The Birthday Girl

(*photo by Eugenia Grow)

It had everything one might expect at a birthday party. A string of colorful balloons and streamers lined the front porch. Two young girls in fancy dresses pranced in and out of the front door like wild ponies full of excitement as the guests began to arrive. There was a “do it yourself” Mojito station, a lovely catered dinner with all of the fixings, and the infamous “carmel cake” was displayed in the dining room.

It was a perfect setting that lacked only one thing. The Birthday Girl, and we were all missing her.

It has been almost 8 months since Sydney passed away, and her husband Todd had graciously opened up his home for an evening of celebration and remembrance. He has been amazing through this entire journey. As a confessed introvert, he has unselfishly time and again, invited people into his grief and loss with his amazing writing.

Now he opened up his home (and Syd’s closet:) which provided everyone with an opportunity to pause, laugh, feel, and cry. We were celebrating her birth, but more importantly we were there to commemorate the life that touched us all so much.

After dinner, the sharing began. Todd started the round with a hilarious story about his wife, Sydney. You can read about it here.

As the stories progressed and more people began to speak, my husband leaned over and asked if I was going to share. I shook my head and whispered, “No. I just don’t have any words right now.”

This was true concerning that particular moment, but it was also the case for my life over the past 6 months.

At the realization of my long season of silence, I got uncomfortable and very wiggly. I am known to lots of people by my words and by my laughter.  Both of which could be induced by my quiet relationship with Sydney.  So, I decided to try to find her.

I quietly slipped out of the living room and went to visit Sydney’s closet. It was just a small window preserved so that we can still get a glimpse of the whimsical, intrepid dynamo that she was because so much of that was displayed in what she wore.

I stepped into this portal and immediately teared up, but I also felt very happy. How can you only be sad standing amongst Sydney’s wardrobe and jewelry? All of the colors, the boldness, the patterns, and the style encapsulated her free spirit. It was like walking through a field of wildflowers.

I looked at some of her favorite books and necklaces. I ran my hand across her shirts and giggled at all of her silly, printed t-shirts and four pairs of the same running shoe. And then I saw them, the very large, but simple turquoise earrings. I moved in for a closer look.

Last spring, Sydney walked into my birthday party at Cantina. That may read as rather uninteresting. But it was a miracle that she was there and that she was walking. She had been in a wheelchair for months, and we all doubted that she would ever regain her footing.

When I opened her gift, I found myself an enviable recipient of a “Sydney Original.” She had made me some earrings, and I was very touched by how well she captured me. They were small, subtle, and very delicate turquoise earrings.

Standing there in her closet, I realized that she had the same pair, only Syd’s were larger and more dynamic. She had made me something of herself but had adjusted it to fit me.

I had found some words.

I quietly walked back into the living room and rejoined the group. I still did not know if I would share, but at least I felt more connected to the evening, to Sydney, and to myself.

***This is what I wound up sharing. I am writing it out as requested to be placed in a book for Todd and Sydney’s children:

“How I Met Your Mother.”

I knew of your mom through church. I say that only to communicate that is where I recognized her from the day we actually met in an Old Navy.

You have to know that your mother was a special kind of “lovely crazy.” I do not mean that she was unbalanced, for she was most certainly of a sound mind. But she would get SO excited about something, throw caution to the wind, and then chase after it with both hands. That day, she was excited about me.

As I was walked around the store, I noticed that everywhere I turned, your mom was right there. Finally, she popped around the corner and said (declared:), “Hi. I’m Sydney Gaylord. I heard you speak at church a few months ago, and I really want to get to know you. I really want to be your friend.”

I was startled, but mostly I was just deeply touched. Your mom had no idea of the kind of day that I was having or the darkness that I was being called into for redemption’s sake. But God did and here was your mom, a sun burst of beauty and light declaring me worthy of pursuit.

I smiled at her and said that I would very much like to be her friend.

A few months later, she invited herself over to my house for lunch. Again, I was very startled but, in this context, I was also intimidated. I knew that your mother had refined tastes and lots of experience with dining. I don’t cook and my home is very small and humble. But my insecurities were outweighed by my desire to be with your mother.

She brought you two girls, (this was before your brother was born) and you played with my daughters. You were SO engrossed with Maggie and Emma because they were “big” girls. You played dress up and played with the ‘misfits.’

I fixed your mother a grilled cheese sandwich, which I scorched, to go with our tomato soup. She sat in my kitchen and raved about the meal as if she were being served at the White House.

After we finished eating and had shared some of our stories, your mother got up and began “snooping” around.

You will hear this often pertaining to your mom. She had an unquenchable thirst when it came to finding out about something or someone. But it never felt obtrusive to me, only loving.

Well, maybe it felt a little obtrusive when she opened up my freezer and pulled out my 5 lb. bag of M&M’s. But, after she turned to me and said, “Now, I love you even more for having this kind of stash,” I realized that she was a safe, kindred spirit.

When it was time to go, she gave me a hug. That was when she saw a few photographs on top of my bookshelf. She picked them up and began rifling through them. (read *snooping) She stopped at one and said, “What is this?”

I looked at it and responded, “That is a photo I took of a hydrangea bush just beginning to bloom.”

“It’s amazing,” she said.

I looked at it again.

“Really?” I doubted.

At that point my husband had come home from work and had joined us.

“Really?” he echoed. “I’ve never thought much of it.”

I looked at my new friend and smiled. “Sometimes,” I said, “We have to outsource our encouragement.”

She threw her head back and laughed deeply and unabashedly.

She asked me why I took the picture.

“I liked it because Hydrangea’s can grow on dead wood. In this moment, it still looked pretty lifeless to me against the pine straw with only a few little green leaves poking out. It is a picture of where winter and spring meet. It is a picture of hope.”

She was quiet. Then she hugged me again and told me that I take great pictures.

About a week later, I got a call from your mom asking if she could have that photograph. She said she needed something for a class that represented “hope” to her and wanted to use it. I felt touched and was happy to give it to her. I scribbled a verse on the back and wrote “to my new friend, Sydney.”

A few months later, she gave me this.

She found it at a flea market and said it reminded her of me and the “hydrangea of hope.”

Now it sits in my kitchen window as a daily reminder that no matter how long or barren the winter, spring always follows. Your mother staked her life on that truth and now needs no daily reminder. She is living in the proof.

This was one of the many things that I loved about your mom. She believed by faith that in Jesus, hope can always be found if one only took the time to look.

That was what she did with me one day in a store, and with countless other people over the years. This was one of her special gifts to a hurting world, and it will never quite be the same without her.

(*taken at your mother’s grave the day of her funeral)

Maggie’s Silver Key

*Here is Maggie’s article that won a “Silver Key” in the 2012 Scholastic Writing Contest. I have been wrestling with WordPress for 30mins trying to get it correctly formated, so forgive me for its present state as I no longer have the time to fiddle with paragraphs and proper indention.

This was an AMAZING opportunity suggested by my daughter’s writing teacher in early October. I never dreamed of all that we would gain by her taking on this project which consisted of interviewing a passenger on the 31st floor of the Duke Energy building, countless drafts and revisions, and visiting the Charlotte Aviation Museum to see the plane.

The article was due December 15, 2011 and Maggie found out last week that she received a “Silver Key” for her work. She was SO excited but not nearly enough to make her want to read her article again. By the time she submitted it, she did not care if she ever saw it again due to having to go through it so many different times welcoming her to the true writing process.

One day in her writing class, she turned in the article thinking she was finally finished. Her teacher looked at her, praised her effort, and told her to go through it again. Maggie, fully believing she had reached the finish line felt dejected. Her teacher wisely said, “Maggie this is like running a marathon, and you are around mile marker 20.” And when all else failed to encourage my daughter, her teacher looked at her with all sincerity and said, “Maggie, you is kind, You is smart, and you is important.”(a line taken from the book The Help)

Several friends and family asked to read the article, so I am putting here for ease sake. Again, I apologize if it reads disjointedly due to having to copy and paste it.

“Better Late Than Never” by Maggie Luke 13 years old.

A massive commercial airliner has just arrived at the Charlotte Aviation Museum.

From one angle, the plane looks as though it shouldn’t be lying motionless in a

museum. It should still be soaring, gliding, and maneuvering through the skies. Then

suddenly, its battered appearance is revealed.

From one point of view, the airliner seems tall and proud, altogether triumphant at its

survival. But at the same time it looks sad and dejected, a shadow of its distinguished

former self. Whether it looks sorrowful or dignified is a decision that the thousands of

people visiting it must make.

At the very back of the aircraft, the tail is raised high, but below it is complete chaos.

The covering of the body is ripped off, and the inside is rusted. It seems as if the

underside of the aircraft had to bear an extremely violent collision. Instinctively, anyone

who sees it realizes that there has to be a story behind this plane. Even now it stands

there, silently telling a tale to inspire the world.

In January 2009, Flight 1549 set out on an ordinary routine flight, set for an hour and

a half. Most of the people on that flight expected to be home in time for dinner. Two

and a half years later, it arrived at its destination.

Forced to make an unplanned ditching in the Hudson River, the unfortunate aircraft

had been stored inside a hanger in New Jersey for the past two years. Finally, it felt the

wind again as the plane was hauled along to its original destination. This endeavor was

estimated to cost 2.8 million dollars. But whatever the expense, the receiving city was

determined to have the plane home. Flight 1549 was bound for Charlotte, N.C.

On June 10th, a special ceremony was held for all the passengers of the flight

which so many called the Miracle on the Hudson. A large part of the miracle was that

no fatalities occurred. Only two people were seriously injured.

It so happened that one passenger was not present at the ceremony due to a

previous family engagement. His name is John Howell, and this is the person I had the

privilege of talking to about his experience that day.

As John Howell stepped aboard Flight 1549, he wasn’t contemplating anything out

of the ordinary. He was thinking of his meeting, and the dinner that was waiting for him

at home. But about ninety seconds into the flight, he was definitely thinking about the

plane, and his thoughts were not carefree.

“I was in the second row, and we could hear the geese crashing into us,” he said.

Either from the perspective of the geese or the perspective of the plane and its

passengers, this was definitely not a good thing. Since the beginning of flight, birds

have been a serious complication. Even one of the Wright brothers collided with a

songbird. Unfortunately, these weren’t songbirds that fate collided with Flight 1549.

Huge Canadian Geese flew in a V shape formation towards the plane, and somehow

managed to strike both engines. John remembers the engines revving up very hard,

and then breaking down. All was deathly quiet aboard the plane. “Then you could hear

the clicking noise of the engines trying to turn back on,” recalled John.

It cannot be said that the plane was doing anything dramatic. The pilot was in

control, and the flight glided up and down, heading for the George Washington Bridge.

“I could see that we were headed for the river,” John said, “I stared at the flight

attendant, trying to confirm the situation. She gestured to me, saying that everything

would be fine. At that point, I realized that she had no idea where we were headed.

Probably, she thought that we were on our way back to the airport.”

John knew that this was not the case. “I couldn’t believe I was doing this to my

family. They had already lost my brother, a first responder, on September 11, 2001. I

didn’t know how they were going to survive this.”

When the plane landed in the Hudson River a minute or so later, there was a severe

jolt. One passenger remembers hearing the airbus groan, as if complaining about

the collision. Looking out the window, all anyone could see was murky water. Suddenly,

the plane bobbed up, and people could perceive sunlight. John remembered how he

had slowly unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. Already, the aisle was jammed with

people on their way out.

“I travel to New York frequently, and all the safety instructions that they give out, I

know by heart,” he said, “But I went out onto the wing without even retrieving my life

jacket.”  “When I stepped outside and saw the ferry boats, I wasn’t worried anymore,”

John said. After a while of holding ropes for other passengers, John finally clambered

onto a boat himself.

Every passenger that day was brought safely off the plane. Captain Sullenberger

walked the interior of Flight 1549 three times, making sure that no one was trapped


The full count of people saved that day was 155, and everyone was accounted for.

This was extraordinary, for never before had a plane crashed in water with no fatalities.

At that time, the mood in New York was not good. The people needed a miracle. On

January 15, 2009, they received one, with the Miracle on the Hudson.

Now, two and a half years later, this plane was on its painstaking journey to

Charlotte. It took a whole week to get it there, but now it sits inside the Charlotte

Aviation Museum, which is near the Charlotte/Douglas Airport. Flight 1549 was not

repaired, and visitors can view it almost exactly as it had been when the plane was

submerged in the Hudson River.

It seemed fitting to John that the aircraft should be moved to Charlotte and left

untouched. Many of the passengers live in Charlotte, and now their families can see

the plane. No one can fully appreciate the devastation done until they witness it.

When I asked John Howell if there was anything he wanted to see in the plane, his

reply was immediate, “My seat,” he smiled, “Originally, I thought that they would be

auctioning off pieces of the plane, and I wanted to find a way to get my seat. I thought

it would look great in my living room.”

Not many days go by when John doesn’t think about the Hudson and what

happened there. “For me, the story is tied very closely to my brother who died on 9/11.

Finding myself in New York, such a short distance away from where my brother died,

and all of us getting to walk away from the plane, I think that must mean something,” he

said. “Do I have some higher calling, or something that I’m supposed to be doing? Or

does it just give me more opportunities to tell people what my brother did?”

For John Howell, the Miracle on the Hudson was a series of miracles. Everything that

happened that day aligned to make January 15th end the way it did. The pilot was

prepared for the job, the water was smooth, there was no wind, no ice, and no rain. So

many things could have gone wrong with the rescue, and none did. In short, this is why

Flight 1549 is a miraculous plane. This is also the reason why the Charlotte Aviation

Museum is honored to be its final landing place.

Maggie and John Howell

Baby Mine: The McCollum Family

You may remember the story I wrote on the miracle of Baby Caroline. It is definitely worth reading, if you are new to my blog. Not because of my retelling of it, but because stories like this never get old or lose their ability to inspire.

Though I still call Caroline McCollum “BC” which stands for  baby Caroline, she is no longer an infant. This December, she turned 3 years old AND became a big sister.

Nick and Julianna are friends, who also happen to be neighbors. This is such a wonderful combination with lots of life perks. But, for me, it also carries with its own strange form of exposure.

For example, our cul-de-sac is the McCollum Family’s exercising mid-point.They walk or run to our house and turn around to begin retracing their steps. Again, a HUGE, fun bonus, but not so much if you are the first person in the hood to have your Christmas tree by the curb…the day after Christmas. If you can even wait that long.

Two years ago,  I remember throwing open my front door to drag out four large garbage bags full of clutter shenanigans only to look up and see my friend/neighbor jogging by our house. I startled her with my frantic commotion and intensity, practically falling down my front porch steps, while never wavering in my grip of the clutter. I knew that if I could just make it to the trash can with this external excess, my internal life would begin restoring itself.

She stopped in her tracks and we just looked at each other for a second. Her face beginning to crack into a smile because, she knows and loves me well in every emotional state and episode.

“Hi, Julianna,” I said, panting harder than her in mid-run.

“Hey, Carrie,” she said with a knowing giggle.

“I’m just picking up a bit, nothing major,” I said.

“I see that,” she said.

She then smiled at me and went on her way.

This past Saturday, I went over to their house to snap a few photos of their new son, BG. Which is another perk of having friends in the neighborhood. They let you practice your photography on their budding family. That morning was actually one of the highlights of my holiday season.

and this is why…..


Though both experiences in DC were almost indescribable, the difference between our time at Mt. Vernon Estates verses walking the Mall to see the monuments/memorials was about 36 hours and 18* degrees. That Friday, I walked into George Washington’s Mansion and saw his original bed, desk, and travel trunk wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. But a day and a half later, I stood before a chiseled Abraham Lincoln and a wall covered with 58,267 names of the men and women who perished in the Vietnam War zipped up in a fleece and wrapped in a scarf. One day was sunny while the other promised rain.

Looking back on it, the weather was a foreshadowing of my mood to come. I had never seen the monuments or memorials before that day, but I had always wanted to walk along the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. When I was in Jr High School, I became fascinated with the conflict. Like any and everything academic, the larger picture was lost on me at the time. But, one night I came across the song “Goodnight, Saigon” by Billy Joel and for some reason, the loneliness and egregious loss of war resonated deep within me.

It is very difficult to walk the 493 feet of the Vietnam Memorial wall and not become overwhelmed or desensitized. So, we just stopped and took in a few names to make it seem real.

I really do not have words to describe what it was like to see the Korean Memorial. I did not know it existed until I saw it, nor did I know the details of that conflict until my sister’s fiance(now husband) explained it to me over a popsicle.

The faces of those sculpted soldiers walking through the rice patties is STILL imprinted in my mind four months later. It is hard to say that something so penetrating and haunting is a “favorite” of yours, but it most certainly left the greatest impression on me.

We were fortunate enough to be in DC just two months after the new Martin Luther King, Jr memorial was opened. As you walk up to it from behind, there are three mountainous structures with the Jefferson Memorial seen across the water.  It does not make sense until you see it from the front.  MLK is chiseled into the middle, protruding structure and there is a beautiful inscription on the side of his rock.

*a picture of my girls standing where Martin Luther King, Jr stood giving his “I Have A Dream Speech.”

*Jefferson Memorial

*Lincoln Memorial

*Rocket Pops at the Mall with my girls and my twin sister, Susan. She’s just a wee bit taller than me.

Interceding For Me

I don’t know why Sunday mornings have to be so difficult. Trying to get ready and out the door for church can produce so much ugliness in me, its a wonder that I don’t get banned each week. Sometimes I cannot shake the feeling that a heavenly alarm will go off as I pass over the threshold alerting everyone to the fact that I have just been very mean to the most important people in my life.

Yesterday was one of those mornings. I just woke up ‘off’ as my husband and I both agreed that we are heading into a season of change within the next few years. We do not know exactly what it will entail, and it is not necessarily ‘bad’ change. But we sense we’re on the eve of a ‘different,’ and I detest different.

I woke up earlier than normal and began looking for my bible.  I’ve walked long enough to know that I can endure most anything as long as He goes with and before me.

I looked in the normal places for my Bible and could not locate it. My oldest has taken to reading it quite a bit. She likes the translation in modern English. (NLT) But I’ve also worried, because she has a tendency to misplace and lose things. I began to panic. I “knew” that she was the last one who had it.

Now I could spin this and tell you just how special this specific Bible is to me. Because it is indeed…very, very, special. It has been with me though the past 7 years of my life that were also some of the most difficult I have ever had. The Bible was new then but now speaks more accurately of the journey I have been on than I can.

It has answered many questions for me. They weren’t necessarily the questions I was asking, but they were the answers that I needed the most. The Word has spoken to me in some of my more terrified and desperate moments.  So I have underlined things and put a date by the verse/s I knew could only come from a God that was real, living, and active.

Like the time I was sitting with my grandmother, “Memaw” the day before she died. I was so frightened, because she wasn’t responding.  All I could do was say Psalm 23 over and over again. The Spirit began talking to my heart all around that familiar passage. It showed me what was going on inside of her, since she was unable to with words. Until she finally called out, “Oh, I’m SO Happy!”

This is when I was so scared because my friend Sydney, wife, mother of three, and a friend to many had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor.

There are so many other times, but the ones that will always anchor me are my life verses. This will always tell me who I am and who God is when I lose my way. It assures me that all that was wrongly taken from me will be given back to me. One day.

And though this book has walked with me through a lot of hard things and tears, it was not what was inflaming my anger when I could not locate it. And my poor daughter was just collateral damage. I had so much fear and angst going on inside of me thinking about the change looming in the distance, and I just needed someone to take it out on.

I told her very coldly that she was not to do anything else until she found it. 10 minutes went by, then 20, then 30. Then it hit me. I knew exactly where it was…. because I was the one who had it last. My heart just sank. I’d like to tell you that, I immediately went to her and apologized. But it was not my first thought.

My first thought was to get it out of my backpack (where I put it) and plant it somewhere random, and ‘discover’ it later. I’d rather lie than confess. That lasted about a minute (well maybe 5) …the grace and mercy that I have received over the years kicked in, and I went to relieve my daughter of the burden I had unfairly placed on her shoulders. I called her up to my room, and she was so upset. The pressure of disappointing me was destroying her.

I let her talk first after I told her that I was sorry and the one who missed placed it. And the tears began to stream down her face, because I’m pretty scary when I’m mad.

She was so brave and honest. She said, “Mom, I prayed and prayed but just couldn’t find it. I was so scared I lost it.”

Then it hit me. She was praying for me and did not know it. I know her prayers were instrumental in my confession and apology. They gave me insight into where I had put it and helped soften my heart in order to apologize and ask her for her forgiveness for taking my fears of the future out on her.  It was a wonderful moment. One that I would have missed in order to protect myself and my pride in order to become ‘mother of the year.’

We were restored and later that morning was able to receive communion together. Her walking in front of me. Checking over her shoulder to make sure I was there as she still is timid receiving this blessing. I smiled at her and wanted to encourage her to receive it the same way that I received her forgiveness that morning.

open-handed. open-hearted. undeserved. grace and mercy. freely given. for us.

age 3.

Chasing Butterflies in George Washington’s Garden

“I can truly say I had rather be at home at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the Seat of Government.” George Washington

For the past year and a half, my girls and I have been studying American History. It has been an introduction for all three of us, because I managed to make it 36 years on this earth without ever really knowing the birth story of our nation.

In our study, no other man has captivated my heart and mind like that of George Washington. I confess to have developed a strange “crush” of sorts when I read of his courage in battle and his humility in office.

But, in all that we took in about the life of this great man, my favorite stories had to do with his quiet, contemplative farm life on the grounds of his beloved Mt. Vernon estate. Whether as a general in the thick of war or as an elected official presiding over a new nation, he often found comfort day dreaming about sitting with Martha in the evenings on the veranda overlooking the Potomac River. To him, home was a feeling; a state of being.  At  Mt Vernon, fellowship, acceptance, work, and rest were always present and always plentiful.

Over the semester, I began to dream about visiting Mt. Vernon for myself one day because I had grown to love the idea of it as much as he had. I never thought I would get the opportunity but desperately longed to walk the same paths he walked and feel the same solace that he felt among those trees and hills.

On September 30, 2011, a glorious fall day, my girls and I pulled up to his home right outside of Alexandria. We were visiting my sister who lives in Washington, DC and had invited us up to see Les Misrables at the Kennedy center. So, having a place to stay, I planned a four-day trip, which included a day trip to Mount Vernon.

It was a wonderful day that felt like a tonic to my weary soul.

I had come heavy-hearted because our community had just buried a dear friend a few weeks prior, who died from a brain tumor. I knew that I would be channeling Sydney when I stood before a Van Gogh at the National Gallery of Art the next day.

But, late that afternoon while taking pictures in George Washington’s garden, a very LARGE, orange Monarch(which is her symbol to me) fluttered by me. I nearly went CRAZY. It was late in the season to have such a sighting, particularly so far north.

My girls, bless them were SO tired and had parked themselves on a bench outside the garden. I told them about the Sydney butterfly and begged for just a few more minutes.

“Go,” they said wearily but very happy for me. “Go and chase butterflies.”

I took a deep breath, prayed, and hoped to be able to find it once again. Quietly, I followed it to a patch of purple, spindly flowers. I stood very still watching the butterfly, and could not have been happier or felt more alive.

Unbeknownst to me, two women had stopped behind me to watch the moment unfold. The monarch finally opened up its wings and the onlookers heard my shutter click.

“Oh, you got it, didn’t you?!” they asked, excitedly.

Startled, I turned around with tears in my eyes.

“I did,” I said. “But she’s still gone.”

They were puzzled, and I explained to them why I was chasing butterflies.

“Bless you,” they said. “And bless your sweet friend.”

I am remembering this story because a year today(December 23,2010), I sat with Sydney in her bedroom. She was in a hospital bed because her tumor was reeking havoc and had rendered her unable to walk. We were all very worried about her recent decline.

Sitting there, I did not know that in a seven months, she would leave us. Forever.

I did not know that the photograph I had framed for her that day as a reminder of how I would always see her would become an image to us all in our remembering.(They were released at her graveside the day of her funeral.)

And that wherever I would go in the future, it could always become a sacred opportunity to be surprised by chasing butterflies.

Mt. Vernon

Me, George, and the girls. (Sorry Martha)

George Washington/family tomb

The Slave Memorial Garden

Slave Quarters

Dexter, the Pug Who Made Me Cry

I am of the opinion that there is only one dog breed, and it is the Labrador Retriever. I have had three yellow labs in the past 13 years, but I have loved them since I was a little girl and didn’t know what they were called. They have always made me smile and laugh. I love their floppy, velvety ears and how they are always excited and ready to play.

Pugs on the other hand are just different. I look at them and hear my grandmother’s voice in my head saying, “Now, bless their heart.” I’ve never understood how someone could see a pug amidst other breeds and say, “Yes, that one. That is the dog I want.”

Until Dexter came into my life.

See the family resemblance?

Dexter joined our family last summer while we were at our favorite vacation spot in the mountains. For the last several years we’ve packed up the girls and headed to Bryson City to go tubing at Deep Creek. It’s very restful, and we have wonderful family time.

During our trip my husband gives both of our girls $20 to spend over the course of the week. There is a general store up the hill from our cabin where they can buy candy, t-shirts, and toys, or they can save it until we head into town for a shopping spree.

My youngest had spent a good portion of her funds early in the week on candy and a minnow net for the creek. I believe she had about $8 when we headed to the town’s local bookstore. It was really the only place worth purchasing items. I mean other than Dale’s Bait and Tackle shop. As we were walking down main street, my oldest spotted a Hallmark store on a side street.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, Webkinz stuffed animals (which is what Dexter is) are very popular with children, and the Hallmark store is a Mecca to find them.  Because we have made the pilgrimage more times than I care to confess, we tell the girls that Webkinz are special items that they can receive as gifts around their birthday’s and Christmas. So technically they are off the table as an impulse purchase.

We went in just to “look.”

As we walked around the tension growing inside of me was palpable as I could see a gigantic collection of “special items” looming in the distance. I knew that only one of my girls at that point could afford a Webkinz if the restriction was lifted. I could already see the wheels turning in the mind of my oldest as she fingered the fluffy stuffed animals.

She grabbed a black cat and went to my husband (not me…she’s no dummy) and asked him if she could use her money in order to buy it. He thought that it would be alright for her to get it if that was how she wanted to use her money. She was ecstatic.

My heart just sank. I knew that the next several hours were going to be very unpleasant when my youngest learned that buying a Webkinz was an even a possibility on this trip. They live for webkinz right now. (* see “what I see vs. what they see” posts.) I got all geared up and grabbed my parenting script about living with the tension of disappointment.  But before I could even practice my lines……it happened.

My oldest daughter ran to the other end of the store, grabbed her sister’s arm, and said, “Guess what!!?? Dad said we could get a webkinz with our money!!!”

My youngest had the exact look on her face that I expected. It was a mixture of shock and confusion which then turned into betrayal. “But I don’t have enough money,” she said.

To which my oldest daughter said without a second thought, “I know, but I have enough money for both of us! C’mon, let’s go pick out one!!”

Then I had to leave the store, because I started to cry.

Treasures in Heaven: The Edwards Family

I confess that this picture brought tears to my eyes this afternoon, and it is probably my favorite that I have taken this fall. Maybe it is because I worried with such a large family shoot that I would not get “the shot” I set out to attain. And in my heart, this was the one I wanted.

Or maybe it was because, I just love my friend, Jean and think she is lovely and this captures that perfectly.

Though a mixture of all the above, I think my tears probably came from a place of gratitude that would have never predicted a year away from our home church would have reaped such a bounty of friendship.

Roger and I met years ago, and I like to refer to him as my publisher. The only two times I have ever had my writing in print, it has been due to this wonderfully delightful man. Really need I say more than this….

Roger has the unfortunate privilege of being one of the few who draws out my laugh to its fullest capacity. My father has a loud, boisterous laugh. My mom has a giggle mixed with a cackle. Well, I inherited both. Usually, I can make it be one or the other or temper it to be a subdued combined version, but not when I’m hanging out with Roger. And quite frankly, I am ok with that.

They are a special couple who have sacrificed a lot to store up treasures in heaven. But, their store house is not only unseen which is why I was so excited to get the opportunity to photograph their family. I love how you can see Jean and Roger’s smile in the faces of their children. Two of whom  were unable to make the shoot.

I read this week that “good writing can be like window pane.”(George Orwell) I have found the same to be true with a good photograph. And though I am just learning how all this photography stuff works, the last picture in this series speaks volumes.

This is the road that Roger and Jean take their daily walk on. It has become a holy ritual that has sustained them through all kinds of weather.


Learning to Be at Home with Yourself

We have a large florescent light in our kitchen. It’s hideous. It’s awful, and my husband loves it.

He says its because he needs to be able to see when he cooks. I get that.  I hate it, because it makes it so you can see everything when he cooks.

Every spot of dirt, every chipped plate, every stain, and every botched paint mishap is displayed for the entire world to see. I find it interesting that every time I am angry or deeply disappointed, I envision myself taking the broom and shoving it up into the light over and over again like a crazy person trying to churn butter over her head. It makes me feel better.

It’s not too much of a stretch for me to see that it’s not the light that I hate. It is what the light exposes that makes me cringe. It spotlights the parts of my home that I’m trying to hide. The pieces that I’m trying to keep in shadows, so they don’t seem so unsightly.  I think we all have things in our home that we want to change, fix, or replace.

The problem is when our fear of those things being seen keeps us from wanting to invite people over.  I have learned that it is when we have the courage to be seen, chips and stains included, that we can truly be at rest in our homes. Truly be at rest with others. And truly be at rest with ourselves.

It has taken me a long time to enjoy having people over. In the past there was always so much stress involved in entertaining. For me, it wasn’t enough to just throw a party or make a dinner.  My anxiety would kick in and all of the sudden a list of projects would begin growing in my mind that HAD to be done in order for things to be acceptable.

I painted my foyer, garage, and sanded my front door in order to host a friend’s graduation party once. I’ve pressure washed a deck and screened in porch floor for a baby shower that I hosted for another friend.

I know that projects aren’t bad in and of themselves, and it’s nice to have motivation for accomplishing things. But, it’s when the fury and rush of checking off my to do list has no room for being derailed that I have the courage to ask the bigger questions.

What is it about me that I’m so afraid for people to see? What is it that I need to be ‘perfect’ in order to invite people in?

The reason I’m thinking about this is because the other day, I had two different sets of people in my home back to back.  One was planned for dinner but the other was spontaneous.

I received a text from one of my best friend’s asking if she and her kids could come over for the afternoon to play. I confess, I did think about how that would throw off my preparations for my dinner guests and how the visit would compound the mess I would need to straighten up with less time afforded to me. So, I did what I always do and asked for a moment to think.

I sat and thought to myself then realized that both sets of people love me. Not only do they love me, but I believe them in their sentiment. Both sets of people have seen me at my worst, under the ‘florescent light’ of life and accept me anyway.  I can be at rest with them and myself. It was going to be ok.

Instead of being jittery because there were dirty dishes in the sink, crumbs and dirt all over my kitchen floor, Webkins stuffed animals and silly bands ALL over my living room floor…. oh, and sofa cushions remade into a castle for King Sparky and Queen Blacky (more stuffed animals), I sat at the kitchen table with my friend and caught up on life. We laughed and even talked about deep matters of the heart.

I am so thankful for her as I realized that it was from her that I have really learned what it means to be hospitable. She’s the one who taught me the beauty of inviting people in when life is not perfect. You can go into her house at any time and you will not find it spic and span. But what you will discover is someone who will offer you a drink, ask you to sit down, and will be completely present in the moment of sharing relationship. I never thought that I would have come so far and be able to return the gesture. To her, to others, and to myself.

Hospitality is more about just being kind and inviting than it is having the right table settings and environment in which to entertain. It’s about thinking of others more than you do yourself. And it’s about resting in who you were made to be. I still get panicked when my husband wants to have people over on a whim.  I still have my mental check list of what’s ‘acceptable’ for people to see before I say ‘yes.’ But as I grow more at home with myself, the list gets shorter and shorter.

No one Likes A Critic

I understand that no one enjoys a high-pitched noise. You know what I’m talking about…. kid’s squealing, fingers down a chalk board, utensils scraping on a plate, a fire engine on its way to a trauma, or even a tea kettle gone ballistic. I understand that it’s physically painful for some.

BUT I’d like for someone to tell me why I get this while practicing my violin……

It’s not as though I’ve asked her for her opinion.

Yet even when there are two rooms between us and a couple of doors, AND she is outside, there’s this….

We’ve discussed it…she and I. I’ve told her the differences between what is encouraging vs. discouraging. We have gone over how no one likes a super critical nature. And yet, she still insists….

next step…. charm school.