Homeward Bound

One of my earliest memories, is of sitting in the back of a car, driving for days, striving to reach our next home. The windows are down, an unfamiliar highway stretches out before us, and my parents are talking in that low mumble that they save for when they think we are all sleeping. My mother holds a giant Rand McNally road atlas tightly in both alabaster fists, while my father holds the steering wheel loosely with one hand. His other hand balances on the windows ledge, his arm leathered and impossibly tan, even in the darkness.

We are leaving our people behind, one mile at a time. Our tiny car feels like a bullet, speeding toward an unknown target. My sister sits behind my father, dozing and waking, uncomfortably. Our brother sleeps, obliviously, on what we call “the hump”, as this is a four passenger car, and we are a five passenger family. I am blissfully seated behind my mother, where I feel safest. The night sky is littered with a million stars and constellations.

I can’t imagine how they must have felt, now that I am a parent. I, who have spent almost the last 11 years with the same address.

I know that we were looking for my dad’s biological mother. That this was the first of many moves that turned my parents into hasty gardeners, chain-sawing through our family roots, and moving to less fertile ground, before we had time to develop a protective callous. I know that we found her, and then wished that we hadn’t.

It is the opposite of what I have given my children. They lament about cross country road trips and vacations. So much driving! So many hotels! So much strangeness.

On one trip, my daughter cried uncontrollably the day we reached Texas. “We’re just too far away from home! I don’t like it!” she kept saying. She was right, we all felt it. We had fun, and made memories, and bonded tighter together than ever. But still, we felt it.

Our house is old. The floors are soft wood, and creaky. The ceilings in certain rooms boast more popcorn than a small town movie theater. The carpets surely need a good cleaning. And the outside paint is peeling as if it is some sort of competition. But it’s home.

It’s where we laugh the most, and love the most, and where my children grow. It’s where light streams through windows onto floors, where my favorite footsteps echo, and where fingerprints smudge each and every doorway. It is the womb that holds us en caul as we find our solid footing. It is where we brought our twins at two months old. The first and only home for each daughter that followed.

It is the sanctuary in which I witness the sacred. The monastery in which I feel most free to worship. It is where the wild and the tame cohabitate. The place where joys are shared, and sorrows are diminished. Clean one minute, and dirty the next, it is an ever changing life sciences exhibit.

This place, this structure, these reverberating walls, they hold in their arms my favorite kinds of holy.

We rush, and we slow, and we get out our own maps, trying all these years later to get to where we are going. The wind whips and it snaps, until my spirit feels tanned, like an old piece of salvaged leather. But then they fit in my arms, my children and husband, and I remember that I am safe to unfurl what my fists were holding.

The stars shine brighter out on the highway, but there’s no place, dear Dorothy, like home.

 

 

 

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Where the Divine Makes Its Home…

When I was born, my chest was a little sunken in. As I grew in age and stature, so did the indentation. I saw doctors for this.

To be honest, I thought it was pretty cool. Unless I was trying to run or keep up with other kids. When I was active, my chest hurt, and I found it hard to breathe. But when I was sitting or standing, it felt great to know that I was different. And, having compassionate attention from our kindly pediatrician wasn’t at all offensive.

When I was about 7, it was decided that I had asthma, and would need reconstructive surgery in a few years, on the ever growing divot. Partly for medical reasons (my chest now hurt frequently), and partly for cosmetic ones. I couldn’t wait! How exotic surgery sounded, how wonderful.

And then my mother took me to a church service about healing.

After a lot of singing and standing, a man came on stage and said that if anyone needed healing, they should come up front. I told my mother that I did. She walked me up and I stood there, my heart beating so loudly I was sure the people in the first two rows could hear it. My hands tingled in anxious anticipation.

The man started at the other side of the sanctuary, going down the line, one by one and praying over people. While he was still 3 or 4 people away from me, my chest bones popped loudly, and moved instantly into place. It was so loud, that several people heard it.

The following x-rays and exam, led my pediatrician to conclude it was a miracle.

When I was in high school, I was treated for almost 18 months by a neurologist named Doctor Wurst. I had been having seizures every week. They came on without warning. One minute I would be standing at the top of the basement stairs, and several minutes to an hour later, I would come to at the bottom of the stairs, bruised and banged up from falling down. All the while, the image from the top of the stairs was frozen in my mind.

Scans revealed abnormal brain waves were causing epilepsy.It happened so often, that I was no longer allowed to have a basement bedroom, and had to change rooms with my sister. (Her room was better anyway.)

After going to a service, at a different church, with a different guest speaker, who also talked about healing, I decided enough was enough. I went home, into what was now my room, and prayed for healing. No pastor, no witnesses, just me and my Jonathan Brandis posters.

This time, there was no loud popping, no bones rearranging. But, still, something changed.

I went back to Dr. Wurst, and told him with the confidence that only a zealous 16yr old can have, that I was healed, and that I would no longer be taking my seizure medication. He agreed to do more scans. After those scans came back totally normal, with no hint of epilepsy, he agreed that I was in fact healed and could stop taking all medication.

Now, I know that those are perhaps a little shocking. I know that the skeptic in you would rather believe that I am lying or insane, but it won’t change them. Their truth has played out in my body as well as in my medical history. As in, there is full medical documentation.

Still, what is maybe even harder to believe, is that there is more. So much more. From pregnancy scares to health scares, to help from strangers. Bills paid when the math didn’t shake out, or roadside assistance from someone who then vanished. The shear number of times I’ve done something foolish, and lived to tell of it is staggering.

My life sometimes feels like a string of one pearl of divine intervention, after another.

A sign hangs on my gallery wall, purposely in the center. It reads, “See God in everyone.” And I do. At least, I really try.

I recognize the Divine in ways that are sometimes overlooked. In the ways that sunsets are painted pale and pastel one evening, and blazing hot pink and riotous orange the next. I hear it in explosive laughter, and kind words given at just the right time. I see it in strangers interactions, in ways that people weave themselves into the quilt of each others stories. I smell it in the just washed hair of my warm from the bath children, curled up for one last cuddle.

It is in the way the leaves change color,  going into death rebelliously crimson and scarlet. In the lost things becoming found, but also, I believe, walking silently among the lost, so no one and nothing is ever Alone. It is the flame on the candle we light to remember, the shaking hands we hold that cannot forget.

It is in the shifting of bodies to embrace one another fully, that brings us face to face with Heaven. It is in hope, and scars, in the caring for orphans. It plays hide and seek in crooked smiles, chubby cheeks, and off-key alphabets.  It is the saving of a seat at the table next to you. These are the things that must put goosebumps on the arms of the heavens.

This is where Love makes it home. Wherever you are. And wherever I am. Because the miraculous is so often hiding in the messy.

The View From Down Here

Yesterday I managed to stand up for 15 uninterrupted minutes. When I sat down, I was sweating and shaking, triumphant and defeated. It was the most I’ve accomplished in the last almost three weeks, and the least I’ve accomplished in almost every day before that.

Now, I am no stranger to surgery. We aren’t friends or anything, but maybe surgery and I are more than acquaintances. Facebook friends, or the equivalent. After 4 pretty involved C-sections, a gall bladder removal, emergency hernia repair, a tubal ligation, IUD/D & C/Biopsy, over 18 years of passing kidney stones, a kidney surgery last fall, and a host of bed rest worthy pregnancy complications, I am at least on speaking terms with pain and recovery. I’ve been told during every hospitalization by staff members that I have an incredibly high pain tolerance. Great! Cue the flexing…

Except, this time hasn’t gone to plan. After spending over 5 and a half hours writhing in pain in the waiting room, a bed finally opened in the ER. Exactly one hour later, I was being wheeled into surgery. And while I joked about it on Facebook, the situation felt dire. Like, praying that you wake up because everything feels like a bad dream, status.

But I did wake up, thank God. And within 10 hours, I was being discharged. After two weeks of bed rest, I was back in the same ER waiting room, this time for hours longer. After cat scans were completed, the only information we had, was that my body was still in shock from the surgery and not responding to pain medicine. Another visit with the surgeon that week confirmed that my pain receptors were going haywire, my body was still in shock, and my surgery was much more invasive than I had been told. Bottom line, my body would need at least 6 weeks to heal, instead of the standard 2.

OOOOkaaaaayyyy.

Needless to say, my Valentines Day did not go as planned. My new red dress remains tagged, unworn. And almost all of my big birthday plans for this coming weekend have been rescheduled. Indefinitely. I’ve missed several meet and greets, two dinner parties, and an Elmo themed date with my five year old that, thank goodness, she didn’t know about. I have spent more hours than I care to add up, just sitting. I’ve lost track of the amount of times that the adage, “You can’t parent from an arm chair” has gone through my head. I have struggled in hand to hand combat with discouragement, guilt, embarrassment, and undue shame.

At discharge, a kindly nurse said, “Be kind to your body, it’s been through a lot.” And while I know that I would do that for others, it’s been a struggle to be nice about my own body needing help to get up and use the bathroom every, single, time.

The thing is, and the thing always is, there’s so much more.

The view from the couch, really is so different from the hummingbird pace of Mommying that I try to keep up. Between homeschooling, cooking, cleaning, shopping, bill paying, wife-ing, and all that comes with raising five (super awesome) kids, I’m pretty busy. Throw in date nights, time with friends, a few times a week at the YMCA, and the occasional evening spent writing, and well, I don’t know what I have left to give sometimes.

Only, now that all that has been stripped away, I’ve found other things in its place.

For instance, my seven year old has new freckles. I hadn’t seen them until this week. Just south of her eyes, they’re resting, like tired stars, sprinkled across her nose and cheeks.

My twins have gotten better than I imagined on piano. They love to play. Not just when someone is watching, not just when they have an audience listening. I realized this week that they play piano because they love to create music. It’s so much clearer to me, that they have passion for it, now that I’m not trying to listen while budgeting or keeping up the laundry.

My fourteen year old feels more purpose when he is helping. He gets disappointed when someone else helps me, and elated and focused when I choose him to serve. Also, if I’m stuck on the couch, I am the prime target for the wad of information he’d been withholding. Nothing earth shattering, mostly facts about Overwatch, youth group, Funko Pop Figures, and his friends. But to him, it is. It’s his whole world, and he’s letting me in on it. Even more than usual.

And he’s not the only one. While they are being very careful with their hugs, and reminding me that they can’t wait to be really held, all my children are stopping by the couch and sitting and sharing. We have a great relationship, and lots of open communication. But there is something about having me immobile that has given rise to deeper conversations. My husband’s try at being helpful by instructing the children to ‘leave your mom alone so she can rest’, has been fiercely defied. Every night I spend on the couch, two to four children sleep on pillows and blankets, the love seat, and the chair, across from me. A prank-less slumber party, they gather for bedtime stories, and lullabies, whispers in the dark. Three of these nights, while the children occupied the furniture, it was my husband on the floor, sleeping on a pallet of blankets a foot away from me.

My mom and dad have spent days and days helping. Even baking my childhood favorite breakfast. (Popovers, in case you’re wondering.) My best friend came and cleaned, and cooked, and taught classes for days. By the time she left, my refrigerator was reorganized, my microwave sparkled, and my daughters knew how to sew in at least two different stitches each. Also, she left desserts for days. Her parents, my godparents, brought over a feast. They talked and they prayed, and they stayed just long enough to remind me that my story had a prologue. That they were a part of it, and happy to be.

My sister has helped with homeschool, and home everything. She has used her culinary arts degree from college, and made sure that not a pound has been lost while I recover from surgery. She is helping snuggle and hold my babies, and being an extension of me. She’s here praising every little milestone about my recovery. “You didn’t grimace as much that time when you got up!” “Your chest and shoulders aren’t as tightly clenched in pain as they were yesterday!” If you need a post-op cheerleader, in a few weeks she’ll be free.

I’m not doing a good enough job of describing all the beauty I’ve seen. I know it, I just don’t know how to do it justice.

There was an apple, half-eaten and drying out, stuck under the radiator in the living room. Though I vacuum twice a day, I hadn’t seen it. Until last week. Now it’s thrown out and the space is clear, just as it should be. That feels like everything that’s happening with me. It’s hard, and it hurts, and it’s for a longer than I wanted it to be season. But there is goodness, and beauty, all around us at every eye level, just waiting to be seen. And while I worry about the impact all my sitting is leaving on my leather couch, I’m overjoyed at the effect the change of scenery is having on me.

Fifteen minutes of standing felt worthy of applause yesterday. Today, my whole life feels worth cheering.

 

 

Eve of Greatness

Peace has spread its gentle blanket over our home. It softly unfurls, warm, and kind, until every corner is hushed by its comfortable silence. My children are draped like velvet across couches and chairs, stretched out like content cats on floor pillows. Legs cross and uncross, or remain suspended in the air. Lips silently mouth words, brows furrow and relax, hands twitch with anticipation to turn the next page.

We started a new tradition this year for Christmas Eve. Instead of waiting until right before bed to give them their carefully picked Christmas Jammies, we gave them in the afternoon. Wrapped up with them were a couple of new books that each child had been wanting. Then we spent a couple hours just reading and being together.

I couldn’t help but think that it shadowed the future. This being lost in our own adventures, but remaining together.

In a few minutes, we’ll roll out the cookie dough that has been chilling. The volume will go back up, and our house will once again crackle with lively overstimulation. We still have dinner to make, The Polar Express to watch, a secret present to reveal, and stockings to open. And, I have three presents left to wrap before tomorrow. But for now, it is wonderfully silent, and everything feels as it should be.

Christmas is my favorite. I love the life, the lights, the color. I love the glow, and the bustle. I love the singing, and random kindness. I love the smells and the foods, the purposefulness, and the thought that goes into creating magic for those around you. I love shopping, especially when you find the perfect gift for the perfect person. I love how the air changes and charges with currents of anticipation. I almost get dizzy with joy, watching old and new memories hold hands with each other.

Christmas always makes me feel nostalgic. I think it has that affect on almost everyone. It’s wonderful, but can also be searingly painful.

I tend to miss my Grandpa and Grandma so much, that the hurt lodges in an untouchable part of my chest. I feel it all season, Joni Mitchell status,  burning like strep throat around my heart. Visceral, painful, and very real. I find myself grieving their absence not just around my tree, but around my life. I want to know what they think of my life now. Want to delight with them in my children. I want to call and talk about everything and nothing. To ask the questions I was too young to know were important. I want to say I love you. Not as a child, but as an adult, with understanding of what they sacrificed. I want to tell them thank you. Not because it’s the polite thing to do, but because I am deeply grateful.

I want to make them laugh again. Want to switch roles and give them a gift that makes their Christmas reverberate with wonder. I want to know if they are proud of me. Want to hear from them again that this life I am building holds value. To know that the dirt under my fingernails from all of my scraping together, makes me, in their eyes,  an engineer of admirable caliber.

This is my 19th Christmas without him, and my 5th without her. It still feels like the second or third. Thankfully, not as raw as the first. I’m happy. Just, you know, I miss them.

I think maybe, that makes it even more fitting that it’s Christmas. Wasn’t the first Advent filled with heartbreak and discomfort? Aren’t we celebrating joy that we didn’t know to make space for? Aren’t I included in the weary world that longs to rejoice? I know that when I feel weighed down by grief and missing and Gone, I find that my heart sags like a weighted ball within me, and my head lolls back on my neck, until involuntarily, I am face to face with the sky.

That’s where they keep the stars, you guys.

Without fail, I’m always supplied with enough light to keep going. I always find my way back, to hope, and to home.

There is no hay here. No animals lowing. There are essential oils, but nothing of the Frankincense or Myrrh variety. There is, however, peace on this part of Earth, and good will. There are snapping brown eyes, alight with wonder and belief. There are voices calling out to share a million things a day with me. There are presents under the tree, and innocent hearts that trust me. And for maybe just a few more minutes, there is quiet.

Maybe grief is the stable that I didn’t want to stay in, but I’m finding that three walls are better than four. It’s harder here, and parts of it stink, but this way I can see the star. I’m not at all alone. None of us are. It’s drafty, sure, but, there’s so much more room to let in all the joy.

 

 

 

 

How They Stole the Children

I woke up this morning thinking. That’s not unusual, my mind is almost always faster than my eyelids are to open. Only, this time, I wasn’t thinking about the dream I just had, or what to put in my husband’s lunch. I was thinking, what can I do with my kids today that is fun? Super fun. Like, remember it as adults, fun.

My Mom says that I have always been “fun-oriented”, she thinks that’s why I spend so much energy being silly and making my five miraculous minors spend as much time as possible laughing. And while part of that is true, the real reason is so much darker. I’ll tell you, but don’t tell anyone else. Or, maybe, tell EVERYONE else, because it’s important.

Several years ago, my husband did some major plumbing for an older couple. This couple took an immediate liking to him. While spending multiple days working in their home, they took turns pouring out their stories to him. When the plumbing was finished, they insisted that he come back for a visit “as friends”, and bring me.

I was knee high in the depths of Mommy Muck. The trenches. Our son was five years old, and our twins were almost one and a half. Sleep and I were not on speaking terms, and I’m pretty sure that’s around the time I would burst into tears at magazine ads. Not any ad, just the closeups of women’s faces where the women don’t have bags under their eyes. Everything was fine.

The last thing I had time for was a meet and greet with strangers. But they insisted, and he insisted, and I really wanted to hear their stories, so I went. That sounds taxing, and it felt it, too. Anyway, we went.

From the front, the house looked ordinary. Just a nicely built ranch style house from the sixties. Too big for the two people who lived in it now, but big enough that you knew they bought it when they had young children, when they couldn’t imagine ever not having young children.

Everything inside was perfect. Meticulous. Dust didn’t have a fighting chance in those walls. The air was crisp and comfortable at the same time. I felt completely welcomed, accepted, and also like I was standing on hallowed ground. And that was before we went out back. Refreshments were set up on the back patio, overlooking the Sistine Chapel of backyards.

Tall trees lined the giant u-shape of six foot privacy fencing. Five large houses could have fit behind that house, while maintaining neighborly distance. Fruit trees and bird baths bordered roses and peonies. Large expanses of grass seemed to pull at us to take off our shoes and get caught up in a game of tag or red light, green light. A choir of birds sang in the trees, and butterflies came clothed in their finest, fluttering their wings in worship. It felt like Eden. Without the snake.

It was there, in a place that felt like Heaven, that they shared bits of their journeys through Hell, with me. We sat for hours and hours, without a moment of silence. I’m not sure my body remembered to swallow the entire afternoon. As story after story spilled out, the air around us caught it, held it, and hung heavier with it in its hands. Her words fell gently, like a sacred flag, dipping in the wind, but never touching the ground.

She had lived in Germany, through the Holocaust. But, on the other side. Not Jewish. Not Christian. Not disabled, or a minority. Just a child of parents who believed him.

She told me of rations. Of butter, and all of its rarity. “You can,” she said, “go so much longer without shampoo than you think you can. It will amaze you, how little you actually need in this life. It will surprise you, what is not a necessity, if it ever comes back to that.”

She told me how her parents had been tricked into believing. How hardships had worn at the hems of their own conscience, how someone offered to stitch them up, or maybe even give them a new warm jacket. How they had grasped for the Reich, like starving beggars at freshly baked bread. She told of lies, of whisper campaigns, of propaganda. Her parents, she said, were smart people. But they believed the lies, and the whole earth suffered for it. “We can do better, we must do better”, she said over and over. “This history, must not be allowed to be repeated, but only people like you and me can stop it.”

Out of everything she said, the thing that pierced me the most, was how the Nazi’s won the children. It was at school, when all the mothers and fathers were being forced to work so many hours, doing hard physical labor. They made sure that the parents never had enough rest or food, that they had nothing left to give their children. Then, like vultures, they swooped in.

The people who took over for her teachers made sure to be kind, and soft, and attentive. They were firm, but fun. They let the children do what their parents had no time or energy to. They brainwashed them with propaganda and disgusting lies, but they also played games with them. They hugged them when they needed it, and praised them. They kept the parents so occupied that they might as well have been imprisoned, and then they stole the hearts of the children. They did this, she said, until even the most devout of all children, were won to the Reich.

Let that sink in.

Just for a moment, though, so that the waves of despair cannot completely encompass you.

You who are exhausted. You who are tired. You, whose work feels disposable, and unnoticed. You, who probably fall asleep each night, questioning if everything you did was Enough.

You are already enough, you are their parent. Your child’s heart is with you, and for you, and looking to you to lead them.

This summer, a friend said, “Oh, you’re a Fun Homeschooling Mom...” With maybe the tiniest hint of skepticism. And I thought, Yes! I must be succeeding! Can you even imagine the extent of all the wonderful things they must be learning?!

I want to lead my children to a beautiful future. I want to parent in love, and kindness. To guide them into their destinies from a place of rest and peace and wisdom. Boundaries are love, I get that. And my babies only get one childhood. The years of small feet pattering at Christmas, is numbered. So, while I wrap the presents, and roll my eyes over how far flour can travel once airborne, I remind myself that this too shall pass. Even if I don’t want it to. Even if I’m not ready. So, I do the only responsible thing I can imagine. I throw more flour in the air, and watch the delight on my children’s faces, as it falls and we rise.

The Getaway Blues…

It has taken most of the last 39 hours for me to relax. And while I am pretty peaceful person, that’s saying something. Though what it’s saying, I’m not sure.

This is the weekend that I have been looking forward to for weeks. It has been planned for, packed for, and paid for. My husband is spending the mornings of each day this weekend performing Christmas carols and playing guitar, at one of my favorite nice restaurants, while children get a free brunch, and meet Santa Claus. All the proceeds go to The Salvation Army Food Bank, which makes the air crackle with good cause and holiday cheer.

While I have “helped” by maintaining the children and household without a second set of hands for the last several weeks of rehearsals, I am now officially off duty.

It is the kind of thing I find myself daydreaming about in between shuttling my five amazing children to activities and errands, homeschooling, cleaning house, and cooking. A whole weekend. Away.

Nothing to do but rest, write, and read more than a paragraph or two before succumbing to sleep. Oh, and spend time with my husband when he isn’t performing. Maybe even eat a few meals where people serve me, and the only food I cut up is my own. While it’s still hot, even. Dear Diary…

In one daydream, I managed to squeeze in a massage, hair appointment, and pedicure, all before my husband’s five hour performance was through. Then, the new and vastly improved me made it back to cheer him on adoringly, before raising my perfectly portioned pink champagne mimosa in toast.

A girl can dream, right?

But, it turns out, that’s all it was.

I mean, I’m here. We’re here. My husband is once again clad in a crisp new button down, a red velvet jacket, and a Santa hat. A look that caused several children yesterday to question if he actually is the real Santa. Perhaps, if Santa shaved and stayed on the Keto Diet for a few years, he would resemble my husband. While I seem to resemble the classic Mrs. Claus more everyday, without actually trying.

Was it sweet, to watch little girls in Christmas dresses dance while my husband played a rousing rendition of Frosty the Snowman? Yes, it was. Will I always remember the way their curled hair bobbed up and down, adorned by bright red bows, their mothers straining to capture the cuteness with their iPhones? I hope so. Did I go get any of the aforementioned treatments done? No, I did not.

The only time I left the hotel was to stop by a clothing sale for my children. I spent most of my time in the store on the phone actually speaking with my children, and all of my time in the store missing my children.

From the moment I got to the hotel, I have thought of little else. A heated pool in December? My kids would love this! Polar Express on AMC? One of their favorites. Even though we own it. Even though we watched it last week, while drinking hot chocolate at just the right scene.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever wished for something, and then gotten it, only to realize that it isn’t what you really wanted? That you already have what you really, truly want?

I have, and not just this weekend, but also this weekend.

It’s nice to stay in a suite. It’s amazing to have a queen bed all to myself when I want it, be the meat sandwiched between layers of down, softer than white bread. To have the ability to choose not to set an alarm in the morning. To have the time to hypothetically do all the things I usually don’t prioritize. Two hot showers a day, unbalanced food groupings, the ability to scroll through social media without thinking of the example I am setting. An exercise room I don’t have to drive to.

But, you know, none of that is all it’s cracked up to be. And none of it can beat what I have at home. Okay, except for the down. So. Much. Down. I feel like the princess and the pea. Only, without the pea. My five year old little sweet pea, who crawls into my bed every night, because she needs part of her (usually her feet), to be touching me (usually my spine).

It’s a heck of a tight rope we parents walk. And sometimes I get caught up thinking that it’s rest and self care that are going to help me not fall off. I’m not discrediting those things, but it turns out that for me, they aren’t what give me balance. In addition to my faith, the pole I’m holding onto, as I put one foot in front of the other, is my children. The everydays. The miracles hidden in the mundane. The extraordinary beings that I serve while clothed in the aprons of the ordinary.

The truth is that I have fallen, hook, line, and sinker, in love with this life I am living. Glub, glub, glub. Not with the laundry or dusting, not even with all of the constant cooking. But, overall, with all of it. And I never even saw it coming.

C.S. Lewis, that old genius of a man, said that, “Children are not a distraction from more important work, they are the most important work.” The thing is, I know that. I live that. I didn’t need to come to a hotel for two nights to remember that. That’s not the point. Or is it?

An hour ago, a stranger knocked on my door and announced, “Room Service.” He gave me a tray with a silver colored metal lid. After tipping, I closed the door and did a short little happy dance. I ate my breakfast in the quiet. It was nice. I hope to do it again in 10-15 years. But in the mean time, I hope for loud. I hope for open mouths, for my baby birdies to never be too self conscious to silently ask for a bite of whatever I am eating. I hope for spontaneous pillow fights, dance parties in the living room, mom jokes, and mysterious blue congealed substances that have bonded with my dining room table.

What I really want, is what I really have. Because I won’t always, and that makes it precious.

It is time and pressure that turn a lump of coal into a diamond. Apparently I’m not so different. The responsibilities that rest on my shoulders, that squeeze and make me uncomfortable, that make me question if I have more to give in that 24 hours, those things, are what are helping my own becoming. Those things, are what is stripping away the qualities that are good for only short term heating, and replacing it with something lasting, and transparent. Something worth keeping.

The air I am breathing is too beautiful and rare for me to wish it away on a sterile oxygen mask. While this has been “nice”, I can’t wait to check out. My insides are already filled with butterflies, fluttering. What a homecoming it will be. To leave the lap of luxury for the arms that encircle me.

Government Issued Gratitude

When I was a little girl, we used to wait outside in a long line, behind a decaying building. The people in line behind and in front of us, seemed to mirror the buildings state of disrepair. Jeans were ripped, long before destructed was the style. Tee shirts hung loosely, dotted by stains, ill fitting, on already sagging shoulders.

In this sea of shame and hopelessness, my mother seemed to stand out, like some sort of merchant ship. Cresting the same waves, but not really a part of the angry churning. Experiencing a temporary skiff, perhaps, but not soaked to the bone from a lifetime of poverty.

Her posture was flawless, chin up, and always wearing perfume, she stood differently than the others. Even wearing second hand clothing from the men’s department, she seemed regal. As if even the stitching on her Kmart clearance shoes could recognize that she came from royal blood, and bowed themselves together in honor.

I always tried to talk to the other children, always tried to enchant them in a game of make believe. I don’t remember a single child ever saying yes. I do remember the way they rested their chins on their chests, as if the weight of their heads was simply too much to bear. Closing eyes, and shyly shaking their hair back and forth in no. Or sometimes, simply hiding behind their parents own dirty hands.

It didn’t occur to me until years later that I had anything to be ashamed about. This was my life, so I thought it was everyone’s. Government cheese day, was one of the best days. Commodity boxes were something worth celebrating.

It wasn’t, of course, as magical as I thought it was. Neither was living in a hooker motel in Las Vegas a year or so later, as my dad searched frantically for his birth mother.

When I was still 21, I added it all up. In 21 years of life, I had moved 21 times. This included living in more than one motel, and more than once living with friends, while our family wobbled, like a just born baby deer, trying to find our footing.

Poverty is tricky sand to build a family on.

I made a lot of promises to myself back then. Words are free, you see. At least, promises are. Words said in anger, can cost you everything.

Anyway, one of the things I promised is that my children would live differently. My children would know stability. They would not know the feeling of living meal to meal. They would not go to bed hungry, or cold, or any way wanting. They would grow up on the other side of the line. The side putting blessings into hands open and waiting. Not the side shifting pride from leg to leg, to allow the taking.

My children’s lives are different, in so many ways, from what I grew up with. Out of all the things they struggle with, I have the hardest time with their entitlement. It grates at me. How can you not be grateful, I wonder, when you have everything?

I had almost nothing, and am thankful for everything. I see it. I feel it. I know it to my core. Every strand of DNA cries out in twists of appreciation, to the moon and back, Thank You, Thank You, a thousand times. Maybe more.

Every November, we do this thing, as a family. I stole the idea from a friend on Facebook. (Brynn, I think.) We cut leaves from construction paper, and then write on them in Sharpie. All month long, we are putting our penmanship where our heart is, then putting them up on the window. Light and dark brown, orange, green, yellow, and red, the things for which we are thankful overtake whatever lies on the other side of those panes.

I read them, daily. Put hand to frail paper edges, too willing to bend under the weight of my knowing. “Family” one says, “Mommy” says another. I breathe a sigh of relief, when I spot four more of the same. It is my modern day cast list, and I am desperate to see if I made the play.

Then what, I wonder. For what else are they grateful, these children that I would die and live a hundred times for. “Toys”, a leaf says, “Our Home” says the one next, “Clothes”, “Friends”, “Homeschool”, and “Our Car” all make the cut. Then, in neat preteen handwriting, I see the word “Food”. So they were listening, after all. I let go of the breath that I didn’t know I was holding. Someone has written “Water”, her sister has written “Hope”, the thirteen year old has filled branches worth, listing all the blessings that he knows.

They are thankful, I tell myself, later in the kitchen.

“Come quickly, Mommy! It’s your favorite thing!” My seven year old is waving her hand frantically. I am smiling before I reach her. “What is it?” I ask. “It’s a cotton rainbow sherbet sky, like the candy,” She says, beaming. “It is,” I say, widely grinning.

It is the kind of sky that makes me give audible thanks. Blues and pinks collide with one another, above a blazing orange sunset. It is what I call a rainbow sherbet sky, with cotton candy clouds. It is so beautiful, it nearly takes my breath away. It is one of those moments where you know you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

“Thank you”, I say. “Thank you so much.”

Face to the sky, heart bursting, I am once again in line receiving, what I have no way of repaying.