B is for Back to School

Last night I was washing the dishes my WVU sophomore bought himself, preparing for move-in day tomorrow. On the top of the box he directed me to sat an innocuous assortment of silverware and what looked like red plastic cups from the olden days of Pizza Hut. As I washed those I dug further into the pile and discovered 3 beer glasses, 5 wine glasses and a cocktail shaker set. Suddenly I was forced with the tangible reality that Ayden may not just be keeping Gatorade in his mini-fridge, a delusion I’ve chosen to indulge until that moment.

I sent a picture to my best friend who commented, “Way to go Big A!”

That was not the correct response. 

This revelation followed two solid days of the youngest child behaving like she had been body snatched and replaced with a demon. 

I corrected the manifestation of her bad attitude as it spilled into the seams of mine and everyone else’s day. Her response – “You OBVIOUSLY don’t understand how stressed out I am about everything I have to do.”

Don’t I, young spawn? Let me remind you that this is not my first rodeo and you are not my first hormonally imbalanced teenager, sister. Oh, and just to be crystal clear, you have had all summer to do your honors packets. ALL SUMMER. 

Then after orientation the attitude took a small break and the actual sweet kid I raised returned. Ah, but it was too good to be true…I informed her that I would be picking up school supplies this afternoon and she became indignant.

“Don’t pick out any dumb colors. I wanted to go to Target for those and pick them out myself.”

Excuse me while I go bang my head against a wall…

Ok, I’m back. What exactly ARE “dumb colors”, anyway? Seeing as I’m not a monkey, and you are the fourth child of mine to attend high school, I am fairly certain I can choose some folders and notebooks that won’t make you a social pariah. And if you’d like to press the issue, darling, ask your sister who dressed up as a T-Rex on her campus her senior year. I still have the costume. Don’t push me.

Contrasting her completely this morning, I asked her brother, a senior, what kind of school supplies he needed.

“Um, I don’t know. A notebook, a folder…a pen?”

Way to be invested in your education, Avery. 

Addison, you are my new favorite. Congratulations. 

Happy 2019-20 School Year, Everyone! God help us all. I’m off to buy supplies in non-dumb colors. 

Made Pure

I used to be the girl who would do things she didn’t actually want to do just to be liked. Sometimes I would lay in the arms of a guy I was lukewarm about, or even barely knew, just for that split second of feeling like I mattered. I was also the girl who did things she wanted to do but knew she shouldn’t, and after years of ignoring that little voice, I became deaf to it and went about my merry way down a path of sin and self-indulgence that lead me to nowhere. Absolutely nowhere. I hated myself. My only value came in the way I looked, which I obsessed about to an unhealthy degree, eating only enough food to keep me alive and exercising like an actual athlete. And then one day before I could do the wise thing and walk away, I was pregnant with my first child. I had a choice, and for the first time since I was a sweet little girl, I chose someone other than myself. 

That was my first step toward God and I didn’t even know it yet. Through all the babies, all the ways out He gave me and all the times I stepped back in when I should have run screaming, He remained, and that little voice I had once ignored gained volume and called me home. Little by little I stepped off my path and on to the one He laid out for me. The steps were so small they seemed insignificant at the time. I was invited to go to church, so I went. It wasn’t the church God wanted for me, but it started a thinking process challenging me to consider how I wanted my children to be raised and spurred me on to find a church in which to raise my family. At the time that was the only consideration. It was purely a parental decision. But it was another step.

Suddenly my relationship with Christ, that I’d had since I accepted Him into my heart at age 7, became an actual relationship instead of a vague notion or a Sunday ritual. The people at this church didn’t judge me, or care about my past at all. They simply loved me. They took care of us, spiritually and physically.  In less than a year, my heart was so drastically different that my life would never be the same. Each day I surrendered to God’s will was another step toward all that He had for me. 

Fast-forward 20 years. I wish I could say it’s been easy; that I’ve never gone backwards or made mistakes. But once you enter into a relationship with Jesus, you really never are the same person. That’s a good thing, by the way. He allows us to be people it wouldn’t be possible to be without Him. So now, if people know me and think I’m good in any way, I give all the glory to God. When I am able to think beyond my immediate wants and sacrifice my desires for the benefit of others, it’s because of God. I’m nowhere near complete, but I’m certainly transformed beyond that WVU party girl in ways I would never have dreamed possible – every path I’ve taken, as misguided as some were, has led me directly to this moment. And let me tell you, it was worth. every. step.

There’s a lie out there that says you have to have it all together before you can come to God. The whole premise of that lie negates the very thesis of Christianity. Come now. Come in your mess. Come in your sin. Come angry. Come broken. Come skeptical. It’s ok. Because guess what? You won’t leave that way. It’s not my promise, it’s His. 

P.S. Babies are NEVER accidents. Never. No matter the circumstances. Someone needed to hear that. Every person is here because God created them for a purpose. 

Metamorphosis

A blast from my past – 2011, when I entered Phase 2 of adulting:

Cheese puffs are made by the devil. Satan’s executive advertising team put together their Buy One Get One Free deal and then sat back and watched as I walked in to the trap. (Like taking candy from a baby.) I bought them for Ayden’s birthday party, but all boys need to be entertained is a basketball court, several types of balls and pizza. They don’t need Cheetos. So home they came, with me, and now they are digesting. It’s a tragedy, really.

I am a sucker for a good deal, even if the good deal is ridiculous. I feel as long as I’m getting something free, it’s ok. I’m especially vulnerable to this logic when I’m hungry and grocery shopping. Buy One Get One Free Donuts! The free ones must not have any calories, so I just eat that bag and leave the other one for the kids. Buy One Get One Free chips, cookies, pizza…oh and sometimes salad. There. I redeemed myself a little bit, right? The point is, when I’m my weakest, I’m my most stupid, and being planned and organized is the key to keeping my stupidity to a minimum.

If any of you know me, “planned and organized” isn’t necessarily the first attribute that comes to mind. In my flesh, I am a crazy combination of neurotic and spontaneous. There’s a battle in my brain, for certain. But then I discovered The Planner. Without it, I am certifiably deceased. Within its pages are the details of my life – the roadmap to my days. I have only lost it once. That was a rough day.

It’s only recently that I have realized that God wants us to be proactive about how we spend our time and money. (Hang in there, I have a point.) What I like to call the “free spirit” in me felt restricted by the concept of planning to that extent. I wrote down the kids’ appointments, school related or otherwise, and called it a plan. I used to roll my eyes at people with planners and think things like, “You must be a lot of fun at parties” as I bounced around from activity to activity, constantly living in fight-or-flight, destroying my endocrine system and thinking I had it all under control. I was, admittedly, a high-functioning idiot.

As the years went by, 4 kids meant 4 different schedules of school stuff, sports stuff, and friend stuff. I broke down and hung a desk calendar on my cork board and filled it to overflowing. I used to get up in the morning and check the calendar, then give orders to my people: “Addison, remember your picture money. Ayden, don’t forget your science fair poster. Avery and Aubrey, it’s P.E. today. Wear sneakers…”

Then I became employed at a job where my schedule changes daily. Sometimes hourly. Enter said planner. This $10 tool contains fragments of all aspects of my life and has become the catalyst for my metamorphosis. I no longer bounce around. I actually know where I’m going and can (almost always) avoid the last minute scramble to get somewhere I forgot I needed to be. Then Financial Peace University sent my reformation into hyper-drive. 

Until last night, I passively absorbed the information from Dave Ramsey. Sometimes it sounded like blah-blah-blah-pie-in-the-sky-you-have-no-idea-who-you-are-trying-to-teach hooey. But last night I sat down and wrote my first in-depth budget. I got to see where each dollar needed to go, and that revelation changed everything. We have the power to be in charge of our money. We tell it where to go. We are the boss of it. Being the boss is my love language! If I am the boss of my money, I am the boss of my time. And, barring any unforeseen crisis, that reality helps me be free, contrary to my previous notions.

No longer will I be blown to and fro by the winds of circumstance. I will tell my planner, “No, planner. I cannot work Friday night” and I will tell my money, “No, money. You may not buy zombie finger lollipops. I don ‘t care if they are only $1.” I will say to my time and money, “I am the boss of you.” All of this under the direction of my Superior, of course. I’m excited not to be dragged around by my nose because of the crisis situations I create by not being a good steward. The next time Satan tempts me with demonic cheese puffs, I will look at my food budget and say, “Not today, evil crunchiness. Not today.”

Dear Dad,

Recently I went to Lowes and saw a mom and her daughters, one a preschooler, shopping for their dad. As I exited Lowes I saw the same woman leaving empty- handed with an angry, stiff as a board preschooler lying in her arms like an uncooperative piece of lumber, tears streaking down her tiny little face.  Shopping at Lowes makes me feel that way, too, little girl, but sometimes we have to take one for the team.

Dads are worth every second spent shopping for things us girls couldn’t care less about. In fact, the importance of dads, at least according to our culture as a whole, seems to have diminished even since my childhood, which was surprisingly recent. So while I don’t have statistical data to back up my aforementioned statement, I’d like to take this opportunity to honor fatherhood. This blog is for all the dads out there; regardless of genetics, you have the highest calling there is and I’d like to encourage you in this journey I know very little about.

Dad, my whole world revolved around you when I was a little girl. I cried when you left for work and my day was complete when you came home. I remember sitting on your lap or falling asleep in your guitar case to the sound of your voice singing bluegrass. I recall the days leading up to Christmas when I was 6, being shooed away from the basement and feeling rejected, only to discover on Christmas morning that you had been making me a cradle for my babies. Addison’s and Aubrey’s baby dolls slept that same cradle. When I was 14 and watched “A Nightmare on Elm Street” without permission, I used to wake you up every night for a month to double check the windows. Sometimes I even fell asleep beside you. I knew nothing bad could ever happen to me if you were there.

There are so many other men who have stepped up to the plate and are fulfilling God’s calling. I wish I could highlight each of you. I count it a privilege to observe the precious relationships between wonderful, godly fathers and their children. It gives me hope. Thank you for everything you do to build the next generation. Sorry for all the ties, slippers, weird shirts, cheap tools, stuffed animals, macaroni art, golf balls, coffee mugs and whatever other random, useless love offerings you received on your special day. Actually, I’m not sorry. They represent a tangible reminder of the intangible investment you pour into the lives of your kids.

I know there’s a dad out there right now who feels like he can never do enough, like everyone else has this parenting thing figured out but him. Let me speak into your life: if you feel that way you are doing just fine. Being aware of your impact and striving toward creating stability and safety in the lives of your children is the foundation of being a good dad. Always know that even if you are not outwardly acknowledged by your kids for how amazing you are, inwardly you are imprinting on their souls in a way that will pay dividends for generations. Hang in there. The proof is in the pudding, and your pudding is NOT made of spoiled milk.

Retrospective Rainbow

Grieving feels a lot like navigating through hostile territory without a map, or any defenses. There are moments I am grounded and solid in my acceptance of what transpired these past few weeks, and then out of nowhere I step on a grenade and my emotional leg gets blown off. Not being able to anticipate the landmines of sadness is unnerving at best, devastating at worst. I always need a plan. I want to know what happens next. I hate surprises. Grief is a jerk. It doesn’t care what I need. But God definitely does, and has shown His Hand at work in this circumstance long before it became a reality to me.

Early this past December I was having an incredibly bad day. Add to that the cold weather and the recent rain and my mood was almost as low as it had ever been. I needed hope, so as I drove east I turned on the radio to my favorite Christian station, and soaked in words I knew to BE true but I could not FEEL their truth. I needed something concrete from God. I wanted a tangible reminder that I had made the right decision and that He had my best interests at heart. I was vulnerable, exposed and desperate for reassurance.

As I rounded the corner, I looked to my left and arced perfectly over the cross on the steeple of a little white country church was the most brilliant rainbow I had ever seen. The scene struck me so profoundly that I pulled into the parking lot and took a picture and afterward prayed and thanked God. That rainbow was explicitly for me that day and I could not have felt more at peace. Just knowing He loved me was enough to quell the monster of insecurity from winning that day.

Fast forward almost 6 months later…God’s mighty hand has placed beauty and peace in every part of my being, building me up and creating in my life a foundation for my ultimate purpose. But suddenly there is no mom with whom to share my joy, leaving an empty place in my heart once again. 

It was my job to coordinate mom’s memorial in West Virginia. I began looking for churches to host her memorial the day after she passed and got met with closed door after closed door. I had 5 days left until the actual memorial and less than 5 hours before my self-imposed deadline so I could let everyone know the location and give them time to plan accordingly. On my way back home from a meeting, I saw a car and stopped at the little church where my grandparents are buried. I knocked on every door, but got no response. As I got into my vehicle that day I prayed, “God, this is all you. I have no idea where else to look.” 

As I drove, I listened to music and happened upon the same church that served as a backdrop of God’s promise that cold December day. There was a car in the parking lot and a fluffy white dog happily wagging his tail as I pulled in, ready to beg. There was no need for begging, however, as I talked with this couple and realized they were the parents of a wonderful friend of mine. Quickly we all came to the conclusion that God had predestined this meeting and the location for mom’s memorial was discovered. 

Before my mom was even sick, God was setting the stage, preparing the prequel, laying the foundation…isn’t that just like Him? I can see it play out in so many aspects of my life when I allow Him to lead me. The path is not always easy, but when it’s His will, the doors open and hearts are prepared in ways only the creator of the universe can orchestrate. He didn’t have to send me a rainbow that day, and I had absolutely no idea the depth of that promise of peace at the time. Looking back on life, I see the ways He’s prepared me for what is next. Mom was an integral part of that preparation, as she helped make me the person I am today. 

I’m ready to take on whatever it is God has planned for me, because I know He has gone before me and prepared the path, as He has for all of us who believe. 

My Mama

The purple paper of the annual cash raffle tickets for Aubrey’s cheer team caught my peripheral vision a few days ago and sent me into an emotional downward spiral. It’s in the little things, like needing to vent about how disrespectful my child is being and not being able to, or picking up my phone to send a group text to my family telling them it was time to buy the tickets, and having one fewer person to include, that the reality hits me head on – my mom is dead.

I’m trying to keep all the emotional pieces of my kids intact as they deal with the loss of their “Nanny” but all I want to do is run away and pretend it isn’t happening. All I want is to send the pictures I took Tuesday evening of Avery receiving his pole vault championship award to my mom. The last text I sent her was the picture of him taken in Charleston. She was so proud. The last text my sister received from mom was her telling Alyssa Avery’s picture was in the Messenger.

So much of who I am today is attributed to my mom – either because of her example or in spite of it. There were many ways I did not want to be like her, and she supported me in my individuality. She listened to me as an all-knowing college student expound on the discrepancies in the Bible, patiently waiting until it was her turn to talk and reminding me gently that God doesn’t make mistakes, a truth I would cling to when I found myself pregnant at 22. I used to be so annoyed with her whenever we would go anywhere because of how long it took her to get ready; I made it my life’s mission never to be like that and I’m not. If it takes longer than 10 minutes to get ready, I better be going somewhere spectacular.  

It’s difficult to capture a specific moment that demonstrates who she was to us. I remember when I was really little and would get sassy with her she would tell me not to patronize her. I had no idea what that word meant but after a few times I understood it based on its context and her tone of voice. That is important because she is the one who made sure we spoke respectfully, minded our manners and treated other people well. She cared about everyone, but no one more than her own family. Hell hath no fury like a mother protecting her children: mom embodied that completely.

Her generosity set an example for all of her children, and because of her we give freely whatever resources we are blessed to have. I learned as an adult I had to be careful what I told her I liked, because she would buy it for me. I could have used this to my advantage, but she raised me better than that. She taught us to take care of each other, and that we do, so very well. Mom knew the reward was never on this earth, but she had no problem buying herself a $700 purse. I loved that about her. She was worthy of nice things and she made sure her children knew they were too. Whenever we settled for less than, mom was always there to try to give us perspective about our value. She told us consistently that she was proud of us, despite the many unbelievably shortsighted, fear-based decisions we made that undoubtedly broke her heart.

When she became a grandmother, her love was evident in her presence. There is no way I would have been able to navigate those early years without my mother. Her wisdom and experience guided me and gave me the fortitude to be the parent I became. There is no greater love than a mom who comes over, scoops up your baby and makes you take a nap because you haven’t slept in a week. She had tea parties and football games, cooking shows and arts and crafts, nature walks and shopping trips…what I wouldn’t give to say, “Mom, do not let them bring another toy into this house” or “Where were you when I was a kid?” referring to her indulgent candy-is-a-food-group mentality with her grandbabies.

There will never be another phone call to talk about the kids, hear disgusting wound care stories from her job…there will never be another cleaning frenzy preparing for her visit after she moved only to be told to sit my a** down, that she would take care of everything when she got here. I’ll never be able to make fun of another one of her weird purses, or pretend to like some item of clothing she bought me and then reprimanded because she saw right through me.  And she did…she saw right through me, and loved me anyway. She was my biggest cheerleader and my most consistent role model; because of her investing in my confidence as a human being, I now know my worth, and Hell hath no fury like a woman who finally realizes her worth. Right, mama?

I’ll see you again. Be prepared to let me “borrow” your shoes when I get there. Until then, there is much work to be done on earth. May all of my remaining days reflect the woman you allowed God to help you shape. I love you.

Sister Sister

            Once upon a time there was a darling little girl whose daddy bought her a pony and whose mama read her stories; she was blissfully singular. Then along came Alyssa, a precious little usurper. When the firstborn realized this tiny, bald, wrinkled person was for keeps, she made it her life’s mission to form a unique, unbreakable bond with her and live happily ever after in sibling harmony. But first she had to be hazed.

            I really wasn’t that bad of a big sister. I may have occasionally broken something and blamed it on her. There could have been times I spit on her head from the top bunk, or told her she was impregnated with a watermelon after she ate a seed. There is a slight possibility I gave her a haircut that made her look like she was attacked by tiny lawnmowers. If she admits to an irrational fear of the Easter Bunny, it is definitely NOT because I hid outside the bathroom window and told her the Easter Bunny was actually an evil jackrabbit. (It made her cry and I got spanked – justice was served.) I’m sure I could go on with more heartwarming examples of sisterly love but suffice it to say it was a hit-and-miss relationship in its formative years.

            It was during those years that I attended Vacation Bible School and learned about Jesus. I decided to ask Him to be the Lord of my life (see John 3:16). From that time until this I sometimes feel like Jesus is hazing me. He wasn’t/isn’t. At least not with the “Let’s do this and see what happens” kind of attitude I had when I put my little brother in the dryer or locked him in the toy box. 

            It has been through these trials, many that are senseless, self-made disasters and some that are not, that God has attempted to raise me up. I have a desire to cooperate, but I fall short every day. I, too, have skeletons just like everyone else. But instead of hiding them, I am using them to build a ladder – every day I reach higher ground until building-sized pieces of the past look like ants as I survey life from the clouds. It’s amazing up here, and nothing short of Jesus Himself will make me step down the ladder, and since He Himself placed me here, I only go up from this point. 

            It’s no coincidence that Alyssa and I are sisters. God’s been knocking on the door of our hearts for years, urging us to tell our story. We have messed up, but that isn’t the end of the story; it’s the part that invites you in to experience the grace and forgiveness that’s waiting for you. Let’s all be sisters together. I promise I won’t come to your junior high school and demand you take off the shoes you stole from me. Hypothetically. (Sorry, Alyssa)