February 2014


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They drive off, the three of them, in the oldest’s truck, and I walk back into an empty house. Not empty-sad, mind, just empty. And I think, there go my blessings.

I text my husband who is working away from home, and I say the same thing. And tell him I miss him.

I settle into the silence, magnified by the hum of the fridge and the oh-so-noisy click of the keyboard keys and the glug glug of the water as I pour it into my glass.

I look around my home, filled with things that make me happy, and think how breathless I am without the family.

I remember when the boys were small and we lived in that tiny house where the oldest boys slept in our closet and the youngest slept in the hallway outside our room. I remember when we moved from there, and how in the new house the boys slept in a room of their own with a door and everything, and I couldn’t sleep at first because I couldn’t hear them breathe.

These little times of absence, like today, are training I think. Helping me learn to breathe on my own.

But they are reminders, too. When I feel a lack of time or money or holiday or luxury, when I feel a lack of anything, I am reminded by days like today that all my really true blessings breathe and I am blessed above and beyond the edges of my cup.

When he was little he’d let his brothers do whatever they wanted, so this.

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Then he grew a bit and changed his mind about that. He wasn’t as willing to be the canvas upon which they expressed their creativity. He decided to have a say in it all, to be his own man, and he didn’t let them do whatever they wanted anymore.

Now he wears his hair short because long hair bugs him.

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He wears his jeans baggy and his sweaters wooly because that’s what makes him feel comfortable. And his socks are wool too and they fit just right into his knee-high water-proof, snow-proof, barn-proof, fashion-proof camouflage boots. And that old green army surplus jacket handed down from his older brother to finish the ensemble.

He’s completely fine with how he looks. He couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks.

I think I’m that way, too, until I’m standing in the Southland Mall in the city and every other woman there is wearing black leggings tucked into fashion boots.

I look down at my non-skinny jeans and my actual winter boots for, you know, winter… and I want to run to the nearest Aldo’s or Gap’s or wherever they get the cool clothes from and beg them to help me. To please make me look like everyone else.

Then I see him walking toward me with his dad, and he’s all bebopping along to the music in his head and I remember I helped him be that confident in himself and I creep back slowly from the peer-pressure ledge I was about to jump from.

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Really, don’t. And if that’s what you are doing, then just do the thing you carved up instead.

I have a friend, a good friend, who is a very busy person (who isn’t?). We would try to get together from time to time, back when the kids were smaller, and she would tell me she had an hour here or there she could give me, or a bit of time on the following afternoon she could offer. It always made me feel a little little, if you know what I mean.

Like the time I showed up at another friend’s house for a Christmas gift exchange we’d planned among three of us and our toddlers. I’d been so excited to have finally met some other women in this new little community I’d moved into, and I walked up to the house hauling my little sled with my little Tyson and our little gifts, and knocked on the door. And knocked again but there was no answer so I peeked my head in and called out we’re here, and walked in a couple of steps to hear two women sharing their unkind opinions about me and my family and my parenting and all the tender fears I’d spoken into the new friendships with them in those visits we’d had.

I put up some pretty strong cautious-about-friendship walls after that.

Maybe you’ve put up some walls, too. Because Sister, friendship can be a minefield of misstep and misunderstanding. Why is that, I wonder?

Why do I have to compare and compete and judge, even when I don’t want to. Why do I measure my parenting against your parenting, or my shape against your shape, or my faith walk against your faith walk?

It’s exhausting, isn’t it. I’ve been working on it for years. On being who I am and accepting who you are and experiencing the beauty of honest and true relationships. It’s one of the reasons I write what I write and try to be transparent and all that.

So really, don’t feel like you have to carve out time for me, because that’s more about you than it is about me.

If you don’t have time, you don’t have time and I’m fine with that.

If you have a little bit of time, enjoy the little bit of time without making me feel like I’m a sacrifice you are making.

And if you don’t really want to be friends, don’t pretend you do and then talk about me when you think I’m not listening.

And for the record, I’ll do the same with you.

Except when I mess up (and I probably will) and I do something to make you feel like you are a burden or a challenge or, heaven forbid, a project.

I don’t want to carve out time for you. If you are my friend then I want you to know I’m all in. I want to embrace and enjoy and luxuriate in the time I am fortunate enough to spend with you.

We are strong women. Let’s be women who care and are fierce about our love and who can trust each other with our hearts. Let’s work together and be happy for each other and be honest with each other. Let’s support and challenge and encourage each other. Let’s cheer our victories and mourn our losses and put aside our differences.

Let’s forgive.

Let’s be friends.

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The burden of abstinence. That’s how he said it in the beautiful piece he wrote about being an addict who hadn’t used in ten years.

The burden of abstinence, and the words are stuck in my head.

I’ve only dabbled in the substances, so to speak. A little drink and some grass smoked secondhand, back in the day. Honestly it scared me more than it tempted me and I said no to the magic mushrooms that time they were offered and I watched while they got high and I drove my boyfriend home from the parties when he’d had too much.

I was the good girl in the room and to tell you the truth it was a real drag.

Mostly just wading in up to my knees, and it’s not enough to swim and it’s not enough to stay dry and the waves swirling around are pushing and pulling and getting the hem of my dress wet.

Soggy is no fun, not when everyone else is either skinny dipping in the ocean or singing worship songs around a campfire on the beach.

But I’d been raised the way I’d been raised and there was no way I could get those sermons out of my head.

I’d been raised on the gospel of abstinence and maybe that was what kept me safe during those years. Safe enough, anyway. Let’s just say I wasn’t a saint. Not even close. And the gospel of don’t-do-this can only get you so far and there’s a lot of guilt that goes along with it when you aren’t a saint, like I wasn’t.

But what he was referring to in those words he wrote about his own addiction and his ten years free was that curious nostalgia that creeps in sometimes in the looking back. I was never an addict, not in the way he’s talking. But by times I’d let the waves pull me in, and the swimming was crazy and fun and free.

Some of my friends found their loves early and married them quick, and they look back on those years differently than do I.

I didn’t marry my first love. I didn’t spend my twenties with a childhood sweetheart or a college romance. I traveled and tried my hand at Doing Things For The Lord and dated a guy or two and lost my way for a while. You could say I went swimming more than I praised God on the beach, or at least as often, although mostly I waded wet in the shallows.

Now, I’m a sold out praise-the-Lord-er, yes I am. And maybe that’s because of the abstinence thing, or maybe Jesus found me in the ocean, or maybe I remembered he was there – ocean or sand or wherever I was – all along.

The burden of abstinence is still a thing. I won’t pretend it isn’t, only now I call it grace.

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When its early winter morning and the sun is still low and she’s just bathed and the room is warm… when it’s all that and she’s combed back her freshly shampooed hair, she’s beautiful in her bathroom mirror. It’s a trick, a Photoshop effect only real, but she tells herself she’ll remember that girl in the mirror for the rest of the day, because she is lovely.

You’re beautiful, she whispers as she Olays her face and neck, and she watches her eyes when she smiles and she says to herself that they are crinkling in the corners like they did when she was a girl.

She takes the extra minutes to sweeten her skin and the mango scented lotion covers arms and elbows and knees, as smooth and silky as the bottle advertises.

She knows it’s an illusion of kind morning light, but she carries that girl with her even as she dries her too-long-for-her-age hair with it’s wiry strands and it’s glinting silver. Even as the waning day reminds her the eye crinkles are actually wrinkles and the sweet morning scent fades into the reality of eggs frying and dishwater soap and something tracked in from the barn on the bottom of her boot.

The day wears itself on her face and the years are the years, there’s no denying them, but it’s a gift she gives herself each day, that morning exchange with herself, and she’ll unwrap it again tomorrow.