Before You

Before you, I was selfish. Before you I was vain. I had a sincere lack of patience. I had only myself to look out for, just me to feed and clothe and bathe.

Before you, I was different. I knew little of real fear. I did not think to question the motives of every man who speaks to little girls. Did not entertain the what-ifs of others, constantly, while driving down the road.

Before you, colors held one tone only. I did not know that blue can beam a thousand different shades. Didn’t understand that no two sets of brown eyes look the same. I grossly under estimated how many ways there are to incorporate pink into a single outfit.

I didn’t waste my gas driving to find the end of rainbows. Or  to chase the last bit of sunlight at the end of a summer day. I had only twice danced in the rain. And if I’m honest, I had forgotten how to pray.

I didn’t know that hearts can grow past the point of breaking, that arms and thighs and stomachs are not the only things to bear the scars of too quickly changing.

I did not stoop low, nor did I reach very far above. My thoughts were of myself first, and last, sandwiching the mystery meat of what other people were thinking, about me, in between.

I didn’t realize how many questions would always go unanswered. Or how good and bad that can be.

Before you, each smile was a practice run.

Before you, my grandmother’s China was intact. Also, I had nice things.

My shoes and purse were where I had left them the previous evening. And never, not once, did I try to put on boots, only to press my toes into a wad of stringy gum, two legos, and a small stuffed pig. I did not know that exactly five Cheese-Its fit in the DVD player, but that six Cheese-Its is just asking for it to break.

Before you, I did not sing lullabies at night. Did not read books that are illustrated and rhyme. I did not cuddle even though I was exhausted, did not guide little hands to the bathroom in the middle of the night, through darkness.

Before you, I dreamt of hailing taxis in New York’s autumn rain. I imagined that I would be an actress, on Broadway’s grimy, yet exclusive and glittering stage. I craved a warm, supportive audience, to validate me in all my ways. I wanted busy and bustle and danger lurking in shadowed alley ways.

I wanted to be the sun, the moon, and stars to someone. Their reason for waking, and dreaming, and sleeping. I wanted to be The One, so badly I could taste it. Or maybe not taste it, but write about it, semi-poetically, at my favorite downtown café.

I used to imagine changing the face of the world, in ways big, and grand, and noteworthy. I did not know how quietly true heroics tip toe in, how they shed you of the flashy cape and clothe you instead in humility. Did not believe that love is the only real super power, or in its ability to change everything. I did not know for certain that kindness is the kryptonite of hate.

Before you, I did not know how to be a servant. Was not limber enough to reach past my insecurities and find the bits of courage hiding inside of me. I did not realize how protective I can and would need to be. I did not understand that my entire world could fit on my lap and in my arms. I never used to cry as summer ended and the first day of school started. Or, hypothetically, in a parking lot outside of summer camp drop off.

I owned far too many pairs of shoes. And slept through the night, regularly. Like, every night that I wanted to. I showered whenever I wanted, and did my hair and makeup daily. I never spent more than $50 for a weeks worth of groceries. I know, that sounds crazy.

Before you, I knew everything.

I did what I wanted, when I wanted, knew where to go, and who to blame. Life was mine for the taking.

I was unencumbered.

I was free. 

But then you came along, and saved me.

 

The Aftermath

You probably don’t know this, because, well, only a few people do. But, a few weeks ago I was going to file a legal separation from my husband. Not a divorce, not an I-give-up-forever, but an I deserve better, our children deserve better, even you deserve to be better.

Not that my children have any idea, because they don’t. Those years of acting classes have really paid off, in the fact that my children, blissfully unaware miracles that they are, have no idea what has been going on. While at times the tension has been palpable, they are buoyed by the grace of living in a happy bubble of backyard swings, freshly baked goods, and lots of cuddles. In their world, homework is the worst thing that happens to people. Mothers worry, but without reason, because nothing truly bad ever occurs.

That world, is not where I live. My address seems to be more at the crossroads of Hope and Redemption. But hope can hurt sometimes, can’t it? At times, hope feels like a hollow arrow, sharp and cutting. It’s lightness feels deceiving, as if the helium of everything I long for is slowly seeping out of its mylar wrapping, and poisoning the air. And while Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers”, I might remind you that feathered creatures need regular cleaning up after.

Redemption is wonderful, but also means that you have something you need redeemed from.

So there we were, at an impass. Our marriage resembled a traffic jam behind a 12 car pileup, at rush hour, on a busy highway. Probably with smoke, and more than one case of whiplash. My dreams and expectations had collided with the speeding metal of his choices, and left both of us crumpled and needing rescued.

And then. (Still two of my favorite words.) And then, against all odds, the miraculous happened. Love stepped in, its light clawing at the cracks in our self-involvement, pushing at the stone walls of hardened hearts, and changed everything.

While I have not daily seen limbs regrow and the lame walk, I do believe in miracles. Both the mundane and the extraordinary. But this one, came after I had given up. This one, waited until so long after the sun had gone to sleep, that I believed it would stay dark forever.

And yet, there it was. In all of its light bearing, heartbreaking, splendor.

So now, I find myself in a place I wasn’t expecting. Still with my husband, and without the luxury of giving up, or even of dealing with the big things later. Only now, I’m struggling.

When things came to light a few weeks ago, they brought a kind of darkness with them. Now, sure, it was all darkness that was coming out, and I understand that the monster has to walk out of the closet and through your room in order to get to the backdoor and leave your house. But when things have been hidden from you for years and then are suddenly revealed, you might feel that perhaps you were happier when the closet door was closed and you were unaware of why your guts were being twisted in suspicion that, perhaps, there was something lurking beyond the door.

Now, after everything has been illuminated, I feel a bit discombobulated.

You know those pictures of war torn villages that seem to fill up our newsfeed? The ones sandwiched between cute kitten videos and the latest on the Kardashians… Well, that is what I feel like. I feel as if I am walking around in rubble. No longer in the dark, but under a warm sun, yet, still, surrounded by rubble. I feel raw, and angry. I feel forgiveness having a tetherball match with self-righteousness, my heart the ball being batted back and forth, between the two  mighty fists.

I wake up and determine that I will be nice. I go over it in my head, and imagine my words being laced with kindness. I picture myself scattering mercy, like flower petals and glitter, over my husband as he sits in the enchanted forest of our dining room, surrounded by gnomes and woodland creatures. I will make him coffee, French press, just the way he likes it. Then, I will make him a lunch that Martha Stewart would want to take credit for. I will do this, while blessing him with the melodic sounds of my harmonious voice, my vocal chords coated in a sweetness that Disney princesses have yet to achieve. Heck, I might even waltz with the broom as I sweep the kitchen, and wear a dress to do my housework.

And then I go downstairs.

I walk past the Keurig machine, and start grabbing baggies. I scan the pantry, feeling indignation and self pity. I imagine that I am Cinderella, and I remind myself to be kind to Lucifer/Wicked Stepmother/Ugly Stepsisters today. And then he walks in behind me. He makes his coffee, and actually hums, in the way only someone can hum when they feel no guilt. He is free, and I am chained.

My tongue spits words laced with hurt and fury. The law of kindness rolls to the side, unable to be digested, or even uttered. I feel alone. And hurt. And so angry. I do not feel responsible for his choices, but I do feel the weight of their destruction. I feel the grey concrete, strewn around me, rocks made of what was supposed to stand. I see the pops of color amidst the chaotic seen, the trinkets of what I wanted, amongst the broken beams. I am grieving.

While I know that we can build anew, I also know that I didn’t want to have to.

Even after experiencing the miraculous, even after Grace ran after us, overcame us, I find myself reeling. Maybe even lame men who are given the chance to walk again, stumble, and stub their toe. Maybe they ache in ways they hadn’t, sitting idle on the filthy street. Maybe I have to grieve to become whole.

Maybe I don’t have to know. I just have to keep going.

Proof.

My husband had a friend that always challenged him with one word: Proof. It was a paragraph, neatly condensed into five letters. Proof meant everything from I’ll hold your beer, to I don’t believe you at all, and you’re gonna have to show me.

Proof. We say it now, though his friend passed away several years ago. Or, maybe we say it because his friend passed away, and parroting him, keeps him here longer. Either way, it has become an indelible part of our conversation, another sort of familial shorthand, not entirely decipherable to the casual eavesdropper.

Sometimes, we say it after days of striving. When words have hard rigid edges to them, and our bodies have separated long enough for an unkind chill to form between them. Sometimes, the one most humble and brave enough to try to broach across the chasm by saying I love you, is met with the mumbled dissent of, “Proof.”

Other times, it is a flirty come-on. A one-word pickup line in response to a compliment. It is a daring, giddy antithesis of rejection. It is an invite and RSVP all rolled into one.

We use it to challenge each other to rise above their fears, and accomplish what we are capable of. We raise it in conversation, like the opposition to white flags of surrender. This word, it binds us together. It transforms one of us, suddenly, into Rocky, the other into Adrian. We take turns, alternately being the one in the ring, and the one who inspires the other to keep fighting.

Lately, things in our marriage have settled a bit, not unlike an old house. Yes, there has still been odd creaking, and the random startles of things you didn’t know where coming. The pops of old radiators, letting off hidden steam, then silence. But also, a kind of quiet peace, as we huddle together, our foundation sinking deeper into the bit of earth we are borrowing. Our walls, like hard sponges, soaking up the sounds of laughter, until joy hangs like an invisible pennant from the beams.

Proof. We don’t say it as much now, in this season, and I couldn’t think of why until this morning. Then I realized, it’s because we show it. Our words have been given wings, or maybe, feet. Yes, feet are more our style. They are the harder, slower, more determined way, not given to flapping and an easy out. They are a constant process, requiring rest and tenacity. They stumble, and get hurt, the littlest parts of them prone to breaking. But they heal, and they bring you where you needed to be going, even when that isn’t the direction you set out in.

It is not a secret that my love language has been receiving gifts, probably for my whole life. From the time I was a small child, I craved them. A stick of gum meant more to me than a held door. An actual present, no matter its cost, could make my heart swell to tsunami levels. If people give you gifts, they must absolutely love you, and if they don’t, well, then they must not. That’s about how black and white I felt about things. And, I’m ashamed to say, I acted accordingly.

The thing is, that love, just like the people who feel it, looks differently on everyone.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, or maybe it’s because I am a slow learner and have a patient teacher, but I think I can finally see that now.

This year, things have gone in a dramatically different direction than past years. This year, (partly because of the great basement cleanout), I asked for acts of service for my birthday. From everyone. I have enough stuff. What I need is to know that I have people who will come alongside me and work. Or at least sit beside me while I work.

My husband thought that this was a great idea. He probably never saw it coming from his gift-needy, commercializing, consumer of a wife. The girl with impossibly high standards, who watched too many movies growing up and still believes that John Hughes should direct her birthday, complete with a music montage, every year. But there it was, and he agreed wholeheartedly. “Make a list,” he said, “one item for every year. Things I can do to show I love you.”

That’s quite an undertaking, as I am now more of a winter hen than a spring chicken. Thirty six things, people, thirty six. And truthfully, I only made it to 28 things, because I ran out of real ideas and felt intoxicated by the possibility of the things I had already written. My list contains everything from ‘help me rehang and space my gallery wall’ to ‘take over bedtime duties one night so I can Netflix’. Sounds amazing, right? Having someone help make your life easier or prettier, instead of throwing money into the winds of commerce and hoping you like what’s hidden in the tissue paper. Yeah, I think so, too.

And yet, something strange has happened. Everyday this week, I have been showered with gifts. People just stopping by with handmade jewelry and throw pillows, the Apple product I have wanted for the last six months, a surprise envelope of cash, and yesterday, a vintage sterling silver locket that my husband had bought secretly and had re-chained at a jewelry store. How I love jewelry with a story of its own. I have been dreaming of a heart shaped locket of my own (without the hair inside, ew) since I was a little girl, but had never told my husband.

When he gave it to me, I asked if I was dying and everyone knew it but me, because this is just too much. It feels surreal and lovely in a way that Sara Crew must have felt upon waking in a warm, furnished attic towards the end of A Little Princess. Even if it’s all a dream, it’s been wonderful.

How many years I have wasted, striving and dropping hints like heavy metal bombs, searching for evidence that I am loved. And finally, when I sit back and choose to just let life happen, filled with the knowledge that I am okay, that my life is okay, it shows up.

Around my neck something beautiful hangs, but the truth is that my husband gave me his real heart long ago. I just didn’t see it. I was too busy looking past it, hoping to dig out validation from a pile of presents. But it wasn’t there. It was standing beside me, holding my hand while our children were born. It was disguised in a plumber’s uniform, going to work every morning to support our family. It was never available at Nordstrom or any online retailers. It was here, in the miraculous mundane of every minute together.

On this birthday, I was given the best present that I could ever ask for: Proof.

 

 

 

 

Misspelled Identity

My sister and I have embarked on a monumental task. We have a goal, an endgame. We are laser beam focused, spurred on by small successes and a vision of glory.

No, we are not planning a summer hike up the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro or backpacking across the continental United States. We are cleaning/de-cluttering/and deeply organizing my basement. If you had seen it before we started, you would understand why this feels so herculean. And also, why you have not been invited to see it.

My basement is where memories and half-filled cardboard boxes go to die. It is the keeper of things. The space for taxable good intentions and not-yet-started Pinterest projects. Bicycles, baby clothes, and broken toys create a macabre consignment section. Birthday banners and rolls of 90% off Christmas wrap commemorate with each other about their unused potential. Awards (that I forgot I won) from college lay on their sides, the bin mate of old Jonathan Brandis teen beat posters and New Kids On the Block buttons as big as my daughter’s face. Not the 3 year old, the 8 year old.

My basement is unfinished, mostly not insolated, and probably boasts a proud lineage of descendants from the first spider families to move in when our home was built over a hundred years ago. I think if I looked close enough, I would see a tiny gallery of golden frames on one of the beams, showcasing this patriarchal history.

And while I love all the woodwork, leaded glass windows, and pocket doors that come with living in an old house, the basement is not my favorite. It’s probably more accurate to call it a cellar, but as there is no wine stored down there, that title seems terrifying. Especially since the original furnace still works, which makes me both grateful, and sorry that I spent so much of my childhood watching scary movies.

So, there we were. Standing on the concrete floor, trying to live out the homemaker’s version of Pretty in Pink, and make something beautiful from something far less than appealing. “Oh, look what I found, Jess,” my sister called from across the dungeon. She handed me an unassuming silver bin, it’s lid snapped shut on only one side, and laying askew. I opened it, not thinking anything of it. Isn’t that usually the way great things come to us, wrapped in the ordinary and waiting for us to look further?

Inside this bin was a cobalt box that I hadn’t seen in years, probably a decade or more. My brain prickled with the beginning of recognition. Opening the box, I found dozens and dozens of cards and letters from my grandfather, 18 years worth. How had I forgotten that he always wrote to me? I couldn’t fathom.

I stood there, the foam soles of my Nikes pushing back against the hardness of the floor, and melted. I read letter after letter, card after card. I will confess to you that when I was done, not only was I crying, but I was different.

I had forgotten that I was so loved.

So often when I think about my childhood lately I think about all the lack. But I was loved, you guys. I was loved enough. And somehow I forgot that.

My grandpa was the kind of person you could make a movie about, and still not understand after an hour and a half, just how great a man he was. I knew it as a child, and I knew it when he passed three weeks before my high school graduation. But knowing it as an adult feels different. Reading those letters, felt like reading a crucial chapter of my life that I had accidentally left out.

Everything these days seems to be about identity. We are broken up into columns and rows of who’s and what’s and ins and outs. We are divided, united, and talked about. We are a people condensed into two hundred words or less, a profile page that shows us at our best.

My name is Jessica Rae. I am a wife, mother, friend. I work with foster kids. I like to write, and shop (thus the horror-filled basement). I enjoy travel and the arts, time with my family and friends. I like belly laughs and good wine, and movies with happy endings. I love poetry and music, and orange colored days, when the sky fades from blue to sherbet to the palest ballet of pink. I love people, people are amazing. I love kindness, and mercy, but also justice. I have freckles on my right upper arm that exactly replicate Ursa Major. I love the truth, and those who are brave.

I, I, I. It’s a lot, right? A lot of I’s? But we know this, right? We know exactly who we are, what we are, what we want to be, and feel the sting of what we aren’t, don’t we? And yet, somehow when I was making my lists, I forgot to include that part of who I am. I am loved. I belonged. I was welcomed, and cherished.

A man with dancing blue eyes loved me with fatherly affection. He thought I was worth writing those letters. Even though he worked six days a week, from open to close, standing on tired feet, hands wracked by arthritic pain, he still wrote. He still visited. He showered us with gifts in his home. He taught me how to fish, and to clean and cook what we caught. He took us camping, and out for walks. He gave me his time and attention, and his misspelled words. And, if I’m honest, that seems like more of a gift. The letters aren’t perfect. They have probably at least 3 misspelled words each, some more.

And while my sister and I will keep plunging forward, for that day, I had found what I was looking for. The box is sitting on my dresser now, where it belongs. I see it when I wake up, and when I go to bed. Those feelings of lack can stay with the spiders, they don’t fit in my house anymore. Truthfully, they never did.

I’ve replaced them with words that fit. Words that are actually a part of who I am.

I am Jessica Rae, and I am “verry verry loved.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Truth Is…

So, I haven’t blogged in a long time. Not because I don’t have anything to say. Let’s be honest, I always have something to say, about everything. But life has a way of silencing even the loudest of winds that howl through the night, giving them expanses of land to spread themselves over, and eventually, they grow tired, and dissipate. While I have not withered away, I have been spread thin, in ways both magnificent (my children and friends), and in ways that leave me reeling, and maybe a bit calloused.

Also, one of the last times I blogged, I was attacked verbally, for both my words and heart. Not by an anonymous troll that I could disregard as an unfortunate soul still living in his mother’s basement, but by someone that I really care about, once again. So far, it seems that if I am going to be put down for my truths and my willingness to give voice to my vulnerabilities, it will look like friendly fire. Isn’t that so often the way, for everyone?

I am teaching my children that it is an honor to see people at their worst, it is a privilege to know someone so well that you see not only their strengths, but their weaknesses. That, no, you don’t get to tease your sister about something that embarrasses her, you get to be the one to love her through it, and make sure that there is no place for shame in her beautiful heart.

Love means protecting, and defending, and coming to the rescue, even on the darkest days of someone’s trials. It means that you have been given the gift of experiencing their truth. You get to see up close who someone really is, and you get to remind them of how wonderful they are, at the times when they forget.

But, apparently, not everyone feels that way. Sometimes, people who have been hurt, by people who are not and never will be you, walk through your life looking for tender areas to cast the stones they have been gathering, and wound you. It happens, probably to everyone. But, as big as I am, my skin is not as thick as it looks.

I read once that elephants are not really afraid of mice. That they just have extremely sensitive feet, and any small hurt can make them lose their ability to carry their own weight, and then they would be stuck in place, and devoured. They know this, and are then so careful to watch out for any twig, or any small thing that could cause their death. Mice are unpredictable, and just so quick, that the elephant forgets that they could easily crush them, and they fear them, instead.

That. That is what, almost exactly, I feel like. While this person, and the people before her, are not mice, I have found myself struck by terror. Even though I know that they aren’t right. Even though the truth could crush their lies. Even though, had they walked one minute in my giant shoes, the self-righteous scales would fall from their blinded eyes. But they haven’t, and that’s okay. But it’s still hard to put myself out there, and watch people I love not really see me, or dismiss me, and walk away.

It is a risky thing, this allowing myself to write. It is dangerous to put all your hard won truths and beliefs on the internet. It is a hard thing, to pull back the curtain on yourself, and show the world that you are not the great and powerful Oz, but a very real person who has more than their share of faults.

But, it’s time. I have to let all of that go. Put on my big girl panties, and walk through another door. We all have a story a to tell, and I believe, someone who needs to hear it, in order to give their own a better ending. It is the passing on of stories that so often breeds courage. We need to hear that Rosa Parks wouldn’t give up her seat, in order to stand for our own something. We need to know that the shy woman who looks like she has it all, has suffered unimaginable loss, and still had the resilience to move forward. That no one really has it all figured out, but that we are trying together, like a room full of toddlers,to make our actions count. That you are not alone, and neither am I. That people have gone this way before us, and smoothed the rocky terrain.

I will never scale Mount Fuji, but some part of me believes that I could, because I have heard the accounts of someone who has, and I recognize a hint of that overcoming spirit, in myself. We all have our own mountain to climb, probably a lot of them. And we need to use our voices to belay each other, with words of encouragement.

It is what makes AA work, thousands of voices of I did, so you can.

And maybe I haven’t yet, but I’m really trying. My battles are not finished, I am still in the middle of the blood-stained ground. But maybe my journals, though war-torn and angst-filled, will give one person courage to keep fighting. Even just for one day. Because joy comes in the morning.

I know that I need those reminders. I need to hear how you love your children. It scrapes the dust of their actions off of my glasses, and helps me to see them as they deserve to be seen. I need to know that you have grieved loss, like me. We are all a part of community on this earth, our stories bind us together, into one, and make us family.

That is why I am writing, still. And also, it’s cheaper than therapy.

Head Towards The Light…

I love this time of year. I mean, LOVE.

I love the colors, the lights, the music, the bustle. I love the party invitations, the way people are generous with their money towards the needy, and how strangers lock eyes and smile. I love how kindness crackles in the air. How mornings feel like waking to a surprise party for Frosty. I love how people care, again. I love the things I learn about my children over steaming mugs of hot cocoa. I love that hope is suspended under all of us, like the kindest net under the tightrope of our daily lives. I love the joy, and laughter, the indulgent nature of holiday food. I love the rest that comes while cuddling under a blanket on the couch across from twinkling lights, while a Christmas movie plays in the background. I love it. So. Much.

I love Christmas morning, or at least the ideals I hold about Christmas morning. I love the Hallmark commercial that plays in my head when I envision my children unwrapping their gifts. It’s one of the best things ever. I always think it will be perfect. And it never is. It’s a family holiday, so, yep, there’s always something. But I try, so hard. And my children are happy, so that’s good enough for me. So good, in fact, that I still can’t sleep on Christmas Eve. I am still a little girl, staying in one of the guest rooms of my grandparents large home. Still staring out the window at the electric staccato rainbow of colored lights around each arched window, illuminating the otherwise blue white of the snow. I am still clenching my stomach around the butterflies of hope.

There’s one thing that happens every year, that rivals Christmas morning. On December 23rd, we load up our children, and head out into the night. Our bellies satisfied from a hearty dinner, we stop at an espresso stand, where we come modern a-wasseling, and acquire two lattes and five hot chocolates. Then we’re off! We drive all around town, searching out the houses with the highest energy bills. We sing Christmas carols loudly and off-key; Comfortable in a way that you can only be with your closest of friends and immediate family. We are louder than should be legal in such a small space. We tell stories of Christmases past, and make memories that will keep us through the rest of the current winter. We are a boisterous crew. Giddy, and joy filled, we are a tangle of words and motion.

My children oooh and ahhh, and gasp with delight. They shout and point, and press their little warm hands to cold windows, straining to get just that much closer to the displays of lights. They are mesmerized. And if I’m honest, so am I.

We all have different things that we most enjoy. For some of us, it’s all about the lights. For some it’s the figures in the yards. For some it’s the trees, glowing impossibly bright. One of my daughters counts the angels, while her sister counts the stars. For my five year old it’s all about Santa’s and baby Jesus’, in all forms. It is not lost on me, the way our tradition emulates life. The ways that December 23 is a metaphor for so much more than just one simple night.

There is so much darkness, isn’t there? So much bleakness outside of our doors. There is anger and hatred, injustice, and mind numbing selfishness at every turn. There is cruelty, and suffering, and things that look impossible to set to rights. We have all lost things that cannot be found, all walked around smiling, hiding our emotional skinned knees behind our best slacks. We have all heard people whispering behind our back, all been called names that are not true, and are shame filled and just sad. We have all grieved, have all gone without. We have watched people we love hurt themselves, and us in the process, sometimes again and again.

Sometimes this life feels overwhelmingly hard. Sometimes I am a coward, wanting to stay in my own house, so cozy and warm. Some days it takes every bit of my courage to leave my front door. To risk the maybes of a strife filled earth, to bring my babies out into this place of shadows and a world that groans as it turns.

But someday is coming. And someday is soon. Before I am ready, my heart will leave through that same door. In five pieces, it will go out, as they make their own way. My children are growing, and cannot stay. They are becoming More, with every moment that passes. It is up to me, to teach them, and also, to help them practice.

And so we go out, into the darkest of nights. We sing in unison to prevent silence. We don’t stay comfortable. We don’t dwell on the darkness. We go past our own borders, making strangers into neighbors, praising others handiwork. Our path illuminated by the occasional streetlamp, we keep going, encouraged.

                                                                                          Together, as we look for the light.

The List

Today, all across our country, people will pause in their pursuit of More, and give thanks for what they Have. It’s beautiful, this rare bird of gratitude. It is what keeps us going through the holidays, when we are surrounded by our favorite people, and those with whom we feel less than fortunate to share matching strands of DNA. Gratitude is the sun that warms our hearts as we drive on through the sloggy gray of winter’s bitter winds, surrounded on both sides by dirty snow berms. Those aren’t here yet, but they’re coming. And gratitude is one of the only insurance policies against them.

Year after year, I find that taking one whole day to give thanks, is the antidote I need. It saves me from the poison of always wanting more, frees me from online shopping for another gilded cage.

In our family, we take this day seriously. We spend hours coming up with our individual lists. We discuss at length the things we are most grateful for. We are almost militant in our mindfulness, marching towards the promised land of softened hearts and seeing eyes. My husband and I act as Sherpas, guiding our children away from the perilous cliffs of insatiable wants, over the crags of covetousness, and back towards the safety of  Enough. This is where the wildflowers bloom. This is where the magic happens. And it does happen, every time.

So, before today’s canvas is covered even a bit by wrangling my tiny humans, or prepping once a year dishes, or decorating the table we will all sit around as we bow our heads in humility, I will leave part of my list here. Just the top five, because there is so much more, and if I attempt to list them all here, I will sound so ridiculous that none of my friends who read this will ever let me vent to them again. Which, actually, might not be the worst thing.

(Part of) What I am most thankful for, in mostly random order:

  1. My People. I swear to you that I am surrounded by the best people this world has to offer. People who do, and love, who live lives of beauty and sacrifice, who have the courage to keep their hands outstretched as they give. The people I know risk daily in order to create a place worth fighting for. They shelter the broken, feed the poor, create art that makes my soul sigh in agreement, and know the power of keeping their word. They dream and create, and make this world a better place, but they aren’t too proud to get out the dustpan and help sweep the dross away. (Why do I always end up rhyming? I don’t mean to, I promise. Well, onward, anyway.)
  2. My Husband. I have a man that actually loves me. The real me, in all of its ugly, in all of its glory. My husband works hard, is a great provider, and trusts me. He loves me equally with and without makeup, whether I go to the gym, or my hips wear the telltale signs of too many donuts. He loves me. Me! And still rushes to show me, in the most endearing little boy/best friend way, the songs that he writes, and gets nervous as he positions his guitar and begins to play them. Be still, my heart. Be still.
  3. My Children. My Fabulous Five. The endgame to my selfishness, and the symphonic finale to my pride. I don’t know how on earth I was entrusted with these perfect little humans. But somehow, through some cosmic grace loophole, they are mine. My boy, so quickly becoming a young man. He, who broke the mold on my too small Grinch-like heart, making room for him, and the sisters who came afterward. My four girls. My compass of little women, my north, south, east, and west, of charm. They fill my life with goodness, and balance all the black in my wardrobe with vibrant pink and purple everything. These five people, are everything worth knowing about me. They hold all of my hopes, all of my tryings, and my very best dreams. They are the people I most believe in. I am humbled by being chosen to raise them.
  4. My family. Or families, I mean, as I have the one I was born into, and the ones I have been welcomed into along the way. I have no shortage of sisters, of brothers, of fathers, and mothers. My children have more aunts and uncles than they can keep count. With one phone call, I can conjure the past. With one visit, I can have peace about the future. It is a gift, this wide web of people who believe in me, who see me, and don’t look away. People who trust me with their family recipes, and who let me be a part of their history.
  5. My Friends. The net under all of my tight wires. The holders of my secrets, and trembling hands. The ones who suit up in armor, and fight for me daily. They are veterans of a foreign war, a land they didn’t have to defend, and yet, they did. My friends are what allow my lungs to remain open, so that I can breathe again. They are the girls nights, and game nights, the painting, the wine, they are the shopping trips whether I need something, or just to fill a void. They are the adult slumber party that lets me giggle through the night. My friends are my counselors, my confidantes, and the tethers that keeps me from drifting too far to the left or  to the right.

It’s funny, you know. As I was writing that, that none of the things that I spend so much time buying and striving for, came out first. No material possessions even made the list. And maybe that’s what I needed to remember today. Maybe that’s what we all need to remember. That it is people who most matter. People, and their hearts.

Wherever you are today, and with whomever you go, I hope you see how blessed you are. I hope you are filled to the brim with gratitude. That you feel hope, the cousin of thankfulness, fill your soul, even fuller than you fill your plate.  And I hope you know, that I am so, so very thankful for you. Yes, you.