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Rotten Excuse for a Christmas Card…

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I’m always a little bit torn about whether to send Christmas letters, or even cards. On one hand, I love to send and receive personal notes, even if I don’t manage it very often. On the other hand, my little family usually doesn’t have a lot to report. Also, while I love getting them (friends and loved ones, please don’t be offended), I’m not very sentimental about keeping cards. My best friend is a card-keeping ninja. She puts me to shame, but apparently not enough to change my ways. I hope you’ll accept our cheap, online approximation of a personal card.

This year, we shook things up a bit. We moved back home last spring, after nearly 13 years in Iowa. Shortly after we sold our home, my husband injured his shoulder, which complicated his job search. Lovely, lovely friends helped us load the moving truck and we said our goodbyes. Less than a month after our move, the husband underwent (expensive) surgery and quite a lot of physical therapy before starting at a new job in a different field. Our eight year old left good friends and started at a new school. One of our beloved dogs died, and we brought home a rambunctious, athletic, seven-month-old puppy shortly thereafter. I recently started working part-time and our three-year-old started preschool. To sum up, we made all the life changes this year.

Moving is always difficult, even if the move is a good one, and ours was no exception. That said, our families have supported us in every possible way. They graciously shouldered so much of our stress and continue to offer their help and company. Having them close is a huge source of joy for us and we hope that we can return their kindness.

Our fantastic girls are full of irritat– vibrant energy. It is never not noisy at our house. Our oldest is trying ballet, loves to read and play outside and lives in her imagination. She talks non-stop. She surprises, amuses, and terrifies us with her quick mind and tongue. It is beautiful to see her growing thoughtfulness. Her little sister is a sweet, cranky, articulate, mischievous little thing. She is methodical where her sister is creative. She also screams a lot.

Honestly, the last eight or so months have left me too tired to reflect on any insights or draw any pretty conclusions about our experiences. We’re just looking forward to continued settling. Being nearer family has triggered some nostalgia and greater desire to honor/create traditions for my own kids. We’re looking forward to a 2019 full of opportunites to do just that.

Cheers, 2019! Have a peaceful year, all!

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A Letter to My Almost Seven Year Old

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You, my first baby, will be seven years old this week and I feel like I should document who you are at this moment, at least a little. My pregnancy with you and your babyhood were among the most joyful times in my already blessed life; marked by a contentment that is rare for me. I love you more than I can say.

I will always remember the year you were six as groundbreaking. You have become so much like me (stubborn and headstrong and proud), and sometimes that makes it really tough for me to parent you. You talk and sing endlessly. You are smart and observant. This year you learned to swim and ride a bike. You sang in front of people at a talent show and blew us away with your confidence. You had your first “crush” and made your first best friend. You’ve learned to read well and are starting to experience the magic of disappearing into a book. You do like to be the center of attention, sometimes work too hard to impress others and get over-stimulated pretty easily; but your empathy, compassion and endurance are growing, too. You insist on learning everything the hard way and your anger is intense at times. You ask startlingly existential questions. I think your imagination rules at least eight hours out of every day.

As a mother, I am irritable and sharp too often, but I hope that figures less prominently in your daily life and memory than our awesome conversations, hugs and goodnight songs. And though I know that discipline is necessary and good, I also hope that you know deep down that those things that make you so angry right now – like having to do chores and eat food you dislike, or not having the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want – are a major part of the way we show our love for you.

I thank God for you. I pray that we can lead you in the way you should go subtly and gently, that we can help you channel your stubbornness in a way I haven’t yet mastered myself and that you would always know that we love and support you.

Happy birthday, baby.

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My Grandma’s Fake Pearls

PearlsI am blessed to have quite a few items in my home from loved ones. The items themselves, of course, are not so important, but the memories and feelings that they invoke are very dear to me. Most of these things are in view every day and to be honest, I forget to cherish them, to remember what they represent.

There is one item, however, that never fails to reach me. I love the long strand of fake pearls from my grandma, who has been gone a few years, now. I love their soft sheen and smooth weight. I love the sound they make. I don’t know how long she owned them or how often she wore them, but it doesn’t matter. They aren’t something that I would usually wear, so putting them on is always intentional. The unfamiliar feeling of the pearls wrapped around my wrist or hanging from my neck brings me back to them again and again, reminding me of Grandma.

My daughter wore her “pearls” today to “get married” (she is six 🙂 ) and wanted me to match. So I am wearing Grandma’s pearls and feel the need to thank her for reminding me to be intentional – to notice the special in everything. My spirit has been dulled to the beauty in my every day for some time and I know that there is choice in that. I even forget to relish the big things – inexplicably choosing to allow my mood to snuff out my positivity. So today I choose to take my time and focus on the luxury of coffee in a beautiful mug instead of on my irritability as I take cold sips between kid fussing and feeding. I’ll stop to feel the simple joy in the act of scrawling something on a piece of paper – even if it’s just a grocery list (if you love writing, you’ll understand) and all those other conveniences which make me truly spoiled. Mostly, though, I will take joy in my kids and husband, for them and for me.

All my love, Grandma.

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Joshua

Today I feel a strong and persistent call to write about my big brother, Joshua. What limited knowledge I have of him comes primarily from early childhood memories, so much of this will be written in the past-tense. My parents tell me he isn’t doing well. He may rally, but he may not. The thought that he might not be long for this world made me surprisingly emotional. I know that sounds… hardened, but it isn’t; perhaps pragmatic. Josh is blind, doesn’t speak, is self-abusive and deeply autistic. It is very difficult to comfort him, to treat his pain. I believe that when he goes home, it will be incredibly joyful for him. But I will mourn his loss. His contribution to my life has been worth more than I can say, but I’ll try anyway.

Josh helped teach me about compassion. It would be easy to pity him. My parents had compassion for him. In my mind there is a vital difference. Pity has no hands or feet. It is counterproductive, even demeaning; not that I’m immune. I pity people sometimes. It is a helpless feeling. Compassion recognizes humanity. It inspires us to show humanity. Of course my folks saw his limitations, but they saw his personality and capacities, too. They loved and included him and taught us to do the same.

More importantly, Joshua taught me about the value of people. Though he could not speak to me, see me, respond in typical ways; though his behaviors were odd and never socially acceptable, I felt his soul. I know that sounds terribly melodramatic, but truly – he had gentleness. I always thought he was special. I love him.

Josh also reminds me that death need not be a fearful thing. He may feel miserable and unhappy here; it’s easy to look at him and feel that something better awaits, but sometimes I forget that I am, more or less, in the same position. We all are. While our lives here can be very precious and beautiful to us, fear, confusion, misery and brokenness are also parts of our realities. I can’t imagine much greater contrast than that between those feelings and pure, uninhibited joy and peace.

And so I thank God for my brother. Thank you for reading about someone who is probably a stranger to you. If you feel so moved, prayers for his peace and comfort would be wonderful.