Layers and Layers of Stories

I’m at Panera writing tonight, a little treat on which Tahd sends me around once a week. I call it a treat, but I think he calls is “my wife needs some alone time to regain the mental health she’s losing” time. Potato, potahto, am I right?

Tonight, across the restaurant from me sits a gentleman with whom I’d love to have a conversation. He looks gritty and a little tired, wearing dirty grey jeans and an old monochromatic t-shirt. A faded ball cap and a long, straggly white beard complete his look. But he has a laptop, which just doesn’t seem to go to me, on which he types with one finger at a time. It’s so curious to me.  What is he doing? What is he writing? What did he do before he got here? Why did he come to Panera to use his laptop?

In front of him—adjacent, not with him—sits a lady of a similar vintage. She looks friendly and grandmotherly, lost in a book and wearing purple pants, a peach sweater, and a winter coat slung over the back of her chair. It was 70 degrees here today, but it’s our first warm day and I’m betting she knows Wisconsin and that a 70 degree day means zilch and the weather can change on a dime. Also, she sports a hot pink swatch that wildly stripes her crown of white hair.  Another person for whom I have questions. Is it spray-on? Is it temporary? Who did it to her? And why?

Do you ever do that—wonder about people’s stories?

I was here a year or two back, at the same table, actually, and a pair of women sitting just across the fireplace captivated me. One in particular had the most contagious smile and positively exuded joy with her laughter, so it caught me especially off guard when I realized the purpose of the dinner was to share cancer stories.

I swear I don’t usually try to eavesdrop, but on this night, I couldn’t help myself. The older, mellower woman of the two had recently completed her treatment and their prognoses was exceedingly hopeful. They talked about health and energy and families and life in general with such honesty and hope.

I have a collection of anxious fixations, and getting cancer is one of them. Seeing these women face a terrifying situation with bravery and hope inspired me, and not just about the strength I might find if I every develop cancer. No, they seemed alive with purpose, like they’d been let in on a slice of the secret of life and weren’t going to waste a drop of it.

I’ve never forgotten them. Obviously I couldn’t know much about them from a short exposure, but they were special. That was clear.

I’ve long had a favorite article about memory-keeping and storytelling within families. But lately I’ve been thinking about stories in an even broader sense. We all carry stories with us, meandering through our everyday lives without noticing how they tumble out of us at unsuspecting moment, like while we’re at church or the grocery store or at Panera. Or we’re so stuck in our own stories and our own heads that we fail to notice the stories being lived out all around us by our loved ones, friends, and even strangers.

But stories are so powerful. The very best communicators have always shared through stories. Jesus taught through stories. How do you capture the heart and mind of a young child? Read or tell them stories.

Stories enrich. Stories make sense of. Stories mirror. Stories clarify.

I want to come more alive to these stories. I want to be the kind of woman who is generous with her story so others can connect with it how they see fit. I want to be the kind of friend who listens attentively to others’ stories, not just with my ears but with my heart. I want to be the kind of wife who empowers her husband to be confident in his story and the kind of mother who is passionate about helping her children tell their own stories, not the stories that she supposes they should tell. I want to be the kind of woman who isn’t so scared or busy or distracted that I live unaffected by the stories of the strangers around me.

The pink-haired woman is putting on a nasal oxygen kit, and I see there must be another part of her story of which I wasn’t aware before this moment. Layers, really, that’s what we are. Layers and layers of stories. That’s what makes a life. And those stories have power.

(Side note ~ I wrote this story a number of months ago, and it sat, unedited, in my folder of drafts. There’s more to this story now, much more I wasn’t expecting, but at the rate I’m writing it’ll take me half a year to get it down, so I wanted to share this part now. <3)

May All That Is Broken Be Healed

Eight years ago.

Right now, actually.

Weekend nights in an emergency room are supposed to be busy, but all I remember is how I arrived to a hush. I don’t even think I waited, walking right up to the desk and spilling my trepidation.

“I’m 13 weeks pregnant and I have a doppler at home and even though I can usually find the baby’s heartbeat, I can’t find it tonight and I’m sure everything’s probably fine but I just need to be sure because I’ve never not been able to find the heartbeat.”

I think they took me back right away–me, Tahd, and Gabe. Why we’d brought our 5-year-old to the hospital in the middle of the night makes no sense to me now. But there we were, three anxious souls a little bit (or a lot) battered from years of unfulfilled dreams.

“Your labor is not in vain
Though the ground underneath you is cursed and stained
Your planting and reaping are never the same
Your labor is not in vain”

That night usually feels like a distant memory of something I witnessed happening to someone else. But occasionally the rawness and actuality of it all fracture my tender surface and grief takes up residence–like a hundred ton boulder–on my chest, and I can barely catch my breaths between tears.

“Your labor is not unknown
Though the rocks they cry out and the sea it may groan
The place of your toil may not seem like a home
But Your labor is not unknown”

Tahd is in Italy this week. I don’t think he’ll remember this today, which is okay. Everyone but me remembers it most on Mother’s Day, because eight years ago, May 9, 2010 was Mother’s Day, a far more memorable occasion than a random date in early May. Tahd remembers and is tender for us then. But in my own head, I keep them a little bit separate so I can grieve quietly on May 9 and still be mostly okay on Mother’s Day.

“The vineyards you plant will bear fruit
The fields will sing out and rejoice with the truth
For all that is old will at last be made new
The vineyards you plant will bear fruit”

I didn’t have anymore losses after that last loss, my third and most monumental in a string of years of infertility and miscarriage. I went on to be granted two sweet souls, Isla and Jude, who I think I’ll tuck in next to when I finish writing this. Isla will crowd me out, but Jude’s always up for a sleep-mate and a snuggle, and there’s little grace more comforting than to drink in the breath of an innocent, sleeping child.

I feel unspeakably, undeservedly lucky.

“I am with you, I am with you
I am with you, I am with you
For I have called you, called you by name
Your labor is not in vain”

Early May and Mother’s Day are strange times for me, but I know I’m not the only one. I know hearts break every year because they long for a child, for a miracle of their own. Maybe you’re one of those people. Maybe you long for answers or solutions or a diagnosable problem or money to pay for treatments or relief from your debilitating sadness or to finally be picked by a birth mother or for a sibling for a child you already have.

I just want you to know that I see you. That I hold you in my heart. That I literally pray for you–by name for those I know and in spirit for those I’ve yet to meet.

“The houses you labored to build
Will finally with laughter and joy be filled
The serpent that hurts and destroys will be killed
And all that is broken be healed”

I heard this song tonight for the very first time and wept while I read its words. For my baby, for my own heart, and for you. And that last line…it’s all, really, I can think to say. May all that is broken be healed.

Much love.

On Running

I think it was my sophomore year of high school when I met Wayne in typing class. He was an atheist and a little goth and an enigma to my little Christian, conventional 15 years, and he was also a runner, tall and angular, with a slim build and powerhouse calves that intrigued me.

“Running is so addicting!” he used to tell me.

Completely unrelated pictures of our weekend trip to the farm

What does that even mean, I wondered, and I’d press him for details.

“I can’t explain it,” he said. “You just have to try it. Once you’ve started running, you’ll understand.”

He’d piqued my curiosity, so I tried it, and that was the beginning of my running “career,” if you can call it that. Mostly, I consider myself a beginner even still; I’m slow and inconsistent and haven’t built up a solid base of miles. But after 25 years of dabbling in this running thing, I’ve finally realized that it’s legitimate to call myself a runner, not just someone who runs. The distinction may seem subtle, but it’s there and it matters to me.

The last decade of my running has presented more challenges than successes or growth. Things like infertility (don’t bang your ovaries so much!) and pregnancy (lack of energy + recurrent miscarriage = less activity) and pretty severe anemia (can’t stay awake, let alone run) don’t lend themselves to a robust running career.

But no matter how arduous it has felt, I always come home to running, like a warm, home-cooked chicken casserole around my mother’s table. It soothes me, it grounds me, and I don’t go into it expecting miracles so I’m rarely disappointed.

Lately I’ve returned to running after having surgery last summer and experiencing a busy fall and winter. This time around, it has equally shocked and delighted me to realize I have a new level of endurance and speed. I’m still not fast, per se, but I’m running as well as I did in my early 20s, in spite of the fact that I am nearly double that age. And although my weight’s not double what it was then, it’s…um…substantially more.


Perplexed, I started analyzing my current situation, and I’ve narrowed it down to this: I’m no longer anemic. Since my hysterectomy, my anemia results have steadily risen. I’m almost normal now! 😉


You’d think that being no longer anemic and able to run would mean I left awash in energy and motivation. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I wake up every day with a fresh burst of hopes and dreams and goals, but by supper I’m paralyzed by exhaustion and just want a quiet space in which to breathe deeply.  Which makes no sense.

Why can I run 8 miles without exhaustion but I can hardly make dinner at the end of the day or have a meaningful evening conversation with my husband or write more than one blog post a month? Running requires far more physically than any of the other things. What gives?


For years, I’ve been tired, and I thought solving the physical roots of my tiredness would fix my lack of energy. If you could just go to bed earlier or at least take a nap, I told myself, it’d all get better! But I didn’t realize there’s more than one way to be tired. The body, yes. But maybe my soul is tired, too?

I don’t know about you, but every day I feel like I’m hauling around a hundred pieces of luggage–responsibilities, things that need to get done, things on which I’m behind, a zillion different hats, hopes and dreams for the future. I’m sure you have them, too. Some pieces don’t require much of me, but some pieces are difficult to carry, and sometimes I’m just carrying too much at once. There’s never time for the ones that fill me back up again, that nourish or motivate me.

What I’ve come to realize during the start of 2018 is that there never will be room unless I make it. I have to stop trying to do #allthethings–even though I think I should be able to do them. In my head, I should be able to clean the house, cook the meals, do the church things, connect with my friends and family, parent my children, educate them, maintain a thriving marriage, handle the finances, stay healthy, write, read the books, engage in creativity, etc, etc. I look around me and it seems that others juggle these things and more.

But these comparisons aren’t doing me any good. Reality is I can’t. And I don’t want to be living so haphazardly from one thing to the next that I wind up dropping the balls that are most important to me.

A few weeks ago, Tahd and I had a conversation about juggling responsibilities and marriage, and he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “I want us to be important enough to you that you want to put down some of the other bags and responsibilities to invest in our marriage.”

Ouch! I want that, too. And my marriage is top priority to me. But it’s also one that can be easy to set aside “for now” while I work on the rest of the things, only to find that it’s withering and struggling without care.

So…which bags to put down? What am I going to quit? Maybe it’s better to turn that question around–what’s most important to me? I don’t have to think twice to answer that question. Marriage, family, and soul care. Maybe first making space for these most important priorities will let me more effectively juggle my remaining energy and time amongst the tasks I have left.


Will It Ever Be Spring?

Tahd’s out of town this week—not just out of town, but out of the country in Brazil. For work. And I’m totally not jealous… ;). 

We have this “Ok to Wake” clock in the little kids’ room, and it lights up green when they’re allowed to get up at 7:00. I’d love it to be later than that, but lately, even 7:00 has been pressing my luck, and we’ve been begging and coercing Jude to (FOR THE LOVE) stop screaming for us at 6:00 every morning, waking everyone else in the process.

In an ideal world I’d be getting up around 6:00 and I’d be coherent and loving and ready for them an hour later, but since my world rarely approaches ideal, early-riser Tahd usually intercepts them when they gleefully bound into my room at 7:00 while I’m still in a groggy, sleep-deprived haze.  I owe him big for this! When he’s traveling, however, it’s all on me.

Isla was (shockingly!) first up yesterday morning, and I snuck a few more minutes sleep by bribing her with the ipad. But when she suddenly exclaimed, “Mom! It’s snowing!” something within me snapped awake. Mostly, it was horror, because it is nearly the middle of April and it is still sooooo colllllddddd and I am DONE with winter.  For real—when will it be spring? When will I hear birds and be able to open my window and wear flats without freezing the tops of my feet, hm?  When????

Also, have I mentioned my children are actually climbing the walls?

That afternoon, however, I was surprised when I noticed the magnolia tree in our front yard; or, more accurately, I noticed its furry buds. Most are closed up tight, but a few, especially on the tree’s south side, are beginning to stretch their outer casings to reveal the more tender insides.

You guys, it’s happening! My tree is getting ready to bloom, which means spring is coming!

Even more than exhaustion with winter, however, is the exhaustion in my soul lately. I’m just flat out tired down to my core. Every day I feel spent and used up and like not enough and too much all at once. I’ve felt this way for some time, and even though I’ve been experimenting and adjusting and reprioritizing, I haven’t had much luck at finding renewal, at forcing a rebirth of energy and purpose in my soul.

Those few opening buds on my magnolia tree cheered me in more ways than one.  “Have faith. It’s true!” they cried. “The  secrets of rebirth endure even while the death of winter falls softly and blankets everything I can see. Winter will not last forever. Even in the midst of snow, spring is preparing herself.”

Spring will come—is coming. Around me and, I hope, inside me. Winter’s work is not yet done, but it will not last forever, and it will all be reborn again.

And that reminder brought a deep breath of refreshment to my soul today. 

As I Get Older

As I get older, I realize how short 80 or 90 or 100 years really is. When I was little, the span between Christmases was interminable. Now, I feel like I was 28 and I blinked and turned 40.

Me, maybe 4ish?

As I get older, I realize how much more compact history really is than it seemed to me when I was younger. The year I was born, there was still a living person who was alive during the Civil War. What???!? And odds are reasonable that at least my littles will live to see another century. If that’s true, my children and I will have existed in three centuries, which sounds like it should entail a very long time but is really only two generations. All of history is much more compact than it seems.

As I get older, I realize how much more complex the world really is. And also how much more simple it is than I used to imagine. The downside often relates to money. Or power. Probably both. The upside is almost always love. More love. Always love.

As I get older, I realize the “secret” is just hard work, and the “shortcut” is staying on the path. Stay, don’t stray. Consistency in the small things over a lifetime bears fruit.

My mama and me, 3ish?

As I get older, I realize my ideals are never going to be achieved, and–perhaps most significantly–that’s ok.  We’re all broken people, just doing the best we can. My body, my family, church, society at large, the environment…none of it’s going to be ideal. But real trumps ideal because idealism is imaginary.

As I get older, I realize that faith and questions can coexist. In fact, lately I’ve started suspecting that it’s not really faith at all if I’ve never questioned it. Doubts and questions don’t preclude faith.

Me (40 “ish”) and my own daughter, 6

As I get older, I realize that I really don’t like northern-ish winters. That giant glowing orb around which all of life revolves? Imagine that…it actually makes a difference! In my 20s, a friend and her family moved away to a warmer climate specifically to spend more time in sunshine. I didn’t quite get it then, but I get it now…especially right now as I stare out my windows into a sloppy March snowstorm.

As I get older, I realize that I think family dysfunction is mostly a zero-sum game. Not so much in a fatalistic way; more in a “Phew!” sort of way. Yes, I try not to make the same “mistakes” my parents made with me. Instead, I make other mistakes (and probably some of their same mistakes, too). Before I was a parent, I harbored two fundamental hopes about parenting: first, that my adult children and I would be friends; and second, that my adult children wouldn’t require therapy due to all my mistakes. Now, I still hope we’ll all be friends, but to the other issue, I’ll be overjoyed if they simply pay for the therapy themselves. 😉

As I get older, I realize that the cliches are true–the days really are long, the years really are short, and life really is precious.

And sleep. Sleep is precious, too. Which is where I’m going to go right now.

‘Night, friends. <3

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