Monday, December 6, 2010

Life, Death, and Caterpillars

Jalynn almost killed a caterpillar last week. I was sure he was a goner when he slipped from Jalynn's still-toddler-like hands onto the cold tile kitchen floor. Panicked, she scooped up his limp body, petting him gently until he got his wiggle back. The joy of the miracle didn't last long, though. Minutes later, when J went to place him into the hard plastic insect cage that she and Daddy had furnished with cucumber slices, leaves, and several snail friends, her less-than-ginger release resulted in something that sounded a lot like "splat." The little green guy lay curled up, motionless.

In my very serious Mom voice, I informed her that he was probably dead, and gave my best "you need to be gentle" lecture to date. Jalynn's context for the concept of death is limited, at best. A couple months ago we came across a beautiful—but relatively foreboding—illustration in The Big God Story of the three crosses standing upon Golgotha. At first she was scared. Scared of the cross. Scared of "Jesus died-ing." Even scared of the clouds and thunder that accompanied the saddest hour in history. Soon, however, her fear turned to fixation. Every time we drive by a church or see an intersection sign, she shouts out from her backseat booster, "A cross, Mommy! A cross!" And each time we talk about it.

Me: "Why did Jesus die on the cross?"

Her: "Because He loves us so much."

Me: "What happened next?"

Her: "He got alive again!"

Sometimes Jalynn starts singing about the cross. Sometimes she asks me to pray about it. Sometimes we even talk about sin and forgiveness.

Sometimes we don't.

Tonight as we drove into the parking lot of the Chino Hills Public Library, Jalynn saw a cross on the steeple of a Catholic church across the street. The ensuing conversation was pretty typical. Only this time she told me she was sorry for all the bad things she did. She wanted Jesus to forgive her.

I parked the car and climbed into the back seat, popping a pacifier into Malakye's mouth—his temporary mute button. J climbed out of her seat and scooted her bottom next to mine. Eyes open and hands held palm-up, Jalynn prayed. She said "sorry" to Jesus, and she thanked Him for "died-ing." I helped her with next part. She didn't know all the words—but she understood them with more faith than I could dream mustering, even on my good days.

An hour later, she burst through the door, giddy.

"Daddy, I have Jesus in my heart!" she announced. "And the angels are having a birthday party for me in heaven."

Tomorrow we're going to bake a "Jesus in My Heart" cake and party like angels.

Anyone know if caterpillars like cake? Maybe we'll share some with our little friend, who, somehow, against all odds, "got alive again ... and again."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Angel Dresses and Flower Petals

Last Wednesday we packed up the sippy cups and fancy clothes and flew the friendly skies to Colorado for Megan and Brian's wedding. It was a big weekend for Flower Girl Jalynn. We arrived at the beautiful Black Forest wedding chapel a couple minutes late the day of the wedding. I tore Jalynn from her car seat and rushed her into the bridal party's dressing room, ripping off her polka-dot leggings and pink cotton dress as though they were tear-aways. Her tights, ivory dress, shoes, and crown of white flowers finally in place, I spun her around in front of the giant gold-framed mirror.

"Mommy, I look like an angel," she said. Her words brought me back into the moment. She was right. She did look like an angel.


About a week before the big day, Jalynn and I started watching wedding videos on YouTube. We glued ourselves to the computer screen as dozens of flower girls from all over the world walked the aisle, smiling and dropping their white flower petals along the way. So when the big day arrived, she was ready.

I watched what I could see of the processional from my post at the end of the front row. I couldn't see Jalynn until she was even with me. Her eyes were focused on the front. I could tell she was determined, driven, and, to my relief, past the threat of potential melt-down. I didn't, however, see any evidence of white flower petals scattered along the middle aisle. She joined me in my seat a few minutes later. A quick glance into her white satin basket confirmed my suspicions. She'd forgotten to drop her petals. My performance-driven, old self would've been quick to point this out. But I resolved not to say anything about it to her. Ever. Turns out, I didn't need to. About 20 minutes after the ceremony ended, Jalynn realized her own oversight.

"I forgot to drop my petals, Mommy!" she said.

"That's okay," I reassured her. But she had other plans in mind.

The two of us went back into the empty chapel, now entirely cleaned up. Jalynn walked down the aisle, smiling her huge, baby-tooth smile as white flower petals flittered from her fingertips. A minute later we gathered them back up into the basket. Both of us laughing the whole time.

On our way back home to my brother's house in Denver that night, I asked Jalynn what her favorite part of the whole day was. "Dropping my petals," she said. Her words brought me back into the moment. Again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Giving In

There are days when I think it’d be easier to just give in … To Jalynn's persistent pleas for more TV or fewer vegetables. To my taste buds’ cry for just one more Nutty Bar. To my body’s desire to nap all morning, afternoon, and night.

But most of all, there are days when I think it’d be easier to just give in to the enemy and give up the fight. To settle for ordinary—ordinary marriage, ordinary kids, ordinary existence.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was hot out. Really hot (even for southern California). We’d exhausted about every indoor activity in our reportoire—board games, pretend games, hopping and skipping and jumping games. There was just one thing left: the dreaded and always-messy watercolor paints. With a tiny brush in hand, Jalynn began crafting her newest masterpiece on a sheet of bright yellow paper. I recognized the circle and two lines as a three-year-old’s version of a person. “Who’s that?” I asked. “It’s you,” she explained. “You’re laying down on a bed at Jesus’ house.”

As He so often does, God used this often-defiant, vegetable-deprived little person to show me a piece of Himself. “Come to Me, and I will give you rest,” He seemed to say. “Lay on the bed at My house, for my yoke is easy and my burden light.”

Following Jesus—inviting Him into each moment, then acknowledging and obeying His voice—sometimes feels like the opposite of giving in. In reality, it’s the ultimate act of surrender, of handing over the fight to the One who wears the gloves on my behalf. And it’s the only way to know true rest, to experience an extraordinary life, even in the ordinary moments.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Dollars and Fifty Cents

Sometimes the best memories aren't free. Sometimes they cost two dollars and fifty cents. We moved to California two years ago. And when we did, Jalynn, then just 14 months old, was introduced to a new and exciting concept—the kiddie mall train. At first she whined and lunged at the tinny sound of the pre-recorded train whistle. A few months passed and her passionate whines turned into a passionate "Choo choo!" Now when we visit the mall she still looks longingly toward the oval track. "Mommy, please can I ride on the train, please?" But I am not a sucker for her please sandwich.

You see I'm sensible ... and cheap, really cheap. I am the self-declared queen of Ross clearance racks and Craigslist bargains and the proud owner of not one but two $5 pairs of brand named jeans. Instinct kicked in, and I clutched my purse a little tighter under my arm as I strolled our green plaid Graco by the mall train. Two dollars and fifty cents for a chinsy little ride around an oval track? Not a chance.

Yesterday Jalynn and Malakye went with their Aunt Jamie to the mall. I gave her a five to cover J's lunch. A frugalista in training, J ordered off the dollar menu. They had money to burn, so Jalynn finally got her ride on that train. I wasn't even there to see it. Around and around the oval track she chugged by for all the Tuesday morning shoppers and August-heat escapees to see. She did what every good three-year-old knows she should do—she waved at Jamie and smiled for her camera phone. But you see this isn't the same little girl who first spotted this magical ride two years ago. She's been to Disneyland, ridden on Space Mountain, and known the many thrills of Camp Snoopy (thanks, Craigslist, for the tickets). The train was fine. But it was no longer a priceless step towards independence. It was what it was—two dollars and fifty cents of fun.

In a couple months Malakye will undoubtedly start to lunge and whine as he passes by the mall train in that same green plaid stroller, now stained with strawberry Poptart and smelling like the beach. Only this time—while the magic is still in the train and a two-minute ride still represents the greatest two-minutes of independence he's ever known—I think I'll loosen my grip on my purse. At least just once.

Apparently whoever said the best memories are free never deprived her little girl of a ride on the mall train.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mostly Random Observations (21 Days' Worth) ...

It's been three weeks since my last entry, three busy weeks. Packed with life, a blur of family visiting, trips to the beach, and a couple firsts for Jalynn—her first fireworks show and Space Mountain ride. As I reflect on the past 21 days, I have nothing specific to say yet my mind is alive with things I don't want to forget. So here they are, the mostly random observations of a tired (but satisfied) mom, wife, and daughter:

My kids are friends. When one sees the other for the first time in the morning, they both light up. She sings. He giggles. She pulls him into a near-violent hug. He doesn't fight it. Tough little thing, that Malakye. Good thing he's built like his daddy. Tonight Jalynn confirmed what I had already observed. "We're friends, Mommy," she announced as she squeezed her little brother. She took the words right out of my heart. I wonder when my mom first noticed that Kory and I were friends? I wonder if she still notices?

Family. My family visited for a week. Parents, brother, sister-in-law, niece. A houseful. A glorious, most-of-the-time lovely houseful. What is it about being around my family whom I love so much that brings out the ugly in me? Don't get me wrong. It's not them; it's me. Really. (And no, we're not breaking up.) When I'm with them I so readily travel back to familiar unpleasant places that used to be all I know. I guess it's why alcoholics are never "recovered" but only "recovering," even after decades without a drink. People pleasing. Martyrdom (over the silliest little things). Insecurity. At times their affirmation means more to me than God's Himself. And I interpret any moment of unanticipated silence as disapproval. It's messed up. It's my flesh. It's evidence that transformation is a process and not yet a destination.

Swim lessons. Jalynn started swim lessons last week. It's adorable and hilarious and well worth the $56 we paid (if not in measurable swimming improvement than at least in memories). It's her and three other three-year-olds in Mr. Louie's class. On the first day he called their names and told them to "climb on." Then like a daddy duck, he swam his four ducklings out to a little raft in the middle of the pool, two on his back, one in the crook of each arm. While the other kids take turns practicing their kicks and bubbles and floats with Louie, Jalynn occupies herself by "going under water." What she thinks is full immersion is really just putting her head back just far enough to get her hair wet. The rest of the class were no-shows last Thursday. So J and Mr. Louie had 25 minutes of undivided time. He taught her how to go under water for real. One of the cutest things I've ever watched from a short distance. Do I do that? Tell myself (and sometimes others) I've gone under when really only my hair is wet?

Generosity. My parents are hands-down the most generous people I've ever known. They are also the most under-appreciated people I've ever failed to appreciate. Gifts. Time. Constant, unreciprocated service. Washing dishes. Watering flowers. Sewing buttons back on Jalynn's curtains to replace the ones she bit off while she was going through an oral phase after Malakye was born (yes, kids are weird). My parents are breathtaking, and I want to give like them when I grow up.

Confessions of a busy couple. Our pastor challenged everyone in church last week to confess their sins to someone sitting near them. Jimmy and I looked at each other. It'd been a fleshy week for both of us. And we had more to say than I had even realized. Six years of marriage—we've prayed together countless times. Shared, cried, and laughed together. But never had we straight-up confessed our sins to each other. And I sincerely hope it's not another six years before we do it again. Amazing.

Splat. Malakye army-crawled noggin-first into our sliding glass door yesterday. I looked up from my station at the kitchen sink just in time to see it happening (but not in time to stop it). Had I glanced a second or two earlier, would I have rescued him from certain mishap? Honestly, I'm not sure. You see, it was one of the sweetest, most heart-breaking things I've ever laughed at. Like an unsuspecting, chubby little bird. He didn't cry, just looked at me and grinned, which lessened my guilt a tad. Maybe I should stop washing the window so often (and by "so often," I mean once a month, on a good month).

Home. When Jimmy and I got married and moved into our first house together, I programmed our new number under "house" on my cell phone. My parents' number occupied the "home" spot in my contact list. It remained that way for several years. ... Almost two years ago while I was working full-time outside of the home I texted Jimmy one afternoon to say I was on my way home from work. My words: "Coming home." His reply: "To the place where you belong." We're moving again next month, this time to an area outside of LA that's closer to Jimmy's work and all-around more affordable. It'll be move #5 in just under six years. We checked out the area and a potential preschool for J last week before dropping my mom off at LAX. Pretty much circled all of southern California in one afternoon. Before the last leg of the journey Jimmy typed "home" into the GPS. A cute little house icon shows up when you program in your home address. I had never noticed this before. Seeing it brought these little things back to me—my cell phone contact list, the sweet text message—and I realized that I am home. More than ever before. And perhaps as much as I'll ever be until I really am Home.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Three years. Really? Is that all?

Jalynn turned three today. It's popular to say things like "Where did the time go?" or "Ah ... They grow up so fast" whenever your kid's calendar turns to another year. But tonight I can't honestly speak such phrases. They are not true to my inner timepiece, the one that feels like Jalynn has always been a part of our lives. Three years ago. Really? Is that all? That was three houses ago. Two states. A handful of jobs and positions, promotions and demotions. A fanfare-free transition from my cool twenties to the decade that I had always labeled "middle-age." There's been colic and fevers and teething and lots of tearful battles between Jalynn's curls and my evil comb. Jimmy and I have disciplined Jalynn together. We've built her up, sent her off, then disciplined her some more. We've argued some and kissed lots and are more of a team now than ever.

And oh ... how God has worked us.

So while the last three years haven't necessarily been the fastest of my life thus far. They have been the toughest and most breathtaking—hands down.

Inspired by a college friend and fellow blogger, Emily, I started a new tradition tonight, one I plan on continuing every June 28th for a long, long time. I held my sweet daughter in my arms as I told her the story of her birth. "Three years ago I had a baby in my tummy," I told her. "A little baby girl named Jalynn. Daddy and I went to a movie at the theater that night. A movie about animals and a big boat, like Noah." (Evan Almighty, in case you hadn't figured that one out.)

I went on to tell her about eating French toast at a restaurant, going to bed, and waking up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache. Daddy and I drove to the hospital where I put on a funny dress that looked like a sheet and laid on a bed with wheels. Then the doctor took baby Jalynn out of my tummy, and I held her for the very first time."

She was fascinated. Ate up every word. Then proceeded to tell me about the night the doctor took the baby out of her tummy. His name, she said, was Malakye.

Even though I can't write tonight about time flying, I do admit to tearing up three or four times today. This was one of them. After all, my baby isn't much of a baby anymore. And I'm not exactly sure how (or when, for that matter) that happened.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Love You Forever. Just Because.

Sometimes I press my nose and mouth into Malakye's soft baby cheek and breathe deeply. In and out. In and out. Kiss. I swear my heart rate picks up a beat. Like a school girl whose crush just sat in the desk next to her. In and out. In and out. Kiss.

Scientists attribute my behavior to pheromones. I take a strange comfort in their label. Apparently I'm not a freak mom. I'm just a regular mom in love with my squishy little man.

Today I watched in awe as he army crawled the length of the house, methodical and determined, like a tiny explorer. The carpeted floor an undiscovered continent of doggy dishes and hidden dust bunnies. Each treasure looking more delicious than the last.

Sometimes I hold him close just so I can get a whiff of sweet potato burps and baby shampoo. When he's happy, his whole body smiles—arms and legs dancing a rigid bounce, mouth grinning a two-tooth grin. And perhaps my favorite, the sound of his voice—his surprisingly boy-like baby voice—squeeling out delight. It doesn't take much—a short round of peek-a-boo, his sissy's big purple ball, a dog within arm's reach, a chance to show off in his doorway jumper—his joy is an easy joy.

Every mom wants her child's life to matter more than her own. I look at Malakye's chunky thighs and see a future linebacker. He bops to music and I imagine a dancer or a pianist. I tossed him that big purple ball the other night as he sat in his high chair. Over and over he caught it with amazing consistency. So I did what lots of mom would do, I started imagining his baseball career. Oh, and of course he's going to be brilliant, like rocket scientist crazy brilliant. Of course.

I like to talk about unconditional love. Yet my flesh clings to a different kind, a love I've worked hard my whole life to attain. A pat on the back. A compliment. High marks from a teacher, a boss, a parent. For thirty years this love has defined me. It's there in the high times but dormant in the broken ones. It leaves me drained and anemic and desperate for more. I dish it out when my kids are happy and take it back during tantrums and back-talk and teething pain. It's my default love. And it is not of God.

What if the first thing I saw when I looked at Malakye was a boy after God's own heart, not a future baller or maestro or straight-A student? What if instead of dreaming my own will about his life I began praying God's will over it? If I prayed that he never be defined by the gods that say ,"I love you because you're smart or strong or successful (at anything)" but instead by a God who always says, "I love you. Just because."

A few months before Malakye was born (before we knew his name or that he was even a boy), a dear friend of mine had a dream about him. He was a young boy in the dream, about ten years old, and already strong in his convictions of right and wrong. Unwilling to compromise. Sure of his identity. Sure of His God.

She kept the dream to herself until a he was a week old. I read Psalm 24 the evening she told me about it. God nudged me that night, and I began praying it over Malakye's life:

"Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ?

Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to an idol
or swear by what is false.

He will receive blessing from the LORD
and vindication from God his Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in."

Imagine if a whole generation of parents began to love a whole generation of babies with a love that wasn't our own. A love that doesn't boast or envy, fail or abandon (especially in the broken times). A Love that already sacrificed everything. Just because.

Happy eighth month to the tiniest, squishiest man ever to make my heart race—my army crawlin', delight squeelin', chubby-thighed Mister Malakye! I love you forever. Just because.

Monday, June 7, 2010

God Slapped Me in the Face Today

God slapped me in the face today. It should have stung, but all I felt was grace.

We moved into our current house late last summer. Within a week Jalynn had a play date with the cutest girl on the block, four-year-old Savannah. Her mom came over and introduced herself. She's sweet and generous and can wear leggings with anything. By January our relationship had grown from driveway chats to beach trips and botanical garden excursions.

Now Savannah may be the cutest girl on the block, but she's not the only. Living three doors down from us are five-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. If I hadn't run into their mom on a walk one day and engaged in a courtesy chat, I never would have known they were twins. Nathan is small for his age, disheveled blond hair framing a cute face, something baby-like still lingering in his big brown eyes. Taller than average and significantly overweight, Jesse shadows over her brother, edging him by some six inches and 45 pounds. They're quite the pair. Hard not to notice. Easy to ignore. For six months I didn't know their names.

I'd see them on their scooters, barefoot and sweaty and crossing the street without looking both ways—misfits in our neighborhood of cookie-cutter houses and luxury cars. The girl, especially, made me uncomfortable. The eleven-year-old in me wanted to snicker as I drove past. My inner Mother Theresa wanted to send her to weight-loss camp. I settled on a compromise: pity.

About a month ago I realized that when Jalynn looks at Jesse she sees someone different than I do. She doesn't see an overweight kid; she just sees a kid. And when Jalynn sees a kid, she wants to play. So that's exactly what they've been doing a lot of the past few weeks. Drawing with sidewalk chalk and riding bikes and taking baby dolls for walks in baby doll strollers. The twins are two years older than Jalynn but include her in everything they do. They are Jalynn's kindest friends.

Jesse and Nathan ate lunch with us last week. I asked Jalynn to pray before diving into turkey sandwiches and baby carrots. "What's 'pray' mean?" Jesse asked. The siblings looked up at me, anxious for an explanation. They had never even heard the word.

This afternoon Jesse was playing with Jalynn in her room. They removed every plastic beaded necklace from Jalynn's pink jewelry box and then moved on to the books on her dresser. I stood at the door in time to hear Jesse ask, "What's this book about?" She was holding up a children's Bible. Jalynn acted uninterested as she spouted a quick "Jesus" answer and moved on to making her giggling baby doll giggle.

I stepped in: "Do you know who Jesus is?"

Jesse started to shake her head "no," but a sudden realization stopped her. Excited, she shouted out, "I've heard Jesus songs at Target."

I knew exactly what she was talking about. There's an endcap next to the greeting cards at our local Target. It's like a mini-jukebox selling lullaby CDs by Jewel and some no-name Michael Buble of Sunday School songs. "Jesus Loves Me" is on a short play list that it broadcasts to everyone within a twelve foot radius. I've heard it a hundred times but only noticed it a couple.

All Jesse knew about Jesus was a song on an end cap display. This isn't a village in India or Burma or Brazil. This is Irvine, California. 2010. This is three doors down.

Jesse was captive. She wanted to know more. Holding The Jesus Storybook Bible in hand, I read some and story told a lot. We started with Matthew 19. Jesus' friends argued over who was the most important in God's Kingdom. This saddened Jesus. All that time with Him and they still didn't get it.

But then there were these kids. They weren't on their best behavior, their hair was probably messed up, and chances are some of them weren't the cutest on their block. But they ran to Jesus. He picked them up and giggled with them and listened to their stories. He loved them. And they didn't doubt it. Not for a moment.

We moved on from there. She turned to the page with the lions and the one with a big fish. For the first time she heard about a gracious God, a God who sent an angel to protect a faithful man and a fish to save a disobedient one.

For six months I, like Jonah, ran away from God's voice. I snickered and felt pity and avoided learning names. Yet still He chose to use me.

That same God slapped me lovingly in the face today. And all I felt was grace.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

24 Minutes Past Bedtime (plus lots of wonderful, irritating things about my favorite little girl)

I went for an ocean swim in my neighbor's driveway yesterday. I stood shin high in frigid waters at the place where the shadow of garage roof met sunny pavement. My audience requested I sing "Happy Birthday" in my loudest Chuck E. Cheese voice. I obliged ... proudly embarrassing myself in front of anyone on the street near an open window.

... anything for my Jalynn.

I love my daughter. I love that only her right cheek dimples when she smiles. I love that she lights up as though she just won a room filled with bouncy balls and shiny new pens when she sees me after long absences. I love that anything over a minute and a half qualifies as a long absence. I love when she asks me to pour a bowl of off-brand Cheerios for her imaginary dinosaur friend who regularly joins us for breakfast. And I love when she initiates hugs, surprises me with a "Mommy, I love you so much," or takes Malakye's paci out of his mouth just so that she can smooch him on his lips.

Now lest you start thinking that I birthed some sort of little girl superhero, I'll have you know that Jalynn does plenty of things I'm not so crazy about. For one, she's mastering the art of stalling. In fact, her skills have accelerated at a disproportionate rate on each of the past few nights. Last night she looked at Jimmy with those big brown eyes like the cat on Shrek and said, "Cuddle with me, Daddy. Just one more minute." What's he supposed to say? No. I don't want to cuddle with my little girl, the one I'll be walking down the aisle TOMORROW?

Oooo. She's good.

Tonight it was the stuffed animal game. Her bed—already resembling the sixth day of creation— teems with dogs and hippos and donkeys. She had to try hard to think of the one animal not already crowding her pillow: "My turtle, Daddy. Please get my turtle." He jogged down the stairs, tore through four toy bins until he located the little bean-filled reptile, and hustled back up to her room, desperate to beat the clock. 18 minutes past bedtime.

One more round of "Jesus Loves Me." The door an inch from closing, an inch from victory. "My Pluto, Mommy! My Pluto." Daddy and I tag team. He reminds her that this is the last animal for the night. I run downstairs like an out-of-shape bargain hunter the morning after Thanksgiving. 21 minutes past bedtime.

The world's fastest version of Barney's "I Love You" ever not recorded. Door closed. Victory? Nope.

For her final display of tenacity, Jalynn chose the classic fake crying/real kicking duo. Door open. A Daddy lecture. One final "I love you." Door closed ... for good. Victory! 24 minutes past bedtime.

Ehh. We'll start earlier tomorrow.

The girl is amazing. Calculating. Methodical. Irritating. And absolutely, positively, one of my favorite people of all time. I never knew pure, unblemished joy until I met my Jalynn.

I love you, J!

(This started as a video of Malakye trying to crawl. Then Jalynn entered the room. You know that look I described, the one that lights up the room after long absences? This video captures it better than a bazillion words.)

(For all you Malakye fans out there, I haven't forgotten my little man. In fact, every time I begin thinking about all I have to say about my chubbiest love, I tear up. Coming soon ... a post dedicated to His Squishyness.)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Baby Food

It's official. This week I became that mom. I snagged a brand new food processor off Craig's List and gave a visit to our neighborhood fresh food mart. Mangoes, yams, carrots, avocados, papayas ... if I could pronounce it I brought it home. Two days later the top shelf of my fridge is piled high with all sorts of pureed goodness. Me, the maker of homemade baby food?

In ninth grade I spent my lunch money every day on a Nutty Bar and a bottle of Sunny D. I'd rather shoot hoops in the driveway than cook anything in the kitchen. I couldn't imagine a day when my mom wouldn't be nearby to sew on a button or make sure I separated my whites and colors. And heaven forbid I eat my morning Golden Grahams with anything other than SportsCenter streaming through the tiny TV on our kitchen counter.

But then something happened. A slow evolving. A subtle transformation that comes with ordinary days and kairos moments and is measured only by the fine lines next to my eyes and the year on the calendar. It didn't happen the day I graduated from high school or donned cap and gown four years later. It wasn't just with my first kiss, my first teaching job, or the first time I didn't get the position I interviewed for. It can't be defined just by the private moment I shared with my dad before walking down the aisle or when I promised forever to my best friend a few minutes later. It wasn't in the wee hours of that Colorado summer morning when my Jalynn breathed her own air for the first time. And it wasn't marked solely by the birth of my California baby, my messenger of God, my squishy Malakye.

I can't pinpoint it to any one of these. Yet somewhere in all of this I grew up ... I guess it took a food processor and some fresh produce to make me realize it.

Now here I am. Mommy of two. Planter of flowers. Experimenter of chicken casserole recipes. Serious considerer of homeschooling. Packer of picnic lunches. Mender of buttons. Maker of homemade baby food.

I wonder what's next ... Cloth diapers? Mom jeans? Bangs?

Naah. I'll just stick to baby food for now.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Thing I Dreaded Most

I'd been a mom for less than five days when I did the one thing I dreaded most (and I blame the percocet) ...

Jalynn is an unconventional girl. Today she dumped a whole box of princess bandaids on the floor in search of just the right one. I asked her to pick them up. Her response: "Actually, you're gonna have to do that. I have to go work out." Two-and-a-half and already working out (I'm fine if you wanna believe she learned that from me).

She's always marched—or should I say "worked out"—to the beat of her own drum. Even before she was born she did things her own way. Three weeks before her due date I felt a tectonic shift within me. I looked down and saw little limb shapes protruding from my tight round belly. This was far from an ordinary baby kick. And sure enough, an ultrasound two days later showed that my little passionate one was sitting on her behind ... breached. She would be born c-section.

I sat in bed nursing Jalynn on my fifth night of motherhood, foggy from lack of sleep and percocet. I remember holding her up against my shoulder for a post-snack burp. And, yep, that's pretty much all I remember.

I don't know when I came to. Five minutes later? Maybe an hour? All I knew is that my arms, which were supposed to be holding seven and a half pounds of miracle, were empty. I had done the thing I dreaded most about being a mom: I had dropped my baby.

In one terrifying moment, I jabbed Jimmy awake and jumped out of bed. "The baby. The baby" were the only words I could manage. I stood hovered over Jalynn. My hands were shaky and my legs like gum. What if she was broken? I didn't trust myself to touch her. Jimmy swooped her up. She wasn't just okay, she was wide awake and perfectly content (a combo that'd prove itself pretty rare for the next three months).

In the panic of the moment, Jimmy and I didn't think much about how and where Jalynn lay when we found her on the floor. I don't think either of us slept another wink that night—our nerves beating out fatigue—so we had plenty of time to think. As dawn first peeked through our blinds, it occurred to us ... I had been holding Jalynn at the head of the bed. We found her at the foot. Next to the head of the bed was a table. At the foot was a soft, plush rug. Unless I chest-passed her across the room, it didn't make sense. We reasoned a little more: if you've ever dropped a gallon of milk or sack of potatoes from, say three or four feet in the air, the resulting thud is pretty noticeable. When I dropped Jalynn, there was no noise. No shriek of a surprised newborn. Nothing.

Jimmy, always the researcher, sat on my side of the bed, took a stuffed animal, and tried dropping it at every realistic angle. There was no way that Jalynn should have ended up where she did. Unless, of course, she didn't actually fall. Unless someone caught her and placed her gently on the soft rug near the foot of our bed.

I grew up knowing about angels. There was never a time when I would have denied their existence. Yet the reality of the spiritual mingling with our everyday realm wasn't something I gave much thought to. That night changed my life. God began opening my eyes to glimpses of His supernatural glory, of His crazy crazy love for me.

My unconventional little girl now talks to angels at night and laughs with them during nap time. She gets to grow up knowing a God that it took me almost 30 years to believe in. A God whose supernatural glory isn't reserved only for the book of Acts. A God who loves my babies so much that He's handpicked angels just for them.

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven." (Matt. 18:10)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Strangers at Target

I had hoped one of my kids would do something cute and memorable today. Something I could write about. Something inspiring. And then today actually happened ...

We've all been in line at Target or the grocery store and seen a mom who was in way over her head. Screaming infant, toddler defying everything in her loudest outdoor voice, hand-held grocery basket digging into the crook of her arm, and 24 pack of Angel Soft balancing awkwardly on top of the double stroller ...

If I'm not in too much of a hurry, I give her a sympathetic smile. Otherwise I pretend not to notice her as I rush by. The exchange reminds me of times I've sat in my car and looked straight through someone panhandling on the corner as I wait for my light to turn green. I'm good at pretending the red light is the most interesting thing I've seen in weeks.

Well, today I was her. I was the mom at the grocery store, stressed and unlovely and not sure whether I wanted to be noticed or ignored.

But then the most amazing thing happened. I didn't scream. I didn't cry. I didn't even grit my teeth or bite my tongue. I did what moms everywhere do every day. I took a deep breath and kept going. Then a kind woman stopped and bent down to talk to the screaming Malakye in his stroller. He stopped crying long enough to flirt with her before she went on her way. Next the teenaged boy at the check-out counter offered to help us out to the car. I accepted.

I experienced a universal mom moment today—I tasted grace through strangers at Target. Maybe next time I see another mom in over her head or a homeless panhandler sitting at the corner, I can be that kind of stranger.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

On being tall

I have tall kids. Really tall. So tall that every time I take one of them to the doctor the same nurse asks me how tall my husband is. I answer, "6' 2,"" and she acts surprised. Then she steps back, sizes me up, and concludes that I'm tall but not that tall. The same conversation. Every time.

Having tall kids is a mixed bag. It's got its perks. But it's also taught me more about myself than I care to know.

Kids two and under get in free to all Disney parks. And if your two-year-old happens to be 43" tall, she qualifies to ride just about everything there is to ride. Jimmy and I are taking Jalynn to California Adventure on Tuesday, a little belated Mother's Day celebration (at least that's our excuse this time). I anticipate raised eyebrows at the ticket entrance and already have a copy of her birth certificate in my bag. I feel like we're beating the system.

Jalynn loves playing with Savannah, the girl from across the street. J's got her by about an inch. Savannah will be five later this month. And while Jalynn may look like she's headed off to kindergarten, in every other way she is undeniably two-and-a-half. She laughs at things two-and-a-half-year-olds think are funny and falls apart when the tiniest thing doesn't go her way—a crooked blanket, having to wear pj's to bed rather than a tu tu and winter jackst, being told "no" to just about anything. Up until February she wore diapers like--well--like a typical two-year-old.

She'd be climbing the slide at the park as confident as ever, wet bulky diaper sagging noticeably under her pink sweats. I, on the other hand, had become a master at redirecting every mommy-to-mommy chat to Jalynn's age. "Your son is so handsome," I'd tell the other mom. "How old is he?" I knew, of course, that she'd do the nice thing: return the compliment and ask how old Jalynn is. Ahh ... unspoken judgement averted. Contrary to how it might appear, my diaper-wearing daughter is not four years old. She's only two. And that, my friends, is acceptable.

But who would really care if she wore diapers past the age my Parents magazine says is typical? Who cared if she showed no interest in coloring between the lines or in counting beyond 10. As I stood there watching Jalynn's little diapered behind run towards the swing, I realized that I did. I cared. And not for her sake--she was more sure of herself than I've ever been--but for the sake of the other mommies by whose perceived judgments I graded my success as a mother.

At 29" and 22 pounds, Malakye is stretching his 12 month footie pj's to the max. He's six months old. He started sitting on his own yesterday, about two weeks later than what my Parents magazine says is typical ...

Father, remind me every day that You didn't give me my children so that I could teach them to perform for an audience that may or may not be watching. No. You've loaned them to me for a while so that I can show them Your love--Your unconditional, can't-be-earned-or-lost love.

Transform me, God. But don't let my kids change.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

From the Lips of Babes ...

My daughter Jalynn loves to sing. She's got a good ear and will sing a song for days after hearing it just once. From Barney to The Jonas Brothers to silly ditties I make up about washing hands and taking naps ... she sings it all. Daddy bought her a pink plastic microphone from the dollar shelves at Target a few months ago. She went through a phase where she'd bring it to church every week. Most kids walk into church clutching their Bibles. Mine held a mic. We're part of a small church in Watts, a neighborhood in the heart of inner-city Los Angeles. It's no frills. Lots of kids. Lots of broken people who aren't set on making it look like everything's okay. Needless to say, it's a long ways from where I'm from. And it's where Jalynn made her debut as a two-year-old worship leader. As soon as the music started, she'd walk up front, stand next to the pastor as he strummed his guitar, and sing boldly into her pink plastic mic.

Jalynn spends two days a week at Kathy's House while I work from home. Malakye joins her on one. A few weeks ago we were on our way home from Kathy's on a Thursday afternoon, a mixed CD of worship songs playing so quietly in the background I didn't even notice it. I was merging onto the 405N when Jalynn asked me to turn up the music. "I know this song from church," she announced. I turned it up. She began to sing. "Savior, He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save." "Louder!" She shouted. I turned it up. She was getting louder and more passionate with every refrain. I glanced in the rear view mirror. Her eyes were closed. Her hands raised. I was suddenly so aware of God's presence. A passing thought of angels flying alongside our car crossed my mind. I began singing and was joined in the same moment by Malakye, who started making a noise I had never heard him make—it was baby babble alright, but this time it sounded more like a song. Somewhere around the third or fourth "Forever, author of salvation," I started to cry. The song ended about the time we exited on Culver. Jalynn asked me to play it again. I didn't argue.

I tried to recreate that moment today. The same CD was playing on our way home from Kathy's. I selected "Mighty to Save," turned up the volume much higher than usual, and started singing. Jalynn sat quietly in the way back seat. After about a minute she started to talk. The only thing she was concerned with was the mac-n-cheese she spilled on her shorts at lunch. I wanted to turn up the music, maybe if I raised a hand and looked spiritual enough, the kids would join me. But I didn't. I turned down the music and chatted with Jalynn about her day. We talked about her friends and nap time and the band-aid she put on her face to cover yet another phantom owie. We turned the corner and our house came into view. At the first glimpse of my husband's car in the driveway, Jalynn began chanting, "Daddy's home! Daddy's home!" Then it struck me—God was in this moment too.

"From the lips of children and infants, you have ordained praise." (Psalm 8:2)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nail Polish

I let Jalynn pick out nail polish at Rite Aid yesterday. I gave her free reign of the 99 cent Wet-n-Wild shelf. She chose a purplish glittery hue and carried it proudly to the cashier. Minutes later we had our first mani/pedi party. Mommy and daughter—20 fingers and 20 toes—all glittered out. A day later and I'm still surprised when I look down and see the fingernails of a little girl on hands that look more and more like my mom's every day.

Such As These

I used to journal. I've got a whole box filled with a couple decade's worth of random musings, crush reports, and prayers. Then almost three years ago my husband and I had our first child. A little girl. A delightful, passionate little girl. And I haven't picked up my journal since. Some over two years later our son was born. I was reading a book when my water broke. That was six months ago now, and I am yet to get back to that book. Life is rich and memorable and full. Between washing peas out of baby hair and reasoning with a two-year-old, it's hard to find much margin. Yet over the past couple days, God's been doing something in me. I can't get sentences out of my head. I edit my thoughts like I would a manuscript. Once again I ache to write ...

About a month ago I walked into the room to find Jalynn lightly touching Malakye's forehead as he sat in his baby chair. "Jesus bless you. Jesus protect you," she said. "Jesus loves you." She didn't see me there, and I didn't announce my presence. I just let the moment be. At two-years-old, Jalynn gets it. She understands how real Jesus is. She understands the power of blessing a little one in His name. She knows what it means to love and to be loved. And she doesn't know doubt or fear or cynicism, at least not the way I do.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matt. 19:14) Oh, how I long to be "such as these."