Sunday, March 18, 2018

Jump in for a Moment

My image of the two greatest humans on planet Earth will always be the above photo. Those little toes I used to tickle while singing a song called "Tickle Toes", those sweet little cheeks I would kiss, those funny little voices filled with enthusiasm and energy and creative imaginations, the only two people to have called me "mom".

For two decades, I have been a mom. If I close my eyes, I can still remember the very first time I heard the heartbeat on the doppler. With Morgan, I remember thinking, "wow, it's so fast". With Dylan, I remember because the doctor thought I had an ectopic pregnancy and when we finally heard that heartbeat, we thought we'd received a miracle.

These two changed my life. In some ways, they were the beginning of my life. I barely remember the world before they existed. Who was I then? What significance was there in my existence before my name changed to "Mom"?

Do you ever look at a photograph and wish you could jump into it for a little while? I just want to jump into this picture of my children and hang out with them for an hour or so. I want to hear their laughter and smell their heads. I want to jump into the pool and play our funny game called "Poop in the Pool" and then sit on the deck around the fire pit and make s'mores while we tell stories.

Then I remember the day this photo was taken. It was only two days after discovering that their daddy had stage four, highly aggressive, completely incurable blood cancer with a 98% chance of dying within five years. It's easy to forget the reality of life when you see family photographs. In photos, you put on your very best. You create the illusion of happiness and capture an image of life. Image is everything, right? And today, in this very overly obsessed world of social media, wherever you look, folks are putting out the image of perfection.

I cannot imagine what our lives would have been like had lymphoma not entered the picture. But it doesn't really matter because it did enter and it took up residency like it owned the place. It took my husband and changed his image from strong and athletic and happy to bald and gray and sick and almost dead. And those two innocent babies had to watch it all. They were fully aware and forced to grow up way too soon. 

But guess what! They were given a great opportunity too. They got to see their daddy go from strong and athletic to sick and almost dead to strong and athletic once again. They had the opportunity to learn about sickness and dying way too soon, but they also had the opportunity to be first-hand witnesses to heroism. 

I am coming to the end of my time as full-time mom. My youngest is about to graduate and head off to college just like his sister. I understand that being a mom is forever. They won't stop needing me any time soon. They especially need my money! But I only have a short time to go of making sure his laundry is done and he has had something to eat. My nights this coming August will be back to just Bill and me. After two decades of taking care of my babies, how will I handle that?

Jump in for a moment. Just a moment. That's all I really want. One moment in that photo. Enough time for a big hug and to hear those voices. It's such a great paradox, this being a parent thing. Your greatest joy and your greatest burden all in one. Although I know I'm still going to be a mom after May 29 (graduation day), it won't be the same. Ever again. We will continue to create new memories. There will be plenty of new photos taken and 20 years from now, I will want to jump into those for a moment I'm sure. 

But for today, I look at that photo above and miss the two kids in it. The word "love" took on a whole new meaning when they came along. Now, I'm going to close my eyes and jump into that photo for a moment. I'll be back shortly.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Snow Day Comida

Well, there was too much ice and snow to go to work today, so I got busy cooking. Flour tortillas, grilled chicken (in a very delicious Mexican flavored marinade), refried beans, and lime cilantro rice. This comida warmed the body and the heart.

I have all my blinds open and I can't stop staring out the window at the beautiful snow. The sleet finally stopped and big flaky snow is falling from the sky. I love it!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye 2017

My New Year's Eve cocktail: pineapple juice with a
splash of dark rum and champagne.

Last year I wrote a list of 16 things about the year I loved, so I'll write 17 this year. No matter how many bad things happen, there are good things too. I choose to focus on the good while I let some of the bad help shape my character. Because 17 is my favorite number, I'm very glad I got to live through this year. I had looked forward to it for many years. 

This was not my best year, but it was not my worst. I cried a lot for some of the loss I had endured in 2016. I grieved. But I got myself up out of bed every single day and lived. I found strength in my God and grace to put one foot in front of another and slowly get through a year in smoke and ash. But when I look back at 2017, I will not look solely at doom and gloom. I will look at the joy that can be found even in darkness. Thank you, 2017, for more life lessons. Thank you, God, for being with me wherever I go and whatever I do. Here are 17 things I liked about 2017:

  1. My daughter found her happy place in college.
  2. My son got accepted to Colorado School of Mines and Texas A&M University.
  3. Dylan's internship over the summer.
  4. Morgan becoming a Zumba instructor.
  5. I got to spend the summer with my husband in Fort Worth.
  6. The times I got to run on the trails in Forth Worth.
  7. My quiet moments spent at the Water Gardens.
  8. I began a job at a school I adore.
  9. Houston Astros won the World Series!
  10. Our family went to a Stars game.
  11. Our family went to a Spurs game.
  12. Even in floods, I saw my fellow Texans do great things.
  13. With number 12, I was super proud of my son and friends for all their work after the storms.
  14. I saw our friend Melissa get married in Savannah, Georgia and had a blast while there.
  15. My new griddle/waffle maker.
  16. Seeing all my siblings on two occasions.
  17. Vacation time during the holidays with all four of us together.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Holidays 2017 Begin

It's Monday morning and I'm not at work! Instead, I slept in (for me that means 7:00), drank two cups of coffee by the fire, ran three miles in the cool crisp morning, walked the dog and showered. 

Now, I have Food Network on in the background while I am busy in the kitchen. But not the kind of busy that makes me frustrated. The kind that puts a smile on my face and a warmth down deep in my soul.

My house is filled with the scent of the holidays. I made cinnamon ornaments last night. For breakfast this morning I made eggnog French toast. All I have planned for the rest of the day is Hallmark Christmas movies. Anything else I do will be unplanned frivolity. 

Holiday Season 2017, welcome!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey

I saw the above quote on Facebook. This post is not about a mega church pastor and whether he is or is not doing something. It's not about whether our president or government is or is not doing something. It's about what I have been witnessing this week in the Texas Gulf Coast as regular people are most definitely doing something.

I live in a master planned community about 30 miles north of Houston, Texas. A couple of weeks ago, I heard that there was a tropical storm named Harvey stirring up and that my area of Texas was very likely going to receive a lot of rain. Then I heard that Harvey was a hurricane that was going to hit around a town called Rockport or Corpus Christi. I started praying for those folks as they were being told to evacuate.

Let me tell you, I have lived here for a long time. My house was very badly damaged during Hurricane Ike. I "hunkered down" that night and listened as tree branches flew through the air and I woke up the next day to see floods and trees inside people's houses. We didn't evacuate then because the mayor asked us to stay. This was because in 2005, we were part of the mass evacuation during Rita when more than 100 people lost their lives trying to flee.

I know what it's like to live through a hurricane. So, I prayed for Rockport and Corpus. I prayed they would safely make it out in time. And, you know what? They did. That's because Houston's mayor told us to stay put. By staying in our homes, we made room on the highways for those who needed to evacuate to go. And we kept the Rita evacuation ordeal from happening again.

You know what? No one, and I mean NO ONE could have predicted what Hurricane Harvey was going to do to the entire Texas Gulf Coast area. No one could have known the horror of what we were about to endure and are still enduring. Harvey became a category four hurricane and beat up the small town of Rockport. Then, Harvey decided not to leave. The next few days felt like years. In just four days, the city of Houston had more rain than it's annual average! And we have talked a lot about Houston on the news, but all the towns near Houston have suffered through this storm too.

My friends and family members were on their rooftops waiting to be rescued by boat. Countless friends and people around me have lost everything they own. Everything! Nothing could prevent this. Even if the almost 12 million people in Harvey's destructive path had evacuated, the homes and businesses would have still been destroyed. Lives were saved by the decision to stay put. As I type this, the floods continue. Beaumont is a lake! And their water supply was cut off.

Ok, here goes... Texas gets stereotyped a lot, y'all. I remember watching "Beverly Hills 90210" in the '90s and they were showing a scene in San Antonio in which everyone was walking around in cowboy boots and ten gallon hats and they were a bunch of racists who didn't like a white boy kissing a black girl. Seriously? That ain't Texas! And, side note, San Antonio is mostly Hispanic. You don't typically see white, racist cowboys walking around there. Or here either because all the real cowboys I know are wonderful gentlemen who love God and people. That's just the truth.

Anyway, Houston is extremely diverse. We have every race here. Every religion. Every language is spoken here (I mean, every language on Earth). We have republicans. We have democrats. We have loads of gay people. And we have loads of straight people. We have art and music and seriously great food. We have every culture the world has produced. It's a really cool city.

Anyway, this storm didn't just happen to Houston. It happened to Texas. And because we're part of the USA, it happened to America and I want to thank my friends and family from all over the world for reaching out to check on me this week.

Here's some of the stuff I have seen:
  • My friends who own boats haven't slept in days because they have been rescuing people.
  • Donations of food, blankets, medicine, diapers, etc. pouring in from all over the country!
  • Loads of money being donated.
  • People around my little town buying gift cards to grocery stores and Target for flood victims.
  • Friends doing demos all over town (I'm covered in sheetrock as I type this).
Here's the deal... I think people like JJ Watt and Mattress Mack are amazing! They have stepped up and raised money and helped people. Sandra Bullock and other famous and wealthy celebrities have made financial contributions. My own Dallas Cowboys are raising funds for flood victims and hosting a telethon in place of the game that was supposed to happen tonight (none of us feels like watching football right now). I love seeing the rich and famous step up. They have a voice that many can hear.

But, for me, the greatest heroes have been the ones on the ground who don't get an ounce of recognition. My friends Frank and Angie Rizzo and their son Luke have worked 'round the clock doing demos. In fact, I have loads of friends out doing that. And it's hard work! I have friends like Deanna and Matt Katri who show up with pizza and waters and snacks for all the workers. Today I saw tow trucks driving through neighborhoods handing out bottled water! I have friends working in shelters. I have friends doing laundry for flood victims. I have friends rescuing animals and feeding them. I have friends taking care of the elderly and cancer patients. People have come in from other states to help us. No one is worried about race, religion or politics when we are helping each other.

Thank you, Texas, for taking a beating and standing strong. I'm proud of this mighty state.

My son, Dylan and his friends were heading to hang out at a friend's house
when I called and said we needed help in one of the neighborhoods doing a demo.
Instead of going to have fun, these boys dropped everything to work.

A few of my friends and me doing demos.

Love these ladies! Working hard.

This neighborhood was completely under water. These folks in Conroe
have lost every single thing they own.

As we were tearing out walls and kitchen cabinets, I
spotted this note a child had written to his mom. That child's
bedroom was my first spot to work and I saw his Legos and
Star Wars posters on the ground demolished. I think his only
surviving possession was a small box of trophies. When I saw
this note, I shed a tear. This family has nothing left. Nothing
except each other. Now, thank God for that. At the end of it all,
what matters most is life.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

End of Summer Brunch

This has been quite an interesting summer. Each of the four of us were mostly separated as we were spread out in various parts of the country. Morgan began the summer in San Diego and Dylan left for an internship in Fort Worth. Bill has been working in Fort Worth since April and is still there, likely til the end of the year. I was able to spend most of the summer with him at the Hilton downtown (side note: that is the last place where JFK slept before his assassination).

This morning, following my run, I came home and made my kids brunch. It's been ages since they have both been under the same roof and I have been able to do this. And I don't know when it will happen again. I felt both happy and sad as I made apple dumplings and egg casseroles (one with sausage and the other meatless because I have a vegetarian daughter).

Although I am excited for my kids and their being all grown up, I feel such an emptiness too. For the past two decades, everything I do is about their safety and well-being. Where we live, what we do, everything- it's with them in mind. In less than a year, my baby boy will be gone. My husband travels a lot. I know good things await us, but I'm already missing being the mom.

About brunch... it was seriously yummy and super easy to make. Here's what I did:

Apple Dumplings:
On the stove, heat one stick of butter, one cup of water, about 3/4 cup sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla.
While it heats, core and cut an apple.
Open canned biscuits and roll each of them out.
Place an apple slice in each and seal them.
Pour the sauce from the stove on top.
Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Bake for 30-35 minutes in a pre-heated oven at 375 degrees.

The Egg Casseroles:
Scramble eggs (I add only salt and pepper)
Cook sausage or bacon (whichever is on-hand)
Place eggs, sausage and cheese in baking dish.
Bake til all melted.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Beauty for Ashes

It was March 2014 when my life would forever change. Because of certain legal battles and for the need to protect some people I love, I cannot write about specifics. But here I am more than three years later and instead of seeing justice, instead of seeing God avenge us, the battles have continued. They have been fierce and have left me bleeding on the ground with barely a breath left in me.

Does this sound dramatic? That is only because I have lived through some things I could have never imagined anyone enduring. I have actually laughed about it a few times and said, "my life is a telenovela!" But it's not funny. It's devastating. But, if you continue reading, you will see why I haven't given up and why this blog post isn't a pity party, but a story of hope.

I always believed that God would give beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61:3), yet I am laying here in smoke and ashes, choking on my pain and exhaustion. I know loss. I know pain. I know destruction. I am intimately acquainted with grief and sorrow. Those outside of this who have witnessed my suffering don't know what to say or what to do. They love me and hate seeing me suffer, but they can't fix it. No one other than my husband knows the extent of this trouble. He has endured most of it right alongside me. I have been in awe as the past few months, he has picked himself up and strengthened his mind, body and spirit. I am in the process of doing this too, but I get knocked down every time I attempt to stand.

Today I have been thinking about the book in the Bible that really tests our hearts- Job. This guy was living a good and decent life and then everything was taken from him. He had no idea why! Sadly, his "friends" tried to figure it all out. They tried to speak for God and tell Job that surely he must have done something wrong to be in this state. The devastation was too intense and there was no way that God would bring such destruction to anyone unless that person deserved it. There was Job, suffering like no one around him could comprehend, and instead of holding him and crying with him, his so-called friends preached. You know what? There is a time to speak and there is a time to shut up.

There will be many lessons I take away from my own suffering. This will end some day and I will look back and thank the Lord God for loving me enough to allow all of this. When that day comes, I would like to remember what it feels like to be in this smoke and ash. I would like to look at others who are suffering and hold them. It may be that they need to hear: "this isn't happening because you did something wrong, but because God is preparing you for something big".

Today I needed that reminder, so I listened to a sermon from Dr. Charles Stanley about God's timing. He mentioned a boy named David. This young man was anointed to be the next king of Israel, but 14 years went by in which he was in danger, fleeing and hiding for fear of his life.  According to Dr. Stanley, "God had a plan. It was a perfect plan. He executed His plan, but not on someone else’s schedule. His timing was perfect. God has a plan for YOUR life and that doesn’t mean that what’s in that plan is yours today. It is yours when God gets you ready. And what was God doing to David in all those years? Getting him ready. Teaching him how to suffer. Teaching him how to forgive. Teaching him to be wise. Teaching him to be loving. Teaching him to be respectful of the king who tried to kill him. Twice he could have killed Saul, but he didn’t do it. That wasn’t God’s timing."

Does God have a plan for your life? Yes. Will it look like my journey? No. It will, however, very likely include some pain and suffering. Everyone likes looking at the end of the story- you know, the one where the cancer patient becomes an Ironman. But the glory of the story isn't the Ironman. It's the pain of the cancer and how God gets the patient through it. True glory comes from God helping us get through darkness. The LIGHT has come and we get to look toward that Light while we grab the sword and fight through the darkness.

I know I'm not perfect, but I also know that my current situation is not due to some anger or judgment from God. He has a plan for my life and He's bringing me to my "promised land" in His own timing and His own way. That way happens to be very painful. If you hear me cry or scream, don't judge me. Don't be like Job's friends. Just let me cry. Let me scream. It's part of my journey. It doesn't mean I don't love God or that I don't trust Him. In fact, Jesus Christ Himself both cried and screamed. He even screamed out "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Then He died and went to Hell before He rose from the grave.

I will rise from the smoke and ashes too. I will have beauty for ashes.