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A Bitter Cold Day in January

Kissing Noah Goodbye, Audrey Imfeld, NILMDTS photographer.

It was sunny and gorgeous, like most days in Colorado, but it was January and a bitter cold front had brought in single digit temps overnight. Forecasters promised warmer days, but we wouldn’t see them for a while. The day had finally come for us to leave Children’s Hospital of Denver, a place our family had called home for an inordinate amount of time.

Months earlier when our son Noah was only 7 weeks old, we took him to an outpatient Neurology appointment, one that ended up turning into a 5.5 month hospital stay. Because we had been there so long, we accumulated some extra things, including gifts and well wishes from family, friends, and even strangers around the world.

My husband took a few bags out to the parking garage and the plan was for me to meet him out front after the car warmed up. An Arizona girl, I truly believe winter should be a destination, not a required season.

I bundled our son in a beautiful fisherman’s knit onesie and matching hat, and tiny soft blue Ugg’s sent from Australia, and then wrapped him in several blankets…my attempt to somehow stave off the cold. My husband is from South Dakota where it’s too cold to steal cars in the winter, so he came back up to the room to help with any loose items, leaving the car idling at the hospital entryway. The staff, nurses, and doctors on duty gave us final hugs as we made our way down the hall, grateful, yet wondering how we could finally be headed home.

I didn’t bother putting our then 7 month old son in his car seat as we headed across town. No. I held him tighter to my heart than a seatbelt ever could. We lived less than 5 miles from the hospital, and only had one stop before we got home…I knew nothing could hurt him.

We parked our car at the mortuary and made our way into the quiet lobby. A woman who knew we were coming met us there to receive Noah’s lifeless body. As we handed Noah over to her, my husband and I both collapsed in heaps on the ugly floral couches, grateful to the cushions for collecting tears and softening our guttural cries. We were going home, but Noah would not be coming with us.

To say I’m unconventional is an understatement. I’ve never been a fan of brands, labels, being boxed in, or being told what to do or how to do it. When our son was hospitalized for 5.5 months, I had to learn to live outside the box of traditional parenting. And when he died and the hospital told me his body would be put into the morgue and then transported to the crematorium by the mortuary’s staff, I said, “Ummm, no. My kids isn’t going to spend any time in a morgue. We’ll drop him off. Thanks.”

As you might imagine, no one had ever told the hospital such a thing. I mean, who walks out of a hospital with their dead person?

*This is a segment for a piece I’m submitting to a storytelling platform. I wanted to share it here with you first, because you’ve always been LOVE and SUPPORT like no others and putting this stuff out there gets scarier as I get closer to book proposal stage.

31 Sure Fire Ways to Screw Up Your Kids

free photo: pixabay user/sasint

Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to counseling.

If you didn’t raise your hand, it’s not because your parents were perfect or that you actually have your schtuff together. You either didn’t raise your hand because: you’re lying; you didn’t hear the question; you were raised with strict religious, intellectual, or spiritual shaming messages that counseling is for the weak or faithless; or, it’s just that your parents probably didn’t believe in counseling because their parents didn’t believe in counseling because their parents didn’t believe in counseling, so, like a helluvalotta other things, they passed that belief onto you.

It’s not our faults. It’s theirs. It’s always “theirs.”

But every generation has the opportunity to write its own story…every generation, collectively and on individual scale, is responsible to make peace with the past and create a healthier today and tomorrow.

And if you’re a parent, one day, when your kids encounter conflict, especially if they’re off to college and possibly for the first time hear they’re actually designed with “critical-thinking,” all their problems will be because of you.

That’s right. It’ll be your fault…you’ll be the “them,” and that kind of sucks. But it doesn’t have to be all that bad!

So, how does one generation screw up the next? When are we going to start owning our schtuff long enough to see our part in the mess? And what can we do to deal with and let go of our schtuff in a healthy and timely fashion as not to project our sludge into the future generations but cheer them on to explore and do it differently and better than us?

Here are 31 Sure Fire Ways to Screw Up Your Kids, in no particular order:

  1. Know everything and make sure your kids believe you’re the authority on all the things.
  2. Shut down questions with, “Because I said so, that’s why…end of discussion.”
  3. Forget you were once a kid, of all the ages your kids are and will be one day.
  4. Believe you have nothing to learn from a kid, or anyone else, for that matter.
  5. Multi-task time with your kids with something you have to check off your to-do list.
  6. Never let your kids see you sad or disappointed or anything other than happy happy joy joy.
  7. Forget that you are figuring it out, too…all of it.
  8. Demand immediate submission and obedience. 
  9. Believe, “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” is something kids need to memorize, but not something you have to live out in front of them.
  10. Do things because that’s just how you’ve always done them.
  11. Overcompensate for the lack of whatever thing you think your childhood was missing.
  12. Tell your kids HOW to believe and WHAT to believe in, and DEFINE what their faith should look like.
  13. Let your fear of death and eternity be your filter for everything.
  14. NEVER model authenticity or vulnerability…get yourself together, dude!
  15. Never tell them you are sorry, by God, you’re the freaking parent! Parent up, YO!
  16. Diet or “cleanse,” constantly exercise, own a scale and use it often, and pinch your muffin top in the mirror in front of them, but tell them they are beautiful.
  17. Tell them never to talk to strangers, and model the part where you don’t make eye contact with one.
  18. Demand perfection in every area, especially: manners, appearance, grades, performance, hygiene, human interactions.
  19. Use God as your scapegoat by cherry picking scriptures and whatever your pastor said, to back the way you’ve chosen to “discipline.”
  20. Abolish all empathy from your parenting game.
  21. Model intolerance, first for yourself, then especially for “others.”
  22. Live offended…of everything and everyone, especially when your kids think differently than you.
  23. Teach them to believe the worst about people.
  24. Use blanket statements, stereotypes, and generalizations when talking about people.
  25. Drive like you own the road and tell those people in the other cars just what you think of them, out loud.
  26. Make them eat their veggies, but you don’t have to since you did your time as a kid.
  27. Have people over only when your house is clean.
  28. Project onto your kids what you assume they are feeling, thinking, experiencing.
  29. Forget that the back of your phone and computer are today’s “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
  30. Tell them they have to pick a “real major” in college because you know it’ll financially help them in the long run, even if you hate your life, but have a padded bank account.
  31. When they come home from their first year of college and tell you they learned their family of origin is dysfunctional, tell them, “Hey, I put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional.” And then change the subject and discount what they’re saying as stupid, 18-year old rebellious teenage stuff…cuz, what could they know, right?!


And this list could go on…

We’re all figuring it out. The point of every generation is to not only teach the next, but to learn from them, too…not hold on for dear life to the lessons of those who have gone before them. Our great greats and greats and grandparents and parents did a lot of things right, and they also had some things wrong, big and small. Same with us. And same with the next. It’s not rebellious to do it differently when hate or ignorance isn’t sustainable.

Let’s posture ourselves for learning and see what happens.


“I Love Her More…”

free photo courtesy: pixabay user/emrahozaras

free photo courtesy: pixabay user/emrahozaras


I can’t sleep.

I’m not sure if it’s the hormone expressions of a 46 year old woman, the fact that I had to use the bathroom, a text from a friend in the middle of the night asking for prayer, or the fact that my 7 year old son has been sleeping with me for the last week and periodically throughout the night I get a heel in my side or an elbow to the face. We call him a sleeping octopus.

Either way, I just had one of those “Love You Forever,” moments and so now I have been awake since 3:54am.

Parenting isn’t easy.

[Read more…]

Life Interrupted

When I was in high school I used to keep a daily calendar…to be specific, I had a DayTimer. It was black leather with a zipper, totally official and tabbed and color-coded. And every single day over the course of a month, I wrote down and planned what outfit I would wear for the week, as to be careful never to repeat an ensemble twice in a two-week period, if not longer.

Clearly a first-world luxury.

I also used my DayTimer to plan ahead and keep track of class requirements, upcoming tests, my swim team meets and responsibilities as captain, my basketball games, youth group gatherings, and even a little red “dot” to mark important dates.

Though I’m an artist, go-with-the-flow kind of spirit, I thrive and flourish within boundaries and structure…

When I headed to college I replaced the calendar pages with a fresh new year and wrote in pencil everything each professor had given us in our syllabi, as well as all my social events and chaplain responsibilities and meetings, even first dates and break-ups. I lived and breathed and existed via the pages of my “organizer.”

After college when I had a career for 5 years, one in the field of college student development with a job description entailing a 24/7 work week, I kept my every move, hour by hour, scribed and color-coded, in my weekly and monthly schedule. If that thing ever got misplaced, I was lost…totally and completely lost. Thankfully, that never happened.

Then we moved across the country, while I was mega-pregnant, and bought a fixer-upper and knocked out walls and tore out the kitchen and Jason started at his new job 3 days later, so I sat covered in sawdust, eating chocolate chip cookies baked in a toaster oven, friendless, and started watching Soaps…

Eventually I snapped out of it, we met friends, I ditched Bo and Hope, my belly became a beautiful, little, priceless reality named Emily, and I started on the journey known as parenting…

a journey impossible to pencil into a calendar…a day to day sacred learning experience never intended to be minutely planned and scheduled into something as sterile as boundaries and structure and a DayTimer.

Parenting has been a rollercoaster ride with its twists and turns and loops…seasons of “closed for repairs” and “remodeling” and “expansion coming soon” and the fear of what’s on the other side of this upward climb and the letting go of trying to control it all.

Weirdest thing how the day I became a mom, my life no longer fit neatly into a neat, weekly-tabbed schedule…

I wear the same jeans every other day…because: COMFORT! A “red dot” is a sticker on clearance items at a store. I have “chaplain” meetings with my kids whether they are scheduled or not, and the only color-coding going on in my life has to do with laundry, on no specific day of the week.

Now, if every hour of my day and week were totally structured and written out in a planner or calendar, I’d rebel against it and feel suffocated, anyway.

But, with the kids spreading their wings little by little, I’m seeing a need to re-visit maybe a little bit of the structure I once knew and embraced. I know now better than to believe my life could be reduced to a rigid schedule, but I think part of me is longing to reign it in a teeny…maybe the creative, artistic side of me, as ironic as that sounds, is longing for a plan of action.



…or my alternate title, “Why I Would Suck at Being a Jew.”

Ho. Lee. Smokes. Folks.

It’s the hours which lead up to dance parties, tooth brushing, stories, and prayers that have led to the rapid grays growing haphazardly out of my head.  These grays all started appearing a little over 3 years ago. True story. Ask my hair stylist. I don’t make this stuff up.


Those eyelashes...

Those eyelashes…

Let’s see…he dipped his head in the potty the other day, prior to flushing. We had errands to run and so I let him leave the house with urine tipped bangs. Whatever.

And the dog. Four pounds of fluff. Not just fluff, but she’s all bark and getting sassier as the days go by. She’s wound tighter than a $3 watch and needs medicinal marijuana more than any of the old hippies who have been fighting for it here in Colorado. And Ryan and she, Lady that is, have a love/hate relationship. It used to be I’d say he loves her and she hates him, but in more recent days, I think they both like to ruffle each other’s feathers. The look in his eye when he’s chasing her is just downright naughty.

And why does he punch?  It’s like he has so much enthusiasm and is trying to express himself, but why the punching?

Then I had to Google how to get toothpaste out of the carpet. Because. Even though he doesn’t HAVE to sleep during “room time,” a nap is preferred, but he is allowed to read or play with toys for a while. Quiet does NOT equal sleeping at our house. Apparently it equals torn books, wall hangings strewn on the floor, naked boys who try to wipe their own hinies, hand soap on the walls, and toothpaste on the carpet. Oh…and bronze glittery eye shadow from his big sisters not-quite-old-enough-to-wear make-up bag.

As Em walked up the stairs to change so she and I could head to Michael’s for creative inspiration, I heard a scream all the way down in the kitchen. Jason and I locked eyes and both headed up to the unknown.

He told his sister, “Look, I’m brown!”

She didn’t know what to say except scream, “MOM!”

Sure enough, the bronze shadown does wonders for his pasty white winter belly, as well as the creamy white chenille rocking chair where life used to be a mite more subdued and magical, swaddled and snuggled.

Now the magic looks a little different…

We went ahead and watched the helpful video on YouTube of how to clean up the carpet. The ShopVac dumped dirty water twice on the clean, dry spots of his room.  I hate carpet.  A lot.

But fast forward to him swimming contained in the tub while we cleaned up his room, then smiles and snuggles as we got moose jammies on and headed down for a yummy dinner as a family, holding hands in prayer, thanking God for our food…fast forward to the part where he embraced dancing a little bit more as I threw him atop my shoulders and we danced and raised our glasses like dirty little freaks in the family room, the only people in the neighborhood with our shades up, every day, all the time.

And he laughed and said, “More, more, more!” And I danced and let it out and sweated and hit “repeat” and played other inappropriate songs, and we danced and danced.  I danced away the frustration.

Fast forward to the part where he gets to pick three books and we snuggle close and he can practically finish the sentences…and then the part where he shuts the light, plops down real close, we hold hands and I pray. I thank God for creating Ryan Everett Graves. I thank Him for the opportunity to count his toes and trace his ear and nibble his neck and nose. How I get to be his mom and he chooses me, even after he knew I was disappointed with him for not being a team earlier, because I said so, but he chose me to tuck him in, anyway.

And I thank God that, even though 3 is the hardest thing I’ve done in years, he. is. three.

And as I mentally measure the length of his lashes as his eyes slam shut, ones every girl would envy, even this Latisse using mom, I’m carried away to a sweet dreamy place where everything from the day is forgiven, there’s a promise of a new day in the dawn, and in this moment where each breath I take smells of him and it’s all I can do not to hyperventilate with my love for him and my Awe of God,
I speak my thanks to God for this boy who brings my heart immeasurable joy.

And I ask for forgiveness, because life with a toddler, especially one who is a boy, does not allow for a sabbath rest.

But I have a feeling He understands, since He didn’t “do” the sabbath quite like the other guys of His day.

Top Ten Thanks

Every night, unless he is out of town, Jason and I are a tight team in the bedtime, tucking in the kids, routine.  At this stage, Ryan wants me most times and I won’t lie when I say, I’m eating up every single, “I want Mommy!” moment I can get because I know at some point, it’s possible he won’t choose me.  Em’s cool with whomever will read to her.  I never was in drama, but being a lover of books and stories, especially good dialogue, and maybe a little dramatic in nature, I try to read aloud with a bit of expression…soooo, all that to say, this could be why Em chooses me to read to her most nights, and former engineer PhD, dad, to do the tucking in and praying part.  We are a good team like that.

On the nights I do the tucking in and praying with Em, we lay our heads on the same pillow, because that’s just how we’ve always done it…and she still lets me.  She’ll play with my hair (which I really can’t stand, but I’m soaking in time with my pre-teen, so I’ll take what I can get…) and ask me to tickle her arm or back or the palm of her hand.  She tries to do the same to my arm or hand and that is where I draw the line.  It makes me nauseous.  Am I weird?  It’s almost like frosty freezers or nails on a chalkboard…back rub or foot massage?  Now we’re talking.

Here we are December of 2006, one of the nights I was home with Em while Dad was at the hospital with Noah…we’re sharing the same pillow, AND, Curious George is STILL part of the bedtime routine.  

Anyway, before we pray, I usually ask one of several questions, including:

  • What were your Top Ten favorites of the day?
  • What are 10 things for which you are grateful?
  • Let’s share our Top Five of the day.
  • Name 5 people you’d like to pray for tonight.
  • If you could tell God “10 Thanks” for today, what would they be?
  • Who is someone at school we could be praying for this week?
  • Is there anything specific you’d like to talk to God about tonight?
The list could go on and on, but my desire is to be INTENTIONAL to stop, reflect on the day, and give thanks to our loving God for anything and everything, in general, and specifically.
With Ry, at least with the second bullet point above, he’ll say something to the tune of:
  1. Tank You for horses.”
  2. Tank You for giraffes.”
  3. Tank You for Daddy.”
  4. Tank You for trains.”
  5. Tank You for cars.”
  6. Tank You for my cousins.”
  7. Tank You for Yay-goes.” (Legos)
  8. Tank You for mountains.”
  9. Tank You for CARS.”
  10. Tank You for my cousins.”
He means it about the cousins….
Often Emily says in her Top Ten, “Right now…”  It never gets old to hear her repeat this sentiment.  It’s actually my favorite in a totally selfish mommy sort of way.  I breathe in the “right now” and say, “Me, too!” and tell her, and God, how thankful I am to be her mom.  
Because, HOLY COW, I’m her mom!
Sometimes she tells me her Top Ten, and in my best Nacho Libre accent, I say, “You gotta be kidding me!  Everything you just said is my favorite thing to do, every day!” and we laugh.  Nacho may not be on your Top Ten list, but it’s a family favorite because before Noah ever went to the hospital for the rest of his life, somewhere in his first 7 weeks at home, free of machines and wires, I took him to see it with my eldest nephew.  We speak Nacho around here to lighten things up once in a while.  Sometimes I read our story in Nacho, just to change things up a bit.
Anyway, back to this post on Thankfulness.  I’m thankful Ryan says, “Tank” for “Thank.”  I’m thankful for an amazing husband who is engaged in the bedtime routine.  I’m thankful my daughter loves books as much as her nerdy word nerd mom.  I’m thankful for writers who have taken the time through the ages to scribe stories which we are able to read each night.  And, I’m thankful for comedians like Jack Black who make my stomach hurt from laughing.  
Mostly, though, I’m thankful for the “Right Now.”  When we recognize the “Right Now” as a gift from God, something as simple as a bedtime routine becomes sacred and beautiful, memorable and life-changing.
Tank You, Lord, for Right Now.  Just tanks…

*Heidi is sharing over on her blog about thanks this morning, too.
*Heidi Jo is sharing here.
*Elizabeth is sharing on her blog.

Where are you writing down your thanks?

All Up in Your Crazy

“I will combat my stress and heated difficult parenting moments with trips to the toilet.

I read a really darling short story about a woman who locked herself in her master bathroom happily for the weekend.  It was her own special stay-cation, complete with Orangina and crackers.
I may have to try that.  Don’t tell my kids.”
 –  Jessica Patay, author of “She Runs a Good Race”

Here’s my comment:
Some thoughts: I rhymed “Orangina” with vagina when I read that…and you caught me, my kids are perfect and I do, indeed, every moment of everyday, respond in godly wisdom and oozing goodness to them, like it oozes from me, from every pore…it’s like I’m angelic or something.  This post has just inspired a post in my head…so I’m heading over to my blog to get my writing on, but in the meantime, you are better than me because instead of sitting on the pot to talk to God and find “poof” peace lately, I’ve been escaping to try to beat level “30” on Candy Crush.  And when I do sit in there a while I poop rainbows.  #isuckwayworsethanyou #youareonefantasticmama #iloveyougirl #youareawesome

My girlfriend Jess is an inspired writer, raw and authentic, and just posted some great wisdom for moms, a result of what she has been learning in “time-out”…not her kids’ time-outs, but her own…where she puts herself to cool off and think it over.  The following post was inspired by her piece and actually started as my comment in her comment section, but I didn’t want to hi-jack the post with a mega-comment, so, instead, here it is.

May I invite you into my brain, friend?  It looks a helluva lot like the 144 magazines on the library wall I’m sitting across from at this moment, all on different topics, each with a 100+ pages, plus advertising…and in that chaos, I get overwhelmed in my own head, want to throw everything away and live in an RV and just come visit you and drink a little wine overlooking the great Pacific.  Then Emily, excited, sweet, with the greatest of intentions, comes over to my shit-laden desk where I sit staring, wondering how I didn’t get one friggin’ thing accomplished all day, yet managed to stay busy anyway, and says, “Mom, can we look at organizational websites and draw up a plan of action and spend the whole weekend totally purging and organizing my room?”  And I should be excited about this because my kid wants to down-size and get organized but I’m folding 9 loads of laundry, laced with camouflage and safety orange and glow in the dark pajamas and odd numbered socks and I have 17 books home from the library that contain no pictures because they are for me to gain inspiration on how to live life free of the crazy because I actually don’t care about stuff or things so organizing her room or any room in the house would look more like donating everything to the thrift and, of course, only having “7” of anything…and it’s nearing the dinner hour and my personal Paleo chef decides we’re having GF frozen pizzas and full-on grain nachos with dollops of dairy and leftover buffalo carnage.

And she doesn’t mean anything by it because how could she know all the crazy that goes on in my head and heart on any given day?  And truth be told, her desire to purge, organize, and clean her room is evidence of her listening and letting it soak in all the times I’ve said, “Sweetie, more stuff doesn’t fill the deepest part in our heart we’re trying to fill…it’s just more stuff and eventually it will overwhelm us. Less truly is more.”

But the truth is I am a little kid, totally ego-centric, because I want to purge, organize, and clean up my crazy before I clean up her crazy.  I wanna be first!

And since I was just in the bathroom, I can’t run there, she’s got me cornered at my desk in the kitchen, so I sit on the toilet in my head go there in my head and talk to God, I’m not even 1/2 listening to her but instead breathing deeply, in my own time-out, and I repent for being selfish and ask God for grace in this moment, to let go of the agenda, my to-do list, my crazy, because I can’t play level “30” to escape, and thanks to you, friend, I can’t even eat chocolate or drink a little to escape because we are doing this flippin’ accountability thingy, and it’s good because I know and you know and we all know God truly is the Only One who can fill that deepest part in our heart where everything else around fades in importance and priority and somehow falls into place.

And so I pull her onto my lap, hug her huge with #intention, and tell her, “Peanut, I would totally love to help you with your room!  Let’s get a plan and do it!”

Because spending the weekend with my pre-teen daughter, because she wants me to, is a blessing…I guess it’s all about perspective.

History in Pictures

Happy 20th Anniversary, Sweetheart!  20 years.  I wrote a “Husband List” before we even met and started dating.  It was 6 pages long.  No pressure, right?!  I think it was the “thing” to do in Christendom way back when, now hidden in a journal somewhere in the basement.   On it were things about integrity, wisdom, a sense of humor, someone who was a good financial steward.  Truth be told, I don’t recall all the things I thought a husband should be, or at least things I wanted in one, but I remember the first item and it read like this:

  1. My husband has to love God more than he loves me.  If this isn’t in order, nothing else will be.

In my immaturity as a 21 year old girl marrying the love of her life, somewhere in my heart I’m sure I thought you would be all those things when we walked down the aisle.

Time and maturity and many moments on our knees before God have shown me how very short the list could have been in the first place.  The rest has been icing on the cake.  After I self-righteously scribed “The Husband” list years ago, the person leading us in the exercise said, “Okay, now, before you can expect those tings from another person, you have to be willing to let God instruct YOU in them, as well.”

It’s safe to say, this has been a journey of learning, the best and hardest lessons of my life, but I can’t imagine not learning to love and live without you by my side. 

For a man of few words, you sure married a wordy girl.  I could just write, “I love you,” but there’s just so much more to it with 20+ years of inside jokes, memories shared, world travels, losing loved ones, having kids, remodeling 2 houses, job losses and gains.  All I know is, you could write a post entitled, “What Every Husband, and Guy Whoever Wants to be One, Needs to Know to Have a Happy and Healthy Marriage.”  Sweetheart, you are an expert in this field, and I think it boils down to you doing these three things very, very, very well:

You love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind…and you love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And by neighbor, that would be me. *wink, wink

Marriages are crumbling and dying all around us.  This isn’t to say we haven’t walked through gray areas, dry zones, and faced what seemed insurmountable obstacles.  We have.

But I love God more than I love you, too, and so it’s worked.  We work.

I told you “I love you” first.
A note your mom gave to me before our wedding.  This is a letter every mom should write to their future child-in-law.
June 26th, 1993
Our first self-portrait as Mr. and Mrs. Jason Graves, ready to set out on the first of many adventures.
10 nights in paradise
Your leg was shaking as you braced yourself over the waterfalls.  Thanks for splurging on our student income…Maui was a fantastic memory!
Remember the storm that morning?  So much has changed since the time this picture was taken.  I was so blessed to know your dad, Sweetheart!  And my heart is full to call your mom a dear friend and to walk and do life with my parents in the day to day.  We are so rich!
Your first Weber at Foxfire, Tulsa, OK
I love that besides Mexico, every country I’ve ever traveled to, it’s been with you!  Here’s a sweet little Siberian fan of yours.
I believe this anniversary consisted of strange tasting pizza in St. Petersburg, followed up with 60 teenagers asking us how our date went…
I know we moved to MN for your PhD, but I just want to thank you for putting up with me and my love of student ministry and mentoring girls.  Those 5 years I worked at NWC were a highlight of my 20’s, even as rough as some of them were.  I can’t believe I got paid to hang out with hundreds of young women year after year!  Thank YOU for being secure in who you are and never being jealous of the time I spent with the girls!   I loved that job and every girl I met there.  My life is richer for knowing each one, and though you were quiet and working on your thesis most of that time, I felt your constant support, so thank you! You seriously are the best!
Here you are on a bro-mance getaway to Alaska…because that is something we both shared openly up front:  friendship and time with our guys or girlfriends is important.  I appreciate so much your healthy, balanced approach to knowing you can’t fill my every need, nor can I fill yours.  I’m so grateful you have had man getaways and I just want to say, “Thank you!” for the times you’ve encouraged me to be with my Bevies!

More bro-mance happening over turkey carcasses…
On top of the world…or at least the Andes.  I always wanted to travel the world…I didn’t figure we’d always have teenagers with us, but hey, leading trips meant they were paid for, hey hey!!!
Thanks for allowing me this one semi-crush.  Bono is too short for me, and married and all, but I never wanted to marry him…you have always been the only man I ever wanted to marry.  Thanks for all the concerts over the years.
Our first house in White Bear Lake.  We sure did make that thing cute!  I remember being in the basement, barely pregnant with Emily, watching airplanes fly into the Twin Towers.  Better memories, however, were living only a few blocks away from Ryan and Shannon, walking over to that burger place or Einstein’s, and playing pranks on our friends.
Ahh, Gramma Pat’s house.  Thank you for your patience with me as the daughter of a builder who saw no reasons why we couldn’t just knock down that wall and that wall and that wall, all while pregnant with our firstborn!  Were we crazy?  All I know, I was large and in charge!  You did a beautiful job on that place, Sweetheart!  Thanks for making 803 Poplar our home!
I always knew you’d be a great dad!  You were pretty in awe of Emily making her sweet entrance into the world!  Thanks for holding my hand, helping me breathe, and pushing my hair out of my face.  It still blows my mind that God would say, the very moment she was born, “I love her more!” 
Our Peanut, Firstborn, Daddy’s Girl. circa 2004

And since you or I had never been a parent before, all I can say is, I’m glad we’ve gotten to “wing it” together!  We haven’t done it all right, but I think she’s turning out alright…and that because you place God first.
I think this was our first official nugget of time away from Em.  Thanks for playing in the Big Apple with me!  We’ve been in some pretty fun places together!  Can’t wait for some more!
Pretty sure this is our 12th anniversary when we first discovered Vesta Dipping Grill.
Perks of you working for a company out of England…Thanks for letting us tag along for a couple of weeks.  Thanks for being sweet and enduring my love of Lady Di and having lunch at that one place plastered with her pictures, too.
Oh man, this was a fun trip!  Remember the little Japanese ladies who came to our hotel room and walked on our backs?  How was that naked business meeting of yours?  Awkward?  #japanesebathhouse #nikkojapan #tallestpeopleinjapanthatweek

Our firstborn son.  Oh man, I was so happy to give you a boy, and selfishly to soak him up myself.  Thanks for being a champ and going along with inviting all my Bevies into the delivery room!  Thanks, too, for choosing Noah’s name.  It was beautiful…he was beautiful!
Mt. Evans hike with your man cub, June or July 2006.
August 2nd, 2006.  God was my Solid Rock, you were my hand to hold and shoulder to lean on.  Your faithfulness was unmatched.

We celebrated his 1st birthday surrounded by friends and rainbows in the sky.  He was the only one not in attendance.

Years later, on this anniversary, I think we had found our smile again…
On this one, I know we did, because the following picture is a result…wakka, wakka

Brave, protective big sister…scared mama, trying to treasure the life of the one growing in me.  Thanks for taking a risk with me, Sweetheart!  Trying this whole “having a kid again” thing was a rollercoaster, but one I’m glad I got on.  Thanks for holding my hair back as I puked my way through the fear.  You’re kind of awesome!

I know you were tired, physically and emotionally.  By this picture, you and I had already celebrated 17 anniversaries!  Honored to welcome into our lives this son named after your friend. 

#deepcontentmentandthankfulness #utterexhaustion #ilovemyguys

20 years, Sweetheart.  20 years.  You are the most generous man I’ve ever known.  You are wise, in fact, those scriptures in Proverbs about wise guys with few words, well, I know God wrote some of those specifically about you. 

This is from our 19th wedding anniversary last year having Spanish tapas in downtown Denver.  This year we’ll be having tapas in Spain.  I can’t wait for more adventures, though I do not take for granted all we’ve already shared.
Jason Aaron Graves, you are my very best friend and I’d say “I do” all over again if you asked me.  But this time I would skip the poofy dress…

I sure love you, Sweetheart!

It’s Important for you to Know

It’s important for you to know I don’t always hate myself.

It’s important because it is the truth.

And “hate” is a big word, one which isn’t truly accurate for how I feel day in and day out.  But for those of you who struggle with the person in the mirror on occasion, you know when the word “hate” is stirring and feel the brunt of it when it rears its ugly head.

Most days I don’t even think about myself.  I love being a wife and mom and friend and neighbor.  All roles I enjoy and have even chosen.

But this morning a thought came to mind.  After processing it a bit with my husband, a friend, and just an hour ago with my counselor, I’ll try my best to convey here.

Earlier this week I read this article.  Before you criticize the author, read it and then process it through the following filter:

My intention in attending a 4-year college was not to find a husband.  I mean, really, if you think about it…$20,000/year for private schooling = a really nice dowry after 4 years.  Instead, I got married with a heap load of debt.  I went to school with a desire to learn and grow and explore more of God’s creativity, knowledge, and will for my life.  Originally I wanted to be a writer, but after being placed in remedial English my freshman year (WHO KNEW you could study for the SAT???!!!) and being challenged by my parents to choose a “real major,” I decided to move forward in pre-med, because I at least knew I wanted to heal people.  (*Pretty sure my parents envisioned a beatnik writer in a smoky coffee shop with a beret handing out free copies of my work or a writer in a cabin in the woods, never publishing but living off her parents.  I think they forgot about journalists and columnists and you know, authors and writers.)

Photo by Ann Larie Valentine

If you’ve read here a while, you know I didn’t make it through pre-med, seeing as how passing chemistry is necessary and all.  With a passion for international travel and culture and a love for God’s love story for the world, I majored in Theology with a Missions emphasis and a minor in Spanish.  Upon graduation, my husband and I set off with hundreds of teenagers in tow to Venezuela to share God’s love, and that was just the beginning.  (*This doesn’t really have anything to do with what I’m talking about here…but you try tracing a thought in your head on paper.  It’s tough stuff.)

Anyway, way back when my mom told me about reproduction, namely sex and baby delivery, I was cool never being a mom.  And FOR SURE not going through the delivery part.  Ewwww and OWWW!  Kids were fine and all if they belonged to someone else, but for me, it was six in one, half dozen in the other.  Then I met my husband and realized he would be one amazing dad.  And then I met our first child and fell in love.

I hung up the world of Student Development in the college setting, having only been surrounded by college aged women from the time I entered college plus 7 more years as a professional.  And I entered into daily one on one’s with an infant girl.  One for whom I was souly (*I meant: soul) responsible, but really had nothing to give in return other than bodily excretions and some lovely sounds and snuggles.  All good, but not the reason I went to college.

Soooo, follow along here for a sec…a few years ago my mom and I were talking about indulgence and contentment specifically how I’ll eat to escape.  We talked about how on vacation we are relaxed, enjoying feelings attached to new memories, rewarding experiences, and new pleasures, often times coupled with dining and trying exotic foods or yummy drinks or relaxing on warm beaches.  These are all good and great and obviously a luxury, but all reasons we long for and look forward to vacations, even short getaways. 

This morning it occurred to me, a person who loves authenticity and enjoys the art of writing, whether on paper or in my head, that even though I love being a wife and mom, those roles do not define me.  My friend even said her husband posed the question to her several years ago, “If I died or our children died, you wouldn’t be my wife or their mother anymore…so who would YOU be, not what would you DO?”  He went on to say those are roles she may love, but they aren’t necessarily her authentic true self, they are part of her but not her.

Are you even tracking with me?  I’m sorry if not…I’m trying here.

So, I can’t speak for you, but I’ll speak for myself.  I adore my children and am a really good mom.  I’m also a smoking hot, attentive wife who prays favor and blessings over my husband every day.  And during this season of life, which is now going on 11 years as a parent, 20 as a wife, I’ve put aside much of my own desires, passions, pursuits, and ways in which I am wired, to focus on the here and now, namely my family and their well-being.

I put all my coals in one fire.

Like the British mum who expressed her heart, this is not something I should have done.  Loving myself by keeping one iron in the fire would have kept God’s deposits, His gifts, still kindling.  INSTEAD, like many SAHM’s and Outside the Home Working Mums, I focused on just one thing and that one thing became THE thing.  And as a result, I have FILLED those places which were rich and fulfilling with temporary satisfaction, namely food.

And maybe you’ve filled it with an addiction to sassy coffee or keeping a perfectly clean house or volunteering extra hours at things which are good and worthwhile and important or shopping or redecorating and redecorating and redecorating your house or that third glass of wine?  Or maybe you’ve filled it with accomplishments at work and others opinions of you or checking things off a list or keeping up the image you portray to those around you, no matter how weary you really are?

These feelings we experience on vacation when we are able to escape from the day to day become feelings we want to experience in the day to day when the rubber hits the road and we feel overwhelmed…and especially as Americans, we think we deserve it.

Okay, never mind, I’ll speak for myself…I think I deserve it.

I think because I did 7 loads of laundry, cleaned the house, got Em off to school and played trains and dinosaurs with Ryan for three hours and put a healthy dinner on the table, I deserve this or that reward…and truth be told, I crave the reward and instant gratification food or wine or, for sure, chocolate, delivers.

All the while, the reason these temporary indulgences have come up short is because as I dove head first into being a mom, specifically, I didn’t leave an iron in the fire.  A writing iron, that is.  The very iron God designed in me as an outlet for creativity and in more recent years, for authenticity, ministry, and healing.

Which leads me to my Facebook post after counseling today:

“Here I go to counseling to talk about disordered eating and unhealthy expectations and body image, and we wind up talking about writing…because apparently when I write authentically, candidly, and with vulnerability, I’m being true to who God made me to be.”  #stuffcounselorstellyouthatyouknowdeepdown #killingmonsters #findingfreedomtowritemyheartout

After counseling I had lunch with Jason, then headed to a beatnik coffee shop to write.

The girls next to me asked me what I do.

I told them I’m a writer.

A Whole Lotta Tongue in Cheek

Recently someone I know posted a picture of himself being baptized as an infant.  His caption had some sort of smart ass sentiment about “water boarding” and “for shame…I was just a baby.” 

It got me thinking.  I started attending church at the same age he was in the picture.  That was about 41 years ago.  And church has looked like many different things over that time, including the last two years where I haven’t gone to church really at all…

Why did my parents do it?  Why was I given a head bath at a mass in 1972 in Ohio, one winter day?  Why did they choose Catholic over Lutheran over Episcopalian over Baptist over some other brand name denomination?  Why did I go to CCD, First Confession, First Communion, Confirmation?  Why did we give thanks before meals, pray before bed, talk about our problems and apologize, talk to God and about Him with one another?  Was it just so I could wear pretty dresses once a week?  Was it strictly out of social obligation?  Was it because our grandparents expected it or to escape the gates of hell?  Why did we “leave” the local catholic church, anyway, and how is it we wound up in the different kinds of churches since then?  How come some people danced and clapped their hands while others were solemn? 

One attribute I wholeheartedly embrace as a middle-child is that of peace maker.  I will believe the best in you to a fault, and so, I imagine that next to historical conviction, my parents raised me with faith not to cram their own beliefs down my throat or so us girls would fit a mold and be perfect, but so we would always hear from them and know from God that God is good, God made us, He loves us without condition and wants us to love others the same way because life is complicated, messy, and painful, and that He will come back for us one day, which is a good thing, not scary.

I’ve heard there are worse things parents can do to a child…I’m grateful my parents chose this form of “abuse” as some would see it. 

How tragic…a child was raised with loving parents who made mistakes and were learning it as they went along seeking Wisdom smarter than themselves, but deep down, at the end of each day, knew God was real even though she couldn’t see Him, and that He loved her.  For shame…

The peacemaker middle-child in me isn’t a score keeper.  On our family faith journey we haven’t always done everything right.  On my personal journey with the Lord, I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the mistakes I have made…you can do the math:  I dedicated my life to serving the Lord on May 10, 1987…if on average I screwed up 3 dozen times a day, to be conservative, that adds up to a whole lotta thankfulness for Grace and Forgiveness, that’s all I know.

Last night Emily and I snuggled on the couch and watched, “Parental Guidance.”  All parents and kids should see this film together.  There are some fabulous lessons all around.  In one scene Billy Crystal and Marisa Tomei, father and daughter in the film, are in the kitchen late at night after the culmination of a weeks worth of fighting and disagreements and misunderstandings and major underlying passive aggressive anger from the past.  The film is a comedy, but I was bawling.  Tomei’s character had set up her life in such a way to do everything opposite from the way her parents raised her, a clear statement to them that they pretty much sucked/aka she could do it better, without their help, and quite perfectly, thankyouverymuch.

There are things I have done differently as a young woman, mom, wife, and follower of Christ than my parents, and their parents, and their parents before them.  And I’ve done many things the same.  Good and bad, because I am a human.

I know I will make many more mistakes in parenting as long as I’m on this earth.  I’ve already screwed my kids up a little, I’ll admit.  But if when they are older the worst thing they can say about me is that I prayed and asked God’s help in how to show them how much I loved them, well, then, I’m willing to take that risk.  We cannot force our children to believe what we believe, and it very well may break our hearts if they don’t, but we can love them…yep, that part is up to us.

Just make sure you love them with all of your guts…because holding some of your love back just because it may rip out your heart will only leave you never really knowing what it’s like to fully live.