Friday, May 29, 2015

her closet

and there we were, pocket by pocket, going through her old purses. dumping loose change, mints, pencils and tubes of pale pink lipstick. those little things we leave behind in our handbags. those little items which tell of our occupancy.

my two teen daughters helping. the three of us sorting through my mother-in-law’s things. precious and painful standing elbow to elbow in that closet space. the girls, more than once, saying, "mom, this feels so wrong and so sad."

pulling down sweaters and jackets and shirts. armfuls of her. the outfits in which we could, so clearly, see our grammie. it was when i noticed her blue and black print dress hanging there that i finally acknowledged the sob which had been building in the back of my throat. she had worn this dress just a year ago at emily’s high school graduation. a year ago almost to the very week of that event.

that event where she was so proud of her granddaughter. that event where she was vibrant and so pretty in her dress. that event where none of us could have imagined a cancer diagnosis on the horizon and a funeral following in the new year.

i stood staring at that print dress. remembering. remembering it was the last time we were all together as a family. remembering that none of us can ever know. we snapped this picture with rick’s parents and my parents that night of graduation. none of us thinking of anything past the celebration of that evening’s events.

and a year later mom’s clothes are being brought down from their hangers, boxed and bagged, and carted off to the salvation army.

i know these are only clothes in a closet. only shoes, handbags, scarves and belts. i did my very best to see them as such. insignificant earthly garments which she has since traded for heavenly robes of splendor.

yes, i knew that in my head, but even that knowledge couldn't do much to quiet the ache inside my heart.

removing my mother-in-law's things from her closet, folding up the fabrics which clothed her in her living left me raw, tender, teary. rick came in, “i’ll do it, honey. you don’t have to do this.” but i could and i’m glad i was able to and it reminded me that someday someone will do this for me.

it’s a strange kind of humbling.

as i reached and folded and removed, i kept thinking, “is this what it comes down to?” the entire time i was working in her closet that’s the question which kind of ran through my mind. figuring out what we save, what we give away and what we toss. these categories. categories that, ultimately, someone else gets to choose for us.

i imagine that sounds terribly depressing.


except for those whose hope is not what is hung on hangers, but, instead, is in Him who hung on the cross.

that hope. that hope which makes the removal of our earthly everything ... all possible.

it doesn’t change what happens to the stuff in our closets, but it changes what happens to us -- and that’s the only thing which really matters.

my mother-in-law left behind a closet and house full of her things. precious things …lovely things … things with-price-tags-still-on-them-things. but they are only that:  things. she might have taken great care with them once, but she has no need of them now. they are nothing. only things. and she is in a perfect place that requires no thing more than God’s glory.

“do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~ matthew 6:19-21

the girls and i talked a little bit about that back in the closet. my girls, sweet and patient about this process, going through grammie’s sweatshirts and t-shirts. they claimed a couple for themselves. clothing that reminded them of their grandma.

we set aside a "life is good" t-shirt ... because, yes, it is.

emily held up one soft, grey sweatshirt. "this is so grammie!" it was one we'd all seen her in so many times. of course, we saved that sweatshirt.

and from the closet we continued through the rest of the house. this week we’ve all been working together to move rick's dad. though staying in the same beach community, he was moving into a different house.

all week we sorted through boxes and emptied out drawers and cupboards and corners. we did our best to appreciate each item. wondering what dad would use and what he wouldn't need in his new space. considering the things which held special significance, and those things which could be given away. item by item. drawer by drawer. all of us trying to be upbeat and keep things light, but never being able to truly ignore the weight of what we were doing. dad joked a little with us, but, there's no doubt, it was hardest on him.

i found one bag full of brand new, empty photo albums. i knew marilyn had plans this year to get on top of her photos (don’t we all). opening a closet, there were all these empty books and all these bags and boxes of loose pictures. all waiting for her. these albums waiting to be filled. announcing to me that she was in the middle of a project, in the middle of her living.

another reminder, we cannot plan for much more than the moment.

wednesday morning, moving day, i woke early and was able to walk the beach at sunrise. so much to think about on that morning walk.

this moving thing -- it’s hard. it’s big. y'all know rick and i are practically professional when it comes to house hopping. but doing our "move thing" in the home of rick's parents, that felt different. breaking down an entire life and resetting it in another space for someone else, that was new for me. so many times this week i wanted to turn to my mother-in-law and ask, "what about this? what do you want me to do with this?" and in many ways, i wanted to ask this question about more than a silver platter or piece of cookware. i wanted to ask this about everything. how all of this works. how this life and death thing is supposed to ever be figured out.

we left south carolina last night with my father-in-law mostly settled in his new home. the plates and spoons put away, the furniture arranged, the pictures hung. i even managed to get his patio pots planted full with flowers. it all looks good ... looks great, in fact. everything pretty much was in place, but leaving last night, of course we all felt so strongly the absence of rick's mom. this move, more than any other, reminded me it's never the things which hang in our closet or on our walls or in our pantries. it's the people we love.

yesterday, dad and i agreed, marilyn would have really liked this new house. she would have approved. that makes us happy and sad at the same time. we are all tired from this week of hard work, but grateful and humbled to have been a part of this.

the mix of precious and painful, the way life --- whether we are asked to stay or move on -- always is.
found this in one of those bags of photos this week! love it. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

the 2 a.m. mother

you wake up for no reason.
it's 2 a.m.
you ...
play the what-if game.
let your mind wander.
feel your heart worry.
question your ability to make it all work.

you are a mother.

it's the middle of the night and you find yourself in the middle of anxiety.

yeah, i know.
it happens to this woman too.

and i can't figure it out.

with almost two decades of parenting behind me and five kids always a few steps ahead of me -- kids who are doing, basically, pretty good -- why now?
why am i now finding myself under attack and anxious?

it doesn't make sense.
we've had busier, bigger, more burdensome days ...

why now?
why this?

maybe it's our particular parenting cocktail: one in college, two in high school, another in middle school and one more just beginning elementary.
maybe it's this crazy combination which leads me to that place of concern.
i don't know.
i just know that this year has been a battlefield inside me, my thoughts, my way of thinking ...

maybe it's because we've had our share of injury, illness and issues --- things i wasn't planning on.

as a mom, you can plan your dinner menu, but you can't plan these kinds of things. 
they happen.

(well ... let's not take anything for granted here -- sometimes you can plan your dinner menu).

and maybe that's it the most ---- after two decades of parenting and two decades of calling the shots and two decades of making the decisions and two decades of directing and corralling and choreographing our family ...
i am more certain than ever i am not in charge.

i am not as in charge as i have always liked to think i was.

tomorrow will be my 19th mother's day. 
19 years of experience should make me some kind of expert, right?
19 years of experience should suggest some kind of excellence, right?


but here's what 19 years of experience does make me --- empathetic.

i may not always feel certain in my parenting, but this lack of certainty is the very thing which allows me empathy for other mamas.

this motherhood thing, it's hard. and where each and every season has it's own type of hard, it also has it's own type of holy. 

there's been nothing -- no thing -- in my life which has taught me more, how hard and holy can go hand in hand, than motherhood.

doesn't matter if you are holding your fussy newborn or holding onto your teetering toddler.
doesn't matter if you are holding the hand of your hurting middle schooler or holding tightly to your rebellious teenager ... 

as a mother --- so much of what we do is about holding: carrying, embracing, lifting ... sometimes lugging along.

i spoke at a women's luncheon last monday. my audience, a lovely group of mothers.
seasoned and experienced women with kids ranging from tiny to tall.
i encouraged them to find their sufficiency in Jesus -- not in themselves. 
and yet, i didn't tell them that the night before i had woken at 2am and wondered and worried and wrestled in my own inadequacies and insufficiencies.

why is it so hard to turn it all over to Jesus? 

i was encouraging these mamas, but i was preaching to myself.
that's usually how it goes in my writing, in my talking, in my teaching --- i am the target.

i am the one in need of the good news.
i am the one in need of the gospel message.
oh my heavens, i am the one in need of grace.

and even though i am not living in a perfect state of peace and wisdom, and even though i sometimes have more anxiety than i do answers, i hope that i can encourage you, too. 

just because we don't have it all together doesn't make us an imposter, it makes us authentic. 

if you're worried that your worry is making you less of a christian ...
if you're anxious that your anxiety is making you less of a mother ...

know this (instead) ---
it makes you real. 
it makes you raw. 
and what's more, it makes you receptive to the pain and problems of others. 

yes, we have to seek our sufficiency in Him
yes, we have to strengthen our faith.
yes, we have to surrender our family.

but, no, we don't have to pretend we have it all together.
and we don't have to beat ourselves up when we feel the doubt or worry or fear rise up.

those 2 am sessions ---
don't look at them as a lack of faith,
see them, instead, as a chance to lean into the Father.

"draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." ~ james 4:8

"cast all your anxiety on Him, 
because He cares for you." ~ 1 peter 5:7