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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David & Karyn

Eva Gabor once said, “Love is a game that two can play and both win.”  And sometimes, all you need is a friend to introduce you to the player who will change the game, and your life, forever.

Looking back, Karyn and David were equally matched.  Both grew up in Salem.  Both worked at a Starbucks coffee shop.  Both went to the same gym and attended the same church.   But it wasn’t until a foggy morning in the fall of 2003 that their paths crossed.

Karyn was meeting her friend, Crystal, at Starbucks when David walked in.  Crystal also happened to be friends with David – so naturally, Crystal introduced the two to each other.  Perhaps it wasn’t love at first sight, but it was the beginning of something. 

Crystal encouraged Karyn to get to know him, but only after Karyn ran into him at the gym, and later at church, did she think it was more than a coincidence.  Three encounters in one day?  Surely it was fate.

At least, that’s what she says.  David, however, remembers it differently.  “We saw each other at the gym later.  We said hi.  It was cool.  But we didn’t see other at church.”  Regardless of the details, they both remember what happened next.

A couple of days after their introduction, Crystal tried her hand at matchmaking again.  She called David to see where he was.  And with Karyn in tow, the girls tried to catch him at another favorite hangout: Governor’s Cup coffee shop.  Unfortunately, they were too late.  He had just left.

Karyn wasn’t about to lose that easily.  She got up the nerve to call him.  But, it went straight to voicemail.  The reason?  He was at the movies.  On a date.  With another girl.

Karyn had left a message saying “Heyy!  If you ever want to hang out, just call me back!”  And then she waited.  And waited.  Finally, David returned her call.  She says it took him ten days; he says it was only a week.  Either way, the clock had started.  “By that point, I was totally intrigued.”

For their first date, they decided to meet at  Governor’s Cup coffee shop… after David went on a second date with the other girl.  He says that having two dates together allowed him to compare.  “The date with the other girl was forced.”  But with Karyn, it was different. 

While Karyn sipped on Chai tea latte, David “talked about coffee like a nerd.”  The countries where coffee is grown.  The variety of beans.  For twenty minutes, he rattled on while Karyn feigned interest.  She remembers thinking, “I work at a coffee shop, I should play this card.” Admittedly, she knew nothing about coffee.  Heck, she didn’t even drink it.

Later, they walked around downtown Salem.  They laughed and laughed.  And David went home thinking, “This girl, Karyn, is awesome!  We had so much fun together.”

After that first date, they started spending more and more time together. Then, on New Year’s Eve, after watching (cough, cough) I,Robot at the home where David was housesitting, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

The pursuit had paid off.  Karyn got what she wanted.  “I was excited about the commitment because it took all the guesswork out of it.”

However, with the New Year came new challenges.  Not only had Karyn committed to David, she had also committed to transfer to Azusa Pacific.  The 1st of January, she drove down the coast – far away from Salem.  And David.

The distance between them was not just physical.  Karyn says, “I changed my mind at least six times.”  They talked on the phone.  David came to visit.  But, their relationship was unsteady. 

Finally, they decided to break off all contact from each other the last three weeks of the spring semester.  If God wanted them together, He would let them know.

Karyn was conflicted.  Then, her last week at Azusa, she went on a women’s retreat.  There, she felt God’s answer.  She would move home, finish her degree at Western Oregon, and if David would still have her, they would be together.

After a semester of separation and three weeks of silence, David and Karyn decided to meet for dinner in Salem.  The conversation stayed light.  Neither of them brought up where-things-stood.  Finally, before dropping David off at the end of the night, Karyn opened up.  She sighs, “I decided I was all in.” Luckily, David agreed.

The game had suddenly changed.  “We decided to give it a try.  We committed to making it work.” Karyn says.

It also picked up pace.  They spent all summer together – “dating, playing, and going to concerts.”  By fall, they had The Talk and even threw out the idea of a summer wedding.

Karyn laughs as she remembers waiting for the proposal.  “I left every single holiday open.  Christmas? New Year’s? Valentine’s??  Nope.”

Just as she waited for him to call her back at the beginning, she had to wait again.  Finally, on March 15, 2006, it happened. They drove to Portland to celebrate Karyn’s 22nd birthday.  Karyn teases David how he got lost driving.  And how his hands were unusually sweaty. 

They ate at their favorite Thai restaurant, and David gave her a bouquet of flowers; the same ones that he had left her in class earlier that day.  Then, after dropping off the leftover food and flowers in the car, he dropped down on one knee: “Will you marry me?”

Beaming, she said yes.  They walked to Papa Haydn’s for dessert where all of their friends and family were waiting.  Never mind that the ring was too big.  Or that the engagement would be short.  In Karyn’s mind it was “success!!”

They got married on August 19, 2006.  It was a simple ceremony, with all their best friends standing beside them.  Crystal, of course, was one of them.

They years passed.  Their family grew.  They moved towns and changed jobs.  But, they never lost sight of being on the same team. 

Karyn says, “I heard that you marry the person you want to be.  He’s so calm.  Even.  Not extreme highs or lows.  You know what you’re getting and he’s passionate about what he’s doing.  He loves unconditionally… which I need.”

David agrees.  “I think we compliment each other well.  We learn from each other.  She works super hard.  Ever since I met her, I told my friends that she’s got the most amazing spirit.  Karyn just lights up the room.  Everything is more fun with her!  The joy that she brings.”

One of their secrets to staying together is being intentional about time together.  David and Karyn still go on dates.  And frequent coffee shops. 

David orders coffee.  Only now, Karyn does too.