Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday's Grace (After Saturday's Meltdown)

Sometimes, despite a fancy Bible college education, it takes a child to demonstrate one of faith's basic concepts.

When we were stationed in Idaho, I had my own piano studio. Over four years, I taught around 85 students from age five to 45. One of those students was Anna Klawitter.

Fresh off my traumatic first birth
, I resumed teaching duties when Jack was barely a month old. Meaning I taught around 30 students individually while holding him in my arms. I was exhausted, traumatized and overwhelmed, to say the least.

During Anna's lesson, I had just placed Jack in his carseat after a feeding (yes, I had to demonstrate forte and a hand position Mozart would be proud of all with a squirming child attached to my chest) when he had a blowout. An everywhere, you-wonder-how-such-a-small-creature-can-create-that-much-poop incident.

And I lost it. In front of a wide-eyed first grader.

"I'm sorry," I kept saying, the tears streaming down while I dabbed at the mess with baby wipes. "I'm so sorry, Anna."

Anna looked at me -- the one who was supposed to be in control -- and smiled sweetly. I think at some level she could sense that my tears weren't about a mere diaper disaster. And they weren't; instead, I was rolling in the after-effects of birth trauma, freaking out over my husband's upcoming deployment and desperately trying to figure out my role as a working mom.

She could have wrinkled her nose and said, "Gross!" But she didn't. Gap-toothed and bright-eyed, she laid her hand on my arm. "Don't worry about it," she said. "Babies do that sometimes."

I dried my tears, cleaned up the mess with Anna's help and resumed the lesson.

I'm sure Anna has forgotten whatever I taught her in a 30-minute lesson that afternoon. But I have never forgotten what she taught me
in a single sentence: grace.

Since becoming a mom, I've needed grace more than ever. Because never before have I been so desperately aware of my shortcomings, my obvious inability to solely shepherd three precious souls through a scary world untouched.

I simply can't be a good mother on my own. Without Christ's wisdom and help, I disintegrate. Saturday night reminded me of that.

After a fun family birthday party, I drove the kids home in our Corolla, while Nick, suffering from a migraine, drove the van alone. I had already driven the 75 minutes up and was now repeating the trip, and what a doozy it was.

Jude had been punched in the kisser at the party, resulting in a killer bloody nose. During the chaos in the car ride back home (read: Jack and Jude, unaccustomed to sitting so close to each other in a small car, beat each other up and quite loudly), Jude re-injured his nose.

For some reason, blood at 70 miles an hour seems so much worse. And it was EVERYWHERE.

Add to that Avinly screaming, Jude messing with his seatbelt constantly and Jack whomping on his brother when he thought I wasn't looking.

I yelled, I threatened, I tried to restore chaos in the backseat with my meanest mom voice from the front seat. I swerved while trying to take away toys being used as weapons. It was not my proudest moment as a mom. It was ugly.

I went to bed angry at myself, embarrassed over my maternal temper tantrum and feeling utterly defeated at my inability to control three small children whose combined weight still doesn't match mine.

The next morning, getting ready for church, I apologized to Jack, but I still felt terrible. When I dropped the kids off at nursery, I practically ran to the sanctuary, so ready to have a moment alone with God. Of course, as I sat down, I remembered I had forgotten to water the garden.

Great. Now not only was I a yelling, out-of-control mom, I was also a crappy gardener. Over the next few minutes and songs, more random doubts crept into my brain, like what if we couldn't find a church we like once we move to the UK?

During worship, I prayed. For wisdom, for patience, for forgiveness. Was I an awful mom? Was I a failure? Were my kids destined to turn out terribly, all because of me?

Greeting time came, and a petite, silver-haired grandma unexpectedly introduced herself. Bessie was one of Jack's Sunday School teachers. "I
just wanted to let you know," she said kindly, "that Jack is one of my favorites. He's always so sweet and generous and helpful. You're doing a really good job with him."


And as I walked outside, I nearly jumped for joy. It was raining.

Driving home, Nick casually mentioned how his office partner -- also freshly stationed in England -- had just attended a new church that morning near our upcoming base. "They really liked it," he said. "And Bekah sent me a link about it."


We went to another birthday party. This time, there were no bloody noses -- just the perfect blend of kidlet chatter, homemade peach ice cream, Lego time and catching up with good friends. While celebrating Jack's buddy Caleb, my friend Tara and I picked 25 cucumbers from her garden of goodness while discussing everything from fashion and fitness to nursing and new restaurants.
The birthday boy's little three-year-old brother peed on the porch, reminding me that sometimes, boys are just boys, and it has nothing to do with their mothers.


Driving home, I thanked God for the morning's worship time, for Bessie's perfectly-timed praise of my son, for the life-giving rain and for the birthday party. I apologized for my mini-freakout. I trust You, I love you, and I know you love my kids even more than me Show me ways to demonstrate your love and grace to my children, because there's nothing my heart wants more than to do everything, including raise my babies, for Your glory. I know I messed up, and I know I will mess up again.

Don't worry about it, I felt him say. My babies do that sometimes.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Letting Go While Grasping Tight

"Yeah, we were a military family for 11 years, but we got out," the lady told me.

Looking up from my lawn chair, the garage sale moneybox in my lap, I asked why.

"Well, by then we had a few kids," she explained, "and I didn't want them to be away from their family anymore. Cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents."

My heart dropped into my stomach, and I shot her a look that hopefully said, Thank you so much for buying our junk and for your husband's service to our country, but please stop talking before I lose it.

She kept talking. "Because family is just so important," she finished. "I wanted my kids to know their family, and the military lifestyle just wouldn't let us do that."

Yeah, I know.

Nick and I have been beyond blessed to be an Air Force recruiting family for the last 4 years. It's let us be around our own families, to live in Oregon and temporarily forget the existence of deployments. But that's ending now.

Ever since we got orders, I've been in mourning. Not over where we're going; England will be a great adventure. But over the place where we're leaving.


I grew up in a small town -- so small that the kindergarten and high school graduating class photos pretty much contain all the same people in 13-year cycles. You can't skip class without a friend of the family spotting you at the driving range and informing your parents before you even get home. You date cousins (not your own!), you know everyone's addresses, phone numbers and birthdays and you eventually realize that you and your best friend have kissed the same half-dozen crushes or so (I'm looking at you, Nick and Owen!).

It was safe, secure and happy. And I loved it.

I never wanted to live in Creswell forever; I wanted to see the world. But someday, even as a small child, I knew that I wanted to eventually find my own small town and raise my family there with that same sense of belonging -- that feeling of being known and loved and placed.

When I married my high school sweetheart and he joined the military, it never occurred to me that my own children wouldn't have the same sort of childhood. Because like Nick promised me, we were getting out after six years. A decade later, here we are, still an Air Force family and in until retirement. I'm okay with that; it provides for our family and my husband enjoys his job.

But this last four-year tour in Oregon made me forget (temporarily, anyways) that staying put isn't an option.

Watching the friendship that my five-year-old son Jack has formed with his cousin Josh thrills my heart. So too does watching the joy Jack gets from his school, his teachers and his many friends here in Salem.

Two-year-old Jude, meanwhile, loves his class at church, driving tractor with his grandpa and playing with his cousin Nina and best friend Lizzy (and no, not Jack's stuffed lizzard).

And Avinly. She's only just beginning her life, and will only know her extended family through Skype, photos, letters and the occasional visit.

And my heart breaks, and through deep breaths and long runs, I put it back together again.

Yes, I know that thousands of military kids the world over are in the same situation and thrive. Yes, I know that we've been spoiled by the last four years. And yes, I know that my kids will learn some fantastic traits like resiliency, flexibility and adaptation.

But as these last few months drip through the sand timer, I am in mourning.

Yesterday, as we drove to Sunriver (another perk I will sorely miss when a family vacation home isn't just around the bend in the UK), the song "The House that Built Me" by Miranda Lambert came on. I was in the backseat entertaining my trip-hating daughter, and I began to sing the words in a funny voice. But then the lyrics hit me, and I had to stop.

I know they say you cant go home again.
I just had to come back one last time.
Ma'am I know you don't know me from Adam.
But these handprints on the front steps are mine.
And up those stairs, in that little back bedroom
is where I did my homework and I learned to play guitar.
And I bet you didn't know under that live oak
my favorite dog is buried in the yard.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself
if I could just come in I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

Mama cut out pictures of houses for years.
From 'Better Homes and Garden' magazines.
Plans were drawn, concrete poured,
and nail by nail and board by board
Daddy gave life to mama's dream.

You leave home, you move on and you do the best you can.
I got lost in this whole world and forgot who I am.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
this brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here its like I'm someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself.
If I could just come in I swear I'll leave.
Won't take nothing but a memory
from the house that built me.

And I realized, through choked voice and teary eyes, that I have to let that dream go.

If we get out in 10 years, that will put my children at ages 15, 12 and 10 (roughly)
. So while there will still be some time before college to establish roots, my kids' experience will not be like my own experience.

And part of growing up is realizing that's not a bad thing.

My sons and daughter will never know the permanence of living in the same house, town, county, state or even country and continent year after year. They will not have the same piano, Sunday and school teachers that their older siblings and cousins have had. They will probably not marry someone they have known since elementary school. They will not have a special spot in a favorite tree where they go to think at ages five and 18. They will glance through old class pictures and not know every person.

Jack, Jude and Avinly will know change. They will know roll-with-it. They will know all sorts of different cultures, ethnicities, languages and lifestyles. They will know bonding together, picking up the pieces and working as a family unit when Dad is gone.

They will know that God is still God no matter your location or how many family members are close by.

So I'm letting the dream of small-town-security for my babies fade while grasping tight to the positive memories we're taking from our beloved West Coast.

Because in the end, that dream is far inferior to my ultimate goal as a mom: to raise children who know, love and serve their Creator -- no matter their location on the planet that He made

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Love at Spencer's Butte, and All Around the World

Clearing out our attic for a garage sale last weekend, my husband and I stumbled onto a box with his old high school memories. Inside were Nick's mortarboard and tassel, photos of homecoming "Spirit Week" activities (that he would kill me if I posted) and an old calculator. There was also his autograph book that everyone signed the week of graduation. Perusing through the pages, we laughed over the typical "Stay sweet! Let's keep in touch!" messages from people we now only see in passing on Facebook.

Beyond that, we quickly noticed two themes from our high school buddies: "Good luck in the Air Force!" and "Take care of Crystal." And I marveled that even then, we were seen as one unit, one item, one team -- two lives woven together as one.

Not much has changed since that perfect summer ten years ago.

Well, maybe Nick (AKA Boy Band, and yes, Bieber totally ripped him off) doesn't look like this anymore...

                              And I don't look like this:

And we no longer date by sitting on my mama's back porch with chaperones, secretly wishing everyone would magically drop off the planet so we could be alone together.

But we're still here, still together, still going strong and growing as a couple. As one unit, one item, one team.

So as I waded through the overcrowded garage, mountains of domestic flotsam surrounding me, my mind drifted back...and I was 18 again.

Staring at the gate swung shut across the parking lot’s entrance, the “X” shape of the padlocked crossbar said it all: no one’s getting out of here until morning. My 16-year-old brother Dustin, mirroring my own thoughts, helpfully pointed that our parents would probably kill me. At least I now knew how I was going to die.

With my high school sweetheart leaving for boot camp in two days, the night had started full of teenaged promise. My boyfriend and I planned a romantic midnight hike up Spencer’s Butte, Nickolas riding shotgun…and two required chaperones (Dustin and Nick’s best friend Andrew) in back.

I saw the sign saying the parking lot closed at dusk, but I wasn’t worried. My brain promised the opposite, while I was too busy envisioning one last perfect evening with a boy I had completely fallen for.

Now, I faced a night spent in the Spencer’s Butte parking lot cramped in my little Corolla with not just my boyfriend but Andrew and my little brother. We had no blankets or food. Plus, what would my parents do when I missed curfew?

I sat on the curb, threw my face to my knees and cried over dashed expectations and fear of an unknown future. Three teenage boys stared at me awkwardly, but I didn’t care.

Suddenly, I heard steel guitar and Tim McGraw’s smooth voice. I glanced up. Nickolas, his deep-green eyes grinning, pulled me from the curb and close to him. Gently, he swayed and twirled me back and forth to the music dripping from my car, a buzzing streetlamp complementing the moonlight’s glow.

Dancing in the dark
Middle of the night

And I laughed — at the perfection of the “It’s Your Love” lyrics, the gnawing anxiety over upcoming college, the gift of a boy who couldn’t operate a dishwasher but could make me relish life’s unexpected curves.

Andrew and Dustin quietly smirked, their hands stuffed in cargo shorts, hiking boots awkwardly kicking dust while Nick and I danced.

Thirteen months later, exactly nine years ago today, they smirked while we again swayed to the same song. This time, however, the cargo shorts and hiking boots had been replaced by tuxedos and dancing shoes. Nick dipped me, taking care not to trip on my wedding dress.

“You know,” he whispered before he kissed me, “I think I prefer the Spencer’s Butte version of this song.”

And I think I agree.

Now, we're headed to England -- far, far away from that Lane County landmark where we twirled and swayed. No matter. The locations may change.

But the dance partner won't.