mr. black

He gives a gift to everyone who walks in the door. I am always a little groggy when I walk in. I have just dropped my oldest off to his early morning Saturday karate class. I walk down to Starbucks, and the moment alone combines with the fresh air and breathes life into me.

His shaggy hair matches his scruffy looking beard with their curls and hues of strawberry blonde. Everyone gets a smile and a cheerful voice, but nothing over-zealous. It is early on Saturday, after all and this is a gentle man. Intentional eye contact is made with each and every person. I watch as something invisible inside his soul seems to whisper to each of us, “You matter.”

I get the feeling he is doing more than just his job as he takes our orders and debit cards and gives us food and drink in return. He is caring for humanity. He sees the inherent value of people and shows it to us in the fifty-eight seconds we are in front of him. This is the gift he gives.

And it is one that we all are in desperate need of. Because it is so incredibly easy to forget that we matter. That although we are imperfect, we are also invaluable. Of course, not everyone receives this gift. Some are so busy with their lives and their selves and their keeping up that their spirits have grown numb to such offerings.

But he gives it anyway.

Today he was just taking his break when I found my place in line. We exchanged hellos and somehow some coffee spilled from the mug he was holding while we were chatting. I walked over to the condiment section, pulled out some napkins, knelt down and wiped up the liquid.

I should be doing that for you,” he said.

“You are on your break. I am happy to do something for you this time,” I reply.

He goes to the back for something and then disappears outside for his ten minutes to himself. As I order and get out my card to pay, the other barista tells me Mr. Black has already taken care of it.

I couldn’t find him outside to say thank you and he didn’t have to do that. Watching him do what he does touches my heart every Saturday. I see the gift he offers and gladly receive it each time. Maybe buying me coffee was his way of saying that today I got to be his Mr. Black.

scars

Why am I letting him do this to me? The first-aid guy at camp was repeatedly pouring peroxide over my wounded knee. I watched as the liquid exploded into white foam and my nerves shot me with pain.

This was not the first time I saw him this week. The girls and I had gone running in the trails behind camp and I caught a rock just right and came away bloody. I couldn’t be a total baby because I was the counselor, so I kept the profuse whining to myself.

But after that episode there was night-free-time and how could I let the girls go off the blob in the moonlight without me? So what if I soaked myself in the murky water of the lake? I was bonding.

And sure enough, that bonding contributed to a beautifully infected and painful quarter sized patch on my right knee where my skin used to be. So the first aid guy told me we had to lift off the scab with the peroxide to remove the infection and start over, taking better care of it this time.

Okay.

My mouth seemed to need to chatter off any and every thing in order to cope with the pain. So I rattled off the history of that poor knee and how as a little girl I tripped across the neighbor’s patio with a glass in my hand. That was the most blood I had ever seen as a four-year-old.

“Yes,” he said. “That incident probably made this experience more painful. Opening a scar always magnifies the pain.”

I think about that every time I run trails. I remind myself to be extra careful lest we bust that knee again.

Through the years the scar has healed well and now appears only faintly as the pink skin blends with my pasty pale white in the most unnoticeable way. When I rub my finger over the area I can only feel the slightest bit of sensitivity, like that patch of skin is starting to fall asleep.

Scars certainly don’t require the same amount of care or carry the same sensitivity as the initial wounds creating them, but they do mark some tender places and require different protection than other areas of our bodies. They are places where our skin may be a little thinner; wounds are riskier, may hurt more, and may take longer to heal.

They remind us that we are human. That we are not indestructible like we may sometimes pretend that we are. And they also remind us of our capacity to heal. That we made it through some difficult, painful experience. And that although we now have a place that is more vulnerable than it was before, we  survived.

practicing life


What if I mess up? The heavy scarlet curtain was moments away from rising and my stomach was filled with a flock of nervous butterflies. Dress rehearsal was over. This was the real thing.

We had quite a learning curve, my fifth grade class and I, in all the practices leading up to now. But that’s what practice is for – to learn the material, work out the kinks and fix the mistakes so that the performance is…..flawless.

I’ve not changed much from that young girl anxiously waiting to deliver her lines in the school  play about P.T. Barnum. I seem to think that all of life is a series of scenes requiring my perfect delivery of choices. I huddle behind the curtain paralyzed by fear of my own miss-steps. I lament my foibles, swiftly pointing them out to myself and delivering how disappointed I am in me.

I have very little patience for my own mistake making. There are no do-overs in life, which I take to mean I must never screw up. Life is not a dress rehearsal. I convince myself every decision seals the fate of the next 50 years of my life.

But does it?

Would I take that fifth grade girl and put her in front of a crowd on opening night without a script or practice of any kind and expect a command performance from her? So why am I so hard on myself, expecting that I can face the barrage of new and never before experienced scenes of my life without learning my way through them?

What if I looked at life as a grand dress rehearsal of sorts? Change my paradigm so that instead of performing life, I am practicing life – learning who I am and how to be myself as I navigate my way? I think I would have more freedom to learn from my experiences versus torture myself over them. I might welcome trying new things, even if I am terrible at them and fall on my face. I think I would find more fun. Be more fun. Laugh more. Maybe even at myself.

There were many things I read that have stirred this shift in how I see life. I saw myself or was encouraged by someone else’s writing. Take a look for yourself and see what stirs in you….

Artistry by Francesca Zelnick (I cannot recommend her writing enough, she is fabulous)

138 by Kate McClafferty on her blog 365til30.com counting down her adventures the year before she turns 30   (fantastic fun – in my next life I want to be Kate)

Setting the Scene by L.S. Engler (including comments)

About Hilary by Hilary Billings on her blog The Nomad Grad (about a new graduate with a degree in psychology figuring out what to do with her degree and her life which I can totally relate to)

Potty Time by Katie K (including comments)

potato chips and chocolate

The crinkle of the bag brings me hope and dread all at once. My pain draws me to the cupboard without my awareness. I have been carrying around this powerlessness and it is heavy and painful and I want an escape from it. But there is none. That doesn’t stop me from looking, though.

As the salt touches my tongue, it seems to be a numbing agent on my heart. For the moments that my mouth is full, the overpowering taste blocks out my emotions.

Eventually, I finish the bag or the bag finishes me leaving my mouth raw. I sit for a minute, trying to force the satisfaction to stay. But eventually it runs away like it always does and my mind dances with the sweet that would sooth the savory I just consumed.

Another crinkling bag delights my ears. I pull out the handful of dark chocolate chips and let them sit for a while to be warmed by my hand. Then in my mouth they go as the cocoa, rich and smooth begins to soften and ooze together forming a luscious mound of heaven that melts down my throat.

Eventually I realize the break from my pain was only temporary, and the let down sets in. I want this to help but it doesn’t. I try night after night, but the pain remains. I cannot control others. I cannot change what they think of me. I cannot force someone to listen.

All I can do is let go and mourn what is lost. And sometimes that is more of a process than I would like it to be, even with my potato chips and chocolate.

you matter

Her words cut through my heart. There was such beauty there in the room. They were showing me where they are vulnerable. They want to be loved. I can relate.

I looked around my family room and saw a half dozen faces of young people. College. Post-college. This is not an uncommon view from my spot on the couch. We love them, my husband and I. They love our children and fill our home with life and energy and eyes dancing with eagerness.

I asked them the question I am always baffled by. Why do you like coming here? What do you get out of spending time with our crazy family circus?

“You’re real.”

“It’s honest here.”

“We are welcomed; accepted.”

“We don’t have to be our best; we can let our guards down.”

And then it was her turn. She has no idea how beautiful she is. Her purity of spirit shows through. She is honest and vulnerable and stunning.

Her voice, quiet and true said, “We are little college students, but we matter to you.”

I looked down at the journal I had been taking notes in. The pen in my hand froze between my fingers. I heard my heart pound in my ears. My gut felt like it had been punched, not by a fist but by words that were true and meaningful and struck a chord in me.

Because you do. You matter. Not just to us, but you matter in life.

I know it doesn’t feel that way. The world tells you that you are not enough. That you count for nothing. That you don’t know who you are. That you have not accomplished enough. That you are not worth the time someone would spend on loving you.

The world lies.

You are infinitely valuable. Each and every one of you.

monster

I know

I am a monster to you

That is the only way you

can hope to understand my

choices

And I know

the monster you think I am

is hurting you

and I am

so

sad

for your hurting

I think you would like me to explain

I would be happy to

I think it could help you hurt less

But you can’t hear me

when your fingers are in your ears

You cling to control

in hope of getting love

just like me

But I am learning a new way now

FREEDOM

And this new way doesn’t shout

or force

But waits

and hopes

for the day when you take your fingers out of your ears

yourself

You can have your way

that’s okay with me

you just can’t

have me

too

I know your hurting

started long before me

and I wish

there was something I could do to

salve your wounds

make you whole

I long

for the day

when I see you in Heaven

and you don’t hurt anymore

I see you there

in my mind’s eye

and I rejoice

I know that what you think

can’t hurt me

or change who I truly am

so until then –

when you are whole

and the hurting has stopped –

I have to let you think

I am a monster

It is compassion

relinquish

love

my loves

I thought I would be swallowed up by the testosterone in our home. That I would cease to exist in the land of males I was immersed in. The day after I found out our third child was going to be another boy I was pissed. Toilets. Do I need to say more?

Fortunately I moved through my issues before that beautiful baby was born. And truthfully, sometimes I even like being the only female in the house. Don’t tell anyone.

So years later on this Valentine’s Day I find myself tickled that I have four great guys to love. I seem to be giddy to celebrate each one of them. What a lucky girl I am.

And I thought I would take a moment to honor them here. Call it bragging if you like. There are still plenty of other days I curse the toilet they pee in (or more accurately miss), just in case knowing that makes reading this more palatable.

Colby

Today the middle child gets to go first. When I look in your eyes I see the most beautiful soul I have ever beheld. Both innocence and mischief dance on your face in the best of all combinations. You are my mystery man, one that I marvel at in awe. You are so different than me, and yet you love me so well. Everyday you give me the gift of your love and grace.

Zachary

My baby I never planned on having. I didn’t know how much I needed you. Because of you, I get to have a second go-around with motherhood, and I think we are all better for it. I love that you now own your name, emphasizing the “ary” when others fail to do so. You who opened your eyes wide from the moment you came out of the womb are filled with wonder and expression. I know delight because I feel it every moment I am with you. I am enamored by you.

Joshua

Watching you come of age is the most touching and beautiful thing I have ever witnessed. You struggle in your tenacious way with the deep questions of life and I am blown away by the stirrings in your soul, honored that you share them with me. I taught you perfectionism (sorry!) but now I see we are learning grace together as well. Your company on this journey fills me and inspires me every day.

Phil

The biggest of all my men, you have my heart. You have shown me faithfulness in its purest form. You have loved me for better and for worse. When I was young, I dreamt more of a lifetime with someone – of growing old with my best friend – than the wedding day starting it off. You have been my dream come true. Like I sang to you on our wedding day, you are my knight in shining armor. Not because you heroically save me everyday (which you do) but because you valiantly love me everyday.

I have not lost myself in all of you, but you have discovered and uncovered and recovered the best in me. Thank you, my loves. Thank you.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

discovering hope in the cold

What is your favorite season? I am always curious to hear what people have to say in response to that question. To me it is so obvious that spring is the best season of all. The sun is warm but not hot, the land is waking up out of the slumber of winter, leaves are turning green again, the hours of light are increasing, and the air holds the aroma of hope and potential and that is why I love it so.

But some people love winter. Perhaps you are one of them. It seems a little bizarre to me, but then again, I choose to live in San Diego where it can be argued there is no winter.

Even in San Diego, my winters are a constant attempt to get warm. I have a bag of rice that I heat in the microwave at night to snuggle my toes against. I shake my fist at the sky when it pours rain during school drop off or pick up. I have even begun to dress as strategically as possible with my under shirts and scarves and socks and boots and jackets and it seems like such a bother. I hate to be cold.

So of course I wonder why anyone would like winter. But lately I have been thinking metaphorically about seasons, and I am beginning to have a new respect for the winters of my life.

I am hoping against all hope that the snow is melting and light is over taking dark at the end of what seems like a much too long season of winter for me and my family. A few years ago I incurred a trauma that lead me to deal with some nice items of baggage I had collected in my journey through life. That took its toll on our little family of five.

We made it through that just in time to have the economy and some investments catch up to us, thus giving my husband his turn with the bags he has collected along his way through life. Add to that my oldest son starting middle school, throwing our family dynamic on its ear and leaving us groping around in search of a new normal.

And it has felt very dark. But just in the last few days I have seen some glimmers of hope that spring will in fact come and bring life to my weary soul once again. And I just want to stand in front of that rising ball of light and weep with exhaustion from enduring such a lengthy time in the cold.

Winter Snow - Landscape

I realize with this dawning hope that we are making it through this difficult season. And our family will be stronger for it. We will be deeper. More bonded for having weathered the storms of a bad winter together.

Things happen under that mysterious layer of cold. Often I can’t see what it is until the snow melts, but I am beginning to realize that the season of winter has depth, beauty, and value all its own. Even if it means months of cold feet.

What beauty do you find in winter?

 

the face

What do I say to a face like this? These puppy dog eyes, red and splotchy from tears with hot cocoa stains around the mouth for finishing touches. The fact that he is about the most adorable child God ever created works in his favor almost all of the time.

My former self would have known just what to do when face to face with this forlorn little boy. I would have forced the older brother who wanted to play by himself to play with this child. We must sacrifice everything – including our very selves – in honor of being nice. I don’t care if you want a moment alone. Can’t you see this face?

But I am not my former self anymore, even though parts of her tug on my heartstrings from time to time. So while it kills me to look at this deliciously pathetic face, as a mom of three I also respect that everyone needs time alone now and then.

I had been listening and after quite some time playing nicely with someone less than half his age, the older brother had requested said time alone respectfully. And I haven’t heard a lot of respectfully around here lately. The three-year-old stormed off to his room where he proceeded to weep bitterly with angry sobs.

I followed him in and scooped my snuggliest child into my arms. He was offering his love and adoration for his older brother in the form of intense desire to be together, doing what his world revolves around, playing. And he was rejected. And it hurt.

And I have to admit, I was a little at a loss of what to do. It is fair to need some alone time. It is also fair to be hurt when someone doesn’t want to play with you, even when they are not being mean about it. How can I help my children understand boundaries, respect, and love? There was no simple answer here, so I sat holding my youngest son and felt the tension of the situation for a while.

Sometimes people’s boundaries are not what we would like them to be, but that does not give us the right to make their choices for them. Even when we are the mom. And it’s hard.

I was encouraged that after some snuggles for one and some time alone for the other, the boys figured out for themselves how to play together again. At least for about another five minutes. Then I got to see this face again.

What situations have you faced lately that don’t have clear cut solutions?

my treasure hunt

Her words saved me. I woke up after that naked day still in a fog from life. Since I spent the day before naked, today I was going to dig around inside of me to see if I could muster an ounce or two of umph.

But on the way home from the gym I started thinking about some sad realities I am facing. Realities that have nothing to do with writing but are all to do with more important parts of life. Relationships and people. Broken people I cannot help fix. Finding some umph was looking pretty dismal.

But then I began checking the blogs I follow. I read the words of my new favorite writer and I practically cried right then and there in front of my laptop. There is something incredibly moving when receiving words made just for you in that moment, offering you hope when you were beginning to wonder if such a thing existed anymore.

Keep searching. There is treasure to be found in this life. Beauty is all around and gives us life. It is worth the effort to keep your eyes open and look for it. Even when the energy required for doing so seems impossible.

So I took the child with the soul of an artist with me and we headed to a park we visited a few weeks ago with friends. The place is full of textures and sculptures and flowers and space and I have wanted to get back there with a camera ever since.

The fresh air soothed my raw soul. Being with only one child soothed my raw nerves. My pictures did not do justice to what I saw with my eyes, but the fact that I was there and attempting was a miracle.

I was not completely healed in that one outing, but I got just enough to carry me through to the next moment. And that is when I realized the words of Francesca Zelnick had saved me.