Dignity, Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

Do Not Laugh – Thoughts on Compliments, Selfies, and Psalm 139:14

My three and a half year old son walked into my bedroom as I finished combing my hair. Mentally, I was running through what remained of readying ourselves for the day. I was distracted and about to send him back out with instructions to brush his teeth so we could leave on time.
 
He cut me off with his words, “Mommy, you look beautiful. You should take a picture.”
 
Immediately, a voice spoke in my head, “Do not laugh.”
 
I had to close my mouth because that was the exact response I was about to make. I looked my son in the eye and smiled. I said, “thank you, peanut,” and put my comb away.
 
He remained at my side, waiting. “Take a picture.”
 
The voice was there again. “Do not laugh.”
 
Don’t laugh at his admiration for you. Don’t dismiss the clarity with which he sees you; clarity that is fogged up in you by years of insecurities. I didn’t laugh. Instead, I took the picture. He asked to see it. Satisfied, he gave me one more heart-stealing smile, then bounded away to see what his sister was up to elsewhere.
 
Honestly, I almost deleted the photo. What did I need it for? I saw the roundness of the belly where I’d love for it to be flatter; the softness of the arms where I wish they were toned. I saw the gray hairs I don’t pull out anymore. I saw the migraine behind my eyes, and the thick glasses because I didn’t feel like putting in my contacts when I could barely stand to have my eyes open in the daylight. I saw the awkward half-smile because selfies seem meant for younger, perkier people.
 
Why didn’t I delete the photo? I didn’t delete it because of a hunch that every mom ever caught off guard by their child’s admiration could relate to the thoughts filling my head. I even had a feeling that the dads out there can relate to it all, perhaps when their children look at them with unwavering confidence in their strength and capabilities. I didn’t delete the photo because, while the things I saw in it are real and true, the things my son sees are real and true as well.
 
I not only saved the photo, but decided to share it here because of Psalm 139:14, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it well.”
 
Years aged.
Extra pounds carried.
Hair grayed and thinned.
Body tired.
Pains and illnesses endured.
Patience lost.
Voice raised.
Mistakes made.
Weaknesses experienced.
 
None of these eliminate the truth my child sees and accepts about me, or your child about you: that I am, and you are, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
 
The next time you encounter that truth, whatever the source, don’t laugh it off. Don’t dismiss it or argue against it, mentally or aloud. Hear it. Be grateful for it. Let it sink in until you can say, “my soul knows it well.”
Family, Gratitude, Intentionality, Love, Marriage

The Paper in My Purse

There’s this paper that I keep folded up and tucked away in my purse. It is a bit of treasure that I bring with me practically everywhere. I think I’ve gone through five purses in the last seven years, and that paper has found its place in each one. Today, I unfolded it for the first time in perhaps a year and read each beautiful word printed upon it.

The black ink is still clear on the paper, but the yellowing of its edges has begun. The creases are tearing. It felt a bit delicate in my fingers today. 

The lines that fill this page were written by my husband, long before he was my husband. I still remember my awe when he sent me the first two stanzas, a mere two weeks after our first date. If I’ve ever come close to swooning, that was the moment. Here I was, lingering in the dawn of our coupledom, wading in and testing the waters. Then, he offers this collection of words born in his heart and pulls me under.

Love requires taking chances. It requires wading into deeper waters and losing sight of your former shore. My husband more than anyone else has taught me this. Love also, for me, requires words. Words of beauty and truth. Every time I look at this worn page in the pocket of my purse, I’m thankful my husband understood that from the start.

Faith, Family, Motherhood

The Heart of Life is Good

This is one of my favorite photos. Sure, I have others that better capture my children’s faces and smiles. This one, though, captures life.

Some things have me thinking hard on the matter of life. It started with the suicide bomber cruelly choosing the concert in Manchester as his target and killing twenty-two adults, teens, and children. It continued with the news of the twenty-eight adults and children violently martyred in Egypt when they refused to deny their belief in Christ. Numerous others were injured in these attacks. Countless more were directly affected and traumatized.

And so, I think about life. Life as it is now, in this world in which my husband and I are raising our little children. In the midst of this thinking, I came across that photo. It’s a recent one, taken at my kids’ first time at a major league baseball game. All I have to do is look at it and I relive that night. We bought the tickets on a whim when we saw a low cost deal for some upcoming games. I was excited, as I always am when I attend a baseball game, but I was also worried. Would the kids enjoy themselves or be overwhelmed by the size and the noise of the place? Would they get bored and whine? Would they complain about having to stay in their seats for too long? Would they be too tired the next day? Typical motherhood worries.

My worry was silenced by their wonder: the wonder on their small faces when we entered the stadium; when the crowd stood clapping for the first time; when the fireworks were lit to celebrate each home run; when my son kept his eyes on the pitcher and batter as I explained  a little of the game and he was rewarded with witnessing a hit to the outfield; when the racing sausages and the 7th inning stretch brought everyone to their feet in unity. The pair of them enjoyed every minute. They were thrilled at being part of something so much bigger than themselves.

So many things could have gone wrong. They didn’t, but they could have. I think of the dozens of concerts my friends and I have attended from the time we were teenagers to the present without a doubt that we’d arrive back home safely. I think of the pilgrimages we’ve made to churches and retreats without the looming threat of being attacked for our beliefs. I think of the number of people in that baseball stadium with no thought of whether or not someone might make us a target. So many things could go wrong.

If the fears and worries win, we must withdraw from what is bigger than ourselves. That’s what it comes down to, I suppose. Being part of what is bigger than ourselves is at the heart of life, and life cannot be sustained without the heart.

There’s things you need to hear
So turn off your tears and listen
Pain throws your heart to the ground
Love turns the whole thing around
No it won’t all go the way it should
But I know the heart of life is good
John Mayer

Family, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Photography, Writing

On the Pier

Photo by Carrie Sue Barnes, Location: Rabbit Bay, Lake Superior
The old man only visited the pier at sunrise, when the lake’s surface was smooth as a bed sheet and the sky was edged in tangerine. Later, the lake would be speckled with white caps. The din of the waves would crescendo with each tide. He used to love the noise, but now his tired ears treasured silence. So, he only came at sunrise.
Bare footed, he stood squinting at the ascending sun. Another day. The fibers of the wood were cool under the leathery soles of his feet. He wrapped his fingers around the rail, pressed his stomach against it, and inhaled the stillness. He willed it to stay stored in his chest. Peace.
“Do you come every morning?”
The bird-like voice startled. He did not, at first, turn to see its bearer.
“Mamma says you do.”
“Bit early for ya’, isn’t it?” Being his first words of the day, they rolled out full of gravel. He cleared his throat. “Why aren’t ya’ sleepin’?”
“Because I’m awake.” The girl’s answer was clipped with the childish annoyance at silly questions from adults who ought to know.
The old pier stood between his house and the girl’s. He gazed down at the crown of honey blonde hair, feathery and uncombed. The wisps carried him through decades to his tiny daughter hugging his leg here on the pier, midday waves licking their toes. Affection stole through his wiry limbs and he reached out to smooth her hair. He stopped himself; placed his hand back on the rail.
“It’s my birthday,” she whispered.
“Mine, too.”
Brown eyes widened. “Ooooh,” she breathed out the sound. Her pink lips remained in a tiny O, then, “How old are you?”
He stifled a chuckle at the reverent hush of her voice. “Old.”
“But how old?”
He rubbed at the whiskers in the crevices of his weathered face. “Eighty-four.”
“That’s old.” She bobbed her head at him. “I’m five today.”
The sky was losing its accessory colors. Blue prevailed above the still sleepy lake. Pelicans conducted an aerial parade inches above the water; six in a straight line headed north, then a turn and back south.
“Are you having a party?” he asked.
“I am!” Her feet danced a two-second jig. “Are you?”
“Oh, no party for me.”
The kids would call, of course, sometime before night fell. He did not begrudge them anything more. Yesterday, he’d picked up roast beef and fresh cheddar from the deli for his favorite sandwich. It was enough.
“You can share mine.”
“That’s kind of you, but I don’t need a party.”
“Every birthday deserves a party,” she said. She pushed her hair back from her cheeks. “That’s what my daddy says.”
He didn’t argue, hoping she’d believe it for all her years.
In the afternoon, he watched cars pull up to the neighboring house. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends; all come to celebrate the girl. Through open windows, the party carried its sounds to his home. Laughter, shouts, rumbles of conversation from the men on the back porch, and finally the traditional singing while they huddled around a lit cake. Hours later, the people returned to their vehicles after hugs in the driveway.
He sat on the red bench on his front porch, reading last Sunday’s newspaper, when the last of the revelers departed. The sun he’d watched rise was leaving too, dipping below the tree line behind them. Ribbons of pink and yellow light wrapped around from there to the horizon over the water; another day.
The neighbor’s back door creaked open and out trotted the girl. Her purple party dress swung about her knees. He lifted his hand in a wave at her parents, who watched from their kitchen window. The father waved back; the mother smiled while she continued to wipe a plate dry in her hands.
“I made them save this one,” the girl called when she reached the steps of his porch. She waited there.
His hips stuck and knees creaked when he stood. He paused to let his joints settle into place, then walked. She’d brought him a piece of cake. It was two layers of chocolate with pink frosting. The scents of cocoa and sugar filled his nostrils. His mouth watered.
“Well, you’re a sweet girl, I must say.” There was a catch in his voice to go with the moisture in his eyes.
“Do you like chocolate?”
“It’s my favorite.”
“Mine, too.”
He accepted the plate.
“Momma says I have to get back. I have to help clean up.”
“You best go and do that.” The old man nodded. “Thank you for the birthday cake. I’m sure it’s delicious.”
“You’ll eat it?”
“Of course, I will.”
“Can I watch the sun come up with you again?”
“If you’re awake, you’re welcome to join me.”
She nodded, her features drawn together in thought. He waited while she formed her question. “And if I’m not awake tomorrow, can we watch the sun come up another day?”
“Yes,” he smiled, “another day.”
Her concern was gone. She skipped back to her house, already talking to her parents before she opened the door.
The old man walked to the pier. He leaned against the soft wood of the railing, listened to the song of low tide kissing the sand, ate his chocolate cake, and hoped for another day.
Catholicism, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Holiness, Intentionality, Jesus, Love, Motherhood, Saints

Apostles of Joy

Yesterday, I witnessed the appearance of pure joy on the rosy cheeked face of my daughter. Again and again, her expression lit up like she was standing in the path of a sunbeam. Her smile flashed as wide as she could make it. Her laughter burst forth contagiously until I was giggling in unison.
St. Teresa of Calcutta stated that “joy is a net of love by which we catch souls.”
“Man cannot live without joy,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
Pope Francis advised that all Christians ought to be “apostles of joy.”
What brought on my daughter’s supreme display of joy? Bubbles. That’s all. To her two year old mind, they were wondrous works of art, wrought by magic and created expressly for her. I sat in a chair on our little deck outside the living room blowing bubbles. Even when she was ready to move on to other activities, I kept going. I didn’t want it to end. I needed to witness her joy.
In the hours since, I’ve contemplated both her joy and my reaction to it. That sort of joy arises when something unexpected and incredible appears before us. It’s easy to see why it exists in children as young as my daughter: everything is still new and unexpected at that age. Young children are easily impressed and easily pleased.
 
I am already sad for the days when I begin to recognize in my children a departure from this manner of encountering the world. It will happen though. Fewer and fewer things will feel unexpected or incredible. Must it be that way though? Could I, at 35 years old, experience that uninhibited, simple joy more often? Could joyful become one of my trademark attributes?
 
It’s worth finding out the answer to those questions. Joy adds vigor and spirit to daily living. It inspires gratitude, hope, and contentment – as well as arises from the same. It spreads from person to person, improving the quality of life further and further down the chain of people with whom we are each linked. Rediscovering a way of joy is worth the effort.
 
How do we become characterized by joyfulness in a manner that harkens back to that abundant childhood joy?
  1. Realize every earthly beauty was made for you but you have not earned any of it. Do you realize the world didn’t have to be made beautiful? God could design creation however he pleased. Purely functional might have been the only standard. Beautiful, enjoyable, fun, wondrous, exciting, incredible – God gave creation these aspects for our edification and, most importantly, for us to know Him through creation. He did it for you. He made the colors, textures, scents, and sounds for you. He gave you comprehension of these realities so that you might share in His nature. This He did entirely out of love for you. Encountering your world with this perspective can cast it all in a light that leads to joy.
  2. Engage now and do so without self-consciousness. We are trained to multi-task; to be efficient and productive. We plan. We prep. We do, do, do. We miss so much. Engage in the present moment as thoroughly as you can manage. My husband has been working on teaching me this for years now. Be present and don’t apologize for doing so. A reaction of joy can feel embarrassing, and what a sad statement that is about our accepted mentality! Lose the shame over experiencing joyful wonder at the bits of beauty and goodness that are taken for granted by many people.
  3. Believe your joy is a gift to others. They need it. Your family, friends, coworkers; the person sitting in the church pew with you; the cashier at the grocery store; the elderly man hobbling past you on the sidewalk; the tired parent handling the kids at the park. All of them need your joy. Your children need you to derive joy from their silliness. Your spouse needs to laugh with you and perhaps be reminded of the beauty shadowed by the daily grind. Your friends need a voice that replaces cynicism with joy. It is no surprise we become numb to the goodness available to us in life. Our senses are battered by harshness at every turn and joy is a healing balm.

An apostle of joy is a person who allows joy to be a defining theme of their life and who will carry that joy into the presence of anyone within their influence. If you don’t know where to begin, start with gratitude. Gratitude begets joy. And when you need an extra boost, watch a the face of a child chasing bubbles. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

    Family, Motherhood, Pro Life

    Not Damaged – A Note to Moms

    Today, I came across an online article about a mother who photographed her torso after the birth of her second child. She took a photo at 24 hours post-birth, then a new one at 1 week, 4 weeks, 10 weeks, 14 weeks, and so on. As opposed to yet another “look at me, I look amazing in only a short period of time” sort of social media post, this mom wanted to show the public a realistic, normal transformation post birth. When I clicked on the article to read it, I felt proud of this woman. I was glad that by her brave choice to share those photos, more people might understand the reality of a woman’s body.

    While I was proud of the woman and her intention though, I was disappointed in the author of the article. Not only disappointed, I was angered. The brief paragraphs written to accompany each successive photo were filled with the same language that I see in every article about a mother’s post-partum body.

    Damaged. Fix. Ruin. Recover.

    The word choices in this and other articles make clear the accepted perspective that a woman’s body has been damaged by pregnancy. Her body is flawed now and needs to be fixed. The appearance of her physical form was good before pregnancy and bad now. I have even seen it stated as strongly as saying her body has been ruined. Every bit of body advice post-partum is geared toward recovering your pre-pregnancy form.

    It took until my second pregnancy before I fully realized the error of this way of thinking. It bothered me before that, needling at my brain that there was something off. Somewhere along the way my second time around though, it clicked. Plain and simple, if you’ll allow me to say so, it’s bullshit.

    Pregnancy did not damage your body; pregnancy changed your body. You don’t need to be fixed. Your physical form is not ruined. Lastly, now that you’ve had a child (or two or four), nothing else in your life will ever be the same as it was pre-pregnancy, so why, oh why, are you told your body should be the exception?

    Your body was specially designed to accomplish pregnancy, to carry and deliver a child. Many women are unable to do this since there are many factors that contribute to it occurring, so please, when you are blessed to be one who can and does accomplish this great feat, do not fall into the trap of believing you’ve ruined your body in the process! Our culture claims that we must teach girls to accept their bodies as they are, to be proud of their figures and not succumb to the pressure of airbrushed supermodel expectations. How can we ever instill in our girls a genuine, lasting respect for their bodies while perpetuating the current attitude toward the changes caused by pregnancy? Pregnancy and birth, while far from the only incredible abilities of a woman’s body, are the pinnacle of the unique, amazing design of a woman.

    Stop comparing yourself to other mothers whom you think have ‘recovered’ better than you have after pregnancy. Scoff at those who would label your stretch marks as flaws. Tune out those who wonder why you haven’t fixed your abs yet. And please, please, correct those who refer to the physical effects of pregnancy as damage. Aim for health and strength, but do so with your eyes open to the reality that having a child has changed your body just as it changes everything else in life.

    Family, Motherhood, Scripture, Worthy

    To Annabelle, Now and Every Tomorrow

    Dear Annabelle,
    Look at you. Football jersey, princess slippers, can’t-sleep-without-them animals, and a smile brighter than a sunbeam. Lunging at me in jubilation. Certain I will embrace you. Certain I will laugh with you. 
    You didn’t see it but last night as I laid you in your crib, relaxed and content after our mutual favorite lullaby, there were tears in my eyes. You didn’t notice the catch in my voice as I said goodnight. Something in the sight of you at that moment clarified reality. You are finishing up being my baby. You are ready to be my little girl instead. My little girl who will grow into my big girl and my young lady. The realization filled my chest with a wave of panic. The wave passed, swept out into the ocean of mixed emotions in a mother’s heart as she watches her child change right before her eyes. There’s no stopping you and so there are some things I must say before my voice isn’t the one you’re most eager to hear every morning, noon, and night.
    Your face in this photo, along with a million instances of the privilege I have to see your smile, gives me a flash into the future. I am convinced you will be a woman who is “clothed in strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Please don’t lose that light that fills your features. Keep your hair out of your gorgeous eyes, so you can see clearly but also so you may better be seen. You ought to be seen. When you feel the kick of an urge to smile at someone across the room, the way you do for me, don’t resist it. You have no idea the kindness it is to offer that smile to another. And the way you never doubt that I and your Daddy will hear your calls? Have that confidence in your heavenly Father and the days to come won’t be able to silence your laughter.
    The time will come when you doubt this so I’ll try to remind you of it often: you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Your soul, your mind, your body. Every aspect of the whole Annabelle is a wondrous gift from God. Do not belittle any part of that gift, nor listen to those who would try to tell you otherwise. Know that you deserve what is true and beautiful and good, then seek it out fervently.
    Among my greatest hopes for you is that you become a woman who, like the very breath and wisdom of God, “is more precious than rubies, and nothing [anyone might] desire can compare to her” (Proverbs 3:15). Your character is a wellspring of untold worth. The potential for generosity and kindness, humor and boldness, passion and earnestness, understanding and creativity – unearth that treasure, my girl. Every person you touch will be better for it and you will pass your years living instead of waiting to live.

    Be the princess you are, Annabelle, and be that only in the truest sense of the title. Be a daughter of the King. There is “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4), Annabelle. Rather than sacrifice it for anyone, be a reason they look for theirs too. Seek the good of every soul that crosses your path. Know your worth and convince others of theirs. 

    I love you.

    Mamma