Sunday, December 4, 2016

Keeping watch

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up, Christmastime meant cousins. Oh sure, grandparents, aunts and uncles, too...but truth be told, the cousins were the highlight. I'm not sure when and where it all began but at some point my mom and her sister must have made the decision that neither snow, nor rain, nor gloom of night would keep them from celebrating Christmas together. So even as they settled into different states, a day's drive apart, we never missed a Christmas with one another. 

For the most part we alternated houses each year, so the only thing we ever needed to know was if it was a "Portland year" or a "Spokane year" because everything else was just details. We never questioned this arrangement, or balked during the years when it was our turn to cram ourselves into the car and make the long winter drive over-the-mountains-and-through-the-gorge-to-our-cousin's-house-we-go.  It was just the way Christmas was. And we loved it.

I think sometimes it was almost more torturous to be the ones doing the waiting rather than the traveling. At least when you were on the road you had some sense of forward progress. You knew how much longer it would be (because you asked every 10 minutes), and you had the thrill of feeling yourself inching ever closer with each passing mile sign (and you shouted out every single one).

To be the ones waiting at home was agonizing.

This was long before cell phones and the ability to stay in constant contact with loved ones on the road. While we were waiting for our Portland family to arrive, we might get a single call all day updating us on their travel schedule IF we were lucky. And that was only if they were lucky enough to find a stop with a pay phone and Uncle Dave was willing to spring for the call. (Not always a sure thing. His kids still love to talk about having to share a small fry growing up.) But other than that, all we could do was wait. And wait. And wait. And asking mom how much longer it would be was useless because she didn't know either.

So, she'd do what she always did when all other attempts at distraction failed. She told us to go watch out the window.

And we did...for what felt like hours. It might have been minutes though. I'll be the first to admit that childhood recollections of time are seldom accurate. But it felt like we hung over the back of that living room couch staring down at the highway for close to a lifetime.

My childhood home, the home in which my mother still lives and where we all still spend Christmas every year, sits atop a small, pastoral hill. When we were kids, all of the trees surrounding the house were not nearly so tall and full as they are now and we could see all the way from our big living room windows down to the sleepy highway that lead to our gravel country road. Back in the day, the number of cars that came down that highway was not substantial, so great excitement would ensue each time one appeared. Inevitably though, my older brother would quickly tell us why that couldn't be their car because it was the wrong color, or too big, or had the wrong shaped headlights.

(Okay, I'm not really sure he commented on the headlights, but he was always much wiser than either my sister or I about which cars were actual prospects and which ones didn't deserve a second glance. We were foolish enough to get excited about delivery trucks.) 

But just when we would start to fear that they really never would arrive, a set of properly shaped headlights, belonging to a car of the right color and size, would turn onto our gravel road.


We would fly off the couch and race to the front hallway screaming, "THEY'RE COMING!! THEY'RE COMING!!"

And at long last, when that same set of appropriate headlights would finally make its way up our long, sometimes icy, snowy road and swing into our carefully shoveled driveway, the hysteria would give way to...


Let the festivities begin!!

I think maybe I see Santa?
Singing "Up On the Housetop".
We were practically The Osmonds.
I feel like Valerie is about to go all "Junkyard Dog" on someone here.
Don't Tracy and I look a little frightened?
P.S. We LOVED The Sunshine Family!!

Inevitably someone (me) ended up mortally wounded/deathly ill and in need of medical attention.
Christmas can be a dangerous time.
Thankfully, I had a doctor with a terrific bedside manner. 
Yep, that's a turtleneck with a Fa La La La sweatshirt.
I've always been festive.

Matching footed pajamas?
I think we were drunk on eggnog.
I kid.
Okay, so maybe that matching jammies thing wasn't a one time deal.
Or ended in childhood.
And that cousin Christmas only grew....
How did we get so lucky?
The next generation.
Pure love.

This year, as we string lights, decorate trees, sing Christmas songs, and wrap presents... sometimes I find myself asking, "How do we do this? How?"

What do we do with an absence so great?

And the only answer I can come up with is this...

We celebrate all that she loved. We remember that there is a Light no darkness can overcome. We share memories and make new ones. We carry the past into the present, and have faith in the future.

On the days it feels hard to celebrate and carry on with the traditions she loved so much, I picture her keeping watch.

I think of her giddy with excitement, anxious to share with us the incredible gift of perfect joy that she now knows. Always the hostess, I imagine her waiting with happy anticipation to usher us in and give us the grand tour.

And I believe that, for her, the waiting will be but a minute. It isn't agonizing or endless because she now lives in that beautiful space outside of time. She is both happy in the now, and in all that is to come.

For us, the waiting is longer. And I'd be lying if I didn't say that as much as the distance stings, I do hope for the wait to be very long. I feel okay saying that because I know she hopes that, too.

But when that day does come, I take comfort in knowing that one of the first voices I will hear will be hers. She will throw her head back and laugh in that way that only she can, and then proclaim for all to hear....

She's here!! She's here!!

Forever and for always.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Jumpin' In

Let me just start by saying, this is not a sad post.

At least it's not intended to be.

I feel like I need to start with that disclaimer since I will be mentioning loss, and sorrow, and grief, and falling into pits and stuff.

But I swear, it's not sad.

It's more of an explanation. And maybe a bit of an encouragement. If nothing else, it's something to read on Sunday afternoon instead of doing laundry and I can promise it is at least as good as that. Maybe.

You see, this week will be the 13th birthday of our two little ones who never came home.

Thirteen years is both long and short. Say, if you were talking about how long it has been since you had a really good homemade chocolate chip cookie, thirteen years would be a loooong time. (A criminally long amount of time, if you ask me.) But if you were talking about how long you'd like to spend with someone you love, we'd all agree that thirteen years is but a blink.

In terms of loss, thirteen years might seem on the outer edge of how long it is socially acceptable to speak of such things. I mean, at least out loud. Or in writing. Ahem.

And in truth, I do get that. I don't enjoy dwelling on despair or feeling as though I'm dragging anyone into a well of sad feelings they really didn't ask for. And it's a conundrum because while I might have melancholy feelings, and wistful feelings, and, yes, sometimes even weepy moments every now and then, I'm really okay. I choose to remember because I'm not really sure how I couldn't and because that's how we continue to love those whom we have lost.

We remember them.

But I could do all of that without putting it into words and making my story public. I could opt to remember privately. There is nothing wrong with that and many, many days that is what I choose to do. In fact, that might suit me better given my reclusive tendencies.

However, there is a reason that over the years I became more and more open about my experience with infertility and loss, and I can tell you why in two stories.

(If Tracy were reading this over my shoulder, and she might be, she would break in at this point and say, "Tom, I can name that song in two notes." Because she just would.)

The first involves my cousin Tracy and her legendary ability to make a friend of anyone. Waaaaay back when we were both in our 20's and early years of marriage, she became pregnant and had a baby. At the same time, I tried to become pregnant and couldn't. She was having trouble with some aches and pains related to pregnancy so she started seeing a massage therapist. I, on the other hand, was seeing a fertility doctor because of that whole not getting pregnant thing.

As was Tracy's way, she became quite friendly with her massage therapist, learning all about her life. The therapist had twin toddlers who were the happy end result of a difficult run with infertility. This lead Tracy to tepidly open up to her about my struggles and her concerns with how to offer any support. The therapist asked her lots of questions about my doctor and my treatment, none of which Tracy had good answers to since she didn't really have all of those minute details. But her massage therapist friend would not be so easily dissuaded. See, she'd been there and she'd be damned if she was going to let someone else flail around on their own.

Finally, she said to Tracy, "Do you think I could just call her?"

A total stranger to me, connected only through another friendly acquaintance, refused to stay in her own happy bubble world of a successful pregnancy and birth and motherhood because she knew there were people on the other side. She not only wanted to help, she had to help.

She did call me. We talked for an hour that one time. She gave me information I had never gotten from any doctor. She gave me encouragement to make changes I didn't know I needed to make. More than anything, she gave me hope and she made me brave. I never spoke to her again other than through Tracy who would report back to her my own happy success. But because of her, I changed doctors and was pregnant two months later. I'm not exaggerating when I say I believe she changed my life.

(And by extension, of course, Tracy also changed my life with her fantastically friendly ways. But the list of ways in which Tracy changed my life is long and deep and will require a lifetime of blog posts to capture.)

The second story is not my own and not at all original. It's a modern day parable of sorts and I'm sure you've heard it before. But it bears repeating because it speaks to my larger point of being vulnerable enough to share our stories, to the extent that we are able, for the good of those who might be standing on the outside.

A man was walking along one day when he suddenly tumbled headlong into a pit. He hadn't seen it coming. It was dark. It was lonely. And he had no idea how to get out.

He started calling up from the pit, yelling for help.

First a doctor walked by. He peered down into the pit, tossed in a prescription, and kept walking.

Then, a priest walked by. He looked down at the poor man, offered him a prayer, and then he too kept walking.

Finally, a friend happens by and hears the man's cries for help. He thinks for a moment and then without hesitation jumps into the pit with him.

The man looks at him astonished and says, "What are you doing?! Now we are both stuck down here in the pit!"

His friend answers, "I know. But I've been here before and I know the way out."

And I would add that sometimes we may not even be able to show someone the way out of the pit. But a friend jumps in and says, "This is awful. I'm so sorry. But I'll stay here with you until you can find your way out."

So, that's really it. That's the answer.

I keep telling my story and being honest about who I am and where I've been, because you never know who might be in a pit needing someone to jump in with them.

I'm grateful to every single person, whether they be close friends, family, or momentary acquaintances, who ever jumped in with me.

And because I'm always ready for a little Christmas, I'll leave you with this thought:

Happy Sunday, friends! 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

How's it going?

Over the summer, I had many kind-hearted friends who wanted to know how I was feeling about our upcoming move. You'd think after answering the same question so many times I would have come up with a simple, rote answer.

I never did.

I was never entirely sure what to say and it often depended on the day, or even the moment. Sometimes excited, sometimes nervous, sometimes weary, sometimes I just wanted to scrap the whole crazy plan.

In the past month that question has been replaced with a new inquiry, " is it going??"

Again, I don't have a perfect elevator speech that can sum it all up in 10 sentences or less.

But the answer I most often come back to, even if only in my own mind, is simply that it has been exactly what I expected it to be. Meaning, it has been a little bit sad, a little bit fun, a little bit exciting, a little bit scary, a little bit lonely, a little bit easy, and even a little bit surprising.

It's been a mixed bag which is exactly what I knew it would be. You don't uproot your whole life and think you can just snap your fingers and instantly have the same continuity, routines, and normalcy you had in the place you lived for almost 25 years.

(A quarter of a century, people.)

So, the thing I just keep telling my thoughtful friends is that it's good, and we are happy, but it will take time.

I'm a great believer in the magic of time because I've seen it work miracles over and over again in my own life and in the lives of others. Things you thought would never be resolved, never heal, never change, never improve, and never grow- suddenly do.

But it's never 'suddenly', really. It might feel that way. Or it might look that way from the outside. But usually that miraculous turn of events is really the long awaited reward that comes from days, weeks, months, or years of waiting, praying, and never giving up hope.

He has made everything beautiful in its time... ~Ecclesiastes 3:11

If you know me, you know that the fall, and especially October, can make me a little melancholy so forgive me for a second for conjuring up a rather unhappy memory to make a point. I'll try to swing it around at the end and give it a happy flourish to close it out.

(That's kind of my signature move).

Anyway, when I was in grief counseling after the loss of our babies, I remember saying to my counselor, "I know I'm going to find my way through this somehow. I know I won't always be this sad. I really do feel confident of that. I just want to know when. How long? Give me a date and then I can circle that day in red on my calendar and just hold on until then."

As good as my counselor was, she never could give me that date.

And, of course, it wasn't a specific day, or moment, it was just a slow, quiet unfolding until you realize you are no longer clenching your fists trying to fight your way back to life. You look down to find your hands are open again, ready to receive whatever bounty the day has to bring you. Whether it be joy, or laughter, or even possibly pain again, you are no longer afraid.

So, the point is, I know what it is to wait.

What I'm getting better at is what to do in the waiting.

Yesterday, I took a leap I didn't think I would make quite this soon. I met with the principal of a small, Christian preschool/primary school about becoming one of their regular substitute teachers. I've always made it clear that I really only like "pretend subbing" and by that I mean I am only interested in substitute teaching at one small school where I can actually get to know the kids and teachers. That was the blessing I had in subbing at my daughter's school in our old neighborhood, and I knew I'd need to find a similar arrangement if I were ever going to venture into subbing in our new home.

And even though the sloth in me wonders why on earth I am not going to continue to just bask in my long, quiet days at home, the voice in my soul is telling me that level of isolation is not ultimately doing me any favors.

I mean, preschoolers, my friends! A tiny school full of babies with no one older than the fourth grade! It's like a dream come true. And the lovely thing is, it's a blessing for them, too. A small school like that has difficulty attracting substitute teachers and yet their teachers get sick and need vacations, too. They were all so delighted I was really interested in coming on board. I swear they all kept looking at me like I might be a mirage.

Sometimes waiting means taking time to rest and heal and be quiet. But other times of waiting require us to be patiently active. We start moving toward those things that allow us to use our gifts and talents, knowing that you never know where and when you might find what it is you are looking for.

So, I look forward to meeting my new young friends and in the meantime will continue to relish the luxury of my quiet days at home.

I've always been a big believer that the "sacred is in the ordinary" which is why I tend to be pretty content with a life that borders on some reality TV version of Groundhog Day. 

Sidebar: (Oh my stars. My life would be the most boring reality TV show EVER. Wouldn't you love to have watched me type this blog post for the past hour? Riveting.) 

But given my inordinate love for the ordinary and everyday, I was pretty happy to come across this quote by Henry Ward Beecher to back me up:

The art of being happy lies in the power
of extracting happiness from common things.
~Henry Ward Beecher

Thank you, Reverend Beecher. I will continue to do just that. 

Just a picture I snapped after leaving Annie's horseback riding lessons.
The fog had settled in on the hills and all you could see was pasture land, trees,
hills and sky.
I suddenly felt very grateful to live in a place where horses and open spaces are
a part of our everyday.
..."extracting happiness from common things."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Planting seeds

Today I had lunch with one of my oldest and best friends. I'm not exactly sure how old we were when we met, but it was before grade school. It was our older brothers who became friends first and being a mom myself now I can totally imagine how that played out when our respective mothers were drawn together by their young son's growing friendship.

How wonderful that our boys like each other so much! Wait. You have a little girl, too? Exactly the same age as my little girl? And you live just over the hill from us? Well, welcome to my life New Best Friend! 

Because that's what you do when your whole life is about keeping little people alive and entertained. You find fellow travelers with similar age munchkins and say, giddy up, let's do this together!

There's safety in numbers after all.

So, perhaps we were destined to be buddies or maybe it was really just our good fortune (and our mother's). Either way, she's been one of my best friends ever since.

While we were at lunch sorting out major life issues like why I would like Nordstrom sales people to stop talking to me, and the unexpected delight of being served a "baguette" that was really like a half a loaf of bread- we got to talking about our daughters, and girls in general, and the unpredictable roller coaster ride of girl friendships.

At some point as we were chronicling the good, the bad, the funny, and the ugly of it all, I looked at my friend and said quietly, "What I pray most for in our move, is that at some point in all of this change and new schools and new places, Annie will find a best friend. She's had a few lovely, sweet little friends along the way, but she hasn't had that go-to, consistent, loyal best friend. She hasn't"

My friend nodded seriously and shared that her daughter hadn't found that friend yet either.

I thought about that for a minute and said, "I don't know. Maybe you don't have to have a best friend."

My friend agreed, but then smiled wistfully and said, "But it's kinda nice."

Yes. Yes it is.

Recently I had a thought that came to me and I haven't been able to get it out of my head.

I was thinking about other times when I had made big transitions and what had been helpful in those times. I thought a lot about when we had to make a change with the boy's school and moved them from a school right in our neighborhood, to a school in an entirely different area with a community that was full of strangers for all of us. Everything and everyone was an unknown for us except for one big, shiny gold ticket we carried with us into that place. Our cousins. Family. And not just family, my cousin Tracy who was pretty much the Queen of that school (in the best way) and friends with EVERYONE (that is not an exaggeration).

And I got to thinking about how when you are already walking around with an overflowing dance card it can be really easy to decide your life is full enough. You have your people and there are no seats left at the table. But that wasn't how Tracy was and she certainly wasn't going to allow me to skulk in corners and slip in and out without making eye contact with anyone.

(I'm not sure I really skulk. But I can be pretty skilled at avoiding conversation when needed.)

So, she did what she what she was so good at. She brought me to the table. She encouraged me to join her groups and she introduced me to everyone she knew. And those who knew Tracy know that an introduction with her was never as simple as exchanging names. No, she would introduce you AND tell you exactly why you were going to LOVE that person and that she just KNEW you would become the very best of friends. And you believed her.

I often told Tracy she really needed to tone it down when singing my praises to other people because her view of me without question far exceeded anything I actually had to deliver.

And in thinking back on all of that and her particular set of skills, it occurred to me that Tracy was not only inclusive, she was radically inclusive. 

Wait, what? What does it mean to be radically inclusive, you ask? I shall tell you.

I can tell you because I made it up myself. When it ends up in the Urban Dictionary my name better be next to it.

Inclusive is being very intentional when making plans or deciding on invitations to make sure that all of the people in your respective circle are made to feel welcome. (As the situation warrants. Obviously there is a time and place for smaller groups and solo activities as well.)

Radically inclusive is looking beyond your circle and asking yourself, who else do I know who might enjoy this? Is there someone new in my life who might jump at the chance to meet some new people? Do I have any friends who don't know each other but really should because I think they would have so much in common?

To be radically inclusive is to decide that your dance card is never full and there is always more room at the table. It's like hanging a sign on the door of your life that says WELCOME.

So, in the spirit of my 2016 word of the year ("new" in case you haven't been following along), this is going to be one of my new goals moving forward into this next adventure. I am going to seek to be not only inclusive in my interactions but to be radically inclusive.

For an introvert like myself, this will be a challenge. I'm not always a great initiator. I like other people to take the lead and I'll just happily follow along. But as part of this new radically inclusive lifestyle I will be living, that will also include me being open and accepting toward the invitations and opportunities that come my way as well. (No skulking).

I've already been touched by ways people in my world (cough... cough... my sister) have gone out of their way to start helping us put down roots. And the thing about inclusiveness is that it's wonderfully catching. Twice now my sister has extended to me invitations to activities organized by her friends, whom I either don't know or barely know, because they simply insisted, "Bring your sister! We are so excited she's moving here! Tell her she has to come!" 

And the hermit in me just marvels and thinks to myself, "Who does that?"

I'll tell you who does. Radically inclusive people do, that's who.

I won't lie, some of my determination to be more radically inclusive is self-serving. I do believe that in some measure in this life we reap what we sow. And much more so than even for myself I am praying mightily that my daughter is going to encounter some radically inclusive 6th grade girls in the coming months.

These are some uncertain times ahead.

But we plant the seeds we want to see grow, so I'm going to be planting a whole bunch of friendly, smiling, "yes, I'd love to!", "so nice to meet you!' kinds of seeds and maybe some of them will sprout in her garden, too.

I'm also hoping we have a heavenly matchmaker who will be working overtime to help us find our people as well.

In fact, I'm sure we do.

" born at the moment one person says to another, "What? You too?!"
~ C. S. Lewis

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The long goodbye

So, here we are.


A year ago, Ben and I started kicking around the idea of moving east of the mountains while at the same time being certain we would abandon that idea as soon as the leaves turned. But we didn't. We kept talking about it. And wondering. And dreaming.

When winter arrived we agreed it was time to drag ourselves out of the land of indecision and either turn right or left, east or west. Which would it be? Stay, and enjoy all of the comfort and security of that familiarity and routine. Or, go, and take a leap toward something that is both familiar and yet also utterly new.

We chose to go. Even now I can't completely explain why except that's what we were both feeling in our gut. We aren't people who feel called to change, or adventure, or upheaval very often (or never), so it felt like there had to be a reason that two committed homebodies who always thought they'd live in the same house, on the same street, in the same neighborhood, in the same city for the entirety of their lives together, suddenly both had a yearning to pick up and leave. We felt like God was throwing pebbles at us trying to get our attention and if we didn't sit up and listen he'd start throwing bricks soon.

The verse I kept hearing in my head was, "You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north." -Deuteronomy 2:3 (Except I was hearing east. God is allowed to tinker with scripture when he's the one talking. It's his book after all.)

But that was over 6 months ago. Summer seemed ages away and life has changed in so many big and small ways since then. Now it's here. That elusive, far-off "summer" thing we talked about. And even at that we still aren't moving quite yet. It's here, but not.

So now this is turning into the summer of the long goodbye. And I cannot begin to tell you how much I hate goodbyes. There are few things I do worse or like less. And I think it's all the looming goodbyes that have lodged this sailor's knot of fear, excitement, regret and anticipation permanently into the center of my chest. More than the stress of actually packing boxes and moving (though that is no small stress point), it's the 3am moments of, WHAT HAVE WE DONE, that are are prompting my google searches on "How to relieve anxiety naturally". (I keep hoping the answer is cookie dough, but so far webmd is letting me down).

Ben asked me the other night if I was having second thoughts? And I knew immediately the answer was no. I'm not having second thoughts, I'm just nervous. And scared. And also excited and happy. And sometimes full level JESUS TAKE THE WHEEL freaking out. But at this point I'm doing a pretty great job of bottling it all up and shoving a cork in the top, so don't be scared to run into me. I'm cool as a cucumber. (But God knows how long that cork can hold).

And on top of all this, one of the top three people I would have normally hashed all of this out with is gone. And I never even got a chance to tell her about any of it.

Regrets, I have a few... (Thanks, Frank).

But I really do believe we go with her blessing and love, and even more importantly we go with God's. The other night I shared a verse with my daughter. It was one of those stumble-on-felt-meant-for-me moments and I knew it was meant for her as well. Believe me when I say I do not forget for one moment how much is changing for her, too. Uprooting my child and putting her in a brand new school where she knows no one but her cousins is a whole other sailor's knot of anxiety and concern that likes to wake me in the wee hours of the night.

We happened to be lying on my bed hanging out, watching tv, when this verse was given to me. I immediately turned to Annie and shared it with her.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. ~ Deuteronomy 31:8 

(Who would have guessed Deuteronomy would end up being the theme song to our move? Not usually my go-to... But that God...he likes to throw curve balls.)

Anywhooo... Annie and I agreed right there that would be our guiding verse for the move.

Overwhelmed by the thought of packing and unpacking? The Lord himself goes before you...

Scared to walk into a new school and make new friends? The Lord himself goes before you...

Unsure about what our lives and routine will look like now? The Lord himself goes before you...

Something about picturing the Lord himself leading the way into this unknown future is infinitely comforting.

Could someone please remind me of this at 3am?

Seriously, text me.

The Lord himself goes before you....

Thursday, April 28, 2016


The other day I found myself in search of something I should have been able to put my finger on instantly.

I always put it in the same place. I KNOW that's where I put it last! What could have happened to it?! 

As it turned out, someone who shall remain nameless but recently had a birthday and will be graduating soon, decided keeping this item in his top dresser drawer was a good plan. He was swiftly informed that was not a good plan. In fact, that is no longer the plan.


Anywhooo...In his defense, perhaps this was all meant to be because in my search I stumbled across something I wasn't expecting.

You see, I'm not really one to hang onto every birthday/anniversary/special occasion card. I appreciate every card I have ever received and the time someone took to send it to me (especially since I am woefully card-challenged for the most part). But after enjoying the card and allowing it to spend a respectable amount of time in my designated "card basket" most cards usually find their way to the recycling bin.

(Please don't stop sending me cards, friends. I truly love and appreciate them! I am just not willing to drown in them!)

Like every good rule there is always an exception though and the exception to this card rule are the cards we received following the loss of our twins and the loss of my father. I saved every single one.

My sister gave me a beautiful basket after our babies died with a plaque on the top that reads, "Our Forever Babies" with their names and date of their birth. In it holds every card we received following their birth and death, and every card I received in the years after.

Sidenote: If you are ever on the fence as to whether to send a sympathy card because you aren't sure whether it will be appropriate/welcome/needed/helpful? Send the card. 

We received many, many cards in the month after our babies were born. Fewer after that month passed. And, of course, as is expected, even fewer on that date in the years that followed. This is not to make anyone feel guilty or shamed. I would have been the same way if the roles were reversed. Life goes on and those outside the immediate circle of loss shouldn't be expected to remember dates forever.

After the first couple of years, it was mostly just our family and closest friends who remembered.

And, of course, ever the Queen of Cards and Remembering and Marking Special Days and Moments, Tracy was one who never forgot.

Every year without fail, I would receive a note from her on their day, and often more than that. We refer to our babies as our "Twin Stars" so she would send me little star ornaments she found, or candles with a star on them, or any little thing she had stumbled across that brought them to mind. Of course all of those notes and cards went straight into the basket to be treasured always.

Except this one...somehow this one never made its way there. Somehow this one was in a spot it shouldn't have been, just waiting for me to find it when I needed....something.


It took me back to a moment I've never forgotten but hadn't revisited in my mind in a long time.

For several years, Tracy and I were part of a mom's group connected to the Catholic school our children attended. Actually, as with so many things, Tracy was the reason I became a part of the group. It was a lovely group of women and something we both enjoyed for many years.

Each year, we would go on an overnight retreat to Sleeping Lady in Leavenworth, WA. It was an amazing setting and it was always a time mixed with both deep conversations and uncontrollable laughter-my favorite combination.

During a time when we were talking more deeply and personally, the subject of our twins came up. By this point, I spoke of them easily and was happy to share about our experience both during and after our loss.

But then someone asked a question I wasn't prepared for. It was asked gently and innocently, not at all intended to cause harm. But it was the question that always caught me off guard.

How long did they live?

I'm sure I hesitated. I probably started to stammer something about how I didn't really know, and it was hard to say, and they were so still and quiet because they were so tiny... And I can't even really explain why that question made me feel so uncomfortable. Perhaps because my own fear was that somehow the length of their lives was tied to the depth of their worth?

I think at some point my voice trailed off.

And then Tracy stepped in to rescue me, offering the words that I couldn't.

Her eyes were misty but she didn't cry, which for those of you who knew her you know she must have been digging deep.

Her voice was tender but strong.

We held them so close. We held them right up to our chests and we held them, it was like our heartbeats were their heartbeats. I don't know how long they were physically with us, but as we all took turns holding them, it sure felt like they were with us that whole day.

I can't remember if I ever told her how grateful I was for that.

I hope she knew.

I think she knew.

And now I carry this image of her holding those babies, and I like to think that is somehow a part of all the joy she is experiencing now. Oh, how she loved babies.

Tracy was a lot of things. She could be big, and loud, and funny, and the center of attention. But she could also be soft, and quiet, and incredibly generous with her heart.

I'm just trying to make sure I remember it all and this memory felt like it needed to be written down.

Tracy, consider this my thank you card. I know how you love a good thank you card.

Promise you won't forget me, ever.
Not even when I'm a hundred.
~A. A. Milne

I promise.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Two hands

This morning I started my day with a green smoothie and BBQ Popchips.

Let me try to explain.

I think we all know that Monday mornings are like New Years Day except there are fifty-two of them instead of just one. It's the day of good intentions and starting fresh and getting back on the wagon and drinking green smoothies.

Don't get me wrong, I love my green smoothie. I make a darn good green smoothie- although it actually looks more like a grayish-purple smoothie because of the berries I put in there. But I still call it a green smoothie because that sounds healthier than saying I made myself a grayish-purple smoothie. Also, I'm not sure the word 'gray' belongs anywhere near any food related item? It sort of has an immediate effect of robbing it of any appetizing qualities whatsoever.

BUT....(You knew there was some sort of digression coming, right? I mean, how do we get to the POPCHIPS?! I know you are dying to know.)

The problem is, as much as I loooove my green (grayish-purple) smoothie, most mornings I just can't leave breakfast behind until I have chewed or crunched something. As tasty as it is, sipping my breakfast through a straw only leaves me 80% satisfied. My teeth feel totally left out and start clamoring for a job to do.

I don't need much. Just a little something. You something that almost resembles air...except crunchy...with a little zing?

TA DA!!!

BBQ Popchips.

Was there really any other alternative? If there was, obviously I couldn't think of it.

Luckily, today I'm not in an either/or kind of mood.

This morning I shared with someone close to me the one thought that has helped me most when rebounding from loss.

We have two hands.

We can hold more than one thing, one experience, one emotion, one hope...all at the same time.

We can be both happy and sad.

We can be both angry and grateful.

We can wish things were different and still accept things as they are.

We can look forward and backward.

We can hold doubt and faith.

We can carry the past in our hearts while still looking to the future with hope.

We don't have to choose. We never have to choose.

We can hold both.

This weekend I took Annie on a special mother-daughter birthday shopping trip. As we were driving downtown I was heaping love on my birthday girl and told her, "I'm the luckiest mom in the world. I had my two wonderful boys and then I was given this beautiful little girl. I don't know how I got soooo lucky, but I am thankful every single day."

I meant every word, but there was a little voice in my head that piped up even as I was speaking. "Now that's an odd thing to say, given what you lost? The luckiest mom in the world? Really?!"

But I looked down at my two hands and let those words float away.

It's not all or nothing. I can hold both. I can quietly wish for the two little ones who slipped away, and still feel whole-hearted gratitude for the three who got to stay.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that you have to choose.

You have two hands. You can hold so much. But only what you want to hold.

Drink the green smoothie. Eat the BBQ Popchips.

Hold what you need to hold and let go of what needs to go.

That's what I'm doing today. I'm holding it all. The tears and the laughter. The joy and regrets. The yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows.

It's all right here in these two hands.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

In the laughter

My sister in law, Sarah, has got me hooked on the show Call the Midwife. I've been binge watching my way through the seasons and am up through the middle of Season 3. If I could, I would watch in all of my spare moments but I can only watch when I'm by myself because no one else in my family is quite as interested as I am in the lives of midwives and nuns in a poor neighborhood in London in the 1950's. They also seem to be a bit squeamish over highly realistic childbirth scenes.

Go figure. Cowards.

I've started having recurring dreams where I am either pregnant or have just given birth, and when I'm struggling with productivity and sloth (as I often do), I imagine Sister Evangeline giving me a stern and entirely necessary scolding, which usually gets me up off the couch. (Usually. Unless I'm in the middle of an episode in which case Sister Evangeline will have to wait.)

It's safe to say Call the Midwife has infiltrated every aspect of my life.

I'd go so far as to say the show has become my own personal Life Coach and that I follow its guidance as close to the letter as I can. Except for the bicycling. I'm too scared of Seattle traffic to start bicycling everywhere.

The other day I watched an episode where one of the main characters suffers a heartbreaking loss (no spoilers, I won't say who). She is struggling to find her footing in a world that no longer makes sense, when she receives some wisdom from an older woman who has fought her own battles with heartache.

In answer to what she is supposed to do now, how does she go on, what does she do next? The older woman says to her simply, "You just keep on living. You keep living...everyday...until you feel alive again."

Last night a bunch of us gathered together again. My CTMW-enabling sister in law and younger brother came into town to visit, which was as good a reason as any to pull together an evening of food and drink and conversation and hugging. (There is a lot of hugging these days. I'm not typically much of a hugger, but I'm coming around. I have to. It seems I can't stop these people.)

There was also laughter. Lots of laughter.

Sometimes I feel like I don't know how to explain the laughter. That if someone were looking from the outside in we would look more like a bunch of silly, party clowns than the bruised and battered tribe that we are.

And then I saw this quote today:

There are three things which are real: 
God, human folly, and laughter. 
The first two are beyond our comprehension, 
so we must do what we can with the third.
~Adapted from a Hindu poem 

We laugh because it's part of who we are, who we have always been, and who she was. 

To stop laughing would be to stop living. It would mean that we not only lost her, but that we turned our backs on her. The laughter is how we honor her and everything she gave us. 

Every time we have been together- noisy, full of food and wine, crammed shoulder to shoulder in the kitchen while the rest of the house stands empty- at some point someone has whispered to me, I swear I hear her. I swear I can hear her laugh. 

Every time.

And I say, I know. Me too. 

I don't know how she did it, but she brought all of these people together. And what a raggedy, eclectic bunch we are. 

But we know how to laugh.  

She taught us so very well. 

The CTMW enabler and Tracy going to battle in our annual $10 gift exchange.
I think they worked it out in the end. ;-)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

All things new

It's that time again. A New Year, a new One Word.

I'm a bit late posting my word not because I haven't settled on a word, but because my mind has been full of so many words, and thoughts, and to-do's, and feelings lately...that I have been too scattered to put them down into any organized form.

You: So, what you're saying is that you write best when your mind is empty?

Me: Yes. Don't ask questions.

You: But, wouldn't having no thoughts imply having nothing to say?

Me: Shhhh..... It's complicated. 

If you want a more detailed explanation of my whole One Word approach to the New Year, you can read about it here and here. I simply do not have the mental bandwidth to re-hash all of that so links are going to have to do.

If you are really bored (or are trapped under something heavy and are looking for ways to pass the time) and actually clicked on those links, you will learn that in past years coming up with my One Word took a bit of effort. There was a sort of process, if you will, that I went through to arrive at my all-important, annual One Word.

This year, my One Word came to me in early December and never left.

The fact that it was so effortless makes me wonder if I am subconsciously cheating and just opted to settle for the first reasonable word that came to mind, (As opposed to the many unreasonable words that come to mind for me all the time like: Doritos, pizza, cookie dough, margaritas...yes, I'm hungry...and no, none of those would make a good One Word....or...would they??) I was saying, my One Word came to me in early December and decided to stick around for the long haul.

Since then, there have been some seismic changes in my life, but oddly enough, I feel like my word still fits. So, maybe I wasn't cheating after all? Maybe this is truly the word I need in 2016?

So, without further ado... my One Word for 2016 is...


A tiny word but one that is just chock full of promise and potential. It's almost shiny in its aura of hopefulness and optimism. Except when it isn't...

See, I'm not always a person who enjoys new things. I can be pretty content to have everyday play out with the predictability of Groundhog Day, slightly tweaking things here and there until I can finally get things right.

New can be exciting! But new can also be scary.

New opportunities can open doors to blessings you never imagined! And sometimes you have to find your way to a new normal that you never dreamed of or wanted.

In 2016, my intention is to be more open to change. To embrace the NEW and not cling to the old out of fear or intimidation.

Don't get me wrong, I am well aware that new is not always better. In fact, my more conservative nature tends to lead me more toward the end of the spectrum that says new is rarely better (can we bring back the Betamax and cassette tapes?). I'm not throwing out anything of value in my life, regardless of how well seasoned. I'm keeping my marriage, my family, my friends, my faith... Nothing crazy is happening here. I'm just going to work on not having knee-jerk reactions to new possibilities in the year ahead.

This might mean saying yes to things when I would normally say no, or no to things when I would normally say yes.

It means allowing myself to be different and not getting trapped in an unyielding mindset of who I am. More and more I am realizing that we are always changing, always growing. In fact, I believe that we are created to change! So, who I have been does not dictate who I might be tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

I often catch myself giving myself labels- "introvert", "homebody", "someone who doesn't like change" (for example)- but these are all just mindsets for the most part. Sure, we all have God-given traits that make us different and unique, but I don't think God meant for any of those traits to resemble handprints pressed into concrete- frozen and unchanging for all of time.

Sometimes it's just a matter of stretching ourselves in the smallest ways, a little bit each day.

2016 is already giving me opportunities to live out my One Word- in ways that are both exciting and sad, scary and hopeful.

In the category of new things that I never dreamed of or wanted...

2016 will be the very first year of my entire life that I will spend without this beautiful soul's physical presence. My cousin, my playmate, my inspiration, my soul-sister, my buddy, my lifetime companion...

I know, I look very suspicious here. But trust me, I loved her right from the start.

Tracy taught me the art of vacationing and the importance of a beach beverage from a young age.

I met my husband thanks to these two.
Friends forever.

We raised this mob of boys together, and then the little Princess who tagged along later.

A million small moments and good times.
And, of course, only those two were ready for the pic.
Always camera ready!

No one has ever made me laugh harder.
(Try to ignore that my hair looks like David Cassidy.)
(Windblown is not my best look.)

Our whole family is missing this girl.

We called ourselves the A Team (silly, inside joke).
The A Team will never be the same...
"...and all the trumpets sounded for her on the other side."
~John Bunyan
I miss you every minute of every day.
There aren't enough pictures or words to convey what Tracy meant to me and the hole that has been left in my life (although we gave it a good try with the photos-we have A LOT). We already spent a new Christmas without Tracy and 2016 will be full of so many other new firsts. I pray I find a way to live them well, honoring her and all the people she loved so very much.

In the category of scary but hopeful new things...

The Sawyers are taking their road show east of the mountains.

I really honestly never thought I'd say these words.

We are moving.

Not until the end of the school year so it isn't imminent, but it's happening.

I don't know what to say about that quite yet, except to say to all of our friends and neighbors who we have spent our lives with for the past 24 years, we love you. We love this city. We love this neighborhood. We love this home.

And we will still be around. I promise.

And that's all I have to say about that right now (as I channel Forrest Gump) but I imagine there will be lots more words on this subject forthcoming.

And there will be whole bunches of NEW that will go along with it.

For now, I will leave you with my 2016 verse of the year:

Let it be so. 

Happy New Year, friends.

Let's make it a good one.