I have to take a moment for a little bit of backstory and bragging. Stay with me....I promise it won't be too obnoxious or painful, mainly because it's not about me.
I have the phenomenal and (sadly) unusual circumstance of being one of those rare women who is blessed with a truly incredible group of strong, supportive, loving, non-judgmental, not agenda-driven, crazy, hysterical girlfriends. They are amazing. I don't know why the good Lord chose to put them in my path, but I am grateful beyond words that He did. I thank Him daily for each and every one of them, while simultaneously begging Him to keep them an intimate part of my life for the next half-century or so.
We have been through so many storms and seasons together that I could never hope to capture them all in writing. Unless I write a book....someday....maybe....and it's a really long one. We also have such side-splitting, ridiculous incidences occurring on such a regular basis that many of them will, in fact, provide fodder for this blog. So, I might as well mention the Girls now - you're going to read a lot about them in future posts, I am sure.
We are a colorful (and loud) mix of women - daughters, sisters, wives (currently or at some point in the past) and mothers. We are all driven, outspoken, social and fiercely loyal to the ones we hold dear. Our group includes both stay-at-home and working moms - representing a span from health care to education to business owner. We throw one heck of a party, either just for kicks or to fundraise for a cause. We laugh together and cry together. We meet to celebrate and to mourn. We are honest with each other, usually with a good degree of tact, sometimes not so much. We hold each other accountable. We respect each other tremendously, even when we don't agree. And we don't sugar coat if one of us steps out of line. I got a firsthand look at the receiving end of this on last year's Girls' Weekend. Apparently, there is a very definite boundary when it comes to putting river pictures on Facebook without permission and/or preview approval from the group - especially when said group is clad in swimsuits. I thought they looked great! The very picture of fun in the sun with friends! They did not agree. Oh, the wrath that slip-up incurred! There was a brief stint of time in which I actually worried about a lynching (not likely, but....) or being tossed into the rapids (slightly more likely....). The storm did pass, and we managed to have the continued hilarity and bonding time we always experience on our yearly Girls' trip. Suffice it to say, I will never post another candid shot again. Or bend over when any of them is holding a phone or camera. Just because I was (finally) forgiven, does not preclude the possibility of revenge at some point.
And yet, in spite of my poor judgement as an amateur photographer, I know that each of these women will be there for me any time I need her. A few months ago, our beautiful Kat had some bad news to share. She said she was ready to talk. I sent out the text chain. We all arranged our schedules, appointments and child care (believe me, that is no small feat - between the six of us, we have 13 kids ages 3 - 12), and an emergency Happy Hour/Girl Talk session was planned and executed in under 48 hours. We listened. We loved on her. We cried with her. We held hands and prayed over her, right there in the martini bar. Then, we raised our glasses, toasted her, and got down to the business of making her smile again.
Because that's how we roll. And I wouldn't change it for anything.
I love this group of Superwomen. They make me smile with my heart. They are crazy and beautiful and smart and funny and talented. They bring light into this world and teach me lesson after lesson about everything from humility to joy to grace under pressure. They have exquisite taste in wine, shoes and home decor. They bring out the best in me and show me what sisterhood truly means in a myriad of ways.
I wish every woman had this experience with the sisters and friends in her life. How great would that be? For all the girls in all the ages and demographics to know this...to live this.
After all, that's what it's all about, isn't it? Not just surviving our time here, but truly living it while making our mark. It's about the call to love one another and to shine with our Father's light as we do it. That's how the world knows who we belong to (John 13:35). So let's do it right. And with lots of laughs.
Solidarity, sisters. We're all in this together. Might as well make it a party.
Our next door neighbors have an adorable little boy who is one month younger than our Bug (obviously, this is the nickname for our sweet baby girl - we would never actually name a child Bug...we have more creativity and class than that. Unless we were to have 20 kids like the Duggars, in which case all bets are off. Because at that point I think you are excused from having to come up with actual names). Sorry....back to the topic at hand. Precious little boy next door...go. So, they of course, are fast friends and take every opportunity to play together. The other day, as we pulled into the neighborhood, Bug asked to go play with her friend if he was home. We drove past his house towards our driveway, and she began to bounce excitedly in her car seat while calling out, "Yep, he's home!" when she saw his father's truck.
Houston, we have a girlfriend.... I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Our oldest son, Luke, came home a few weeks ago with the news that he now has a girlfriend. Though this is a terrifying concept, we humored him, given that it started the last two weeks of school, she doesn’t live in our neighborhood, and he has no phone or other way in which to contact her now that school has ended and summer has begun. That being said, I am screaming inside. I can NOT be old enough to have a child with working hormones! It's unthinkable.
For reasons that escape me, which is probably a good thing, this sweet young thing nicknamed my son Gummy Bear. Not kidding. No idea. I’m just trying to keep my face expressionless and roll with it. So, of course, he spent the last week of school harassing us to buy a bag of gummy bears to give to her the last day of school. Which is kind of cute. And he wore his dad’s gummy bear t-shirt. Which is disturbing on several levels:
a) My husband has a gummy bear t-shirt (it’s really pretty cool – the bear has his ears bitten off and it says I Can’t Hear You)
b) Luke can wear his dad’s shirt. He’s 10.
c) The gummy bear theme is this pervasive. And he is this into it as “their thing”. Ugh.
But, I digress. Back to the story. Gummy bear requests from Luke, lots of eye rolling and teasing from me. And then, one evening on the way to swim practice, he told me this story.
Luke: So, I told "Sweetie" (let's just refer to her as that) I was going to bring her a surprise.
Me: Oh? (keeping a look of polite, no-I-am-not-freaking-out-at-this-conversation interest on my face). Was she excited?
Luke: No, She told me not to give her a present. She says she doesn't deserve one.
Me: Why? (more curious than freaked out at this point)
Luke: I asked her that. And she said, "Because I'm me".
Me: What did you say to that? (no longer having to feign interest....I was riveted)
Luke: I told her, "So? What's wrong with being you? You still deserve a present". So, I really want to get her the gummy bears tonight. Ok, Mom?
I sat and listened to my son as he told this story with such open-hearted innocence, and my thoughts were bittersweet. Bitter: How sad is it that already, at only age 10, this young woman-in-the-making so clearly hears the voice of doubt in her head, and she believes it as it whispers, “You’re not enough”. In her mind, is the whisper already a shout? Does it overpower the innocence and creativity and positive reinforcement that should still exist? Sweet: My son’s response – his kind and compassionate heart was compelled to not only see her as a person of beauty, but to express to her that she has value. That “me” is absolutely worth gifts and recognition. My heart sang through its tears at this.
So I smiled at my wonderful son, quit rolling my eyes, and stopped at three different stores until we found the right gummy bears.
Solidarity, sisters. Never doubt your worth...or turn down a present :).
We all need someone to schedule us a facial. Seriously....we do, for many reasons. As a working mom of three very active children, I seldom take the time to do something that pampers me just because I feel like it. So when my mother called a few weeks ago to tell me she had bought me a facial session as a "love gift", I was overjoyed. When she informed me she had scheduled it for me, I was surprised. And when she ordered me to show up and "do not even think about cancelling and embarrassing me", I replied, "Yes, ma'am." Sometimes, the wisest thing we can do at any age is to obey our mother. Remember that.
The day of my facial started with our usual morning chaos of kids, breakfast, backpacks, last-minute signatures on journals/notes/permission slips and the additional, "Honey, could you also....." that ensues any day I am not headed to work. Because the one day a week I have to pull off laundry, grocery shopping, house cleaning, errands and any personal appointments surely needs the addition of a 20 page honey-do list to be complete. After all, I'm "off", right? But, I digress.
Suffice it to say, by the time I made it to the salon, I was cranky, frazzled and tense. As I filled out the form for new clients (which may have actually been longer than the application for U.S. citizenship), the aesthetician asked how long it had been since my last facial. Seriously? I have no idea. I'm pretty sure I was pregnant with my youngest child (who is three and a half years old). So I tempered a bit with a hesitant, "Two years?". This earned me an alarmed look, rapid eye blinking and disapproving clucks. Being the eager-to-please consumer that I am, I immediately began apologizing and rationalizing my way through an explanation. Sometimes, I really am pitiful. Luckily, the lovely facialist did not seem inclined to hold a grudge, so after I changed into my strapless robe/towel combo and climbed onto the bed/table/thing, she returned and my spa experience commenced.
There was soft music and dim lights and subtle fragrances. My face was being rubbed with cleansers and whatnot. No demands. No kids or dog or husband. No questions. No cell phone - I had even remembered to turn off the ringer. Sigh....My mind wandered for about 30 seconds before returning to the ringer-free phone. Crap. What if school calls and can't get ahold of me? We all know emergencies and injuries always happen when you are out of pocket. I mean, sure, it's only an hour, but to a kid with a broken arm, that's an eternity! How sad would that be, if one of my darlings was sitting abandoned in the nurse's office - scared, in pain, having to wait because Mommy is too busy getting a facial to answer her phone? And, can you imagine the disgust on the part of the school staff when they discover the reason it took me so long to answer? I'll be a mommy pariah! The whispers, the rumors....how superficial can one woman be? No one will care that I do this at a frequency of, like, three times a decade. The point is, I was doing it today! What about trying to explain myself to the ER staff? Oh, the horror!
Yes, I actually have the capability to be this neurotic. Leave it to me to turn a spa treatment into a full-blown emergency + CPS case.
I managed to control my ever-rising panic and talk myself off that particular ledge. After all, their dad has a phone, too.
I lay there, eyes closed, as I was cleansed, scrubbed, masked, exfoliated, extracted <- let's talk about that for a moment, shall we? All those years we spent as teenagers being admonished not mash on blemishes and blackheads....were they a lie? Was it all part of yet another test of obedience and control? Or do you need a professional to do the honors for it to be okay? It's not the most pleasant of experiences, let me tell you. Still, afterwards there were more soothing masks and moisturizers ,and even a brief hand massage. Oh yes. Hand massage.
Once the "All done!" came through, I timidly asked if my skin/face was truly shameful and beyond repair (it did feel like a lot of extractions, after all). Much to my relief, she assured me that mine was "no worse than anyone else's, really. It just needed quite a thorough cleansing. And a LOT of exfoliating. I mean, a LOT." Ok, I get it. She handed me a mirror, and after a fleeting moment of hesitation (surely all the mashing had left blotches), I glimpsed my reflection. Amazingly, I was blotch and redness free! My face looked relaxed. My skin was clear and glowing. I even felt like there were fewer fine lines. Phenomenal! My skin felt softer and smoother than it had in, well, three and a half years!
As I marveled at this on my drive home, vowing to take better care of my face in the future....I was struck by this thought: Isn't this what life is like? We rush and scurry and overschedule and overwork, neglecting our maintenance and rest in the name of busyness or doing something more important. And there are so many important things to do. Good things. Necessary things. Yet, every now and again we need to stop, lie down and figure out what needs a good cleaning....and where we need to perform extractions. Are there negative thoughts or emotions or relationships clogging our hearts and weighing down our souls? Are we dried out and in need of spiritual refreshment? Are we so worn down that given a magnifying mirror of truth we would be shocked at who we've become and how we've changed? If we don't take time off for self-reflection and repair, we increase the speed with which we become lost, sliding down a slippery slope of frustrated exhaustion.
God's will is not for us to live exhausted. He wants to provide us with rest and renewal. To offer us a hand, a shoulder, a foundation to lean on. He promises to provide strength for the weary and respite for the broken. And He gives us His word as well as relationships with His other children to help us along the way. So make yourself a promise - that you will find some time and energy for yourself so you can be refreshed. And reach out to someone, encouraging her to do the same. Schedule her a facial if you have to.
Solidarity, sisters. We all deserve to glow from the inside out.
Memorial day launched what may very well be one of the single most insane, gut-wrenching, no holds barred weeks of my life - and as anyone who knows me and is familiar with my usual level of craziness can attest to, that's saying something. I came into the weekend at a frazzled, high speed run, which is generally how I come into any weekend, especially one attached to a holiday. Work is insane, partly due to the fact that I am trying to make some transitions, so am technically working two jobs right now. My schedule had exploded due to end-of-school craziness on top of during-school craziness on top of spring sports ending, summer sports beginning, field trips, 1st grade awards, 4th grade awards, field day, picnics....and then juggling my caseload with time off so I could attend the proper percentage of all the above without looking like the worst mom ever who misses out on the important days and whose kids say things like, "I was the only one at school today without a board game/raffle item/special snack/parent participant/etc...."
We are blessed to have an amazing place in the river - four acres, river access, right below the rapids. It's perfect for all the water and outdoor fun you can hope for, and makes us incredibly popular from May until September. Which we love. My husband and I both love to host people, so naturally had groups of friends and family coming and going all weekend.
Memorial Day itself was the final day of partying, and we were feeling particularly blessed in how well the weekend was going - especially since Friday and Saturday brought storms of epic proportion to our area, inducing PTSD-like flashbacks in those of us who experienced the full fury of flooding in 1998, 2002 and 2010 (100-year flood, my eye!). The skies cleared, though, and so did the water, so Sunday and Monday were perfect party days. Well, Sunday was. Monday started out well enough. Then, the dominoes began to fall. I can't remember the exact order of events, so let's just quickly list the drama. When all was said and done, we tallied two falls resulting in bloodied limbs, a flipped kayak, a snake incident which let to the hour-long hyperventilation of a very upset young lady, a tipsy tirade by an angry girlfriend (whose sweet boyfriend kept shaking his head and saying, "I'm not sure what I did"), an exploding toilet that flooded an entire cabin (I'm 99% certain which of my sons did it) and an ambulance call/ride to the hospital. I am not kidding. I cannot make this stuff up.
The ambulance part was, obviously, the worst. Beginning CPR on a loved one is a horrible experience, and when that loved one is your precious, phenomenal, spunky 85 year-old grandmother....let's just say I could have gone my whole life without that experience and not missed it.
The week went by in a blur. Between hospital visits, last week of school events, cramming in at least one day of work and trying to get everyone fed and where they needed to be, I was done by the weekend. Yet, done or not, I still had to make it to football games and birthday parties and finish writing my first original Bible study and prepare it for presentation to the fabulous women of our church Sunday evening....all while fluctuating between hope and despair, depending on the day and doctor opinion at the hospital.
As is almost always the case in times of crisis, we pulled ourselves up by the bootstraps and got everything done. With tons of prayers and help from our amazing support group of friends and family, we made it through the end of school and the Bible study was completed, presented and part of a really great evening.
Last night, we transferred my grandmother home to begin Hospice care. And while we are heartbroken, there is comfort in seeing her more comfortable and happy to be home. I got to sit with her, in her own room, and hold hands and be near her. So my exhausted and saddened heart clung to that as I crawled into bed at midnight to crash and reset for work.
You can imagine, then, my extreme displeasure at waking up this morning with a raging case of pink eye (as opposed to a gently protesting case of pink eye). My eyes had been bothering me last night, but I chalked it up to crying while wearing cheap mascara. Oh no. Not so. I stared at myself (with one eye, since the other was cemented shut) in horror. You know how Rocky looks in the final fight scene of all 40 of his movies? Picture that, just without the cut under his eye and with the addition of crusty stuff. I can say with great confidence that I have never looked worse, unless childbirth was involved. Naturally, I called my husband in to the bathroom to see. Because that's how every man wants to wake up, called out of bed by a panic-stricken wife who looks like a prizefighter...or Popeye. As he stood there blinking at me, trying to find a safe reaction, I'm sure, I made one of the more intelligent observations of our married life.
"I think I have pink eye."
Followed by, "What do you think?"
To his credit, he neither laughed nor made any sarcastic remarks. Just stayed a safe distance away and nodded.
At this point, the only sentence I could articulate was , "Are you kidding me? Are. You. Kidding. Me?!?" I kept chanting it over and over as I frantically texted my supervisor, my co-worker, my girlfriend, Steph, who had committed to keep my kids today...... My husband still stayed far away, watching me warily, like he would a crazy person or rabid animal.
Then, Steph texted back. In my time of need, as life was overwhelming and crushing me under its weight, my wonderful, loving, sister-of-my-heart sent this reply:
"OMG! I seriously just busted out laughing out loud. Are you kidding me?"
At which point, I burst out laughing. I laughed until I couldn't sit up straight. I laughed until tears rolled down the right side of my face (left side tears were trapped behind the dam of eye cement). I laughed until my husband's look of concern became a look of alarm.
Still chuckling, I cleaned my eye to the best of my abilities and made my way to the kitchen to fix breakfast for my kids....to the chorus of their reactions, which included:
"What happened to your eye?"
"You look like a monster!"
They then proceeded to play a version of "pink eye tag", which involved jumping out of their chairs, making monster noises and grabbing at each other while yelling, "You have the pink eye! No, you have the pink eye!" I know. Their sensitivity is astounding. This hilarity continued until, inevitably, someone's orange juice went flying across the kitchen, at which point the one-eyed, angry Mommy monster came forth bringing with her the wrath of God. Game over.
I dropped my darlings off at Steph's so I could head in for decontamination. While driving into town for eye drops and new make-up (both a hassle and a perk of the pink eye), I said a little prayer. Thank God for our girlfriends. They make us laugh even when the only thing we want to do is cry. They make fun of our horrible days while helping out by taking care of our kids and promising a spa day (that was in her next text). They give us the strength to stand under a hot shower and pry our eyelids apart, get dressed and face the day. They remind us of our resiliency while cherishing our vulnerability. And if we are very fortunate (which I am), they help us to grow, live fully and shine brightly.....even on our darker days.
Solidarity, sisters - even one eye is enough to see the light when your teammates are watching with you.