Here’s to life

Today marks the 15th year since my dad died. He had lung cancer, diagnosed about 17 months before the cancer took his life. In those 17 months of knowing he was going to die, he really lived.

Number ONE!

And so did I. I got engaged just before his diagnosis, then married, and when he died, I was pregnant with our first child, a daughter. We had just found out she was a girl, it was one of the last lucid conversations I had with him. Told him I was having a baby girl, what we planned to name her (at the time, which isn’t her name now). He was in his hospital bed in the living room next to the windows and all this natural light was flooding the house. Everything was brighter those last few months. I, of course, didn’t live at home anymore, so I was visiting sitting on his bed next to him and we watched the ultrasound video together. We both cried. I knew the hardest ending of my life was coming and in the midst of it, the very best beginning was already on her way.

Four and half months after he died, I gave birth in the middle of the night. There was almost no light in the room. I wore my dad’s watch and my mom was in the room with us. She came out perfect and I later learned the cord was wrapped around her neck. In those moments I didn’t know how serious it was that she get out NOW, my doctors were patient and careful with me. Everyone in the room knew why it felt heavy … and then all of a sudden she cried. My mom was crying, Aaron was crying, my breath was taken away, she was here! She was here. She was finally here, with me.

Jessica meets Pappy

Those first few months and years are really blurry in love and pain. Grief is a weird salve, life is often a great distraction. But I can’t help but wonder if in those four and half months after he died and my daughter was still in the womb, did they know each other? I know how that sounds, and it’s ok. I’ve made peace with where my grief goes sometimes. But she’s always known who Pappy is. She has always known her grandpa. As a very little girl, she would have dreams about him. I used to think it was because we kept him alive for so long, in memory. We would talk about him and tell her stories and remember what it was like when he was with us. But then, 3 1/2 years later our son came and he did the same thing.

Some of the most important men in my life

Life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would when he was still walking the earth with us to listen to my hopes and dreams. In a lot of ways, it’s better, in other ways, it’s just different. New, undiscovered. Things I hadn’t even known I could hope or dream for are now my life and I credit most of that awareness to the time spent with him. To being a student of his life. Watching him love, and hunger for living.

He was well enough to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, with my birth-father. I had both of my dad’s flank me as I walked towards Aaron on a beautiful August afternoon.

Given away

364 days later he died.

That was 5,478 days ago.

I’ve missed him every single one.

But here’s to life: to learning how to live with no regrets, how to be generous in our love, time and efforts and to always picking up the check. To letting the people you love know, often, how much they mean to you. To chasing every dead end road we can find. To doing the weird thing, like packing it in to a motor home or camper for 6 weeks and traveling the country. Why? The answer is always, always: Why not?

Why not live this messy life wild? Why not capture each emotion on a mountain top? Why not take hundreds of photographs that maybe only ever take your own breath away, but make you remember what it’s like to be breathless? Why not say yes? Why not say no? Why not?

In the fifteen years of time passed since Wayne walked here with us – my grief rounded her edges, my writing found a rhythm, my heart softened towards love, and my regrets and mistakes that held me hostage have lost their teeth.

Now instead of being sad that he isn’t here, I am so, so thankful that he WAS at all. Whatever he was for me, I started to wonder what I was, we were, for him. And I have so much happiness in knowing that we were actually everything.

We sure were lucky to have him, but he left totally fulfilled. Maybe early, but ready.

And damn it, if there was ever a way to go. That’s it.

My dad and I

How to feel softer

The amount of posts I’ve started writing during a storm are probably outnumbered by any other criteria for this space. We are experiencing a good ol’ fashion cleanse from the Winter here in West Michigan, right now. This minute. The skies opened with a crack and she has been pouring it on us for minutes. Which, when you’re still enough, feels like hours.

And. It. Is. Glorious.

I have my “Hallelujah” playlist on Spotify playing in the background. Ok, the foreground. Because it’s LOUD. The rain is the staccato behind everything else.

I can’t tell you why I love the rain so much. I always have. I remember the smell of the rain in Nigeria and the dust rising as it pounded the earth right outside of our screened porch. Everything got dirty, which was funny, because rain usually cleans things off. But in Africa – everything is dirt and dry and still. Until it rains. And then everything is sprayed in the evidence that the earth can still give birth.

So, hi. It’s been awhile since I’ve ripped off a bandaid and bled here. Not that this is what I do here, on the regular. But I miss having a space to chronicle parts of my life I want to remember. The gritty, the dirty, the salvation of it all. I want to see pools of blood to recognize where the healing came from.

Parenting is a constant in my life. We’re raising kids and we went from the Easter-Basket phase to the Barf-On-The-Side-Of-The-Road phase. We are constantly hungover from parenting.

It’s still sublime, I’m obsessed with my kids. I love them so much, it actually hurts. But also? I lose my religion on the daily. I wonder if we’ve done everything wrong, often. I fret over things that are not actually connected to me, but because my kid(s) are experiencing it – I do too. I continue to have weird correlations with their ages, although less and less with such a force of personal reconciliation and more, now, with a reckoning of understanding that I was not ever, nor was I ever going to be, prepared for this.

Sometimes Aaron and I will think back to when we were first married and we just laugh. I had nieces and nephews, I was an avid babysitter and caregiver. We had our shit together, or so we thought. And then we had our own kids – and it’s adorable, really. I’m so glad we were so blind about it, to be completely honest. How pure and unfretted and rare it was to walk into being a mother without fear. It was everything I ever wanted. To be pregnant and have babies and raise a family. God. Yes.

Still is.

Is it harder now because it’s almost over? Because I don’t know who I am, without them, any more? Because I can see down the road and the next exit is college? I know where this is going. They are going to grow up and our of my house. Out of my immediate care. She is going to fall in love and he is going to run so fast towards his goals we won’t know he left until he’s already out the door. They’re going to leave.

I want them to. They need to. This is healthy. This is what we want, what we’re working towards. And they can always come back, oh I hope they come back. But they’re going to leave. They will outgrow this house and our traditions and memories and they’ll brave a new trail and make their own paths and I’ll be the first one on the sidelines to cheer my fool-head off at them. I can’t wait.

It’s going to be so good.

It is.

But it’s going to be so soon. And I’m a mess about it. It’s not over yet and I’m mourning the end. It has been the most delight I’ve ever experienced in all of my life, to be a mother. Their mother.

I wonder if we’ll remember the smell of this rain. How it baptized me from everything still and dry and dirty and left the evidence all over my life that I gave birth …

to them.

Mothers Day 2008

As I end this post the song ‘I Get To Love You‘ by Ruelle is playing, and it’s everything.

xoxo

When the leaves start to turn

Here’s how I want to talk about things from now on:

Like we mean it.

Like there’s something bubbling on the stove, resting in the oven, growing in the garden. Like we have purpose and patience. I want to hear you cry after you’ve burst yourself wide open in laughter, I want to see you savor what it feels like to hear the waves.

I want to be a people who gather when there’s a harvest and sit when there’s a wake. Fall does this to me, so does rain. When my little charges scatter and it’s down to me and the pantry and the bruised pages of my favorite cookbooks, and coffee. I want so much more for you and me, for us. To be together, but like, really together. I want to get drunk on knowing this will never end.

Weekend up north with Penelope

Homemade donuts

Night 1, Day 2 of Summer Road Trip West

Randomly stopping on the side of the road to photograph fields of kale 👌#jodiandpenroadtrip

Pan-fried Polenta with runny eggs and tomato jam.

Deep Lake Campground

Weekend up north with Penelope

Platte River Campground, Fall 2016

In the middle of Target

I have vivid dreams at night and almost daily I end up telling Aaron, at one point or another, “I had the weirdest dream last night.”

It’s kind of expected at this point, it happens so often. Yesterday my dream was that I finally put my foot down and we had 3 more kids. He waited about 12 hours before he gingerly asked me, so … is that what you’re doing? Putting your foot down?

I howled. But then for a hot second I wavered. And then quickly rounded out to: um, no. It took me a long time to be ok with being done having kids. You might remember the vasectomy story I told here years ago, but what I didn’t tell you is that in the middle of all of that, I was being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and my endocrinologist told me not to have any more babies. I needed to be done, it wasn’t safe for me any more. Being on the way to that decision on your own is one thing, being told to finalize it and it was over, period, is a much different thing.

Mourning the motherhood stage of newborns was a weird and awfully long season for me. As friends continued to have babies we would go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves (and my doctors, repeatedly) if it was ok, now? Could we do this, again, now? We had some hopeful answers along the way but they all ended with “high risk pregnancy” no matter what.

Clearly, we haven’t gone that route. When our youngest went to school my ovaries were white hot with wonder, I wasn’t ready to be done. I wanted more. When our oldest entered middle school, I freaked out and prayed for a miracle. Maybe I could just get better?

Each stage has brought it’s own bittersweet beginning and a very definite ending. And the white hot need is gone, the fever has passed. We now own furniture that will last beyond spit up, walkers, crayons and food stains. We’ve leaped to the other side, which has never been more apparent than on my trips to Target this week.

I can walk into a store and tell my children to meet me somewhere in 15 minutes. They are earning their own money, making (laborious) decisions about how and what to spend it on, and they are stewarding their small wages on their own. Learning. I don’t need to hover. If they spend $6 on something that breaks, they learn that waiting for something is always more satisfying than impulse buying, and they’re out their hard-earned cash. Which we talk about in terms of how long it takes to earn it. So a remote control toy might cost $50 but to our son, that’s mowing the lawn 7 times.

But that’s not the point here, while I was walking around Target giving my kids the time it takes to ponder and decide over something magnificent … all I heard was crying.

Other peoples children were throwing fits, mothers were often just deaf to it – because, sanity, but I had a flashback to being in their shoes. I hated going to stores when my kids were little like that, especially if we were primed for a meltdown. Around lunch or nap time or just before dinner. I don’t have to think about those things anymore. We go to the store whenever we need to, no big deal.

And it got me thinking about allllllll of this. Mourning the stages, but also being so grateful to be over some of those insurmountable humps. My kids throw tantrums still, don’t get me wrong, just not in public. And when they’re being unreasonable I can actually reason with them and tell them to knock it off or we can have a conversation and decide together.

I walked around Target listening to all the complaining of other kids, the crying from the toddlers, the whining from the not-quite-big kids and I listened to the moms, out of their minds. They just needed a shower curtain, or a birthday gift, or the happiness of Target to get them through their day. They just needed a break. To put their kid in cart and wander the aisles of a place they don’t have to clean, where problems don’t pop out of the leaky faucet and you can stand still in a row of pretty lamps.

The standing still, you guys. The not being needed because your kid is otherwise engaged (trapped in a cart) possibly with a small screen and you can use your brain to look at something other than the wall at home.

I remembered.

I remember.

Summer is a weird time no matter the age of your kids, I’m learning. Or is it just different as they get older? But still heavy handed on the needs? I’m still deciding.

What really hit me was realizing I had moved passed something.

And being ok with knowing it was over, and excited for the next part.

Don’t look down

Perspective

Stick with me here for a minute, per usual, I have a round about way to get to the point. I used to spend an awful lot of time driving towards the lake. Specifically a small outlet in a nearby town where the parking spaces were few, the traffic slow, and the view unending.

It’s been a while since I made this pilgrimage … for a number of reasons. I haven’t really had time with this project house we’ve been working on, and the emotional space this ride used to take up was otherwise occupied by my anxious worries about the end result. The end result?

Of so many things.

When is this house going to be done? When is it going to sell? Is it going to sell? What did we do wrong? Why hasn’t any of this worked out? Did we make the right decisions? Should we have seen this coming? Were there red flags that I ignored? Is this ever going to be something that’s easy for me? Will this always be a fight? Why do I feel so unsupported? Where did my people go? What’s going on? Why can’t I stop the roller coaster? Are my kids ok? What the hell were we thinking? Will they ever make new friends? Did we just cement their future in therapy? Why is marriage still so hard? Aren’t we supposed to be good at this by now? Why do I resent my husbands job so much? Why is my family such a basket case? When does any of this workout for me? Have I just gone through life bulldozing my way towards something better without waiting for whats right?

So, as you can see, super busy.

The house is finally done and is listed for sale. Now we wait, while also continuing to work on things as the weather improves.

There’s so much more going on in the background of some of these decisions – I’ve thought more than once that we never really know whats going on behind the curtain.

Anyway, enough about the house. Back to the beach.

In addition to my mental gymnastics that were keeping me busy I’ve been having some pretty interesting conversations with God. And some completely crap-tastic dreams every night. Weird stuff, heavy stuff, icky stuff. Not generally “sleep good” lullabies – more “you’re trapped in a room and here’s your clue to get out, clock is ticking, enemy is after you: GO” adrenaline dump at midnight type stuff. I wake up weeping most nights.

Right? So – we’re all on the same page. Things are stressful. Overwhelming. And yet … I continue to hear from God that I can trust him. That he will not surprise me. That I haven’t heard him wrong.

You need that information for the next part:

Early this week on my way home from bringing my kids to and from school, somewhere on the rural back roads of Holland Township, this conviction just hits me;

I don’t trust him. No two ways about it, when I get an idea I don’t wait, I go. Not always without his blessing, but definitely always before the prompting. I am impatient. And in control. I have a hard time accepting blessings (tangible ones from friends or family, as well as those lofty things we all pray or hope for) because I am so capable on my own. Not necessarily from a “I’m awesome” stand point, more from a “well, I can afford to buy my own meal or we aren’t the ones who NEED that gift/blessing/or pardon.”

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I drive up to the beach this morning, park and get out. I walk to the steps and relish in how mild the weather is today. I’m not too cold near the water, it smells amazing, and the ice is moving. I think to myself, why have I waited so long to come back here?

I get to the bottom step, before another set of stairs that takes you right down to the beach, and I stop. The sun is just peaking through some clouds, it’s kind of moody – my favorite. I take my phone out for a few photos:

Perspective

Perspective

And then I walk down towards the beach, and stop again. I take another photo:

Perspective

And I immediately notice how I can no longer see beyond the ice formation towards the horizon. My view is blocked by what’s in front of me. I know it’s there, because I was just a few steps higher and saw it. But coming down to the beach, towards the water, everything changed. Somehow now I was landlocked. The open and vast water in front of me now a small shore towards something that felt much smaller, even though it’s still the same big lake I know exists.

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Here’s how this all came together for me; this morning I had a very tangible example of how moving just slightly in any direction can change the view in front of us drastically. How perspective is more a tool than an idea.

When I have a broad view (say, things are going well and my quiet time is full of big picture promises and hope and encouragement) I can see beyond the peaks in front of me. Beyond the road blocks, the hills, the possible mountains. I can see the horizon – still endless – but visible.

But when I walk towards those peaks, hills, mountains and the view changes from being able to see where I’m going to where I am right now: shit can really hit the fan.

I stop trusting that beyond this little bump in my journey there is still a beautiful horizon. I stop believing I’m on the right track, I start looking at my feet and my ability as the only tools to get me to the other side when I’ve forgotten the best part:

feet

The sky? She never disappears. Those beautiful clouds and the sun shining through them – they don’t connect to the endless horizon but they meet the mountain of ice instead.

Boulder, Co Day 6

I’ve been looking at the wrong thing. Trusting that the end is the goal and if the goal is out of reach, I must be doing it wrong. So I should try harder, do better, get more resourceful, get busier, work more … when I could, maybe, just keep going instead.

The hills are never that big, after all.

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Literally none of this changes my circumstances, it changes my perspective. My attitude. It calms my fears and washes away the anxiety. It brings my focus from a micro to a macro and I can finally breathe knowing we aren’t stuck here. Not even ‘we’, but me. Among my chief fears in life are: being forgotten, never being loved, and being stuck.

Not one of those fears is actually true. I just wondered if I was having such a hard time in this place, maybe one or two of you were, too. I would say to you: You’re not alone, you are loved, and don’t look down.