Category Archives: Uncategorized

Asleep – for Meredith Marguerite

Standard

I was asleep when my first child was born. I awoke hours later surprised to discover I was still alive and that my family had already met my baby with her perfect nose.

She was due April 7, just after Easter. My pregnancy had been difficult with a heavy business travel schedule and severe morning sickness, yet I relished in every minute of it. Those last few weeks were especially precious to me, knowing the private intimacy with my baby would soon end as she entered the world to meet grandparents and cousins so expectant for her arrival. Her name was to be Meredith Marguerite, for my loving and deeply spiritual mother and fraternal grandmother. Once my due date came and passed, we tried all the old wives tales to encourage our baby to this side of life. She wasn’t budging.

On Monday, April 16, 2007, my husband and I watched the news as terror unfolded at our shared alma mater, in a peaceful town where we had met a decade prior. A student walked into a classroom building at Virginia Tech and killed 31 students and professors. Any innocence left in our world was shattered that day. We were grief-stricken, but had only hours to process the tragedy; in the wee hours of the morning, I went into labor. We collected our belongings and headed to the hospital. The morning sickness that had plagued my pregnancy didn’t quit even then; we had to stop along the drive as nausea took over again. To this day, I pass that intersection with a familiar sense of emotional turmoil.

At the hospital, all went as planned. I was admitted to the labor and delivery ward, seen by a nurse from time to time, and mostly left to labor through the day. What I didn’t know, wouldn’t learn until weeks later, was that I was given a dose of Pitocin, the drug used to progress labor. What I did know was that my contractions suddenly became very intense. I had hoped to labor as long as possible without the intervention of drugs, but that desire was quickly eclipsed by searing pain. I requested an epidural, not knowing it would be the first of three in the next few hours. Each injection was administered in my spine and was intended to lessen the pressure on the lower half of my body. But, something went wrong, leaving only my left side numb. I was given a bolus, a boost of the epidural, and told to lay on my right side with the hopes gravity would encourage the medicine to relieve both sides. It didn’t work. So, a second epidural was administered, followed by a second bolus. Finally, the chief of anesthesiology was called in to administer the third epidural; with help of a third boost, this one worked to numb both of my legs. Finally, the OB was able to monitor our baby; with the prolonged labor, her heart rate was dropping for unexplained reasons. When were given the recommendation to proceed with a C-section, we agreed our only goal was to deliver our baby safely.

It was then a third anesthesiologist introduced himself. Randy would be taking over during my surgery. I kissed my husband goodbye for a moment and was wheeled to the OR. My parents, mother-in-law, and sisters waited expectantly just outside the delivery room while Frank put on scrubs to accompany me for the delivery. Inside the OR, I waited on the table as preparations were made around me. Within minutes, I felt a deep pressure on my chest. The newly administered epidural, the fourth dose of numbing medication, was working too well. Before I could speak, I discovered with horror I could not breathe. I tried to get the attention of anyone in the room. Randy realized I was in distress, handed the nurse an oxygen mask, and instructed her, “Put this on her; she is only having a panic attack.” When the mask was in place, I could feel the air brushing past my nose and mouth, but not entering my lungs. I knew then I was in deep trouble. I was suffocating, unable to communicate, and in the care of a doctor who wasn’t paying attention. Willing but unable to make my lips form the words “Intubate me,” I dug my nails into the nurse’s hand and swung my arms franticly until I knocked over a tray. It was the racket that caught the attention of another nurse. “Leslie? Leslie?!” I heard her yell, “What’s going on?!” It was at about this time my body succumbed to respiratory arrest. The last thought to enter my mind was one of surrender and despair. “I am finally going to have my baby girl, but I’m going to die before I meet her.”

Some hours later, I began to wake. My family was waiting for me. “Just wait until you see her perfect nose,” they whispered tearfully before my eyes were even open. As I returned to full consciousness, I was aware we had made it. My baby girl and I had survived after all!

The next few days brought torrents of conflicting emotions for both Frank and me. We were, of course, overjoyed with our precious little bundle, our Meredith Marguerite. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I sat in the hospital bed and undressed her carefully so I could gaze on the completeness of the perfect, tiny human I had made. We were grateful I had come through the ordeal alive, though shocked we even had to recognize survival as a victory. We were heartbroken for the tragedy at our alma mater. As the weeks and months passed, I would have to face the lasting scars left behind from PTSD – bouts of anger, resentment, ragged nerves. But it was in the hours shortly after her birth I began to grapple with the guilt. My immediate response in panic had been self-centered. Rather than cry out to God to save my life and that of my baby, I had felt despair at losing my life with her. I became ashamed for my lack of faith. Yet each time I closed my eyes during those days of recovery, the words of Psalm 23 were present in my mind. “The Lord is my Shepherd … Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil … Thou art with me … Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” As I contemplated over the recent events and the steadfastness of the words, I realized I was repeating something I had heard when I was unconscious.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
Psalm 23 (KJV)

When I had fallen into respiratory arrest, Code Blue was called. Doctors and nurses raced past my waiting husband and family, into the OR. The chief of anesthesiology was among the first; he immediately removed the epidural line and put me under general anesthesia so my baby could be quickly delivered safely. While I remained unconscious, my family prayed fervently just outside the room, begging and pleading with God to be present in the room, to save my life and that of my baby. It was during this time the Holy Spirit spoke words of life over me, filled my mind and heart with reassurance that even in the face of death, I had no evil to fear as God walked with me. He has made His presence known to me several times in my life since. So thin is the veil between this life and Him, I have felt Jesus close to me, heard Him speaking to me. The guilt and shame I felt have been replaced with praise and gratitude; His presence was with me when, even in my weakness, I neglected to call out to Him. When I hovered near death, He never left me. Daily, together with my family, I awake into new life with Him.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.”
Psalm 139: 13-18

 

Advertisements

Summer Spin Cycle

Standard

Ever feel like your life is on spin cycle? Rinse, wash, repeat from one activity to the next. How do you stop the machine, or slow it down enough to catch a breath, look one another in the eye, truly enjoy time spent together rather than racing from one thing to another, albeit together?

Today begins the fourth week of summer break for my family and the first day I can catch a breath. Or hope to. We have had a delightful break from the school year routine thus far, our days mostly filled with new and different routines. And today is the start of yet another routine, though this will last a glorious four weeks.

I have been looking for small, minute opportunities to look my girls in the eye, to just take long deep breaths and remember their beautiful faces. Ages two and seven: one with pudgy fingers, bouncy baby curls, and full dimpled cheeks; the other with elongating features and glorious, captivating eyes. These children will change so much before August, so much more before we juggle next summer’s spin cycle. Their lives, their childhoods are so fleeting.

How do I provide for them a summer full of fun and laughter, while slowing down to make memories and not spoil them rotten? My eldest is having the time of her life, horseback riding and swimming late into the evening. Yet she complains when nothing is happening. She’s “bored.” (Oh how mothers loathe that word!) And my little one is dragged along to her sister’s various activities, hoping beyond hope that we will stop at a playground along the way. We have logged over 1200 miles in two weeks, barely crossing the county line. Little One and I are beginning to take the shape of trucker drivers, having spent approximately 60 hours driving the older to her lessons and home again.

I am exhausted, edgy, guilty (for lack of the coveted “slowing down”), yet we have filled our days and nights with fun. For my own memories (and guilt-free sleep), a rundown on weeks 1, 2, and 3:

Week 1:
Sick daughter. Lots of sleeping. Doctor visit. Pool. Ballet. Swim team time trials. Volunteer for said swim team. Playground. Attempt to organize for summer.
~Father’s Day. Family kayaking trip.

Week 2:
Horse camp 1. Swim team. Ballet. Library dance party. Afternoons at the pool. First swim meet. Game time with Mommy. Reading. Lots and lots of driving.
~ Weekend camping trip. Hiking. Biking. Pep rally.

Week 3:
Horse camp 2. Swim team. Swim meet. Visits to friends during camp. Lavender picking (apparently this is a thing). Catching fireflies. Play date. Lots and lots of driving.
~ Pep rally. Late nights at pool with Daddy. Play date.

Not too shabby!

Plans for Week 4:
Tennis lessons. Swim team. Swim meet. Trip to grandparents’ and the beach for the 4th. Lots and lots of driving…

Perhaps we need to turn driving time into family togetherness time. Happy spin-cycle summer!

Lost Bee

Standard

There is a bee in my house, a yellow jacket I think. He keeps banging himself against a window in the front bay.

Smack, buzz, smack, buzz.

I don’t want him to die needlessly. In fact, he should be set free to fulfill his pollenating purpose in the world. I sure don’t want him to find his stinging way to my daughters’ rooms. So, I open the screen in the pane next to him.

Smack, buzz, smack, buzz buzz buzz, smack.

He won’t leave. The breeze blows through the open window, cool and fresh. The bee remains, repeating the same ridiculous behavior. Behavior that will lead to certain death.

Smack, smack, buzzzzz.

He’s irritated and confused. I risk a sting and try to lead him toward the opening, wide and completely available to him. Yet he ignores my goading and climbs higher, farther from freedom.

And I think, is this how the Father feels? I fall, grumble, fall, fall, grumble grumble grumble. He opened the window, gave me access to freedom and life. He risked more than a pesky sting; he took on the sting of death.

Grumble, fall, grumble grumble.

I repeat the same ridiculous behaviors. I sin daily. I make mistakes I can avoid (I yell, lose patience then my temper, make unhealthy choices for my body, prioritize my social well-being above my spiritual self, tell the occasional white lie, shirk responsibilities, and act in ways I’d rather keep between God and me). I bang myself against the veil of selfish temptations, again and again. I complain, “What am I doing here? How can I get away from these destructive behaviors?”

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Instead of following the path to freedom, I remain lost. Lost in myself. That open window sits within my reach. I don’t need to earn my way through it or uncover a secret to unlock it. I simply need to move. Move toward to path to freedom. Accept God’s gift of freedom for the sake of love.

Are you lost? Are you banging your head in a repeated attempt to feel freedom? Are you knocked down, again and again, by false promises of the easy life?

Look to the open window, look to Jesus. With His arms open wide, He is ready to set you free from burden and worry. Life with Christ overflows with love and unbridled joy.

Christ set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.
Galatians 5:1

That little bee? He found his way out, to freedom, to life. I pray you do, too. If you’re a little lost like the bee, talk about it. I have found such freedom and love in Christ, I want to share it. Go ahead, ask. I promise it won’t sting!

Poser

Standard

I’m a poser. I’m a fake. I must be. I cannot really be living the life I am, filling these roles I play, being someone who matters.

When I look around the room, it is apparent to me everyone else is more suited to their roles than I am, more prepared. I’m too old to be a mother of such young children. I don’t know the cutsie little songs the other moms sing while bouncing their babies up and down. I don’t read parenting books, watch webinars, or go to workshops. I don’t study for this part because I’m sure I’m just faking this whole gig. There is no way I am responsible for the lives of two little women.

I certainly don’t belong in the workforce. Sure, someone gave me a college diploma. It even has my name on it. But it doesn’t seem as valuable as my colleagues’ degrees. They must have had more training, better mentors. They belong in this meeting, not me. What do I really have to offer that will add value to our purpose? No, my ideas are irrelevant, too elementary. Good thing I work hard; at least I can prove my worth through the tasks I complete.

And this committee? Whose grand idea was it to invite me along? I’m far too young and inexperienced to weigh in on strategic plans, philanthropic endeavors, financial decisions. I don’t belong here. Perhaps I’ll sit quietly and learn something. Surely that’s why they want me here. To teach me, in case I ever grow up enough to play a critical role.

Be a leader in my church? Not me! I’m too young. I’m not reverent enough. I have a past that embarrasses me. I don’t know the scriptures well. I’m always late to church. My kids are too noisy. I’m too emotional. I’ll cry.

I don’t feel prepared for motherhood. Housekeeping eludes me. That career I had? It wasn’t as successful as I wanted it to be.

But today I did something useful. Something for which God prepared me and at a time He placed me. I was wise, relevant, the right age. I was energetic and ready for the task. I was prepared and prayed for guidance. Most importantly, I believed in myself and in God’s purpose for me.

What I actually did today and will do tomorrow doesn’t matter, be it change the toilet paper roll, preach a sermon at church, or go halfway around the world to share God’s love. I am doing that which He called me to do, right now. The world’s measures will continue to tell me I don’t belong, but as I trust God and follow His leading for my life, I am reminded there is no one better suited for this position than me.

A Big Mac and Rice

Standard

When I was three, my parents made my sisters and me participate in a cruel experiment that bordered on torture. We stood in line with, what my memory tells me, hundreds of hungry people waiting for lunch. As the long line snaked toward the front, each person was given a bowl of rice, in solidarity with starving people world-wide who eat nothing more each day. A good object lesson that could have ended there. Rather, the point was driven home when every fourth person received not the small pittance of nutrition, but a steaming hot, fresh Big Mac. This was the mid-70’s. The iconic burger was still in its infancy, still considered a nutritious stack of veggies, meat, and bread all piled high with that secret sauce. (Go ahead, admit it. You’re salivating a bit right now just thinking about it. Me too.)

When my family and I reached the front of the line for our meal, luck had it that my oldest sister received the coveted sandwich of dreams. I got rice. And pouted. My father, a macho Navy fighter pilot, gently kneeled down next to his youngest daughter and explained the hard truths of the Haves and Have Nots. Snap! A photographer caught the moment on film, published in the local paper, and the story became family history. It also became a deep part of my psyche.

Skip forward a few years to my tenth birthday. This was not the 1984 of Orwell’s nightmares. It was idyllic suburbia where I went to school everyday with my best friend, who lived just down the quiet street from me. We wore our unicorn shirts, played Barbies all afternoon, and had plenty to eat. Yet, when I heard the first stanza of “We Are the World,” my heart crumbled. People were starving in Ethiopia? I had to do something. My parents gave me the cassette tape and my own boom box so I could play, and belt out, the song all. day. long. (Now that I look back on it, I realize what an act of bravery and love this was. I sang loudly and passionately, just not on key.) I was doing my part, saving the starving children of Africa by singing with my favorite pop stars.

The next few decades were peppered with my attempts to save the hurting, starving, disenfranchised. Every lost dog in our neighborhood found refuge in my arms while I searched for its family. (I distinctly remember even trying to rescue a pup who was not actually lost until I heard “Hey, that’s my dog!” Oops.) When I read in the local paper about a family in a rough part of town whose father was incarcerated, I sent an encouraging note along with a crisp twenty-dollar bill. Little did I know the “2700 block of Jefferson Avenue” wasn’t an accurate address. For years I have prayed that whoever actually received the cash used it for good. Then there was the truck driver who I considered a true hero. When Mr. Jones’ gasoline tanker sparked a fire just outside a children’s hospital, he bravely drove the flaming inferno several blocks away where it would not cause harm to the patients or families. Risking his life for others and suffering serious burns, this stranger found a place in my nine-year old heart. I wrote him a letter of gratitude and brought his family dessert at Thanksgiving. He, in turn, visited me at church after being released from the hospital and later attended my tenth birthday party when I received that infamous cassette. My worlds were finally coming together. I would do something impactful!

But I didn’t. I don’t. I still strive to help the starving, hurting, abused, and abandoned. I’m just not very good at it. Sure, I donate our used clothes to Goodwill. I put out a bag of canned goods for the Postal workers’ annual “Stamp Out Hunger” campaign. Sometimes, I even go out of my way to buy grocery gift cards for the less fortunate in our own town. But in my heart, I know it isn’t enough. I can do more. I should do more. I must do more.

My husband and I share our values with our girls, hoping to impart in them spirits of philanthropy, selflessness, and gratitude … not want. We talk openly and sympathetically about unfairness and inequality, and our responsibility to insist on better. We lead by example, giving our Haves to the Have Nots, as my father explained to me so many years ago. Yet, our example is not enough. We must do more.

But what? How do we raise children who are “in the world, but not of the world”? How do we offer them the “best education money can buy” yet deny starving children an extra bowl of rice? How do we wear clothes to fit the occasion, feel stylish to fit in, replace shoes that are slightly worn when children living in dirt don’t have the first pair to protect their feet from infections and disease?

Obviously I don’t know. I’m about to put on my new running shoes, go for a jog with my healthy baby, then drive to the grocery store to pick up my pre-ordered food. I want to do more. But I’m not.

A Storm’s a Brewin’

Standard

Last summer, a storm blew through our area late in the evening, taking everyone by surprise. Within 10 minutes, trees were down across miles of landscape and power was knocked out for days. By the next morning, we all added a term to our weather dictionaries. Derecho: a widespread, long-lived, straight-line wind storm that is associated with a fast-moving band of severe thunderstorms. Nasty stuff, that derecho.

Almost a year later, another massive storm is predicted to smack us with derecho-like characteristics. Much like the preparation for a big snow-storm, people are stocking their shelves and driving like bats outta … well, you know. Everyone is tense, the anxiety is palpable, even the government offices are on “unscheduled leave.” We are prepared. And, thanks to the media reports, we are scared.

Days like today, dark and moody, make me want to hunker in my basement with my family, playing games and munching unhealthy snacks. I want to surround myself with everything dear to me, to feel life’s warm embrace as the storm presses in. Alas, I cannot. I have two active kids and a big dog who is terrified of raindrops, not to mention derechos! I also have obligations away from home. A medical appointment today will require the little one to go to a sitter and the older to navigate the storm with me. Everything in me is clinging to Home as tightly as my baby grasps her lovie at bath time. No, don’t take it away! Something is happening and I want my security!

Then I am reminded Where my security lies. Yes, this house, our home, is a gift, a place of refuge for our family. We rely on our car (okay, our stylin’ minivan) to whisk us away from danger and even provide air conditioning when electricity in the house fails. Our cell phones, near us at all times, offer peace of mind and connection to the world. Even my baby blanket, in my arms every night, calms me. But this is all fleeting. False security.

Hoping for the wisdom of innocence, I asked my six-year old what makes her feel safe. She picked up her flute, played a few notes, and shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess I’m just brave.” This wasn’t enough for me, so I tossed out a couple of scary scenarios, like a big storm at night. “I just go to sleep.” Clearly I wasn’t going to crack that nut.

As I walked away, disappointed in the simplicity of her answer, it occured to me that simplicity is her very security. She doesn’t open herself to fear and worry. She just trusts the peace that pulses within, Christ within. We, her parents, have offered her all the physical security we can – a safe home, hands to hold in parking lots, 5-point harness seatbelts – but her real security rests in knowing she can be brave. She is safe.

As the storms of life press in, I am encouraged by scriptures and the very words of Christ. We are told to not be afraid, to rest and trust in God. In fact, fear is the very enemy, lying to us, convincing us we cannot trust. But again and again, God proves His protection over us, over our hearts. We can – and should – step into this world secure. And brave.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'” Psalm 91 (this is verse 1-2, but all of it is full of hope and security)

“He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'” Psalm 46:10

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

Employment Changes

Standard

I’m starting a new job this week!! It’s my dream job, the one I’ve been hoping to land for years. I already have butterflies in my tummy and need to pick out my first-day outfit! Should I bring a bag lunch or plan to go out with my new office mates? This is definitely a “reach” position, one for which I am qualified, but just beyond my current ability. My background and experience make me well-suited; my willingness to learn and grow will determine the success or failure of the organization. I must hit the ground running, manage the financials, and say goodbye to daytime Facebook and blogging. And I’m going to have to work my tail off!

Starting Thursday, I’ll no longer be on maternity leave, medical leave (knee surgery), or the other medical leave (shoulder surgery). My oldest will be out of school, Bible study nurseries are closed for the summer, and my babysitters will have moved on to other positions. I will officially be a full-time, unemployed Stay At Home Mom. I have looked forward to this for years, hoping and praying for the opportunity. But with the start just hours from now, I admit I. Am. Terrified. No camps or lessons for the older, no sitters for the younger, no vacations for the mom and dad. It’s all on me … a woman who worked for the better part of the past 20+ years, is passionate about her career path, and believes working mothers add grace and power to society. How can I fully devote myself to my family, feel fulfilled and empowered, and turn this new post into a second career I can be proud of? I’ve decided to tackle this the only way I know how … like a “real job.” Because, although there’s no paycheck at the end of the day, it is a job, for real!

The past few years have taught me a lot about my working self, what motivates me, helps me be more efficient, makes me want to do hard work and then do more. The very characteristics that define me as a great employee apply easily to life at home with my Littles:
– I am most successful when I have defined goals, personal responsibility, and clear direction. [My girls and I are making lists of our goals for the summer: fun activities, household responsibilities, and areas for personal growth.]
– I work very well with others, I thrive on collaboration, but I need quiet, focused time each day to regroup and recharge. [Long days with two very chatty girls have the potential to exhaust me quickly. Nap/quiet/reading/writing time is non-negotiable, for everyone.]
– I tend to procrastinate the tasks that feel repetitive [laundry, breakfast dishes, changing the toilet paper], but completing them gives me the push to accomplish more complex projects.
– I am motivated by positive feedback, as well as much-deserved personal time. [Scheduled date nights with my best guy and time with girlfriends are also non-negotiable.]
– Flexible work hours and a happy environment encourage me to work harder and longer. [Although we need schedules to give our days structure, we promise each other to remain flexible to the joy of spontaneity.]
– Business travel is one of the great perks of working. Time to see the world, spend time with colleagues, change the routine. [Beach, pool, friends in other cities, Mom, we’ll be there soon!]
– Any day spent laughing with coworkers and colleagues is a good day! [Laugh, laugh, laugh with my little girls. Make a memory, big or little, each day.]

For the foreseeable future, my business card will read Leslie Vorndran, SAHM and I could not be more excited. Wish me luck!!

Rearview Mirror

Standard

Amazing, talented, truth-telling Glennon over at Momastery posted this on Facebook:
NOTE TO SELF: Quit sweating, staring into the rear-view mirror and yelling,”SILENCE! I have to CONCENTRATE!” at the kids every time a police car is driving behind you. You are not a Mexican Drug Lord. You are a Soccer Mom. In a mini-van. No one is after you. Anymore.

Hilarious (isn’t she always?)! But it was the quote that caught my attention. Made me kinda choke on the truth. My past is chasing me down, hot on my trail to remind me that I have not always been the person I am now. Telling me I am not worthy of the joy and freedom I have found. For all my sins – big and small, forgiven and seemingly unforgivable – I must forfeit happiness.

“Silence! I have to concentrate” on now.

The past with its lineup of stupid (sorry Kiddo, I did just use a bad word) mistakes, unworthy dates, comments I never should have thought much less uttered, poor grades (sorry Dad), and bad bad bad decisions belongs right where I left it. But, just like that clicking noise under the hood, those ugly reminders keep popping up when I’m all alone and vulnerable.

“Silence! I have to concentrate” on the joy.

The problem with allowing memories to creep in is their ability to snake around joy and choke the life out of it. Memories are powerful. Good memories bubble over with laughter, helping us relive the good times. Those “we’ll laugh about this later” memories are often the best, surprising us with life’s twists and turns. But negative memories, those we say are there to teach us lessons. Nah uh. They whisper our shortcomings in our ears, tell us we don’t deserve the life we have. My ugly past robs me of the gifts God has given, gifts of hope, joy, peace.

“Silence! I have to concentrate” on forgiveness.

If I could just let go of my mistakes, I would find ultimate freedom. My husband fell in love with me despite my failures, my children are thankfully ignorant of my life before them, my parents love me unconditionally. And, above all, Christ has forgiven me – for every decision, every word, and every painful denial of Him.

As I work tirelessly to teach my daughters about consequences, guiding them make wise choices they will not regret, I pray they will always face forward, face the Truth that is forgiveness and freedom.

Sing OUT LOUD! I have to concentrate on LIFE!

Our Bathing Suit Selves

Standard

Summer is here, the pool is open. Time to unveil our pasty-white skin and stand before one another in our public underwear and bras (a.k.a. bathing suits). Perfect time to make new friends, don’t ya think?

First weekend back, I bumped into a friend, a pool-friend. We haven’t yet crossed that line from being friends-at-a-place to being friends-who-get-together. First base friends. For the past few summers, I’ve observed this confident, graceful mother of four, introduced myself and chatted when the opportunity arose, all the while hoping we might become friends. More than pool-friends. Real friends.

You know the type. The Good Friend. A friend who shares more than kid-stories, a friend who gives honest opinions and tells you when something is stuck in your teeth, a friend who challenges you to be a better person. Once in a while, you meet someone and just know you were meant to be good friends. So you find opportunities be around her, tossing out the occasional lure for deeper conversation, asking questions about her children, her life, trying to find that connection, the link.

We stood by the edge of the pool, keeping tabs on our littles and feeling exposed in our tankinis and swim skirts. I glanced jealously at her long, lean legs and flat belly, wishing for all the world I had stuck to my diet better this year. Do I cross my arms to hide my post-baby belly (Little One is a year now; can I even blame it on her anymore?) or hang my arms limply at the side, hoping to elongate my pear? Ugh. This time I didn’t have much choice. With one arm in a sling following shoulder surgery, I tried to look as svelte as possible by keeping my legs very still, willing them not to jiggle.

She asked, in a concerned voice, what happened to my arm. I explained the short answer, said it’ll heal soon enough, and put on my best life-is-good smile. Then she asked something completely unexpected: “How are you really feeling?” Wait, what? Did she just start a Real Conversation? These don’t happen everyday, not with pool-friends! I dipped my toe in very cautiously and shared some of my recent struggles. Oh so bravely, she dove right in. With a smile on her face that belied the true hurt, she talked about this difficult past year with a child who doesn’t sleep and her own health concerns. I was crushed. I am so shallow. All the envy I felt towards her had been misdirected. No wonder she is so trim – her health dictates it. And perhaps a house with four children isn’t as full of joy, laughter, and ease as my jealous eyes believed.

I reached out my hand to her, just as she reached out to me. We talked about how perfect we all seem on the outside, our “Facebook lives.” (No, my real life skin does NOT look like my profile picture!) She mentioned her envy at the perfect children with perfect dresses and perfect hairbows sitting in the church pews. How defeated we become by everyone else’s apparent perfection. We thanked one another for being real and promised to catch up more. (Okay, truth. First I apologized for whining about my arm and sharing too much.) But my true self, my somewhat broken self wasn’t a burden to her; she appreciated my honesty, my sincerity. And I realized that’s the very quality that drew me to her (and likely to you, friend): sincerity.

If we would all shed our perfect veneers, let the wrinkles and scars show a bit, we would find connection, build real relationships based on our truest selves. Friendships to last a lifetime because they are imperfect, not photo-album-ready. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’m going to cry in your coffee next time I see you or call you with every ache and pain (only my mom suffers that honor). But I do encourage beg you to answer honestly when I ask “How are you?” Because, unlike the expectation in our status-updating, bathing-suit-coverup world, I want to know how you are really doing, friend.

And in return, I promise not to hug you while wearing my damp tankini and sweaty sling, though that’s just what I wanted to do to my new Friend.

Another day together

Standard

Disclaimer: Some people (namely my husband) may not like this one. Sorry. I’m there and need to get past it.

Life is strange. We think it is a mystery, but the ending is no mystery at all. We die, we all die. We go, our parents go, God forbid, our children go. Everyone comes to an end. Right? Yet, the loss is always shocking and incredibly painful.

Sometimes those left behind are able to heal with “He/she is in a better place.” Our family says this about our dear pup, George, who died young this year. He wasn’t well and lived in physical pain. While we miss him, we are grateful he isn’t suffering.

Other times, a person’s death comes so suddenly, a hole seems to be literally torn in the universe. I don’t think we ever heal from that kind of loss.

If only this unfortunate part of life was a bit more like the movies. A plot so obvious, we would think, “Oh yeah, he’s gonna go.” So we say our goodbyes and move on.

But it’s not. Life is richer than that. We are relational beings. We bond our lives intricately to one another and feel the physical emptiness of absence. We live each day together hoping, believing we will live the next together as well.

If I were honest, I would admit there have been times I looked at my daughters, talked to my parents, or curled up with my husband and thought, “Who is going to go first?” “How would we go on if we lost this person?” I probably shouldn’t voice any of this, but it’s there, tormenting me with the fear of living without one another. And sometimes the fear is so overwhelming, I am scared to dig in and enjoy this life because one day I’ll have to let go.

But why burden others with such thoughts? I need to share my fear, bring it to light, diffuse that which is damaging and demoralizing.

A friend recently shared this encouraging blog post (actually the whole blog is beautiful) with these very wise words, “Fear seems to grow in the darkness of isolation. But when you expose it in the light of community, it tends to lose power.”

Friends, Community, you are light to me. My fears are exposed. I will not be lost in this isolation. I will wake tomorrow, grateful to God for another day, together.