This post was written for Five Minute Friday, a group of encouraging writers, with this week’s word: CONCLUDE. Written in five minutes, with no real editing or proofing. If you’d like to read other writers’ posts on the same word, click HERE.
I remember in elementary and middle school, the “cool” way to end a story was for the main character to wake up, with the whole story having been a dream. Even today, thirty years later, coming up with a solid ending that ties everything up into a neat bow is probably the hardest part of writing. Perhaps because, in real life, conclusions aren’t always neat. They almost always are unexpected. They’re messy and sad or shocking, abrupt. Cliff hanger endings in tv shows are somewhat expected, especially when it’s the season finale, but only if there will be a new episode to pick up where you left off in a few short months. When reading books that end without resolution, I get angry. As if the whole book was a waste of time and energy reading. But, real life is exactly like that. Sometimes we will don’t get the chance to say goodbye, I’m sorry, or I love you. Sometimes the bad guy goes free, the disease isn’t cured, the dirt ball gets away with the scam. Thank God for hope. That in heaven, all pain is released. All tears are wiped away. All questions are answered, and maybe vengeance just doesn’t matter anymore to our once outstretched puny fists, in light of the holiness and glory of God.
What to write in a Christmas card is always agonizing. Most cards, you can mindlessly stuff and seal closed with a wet sponge (because who wants to lick 40+ cards??). Remember George’s fiancee from Seinfeld?? Anyhow, I digress. The point is, most of the time, you spend your brain power coming up with a heartfelt card in and of itself with the right photos from the past year, or, if you’re super on top of things, you’ve gotten matching Christmas pajamas and had professional photos taken. Again, that’s not me. But, there are some friends or family that you need to write a personalized hand-written note on the card. Like, for your grandmothers or your friend from CO that you haven’t seen in years. Or, in my case, my biological grandfather who I haven’t seen in nearly ten years. Yeah, this one is tricky. There’s so much to say, but I have only about a half inch by four inches of space to write, but then it would seem too brief. I could put a note-sized paper inside the envelope so I could write a real letter, but what words would I write to fill it? Do I leave it blank and not write anything personal? I feel like that’s the lazy cheater’s way out. I just became Facebook friends with my half-uncle, my dad’s half-brother whose father is my grandfather. I think he’s only a few years older than me. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet him, but I’d like to think we would hug and get along wonderfully if we had the chance. The mail is about to be picked up soon. I hear the engine of the mail truck humming along our neighborhood as it stops and zooms on to the next mailbox. Family is difficult. They’re often the most strained, most hurtful relationships. But family is also part of us and where we come from. I know what I’ll write now…
This week’s Five Minute Friday post is based on the word BEYOND. If you’d like to read some other posts written by other writers, visit here.
There are so many times I think back to my past and wince. Either from painful memories of heartbreak, broken friendships, loneliness, feeling homesick, being cash-strapped and up to my eyeballs in debt, or wishing I’d said or done something differently. I wish I could go back to that naive twenty-something and speak words of encouragement to her. Maybe leave a few quarters in the cushions of the couch. To give her a hug and tell her that she is enough. To tell her to be strong and stand up for what she believes in. To surround herself with friends that will build her up and encourage her to do what’s right. To never let go of that laugh, to never stop writing, and to never settle. That she is fully loved and is never alone. And finally, to make her realize that there would be life beyond this brief stage.
This was a 5 minute free-write based on the word GRIEF, from Five Minute Friday, a writing community. If you’d like to read others’ work, click here
The memory of pain
The memory of love
Twists hearts and wrings out tears
Loved ones lost
Loved ones stolen too soon
Selfishly wanting to bring them back
To this world of hurt and anger and fear
Blinking back watering eyes and looking up to heaven, we cry
But it isn’t our loved ones who will return.
It is only Jesus who will.
Our hope lies in one day seeing Him
And all that caused such grief on earth will melt away
These past few months have been unsettling and bizarre, like living in the upside down of Stranger Things. Not knowing when things would return to normal, and what “normal” is going to look like once this COVID-19 is finally disabled. Since May 8, with the horrific video of Ahmaud Arbery being gunned down for going for a run in his neighborhood, and then on May 25, another gut wrenching video of the last few minutes of George Floyd’s life as he was pinned down and asphyxiated by a police officer as a crowd watched. I can’t feel at peace while these murders occur regularly. I’ve spontaneously cried every day since May 25, as I watch my precious little ginger-haired and blond-haired daughters play without a care or responsibility in the world. If I don’t pray every day, I could be anxious and sick to my stomach that this is the world in which my innocent daughters are growing up.
Black Lives Matter are chanted on sides sick of the violence and are out of solutions to stop these acts of hate. Dark-skinned boys who are round-faced and innocent now, will soon grow up. Instead of people having people smile at their big brown eyes and curly black hair, some will step back a bit in cautious suspicion. Blue Lives Matter are chanted by families of officers who are scared for their loved ones lives not making it home at the end of the shift. All Lives Matter dilute the message of both sides, and yet it is true. We are all created in the image of God. Every human life is worth living. Worth saving. Worth protecting. But we must all reset our perceptions, our assumptions, our preconceptions. The only way to change is to actually make an effort to ENGAGE with someone who is not like us.
As a parent, my responsibility is to teach my children that YES, we all do look different. God painted all of us various shades of brown from peach to milk chocolate to ebony to burnt sienna and tan. To see these differences shows the creativity of God, our Creator. How boring it would be if we were all the same color, same accent, same heritage, same everything! We must teach our children that everyone is equally valuable and has a story to share. We are all different, we all have different backgrounds, ethnicities, languages, and cultures, so we can learn from each other, expressing the love of Jesus to everyone we meet. We all are worth dying for. Jesus proved it with arms outstretched.
We’re living in a weird time right now. This is the stuff that we tell our grandkids we lived through. They’ll roll their eyes and say, “You’ve told me that story already,” but it will be worth hearing again. Until we get to the other side of this pandemic, it’s going to take some time. Thankfully, the weather is getting warmer, and we can start to feel some sunshine on our faces. After a few days cooped up inside with a 2 and nearly 4 year old, the sun is a welcome sight.
Since the CDC is now recommending face masks for anyone heading outside, you just need to have something covering your face that is more substantial than a scarf or bandana. I’d been wanting to make some face masks for ourselves and to share. Before turning on my sewing machine, I read dozens of how-to blogs and then sort of came up with a Frankenstein version of a mask using material I had at home and a no-fuss way of making them. I’m talking just using a button stitch to sew on the ear straps, and making the 3 folds without measuring! I’m not a fabulous seamstress, so these take me about an hour to make one. I think they will go much faster if you do an assembly line, cutting out the material and the wire all in advance, and have your iron on. My favorite material to use are called “fat quarters.” They’re cotton scraps, usually sold in bundles of 5, as coordinating material at any craft store. They’re great because they’re in manageable sizes and are fun, colorful prints. Let’s face it. Having to wear a mask is not really anyone’s idea of accessorizing. However, if you have to wear one, it may as well be a happy pattern. I wanted to make a mask that was 4 layers, so I landed on 100% cotton muslin as the middle layer, in the form of my organic cotton swaddling blankets I used for both my girls. Since I really have no use for those swaddling blankets anymore, I figured, at least the material is going to good use. I had seen a few other mask how-to’s using iron-on fusible interfacing as the middle layer for the mask, but I just don’t feel like breathing in anything with glue on it is a good idea.
Here are the materials you’ll need: Fat quarter cotton fabric (or just cotton fabric or cotton blend of any kind), 100% cotton muslin (mine are Aden + Anais swaddle blankets), elastic cord (I’m currently using the cord, but I am nearly out, so ordered 1/4″ flat elastic on Amazon), coated hanging wire (you could also use pipe cleaners). Other things you’ll want is an iron, a rotary cutter to cut your fabric, a cardboard box cut to make your pattern (everyone has an Amazon box or two laying around), a self-healing mat to cut the material on, and needle nose pliers to cut and bend the wire. This is a great article showing some research that went in to testing materials for DIY masks. https://smartairfilters.com/en/blog/best-materials-make-diy-face-mask-virus/
I need to throw out some disclaimers here. This is NOT meant to say you will not contract or spread COVID-19 by wearing these masks. You MUST wash your hands regularly with soap and DO NOT touch your face. If you wear this mask in the grocery store and touch your mask after touching your grocery cart, wash the mask when you get home. Do not share your mask with anyone, at least without first washing it. Wash your material and press with an iron before starting this project. If you have a mesh bag for washing delicates, I’d suggest washing your mask in that.
Everyone’s faces are different sizes. I’ve come up with 3 sizes that work for us in our house. Small, medium, and large. Small fits my 3 year old, medium fits me, and large fits my husband.
Step 1: If you plan to make more than one mask, make a template with cardboard or heavy cardstock. Then, cut out your inner and outer material using the sizes below
Step 2: Cut out your ear straps. You’ll need two of each
Step 3: Cut the coated wire. For all mask sizes, the wire should be 5″ long, and bend in half so it’s 2.5″
Step 4: Press the inner and outer material flat. Match up the rectangles with the inner material on the bottom and the outer material on the top. Fold so that the short sides are together, and press. In this pic, the outside of the mask is the sloth material.
Step 5: Sew around the short sides and the open long side of the rectangle, using a 1/4″ seam allowance. You don’t need to sew the folded side. Leave a 3″ opening at the top, and backstitch around each side of the opening. Once sewed, turn right-side out and press flat.
Step 6: For the first fold, start with the opening at the top. Pinch the material in the middle and fold down. The folds should be no more than 1/2″ Press to lay flat. You can pin into place if you like.
Step 6: Make folds 2 and 3. Pinch the material halfway from the top (opening side) to the top of the middle fold. Fold down. This fold should be just above the first fold you made. For the 3rd fold, pinch halfway between the bottom of the material and the bottom of the middle fold. Press all folds flat, and pin if you need. The three folds should be right next to each other, and look like waves.
Step 7: This may be a bit non-traditional, but I sew with the material both to the left and right sides of the needle, so that your presser foot is going with the wave, not against. You’ll sew two different times, keeping that opening open, so that you can put the wire/pipe cleaner in later. For the right side of the mask, start your needle at the top of the mask, the far left side of the opening, backstitching and running down the right side of the “waves” and then around the bottom of the mask, backstitch to stop at the bottom left corner of the mask. Then start your needle for the left side of the mask at the far left side of the opening, and then sew over the waves on the left side, meeting the backstitches.
Step 8: Time to add the nose wire. Sew a rectangle encasing the wire. You may need to sew less than 1/4″ at the top so you don’t run over the wire with your needle.
Step 9: Last step! Sew on your ear straps. You will be sewing the straps on to the side that you put to your mouth and nose, the folds point down against your mouth and point up on the outside. Switch out your presser foot to a button foot, change your stitch type to a zigzag, change your length to 0, and width start at 0. Sew on your elastic strap to the stitches you already sewed on the sides of your mask, 1/4″ in from the corner, bring in the ends about 3/4″ from the edge. With your width at 0, sew a few stitches then toggle your width so that the needle goes on either side of your elastic cord, and then so that the needle goes through the middle of it, finish with a few more stitches at 0 width. Voila!
A few weeks ago, I was driving back home to Charlotte with my two girls from visiting my family in Wilmington. My husband was in Boston visiting his family and meeting his new baby nephew, so the girls and I headed to stay with my parents for the weekend. It was a sweet time with family, and my girls were sandy, tired, and happy as we loaded back into the car for the just over three hour car-ride back home. After just a few minutes on the road, my girls fell sound asleep, and I had the urge to pop in some old cd’s from my zippered case stashed under my passenger seat. As I belted out “Why Georgia” along with John Mayer, I realized it had been years since I’d sung out loud in the car, and how much I love singing his songs. As each new song began, I sang every word as if it had just been played yesterday. Then the flood of emotions started as if I had just been hiking in Red Rocks yesterday as I sung, “No more 3×5’s.” Tears stung my eyes as I allowed myself to go back to that single time of my life, when friends were my family, and it felt like a divorce when one of my best friends shut the door on our friendship. That friend had given me the Continuum cd I knew so well, before everything went weird with us. I had seen that friend at a Red Rocks concert, and my stomach lurched the moment I saw him. It was the first time I’d seen him since our blowout. He came over to me, after a few too many drinks with his friends, and said, “You deserve an apology when I’m sober.” Those were the last words I ever heard him say, since I never saw him again. So many what-ifs plagued my brain like a woodpecker. “Too many hours in this midnight. Too many corners in my mind…,” I squeaked out, still at Red Rocks in my mind, while driving in the car where my girls slept. Is it fair to my husband or my girls to have these thoughts? It all happened before I even met my husband, but sometimes it feels so raw if I let my mind drift back to that time. Although I am a wife and mother now, I had a life before these roles became mine. While what matters in my life is everything and everyone in it now, my past is what has shaped me, scarred me, and hurt me, but also has taught me so much about forgiveness and grace.
Some days, I feel like I’m living in an experiment to see how much it takes for my sanity to crack. Living life as a stay at home mother is bilateral. On one hand, I know I am blessed to raise our two daughters without having to pay for daycare. Who am I to complain while I get to stay home and raise our babies as my husband works? On the other hand, I wonder if the emotional reward is worth being so isolated, devoid of much adult interaction. Who and what am I to my kiddos? Sometimes I feel like a maid, a lunch lady, a chauffeur, and the staunch opponent to my daughters’ frivolous wants and antics.
Some days, I don’t get to sit down until after my husband comes home, and we’ve put our girls to bed. I can remember one of my best friends from CT, a mother of 3 little boys, told me that her favorite time of day is sitting on the couch with her husband watching tv after their boys are in bed. I totally get that now. There are some days when I feel like I’m trying to mitigate two tornados, one in front of me, and one that undoes everything behind me. All I want is for one thing to remain as I left it. Mowing the lawn is therapeutic, since the lines in the grass can remain for at least a week. Sadly, now that the grass is dead, I don’t have that outlet anymore. Getting dressed in real clothes, like not yoga pants or a hoodie, and putting on blush is a win these days.
My oldest girl, 3, has taken to calling me by my first name. She’s so observant, that she hears others call me Miccah and not Momma, and so she mimics. When she calls me by my first name, it makes me feel like she isn’t even my child, which makes my patience level with her plummet. On some particularly challenging days, I look at my tiresome 3 year old with no joy in my expression. I can feel the pull in the muscles of my cheeks to force a smile. I have gone to bed on some rare occasions, emotionally and physically exhausted, topped off with the emotional burden of realizing I didn’t give my girl a single hug all day. My 19-month-old is still mostly compliant and docile. Smiling at her and giving her snuggles is easy because she hasn’t yet challenged my authority. Am I already playing favorites?
Strangers who have older children that see me with my girls knowingly smile and tell me how I shouldn’t blink, because this age grows up so quickly. Am I terrible in being okay with that for the most part? I’m actually looking forward to having non-circular conversations with them, and not having to explain why they can’t lick the driveway or put play dough in their noses and not having to wipe their poopy bottoms. As I look back at pictures through the last year, I do see how much my girls have grown. How cute they are and how their eyes sparkle with joy and anticipation of their lives ahead of them. I hope and pray they won’t remember the days their mother was a grump, only how much fun it was growing up in this family. Most of all, I pray that they would be women of strength, of strong moral character, passionate about their purpose on earth and about the One who created them, be full of love, joy, and peace in their hearts and minds, and that they would always look for ways to show kindness to others.
Yesterday, I was reminded that our friends who lost their little girl to cancer started her chemotherapy 8 years ago. Just two months later, their precious baby went into the arms of Jesus. Seeing the picture of the brown-eyed two-year-old sitting on her mama’s lap sent me doubled over and tears poured. Neither one of them knew how little time they had left together. Last night, my husband spoke with our next-door neighbor who’d just found out his 49-year-old son died of a heart attack.
Squeeze your babies tight. Call your parents and grandparents. Disconnect and log out. Look at your life through your own eyes, not through a camera. Forget about what’s so shallow and temporary. Focus on the blessings in your life who are real and right in front of you. And cling to the Lord Jesus with your life, because without Him, nothing that happens in this world makes sense.
Our lives are an exhale of breath
visible on a frigid day.
A wisp that floats up and out
then evaporates into the surrounding air
as quickly as it escaped.
How shortsighted I am
to know this and pretend
that Death is blind to me
or that it has reason.
As a child, light and worry-free,
days passed like dominoes
stacking behind me, unnoticed.
Sickness, death, and decay never a flicker
on my mind.
I was invincible.
But now, with babies of my own
I am no longer oblivious
to the cold, unfeeling selections Death makes.
Parents bury their children
Old age can be relied upon
no longer, a fickle friend.
Open your eyes and know the truth!
Tomorrow is not promised.
Each heartbeat and each breath
while repetitive, are so only in hindsight
Held in fragile suspension
like spun sugar.
Up until I was thirty, I would never have described myself as a “kid person.” To be honest, I just didn’t like anybody else’s kids besides those in my own family- and even then, it was only if they were behaving. After I turned thirty, I actually had the desire to become a mother, which probably shocked my family. After becoming a mother, my sentiments about other people’s kids haven’t changed much, with a few exceptions. I fiercely love my two daughters, but dang, sometimes it’s hard to like them when they aren’t acting the way I want them to. It’s a good thing they’re cute, I half-jokingly tell myself.
Now that I’m out of the dark postpartum period, I absolutely love being a mom. Most days. I’m full of joy, laughter, energy, and fun. My girls, in return, smile, laugh belly laughs, play sweetly together, and have fun. All of this happens with minimal crying, whining, back talking, or yelling. The same is true for my one and three-year-olds. A few months ago, there were some mornings when I’d woken up to the sound of my baby Autumn, crying, instead of to my alarm clock thirty minutes early. Instead of being able to get ready, drink coffee, and read my Bible and journal alone, I was brushing my teeth while Autumn played at my feet, and my older daughter, Noelle, was rummaging through my bathroom drawers, pulling out all my makeup or high heels, or playing on the toilet that was borderline clean. I couldn’t seem to balance my attention bestowed on my girls to either of their satisfaction. I felt behind all day, and Noelle could feel my weakness and frustration, and seemed to pounce on it. She did exactly what I told her not to do. I would feel ashamed at how I’d flipped out and yelled, which did nothing but lose any credibility of in-control-parenting. A few neighbors walked by as they took their well-behaved dogs for walks and witnessed such dramatic scenes outside. My face got hot and I became angry with Noelle for “making me” yell and act a fool, embarrassed that my sparkling eyed, ginger-haired cherub was actually a spicy, sassy, and stubborn nearly three-year-old.
By the time my husband came home from work, I wanted to pass Noelle off to him so that I could be done with her for the day, and keep my docile Autumn for myself. Noelle and I had spent too much time together, and we needed a break. There were some nights I broke down and cried at the utter lack of patience, control, and/or discipline I exerted that day, as my pediatrician husband explained that she was just trying to get my attention. Hearing that actually broke my heart. I didn’t want this constant struggle to be normal. I really felt like there was a battle raging for my relationship with my daughter. So I prayed. Hard. And clung to the truths in the Bible that confirmed that my identity was in my Creator. Not in how well (or how badly) I felt I parented.
Noelle started going to preschool two days a week, which was a huge blessing that an opening came up in March. Since then, my postpartum has disappeared and Noelle has grown up. So has baby Autumn. All three of us are now starting the summer off a little older and wiser (and I’m so much more stable emotionally) than we were six months ago. While there have been (and still are) times Noelle has made me so frustrated, she is my heart, my girl. Her excitement can’t be contained inside her tiny chest. She still nearly cries with joy at seeing her 11-year-old friend playing outside, Katelyn’s name choked out between happy sobs. It makes me want to swell up and cry at her precious heart. That pure, unjaded, excitement for people is such a gift that only innocent children carry. As her momma, I hope and pray that she keeps it forever. It breaks my heart knowing that my girls will inevitably be disappointed and hurt by others, intentional or not. But my prayer is that they won’t allow their sweet spirits to become broken and shut down. I pray for their hearts, that they would be immune to the taste of the carelessness of others, the first of many inevitable arrows to come. My prayer is this: Please, dear Jesus, do not ever let my words or actions be arrows, but salve.