Received Damaged

I went to visit my parents recently.  And maybe visit isn’t the right word.  More like, escape.

My life had taken an unexpected turn, and I didn’t know where else to go.

After a cancelled Southwest flight and extended stay in Portland, the kids and I finally made it to Kansas City.  The humidity greeted us at the gate.  It was sticky hot and oh-so-familiar.  But, as soon as I heaved my suitcase off the baggage carrousel, I noticed something.  There, plastered in the center of my suitcase, was a sticker that read, “Received Damaged.”

Really?!?  Was my suitcase that beaten up and run-down?  So the stitching may be coming undone, and the corners smashed in.  But, “damaged”?  It sounded so morbid and final and well, shameful.

 

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And yet, I decided to leave the sticker.  The meaning behind it grew some legs.

I realized that it wasn’t just my bag that was received damaged.  It was me.  I came home with all kinds of devastation.  I was a jumbled mess of tears and doubts.  And my family listened.  They heard The Story.  They surrounded me with love and understanding and encouragement.  They received me.  Damaged.

I don’t think I could have made it without them.  Because, we can’t do it alone.  We need people in our lives who will take us – damaged and all.  We need friends who will hold our hands in the darkness.  We need family who will pray us through the desert.  We need each other.  

I wish my suitcase, and life, were all put back together by the time I flew home.

The truth is, I’m still broken.

But, I also know that I’ll be okay.

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The space between

Last week, we joined my family on a cruise. We were herded through the ship terminal to a floating hotel – full of chipper employees, ornate carpets, and tiny bathrooms.

It was everything a vacation should be.

But peel back the buffet lines, flashy shows, and shimmering pools and you realize you are in the middle. of. the. ocean.  And there is nothing and no one in sight.  It’s just Blue.  All blue.

I was thinking about this, and I realized that when you’re on land, life feels stable.  Solid and sturdy.  But, spend a few days on the water and suddenly everything feels different. Unnatural.  You live at the mercy of the weather and the vessel.

Living in the space between sky and water, liquid and gas, you’re reminded how fluid life is. Everything moves.

Land only gives us the illusion of stability.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that we are in control.  But, the truth is, everything – every element – moves.  Plates shift.  The ground quakes.  The planets spin.

And maybe that’s why I love the feeling of floating in the middle of the ocean.  Take away land and you take away the illusion.  You’re only left with the swaying of the waves and the pushing of the wind.

You give up control and let the force of something bigger, much bigger, carry you.

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On Perspective

Memorial Weekend, we had no plans. While everyone and their dog was going camping/boating/paddle-boarding/hiking/having-the-time-of-their-life, we stayed in.

Which is not a bad thing.

The kids asked if we could pitch our tent outside, and I had to tell them that we hadn’t fixed the poles… soooo, No.
A full-blown, dramatic melt-down ensued, and I countered with a pathetic, “Let’s build our OWN tent!”

They didn’t buy it. Their short-lived dreams of backyard camping were just that: short lived. But, I wasn’t about to let them pout that easily. I started tossing out ideas of building the Best Tent Ever. “We could use the ladder. And drape sheets. And watch a movie. And make s’mores. C’mon guys!! It will be AMAZING!”

As I started dragging all the necessary ingredients out, they slowly joined in. Plodding at first. Then, sprinting. We brought down every musty sheet stored in the back of the closet we could find. We duct-taped every seam. We hung up lights and dropped off blankets.

Eloise squealed, “This is the Most. Epic. Tent. EVER!!” She couldn’t wait to show her friends and neighbors. The most mundane thing was magical.

We ate dinner around the invisible campfire in the alleyway, burned marshmallows over the stovetop, and watched a Disney channel flick before falling asleep to the sound of the dishwasher.

Marcel Proust said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

You don’t have to have a picturesque place to make picture-perfect memories.
You just need to have the right perspective.

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What they don’t say

This past weekend, we celebrated our anniversary. Sixteen years in, and I realized something.

When you’re first married, they tell you things like:
…Congratulations!
….Wishing you a lifetime of love!
…You guys are perfect for each other!

But, there’s a lot they don’t say.

They don’t tell you:
…that the fights you had while you were dating are only 1.3 on the Richter scale compared to the ones you have years and roadblocks later.

…that one insignificant morning, you’ll look over and realize that you’re married to a complete stranger.

…that the habits you once thought of as quirky are, in fact, annoying.

…that all the songs are about falling in love or breaking with love. But few are about the expansive middle of staying.

…that when you argue over thermostats and dishes and disciplining, you’re actually arguing over big things like expectations and values.

…that romance isn’t like Hollywood portrays it. And sometimes it is much, much better.

…that one night there will be in an elephant in the room and ignoring it will only make it grow bigger. Until it’s impossible to pretend-you-don’t-notice and you say something. Or suffocate.

…that you will watch friends and family step on the land mines of betrayal. You’ll be hit with the shrapnel and forever carry the scars.

…that you will find your role and your rhythm. It may take years to perfect, but once you do, the wheel will run smooth. The groove deep.

…that you’ll take turns being crazy, frantic, and worried. Like a seesaw, rarely will you both be perfectly balanced. And the momentum keeps you going.

…that you’ll have to talk through it. Even when you’re so, so tired. And the To Do list is too long. And the alarm clock rings too early. You have to talk.

…that marriage is a lot like cars. The sparkle and newness wears out right about the time it needs major maintenance. And while it’s tempting to trade it in, don’t. Because in a few more decades it becomes more valuable that before. It’s deemed classic. Vintage. And rare.

…that you will create a History. One that no one but the two of you will ever share. You’ll hold each other’s secrets and wishes.  Shame and desires.

…that you will fail. You’ll mess up. You’ll hurt each other with your thoughts and words and actions. And if you’re lucky, you’ll both stick around.

…that it’s worth it. Even when it’s less like Happily Ever After, and more like Compromising Ever After. The give-and-take is a delicate dance. But one that is captivating.

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Fathering

The best dad I know is fatherless.  Not by choice, but by circumstance.  His first one exited at age 3, the second one walked out when he was 27.

Chris doesn’t have a dad to talk to on the back porch.  Or join for a “quick” game of golf.  He doesn’t get lectured or advised.  Or even called on his birthday.

He’s leading us. 
Without a guide.

And yet, despite his messed-up models, I can’t think of a better example.

Chris makes the kids’ breakfasts, packs their lunches, and prepares our dinners.
He goes on field trips.  And volunteers for forest days.
He takes out splinters and cleans up spills.
He teaches our kids to wear helmets, jump curbs, to say sorry, to season everything, to use their words, and to notice others.
He listens to their bed-time ramblings and turns up the volume when they start to dance.
He buys them new shoes when his own are beyond worn-out.
He gives.  And gives some more.

When our six-year-old begged for a haircut and our schedule kept conflicting with the barbershop’s, Chris offered to cut it himself.

Mind you, he had never cut hair.  He had never been taught the skills or been given the tools.  He only knew what a good haircut looked like.

After 45 minutes and one major meltdown of “It’s-too-long… I-look-like-a-girl ”Chris went back to the drawing board, er bathroom, and tried again.

Duke loved it.
And I loved him.

Not having a good example does’t mean we’re doomed to the same pattern.  It just means that we have to create our own.

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So, to all the dads who are trying to figure it out,
We Need You.
To the dads who know spending time with the kids is as valuable as spending time at the office,
We Love You.

Keep Fathering.

Beauty

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Before we visited the orchards in Hood River, I never could really imagine the Garden of Eden.  Now, at last, I can.

There were rows upon rows of every fruit tree/bush/vine you could imagine.  Think fifty shades of green, dotted with bright bursts of warm colors.  The kids raced each other in who could pick the most strawberries, while Chris and I wandered Walk-in-the-Clouds-like through the grape vines.
Then, with sheers in hand, we tromped through the flower beds to cut the perfect bouquet.
Days later, our house still smells of peony blossoms – like bath powder and pink cheeks.

And, then the thought struck me:

Do you think flowers know that they’re beautiful?

Or do they have thoughts like…
I wish my stem was thinner.
My leaves are too flabby.
I never looked good in red.
I wish my buds were bigger.
My petals are so wrinkly.
If only I was taller.
The humidity doesn’t help.
Oh goodness, gravity.

It seems silly that they would even question their beauty.  Just as I have never seen a flower that I didn’t love.

Perhaps we should take a lesson from the flowers.

That beauty is being exactly who you were created to be.

In the form and shape you were given.

Growing roots and leaning towards the sun.

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Mess

It started as mud pies.  A relatively safe, tidy (as far as dirt goes) kind of playing.  I imagine kids have been making mud pies as long as men have been whistling at women.

Forever.
But, then they wanted to smash the mud pies.  And smear them.
Eloise insisted on making mud soup.  Which led to pouring it over her head.  Which led to her brother doing the same.  Which led to the friends following behind.

What started as simple mud pie turned into a full-body mud bath.

I probably should have stopped them.  The clean-up was annoying.  The water bill will undoubtedly be high.
But.
The laughter was contagious.
The shrieking, hilarious.
And the reactions were priceless.

So many times, I’ve planned on doing ______________, but it suddenly turned into ___________________.

Like when I planned on taking photos and collecting stories of Love’s firsts, but then realized instead of hiding behind others’ stories, I should be telling my own.

There’s nothing wrong with mud pies.
But, I think I’m ready to embrace the mess.
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