I hear wise words floating around me, coming from trusted women and NPR stories and snippets in the grocery store. Words that encourage and show strength and perseverance, words that show one can survive unimaginable losses and not be destroyed. I hear of widows who carry on, not shut away but still singing at church and baking brownies for youth group for sales.  I hear of adults who found their way to America with only one member of their family, the rest victim to the Khmer Rouge. I follow a mother’s updates on Facebook, a woman whose daughter went missing and no trace has been found since that night out with friends June 3, 2011.  The world is full of such great heartache and I hear the stories, I want to be able to gain perspective on my losses and get back up, bake more cookies for sales and sing more in church. Yet the wisdom slips through my grasp, too fragile to grab hold as my sorrow weakens me, muscles not exercised have gone limp. I want to forgive those who have contributed to my missing pieces,  I want to be the better version of myself,  I want to not ache and to allow others the time to grow into themselves without me but the yearning within me doesn’t cease. How do you stop marking the calendar with days missed together? The old Alcoholics Anonymous adage carries more wisdom: one day at a time. Still I know even with this model, I have relapses, I have lost my recovery into a state of sorrow. I hear the wisdom of survivors around me, the low hum of voices that cannot reach my heart. I want what I want, like an addict wants the next fix. Until I chose to get help, I am lost to this madness of mourning.

Finally another wise woman asked, “How is your soul?” and something broke through. I wanted to cry, I knew my soul was in tatters and spilling droplets of memories about me. I wanted to scoop them up and stuff them back in but they leaked and pushed and refused to be ignored. My soul? In a state of disarray, disquieted, disappointed, I answered. But now, several days later I realize I was wrong, my soul is steady and sure and waiting. I had mistaken my soul for my heart. My broken bleeding aching exhausted heart, that had taken over all of my attention and I forget about my soul. I was confused, as so often happens when emotions run amok with their blinding neon demands for attention, technicolor arrays of aches and pains that bleed into the next, no time to catch my breath before the next contraction arrives. God has sent these women to be my midwives, birthing me again and again as I find my soul where He resides. How is my soul? My soul is wounded and broken for the mother who can’t find her daughter, for all the families lost to genocide, for the mothers who will visit their sons this week in prison and the ones who cannot, for the women who feel less than because their body has produced no babies and the women who wish their own mothers were here to accept a corsage and those who never knew them or wanted to give flowers away.  God has given me a soul that notices the least, the vulnerable. That is where He resides within me, not my heart, where I live too often.

The run up to this holiday has been brutal but I see now I have chosen to step into the boxing ring to get pummeled. Jab, upper cut, smash, each punch of an advertisement knocking me further into my own heart and separating me from God, dividing me from what it is that He has asked of me. I can’t apologize for mourning, God surely recognizes my loss as well. Yet I just know that He is asking I trust Him to work on that, why cannot I fully turn that over to Him and do what He asks me to do without concern for the world and arbitrary dates on the calendar? Do I trust God? The clear answer is that I want to and I want what I want and I want to be better and I am just too full of humanity to lean so fully on my faith when the bright colors of Sunday ads with flowers and perfume and jewelry tell me that my children have forsaken me, knowingly neglected to reach out on this day, to inflict more damage. Yet, is that the truth? As my friend Janet is want to say, is that the story I am telling myself? I cannot speak to how hard this day is for them as well, I don’t know if they don’t ache to pick up the phone and have not yet reached the place in their journey that allows them to do so. Can I trust God with my heart and carry on with my soul work even on the hard days, the really horrible dark ones where the couch beacons even as the sun shines?

The only way I have ever known to survive is to rely on my soul and not my heart. My heart is faulty, a storehouse of tiny grudges and rather large expectations. My soul, though, no matter what I do, I cannot seem to muddy it up. That temple within me is where God awaits my return, my re-turn into His arms and His word and His promises along His path. Grace finds me there again and again, just as my children will find one day when they call home. Regardless of the calendar, it will be mother’s day. That is the promise that comes from trusting God and seeing to my soul. Hope is too tricky to allow into my heart, a fickle emotion that promises sugary sweetness but the crash that comes after is devastating. No, hope must live only within the confines of my soul, hope in God not in people or circumstances. No blood sugar spikes, no depressive lows, God is constant and persistent and pursues me with NPR broadcasts.  God in my soul says make some brownies for the bake sale and take some flowers to another mother this weekend. Go to church anyway, get of off the couch. This is just another day and it is a gift, greater than a corsage or perfume or even a call from children. It is from the One who never stops loving. How is my soul? Restored.





Time Capsule

As I grow older I have become less and less willing to celebrate commercial holidays. Maybe the blatant consumerism, the grab for more and more of the less and less money I have is fueling this resistance.  Maybe it is just weariness, every month seems to hold another event to “celebrate,” decorations to pull out, hang up, put down, stow away. Why can’t my home just rest as it is for a bit, the constant shifting of the wreath on the door and moving the items on the table to clear space for the tchotchke of the moment means the stuff I really like rarely gets displayed. Have I become a curmudgeon? Is it really that the fractures in my family are more visible when holidays are quiet, when presents and picnics are not planned with anticipation around this home? This estrangement is wearing on my soul and another Mother’s Day is rolling around, must we have this day this year? I know I can’t be the only one who wishes to hide as the calendar flips to May, knowing there will be no honoring me as I question my very worth in such a basic role.

Schools build craft activities around celebrating moms, how painful it must be for the children who have no mom to take the handprint plasters and tissue paper butterflies home to, no one awaiting those treasures to fill the box and look at years later, measuring the development of the artistic and handwriting skills of each child year to year. I have one of those boxes, filled with cards and letters and art projects, a cedar chest that holds the most prized baby clothes, tiny shoes with scuffs from wobbly steps, bits of ribbon and squares of bed sheets. More than just evidence that I was a mom to those children, it reminds me of our love, of our lives together. The cedar chest is our time capsule, one that they often would search through, ruffling the contents, pushing aside the items that belonged to the other as they sought clues to their early years, asking for anecdotes they had heard many times over. This time capsule may be buried now for them but it sits still in my home, a ticking living beating heart of our story. One day like long lost travelers they will come home again to discover our history is still in that box, that our relationship as mother and child began with my hopes and dreams and the ankle bracelet the hospital attached as they first entered the world. They will pull out cherished locks of hair to hold against the heads of their own children, comparing colors with a wistfulness that will break their hearts.

My treasure chest contains the last cards I received on Mother’s Day, lauding me and dripping with gratitude. As I read and re-read the card from my Stella, the estrangement becomes even more difficult to grasp. She was real in that card, those were her words, the daughter I knew since birth. Only months later she disappeared into a darkness that my light and love cannot reach, is there anything harder for a mother? Moms who have lost their children to death or to the world, who ache to have one more conversation, to caress those baby locks that have turned into teen and adult hair styles that no longer need our brushing, just one more. But I am not being honest, I want more than one, I want to hear the phone ring as it once did, see that my Stella was calling to include me in her daily or weekly musings, especially now that she is a mother herself. I knew her when she played with dolls, when she painted them with nail polish and bathed them in her own tub of bubbles. I long to see her bringing her fierce love to those babies now in her care, to see her teaching and reaching and carrying without thought, to watch how she juggles the one on her hip and the one wrapped tightly around her as she fixes snacks and tends to her home. I want to see her be a mom, I have seen her in every other role throughout her life and it has been a magnificent view. Like watching the most amazing movie only to have the film snap, sputter, the reel spin, the screen go black, I still remain incredulous that the connection has been broken. Offered tickets to a lesser show, this one of muted colors and b-side music, I long for the glorious vibrancy that she brought, the birds sang jazz, the colors were neon. I want that bigger life that comes from generational connections.

I long for my Arrow, differently, trusting that our break has more to do with his addiction, will someday soon result in restoration. I feel more in control of this fracture, knowing that if I gave in on boundaries and rules, we could be in contact daily, he could walk into my door. What mother would stop that from happening and then say she misses her children? The mother of an addict, the mom who has visited her child in rehab and hospitals and prison, a mother who knows the peril of enabling. Arrow gets clean and sober and sees the light, touches base again and the glorious light of his presence fills our home and my soul again. Our break is only a splinter, one along well worn tracks. Every day that he is away, I pray for his safety, I beg for him to make the turn into a life with sustaining colors, to find the little boy who delighted in God and then rest there, find peace there. Then he will come home and dig through the treasure chest to show his children who he was, before this long detour.

Chef and I watched the movie Lion last night, a profoundly moving story of a child lost and found, the triumph of the human spirit against all odds. Even though he was established into a new life, he never stopped aching for his family of origin, his mum. I know these children of mine, I know their hearts, I felt them beat against mine. Without reservation, I know they too are lost and can’t find their way back home, the call too hard to make, the gap seemingly too wide to bridge. As I sobbed watching the movie, seeing this young man make a trek finally to find his mother, seeing the support and encouragement of those around him to go on the journey, I could only wonder who in my children’s lives are planting those same seeds? Who tells them to go, to reach out, to try again? Anyone? My children know the way home, they know where I am, like the mother in the movie who 25 years later had not moved, just in case her lost boy ever came back, I am here with the cedar chest, holding our lives and our history, waiting.

The calendar has flipped not just for me but for my children as well. They too know that the day to honor your mother is fast approaching. While they are currently committed to a position of separation, I know that they do so only with full knowledge of the luxury that stubbornness affords them. They have a mother who will wait. They have a mother who accepts their scraps and bits and saves their plaster handprints and baby clothes. They have a mother who has always championed their success and held them during their struggles. I know in the quiet moments of their honest souls as the tv shares another ad about honoring your mom, they know what I know. I am still here loving them regardless of the month or holiday. They are playing the odds, as many friends know, that they will always have time. They ignore the memes and the reminders on social media that you are not guaranteed tomorrow.

Being a mother, having a mother is soul work, more than a day on the calendar. Women across the country will be celebrated this Sunday for the achievement of having sacrificed their bodies and their souls. Women across the country will be ignored even though they too made those same offerings. Other women want nothing more than to have the chance to make those sacrifices. Ultimately, we all have a mother, many are a mother. The current state of our relationships do not negate what we know, that we  have a cedar chest full of tissue paper butterflies and old crayon scribbled cards, to remind us of who we were and who we are. If you are longing for your mother, if you are aching to carry babies, if your children are lost and your soul cries out for them, if your family is whole and this year is full of celebration, I will being praying for you this week. Let us remember all those who will get cards and flowers this week and those who won’t. Those who will sift through the treasure chests and remember when sticky fingers brought breakfast and crumpled handfuls of dandelions. Sometimes memories are all we have to sustain us, until the calendar flips again.

Empty Tomb No More

Recently I wrote about Being Stuck at the Empty Tomb, New Perspective hopelessly out of reach. Rarely have I gotten what I asked for so quickly. Maybe it was my utter devastation, my complete lack of direction. Maybe I was just empty enough to listen finally, to hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit tell me to open my Bible to the book of Romans. I did and what I found was perspective, the exact thing I was seeking. I don’t have easy answers but I have a new outlook, sometimes that is all it takes to start the day anew, to find the energy for a shower , to make lunch, to go smell the flowers.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How many times have I heard that haunting call of Jesus at the cross, always considering the agony of Jesus dying to humanity, the burden of our meanness and judgments and horrible behavior requiring that he suffer the worst that we may experience the best? I haven’t ever stopped to imagine what God must have felt, to be separated from His Son in that moment. Yes, He knew the outcome, He knew how long it would last, but He also knew that in the deepest darkest moment when His child needed Him, He could only remain close but not fix it all, make it better, stop the destruction. I am horrified to realize that my sinfulness caused God to be separated, even for an instant, from His Son.  I also realize that God fully understands the agony of an estranged parent. He gets that pain of one left alone while sin runs rampant and destroys the family. He knows the only way to restoration and redemption is to be rejoined with Him. All this time while I thought I was suffering alone, begging God to return these children to me, He was saying, “Lisa, I want them to come home to me as well.”

I was drawn to the book of Romans today and as scripture so often does, the words jumped off the screen to me, they were alive.  I read the first chapter and was shocked to see that this new estrangement epidemic was not so new after all. Paul wrote about it: “They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way.” Romans 1:30 I have wondered how my Stella could reconcile such a hard heart with what is preached in church each Sunday, I know my Arrow has stepped far away from his Christian faith. Before either of them can be returned to me, they must return to God. After all, they were His first. His agony must be horrific, to see His children so far away from knowing Him, believing and trusting in Him. In my weakest moments, I thought God had left me in this misery, I missed that we were suffering together.

My new perspective changes nothing in my relationship with my children, or lack of one. What has altered though is my closeness with God. No longer battling with Him, feeling lost in questions about why spring can come again but not my daughter, I understand now that the flowers bloom and the birds chirp as we together look for hope that they too will see those and hear those and remember that He is the creator of all. As my daughter shows the buds of new life to her daughter, surely she is explaining about the God who delivers anew our second chances and forgives us. As my son prepares to welcome into the world his daughter, can there ever be a more spiritual moment than that? Surely they are facing opportunities to find Him again and then they can find me. Perspective, I see you.

I know now that my prayers are not that God might hear me, that He might see my pain and my worry and that He might bring about the change NOW!!! How many times have I moaned that I cannot go on? How many times have I called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He has been with me all along, the separation only in my mind. No longer helpless or powerless, I am united with a mighty God who can bring these children home, home to Him. Restoration to the greater family of Christ, then to ours. Together then we will smell flowers and feed birds and laugh and go to church and praise a God who loves us enough to give us the hope of spring days during dark winter moments. Now I join with God to pray that they grab hold of the faith of their youth, that they turn back to Him.

My new perspective, not from a bottle or the store but waiting for me in scripture all along. Psalm 62 reminds me: 5Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. 6Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

Do you see the lilacs bursting on the bushes, the breeze bringing the sweetness of spring into every open window, filling our homes with soul lifting hope? Can you hear the songbirds, as they busily seek twigs and strings, preparing to build nests and lay eggs and carry on with life, fulfilling their purpose? We won’t be shaken today friends, if we stay steadfast in our unity in the Creator of all. My new perspective is quite an old one, sometimes I misplace it in the dark. Blessedly, God shines some light and doesn’t let me get too lost. I trust He will do the same for those I love.


Something stirs in my Plum’s heart, I never know when to expect it, he begins to cry over the loss of our pets from 2 and 3 years ago. Significant because he is only 6, I often wonder how much he really remembers. Yet a sadness overcomes him, he becomes almost inconsolable. The loss is deep, the yearning is mournful. It matters not that we have new beasts who push past me to lay atop him, providing comfort with heavy fur. Warm dog breath finally eases his pain as we rock and talk about lifetimes, about natural order and about heaven. We agree that it still just hurts when those you love are gone.

He doesn’t remember that one of the dogs he is mourning used to bark all the damn time, insisting as only a border collie can do, that we play with her. He doesn’t remember that we had to monitor her all the time so she didn’t herd him in his little walker. He doesn’t remember that I had to nurse her the last two years of her life, forcing her to eat as I watched clumps grow around her midsection. He only knows he misses her. God only knows why.

He doesn’t remember that our other dog, the best rescue ever that we saved from Hurricane Katrina watery parasites and brought home to love, was so strong he could knock my Plum over. We had to keep an eye on that one as well, Plum was just toddling and could easily be toppled. He doesn’t remember that he used to flinch from the loud battles they all used to have. He only knows he misses him, God only knows why.

He surely doesn’t remember the last loss, our sweet sweet rescue who was so protective of me she used to bare her teeth and nip a bit when others came too close. She nipped at him a couple of times and also nestled up so closely when he was feeling, well, any strong emotion. He had to battle with her to get to me many times, he didn’t like her on his bed but there she slept, watching over him, worrying about his doorway when he wasn’t here. He only knows that he misses her, God only knows why.

Plum only remembers how soft their fur was, how much he loved that they loved him. He listens to stories about their better days, their finer qualities and takes those in as his own memories. So sometimes he weeps, we comfort him. I understand his selective memory. That is how our hearts heal from brokenness, we smooth over the rough places of hurt with stories of laughter and silliness, we focus on the good times and loosen the damaged patches from our soul storage. We begin to remember with grace. This is how I have dealt with the loss of my own mother, 5 years ago today.

With each passing year, it becomes harder to remember the difficulties in our relationship,   there were plenty. The big things don’t ever go away maybe but their weight, their importance diminishes as more sweet memories and deep longing replace them, smooth out the hurts. Distance allows me to see her as a person aside from her role, to see that her own  needs weren’t met, see her own challenges in life, and wonder how she ever managed to love at all. I especially have become so much more aware of the ways that I hurt her, the times I let her down, distanced myself from her. I look back at our relationship with fresh eyes and a sore soul and know that we just both did the best we could, we were both so broken, so badly damaged. So somedays I find myself weeping for my mother, a strange sight indeed to anyone who knows what a complicated path we took. Those tears smooth out more bad places, wash away more painful memories so that my soul fills with snapshots of those times we laughed and we shopped and we shared recipes.

When Plum is crying, I ask him what he would like to do with his long lost pets if he had just one more chance with them. He often says he wants to play with them or give them a hug. So then we do that with the ones who are near and we go outside and speak to the clouds. We claim our aches and send them up to the sky and then we rejoice with the barking yapping beasts who are close by. The breath of God dries our cheeks and sends fresh joys in the rushing chasing ball carrying beasts who long for our attention. The same is true for me, as I consider what one more thing I would want from my mom. At one point it would have been affirmation of all my hurts, that I was right she was wrong. Later it might have been that she really did love me. The long road of healing now shows I need neither of those last conversations, I know she was as right as she could be and she always loved me as best she could. Today I would only want to tell her that I am sorry. But just like every other conversation I wanted to have, she already knows that. All I really want is one last time to snuggle up and share some comfort. Healing for us both, all we ever both sought. My soul is making progress in the mom compartment. So I speak my yearning to God and cuddle with the one who is here, my Plum who really just wants to dance today. So we dance. And I know my mom is rejoicing at our silliness.

We all know that death strikes too suddenly, too often with no warning. Sometimes we have the chance to say our goodbyes but still healing takes much longer. Lifetimes, everything has a lifetime, I teach my Plum. I don’t teach him hurts have lifetimes. We are practicing giving those up to the clouds as they come, in the hopes that his little soul may become the generation to grow up less scabbed and scarred, more trusting and open. Still, he cries and I comfort. Today I leak out some sorrow of my own, unexpected feelings of loss for a mother who left us 5 years ago and still is missed. And today we dance and throw balls for beasts and snuggle up just a bit closer. Soul healing means making some new memories and letting the old fly away with grace.

I remember you mom, as the woman you were and the woman I wanted you to be and all the love that fell somewhere in between. Look at Plum, hasn’t he grown? His love for our beasts surely melts your heart. I feel your smile so deep in my soul it is pushing water out of my eyes. Let’s go dance.

Knock Knock

I think transitioning from mother to mother-in-law to grandmother is an overlooked challenge for women. The process of planning a wedding or showers should warn us that we are moving into new territory yet the busyness of it all keeps us from realizing that our role is changing. Really changing. Sure we hear the jokes but think they only apply to others. Then we find ourselves the fodder for comedians, aching wrong turns and missteps that leave us wondering what happened and how did my child change overnight into this other? We used to talk, we used to be close, what happened!! Then a baby comes along and mostly all is forgiven because now they have given us this, a fresh start. Only, wait, what the hell, now we don’t even get that? They want to keep that one too? We scratch our heads and wonder when it will be our turn to love and cradle and cuddle, knowing this babe is just the thing to fill up the whole our child left. Any memories of struggling to establish our own family under the watchful gaze of our own mother-in-law with her fingers itching ever closer to our brand new babe are lost in the flush of the placenta, the smell of baby wipes and the sight of little toes.

Ay ya ya, is it any wonder newly weds and mother-in-laws struggle so?  No one tells us how to do it, how to breathe through the contractions of the new little family, to trust that a new birth of bigger more openness with happen. Like a pregnant mama at 36 weeks, we want it now. We grow tired of waiting. We are ready to push. We hear everyone tell us that resting right now, at this critical point is what is most important. Rest now, because soon you will be called into action. Allow that family to grow and your chance will come. Oh waiting is horrible. Transitions just really suck. We forget that our choices now during the transition set the stage for how the birth of the new family will be experienced by all.

The knock on our Wednesday evening small group classroom signaled more than just an interruption to our group. It was more than just a notice to let me know my Plum wasn’t feeling well enough to last the evening with his friends. It was a warning that life was going to get rough for several days, that more interruptions were coming, that my schedule and timeline were not my own. One moment we were adults talking around a table, knock knock, suddenly I was in full grandma mode where I would remain for the foreseeable (with no sleep and the inability to see much further than this mug of coffee) future.

Plum has croup, not fun with little lungs that grasp for breath sometimes anyway. Oral steroids and nebulizer treatments are helping to open his constricted airways. Neither help close his little eyes to get rest. I want rest. I had planned much rest after making the Wednesday meal for the larger group. I scheduled much rest as we came to the end of this study and my other one that just finished. I was going to do one slow victory lap around my kitchen with a glass of wine and then collapse contentedly on the couch until I was ready to leisurely climb the stairs to collapse in bed for hours and hours and then rise slowly for coffee and more resting in a comfy chair. I love the studies and work at church but my body was making it clear it was time for rest. I could taste it, I was seeing it. Then I heard the knock, knock. I knew in my gut that knock was for me and that my fantasy rejuvenation time was going to be just that, all fantasy.  My head turned in slow motion, letting go of my fantasy to return to reality requires much effort to release those plans: a push of the years in mama mode, the pull of the sickly cough of my best boy.  Slow motion propelled into high gear as something took over, the knowledge that grandmas step up to the job when needed. Wine, rest and comfy chair collapses will wait.

Mama took Plum to the doctor who advised limited access to my Sweetness, if possible.  Yes, it is possible. Knock knock Plum returned and I waved goodbye to mama and Sweetness for the day, the evening, the foreseeable future which looked like forever when Plum was hyped up on steroids and did not want to nap the day away. As I was pulled back out of sleepy mode I remembered many many years ago while in grad school when our family came down with the flu. All of us, both children even.  The real horrible flu. So my mother-in-law at the time, God rest her soul, came to nurse us all. That time is hazy, a feverish sweaty tear-stained memory mush. What has remained after all these years is the selflessness of that grandma who drove an hour to come sleep on a couch, to wipe brows and mope vomit, to make soup and do laundry, days and days of nursing a baby and a toddler and two grown adults now rendered helpless and worse than children.  Surely she had plans before that phone call, ring ring, created an interruption that challenged her physically and mentally and was not in any way a fun visit with her grandchildren. She stepped up and delivered. She is one of my grandma role models, one of the women I pattern myself after. There when needed, not intrusive when not. She mastered the transition.

Chef’s mom has served us in such way, I have been blessed in mother-in-law selection. Grandma J has starred in many blog posts for her selfless appearances at every one of my surgeries and the nursing afterward, she shows up for all the kids events and never misses the chance to send a card with $5. Much has happened behind the scenes with her as Chef and I grew into our marriage, establishing our family and our boundaries and making room for us all. Still she shows up and doesn’t judge the state of my refrigerator or flower bed s and always asks for a recipe. She just genuinely allows for my dignity as I make sure she has time with her son alone also. The transition wasn’t always smooth but worth the effort as we built trust and found space for our new family dynamics. She is one of my favorite people, a valued resource who is welcomed into my home and has claimed my heart. Creating all these different kinds of family places is challenging but matters most when someone interrupts our daily life and asks that we show up. She always answers the knock with a yes. Together we mastered the transition.

As a child I remember when my mother’s mom was dying. I didn’t know it then that was what was happening, I just knew my brothers and I were pulled out of bed during the night and taken across town to my dad’s mom. She opened the door as we were being carried up to it and she said no.Knock knock, no. She would not have her plans interrupted. She would not have her home in disarray. In the midst of this trauma, my mother had to find alternative care for her 3 children. I am sure she never forgave her mother-in-law. That night we met an extended aunt in the town I now call home. I have warm feelings for her, I never really bonded with my paternal grandmother. This woman was never a grandma to me, the antithesis of who I wanted to be when I grew into my own role as mother-in-law and gran. She didn’t understand how to transition, she wanted her son to stay her son and the rest of us to fall in line with her plans. Disaster.

It matters not how often you see someone but what you do when that knock happens. When the call comes in and the need is there. Do you show up as a grandma? Can you set aside your plans for wine and victory dances and comfy chairs? One day I pray the knock is from my daughter, I will always say yes. I won’t ask to hold the baby, I won’t reach for the toddler. I don’t do either with mama now. I have mastered the transition after many hard pushes and pulls, I know my role as mother-in-law. Show up when asked, stay out of the way when not. Put a bit of food in the fridge and send a card with $5. Back away slowly. Of course I long to hold the baby, who doesn’t really? I have huge gaping wholes in my heart about the size of new grandchildren who are 10 hours away, a daughter who is emotionally a million miles away. Still, I wait for the invitation and pray that when the knock happens, I can summon the strength to let go of my own needs and accept the request to be present for hers. That is how we master the transition.

Knock knock. Who will answer? Just as God shows up always, I pray we find a way to be present for those who need us and not show up as needy ourselves. Being a servant is really the best descriptor of a gran’s role that I can find, not the lady of the manor. That job already taken. Cookies. Cookies help too. Even daughter-in-laws like cookies. Come to think of it, my mother-in-law always brings cookies. Of course that is mostly because my husband tells his mother that hers are better than mine, but that is a completely different post. Show up, let God work out the details of when we are supposed to get our rest and our wine and know when to back out. Always say yes to the knock. Easy-peasy.  Oh and that hole, where our child used to be, God has plans for that. Can you hear Him knocking?






My Mother Is Yellow

When asked her favorite color my mother would have told you it was blue. Still, I think of yellow when I remember my mom, years spent peering up at the counter as she mixed and measured cakes using her yellow pyrex bowl. When she pulled this bowl out of the cabinet I knew delicious things were in my future. I could consider the electric skillet as a symbol of my mother, she did a lot frying for our family. But the yellow bowl, that was the good stuff. That was when mom was making cookies and cakes and the extras, before boxes made the process easier, faster. The yellow bowl meant dessert, meant mom was going to hand out one electric beater and the emptied bowl to each of her three children to lick, the pre-dessert to children who hovered about her legs and watched and probably whined as she spent even more time in the kitchen after working outside our home and making meals all week. Yellow is my mom to me, the times she nurtured us with sweet delights beyond just feeding us.

I always knew that when she died, the bowl would be my inheritance. One day though before she left us, I discovered it in my brother’s cabinet. I had never told her what the bowl represented, I am not sure I knew it back then.  She had already given it to him, she no longer needed such a big item as her baking days were mostly behind her. She bought her cakes and pies and treats at the store or more accurately, her husband did. Each trip to my brother’s house saw me trying to sneak the bowl away, his watchful eyes ensured I was never successful. A trip through some antique shops allowed the purchase of not one but two of these bowls, a back-up, just in case. Not the same, not the years of mom scraping the sides and standing over it, but still, my cabinet stores my own yellow bowl, a legacy of cakes and cookies. (I have teased my brother that I have swapped out my store purchase with his bowl, that now he has the antique find and I have mom’s. Can you tell I am a bit hung up on this piece of kitchenware?) My Kitchen-Aid makes mixing those items much faster but I still choose my yellow bowl. I use it for more than baking, it holds soups and spaghetti and most any dinner item. I love my yellow bowl, it connects me to the good parts of my mom.

I remember potato salad from that bowl, the best kind of potato salad, the bowl was always  completely full. I still prefer mine at room temperature, like it was just prepared, like I am eating it right out of mom’s bowl, unable to wait for it all to chill in the refrigerator. The bowl meant it was going to taste good and it did. The one caveat is that every year at Christmas she made a braunschweiger ball that I detested. I was called in to help with the process and abhorred sticking my hands in to the icy mess of cold processed meat and freezing ketchup. I have yet to taste this atrocity. Mom wasn’t perfect with her bowl, I have forgiven this misstep.

My brother is the cook in his household, I cook for anyone who sits still long enough. Mom taught us this is how you show love. Don’t tell my brother but I am secretly glad that we both, the only living family left, have a bowl. We have a piece of the good from our childhood. We shared mixer beaters dripping with batter resting on the edge of a yellow bowl, we fought over that bowl and the chance to run little fingers along the smooth surface to catch the batter she purposely left for us.  The times mom was just a mom.

Before she died,  I was seeking a particular recipe from her. I never got it. She was going to look through all of her cookbooks and call me back. I inherited her books but still can’t find the one that I wanted. Seems fitting, I will always want just a bit more from her. Still, most of my calls to her began with the ask for a recipe, she would rattle it off, I better have something to write on ready. She gave ingredients and steps mixed together, I often had to number and edit or if I was familiar with the steps, I left that part out, just getting quantities. Most of the calls with her ended with a scrap of paper, an envelope that was close by now covered in my horrible handwriting as I flew to keep up. These are the recipes I pulled the most, these are stained and rumpled and well loved. These will be my legacy one day when my children consider what color I am. My favorite color is teal but maybe they will remember me as yellow, like a bowl that I pulled out to make them delightful treats. We don’t get to control how the next generation remembers us, but we can invite them to the table while we are still here. My door is open. Are you hungry? I am happy to whip up something to eat, let me grab my yellow bowl.

Accepting Invitations

The old adage that the only certainties of life are death and taxes missed the another one we cannot deny, we all have a mother. Just as we may fight death or be well prepared for the end of life, hate our tax codes or welcome the loopholes, we may adore our mothers or conversely have horror stories to fill social media and hours of chats over wine. Yet we cannot deny that we all came into this world carrying the blood, the nourishment, the cells of one woman. What happens after the moment when we take our first breath and each one after, may create complications, still the truth remains. Without her, we are nothing, we literally aren’t.

I have dug into my relationship with my now deceased mother for most of my adult life, searching for the buried treasure, trying desperately to discover the mom I wanted, needed. Therapy, distance, boundaries, ultimately acceptance of who she was slowed the hunt, kept me present with her while she was here. I still wonder, I still search, I still wish.  Forgiveness changes the urgency though, twisting my random musing into the realm of what I would do with lottery winnings or how would I change if I moved to a 3rd world country, ideas I know are fantasy that require no emotional investment. I have mostly, probably as much as humanly possible, forgiven my mother for being the mom she was and not the mom I needed. I have learned to be grateful that she taught me to be the mom I am. So I miss her sometimes. I am no longer sure if I miss the real mom or my dream one but still odd moments of wistfulness appear, a desire to share some news, a bit of hurt or a wonderful joy. The dream rarely goes any further than that, I don’t play out the conversation. Yet at almost 53 years old, I can admit I want my mom in times of trouble. Death, taxes and mom.

I sat in the dining room of the apartment my Arrow shares with his fiancé this weekend, they invited Chef and I to lunch. A banquet of frozen pizza and delightful salad, prepared on their turf, at their table, their rules. The setting required that we acknowledge they are adults. We weren’t asked to leave our shoes at the door but it was unspoken that our parenting needed to stay there. We could be mom and dad if we accept them as closer to equals.  We agreed to the invitation for lunch as well as the other the invitations, the ones to build some bridges using new and old bits and pieces, to allow them to construct their side how ever they choose and meet in the middle. My Arrow has some little life changes, some big life events, some random musings he wanted to tell his mom. He decided that after distance and establishing boundaries that he would try again. We brought gifts of bread and grace, the opportunity for a fresh start.  Because everyone needs a mom, whether their own or a surrogate, they just need mom. I knew it was only a matter of time with him, that he would be back. I knew the ticking, the tocking would not last so long I would want to rebuild the whole bridge, compromise everything just to have that relationship back. I know my child, he knows his mom. Death, taxes and mom.

I accepted another invitation, the opportunity to bake cookies with an adult mother-daughter duo. Knowing the photographer for all of the amazing shots that show up on this blog would be there was an added bonus. The expectation was not that I really bake, more just that I could do as I needed, write in the other room, rest, find sanctuary. The mere act of issuing this invitation is mind blowing to me, sharing something that personal, opening your childhood up to another, offering your parents to one who is now orphaned, sharing your moments of new memories with another, this is holy stuff. Janet is like this with me. I still haven’t figured out what I have done to deserve her friendship, how I can possibly reciprocate. But she isn’t keeping score either. I didn’t write there, I tried a couple of times but felt drawn instead to be present, to be among them. If only I could go into all social situations with my laptop, I would be accepting invitations daily. Hiding behind the keyboard, observing, that is my safe place. Yet I felt pulled away, pulled into the kitchen, leaving the couch and blanket and cozy escape to enter into that kitchen. The thing is, these people have no reason to include me, they have no reason to trust me, they could have been more careful with me, more wary. Yet they exuded grace, real honest to God grace filled that home as surely as the sweet vanilla sugar goodness of the yeast cookies baking when we arrived. I listened, I watched, I devoured the interactions between them all even as I participated. At the table over a simple lunch of homemade soup that we brought from Janet’s home and cornbread quickly whipped up, the blessing softly beautifully lifted up by her father, we dined together. I lifted them up silently, joy too deep to express as we warmed our bodies with soup and my soul with this little stolen time of mom and dad, family. Shared recipes, a determined search for the one that reminds me of my own mother, dedicated time wandering through photo choices and fixing sizes to ensure they show up correctly, I absorbed. I ate cookies that from the moment they touched my lips created a memory I knew was a forever one. I experienced hours that will be in my “cherished moments” memory box always. Like that extra sprinkle of sugar that sends the cookies from good to great, I was given the gift of approval, the gift of affirmation in a quiet talk with Janet’s father after we settled the artwork questions. He spoke words to me that every child longs to hear from their father. His soft voice carried weight, sent me to tears, could he know how holy that moment was? Emmanuel, God with us, in that office, around that desk. Because they had invited God into the day as well, I wasn’t the only guest in the home.

I realized that they asked absolutely nothing of me, I brought nothing, I gave nothing while there. Maybe the first time ever, I went empty handed, open handed. I stopped being busy and giving and distracted, I allowed them to fill me. I cannot imagine a greater example of what God wants from me, what He longs to offer me. This taste was enticing, a complete surrender to the day, to open my soul and heart completely to the One who truly has grace like vanilla sugar cookies for me, all year long. To arrive broken enough that I accept sanctuary, no longer hiding along the edges, seeking warmth from a blanket instead of His glory. I didn’t have to build a bridge or establish boundaries, I just had to say yes and all of this was open to me. Death, Taxes, mom.  And dad.  Most certainly God.

As I consider the fullness of the day, I am struct by the need to consider how I extend invitations. When I welcome others into my home, do I offer grace and sanctuary? When I welcome others into relationship with me, is the same true? I think the secret may be to ask God first and then fill out the rest of the guest list. Holiness will follow, it will fill the air with cookies baking and no one will worry about death and taxes. Relationship established from conception with our mother, lived out with our Father. No need to search further.