Monday, February 16, 2015

Requiem for a Van

My minivan mama days ended abruptly on Friday, and I didn't even see it coming. A week ago I was happily broadcasting my intention of driving the Quest until her wheels fell off. True, Old Girl had 131,000 miles on her, and anyone who drove behind me could see that she'd had her share of run-ins--most damagingly with the wall of a parking garage. Two weeks ago, her side-mirror had a particularly destructive collision with our garage door frame. It's also true, she'd suffered scratches and dents and slopped coffee spills galore, but Old Girl was ours. She was paid for, and she was faithful.

And then, we got  the news. Old Girl's heart was corroded, and that rattling noise would cost $1900 to fix. While we appreciated how well she had served our family for the past 5 years, we knew our days with Old Girl were coming to an end. While I had never jumped on the whole "Once you drive a minivan, you'll never want to drive anything else" bandwagon, a strange thing happened as I drove to the car dealership on Friday: I got sad.

I waxed nostalgic the whole way down I-35. I thought about WHY we bought the Quest in the first place. How after having a foster child (of sorts) live with us for several months we knew that strapping three kids into three car seats in the crowded back end of the Explorer was less than ideal. So a few months before Makai's arrival, we decided to suck it up, sell the SUV, and go the way of suburban moms the country over.

Early on in my van-driving days, I saw a Honda Odyssey adorned with a bumper sticker that lamented "I used to be cool." I sped up alongside that van and glanced over at the driver. I hoped to make eye contact, to exchange the "I get you, you get me, we're in this thing together" shrug. The driver/mom was busy flinging goldfish crackers over her shoulder and didn't even notice me. Within months, I was her, almost dislocating my arm in order to offer baby Kai crackers, raisins, his sippy, anything to keep him happy for a few more minutes, for just one more stop.

So while I hadn't WANTED to be a minivan mom? I rolled with it. I reveled in being able to easily lift Kai into his carseat. I didn't have to reach up, I didn't have to bend down, it was perfect.  I liked that my kids were more than an arm's distance away from each other, and I resigned myself to the fact that, at least for a while, this van was my ride and a reflection of the stage of life in which I found myself.

And that stage? I loved it. Soli was in kindergarten when we bought the van. She was outgoing and funny, she sucked her fingers like a boss, she adored her sister, her dad, her new baby brother, and me. Soli was in half-day kindergarten, and one afternoon a week, several of the half-day moms (and one dad) would meet up at a park, have lunch and let the kids run their energy off. We had time on our hands, our only goal to be home in time for the kids to nap, in time for us to make dinner and maybe fold that load of laundry before our spouse came home.

As I write this, Soli is snowboarding down the hill in our front yard. She's running back and forth between our house and one of the neighbor's. On nice days, she and Maya cross the street and play in the small ravine behind the neighbor's house--unsupervised.  Soli is 10 and an almost-pre-teen and soft-hearted and smart. She is a reader and a thinker. She asks tough questions and loves nothing more than to be part of adult conversations. She is already10 and those early school years, our minivan years, flew by.

5 years ago, our life was different.

When we bought the van, Ferdie was a full-time pastor, I was a stay-at-home mom, our social life revolved around church people. I had my crew of SAHM friends, and we encouraged each other through infant sleep issues, potty training issues, post-pregnancy body issues, and "Is this really what my life has become? I'm college-educated, for God's sakes" issues. I talked on the phone a lot. I made innumerable meals for new moms. I spent whole days in pajama bottoms.

Yet now here we are: I've gone back to teaching, spending my days with teenagers, grading essays, discussing Julius Caesar and job interviews and why Kanye's such a jerk.  Ferdie is selling cars, his ministry less obvious, his "calling" less fixed, more fluid. Our friends are our neighbors, our colleagues, and a few good friends who've stuck by us since our first years in Kansas City. Most of my SAHM friends have re-entered the work force, and now we commiserate about how busy we are, juggling work and family and home and friendships. We talk less frequently, a weekly phone call or a girls' night out a luxury.

So my van years are behind me, and although the middle chapters of that era were harrowing and horrible, the book ends were great. Makai was born, and what more can I say about that? Has a better gift ever been given to a family? He was our mini sumo wrestler, the first chunky baby we'd borne. During the first year of his life, he was dubbed "Kai Kai, the Happy Guy," because he was the easiest. baby. ever. I know, I know, you're not supposed to brag about that, but we're four years removed now, and hey, it's true, after all.

The girls loved having a baby brother, and they were old enough to hold him and rock him and give him his bottle. They delighted at every milestone. Maya became a mini-mama, her nurturing side evident as she kissed Kai's boo boos, helped him into his pajamas, gave him bowls full of cheerios and snacks, held his hand across the aisle of the van.

Maya started school during our minivan years, and the life of our family became even more entrenched in the life of the Sunflower Elementary community. The girls joined Brownies, learned to read, began playing the piano. Their personalities and talents grew, and they surprised us with the joy of sisterhood. There was so much good in those years.

Often that good was embedded in the midst of ugly--the days when Ferdie and I did not know if our marriage would survive one more year, the months when we did not know how we'd pay the bills, the times when we doubted we'd ever be part of a church again, even then there was beauty. I had amazing sister-friends, a great counselor, good coffee in abundance, a family that had my back, people who took care of us. When we didn't have a church, we had a tribe. God was so evident in the people who surrounded us.

And this past year? My last year as a mini-van mama? It's been a ride, for sure. Last summer we packed the van and took our first "real" family road trip--just the Guintos, in a cabin, in the mountains, without technology for a week, and it was beautiful. We laughed and played and ate and hiked and read. We relaxed. For the first time in 10 years, we didn't have to deal with a stroller or a diaper bag or sippy cups. That felt like freedom, and we're hitting the road again this summer.

Finally, after a bit of reluctance, our family found a new church home. We committed. We Sharpied our names on stones and added them to the altar at the front of the church. Ferdie picked up his instruments again. One Sunday morning a few months back, he led worship for the first time in four years. No one in church knows us well yet, no one knew the years we'd passed through, no one knew that this? This was momentous. They didn't know that as Ferdie stood up front, guitar in hand, I sat in the back fighting sobs, watching redemption in action.

So on Friday, when we said goodbye to the Old Girl, it was with a little sadness, a little nostalgia, and a whole lot of gratitude. Because that minivan? She'd escorted both of the girls on their first day of school. She had delivered two day old Makai home from the hospital. She had taken me to the job interview that would restart my career. And she'd carried us over some rough roads.

Old Girl? She was a good one.

Now, let's see what this Hyundai's got.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Smack Down

One thing that really upsets me is when people talk smack about teenagers. They talk about how lazy today’s teenagers are, how entitled, how disrespectful, how unmotivated. They wonder aloud how I can hang out with teenagers all day, how I don’t get sick of their attitudes. And I realize this: They don’t know teenagers.
Yeah, they might know that one teenager next door, the one with the loud car, the one that slams his doors late at night and revs his engine early in the morning. They might know a niece or a nephew who, as a baby and a preschooler and a child,  adored them, but whose eyes don’t even lift off the screen of their iPhone in acknowledgment now.
They might know, even, their own child, their own teenager, and they might make generalizations about a whole society of teenagers based on the attitudes and behaviors of the one under their roof.
But me? I get to spend 7 hours a day with teenagers. I read their writing. I hear their conversations. I watch them live out their school days, and while some of these kids might not talk to their parents, most of them will talk with me.
This is what they are saying: We wish adults wouldn’t belittle us. We wish they wouldn’t underestimate us. We wish they would talk to us, not talk down to us.

Last year I asked my students what they wished adults knew about them. Many of their responses were similar and began like this: “I wish my parents would quit yelling at me and just talk with me. I wish they’d say they are worried rather than act like they are angry. I wish they’d let me be independent, make some bad decisions, live with the consequences.” Many, too, wished their parents would let them quit some of the sports and clubs and let them have a little down time, but that's a blog post for another day. 
This is the deal: Teenagers are not mini-adults and they are not just big kids–not most of the time, anyway. They are “Almost Adults,” and they are figuring out what they think about things, what they believe, who they want to be, how they want to live their lives. Many are realizing that the world is big–that they have vast options before them–and that the world is small– that ultimately, anywhere in the world you go, most people want the same things: love, health, friendship, a life of meaning.

When kids are growing into this “Almost Adulthood?” They can be surly. They can be dramatic. They might push you away when what they really want is a hug. They’ll challenge you. They’ll call you on the carpet, usually at a really inopportune moment.
They can be infuriating, for sure.
I have days when some of my students leave me shaking my head, wondering if they’ll ever become productive adults. On these days I remember what my mom could probably refer to as my “Whatever Stage,” when every interaction ended in that word, broken into two words, given life with my bad attitude: “What. Ever,” and I think “Well, I turned out okay, after all. There is hope for these kids.” And my mom still loves me, so there's that. 
But even on those days in the classroom with teenagers, the really downright tough ones? The ones when I want to go home and cry? When I close the door on those days?

still love teenagers. And you should know this: I’ve got their backs when adults talk smack.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


CNN has about wrecked me.

I have cried more over the news in the last 6 months than I have in the last several years combined. Images of planes shot down, of towns torn up over unarmed young men being shot dead, of evil in the form of knife-wielding executioners, of mamas desperate enough to send their babies alone over hundreds of miles to a country where they might, they just might, survive. And then those babies being jeered at and harassed and condemned as criminals and threats because they don't have a piece of paper declaring them "legal," the kids' harassers often being people who identify as Christians, as those whose aim is to model their life around the example of one called the "Prince of Peace?"

This all could kill me.

During one of my early years of teaching high school, when I was overwhelmed by the unmet needs around me, frustrated with the overarching attitude of apathy, and ground down by the lack of pretty much everything, I came upon the book of Micah. At the end of the prophet's rant against the Israelites, he asks this question: What does God want from us? To a people who have been very religious, sacrificing animals in order to "please God," the prophet says this: He wants you to act justly. He wants you love mercy. And he wants you to walk through life with a spirit of humility. All else is religious garbage.

So I watch the news and then ask: What does justice look like? Where can I show mercy? What issues do I need to address with humility?

Sometimes I need to speak up; Often, I need to shut up.


One day my kindergarten teacher passed around foreign currency, naming the countries in which she'd traveled and acquired those coins. She placed coins in my five year old hands, and God placed wanderlust into my heart. He opened up my eyes to see that the world was big: so much bigger than Waterloo, Iowa or the good old U. S. of A.

So I traveled, and in traveling I saw God: In the field of sunflowers that stretched for miles as I discovered the French countryside on the back of a motorcycle. In the blue glaciers of Alaska, and in those military kids who had lived in 3 or 4 places before landing at Elmendorf Air Force Base, those kids who showed love freely and quickly. In the curiosity of kids in Sibenik, Croatia, whose classroom became a place of healing after the horrors of war. I saw God in the vastness of the ocean and in the confines of a rotting dump where Filipino kids live and scavenge, scrounging for their next meal.

And I met God: In the midst of a mess of tears and brokenness, on the hallway floor of my St. Paul apartment. I was a 25 year old almost-divorcee at the end of herself, and God was there.

And God showed me mercy.

To whom much is given, much is required.

So when I see those Honduran and Salvadoran kids, their eyes big and fear-filled, their bodies small and scared, and I watch grown men with signs in hand protesting the immigrant children's arrival, their faces twisted in anger and hatred yelling "Illegals get out!," my heart wrenches. I imagine my girls, 8 and 9 years old, I imagine them on that bus. I imagine that the tables are turned, that they had to flee, and that this was their welcome. And my mama heart has to shut it down, because I just. can't. go there. THERE.

And so I speak up. I sign petitions, I email lawmakers, I join advocacy groups. I google "foster parents/unaccompanied minors," but I close the computer screen in frustration with the bureaucratic bullshit that one must battle in order to do some small good, something that might help just one child.

So I do what little I can, and then I do what I must: I pray.

I pray for those kids, that they would feel secure. That someone would reach out and love them. That God would answer the prayers of their mamas back in Honduras and El Salvador and Mexico, that those kids would be safe, that they would have a hope and a future. That mamas in the United States would shut off their TVs, silence the voices of the talking heads who have made their livings by fomenting fear, and listen to the truth of their childhoods: Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.

Jesus doesn't care about a line marked on a map, he cares about whether we followed his lead: loving the least of these, looking through eyes of compassion, living to love and serve those on our path, those characters who make their way into our story.


And then there's Ferguson. It exploded last night, figuratively and literally, and immediately, Facebook was inundated with posts responding to the grand jury's decision. I read them with a heavy heart, because of the despair that so many were feeling and because of the callousness that caused some not to feel at all. I remembered seeing a tweet a few months back that said this: The next time a national tragedy happens, rather than spout off on social media, everyone who calls themselves a Christian should sit in silence and pray for 7 days.

As a middle-class white woman, I think this is good advice for white people right now. Let's all just shut up. Because I can't speak to the experiences of black people. I don't know what racial profiling feels like. I don't know the humiliation of being suspect. all. the. time. I don't know the fears of black mamas, worrying that their kids, the sons they birthed and raised and loved beyond love might be mistaken as a threat, that the slightest twitch or move might justify a bullet. I don't know that kind of pain, and I have no business minimizing it.

Instead, I sit and cry and pray.

And I realize this: We are still paying for the sins of our fathers. Families that were torn apart and sold as chattel to the highest bidder, that weren't allowed to marry because that would mean that they were human beings with rights, that watched as the women--mothers, daughters, grandmothers--were dragged off and raped--those families? Their residual brokenness has been passed on from generation to generation to generation. Some have been able to rise above that brokenness, but many have not.

And we are responsible. White people are responsible. I am responsible.

"No justice, no peace," they chant, but there will be no justice, because no punishment would suffice, and really, who do you punish? The perpetrators are long dead, leaving their legacy behind.

No reparations would be enough. No amount of money could buy back decades of slavery, no monetary value can be placed on the lives of those who were enslaved.

So, Ferguson? I'm going to shut up, because I just. don't. know.  I don't, and I can admit that.

All I can say, in humility, is "I'm sorry." Again and again and again, "I'm sorry."

And I pray for peace.

Friday, February 14, 2014

To My Mama: Who Rocks Yellow Pumps While Handing Out a Smack Down

For some, it's the yellow pumps, the heels the first thing they notice, the thing that sticks out in their minds.

For others, the red lips, the touch of animal print, the cuffed boyfriend jean that's cooler than what you'd see on your average grandma. For that matter, on your average mom.

But, you see, she's more than those details, she's much more than a beautiful facade, my mama. 

In no particular order, 60 reasons I love my mama:

1. She is a reader--of the most important book, at least. And she's a doer of what she reads.
2. She can rock yellow heels while detailing my van (ask the neighbors if you don't believe me).

3. She would always put on makeup and lipstick and change out of sweats before dad came home from work. She taught us the importance of not letting ourselves go.
4. She showed love in little ways. She bought me Mary Kay eye shadow and LancĂ´me mascara when I was a teenager, even though I'm sure they were a splurge.

5. She prays without ceasing. She is often found in her corner chair reading her Bible and praying.

6. She showed me the value of female friendships. I remember countless days and nights when she caught up with girlfriends over cups of coffee at the kitchen table.
7. She let me start drinking coffee in 5th grade.

8. She adores dad.
9. She adores her daughters, even when we gave/give? her reasons not to.

10. She worked her butt off when we were kids. Between babysitting, working at a daycare, working the concession stands at football games, and selling mini-donuts at humid, sweaty, exhausting fairs, my mama showed us the value of work.
11. She had/has our backs. . .and every now and then her "Pippy" side still comes out .

12. She was "granola" before it was cool. She fed us healthy food, made us homemade bread, didn't let us drink pop. She tried to make us brush our teeth with baking soda.
13. She forgave us when we flubbed up Mother's Day. Every year.

14. She wanted more for us than we wanted for ourselves. Especially in the boyfriends we chose (or were those just the boyfriends I chose?)
15. She lives out grace. When I called home to tell her that I was separating from my 1st husband just a year after she and dad spent thousands of dollars on a big wedding, she never said "I told you so." Instead, she drove to Minneapolis and helped me move.

16. She has amazing mother's intuition.  . .which I think is great now, but I didn't appreciate quite as much when I was a teenager.
17. She tracked me down when I was places I shouldn't have been.

18. She disciplined me. She spanked me, she grounded me, she knocked me upside the head a few times, and she threw me across the bed at age 19. . .all because she loved me and I needed it.
19. She took me to Hy-Vee the day before my 16th birthday and waited while I interviewed, she celebrated with me when I got a call and a job offer the next morning, and she shuttled me back and forth from work for months until I got a drivers' license.

20. While she's never understood my wanderlust, many times she has funded it.

21. She flew to Saipan when I had my first baby. She stayed with me after dad and Amy flew home, even though it meant flying halfway around the world alone. She didn't panic when a typhoon extended her stay even longer.
23. She adores her grandkids.

24. She disciplines her grandkids.
25. She feeds her grandkids really healthy food.

26. She supports my dreams. When I wanted to teach overseas, she said "go." When I wanted to stay, she said "stay." When I wanted to stay "just one more year," she replied "Don't say 'just one more year.' Just tell me when you're coming home."
27. When I came home 8 years later, husband and 2 children in tow and no job, she said "stay as long as you need."

28. She worries about (and then prays for) all of us. The image of her, counting our passports over and over again, making sure none were missing, as we traveled through Croatia to Italy and back again will forever be engrained in my memory.  I believe she spent that trip in perpetual prayer.
29.  She encouraged my love of the written word. She let me spend Saturday mornings lying in bed, poring over the newest "Sweet Valley High" or Danielle Steele book.

30. She sacrificed and saved and made a way for me to take voice lessons and ballet lessons, to go to summer camp, on missions trips, and to college.
31. She watches TBN like it's CNN and puts up with me teasing her about it.

32. She is generous and thoughtful. If she is given something nice, she wants me and the sisters to have it, too. Thus, the Burberry scarf and Louis bag and countless other things over the years.
33. She sacrifices to be generous. I still remember her putting my pink suede homecoming outfit (really) on layaway and paying it off little by little until we took it home.

34. She puts the smack down when the smack needs to be put down (see aforementioned throwing across the bed at age 19).
35. She goes above and beyond to be an amazing grandma and mama. For years she drove two hours to Des Moines every Wednesday to take care of her grandsons. In spite of being more of a homebody, she flew half way around the world three times to see me. She and dad have been known to get up before the crack of dawn to drive 5 hours to see one of the girls' early morning soccer games.

36. She has helped me scour almost every home I've ever lived in, including spending hours scraping grease off of cupboard doors (no kidding) when we bought our first home.
37. She's my go-to person for fashion advice (you've all seen her, right?)

38. She and dad taught me and my sisters how to paint. . .walls, houses, fences. . . at an early age when we "helped" out at their rental properties.
39. She has a great laugh and a beautiful smile, which she gives freely. 

40. She has taught each of my three children who's boss.
41. She is elegant and scrappy at the same time.

42. She has spent 41 years making me believe that I can do anything I put my mind to. . .even becoming the president. Hey, if Sarah Palin had a shot at VP, I could, too.  Right, Mama?
43. She is nice to everyone. . .until they cross her husband or kids. Then out comes Pippi.

44. She sat through hours of what must have been painful band concerts, choir concerts, and talent shows. She didn't cringe when I played the oboe (at least not outwardly).
45. She invested her time into the lives of teenagers. She let all of our friends hang out at our house, along with dad taught the high school Sunday school class, and showed us by her attention that we were valuable. Her example may be why I love teenagers so much today.

46. She has great perspective and can very quickly cut an issue to its core.
47. She lives out what is important: Her faith, her marriage, her family and friends. In that order.

48. She forgives readily.
49.  My friends all want to be her friend.

50.  She is an example to me and the sisters of how to love our husbands well.
51. She is living a great chapter in God's story. Through hard work, an amazing attitude, and the grace and favor of God she has lived beyond the brokenness of her upbringing.

52. She is faithful. . .to God, to dad, to her kids and friends.
53. Years of her life were spent knee high in the laundry of three daughters; I only remember her throwing said laundry at us one time.  

54.  She can make anyone look good, but more importantly, she makes others feel good about themselves.

55. For 43 years she has been dad's cheerleading section. Her daughters and the world around her have noticed. Dad wouldn't be who he is without her.

56. She rocks high heels (hot heels, according to my girls) like they're flats.
57. She has great discernment. She can always tell if something is wrong or if someone is not who they appear to be.

58. When life gets messy, she keeps on walking, keeps on loving. She makes everyone around her stronger.

59. She makes me want to be a better mom, wife, friend and woman. She has set the bar high.

60. She is the epitome of the woman described in Proverbs 31: "Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 'Many women have done great things, but you surpass them all!'"

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I know 6 like I know a good cup of coffee or "To Kill a Mockingbird" or every lyric to an old Garth Brooks tune.

6 is curiosity and wonder and baby and big-girl all the same, presented in the spry little body, the doe-like eyes, the accented lilt and funny laugh.

6 is Maya, learning to read, delighting in the pleasure of drinking in words on her own, delighting in writing down her stories instead of just telling them.

6 is the rowdy boys buzzing with energy, counting down minutes until recess when they can get their hands on a ball and just. kick. it.

6 is girls and boys, awkward smiles with their teeth all askew, some permanent, some baby. It is the boy with the funny cowlick and perpetual bedhead and a smattering of freckles on the bridge of his nose, fading from its summer glory.

6 is secret-telling and swinging still-plump baby legs and twisting and turning spirals on the playground, getting dizzy, laughing until their bottoms meet the ground.

6 is idolizing the teacher, noticing every detail of her wardrobe and hairstyle and mannerisms. It is newly-sharpened pencils in dimpled hands, held tightly, each word written a labor of love, a piece of art. It is those perfectly pink erasers and the box that contains treasures, true treasures that extend world beyond home and neighborhood.

6 is Maya, 6 is my baby girl who hasn't seen much hurt, who has been sheltered and protected and loved beyond love, who adores her older sister and is mother-hen to her 2 year old brother.

6 is personal.

6 was the last they knew, and I can't forget.

6 was terror and screaming and crying and blood, limbs torn from bodies by the power of fifty cent bullets.

6 was trusting that adults would protect, not knowing that monsters were sometimes real.

6 was kissing their mom goodbye and climbing the steps of the bus without looking back. 6 was never returning home to the unkempt bed they left behind, the twisted sheets, pillowcases infused with the scent of them, loveys lying limp, useless now.

6 was an unfinished bowl of cereal on the kitchen table, backpacks still hung in cubbies, and perfect pink erasers that would never be marred.

6 was the last for them, and I can't forget.

I know 6.

Newtown Tribute

Monday, November 5, 2012

Walk On

I'm done using Sam as an excuse.

My last post was written a little over 6 months ago. And then, the diagnosis.

My friend, Sam, had cancer. And it was bad. He had a beautiful wife, 3 wonderful kids, but cancer Did. Not. Care.

When Sam was fighting his battle, I couldn't write anything. Everything I could think to write was either very, very angry, or seemed very flippant and unimportant in light of a stage iv cancer diagnosis. Quite honestly, everthing seemed frivolous to me. What compares to the battle for life that I watched unfold in my friends' family? What situation or observation justified words, justified expression when my friends, who were living life so well, who were doing everything right, were faced with the possibility of such a loss?

When Sam died in July, I felt that the next thing I posted on this blog should be a response to his life, a response to his death. Though there were words, they were raw and rough and ranting.

So I wrote for myself, and I wrote for God, but I did not write for an audience.

You see, though I only knew Sam for 6 years, his life impacted mine. Not just because his wife was one of my first friends in KC, nor because I knew his kids and watched the life he lived with them, but because of who Sam was.

I'm easily bored with people who  give off the impression that they have everything together all of the time, and situations that require one to "put on a good face" exhaust me,  so whenever I meet someone who in some way exhibits authenticity or gives a glimpse of their character and shows themself true, I like them. I'll say to Ferdie "You know what I like about that person?" and inevitably he will reply "They're real?"

And Sam? Well, Sam was "real." He was quirky. He had definite ideas about lots of things, from what he liked to wear to music to culture, and he would let you know those ideas. Sam was a thinker, and he didn't accept the status quo or the excuse of "that's the way it's always been done."

I liked him immediately.

A few years back, Sam had a vision for a different type of Sunday school class. He called it "Workmanship," and he invited all of the painters, photographers, writers, sculptors and wanna-be artists in the church to join him as he led discussions and studies of biblical themes. We processed and created and wrote in response to these discussions, and for the first time, I saw Sam in his element.

Sam taught me that creating anything--the act of painting or sculpting or putting words to paper--was a reflection of the Creator. And that the discipline of creating was an act of worship to the one who gave us the ideas, the images, the words. To the artist, then, art was spiritual discipline, as crucial as praying and fasting and studying and serving.

And Sam worked at his craft. Though he was an architect by day, a busy father of three by evening, he was an artist after hours.

One year, he completed a piece every week, blogging about his experience and giving his readership a glimpse at his creative process. I was inspired by Sam's determination, the dedication to his art, the discipline he displayed as week after week he posted painting after painting. At the end of year, he held an open house exhibition, and as I took in all of the pieces that lined the walls of his home, I remember thinking "That was a year well spent."

So here we are, four months out, four months after losing Sam. I watch his wife, who day after day after day gets up, keeps on, lives out courage. I watch their kids, and I ache for them, I get angry for them, that they didn't have more time with their dad, that they have to grow up without Sam. I'm infuriated at the injustice of his death.

Sam should be here still, he should.

He had more to give, more in him of value, more ideas, more love, more wisdom, more, just MORE. Sam should still be here, and he's not, and quite honestly, his not being here, his not surviving that damn disease, has left me speechless.

Because I believe in a good God, a God who loves the people he created, a God who Sam loved and served and lived for, a God who could have healed Sam in an instant, but didn't. And there are no words that can do justice to that, no words to explain God's seeming inaction on behalf of Sam and his family.

So I come back to what I know in my veins and my breath and my spirit: God loved Sam, he loves him still. God loves Sam's wife and kids, his parents and his sister.

Kristian Stanfill sings:
"Higher than the mountains that I face,
Stronger than the power of the grave,
Constant in the trials and the change,
One thing remains:
Your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me. . ."
I hold tightly to that truth.

God who I know and love is mystery and beyond and overwhelming and so much bigger than this limited mind of mine can conceive. 

He is the author of generation upon generation upon generation of stories, and he knows how our stories interweave, and ultimately all come together.

Mostly, right now, tonight, this God is hope.

Hope that some day this will all make sense. Hope that as Sam walked into eternity, the thrum of good music welcomed him, and that his palette is endless and his canvas an eternal place of worship.

Hope that God will be peace and strength and, eventually, even joy. Hope that all is not as it seems, and though lives look shattered, God is arranging a mosaic, perfectly placing every shard, positioning them just so, and that someday in eternity we will see the beauty of it all.

Tonight I know this for sure: This writer's block, this inability and unwillingness to put fingertips to keyboard and words to screen, Sam wouldn't have wanted this. He, of all people, would tell me to push through, to force words, to cry then write, to be angry then to write, to write raw and real and true, but whatever it takes, to write.

He'd tell me that those small things, the frigid Saturday morning soccer games, the late nights filled with wine and words and laughter, the wanderlust that never leaves, the leaves that change colors and dry up and fall to the ground and my baby boy who crunches them underfoot, who jumps into them with abandon, these small things, these "frivolous" things?

These are breath and pulse and life.

And these words of mine? They are lifeline and tether, desperation and worship.

And they matter.

Written in honor of the life lived by
G.F. "Sam" Wagner


Saturday, April 28, 2012


Spring came early this year in Kansas, following the Winter That Never Was, and we have LOVED it! My kids can be seen in all states of dress or undress in our backyard playing almost daily. Often there are a few neighborhood kids thrown into the mix, and apart from Makai getting loose one time, there's usually not a lot of drama. Just a bunch of climbing, digging for worms, creating butterfly traps, chasing soccer balls and planting anything that might have a chance of sprouting in the space that for one season was a "garden," and is now a. . .barren, weedy spot.

In addition to playing outside, there has been a lot of this going on:

And when I say a lot, I mean 6:40 in the morning, 8:00 at night, and anytime in between. Makai loves wheels! He gets down really low, sometimes resting his head on the coffee table or couch or the hearth of the fireplace where he's moving his cars, trucks and tractors back and forth, back and forth, and making that car noise that little boys innately know.

Some days when he thinks he's 3, he might throw this move into the mix:

Yep, dancing, with his cars, on TOP of the coffee table.  Boys.

Every now and then Kai drops what he's doing, and scurries off, searching from room to room until he has found lots of cars. EVERY car in the house, then he lines them up, setting up a miniature showroom in front of the bay windows.  When the hotwheels are perfectly placed, he'll lay that crazy head of hair down on the carpet just to get a better view of all of his wheels.

 In addition to his obsession with cars, my little man can often be found doing this:

Yep, bad habit, I know. But I'm just not ready to deal with it. In the meantime, the bottle hangs between his teeth as he chases from room to room.

Here's another:

Can you see how happy that bottle makes him? And how tough it might be for me to take that sweet pleasure from him just because some doctor says it might ruin his teeth? And that fixing those teeth might cost a fortune in some far off, distant future? I mean really, he's just so happy.

And I don't let him do it in public, because that would be, well, embarassing and confessional and a little like proclaiming to the world "I am not a perfect mama!"

But I will proclaim it here, to my readership of seven or so: I am not a perfect mama! (But I sure am lovin' this sweet little boy like crazy--wheels, bottles and all).