Yia-Yia’s Gifts

It was a late summer day; one of those days where the heat and humidity seem to hang in the air like a heavy blanket. I’d had two small sweaty children clinging to me for hours on end and was looking forward to a refreshing break. To say the previous few months had been challenging would be an understatement. I was still adjusting to the balance of adding a second child to our family and so many days felt like simply treading in hopes that I could keep my head above water. Then, only weeks earlier, we’d lost my mother-in-law, an unprocessed grief that weighed heavily on my chest as I attempted to breathe through the daily tasks that needed to be accomplished.

This warm summer evening held the promise of a brief respite. When my husband came home from work, I planned to bike to our local park and enjoy some outdoor yoga. Leaving crying children behind with a pang of guilt I felt a soft whisper saying – you deserve this break, take it, enjoy it.

In the park, under heavy clouds that threatened to drench us, I stretched, relaxed, breathed. As the class was wrapping up and we laid facing the glorious sky above in our final resting pose, I felt a single cool raindrop splash onto my hot forehead. Then another and another. The sky opened, releasing the most beautiful delicate shower. Perfectly refreshing in that moment, bringing much needed relief and healing. A gift from the heavens.

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It was a dark night on the cusp of the seasonal transition between summer and fall. Our children were both sleeping, a miracle in itself, and my husband and I sat on the back deck enjoying the cool evening air. I’d say we gazed at the stars, but the night sky around Chicago twinkles more with light pollution and commercial air traffic than celestial bodies.

We were discussing life. More specifically, the hardships of life without my husband’s mother, our children’s grandmother, the incomparable Yia-Yia.

Just then we saw the clearest of all shooting stars race across the night sky, igniting the darkness. A signal; a gift from above.

It was a crisp fall day. The air was cold and fresh and pure. I had brought the girls out for a walk in nature, one of our favorite pastimes. A chance to collectively breathe.

The chill of the atmosphere made every sight and sound and sensation seem just a bit more poignant. It was impossible not to notice the simple joys of colorful leaves falling slowly from barren treetops and the crunch of dried leaves underfoot. A cool breeze danced across our cheeks and tickled our noses. I relished pointing out each indicator of the changing season to my older daughter, showing her, or perhaps myself, how life evolves and renews even through difficult transitions.

Just then we heard the distinctive honking of geese overhead. Looking up we saw a perfect “V” formation of geese flying. Swirling above, seemingly effortlessly. “They’re heading south for the winter,” I told my daughter who gazed at them, eyes wide with wonder. A reminder that on wings of hope, supporting one another, we can weather this difficult season together. A gift from heaven.

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, a day of excitement and expectation. After peeling ourselves out from the warm covers of our bed, we saw a beautiful sight outside the window. “Snow!” our older daughter excitedly exclaimed.

Snowflakes drifted peacefully from the sky, quickly blanketing the dull grey ground in a majestic layer of white. We were going to have a white Christmas, I realized with glee.

Though our hearts were still heavy with loss, the beautiful renewal that fresh snow brings made the celebration of Christmas seem a bit lighter, a bit more hopeful. The world was new and beautiful. As I glimpsed the delight on my daughter’s face when we ventured out to enjoy the first real snowfall of the season, catching sight of delicate flakes resting upon her dark eyelashes, I couldn’t help but look up and give thanks. Gifts falling upon us from heaven above.

This year was our first without my husband’s mother, my second mother, my children’s beloved grandmother. The hole in our hearts left by Yia-Yia is ever-present, but perhaps even more poignant around holidays, birthdays, and everyday celebrations. You see, Yia-Yia was a woman of great gifts. She enjoyed few things more, I believe, than pouring out her love onto others far and wide. Whether it was the intangible – her unconditional love and acceptance, attention, and affection; the delectable – her amazing and never to be matched cooking; or the physical – the carefully selected goods that would be just what you wanted even if you didn’t know you needed it; Yia Yia’s gifts were always filled with more thought and compassion than I could ever comprehend.

But this year there were no over-sized over-stuffed stockings for the grandkids to joyfully tear through. There were no boxes to unwrap, brimming with hand-picked items that I would never allow myself as indulgences, but Yia-Yia insisted I more than deserved. There were no happy gift cards arriving in the mailbox wrapped with the kindest words of wisdom. There were no meals filled with steak and crab cakes and salmon and more butter and love than you’d ever think could be contained in one beautiful dish. And there certainly wasn’t the same laughter and chatter and hugs.

Yet, I refuse to believe that Yia-Yia is not still with us, not still showering us in new and wonderful ways with her love and gifts. When you’ve lived such an incredible life and cultivated such an amazing soul, it’s impossible that such greatness can simply cease to exist. Maybe those we love, who no longer walk the Earth with us, are able to send us reminders that they are ok, and we will be too. Maybe God can send us gifts, hand-picked by those who know and love us from above, to show us they are still there, if only in a different form.

I’m not always a believer in signs, but over the past year, the above moments of joy and clarity that have cut through the grief and hardship have felt like more than coincidences. They felt like intentional gifts.

Among the million decisions that had to be made following my mother-in-law’s passing, my husband’s sister chose the heart-wrenchingly beautiful poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye titled “Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” to be printed on prayer cards for her service. I remember reading the poem in haste at the time, thinking it was lovely. I stashed a couple of extra prayer cards away in my luggage and promptly forgot about them, until six months later when we were back visiting my sister-in-law for the holidays. When the tiny card fell out of my backpack, I stared in wonder as I read the forgotten words:

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.

It’s everyday. It’s the smiles that alight my children’s faces. It’s their deep, soulful, and infinitely beautiful eyes. It’s their dark hair blowing in the breeze and tanned skin shining in the sunlight, reminiscent of the Grecian goddess from whom they come. It’s the bodies and souls of these little girls who I would not be blessed to love were it not for Yia-Yia. These are the things that will never be forgotten. These are the things that do not die. These are Yia-Yia’s everlasting gifts. Infinite gifts from above.

Thank You.

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What Love Looks Like

On this day six years ago, on the bank of a lush green peninsula with the Tennessee River weaving its way around us, my (now) husband nervously dropped to one knee and asked me to marry him. My heart raced. Excited as I was about the expectation of this day, I was stunned in this moment of surprise. With tears in my eyes, I wholeheartedly exclaimed, “Yes!” and he somehow managed to slip the ring on my shaking hand. Our lips curled into smiles as we kissed and settled into the strange sense of relief and anticipation that this great decision brings.

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In the span of time between then and now, our lives have shifted so much. We’ve made three moves and had two babies together. We’ve switched jobs and quit jobs and attempted to create jobs. We’ve lived apart and together. We’ve traveled, we’ve learned, we’ve grown. As our minds and our bodies and our routines have been forced to adapt to our ever-changing circumstances, so, too, has our love. The love I said yes to six years ago looks a whole lot different than the love we live out today.

Sometimes love looks like chasing down dreams. Mine. His. Both of ours. Sometimes love looks like putting my dreams on hold to allow him to pursue his. Sometimes it looks like rejoicing in gratitude when he selflessly does the same.

Sometimes love looks like sharing adventures. Traveling the world, climbing glaciers, flying over fields and valleys. And realizing, no matter where we go, he and I are still our same selves; which is both beautiful and daunting.

Sometimes love looks like settling. For a place we don’t want to be. For a house we don’t love. For jobs we don’t enjoy. For a person who doesn’t always meet all of our expectations.

Sometimes love looks like surprise. Surprise at how we can know each other so well and still uncover new gems. Surprise at how our hearts can soften when it would be so much easier to let them grow hard. Surprise at the depth of our commitment to better our selves and our relationship.

Sometimes love looks like acceptance. Acceptance that his emotions and reactions and outlooks are going to be different from my own. Acceptance that we’re not always our best selves, but at least we keep trying.

Sometimes love looks like weathering loss together. Holding each other through the heavy burden of grief. Holding space for the hurts that cannot be expressed. Holding grace when those hurts seem to flow through us and out onto each other from the gaping wounds that have yet to heal.

Sometimes love looks like the strange combination of hope and fear that big life events bring. Babies and birthdays and moves and job opportunities. Love looks like supporting each other through the joys and trials of these transitions.

Sometimes love looks like doing dishes or doing laundry or mowing the lawn or paying the bills. And choosing not to stew in the resentment that passes through our household when the scales of the chores seem unevenly tipped.

Sometimes love looks like staying home. Or going to work. Dividing and conquering the responsibilities that never end. Even if it feels more like dividing than conquering.

Sometimes love looks like the faces of these children we’ve created together. Little faces that are a beautiful blend of both of our bodies and spirits. Faces that both delight and and exhaust us.

Sometimes love looks like putting the kids to bed early so we can have a little extra time for just the two of us. And sometimes love looks like a shared sigh, a glance, a brief embrace, when, despite our best efforts the kids just won’t sleep. And this is the best we’re going to get today.

Sometimes looks like talking about our deepest thoughts and dreams. But sometimes love looks like simply sitting together in silence.

Sometimes love looks like the soft touch of gentle hands. His hands on my back as I labor to bring our children into the world. My hands stretched across his chest in the dark of the night as we savor this silent time together.

This love that has changed shape over time is not always what I expected, not always what I signed up for six years ago. And yet, it’s so much more. I didn’t quite know what I was saying yes to this day back then. I still don’t know what I’m saying yes to in this future together. But I’m so glad that I said yes, that I continue to say yes, to our ever-evolving love.

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In Defense of Weeds

I have a confession. I secretly love weeds. This is a statement that, as a newly minted gardener, I’ll probably be regretting in a few weeks. But for now, I welcome the wild weedy flora scattered about. Since, historically, my thumb has not proven to be green, I love the tiny buds and blooms that crop up on their own in unexpected, even unwelcome, places, providing a natural delight.

While many others spray and pluck and dig in an attempt to keep their lawn a uniform green, the specks of white clovers and yellow dandelions and and purple violets that sparkle in a sea of green are so much more beautiful, in my eyes. When my husband went to mow the grass at our new house recently, he discovered a weedy patch of daisies trying to push their way through the fresh spring soil. We couldn’t bear to mow them down, annihilating their innocent yet stubborn presence. So now they stand taller than our youngest child; an exotic island in our yard that waves like sirens in the wind, beckoning us to stop and enjoy their wild beauty.

And maybe that’s what I love most about this rogue vegetation – a weed’s stubborn resistance to adhere to the rules and regulations of where and how it should grow. Weeds grow wild and free and in defiance of all expectations, which seems shockingly similar to how my children grow. If allowed to grow naturally, resisting the urge to pluck them and prune them in an attempt at perfection, you might just get to experience the beauty blossoming within. Sometimes they’re prickly, sometimes they seem to completely overtake whatever you’re trying to accomplish, but if you take a step back there’s a simple, natural grace that emerges through their reluctance to be tamed.

So give me the daisies with their delicate breezy sway. Give me the dandelions with their irresistible downy heads and magical soaring seeds. Give me the violets with their colorful flair. Give me the honeysuckle with its sweet perfume and delicious nectar. Give me the reckless and wild weeds that add their own beauty and flavor to the garden of life.

Proud Momma

Modern day motherhood feels rife with judgements and expectations. Every person I meet or book I read seems to have an opinion on every aspect of how children should be raised. With all this noise from society, its easy to fall into a pit of self-doubt around my own mothering. The internal and external judgements of how to do it right can leave me feeling like I’m always doing it wrong. So pervasive is this attitude, that it seems radical, over-confident, or even off-putting to profess pride in my own parenting choices.

And yet, I’m proud of the momma I am.

I’m proud that I celebrate the miracle of my children’s lives and hold them with delight.

I’m proud of the overwhelming strength of my body that grew these babies, nurturing the tiny bodies within, then overcame my own limits to bring them into this world.

I’m proud of the beautiful nursing relationship I built with each child, endlessly holding them to my chest, day and night, as my arms grew weary and my eyelids grew heavy.

I’m proud of sharing sleep with my babies and the exhausting, amazing bond that it’s brought to our lives.

I’m proud of trusting my gut instincts, and my own children, above all else when my heart screams no to the “shoulds” of society.

I’m proud every time I’ve answered my children’s cries, listened to their needs, and embraced them with love.

I’m proud of giving them the freedom to grow into their own selves rather than forcing my own expectations.

I’m proud of sitting down to share meals with my kids. Of laughing together with oatmeal-smeared faces, ignoring the piled dishes and messy floors.

I’m proud that I stop to play with my little ones. That I take time to build blocks and read books and paint pictures.

I’m proud when I slow down to meet their meaningful pace rather than hurrying them to keep up with mine.

I’m proud when I respond to their most trying times with a soft heart and positive spirit.

I’m proud that when I fail and yell, I can embrace my kids, and myself, with grace and say, “I’m sorry. I love you. Let’s try better next time.”

I’m proud that I show my children my whole heart – what makes it smile and what breaks it wide open.

I’m proud of loving my children – deeply and abundantly and imperfectly – but ultimately with everything I am.

These points of pride are things that are not always easy; they do not always come naturally to me; they do not always feel right in the short term. Each choice comes with a trade off, something else at which I feel I’m failing. And in the moment, I do not always make the “right” choice, the choice that makes me proud. But perfection is not the point. Showing up and trying, day in and day out, is enough to be proud of.

So for today, I choose to take a step back and be proud of the mother I am. I choose to celebrate the small successes that stream through the scattered failures. These are the things I choose to hold onto and remember about motherhood. These are the meaningful moments that make me a momma.

I’m proud of the momma I am, and prouder still of the momma I’m becoming as I learn more and grow wiser with each passing day.

Why I Wander With Wee Ones

I am a wanderer at heart. As much as I love to cozy up at home with a good book, there is nothing that makes my soul come alive more than embarking on an adventure. Whether it’s a walk, a hike, a flight, a bike ride, or a road trip, I feel the stir of excitement in my bones when I step off the beaten path of life. Stepping outside of the daily tasks and leaving my own comfort zone renews and invigorates me.

My other greatest joy and passion is my children. When my first baby was born, I worried about how these two pursuits would mesh. Would I become too grounded by the responsibility that comes with caring for young children and be forced to give up my wandering ways? Adding kids to the mix inherently makes things a bit more complicated and a whole lot more exhausting. Embarking on any adventure, big or small, with children involves preparation, packing, and patience. And snacks. Always lots of snacks.

And this is where many parents give up (myself sometimes included). We can start to feel like it’s too much effort to take on the world with our wee ones. So we stop. We close the door on that part of our soul and we say “I’ll get back to it when the kids are grown.” Meanwhile, that spark inside us fades a little more with each passing day. Our children miss out on the light that ignites us and a glimpse at who their parents really are apart from cook, cleaner, and chauffeur.

But, no. This life, a life without wandering, is not the best life for myself or my children. So I must push back and push through, exerting the extra effort to make the wandering possible with my little people.

I refuse to view my children as burdens, limitations, or excuses from living my fullest and most wonderful life. I refuse to let them hold me back from adventures and refuse to let myself hold them back from exploring and experiencing this great wide world. I refuse to rob them of the joy of the journey that comes with a life filled with wandering, even, or perhaps especially, if there are struggles along the way.

Because here’s the magic: although wandering with with wee ones entails more work, it also brings infinitely more reward. I bring the wander, but they bring wonder.

As a parent, I have the rich opportunity to see the world anew through my children’s eyes. We stop and taste the sweet nectar of honeysuckle on hikes, we sing the silly songs on road trips, we listen for the unique calls of birds on bike rides, and we watch how soft clouds blanket the earth below as we gaze out the window of an airplane. This is a whole different kind of wandering, steeped with constant discovery and noticing overlooked details. I am forced to be more intentional and truly take in where we are and what we are doing. I have to take a deep breath and release my expectations of what our adventures should be and allow myself to fully experience what the wandering could be.

Do I sometimes miss the quiet car rides and forging quickly up the mountain to reach a scenic vista? Yes. But I’m learning to appreciate the scenery along the way; the slow steady path rather than the race to a destination, which is really what wandering is all about.

So we set off, a gang of wild explorers, with restless hearts and snack-filled hands. We take on the world with true baby steps, embracing our own gentle pace. Together we wander, my babies and I, together we find wonder wherever we may roam.

Happy First Birthday Sweet P!

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Oh my Sweet P, my little baby, where has this year gone?

I remember anxiously awaiting your arrival as you took your sweet time to greet us. I remember wondering how you would fit in to our family and how my heart could expand to love another child. I remember questioning my ability to be the best Momma to both you and your sister, meeting both of your constant and often conflicting needs. I still question this.

I remember how, after making us wait a whole week, you burst into our lives at lightning speed. I remember holding your tiny wet and warm body against my chest. I remember the crushing worry and loneliness when they whisked you away to the NICU to make sure you could breathe. I remember my overwhelming joy and relief when you returned to me, perfect and beautiful, taking my own breath away.

I remember bringing you home on Easter Day, our very own blessing of new life. I remember how you then became our own symbol of hope as we received difficult news. I remember how we loaded you into the car, tiny and just ten days old, and drove halfway across the country so you could meet your Yia-Yia. I remember the abundant joy you brought to the hardship, the light you brought to a dark time.

I remember how you seamlessly melded into our family and rolled along with our busy life. I remember how you went with the flow on our endless adventures, even though you hated your car seat with a fiery passion. I remember how I wore you close, feeling your breath on my chest, watching you drift off to sleep under my chin, as we went about the day together. I remember how my heart swelled beyond measure to make room for all the love I had for you.

I remember how you made your sister’s eyes light up, and how you tolerated her poking and prodding you with toddler fingers. I remember how you watched your big sister in awe as she attempted to entertain and soothe you. I remember when you found your smile, and later your laugh, you used them to delight in your sister’s wild antics. I remember watching as you girls learned to play together, trying to manage to push and pull and ultimate support of sisterhood.

I remember how you would light up a room with that gorgeous gummy grin, how you made our world sing with your lovely laughter. I remember how you paid attention to the world around you and honed your focus on what you wanted – reaching and grabbing and enjoying your own accomplishments. I remember how you took your time learning to crawl, but then became a happy and unstoppable explorer. I remember how you danced in your highchair between bites as you filled an appetite that rivaled your father’s. I remember how you found your voice and began to assert your desires with shrill screeches, much to the disappointment of my eardrums and sometimes sanity. I remember how you would use that squeal in excitement to welcome me whenever I returned home.

I remember pacing creaky floors with you in the dark of the night when you were sick or teething or merely restless and sleep just would not come. I remember how your tiny toes pushed against my soft tummy and your head wriggled in the crook of my arm until you found a comfortable place to snuggle into my body and rest. I remember the synchronized rising and falling of our chests as we slumbered together.

I remember worrying if I was overlooking you, if I was able to give you enough attention as I strived to meet all the demands of motherhood. But then I remember how you would command my attention, swatting the phone from my hands, crying out or clinging on, or simply staring at me with your dark, soulful eyes. I remember how we would remain, locked in a gaze together as you filled my soul with all your love.

There is so much I probably have and will forget about this first year with you, my second baby. Your milestones may not be as meticulously documented as your older sister’s and I may have skipped a few of your monthly photos. But these things I will not forget. I will remember, forever and always, how in just one year of life with us you have brought so much more love, laughter, and heartwarming happiness to our family than we ever could have imagined.

Happy birthday Sweet P! I hope you always remember how much your Momma adores you.

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Moving On

“It’s like we were holding onto a different phase of life,” my husband mused as he hauled yet another box of our old relics off to Goodwill.

“That’s because we were in a different phase of life when we moved into this house,” I responded wistfully.

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A few weeks ago, we found out we would have to move out of our current home. Since then, our life has been a whirlwind of decisions and house hunting and sorting through stuff, scattered with sickness and birthday parties and visitors. Its as if we’ve pressed fast forward on the already breakneck speed of our life as we attempt to prepare and pack for a move that’s less than two weeks away. So moments of reflection about where we’ve come from, where we are now, and where we’re going are limited to pockets of conversation that crop up between the daily tasks.

The thought of moving has been met with a mix of excitement and hope alongside fear and uncertainty. We are always up for an adventure, even if it is just five miles down the road. A new (to us) house is a fresh start and a blank slate, a novel place where we can dream and build memories and cultivate life together. Then there’s the fear and overwhelm of figuring out how to get everything packed and moved when our kids already seem to consume all of our time and energy. And there’s the uncertainty of whether we will like our new neighborhood as much as our current one, how everyone will adjust to things being a bit different, the small but sure step outside of our comfort zone.

Suffice to say, moving and saying goodbye to this old house is certainly bittersweet. Although we always knew our current abode was just a temporary home, and though the house is not exactly what we want, it’s still a place that has seen us through some major life transitions. We have transformed from somewhat carefree young adults to tried and true parents in our time here. We brought home a baby, and then another, and have watched them and ourselves grow and change so much in the space between. We’ve welcomed life and we’ve mourned loss within these walls. We’ve built a family, we’ve struggled with stagnation, we’ve felt beaten down by circumstances and lifted up by daily joys in this place.

We’ve witnessed exploratory crawling and first tentative steps on these floors. We’ve heard these walls echo with first laughs and first words and heartfelt conversations. We’ve filled this backyard with endless evenings of running and chasing and laughing until we collapse on the grass, watching the clouds and planes drift overhead. We’ve watched our daughters’ faces light up with the morning sun that shines through our kitchen window as they laugh and play together. We’ve wondered in awe how we’ve come this far in only a few short years of living here.

We will be moving out of this house different people than we moved in. We’ve been a bit more shaken by life, both the good and the bad parts, than when we first stepped over this threshold. We’ll carefully pack up our necessities and memories, tossing out what no longer serves us and cherishing what we have instead. And we will carry with us just a few momentos from those earlier days of our previous selves as we boldly stride into this next phase of life.

It’s time to move out and move on.

To my Firstborn on your Third Birthday

(Photo: Apple Snaps)

Three. How did we get here? How is it possible that three whole years have passed since you burst into our world, filling our lives with your fire and fun, your laughter and love? How have we already watched in wonder as you’ve grown from a breathtaking baby to a tenacious toddler to a lovely little girl?

They say the two-year-old year is terrible. They warn that it will be full of tantrums and defiance, unreasonable requests and inconsolable emotions. This year has certainly held its share of trials and tests, but it’s also been filled with terrific times and teaching experiences. If there is one word I could use to describe this past year with you, it would be transformational.

I’ve joyfully watched you transform from babbling random words to eloquently expressing yourself in complex sentences. I’ve watched you transform from searching for the steadiness of your own two feet to confidently running and climbing. I’ve watched you transform from being overcome by your own big emotions to helping me manage mine. I’ve watched you transform from focusing solely on your own needs to growing rich empathy and recognizing and responding to the needs of others. And, most beautifully, I’ve watched you transform from our one and only child to blossom into the most incredible big sister.

I’ve seen you learn and grow by leaps and bounds this year. In each ordinary moment, I’m amazed at how your brain absorbs every little thing, and you take that new knowledge and make it your own. Every day you delight me with your wise insights about the world around you and your stunning use of words to describe thoughts and feelings. Time and again I’m surprised by the depth of your compassion as you never miss an opportunity to soothe your sister’s cries or give a hug to someone feeling hurt or frustrated. You see and feel the world, with all of it’s wonder and complexity, in ways that I can hardly comprehend. Daily you are teaching and transforming me as well.

You’ve transformed me from feeling flustered by your demands to softening to hear your needs. You’ve transformed my focus from checking off tasks to enjoying the slow flow of life. You’ve transformed my mind to think in new ways as we tackle new challenges together. You’ve transformed my heart to be more open and giving.

This past year of change and transformation hasn’t always been easy for you, or for me. There have been too many days when energy was drained and voices were raised. There have been countless moments where emotions felt too big and frustrations seemed to overshadow the fun. Sometimes, I’ve found that my default reaction was “no” and you responded in kind by creating your own new, oft used, word: “nomomma.” And I know your little soul aches for my attention that now has to be divided between you and your sister.

But even on the hard days, even in the moments that others would see as terrible, you have become a beautiful overcomer. You’ve overcome personal and physical hardships and waded through difficult feelings. You’ve found the strength of your own voice and body to heal hurts and mend mistakes. You’ve shown me what it means to practice grace, loving me even after I fail you, and inspire me to do the same.

This two year old year has been many things – transformational, teaching, terrific, trying, testing. But terrible? Never.

I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for you and for us… Happy Birthday my sweet!

Love,

Momma

(Photo: Apple Snaps)

The Delicate Dance of Joy and Sorrow

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The dance floor is open, empty, inviting. The music swells; a beautiful uplifting crescendo that feels lighter than air. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, longingly anticipating. Suddenly, in waltzes Joy, a beauty to behold as she spins and sails around the room with elegance and grace. Joy dances into our lives in many different forms – a marriage, a new job, a miraculous cure, the birth of a baby. When she invites us to dance with her, we happily accept.

In an instant, the music turns. A heavy crashing of keys, low foreboding notes. Your heart drops as you see the pain of what’s to come. This is the moment you’ve been fearing, desperately trying to escape. You try to look away, but tearing across the floor with heavy, clumsy steps is Sorrow. His form, too, varies – an illness, divorce, layoff, or death – but his intent remains steady. He’s heading straight for you, imploring you to take his hand for this tango. You deny him. Sorrow is not who you want to dance with, not what you want to feel. Your arms urgently cling to Joy, urging her to sweep you away in her beautiful whirl. Sorrow pays you no mind as he steals Joy out from your grasp.

We all want to choose. We wish to accept only the joyful invitations to dance. We wish for our lives to be filled with happy times and our hearts to swell with beautiful moments. Even if we know Sorrow is inevitable, we keep it at an arms length. We refuse to let Sorrow seep in and ruin our precious moments; it must be kept separate, ignored. We want our moment to dance with Joy, uninterrupted. We want to embrace our new husband without acknowledging the heartbreaking miscarriage of our lost baby. We want to jubilantly celebrate the promise of new life, without accepting that a loved one’s life has come to a close. We want to feel the soft breath of our newborn baby without feeling the pain of a mother’s diagnosis, without facing the reality of death.

Unfortunately, life is not choreographed this way. The dance of life is a rich and complex tapestry, inter-woven with Joy and Sorrow and a million other intricate emotions. It’s a delicate weave. Attempting to pick out one emotion, to exclude the hard feelings, risks unraveling the whole thing. The music stops, the dancing ceases. We are left empty-handed and empty-hearted.

So we do have a choice. Not of dancing only with Joy and rejecting Sorrow, but of dancing with all our multitude of emotions or not dancing at all. When we refuse Sorrow, we can no longer fully experience Joy. We cannot turn down one emotion without simultaneously dimming all others. So we must accept the risk of getting our feet stepped on by Sorrow, alongside the delight of twirling with Joy. It may not always be a happy dance, but it will be a whole-hearted one.

You glance up again as Joy and Sorrow step and shimmy their way across the dance floor. With fascination and relief, you realize it is not the horrendous scene you expected. While the heaviness of Sorrow certainly overshadows Joy at times, you notice, too, that Joy uplifts Sorrow, making the dance more bearable, even beautiful. Though not the perfectly choreographed piece that might grace a stage, there is a delicate balance, a rawness and realness, to their march. As they make their way back around the room, inviting you to join, you stretch out two hands, grasping tightly to both Joy and Sorrow, and you dance.

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Let Them Go Outside

As modern day parents, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of it all. It’s easy to find ourselves stuck inside all day, frantically trying to check off endless tasks on our to-do list while our little ones simultaneously undo our progress. There are days I find myself quickly shuffling from one activity to the next and come to realize that the only outside time my kids have experienced is the mad dash from the car to the door.

But when I make the simple but purposeful choice to let us enjoy the outdoors, it is a literal breath of fresh air that feels both rejuvenating and revolutionary. I need it. They need it. From tiny infants to busy teenagers, the call of the wild beckons, inviting their presence and igniting their growth. We don’t need a bevy of toys cluttering our house to let our children learn and play and develop, we simply need the natural wonders that lie just beyond our doorway. So open the door, and let them go outside.

Let them lie on the ground. Let the grass be their blanket and the clouds be their entertainment.

Let them crawl with the feel of the earth supporting their small but mighty strength.

Let them toddle over uneven natural terrain.

Let them run through fields and race through forests.

Let their toes feel the tickle of grass and the squish of mud.

Let them jump off logs and jump in puddles.

Let them climb up trees and climb down creek-beds.

Let them get dirty. Let them come running back to you stained and smiling.

Let them feel the change of the weather. Let their skin tingle with the warm embrace of sunshine, the sweet kiss of a raindrop, and the thrilling chill of a thousand snowflakes.

Let them listen to the beautiful background noise of songbirds chirping, wind rustling through leaves, water trickling in the distance.

Let them find stillness and stimulation, wisdom and wonder.

Let them inhale fresh air and exhale adult expectations.

Let them know their own strength and find their own confidence. Let them dare and let them dream.

Let them discover. Let them learn. Let them explore.

Let them be free. Let them be wild. Let them be alive.