April 2014


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I wish I could title this post the first and last time I threw shame at my son, but that would be a lie.

I can say I’ve tried. I can say I’ve worked hard to be a good mom, most of the time. I can say I’ve said sorry to my kids when I’ve done wrong. I can say I have amazing children, so there’s that.

But I remember the first time clearly, like you remember a scene in a movie.

He was little, toddling around my kitchen in that little trailer we lived in when he was born. I’m sure I was tired and maybe mad at my husband about something, or lonely because we’d moved into a community where it had been tough to make friends, or who knows? He was by the fridge, reaching for something I didn’t want him to have. I told him no and he grinned that baby grin that says I hear you but I’m doing this anyway, and then I yelled at him.

You know the expression, his face fell? I know exactly what that looks like, because his did. He looked confused and hurt and anxious, and he started to cry. And I cried, too. Because something changed that day. That day, I realized I would fail my children.

Of course I held him and kissed him and of course he loved me still, and I suppose he forgot about it.

But I haven’t. Nor have I forgotten the time I slapped a little boy’s hands at a group gathering, and heard the woman beside me gasp. Nor have I forgotten the time my little man came up to me with a mouth so full of candy he could hardly speak and I made him go make a slobbery confession and apology to my friend whose kitchen goodie drawer he’d raided.

There are other times, but these memories are enough to spit bad mommy at me when they come to mind.

Of all the things I wish I could change about raising my boys, shaming them is at the top of the list.

Shaming them was never about them. Shaming them, every single time I did it, was about me. It was always about my insecurity, my need to look like a good mom, my difficult relationship with someone else.

These have been the hardest mommy moments in which to find forgiveness. I’ve owned them. I’ve apologized for them. I’ve asked for forgiveness for them, but they linger at the edges of my memory. If I could have parenting do-overs, these would be the ones.

I don’t know how you get through the parenting years without mistakes. I guess you can’t.

I do know my kids have a shining example of an imperfect mom who, in spite of all her mistakes and mess, loves them to heaven and back.

Thank goodness for grace.

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Does it seem to you like the world is becoming more and more opinionated?

Everyone wants to know what everyone thinks about everything. Which doesn’t seem to generate much in the way of relational conversation, in my opinion.

It seems we are no longer allowed the luxury of an evolving thought process. We’re not supposed to be in the midst of working anything out. We’re supposed to have arrived. To take a stand. To pick a side. To hold a position. And to defend that position mightily with social media words and shares.

We define each other by our retweets and reposts. We miss (misunderstand, mistake, misread, misrepresent) each other in the process.

To be clear, I’m not an anti-social media vigilante. I love blogging. I love when people comment or message or email me about things I’ve written, even when they don’t agree with me. I like Facebook for lots of reasons. I enjoy twitter. But these can be difficult conversational arenas when we expect more from them than they can provide.

I used to read the blog of a guy who wrote funny stuff about church and faith. He was a master at satire. He was clever and insightful and, like I said, funny. But then he started getting mean. He destroyed people in the comments. He made fun of their, in his opinion, poor logic and flawed reasoning. I quit reading him, because who has time for that I’m so superior garbage?

In light of all that, here’s where I’m at on some hotly debated, world-changing subjects, in no particular order:

1. I love Star Wars. I think the original three are far superior to the later three. I think JJ Abrams would make an awesome new movie, even if he does the alternate timeline thing like he seems to do in everything he makes. But I’m willing to hear your opinion on this crucial matter and I won’t call you an idiot if you disagree with me. )I also love all the Rocky movies, although my least favourite scene is the montage, complete with cheesy ’80’s music, where Apollo is training Rocky and they’re wearing the silly workout clothes and running on the beach.)

2. I think a clean house is important. I know babies grow up fast and all that, but I think you can spend loads of time with your children and still keep things reasonably clean. But if you struggle with that, whatever. Whether you like homey clutter or minimalism or chaos… whatever.

3. I think teaching your kids at home is a great thing to do. But I don’t think it’s a great thing for everyone to do. They are your kids. You get to decide.

4. I think its okay for a mom to browse on her phone while her kids are playing at the park. I think kids at the park are there to learn to play, to make stuff up, to imagine, to learn to share, and they can do all that without moms holding their hands at every moment. I think sometimes holding hands is holding back. Let ’em go, and take a break now and then.

5. I think women who breastfeed in public should make an effort to cover up a bit. Ya, I know. Not a popular opinion these days, but there you go. Call me old-fashioned. But if you think differently, oh well. I’m not going to rush my kids out of the restaurant just because you decide to bare boob it at your table next to me. And hey, maybe this is one of those things I’ll change my mind about in time. Who knows? But in the meantime, let’s play nice even if we disagree.

6. I think God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit are real. I think people who agree with me on the first statement can disagree with me about a lot of other things. I accept that. But let’s play nice, even if we disagree.

7. I think we (I) can spend so much time thinking about things, we (I) can forget to do things.

8. I think teenagers are some of the coolest people on earth.

9. I think meaningful life is about more than a bucket list.

10. I think there are things I don’t have to put on a list even if they are things you think are super important, because there are things I’m allowed to be undecided or uncertain about, and that’s okay, too.

There you go. My off-the-top-of-my-head list of ten things and what I think about them today. Tomorrow’s list might be very different.

What would you put on your list, today?

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You graduated!

Goodbye university; hello rest of your life. I wish would could be there to help you celebrate it all this weekend.

Since I can’t, here’s the thing. Actually, here are a few things…

You don’t remember this, but I’m sure you’ve been told. You were not an easy baby. You arrived loud and fussy and with a mind of your own about what you liked and didn’t like. You changed the rules, right from the start, about what it meant to raise a child, and how parenting is not something you can simply plan and execute, but it’s something you grow into and learn into and lean into. And how sometimes it’s a fearful thing, growing a child up. You taught me that before I had kids of my own.

It was a good lesson to learn early.

I think of you, all chubby toddler, and you had sass, even then. You and I would sit and tell stories at your kitchen table, eating your mom’s macaroni casserole with peas. We’d make’em up, wild stories about such things as my crazy dog Flint and how we we’d take him for walks and he’d be naughty and we’d finally get so tired of looking after him that we would decide to cook him for supper. Ew. Ew. But you loved it and you’d laugh and laugh.

You taught me the importance of having fun.

You were my buddy back then when life kept us closer than it does now. We’d take exotic trips to the mall or the university or the park, and you were so funny. Goodness, you were fun to be with. I picture you in your hot pink leggings and your hair wild. A crazy, laughing prairie flower. I missed you so much when you moved.

You have prairie roots, and don’t you forget it.

Gosh, you are a beauty. You’ve grown into such a beauty. You are all kinds of fresh loveliness, the lovely of good genetics and good health and good dental care. But you wear your beauty casually. You are a messy bun kind of girl, and it’s no secret that if there is a pin on a clean floor you will find it and trip over it. But that’s your charm. That gracious juxtaposition of angelic beauty and Mr. Magoo-ness. Messy beauty, that’s you, and that’s the real thing, I think.

You are the real deal.

I’ve missed you these past years. You’ve grown up in another place doing other things and I’ve watched from the outer edges as you’ve tackled challenges and I think you’ve learned some important things about life through it all. You’ve had to face some hard things, and you’ve had to give up some wonderful things, and you’ve had to learn that life has as many goodbyes as it has hellos. You’ve learned that finishing is a lot harder than starting.

You finished this college thing. Yay you!

And now you are off on an adventure. The first of many, I hope. I’m so excited for you. I’m excited for the things you will see and touch and taste and experience. I know it will be amazing. I know it will be challenging. I know there will be messy bits along the way but I know you are up for it all.

And this guy I’ve heard about. Rick? Mick?

You know I think he’s not good enough for you, right? I mean, I’ve never met him and he’s probably perfectly nice and all, but you are my precious angel, daughter of my heart, first child to call me auntie, and I love you more than words can begin to express. So this guy whose name ends with ick, well, he’d better watch himself.

And this adventure you are heading out on? I know your mom would like me to tell you to “be careful” and “be safe,” and yes, I hope you will be. But it’s a trip around the world, for heaven’s sake. So I’ll just say, “don’t be stupid” and leave it at that.

When you get back, sometime when you need less adventure and more quiet, come visit me. We’ll sit in my yellow chairs on my porch, under GG’s old pink quilt, and drink tea and talk about travel and life and love and Jesus.

I love you, Brea. You know I’m wiping tears as I write this, because you are my girl. You are my precious, precious girl and I love you with all the love an old auntie could possibly have.

Congratulations on your graduation, and take lots of pictures on your trip!

Not a mountain in sight, here.

Not a mountain in sight, here.

I don’t think I saw this anywhere else but on Instagram.

I follow the National Geographic account there, just for fun. I love the casual photojournalism. I love that these photographers, who I now know by name and photographic subjects, post pics of iPhone shots, or outtakes from the magazine. I love the personal touches, the I was feeling this when I captured this shot, the sometimes imperfectness of it all.

One week ago, Pete McBride posted a photo of a climber and said this…

A climber is dwarfed by towers of frozen debris on Everest’s Khumbu Ice Fall, one of the most dangerous regions on the mountain’s south side. Every spring climbing season, a small team of Sherpa build the route through this perilous zone that stretches between 18,000 and 20,000 feet. While most climbers try to limit their exposure in this jungle of crashing glacier, these Sherpa known as the ‘Ice Doctors’ go up and down every other day for 2 months to maintain the route.

Then, Andy Bardon posted this…

Well, it’s climbing season on Mt. Everest, where each day seems to be a balancing act. Team logistics, acclimatization, physical hardship, and objective danger are all part of the deal. Wishing all a safe season, & massive thanks to the Sherpa that make it all possible.

And a day later, from Aaron Huey posted with a photo of Sherpa climbers circling their altar at basecamp before ascending the Khumbu icefall on their way to the summit of Mt. Everest…

My prayers go out to the family and friends of the Sherpa climbers who died on Everest today.

From Stephen Alvarez…

A high altitude helicopter drops off survivors from the avalanche on Mt Everest yesterday in Pheriche, Nepal. Survivors and the dead were transferred to a military helicopter for the final flight home. All day long trekking down the Khumbu we’ve been met with a steady stream of monks heading up valley to attend to the funerals of the dozen dead Sherpa climbers. Yesterday was the most deadly day in Everest climbing history. My heart goes out to the residents of the Khumbu Valley.

And then today, from Aaron Huey…

I have been at a loss for what to do in these days after the Everest tragedy. As a photographer who has worked with the Sherpa community (for an upcoming story at National Geographic), I am devastated. Two of the deceased were men I knew. At the end of the day I decided to give back to the community that gave so much to me, by creating a Sherpa Photo Fund. Some of the best photographers in the world joined me. For this week only, 10 of us who have worked in the region will be donating small, signed prints of our work for sale. 100% of the proceeds (after printing and shipping) will go to the Sherpa community – distributed by the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation (nonprofit), which has been working with Sherpa climbers in the Khumbu since 2003. By purchasing a print today, you are helping provide relief to Sherpa families in crisis, as well as long-term support that transcends this single incident. Together, we can help to build a more comprehensive safety net for the high-altitude workers who help so many Westerners realize their dreams of the summit. To buy a print and learn more about distribution of funds visit Sherpa Photo Fund here.

I’ve been struck hard by this story as it’s played out in my Instagram feed, among the pictures of my family and friends and my own pictures of my kids doing kid things. The contrast has been stark and compelling.

I can’t help but think of the Sherpa and the role they play over there in that other place, that distant world so removed from the prairie on which I live.

Their work is for the benefit of others. They prepare the way. It could almost be biblical, the example of perseverance and fortitude and patience and preparation. Kind of John the Baptist-ish.

But really, it’s their work. It’s their adaptation to a system that entered their world. I don’t know if they love it or hate it, or maybe it’s both, but they do it.

It’s beautiful in captured photograph, but hard in real life. Kind of like a lot of things.

If you are so inclined, the photos for sale are six inches by six inches of beauty. Each is $100 plus shipping.

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Monday was fine. Fine, as in warm, snow almost melted, glorious bright sun after a long winter.

Fine enough to get us out of bed early to gobble down a quick breakfast and head outside. Because on the first warm day of spring, my husband wants to burn things.

I could smell the smoke before I got the dishes cleared.

There’s something about new warmth that makes us want to disappear the old cold. The winter’s accumulated pile of mouldy bales and dead animals and general yard yuck. He gathered it all and lit it up and called the boys to watch it. Because a fire of old stuff can out-of-control itself pretty quick when spring is not yet green.

I walked out to check on them, gathered around the burning pile. One on the fence, one on his bike, another on the dirt road with the dog. Sitting and watching the winter garbage disappear. Raking it from time to time to keep it from spilling into the still dry field around it.

I don’t know if there is a lesson in this. If I thought hard enough I could probably come up with something.

Really, though, it’s just a thing to do on the first warm day of spring.

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I’ve had a cold this week. And my husband has been working out of town and I’ve still had six people to take care of in between the coughing bouts and the sneezing and the poor-me-my-head-hurts moments.

It kind of felt like suffering, but even while I was in the middle of feeling sorry for myself I knew I didn’t really get suffering.

And on Good Friday, when I’m thinking about the Jesus of dusty roads and mountain sermons and upper rooms, the Jesus who carried a wooden beam to a hill of death, the Jesus who was stretched and nailed and lifted and who died in plain view of family and friends and enemies… on this day, like no other day, I know I don’t know.

If I’m honest, I don’t want to know. I don’t know how Paul could have written that, really, and actually meant it. He said it more than once, so he must have.

I’m not a theologian, but I can google.

… that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

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Here’s what I see in this verse. I see the resurrection part (see, he says it twice) bracketing the suffering and death part, and that seems important to me.

I think I see this. I think the power of His resurrection comes first in this verse because that’s the power that takes me through my life. That’s the power that takes me through the ups and downs and the challenges of faith and eventually, hopefully, to faithful death. Faithful to the end, like Him, and then the beautiful resurrection, like His.

This is what I think on this Good Friday, while the spring rain falls cold – funeral weather – and the cross is in the back of my mind. I think the fellowship of His suffering begins with first accepting the power of His resurrection.

It’s backwards or upside down, maybe, but that’s what He does. That’s what His death does. His resurrection surrounds it all, even death.

That’s Good Friday.

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So many memorable things happen over a meal. Gather some friends and relax into the evening and who knows where the conversation might take you.

Who knows.

The teacher might even surprise everyone by taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves and washing everybody’s dirty feet. And wouldn’t we all wonder at that. And if he did that humble job, and then served out the meal with words that made his friends scratch their heads, well, you’d have the last meal Jesus spent with his disciples. You’d have fellowship and service and gutted honesty and uncertainty about the future.

This is Jesus in the flesh. This is Jesus with his friends, and even his enemies. This is Jesus, teaching by example even as danger looms.

He finishes the meal. There’s Gethsemane and betrayal and the cross ahead, but he finishes the meal with his friends, and he asks them to follow the example he showed them that evening. He asks them to love each other.

It’s Maundy Thursday and some people publicly honour that request in different ways. The Queen of England hands out little pouches filled with coins. The Pope washes the feet of elderly and disabled people in Rome.

But if you’re not the queen or the pope, and the people around you don’t want to take off their socks and shoes for you, what do you do?

I guess you sit at the table with him for a while first. You sit in fellowship and you marvel at his teaching and his incredible example of selfless service and you let it all sink deep into your soul, the fellowship and service and gutted honesty and even the uncertainty about the future.

Then you push away from the table with your clean feet and your sweet memories, and you do your best to walk in that grace.

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