.  The dish mountain in the sink diminishes only to reappear again within hours, the laundry is folded and barely put away before the baskets are full again, meals are prepared and eaten and the refrigerator is bare before you even had time to recover from the last adventure at the grocery store with tiny helpers in tow.  A mother's work never ends.   No one has been banging down my door to give me awards, and my kids haven't given me a performance evaluation lately, let alone a raise!  If it doesn't make you act like a bit of a martyr every once in a while, you are probably a saint.

So, what's a person to do?  I'm a big believer in being content with what you have and making the most of every circumstance in life so I wanted to reconcile all of these thoughts and feelings.  Fortunately, my good friend Mister Rogers came just in time with the answer my heart needed.  My boys and I watch the Neighborhood together as a special ritual almost every day.  I try not to do anything else as we watch. . .just be fully present with my children in the moment and enjoy watching them be nurtured and educated by the show I grew up loving.  We were watching the Neighborhood Opera "A Star for Kitty" when my answer came from the musical puppets and friends.  The Kitty wants to learn to twinkle like the stars in the sky, and tries to twinkle by thinking happy thoughts.   You have to be able to suspend reality for a bit to accept a tiger puppet dressed like a star hidden in a toothpaste tube and a trumpet playing half-moon as completely natural.  I won't even go into why the cat is in the sky in the first place taking a twinkling class, but she tries in vain to twinkle, until she does a selfless act only to realize she has started sparkling without trying to at all.  As I watched, I thought. . .wait. . .that's me!  I'm Lady Aberlin dressed like a cat!  Nah, not really, but that's how I sparkle!  By putting others first.  I may not be shining bright, making contributions (or making much money for that matter), being successful, winning awards or changing the world.  

But my boys. . .they are my work.   They are my legacy. They are my sparkle.  If I put their little hearts and feelings first and nurture their spirits, they could grow to be kind loving, people who make the world a better place.   Maybe they could grow into someone as great as Fred Rogers! That seems pretty important to me.  

In our world of instant gratification, sometimes it is hard to remember the things that are eternal.  Leave it to Mister Rogers to still remind me over 25 years after I was one of his little viewers that it is the things on the inside that count after all.


After I wrote that, I felt better.  The thought that my life's work could not be to do something measurable, but just to love people, was pretty mind-blowing to four-years-ago-Jen.  It's something I have worked on every day since, moving from the uncomfortable feeling in my heart to the peaceful internal knowing that my value is not to be measured by external factors.  I can use all of my gifts. . . my humor, my mind, my compassion. . .right here with my little circle of people.  I may never even see the fruit of my work in my lifetime, but someone will. . .someday. . .I'm sure of it.  And, yes, no one ever is going to knock on my door with a major award.  (But one time the TV repairman said I was a good mom, so that's, like, pretty close!)  As one of my favorite authors, Glennon Melton, says, "Most people who have a deep desire for lives of meaning and purpose and love are the kind of people who already have lives of meaning and purpose and love."  It's all right here.

So, I will keep washing the dishes and doing the laundry and waiting at the bus stop and kissing the boo-boo's and singing the lullabies and listening to highly detailed accounts of imaginary things.  I'll do the hundredth tuck-in and pick up the thousandth toy and wipe the millionth tear.  

I can say I do it more gently now, and more purposefully than I did four years ago, because now I know that THAT is the work.

Not the thing that needs to be done before I can go off and do some more important world-changing work, but that is the work I am supposed to be doing.  Hugs and lullabies and stories and diapers and cleaning the pee ring around the toilet is "the work." Everyone's vocation is different, but I am sure that this is mine, all wrapped up in these four little boys.  It's nothing to be ashamed of or to brag about or anything in-between, because we are all called to do different things. . .and we need those friends of mine who are doctors and lawyers and surgeons and nurses and teachers and athletes and clerks and tellers and musicians and activists and all of those other important people doing their thing to make people's lives better.  
But this little calling is just mine, and it fits me now.  
Just like your calling is yours.  
It's kind of a radical thought, to imagine that you are just who you are supposed to be, and you are just WHERE you are supposed to be, when it seems that the world is always telling you to be more and do more be better and do it, like, NOW.  Nope.  Not accepting that any more.  "You're just the way you're supposed to be," says Mister Rogers, "you're growing just right."  

From Life's Journeys According to Mister Rogers

Thank you, television neighbor.  That's just what I needed. :)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Perfect Little Angels.

Birthday hot air balloons!

Yesterday at 7:15 a.m. on my 35th birthday, my four excited, exuberant, hyper little boys were bouncing balloons around the kitchen.  It was all giggles and elbows and static crazy hair when Phil stopped and said, "Mommy, I still need to make you a birthday present!"
I said, "Kids, you know what would be the beeeeeeest birthday present?  Can you be perfect little angels all day?"
I was half-kidding (but also half-TOTALLY SERIOUS) They sort of laughed, and went back to balloon bouncing trying to be like "perfect angels" bouncing the balloons.  It didn't take long before someone was knocked over, something got spilled, someone was in tears, and the balloons had to take a little break in the garage for everyone's sanity (mostly mine).  I was like, "Hey, guys, perfect little angels, right??" and they giggled and came in the kitchen to help me get ready for breakfast.  Again, it wasn't long before someone forgot they were setting the table and wandered off, looked at someone funny and made them cry, spilled something, had to run from the table to use the restroom. . .you get the picture.
The rest of the day progressed like that- kiddos trying to be "perfect little angels" and mostly just being typical little kids. . .falling, squabbling, whining, needed noses wiped, etc.  In the late afternoon, in the spirit of Birthday we decided to ditch the rest of homework and head to the park and meet some friends.
Along our walk, the air was crisp and the sun was slanting behind us in that perfect evening glow. It was a mix of "perfect angel kiddos" holding my hands bringing me special leaves as birthday presents and asking me super cute science questions and telling me stories and singing songs.  Also, about 50% tripping, falling, crying to get out of the stroller, lagging behind, etc.
Then we get to the park and rising behind us were two hot air balloons.
So, of course, I get all giddy.
The boys flip out, too. . .
"Mommy, LOOK!  Hot air balloons are your favorite!"  
"Mommy, they came to wish you a Happy Birthday!" 
"Mommy, I will take your picture with the Birthday Hot Air Balloons!!!" 
We stopped.
Phil took my picture.
And as the balloons rose over us and started to fly over the park, my heart was pretty full. I realized in that moment that they ARE ALWAYS and ARE ALREADY "perfect little angels."  Maybe in their minds and in their bodies they are clumsy and growing and learning and perpetually "messing up", but mistakes are how we perpetually learn and grow, right!?
On the outside, they may look less than perfect.  Their hair might be messed, pockets may be pulled inside out and boogers might be crusted on their noses.  They might make excessive poop jokes, be too wiggly in church, whine about their homework, or even punch a bro in the nose in a heated moment.
But in their hearts, where it really matters, they are just so, so good.
So, I will pause.  
Look at the boys on the floor wrestling on the unstuffed couch cushions.  
Look beyond my need for external, unattainable "perfection".
Look within.
And see those sweet little hearts. . .lighter and brighter than hot air balloons in the November sky.
My perfect little angels.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keep showing up.

I received a phone call from my principal a few days before I was supposed to head back to the classroom from my first maternity leave.  On my schedule were 6 sections of Integrated Chemistry-Physics, my favorite class to teach and not to mention, ONE class to prepare for. . .the ideal schedule for a first-time mom who also happened to be about to become a second-time mom.  I had my first two weeks of lesson plans done, copies run, when my principal said,  "Jen, we have a section of Biology we need you to take."   Now, in addition to the fact that this was going to be adding a prep to my schedule, this biology class was what we like to call "repeater biology". . .or, all of the kiddos who failed biology at the freshman center and needed to take it again in order to graduate (with a few transfers and kids going for a higher grade thrown in the mix).

I was not super excited for this opportunity, but determined to make the best of it. I walked into my block 4 classroom, a ragtag bunch of sophomores, juniors and seniors, smiled and told them that they were absolutely, under no circumstances allowed to fail Biology I.  "I am NOT going to let you fail." I said. "I know exactly why you failed last time.  You didn't show up, and you didn't complete assignments.  In order to pass this class, you need to show up.  I am going to make sure you complete all of your assignments.  I am not going to let you fail."

BAM.  That's right.  Don't mess with Mrs. Zink.  And I stuck to my word.  I mean, if 80% of success is showing up, that's like a B minus!  Not too shabby!  ;) I didn't stand for a single zero in my gradebook that semester, which meant hours after school with kiddos in "detention" (which was really just sitting in my room and doing the work they should have done the first time so they could get a grade, and didn't feel too much like punishment at all I am pretty sure, since no one ever complained and sometimes they even brought friends.)

And I didn't let them fail.  I lost a few through the year, but every kid who showed up received every single bit of my attention I could give them so that they could pass.

We showed up.  At first, I didn't feel like teaching them and they most certainly didn't want to be there.  But, with the right attitude it turned out to be one of my favorite classes I have ever taught and I could tell as the semester went on that they sure didn't mind being in my room, either.  We built a little community, my assorted bunch of friends and I.  Just by showing up for each other each day, and not giving up. 

Really, that seems to me to be more and more the key to life- it is often undervalued and it shouldn't be.  Just. show. up.  Some (grumpy) people scoff at awards like "Perfect Attendance."  "Why give an award for just showing up?" say the grumpy people. But think about how hard it really is to show up every day.  I mean every. day.  The days you feel crappy.  The days you don't want to.  The days you would much rather be anywhere. else. than. here.

But you do it anyways.  Certainly there are days when you would much rather not.  But the reward of showing up is great.   Michael Phelps showing up at the pool.  Yo Yo Ma showing up in the practice room.  Often the reward of showing up is excellence. But far and above all other rewards, and attainable by all regardless of skill, the greatest reward of showing up is relationship.

My mother-in-law has 10 kids.  Ten great kids who are all married and 25 grandkids and counting.  Last year we made her a book for her 75th birthday, and you couldn't read a few pages of the letters written to her by her family without wanting to cry.  You don't get letters like that from casual acquaintances.  You get letters like that from people you have shown up for, time and time again. She didn't just wake up one day to find that she had ten great adult fully grown kids with college degrees who loved and respected each other and loved her and were all contributing members of society.  Wouldn't that be nice?  But that's not how life works.  She showed up, every day, day in and day out, for decades.  Through puberty and blizzards and mountains of laundry and garage bands and diapers upon diapers and potty training and driver's ed times ten.  Showing up with the meatloaf on the table or the full size van in the pickup line.  At the football stadium or basketball court or art show or graduation.  In the middle of the night when someone was sick, or when a daughter has her first baby or when someone just needs mom to come pick them up from the slumber party early.  That's a whole lotta showing up.

Moms are amazing and pretty much the best about showing up.  My mom always seems to show up at just the right time with exactly what I need.  How does she do that?  I DON'T KNOW!!  She's magic.  All I know is, I want to do the same for my kids.  And for everyone else for that matter.

Looking back on the last 35 years I admit I can think of a lot of things I regret that I missed.

But I can't think of many times that I ever regretted showing up.

So, as I enter year 36 I am going to keep my life goal simple.
Just keep showing up.
For my kids,
for my friends,
for my family,
for my church.

I am going to show up before I'm ready.
Even if I don't 100% feel like it.
Arms full or maybe even empty handed.
On foot or in my Chevy Venture.
I might even show up (EEEK!) without mascara on.
But I'll wear my sunglasses to cover that up.
Cuz if you need me, I'm showing up.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
Galatians 6:10

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

To be worthy.

I've been holding on to this pin since 1995.  Not a hoarder.  Nope.

As we were saying prayers last night, Daniel caught me a little bit off guard.
Daniel: I'd like to pray that Jackson has a good day at school tomorrow.  Especially since I won't be seeing him there.
Me: Really?
Daniel:  Yes, I am not going to go to school tomorrow.
Me: Why, D?
Daniel: Well, there is this test. . . 

Ohhhhh, Daniel.  I just held my (giant) little guy in my arms and listened to him tell me his worries, and it took me right back to 1993, my first week of Freshman year at HSE.  I was so in over my head, a new kid in a big school of kids who seemed to have known each other for a long time.  Everything seemed so overwhelming to me, especially my first period class, Spanish I.  The day started off OK. . .we would watch Channel One for a sweet fifteen minutes of Anderson Cooper and Icebreakers Gum commercials, but then it was game on.  Our Spanish teacher was strict.  She was smart.  She was sassy.  She was not going to be accepting anything less than the best español from any one of us.  Considering I had never even heard the word "Hola" before the first day, I felt totally behind.  "Como estan ustedes?" she would call out.  "Bien gracias, y usted?" all the kids would chime back.  I distinctly remember blinking back tears and being so grateful that all of our desks faced the front of the room so no one could see me starting to cry.  

Of course, my mom asked me how school was and I told her about Spanish class.  How I didn't want to go back.  I just wasn't going to go.  I hated it, I was in over my head, I was going to fail.  I cried big, heaving sobs in the tiny hallway outside my bedroom door while my mom looked on quietly and listened to me pour it all out.  Then, when she finally opened her mouth to speak she said something that has stayed with me for the rest of my life.  I can feel everything about that moment. . .my hunter green and navy color-blocked suede loafers, the worn beige hallway carpet, the door of my bedroom half-open, the upstairs air warm with the weight of August.

"Jennifer, your Dad and I don't care if you pass Spanish class.  What we DO care about is that you have done your best, and that you are a kind person. "  

BAM!  My mom just dropped the ultimate parenting knowledge bomb.

"But the teacher is SO MEAN!!!, I weakly protested. 
"Just go back and be kind and do your best, that's all we expect of you."

And she left it at that.  So, I let that settle for a while, and I went back to class, knowing that I couldn't really fail in the eyes of the people who meant the most to me.  I tried really hard, but without the worry that was on my heart before.  And it turned out, my teacher was not really mean after all.  She was, in fact, pretty awesome.  Also, Spanish was really fun.  A lot like English, only easier and with flan and Trini Lopez and Destinos!  I ended up signing up for four years of Spanish class, becoming the secretary of the Spanish club and even being my Spanish 1 teacher's student assistant my senior year.  A far cry from the tiny freshman who didn't know what "Hola" meant and was terrified of first period!

I dug around in my box of treasures found my pin from high school Spanish class, and I will give it to Daniel when I tell him this story tonight.  I also found the test he was referring to this morning, in the pile of not-quite-ready-to-recycle-in-case-someone-asks-about-them papers I keep in the kitchen.  It wasn't a test he was about to take, but one he had already taken.  His spelling test had been carefully tucked in his cubby instead of the turn-in basket and came straight home with him without being graded.  He was afraid to turn it in, afraid that he hadn't done good enough.  When I showed him the test I had found over breakfast, his face turned red.  I asked him if he could please give it to his teacher today, and without looking up at me he said that he just couldn't.  Then he glanced up and gave me the most pleading face. . .  "Could you just grade it, Mommy, and put a sticker on it and an A+?"  

I looked at the test.  Out of 10 words, he had missed 2.  The bonus words on the back were a wash. . .with 27 hard enough words to study I don't even go there.  He worked so hard with Daddy practicing his words on his Magna Doodle last week.  Honestly, considering that it is only the second month of school and the words were challenging, I thought he rocked it!  But, it wasn't my job to grade his paper.  "Tell you what buddy, I'll go put a sticker on it before you give it to your teacher."  He smiled. I went and found a fancy post-it note, and this is what I wrote. . .

"Daniel, I am so proud of you for studying hard for your test.  You did your best and that's what matters. Love, Mommy"

I handed him the paper, and he looked up at me with a half-smile, and a face that said, "Really?????"  I could feel the wind coming back into his sails, just like mine when my mom said the same thing.  "D, just do your best.  Mommy loves you no matter what your grades are, just work hard and do what you can do!"  I tucked the paper in his folder, and I hope he turns it in to his teacher today. . .not to mention the other test he told me that he hid in his reading folder.  AAAHHH!!  Daniel.  I also hope he knows that no matter what the grade on the paper says, what matters is in his heart. And D has a beautiful, beautiful loving heart- even when he forgets to make his bed for the fifth day in a row, or gets a 6/30 on his math paper or loses one shoe for the millionth time.

Numbers don't determine our worth.  
We are worthy of love because we are.
That's it.  

Thanks, Mom and Dad, for giving me the gift of that worth.  I'm ready to pass it on to mis niños.