Endings, Or What You Learn That Can’t Be Measured. 

It’s the end of school year. That anticipation builds, the excitement hardly contained, the noise levels rise, and then, suddenly it is over. Everyone is gone and the ghosts of laughter and happy shrieks and frustrations are silent. There’s an odd sensation after school ends when everyone scatters. The emptiness and the noise that recently existed float against the walls, and trail out the doorways. The surging energy calms to an abrupt cessation. 
The sudden ending always seem strange to me. I’ve been a student, a teacher, and now a parent of a student and the endings still have that same feeling, mixed with excitement so strong its hard to stand, relief and long breaths, and then the odd empty feel when the action halts. This is my first year as a kindergarten parent. The end of kindergarten was different than I expected, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by it. 


We are prepared for the beginning of kindergarten, when our babies materialize into academic scholars, proficient in letter sounds and telling time; expert in the subjects of chick hatching and butterfly transformation. We work ahead to send them off to kindergarten. We’ve officially started them on this career that ends in thousands of dollars of debt and ownership of a black cap and gown in 16 or so years. We read all the articles to make sure they are ready for school. We’ve collected the tips on how to be the best kindergarten mom and how to stay strong when you wave goodbye on day one. We buy supplies, we get them excited, we make their lunch and write them the little note to put with the lunch. The first day comes, the tear gets brushed away, the pictures are proudly posted. Then we settle into our school year routines of drop offs and pick ups and lunches with notes. 
Then kindergarten ends. And I had failed to fully prepare for the end and the sadness, for the sudden anticlimacticness that seemed oddly similar to the day after I graduated from college. I distinctly remember thinking “now what do I do with my life?” Of course the answers (um, find a job) were there for me, lurking, and obviously she will go to first grade, not find a job. But the similar feeling lingers -everything we’ve been pouring our life into and looking forward to has ended.   

Kindergarten is pivotal. This is the time when small childhood ends. They walk into school alone. They have friends. They form bonds with people other than their parents – they have a teacher they will probably remember, at least vaguely. 

The night she graduated from kindergarten, in a mixture of emotion and exhaustion, she cried herself to sleep. She was heartbroken that she wouldn’t see her friends and teacher anymore. I realized in the days leading up to the end of school that small children have it harder than older children or adults when endings come. In kindergarten it’s harder to control your sense of loss. Kindergarten graduates, unlike high school and college graduates lack the ability to pick up a phone or send a text any time they wish. They (hopefully) do not have social media to connect with their friends. They are left dependent on their parents’ level of intro or extroversion. 
As she cried, I wanted to assure her that kindergarten is a drop in the bucket. I wanted to help her know that this is an easily surmountable sadness cured by a few good days at the beach. But instead, I told her about my own deep ache for the friends I’ve made and had to leave behind in various stages of my life. I told her about my wedding rehearsal dinner when I walked into a room with most of my dearest friends collected together and how I realized I would not see them after the following evening at my wedding. I realized I had chosen a new life that didn’t keep them in a ten minute radius. My heart crumpled as I entered the room. I fled the scene and sobbed in a bathroom for what seemed an eternity to my confused fiance. I told my sweet baby girl that we make amazing friends through our lives and then we say good bye to them too frequently,  but that they become a part of who we are forever. 


The part of kindergarten we can’t test and measure and quantify and see and understand is the truest and deepest part of us. Sure, we grow in academic and developmental understanding,  but we grow as people. We separate from our families and build relationships and learn independence. We have the joy of innocently blissful friendships, quick and easy forgiveness, and happy goodwill to our neighbors. We suffer thru good byes and changes. We live a microcosm of life in one fast year and suddenly we are ready for the rest of our lives. 
I haven’t seen many articles for parents about handling a sensitive child at the end of kindergarten. Most mothers I talk to tell me about their own tears at the end of kindergarten. But what about the child’s tears? What do we do to help them grapple with the quieted laughter and lack of “life purpose”?


We move into one day after another day as best we know how. We do well to remember our own pains and heartbreaks as well as our own joys and friendships. And we celebrate the tiny humans our children have become, knowing that there are many parts of growth that are unmeasurable. Learning to deal with the pendulum that swings between joy and pain is one of those unmeasurable growths. We won’t find a true grade of that sort on a report card, because that is a life long lesson that continues on year after year, making us deeper and stronger. 

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Hearing Voices in the Spring

Spring is the same year after year.  Flowers shoot up through the ground and bloom. Trees carry buds which flower and morph into yellow umbrellas and then into green canopies, lighting up against the gray, wet skies.  But the fabulous part of this whole Spring production is that while each Spring carries the same template, no two Springs are the same. No two daffodils are identical. Each year, the shining canopies of fresh leaves are unique.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing in my voice. By this I mean, whose voice I am really using as I write. Is it me, is it who I want to be, is it who I think someone else wants me to be? Or have I been avoiding who I really am, so that others can think I am someone that I really not.  Sometimes we work so hard to avoid being ourselves that we end up forgetting who and what really composes our true self. There’s a tight balance between the control required to produce quality work (in writing, in art, and in music,) and between being a voice or an expression that truly mirrors the soul within us.  Creativity is more control than it is wild expression. It takes time, maybe even years to stop writing or producing for someone else, to truly be oneself, but to meld the learning from others and the self awareness inside into a quality performance.

Take a child.  Children copy.  And then they make connections between what they copy here and what they learn there and what they think inside their own brains. And they often “think for themselves.”  At some point in life, what they (we) produce is a compendium of mirrored thought and original thought.  I used to think that every piece of productive, creative work had to be entirely original. Then slowly, I realized that artists everywhere form their identities, at some point,  by depending on others.  Some stay close to modeled templates, maybe improving or changing slightly. Some release themselves like birds from a cage and go off to build their own fantastic nests.

I’ve come to think there is nothing inherently right or wrong with either path, as everyone’s capacity for creativity is different. The important thing is to find, within one’s creative template, a voice so unique, so individual, that no one could be that voice but the owner, and then to keep that voice alive and heard.

Don’t stop your voice because it might sound like someone else’s voice.  Don’t chop off your tree branches because your neighbor has the same tree.  Don’t be afraid to produce and create and plant a new flower that no one has ever seen, in case they compare it to ones they have seen.  Just walk out into the fresh, flowery scented air, and breath and let your voice carry over the breezes.  Eventually it will find the perfect landing spot and erupt into a canopy that is the exact fit  for your universe.

A Little Spring in Your Step 

Leaves open and spread like umbrellas over the sidewalks to keep the showers from drenching. The sun rises early through the trees now, when the world is still and calm and fog can shift and dance down the fields and sunbeams can shimmer on flower blossoms.
The scent of lilacs floats across the mist. The fragrance follows me into the house sliding through the slightly opened window. I head across the lawn, to make the ritual spring sacrifice, the breaking of branches to gather in the lavender flowers with the magic, ethereal scent that defies a worded description. The purple bowers join me in the house in a white milk glass vase. The sun glints on stones in the early evening hours. We walk across roadways lined with the frivolity of dancing, discarded blossom. Leaves make designs with their sunny shadows across the paths beneath us. Pansies sit in watering cans, glowing, gleaming, glinting in the sunlight.

I open up again, to the outdoor world, to the growing world, to the spring. I fling open windows, throw back curtains, pull up blinds, cast off sweaters, pull on light shirts. We all start over. Again. Like each year before. Its Spring, you are alive, go out and live, the breeze taunts us and the sun teaches us. Mud and puddles and green leaves and strong branches and blowing blossoms and bubbles from bottles with wands, and Little League, and the smell of grills, and skids of bike tires, and squeals of children, and the scent of lilacs and the sight of pink peonies starting to bud are the Pied Pipers of the Spring world. According to my daughter, even Curious George says that Spring is the time for being outside. Throw off the mess, the struggle, the pain, the sad. Go outside, see redemption foreshadowed in the renewal of life.

Today is the birthday of a friend who passed away last fall. A good friend, more than an acquaintance. One of those few friends they tell you about that you can count on your available fingers, who will change your life, stay in your life, and whose memory will make you smile when they unfortunately leave life too soon. A friend worth remembering. A friend who would be living well during the Spring and would be showing others how to live as well.

There is the comfort of the ritual, the familiar, the repeated coming of Spring. But always, drifting along the edge of the lilac scented mist is hope – dancing, spinning, twirling, and promising that New can come too. Something better, something different, something dreamed of, something healing, all wrapped up with the ribbon of the familiar, doused with the scent of memories, like lilacs in a childhood yard, flooded with the evening sunlight over a familiar road. A grateful combining of old and new.

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Rescued

Last year I found instructions from Christina Fox on to make a Resurrection Tree. We have made our own modified ornaments the last two years leading up to Easter. As we have made the individual ornaments, we read through most the corresponding Bible stories using Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible.  The ornaments trace the covenantal stories of God’s rescue in the Bible- such as the Fall, the Flood, the near sacrifice and rescue of Isaac,the ladder to heaven Jacob saw coming down, Joseph’s cost of many colors, the Passover lamb, David’s crown. The stories of the manger, the woman breaking the perfume bottle before Christ’s death, the bread and wine of the last supper- the commencement of communion, the cross, the  empty tomb are part of this collection.

 My daughter has heard these stories for several years now.  I was thrilled when she saw the ram from Abraham’s story and she said,  “Mom, there has to be thorns around the ram because it was caught in the bushes.” I knew she was listening and remembering the stories when she could remind me of such details. We put our tree together,  tying the simple picture ornaments onto white, spray-painted tree branches and  placed them in a large glass candle holder. The girls love looking at the tree with its symbolic decorations and I like the visible display of each story showing God’s pattern of rescue. I love having it right in the middle of our living room where they can climb up and look at it and talk about the resurrection. It has a spring-like feel and as part of the decorations, we intertwine our faith into our every day life. I’m constantly stressing in a world full of bunnies and Easter eggs and chocolate and bright colors to make sure my kids know what we really celebrate on Easter.  I want my kids to participate in things like Easter egg hunts but I want to make sure that they can grow up distinguishing the differences between perfectly good fun and eternal truth.


I love that the ornaments on the tree focus on what Christ has done for us. I love that they all point to the cross, to the tomb. I love that each one of them shows that Christ alone is the way we have peace and a hope of heaven.  I remember, as a child,  reading and not understanding the story of  Jacob and the ladder. I remember reading the story later on and realizing that God was showing Jacob that the only way to get to heaven is through Him, that He was extending that ladder as a foreshadowing of Christ. I love that each of these ornaments shows a symbol Christ throughout the progression of Bible, that each one points to Christ as our rescuer.


We live in a world where we want to be rescued- from sadness,  from terrorism, from natural disasters, from cancer, from other sicknesses, from financial hardship.  I want to be rescued and safe from these things. While we long to be rescued, but often times were looking in the wrong places and hoping in the wrong things. We are looking at the Easter eggs were looking at the chocolate bunnies and we’re not looking to Christ.

Easter is that fantastic time of year  when we can remember exactly what Christ has done, that he has rescued us. We are reminded clearly that we live in that already/not yet, where we are rescued if we believe in Christ and we have future hope. One day he will come again and take away the sadness, and wipe away tears, get rid of the sickness,  of evil,  and of the things don’t have to be the way that they are right now.


One of my favorite Easter hymns is from the Gettys, See What a Morning. The hymn traces the narrative of Mary in the garden waiting for the gardener to tell her what has been done with Jesus’ body.  She is broken hearted and she is grieving. The story shows the human experience of faith.  I can picture myself as Mary, having come to say goodbye to a beloved friend, with an ache inside,  believing all hope has evaporated. And there in the garden, blinded with tears, she hears a voice saying “Mary” and there is only one voice who says her name like that.  Jesus is alive.  I can feel her ecstatic confusion- not completely understanding and yet wanting to believe the truth in front of her with all her heart. It’s a bit how may we feel today-  not completely comprehending the breadth of the work completed for us on the cross, but wholly  believing it,  putting all of our hope and trust in it because there’s nothing else to hope for that is as wonderful as the future Christ promises us. There’s no other religious story in the world where a God becomes a redeemer,  giving up his life for us to have life.

 My favorite line in See What a Morning is, “death is dead, love has won, Christ has conquered.”

The only way Christ’s death makes sense is if indeed, He rose, if indeed, love has won and the power of death has been snapped apart.  Christ love is greater than Satan’s power. Christ has conquered Satan’s grip. This is our hope on Easter- Christ has conquered and we have been rescued. Thise stories drawn on our resurrection tree, simple enough for a child to understand, show us the greatest  promise in history – God’s faithfulness to rescue and redeem those who believe in Him.

Yes 

(This is really a post written in February, but not edited and posted until March.)

Somewhere in between putting a chicken into the oven to roast and hanging a white ruffly canopy from a bedroom ceiling, I was called up to active duty in the imagination draft. My role was wicked witch, evil stepmother, angered pirate, and the list goes on. I took a deep breath and reminded myself of the unofficial challenge on which I had recently embarked, and jumped into the character as best as I could manage. It can be hard to remember all of the herbs you plan to rub on a chicken when you are also supposed to be poisoning an apple or throwing a pixie prisoner into a cage. And also remember what sort of nail you need to find to hang a canopy from a slanted ceiling.

I feel like I spent most of November and December saying “no” and “wait” and “stop” to the small residents of my house. There were holiday errands to run, gifts to buy and wrap, projects to work on, last minute supplies to pick up, and food lists to think about. And then there were normal life obligations. Too many days felt like they were in constant motion, jumbled and unsettled.

I have a child who likes to live large. I want her to live large. I need to teach her limits too. We all have to learn that we don’t get everything we want immediately and other people factor into our choices as well. I think part of my “no” volley was an experiment in trying to teach self control and self containment. Every autumn as the year closes, I find myself evaluating life and the impact our daily living has on our collective life. I often have inner freak out festivals from October until January when I can delude myself into a fresh start at life. Part of this past year’s festival events was my “no” workshop.

The year started roughly with sad losses on my husband’s side of the family that had to be explained to the girls. So with a slightly conscious effort to make happy happen again, and a slightly unconscious determination to say yes, we headed into February.

I read an Instagram post from a woman who talked about her “say yes” journal she has started with her kids. Intrigued, I went to her site and fell in love with her idea. I immediately knew the thoughts and emotions she expressed. And so I made an engaged effort to play tag. I consciously played imagination duty. I gave a few choices (in perimeters). I did some suggesting of things I secretly knew I usually didn’t want to do. One day I texted my friend and said “I really don’t feel like dressing them in snowsuits and taking them sledding. They need naps and a reading lesson before we head to ballet.”

She texted back. “Just do it”

I unloaded my dishwasher and played out the schedule for the day in my mind for the fifth time. They can sleep tomorrow when my schedule was too blocked to go sledding. She will definitely learn to read next year in school. She will remember sledding. She will not remember my reading lesson, unless it is the memory of tears I’ve inflicted on her. She will not remember yet another winter afternoon nap.

We went sledding.

Joy and happiness.

7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?
10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?
11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 7:7-12

I cannot give my children everything and that’s ok. I cannot say yes to people all the time. There are rather good reasons to say no, quite often. But in the middle of my hurry and living, I remember that my Father in Heaven has given me many good things. I see two of those good things standing in front of me, asking for things, daily. Intertwined into learning that God is good even when He says, “no” or “wait” or “trust me, I have good for you”, I want them to know we have a God who wants us to ask for things and delights to give us good.

I’m often reminded how fast these little years go by. There are already phases my oldest child has outgrown that I feel like we barely enjoyed. Sometimes reality, common sense, life, and scheduled responsibility will not let me say yes. But if I can say yes to one (not 42) extra bedtime story, to a puddle splash, to hide and seek, to an unhurried description of a story for the 16th time that week, to one extra little treat, to things that will bring the goodness of God a little clearer in focus, I want to. Because I fail to show His goodness often enough. If a few minutes from my time goes to granting reasonable requests or creating delight, I may be able to teach these little people that God wants to give them good things, even so much more than I do. Because He is the giver of the ultimate good. And that is what everything we do should show.
On saying yes:
http://www.sarahkatebranine.com/2016/01/on-beginning-say-yes-journal.html?m=1
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-power-of-saying-yes

Long Lay the World

 It’s that time of year. We wander into Target for boring things like toilet paper (aaaagain). We round the corner and there’s the intake of air, the squeal of excitement, and the begging begins. “Please, Mommy, can we go see the Christmas decorations?” We go. They inspect each ornament, stare at the lights. I hear my frequently used adjectives coming from their mouths, “beautiful, amazing, gorgeous,” spoken in tiny voices full of delighted excitement.
They talk about presents. They love the lights. They look at pictures of cookies to make. They remember the wooden stable and manger scene and ask if we will put it up again.
They are gasping and fawning over Christmas bows and lights. I am wondering how we can anticipate joyous celebrations when 129 people were just massacred in less time than it takes to make Christmas dinner. I watch their innocent eyes light up at Christmas decorations and my eyes close as I hear news reports. I don’t plan on sharing anything about the weekend in Paris with them. Not yet. They are too young and yet they take in too much. I can’t bring myself to voluntarily make them afraid of their world just yet.
It seems that every year something sad happens before holiday seasons. World events mar our hope for peace. There are tinges of sadness that outline our bubbles of happiness. We shove our disappointments, fears, and frustrations away and smile, buying gifts, staying as busy as we can and wishing that somehow, a snowy Hallmark Christmas will be standing on our porch, wrapped in a bow, when we open our door on Christmas Eve.
The conundrum in my brain of how to celebrate Christmas while blood is splattered across Parisian sidewalks is not a new problem for this year only.
This dichotomy spans the entire swath of human history. Splattered blood is the reason there is Christmas in the first place. When we follow the manger to the cross, we recognize that Christ’s spilled blood is the trail leading us to peace.  I am not comparing those who died in Paris to Christ. Men kill and men die. Only Christ’s death gives life. Only Christ’s blood redeems.

We like to spend Christmas thinking of babies and swaddling wraps. We really want to think that Mary took white lights with her to Bethlehem, to string on the manger, something she had pinned on her “manger crib” board. But after the white swaddle blankets came a bloody sacrifice. We live in a world caught in this mess of bloodiness and neediness. There is blood because of humans who hate and kill, defend and sacrifice. And then there is blood of a Son, born in that manger, shed to rescue the world from their own hate and self-destruction.
The words to O Holy Night run through my mind… “long lay the world, in sin and error pining, ‘til He appeared and the world felt His worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….” The cross has solved our sin and error when we believe, even though we wait wearily for fulfillment of salvation in the return of Christ. Instead of Hallmark Christmases, what we really long for is the new Heaven and new Earth. We desire something that we cannot find in this world. We long for a Healer. We want to be rescued from the sickening horror that humans create amongst themselves. We want to be rescued from sin.
We need Christ. Only Christ brings peace. Only Christ heals. Not because He is a fuzzy warm object to believe in. Not because He is a superior teacher to Mohammed. But because only God loved His creation enough to sacrifice His Son, Himself, for His creation. His crazed, sinful, destructive creation. He never told them to save themselves, because they could not. He simply asked them to believe that He loves them enough to die for them, taking on their sin. And in believing, He removes that sin, looking at His bloody, sacrificed Son instead of their sin.
Only the result of Christ’s birth – His death and resurrection – can solve the problem of sin in our world. So, while we are all trying to make sense of Paris, of the season ahead, of life in general, remember that the events we hear on the news are a glaring example of WHY we so desperately need Christmas. We need that baby in the manger to rescue us from ourselves. We need Christ’s blood to heal. Without the blood of Christ, human blood will not stop spilling. Christ’s blood covering us is the only way that true Christmas, the kind we want deep in our hearts, will ever happen.

The Happily Ever After Covenant

“Congratulations on making it this far without a murder suicide” read an awesome anniversary card we received. This month was my tenth wedding anniversary. Its not really a long time, but it sounds like a big number to me. I guess it sounds longer than it really feels. And at the same time, life before marriage is blurrier than ever.

I remember before my wedding thinking that I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew I loved my husband. But I also knew that there was no way I could fully understand what this love would require, having never been married. Within a short time, both of us commented that we were suddenly so much more aware, in a good way, of what love meant, than at our wedding.
I also remember being terrified. Terrified that I would be unable to keep a promise whose implications I knowingly didn’t understand. Terrified of giving up what I knew for what I didn’t know.

A friend and I were talking recently about being attached and unattached. For some, attachment is the perceived as the highest attainable goal, an ultimate goal in earthly existence. For others, staying carefree and unrestrained is the dream that brings happy, idealistic thoughts. For some, a change in partners or circumstances equals the fulfillment that seems missing. Some people are tolerably content with their circumstances, but wonder what might improve if they had made different choices in the past.
What I have learned about love and marriage and life, so far, is that all of our relationships, or lack thereof, are simply mirrors that reflect our innate need and desire for God. Married or single, we want relationships that make us whole. We want completion and happiness, companionship and understanding, safety and confidence. Singleness seems to drive these wants into glaring focus and so we generally know that these are things that single people desire. But marriage does not fulfill these needs either. Of course, marriage offers some of these things, in varying degrees. But there is no relationship on Earth that can complete every need we possess. And our position in life, married, single, formerly attached, and so on serves as a vehicle to show us where our needs for God are most gaping.
In other words, the point of a relationship or the lack of the relationship is to draw us to God. To drive us closer to Him. To make us depend on Him more. To show us our need for Him and point us to the only One who can truly fulfill our deepest needs.

Sometimes we revel in the joy of our relationships. Sometimes we find our relationships breaking down. Sometimes we long for a person to come alongside us and share our lives. In every circumstance, God is pulling us to Him. He is working all things for good. Even in the hard, the broken, the empty, the boring everyday, He is reminding us that we cannot be everything we need to be. We are needy.

When I think about marriage and my neediness, the image in the mirror I see is the failed wife. I don’t love as I should. I want certain things, demand certain things even. I worry about my own self respect that I gain from a relationship. I don’t flawlessly uphold my covenant to love. I don’t love anyone like I should. But God has loved for me. He has made a covenant and fulfilled His part and my part for me. And that is where marriage and the shortcomings of marriage show me the graciousness and goodness of God.
The times I am most grateful for the state of marriage are when I recognize the covenant God has made for us. I am grateful for marriage to someone who takes a vow seriously. I am thankful for someone who mirrors God by not considering any other options than the promise he made to me.


The point is, our lives are about what God is doing, and what He has already done for us. And each relationship we have or don’t have molds our souls to make us see God more clearly. Our lives, our love, our faith are continual navigations through the unseen. When we do not know how we will continue, Christ has been love for us. Christ has already met our need.
(Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography)