Thursday, November 4, 2010

While we were in Puerto Rico, we went to a beach for part of a day. I had to use the bathroom before I went down to the beach, so I was walking away from the rest of the family. On my way to the bathroom, I saw old buildings in terrible disrepair, a rusted out car on the side of the road, and the street was littered with paper, beer bottles, and a dead animal. Once I got into the bathroom, I looked around to see that there were no doors on any of the stalls, there was no toilet paper or paper towels, and the water had been cut off. Excellent. By the time I left the bathroom (thankful that I carry baby wipes with me at all times), I was more than a little disgusted at this "beach trip."
When I emerged on the other side of the bathroom, this is what I saw.

How on earth could this beautiful, secluded beach be just steps away from all that garbage? As I walked toward my beautiful family (the one I never thought was possible just four years ago), my thoughts turned to my path in life. Sometimes we look around and all we see is garbage. We see everything that is wrong in our little world. We whine to God about the broken glass and garbage, and fail to look a few feet away (or maybe even just a swivel around) to see the beauty in our lives - even when the beauty far outweighs the garbage. There are people who are always looking for what is wrong in any given situation. If you are always looking for something wrong, you will always find it. However, if you are always looking for something right, you will always find that, too, and I have to imagine that the latter people are much happier, and lead much more peaceful, fulfilling lives than the former. I want so badly to be someone who sees the beach and not the garbage in my life. Now I know that it isn't healthy to ignore the garbage altogether, but I want to focus on and be grateful for what is right in my life, while I work on correcting what is wrong. If my only focus is on what needs to change, I will become incredibly overwhelmed and those issues will overshadow all the blessings that I have, and I will never see them or acknowledge them. As Christians, we should be a light in a dark world, shining the light of Christ and His love for all people. If we are always complaining, always judging, always negative, what kind of representatives are we for the King of Glory? I want to positively influence my kids, my family, my friends, and anyone else who God may send my way. I want to embrace and celebrate my wonderful life and all the blessings it contains! I want others to hear my testimony and say, "It really is true... with God, all things are possible!" I want to divert people from the garbage and direct them to the beach (and then introduce them to the One who made it)!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ice Cream

Tonight after Malia’s soccer game we decided to go to an ice cream shop for a treat. The tables were outside, and on the first “Florida Fall” night of the year (a “cool” 74 degrees), there were many others who had the same idea. As I sat looking around at the other customers, I noticed how different we all were. There was my family, with two children ages three and under, there were two women who were catching each other up on their lives. They had brought photos to share and were excitedly updating each other on mutual friends and family. There was a couple who was obviously at the beginning of a dating relationship, as they seemed nervous, and although flirtatious, didn’t sit too close to each other. There was also a couple in their 60s who had brought the man’s elderly father with them, who couldn’t have been any younger than 90. He moved slowly with a walker and seemed to be enjoying every single bite of his ice cream cone. There were a few other families, each with kids of varying ages, some coming after a soccer game, just like us.
It occurred to me that even though we all seemed so different, we had this one thing in common: we all wanted ice cream tonight. Now, that’s not such a huge deal, and certainly not a reason for us to unite together for some great cause, but we all came from whatever point in life we were, and for a brief blip on the radar, we sat together enjoying ice cream. I looked at my son, who was enjoying his first-ever big boy ice cream cone. I glanced back over at the elderly man, and couldn’t help but wonder how many ice cream cones he had eaten in his life, and whether or not this would be the last time he was here enjoying one. He looked at my son and smiled, and I thought of how wonderful it was to be sitting there with one boy at the very beginning of his life, and one man nearing the end of his, both doing the same thing…eating ice cream. I thought of all the man had been through, and I wondered if he had had a good life. One glance at Gianni with ice cream all over his face, and I thought of what lay ahead for him, and said a quick prayer that he would have a good life, and that he would become the man God wanted him to be.
At one point, a man came by and handed us some napkins. He said that he had been given too many, and I guess it was very obvious that we were going to need more. I thanked him, and he sat back down and began talking to his wife. Chances are that I will never see him again, but sometimes it feels good to just get a little bit of kindness from a stranger. Even though it wasn’t a big deal to hand us a napkin, it was a little tag at the end of the day, reminding me that there are still people out there who notice the needs of others and who make it a point to meet those needs.
The whole experience at the ice cream shop lasted fewer than thirty minutes, but it got my mind thinking about Gary. Gary is a man in his 60s who in I met when I lived in Haiti. He is from the Seattle area, and we taught at the same school in Port-au-Prince. We both lived there at the school, and he was the only American I knew in Haiti. The first day we met, he was sitting out on the stoop to his room, watching The Simpsons on TV. I introduced myself and noticed that he had a gold front tooth with a peace symbol on it. He was under the impression that he was in Haiti to teach English to adults. There must have been some communication failure, because he landed in a classroom full of second graders and had no clue what he was doing. A kindergartener at the school asked him to tie her shoe, and he said, “God! No! Aren’t you supposed to be able to do that? That should be a prerequisite to get into school!”
Gary and I were as opposite as any two people could be. We could hardly find ground that we agreed on. However, because he was the only other English-speaking person around, he became my friend. The president of Haiti would cut the electricity for all of Port-au-Prince and Gary and I would sit in the pitch black, with the sounds of voodoo ceremonies in the background, and debate politics, religion, or which of the Golden Girls was the best. On weekends, we would pay ridiculous amounts of money to get in the back of a semi- truck with pigs and goats and travel to orphanages high in the mountains. For the time that we lived there, he was a father, a neighbor, an older brother, and a friend to me. Had we met in the U.S., we never would have even had ice cream together. But I learned so much from Gary, and I also learned a valuable lesson in kindness and respect for others, no matter if they think like me or not. Gary taught me that I can listen with respect to the opinions of others, and that if I really, truly, believe something, I should never be ashamed of it, and should never cower or hide my passion just because someone else may disagree.
I think that God brings all sorts of people into our lives, whether it’s for a short time, like those folks at the ice cream shop, or for a longer time, like Gary. He never brings just the people that He knows we would get along with; He also brings people who challenge us, who challenge our faith, and who, perhaps, we can point toward Him. Christ died for every single person at that ice cream shop, and He died for Gary, and He died for me. Whether we happen to be all enjoying a cone at the same time, or whether we are out trying to save the world, it's interesting to see all the different people who come across our paths in life, knowing that God loves us all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Bullet Points

When we tell the stories of our lives, we tend to sort of “bullet point” the big events and leave out the details. These details may be mundane, or they may be lessons learned, or personal growth made, but we leave them out in the interest of time, and to spare whoever is on the receiving end of our stories every detail, from what brand toothpaste we use to how our faith was stretched during a decade-long life lesson.
I think that sometimes the details are as important as the bullet points. There can be a pack of lessons learned and wisdom gained behind one little sentence. For example, a bullet point to the story of my life is:
-I was told by numerous doctors that I would never have children, and I have given birth to two.
Behind that simple sentence are years of longing, disbelief, agony, prayers, tests, doctors, diagnosis, surgeries, and fertility treatments. Also behind that sentence are lessons in trust, faith, patience, and gratefulness. Going through that time in my life changed who I was, and even though it is a sentence - 19 words strung together – I am a whole different person behind that sentence than I was facing it.
The most recent “bullet point” to my testimony is a very simple, direct sentence:
- I had a miscarriage.
Now, I know that there are people who believe that there is a reason behind absolutely everything that happens in life. I tend to believe more that we live in a broken world, and sometimes bad things can happen. However, reflecting on this recent event in my life, and – three weeks out – not yet getting through a day without a few tears sliding out, I have decided to glean some wisdom from this tragedy. I have decided to take this opportunity to see what I can learn and how I can be a better person to the right-hand side of this sentence in the paragraph of my life than the person I was to the left of the sentence. And here is what I have learned:
From now on, I will be unapologetic about the fingerprints on my sliding glass door, because they are a sign that life is going on in this house, and the fact that there are little fingers to make those prints is a miracle in itself, so instead of finding them embarrassing, I’m not going to be so quick to wipe them off.
When my one-year-old son cries every.single.night at exactly midnight, just wanting a little cuddle for all of five minutes before drifting back to sleep, I’m going to go in and cuddle him. I'm not going to feel guilty that I should be letting him “cry it out,” because one night he is going to sleep through our little midnight date, and I’ll never get to go back to that. So if I want to sit and continue to rock him, even after he’s been asleep for a while, and smell his sweet hair, then I will. I may be a little more tired in the morning, but I have the rest of my life to catch up on that sleep. Besides, I don’t know how many more nights I’ll get that little wake-up call, and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Chances are that one day he won’t want to be caught dead letting his mamma sniff his head, so I’ll let his little fingers curl around mine and wonder what he is dreaming about as he sleeps softly in my arms for one more night, thank you very much.
When my three-year-old crawls into bed with us every so often in the middle of the night and snuggles up to me, using my arm as a teddy bear, instead of carting her immediately off to bed, worried what others might think of me for – gasp- letting her stay in the bed with us, I’m going to snuggle her right back and stroke her hair, amazed that I even have a little girl to snuggle. I’m going to remember the days when I was a “barren” teacher, and was trying to swallow the news that the only children in my life were to be other people’s children who I taught. I’m going to remember the three months of bed-rest that I went through at the end of my pregnancy with her, and how those were the longest three months of my life. I'll think about trying to keep her in there so she could bake longer, but finding it more and more difficult to keep on waiting to meet her, and once I did meet her, wondering how on earth I ever lived without her. And maybe one day, a bullet point in her life’s story will be that her mamma snuggled with her every chance she got.
When I’m at Busch Gardens watching Sesame Street Live for the 42nd time, but seeing the magic of it through my kids’ eyes, I’m going to remember what a marvelous age three years old is. I'll think about what a privilege it is to have learned to enjoy discovering life with a three-year-old before it’s too late. I’m going to try to enjoy the magical world of three, tantrums and all, because I have a baby in heaven who will never see three-years-old on this earth, so each day of “three” is a gift.
When I look into our home’s “den/office” and see a “playroom/playroom,” I will be grateful that this room isn’t really being used as a boring office, rather it is a place where imaginations can whisk you away, towers and towns can be built of blocks, chocolate covered celery can be cooked and served, and baby dolls with bizarre names like Princess Peanut Butter can drive remote control cars without a license. I will remember to look around that colorful room and think about the fun times we have already had in there, and anticipate new memories that will be made.
When I stop and remember the life of a baby that I know but have never held, that I felt but never saw, I will be grateful that this precious child taught me so much in such a short amount of time: that life is so fragile and must be appreciated to be truly lived, and that there is a depth of intimacy with the Father that can only be obtained through brokenness and grief, and so hard times must come every once in a while. And those times in my life when my patience seems short and the days seem long, and I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed, I will go to the playroom and have tea with Princess Peanut Butter and the loveliest two kids any mom could ever ask for, and I’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


We went to Busch Gardens today. In spite of the fact that the calendar says that fall is looming around the corner, it was hot. "Dante's Inferno" kind of hot. I picked up on people saying, "It's still better than summertime," and that is true, but make no mistake, it was HOT. We were all a sweaty, sticky, disgusting mess when we piled our tired bodies back into the car at the end of the day. The first thought that came to my head when I collapsed into the car was, 'A shower is going to feel sooooooo good.' It seems that the dirtier you get, the better a shower feels, and the more clean you feel when you are done. If there is a day when I basically stay indoors and don't do much, then when I take a shower, it's OK, but I don't step out of the shower feeling transformed or anything. When I've had a day much like today, when the funkiness of the outdoors is clingling for dear life to my skin and I feel as if the only reasonable choice for the garments I am wearing is to burn them, a shower makes all the difference in the world. I feel like a new woman. I can literally feel the filth running off of me, and when I step out I actually feel lighter. It's the best feeling, and can only be helped by immediately jumping into a bed with sheets that are still warm from the drier. That is the perfect storm of coziness right there.
It's the same thing, I think, with sin. There are people who think that they have been too awful, sinned too much, done too many unthinkable things, to even try to approach God and ask for forgiveness. What these people are missing out on is feeling the cleanest they have ever felt. They have the opportunity for the God who created the universe to wash away their sin and for them to stand before Him completely clean and forgiven, and all they have to do is ask. Their load would actually feel lighter if they would just ask for forgiveness and accept the grace and mercy that the Father lovingly offers to all of His children. It is such an amazing concept, and I think that so many miss out on it, for fear that they aren't good enough to be forgiven, which is the awful irony of the whole thing. There are many passages in the Bible that speak of being washed, made whiter than snow, and we are urged to approach the throne and ask for forgiveness. If no one were to take the Father up on His offer, then His Son would have died in vain. So if you haven't, I urge you, give it a try. It's the best feeling ever; I promise. Jumping into a bed with warm sheets doesn't even compare.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Anyone who knows Malia knows that she has never been what you would call a good sleeper. We had to revert to sleep training when she was eight months old because she was still waking up multiple times each night, and if I didn't sleep through the night soon, it was quite possible that I was going to finish going insane at a much quicker rate than originally projected. Ivan and I resolutely decided to let her "cry it out" one night. That stubborn baby cried for five solid hours before she collapsed in her crib. It was the most horrible night, having to listen to that screaming and not move toward her to comfort her. The second night, she "only" cried for two hours, and the third night, thirty minutes. She slept fairly well for over a year, and Ivan and I congratulated each other on our small victory. Then we moved her into a toddler bed. It never occurred to her to get up out of the bed, but it did freak her out for a while, and the sleep training started all over. She began wanting to be wrapped super-tight, like a mummy, to feel safe I guess, and that was how she slept for months and months. She had to have one particular blanket wrapped around her like a mummy, then another blanket wrapped around her feet, and yet another particular blanket wrapped on top of that one. She had to have her Abby Cadabby doll on her left side with one of Abby's arms touching her, and her Dora doll on her right side, with one arm touching her. She called it "cozy." We called it ridiculous. She looked like a freak and I have no idea how she slept like that, but she did. We were beginning to worry about her a little. Why did she have to have this whole dog and pony show every night just to get some rest? One night, she decided she didn't want to be wrapped "cozy" anymore, and we relaxed a little, because she was becoming more and more normal. Then we moved to a new house. Back to square one. We have been in this house one month today, and she has not slept through the night yet. We have tried EVERYTHING. I've changed her diet, made her stay up through her nap, let her go to bed later to see if she is more tired, made her jump on a trampoline to wear her out, given her milk and stories and soft music...nothing works. Last night, she slept from 8 pm to 11:30 pm, then was wide awake until 4 am. As I am typing, I am sitting in her rocking chair while she is in bed, making sure she doesn't get out. It is exhausting getting this child to get some rest. I am at my wit's end.
That makes me wonder, though, why it takes so much for us to get some rest. We work and work and work, so that we can try to rest a little. How many people work for the weekend? How many live for vacation? How many people, if given a choice of anything in the world, would choose to just go to bed and get some rest? I think of the things in life I juggle, and how much I plan around naptime, and hoping for Naptime Overlap, when both kids sleep at the same time so I can get a catnap in. I think of how hard I work at keeping my house clean, because I relax better when I have a clean house and cannot rest when it is chaotic.
What about rest in general....peace in your life? Just as I pulled all sugar out of Malia's diet in hopes that she will sleep through the night, what crap should we remove from our lives so that we can find peace? I read somewhere that it's not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What's hard is figuring out what you're willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about. If you really care about rest, or peace in your life, what are you willing to give up in order to achieve that? I have found that I have had to cut out some unhealthy relationships with perpetually negative people so that I can find peace. I have also had to give up on some ideals that are too perfect and some impossible standards that I set for myself. I'm cutting myself a break. Peace above perfection, that is what I am striving for. I don't have to be Supermom, I just have to raise healthy kids who love Jesus, and do the best I can do each day without killing myself trying to make every moment memorable for my kids. I'm allowing myself to- without guilt or condemnation- plop them in front of Sesame Street so I can enjoy a cup coffee while chatting with a friend who makes me laugh. That will make for a more peaceful mommy and, then, happier kids. Jesus said to come to Him and He will give us rest. This most recent stage in my life, where my whole world changed, with a pregnancy and a move, then changed again, with a miscarriage and Malia beginning preschool and soccer, I have had to collapse in Jesus' lap to get rest. There have been nights when I wondered how I was going to get out of bed in the morning, because the grieving hurt so bad and I just wanted rest. But the Father would comfort me and, as the Bible says, I would go to bed grieving at night, but joy came in the morning, with a rose in bloom in my front yard and a smile on Gianni's face as he wakes up in his crib at the crack of dawn with his hair sticking out in every direction. I do what I can to allow for rest, then rely on the Father to deliver it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Baby's Rose

So, about a week after I miscarried, we decided to plant a rose bush in the front yard as a little memorial to the precious life we lost. I had been told by a few people who have been through the same thing that writing a letter to the baby helped them get through the grieving process as well. I couldn't bring myself to do write that letter, because it felt so final. I wasn't ready to say goodbye and move on. Another week went by, and the little rose bush didn't look so great. I was really scared that it was going to die, and the cruel irony of that was not lost on me. Last Wednesday, exactly two weeks after the miscarriage, while Ivan was out and the kids were asleep, I decided it was time to write the letter. I sat at my laptop sobbing, telling the baby how much we wanted and loved it, and how I couldn't wait to hold it in heaven. A full page of bottled up emotions that no one who saw me day-to-day knew I was feeling came pouring out into that letter. I folded up my laptop and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up to take Malia to preschool, and glanced at my poor little rose bush, and to my surprise, it was green and beautiful, with a fully bloomed rose and a tiny little bud. I felt such peace instantly, as if God was letting me know that my precious baby was with Him, and that He was watching over all of us. I am so grateful for miracles big and small, and for a God who takes the time to speak peace to someone like me in the midst of my grieving. He is so gracious!