December 20, 2010

Welcome ICWL friends!

I am so glad you have chosen to stop by. Isn't ICWL great? This month has been a bit hectic between Christmas coming and our ten year anniversary of marriage, so the last couple of weeks I have fallen behind on blogging.

So, needless to say I was not prepared for your visits! But, I thought to give you a few suggestions of my favorite postings so you can read what I consider the creme de la creme of this blog. Here they are:


Not Just Any Ordinary Moment

This is FAMILY!

Do you really want to know?

The Measure of a Man

About Time

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Again, thank you for stopping by and I will be sure to check out your wonderful stories as well.

"See" you around!

December 10, 2010

Dear Pier One...

Dear Pier One,
I saw a commercial you aired a few days ago. Your new slogan for Christmas ornaments is “Décor that speaks to you.” The commercial encouraged us to buy new Christmas decorations if the ones we have no longer speak to us.
Tonight, after my husband and kids finished trimming and decorating and generally having a blast, I assessed our artificial tree and smiled at the horrified look I would get from your “experts” on what Christmas should look like.
This is our second tree. Our first one was a small, beautiful, pre-lit, used one that we set it up on the reception hall of our wedding chapel. Since we got married the week before Christmas we asked our friends to bring to the wedding one ornament to help us decorate our first tree. And they did. By the end of the night the little scrawny tree was glittering like any of the proudly displayed on your storefront. It was a joy to behold, mainly for all the love and good wishes it held in each branch in the shape of an ornament.
We still have those ornaments and have added many more over the ten years of our marriage. I don’t know about the ornaments you sell in your store. To be honest, I have never even been inside one because I can’t afford most of what you sell, but I do know that I don’t need to buy your decorations. My ornaments not only speak to me, they also touch me and tell me stories.
There is the silver disco ball we gave away as wedding favors and the snowman figures we gave our wedding party. They speak about the promise we made that day before so many witnesses to be together in sickness and in health, in poverty and in wealth, in the good times and in the bad times and about the people who honored us by standing next to us as we made our vows to the Lord and to each other.
There is the one we bought on our honeymoon in New Orleans the night we saw Harry Connick Sr. (the famous Junior’s dad) playing in a hole in the wall where I sipped on a virgin strawberry daiquiri that turned out not to be virgin after all. This one reminds me of the adventure that were our first years married when we could go anywhere and do anything because we were young and carefree.
There is the one for The Parents-to-Be that Matt’s parents gave us months before we knew Isabel was a reality. I remember how this one brought tears to my eyes for it spoke of hope and promise. I look at my children today and this ornament now speaks to me about a family built on initial disappointment, lots of prayer, lots of waiting, and a God who keeps his promises.
I see the many Baby’s First Christmas ornaments that were given to us. Most of them pink, because Noah’s first Christmas was a whirlwind of moving, new church, and new life. They take me back to another baby’s first Christmas more than two thousand years ago and my mother’s heart understands how Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
There is the one Isabel’s foster mom made for her when she heard Isabel had found her forever family. It is hand stitched with her name, and the year. It reminds me of how she spent two months of her life waiting for her mom and dad to find her, but how she was loved and cared for by many people even before we met her.
I spot a globe in the shape of a baseball that was given to Matt by his beloved granddaddy, his name-sake and his hero, who is no longer with us. It speaks of three generations of men who loved Jesus and chose to make their life’s work and vocation to make His name known.
There are some that mark a time when we were just two. Then there are the ones that belong to this new era of our lives like the Noah’s Ark with all the animals and Mickey Mouse ears from last year’s trip to Disney. They talk to me about the passage of time, how it flies, and how we move from one stage of our lives into another almost without notice.
And there we have the ones that speak of what Christmas truly is for us. The ones that portray the Holy Family. We have several of those for those are the ones that speak the loudest to our hearts. We have one that shows Santa Clause bowing to the Child Christ and one that shows a Christmas tree on one side and a cross on the other. We have Nativities all around the house as well. We have wooden ones, metal ones, ceramic, and plastic. We have toy ones for the kids to enjoy, fancy ones that should not be touched, gorgeous ones that stay out all year, and the one we collect a piece at the time year after year. These are the most valued decorations in our house as we try to teach our children in no uncertain terms what Christmas is all about.
Ten years of Christmas represented on one tree. It is not the same scrawny one we had when we first started. As has our family, the tree has changed and grown and last year we had to buy a new one, a fatter one to fit our larger living room, our many decorations, and our extra helpers.
Dear Pier One, if I were to change my hodge-podge of decorations for your beautiful, expensive ones, my tree will no longer speak to me. It would be a silent, large, green, glittering blob in my living room with no history, no meaning, and no purpose. I am sure it would be beautifully chic, but I think I will keep my tree as it is, and continue to let it serve its purpose as our family’s historian, reminding us year after year about the wonder that has been our family’s journey.

**As a side note, I have nothing against Pier One. Their new slogan just compelled me to defend my poor tree!**

December 3, 2010

Not just any ordinary moment...

Mama Kat had this prompt in this week’s writing workshop: If you could re-live any moment in your life, what moment would you choose? For me it would be a moment in two parts, each several months apart.
March 10th, 2006 was a Friday. The weather was mild and the sun was shining. I was a month short of 28 and a few hours short of changing my life forever. We get up early that morning, didn’t really wake up for we had not slept; double-check the bag, the car, the route, and set out down a familiar road, yet down a path we had never traveled before.
Three hours later we are there. We take some pictures for posterity. This is us minutes before our world was turned upside down. Can you tell from the pictures how clueless we were? We thought we knew what it would be like; we had the bag packed to prove it, but nothing prepares you for when the moment comes.

The social worker carries a wrapped bundle  in her arms. Out of the bundle a little hand comes out to move the blanket so two huge, brown eyes can peer at us. Curious from day one. Then she is placed in our arms. “Here is your daughter.” I always imagined I would cry. But I can’t. I can only stare. And she can only stare back. We lock eyes. I never knew I believed in love at first sight. People are moving around me, talking, asking questions. I hear nothing. Time stops. I can only stare. And fall in love some more. She is beautiful. And so small. I count toes and fingers. I breathe in her scent. Something awakes inside me. Something instinctual and as old as creation. I feel it and I can’t name it. Not yet.
“Gaby, repeat after me: I promise to be your mom forever….” I can’t repeat that. I want to but nothing would come out of my throat. I am crying now. I want to repeat it, but all that comes out are tears. Of joy. Of gratitude. Of I-cannot-believe-this-amazing-baby-is-mine. We take pictures for posterity. This is us minutes after our world was turned upside down. This is us when us became bigger than two.

This is us, parents at last.
She is strapped in her car-seat. Our hands are shaken and the door is shut behind us. Go, be blessed, be a family. We stop to eat at a restaurant. I don’t know how to hold her. I feel awkward and inexperienced. A woman approaches us: “Your daughter is beautiful.” Thank you, I whisper. My daughter. How did she know? It must show. We must look it. The happiness must glow. This is the moment, part I.

Isabel is a year and a half old when the phone rings. “There is a boy,” they say. They share blood. Do you want him? What a question! “You can get him when your paperwork is complete,” they say. We are not prepared; we have no paperwork. Three weeks of running around and rushing. Three weeks of torture without him. Finally, September 6th comes. It is a hot Saturday. We load the car, we pack the bag, we find the route, and set out down a familiar road, and down path we have traveled before but are no less nervous to take.
Two hours later we are there. We walk in. They bring him in. He is so small. And so beautiful. The siblings meet for the first time and it is a joyful meeting. 

I knew this time I would be able to repeat the vows: I promise to be your mom forever... But when I open my mouth, only tears come. Tears of joy. Tears of gratitude. I am overwhelmed with love as I was the first time. I can only stare, again. And fall in love, again. And count fingers and toes, again. And breathe his scent, again. We take pictures for posterity. This is us when us became four. Double will be the diapers, the laundry, the mess, the happiness.

How similar and yet how different from that moment months ago! I no longer feel awkward and inexperienced. I am no longer terrified. This time I am prepared when deep inside me the rumbling that is as old as creation stirs again. This time I know what it is: love so fierce and overwhelming it uproots me and my heart is forever wrapped around his. My son. This is the moment, part II. 

Mama's Losin' It


December 2, 2010

A Cherry On Top!

I started blogging a few months ago because I like to write, because I thought it would be an interesting experience, and because I could. Why not, right? Let’s try this and see what happens.
I had no idea it would be such an enriching experience. I also had no idea of the incredibly large and supportive online community a blog would reveal to me. I didn’t know that so many people blog, that there is a blog for just about any topic you can think of, and that there is a whole sub-culture of the blog world. It was a fascinating discovery for this anthropologist-wanna-be.
But that’s on the research side. On the human side I didn’t know blogging would make my life fuller. Seriously, who knew? I bet you did, if you have been blogging longer, but I? I was clueless. As an example, blogging has given me an excuse to spend extra time with my face-to-face friend Heather, who is my webmaster extraordinaire and has taught me the ins-and-outs of creating headers, posting pictures, and links, etc. She was my first follower, my first commenter, and my first encourager. She is my blog-mentor!
But I expected my family and friends to read, wouldn’t you? The coolest thing was to see people I didn’t know become followers and leave comments. I thought: Whoa! Other people are reading this mess? That. Is. Awesome. And then to get comments from strangers that said such and such post had touched them? I was hooked. (By the way, your comments make my day, so please don’t be shy. I love, love, love to hear from you. Then I get to go to your blog and read your stories. That I love even more.)
Heather, my aforementioned mentor, introduced me to ICWL. I joined. I commented. I received comments. I had a blast. I made new friends. Online friends who share their lives with me. How cool is that? Maybe all of this is old news to you because you are a veteran of the blog world. But do you remember what it felt like when you were new at this and it was all fresh? I may be a few years behind (as I usually am in all things technology) but I am just now being wowed by the awesomeness of it all.
So now I have a blog that gives me a chance to write some stories about the people I love most and who fill me with inspiration, a bunch of other places to go to when I want to read stories that will fill me with inspiration, and several new friends whose lives fill me with inspiration. Do you see a theme developing? You. Inspire. Me.
All of these ramblings to say this:
One of my new friends, Katherine, humbled me by giving me this award:

So now I get to pay it forward by choosing five blogs from among those amazing ones I have found and send them some love and encouragement in the shape of a little cupcake. It has been difficult to pick just five, but here they are (fanfare and drum roll…):
Superfluous Pulchritude

(Here are the rules: Link back to the person who awarded you, and then pick five blogs to pass on the award too. Make sure to comment on the awarded blogs so they know they've been picked.)
Some of these people I know personally, some I have met through this journey, some have no idea who I am, but I assure you their posts are worth reading.
There are so many others wonderful blogs and the people behind them. If you are curious, just click on any name in any of the posts’ comments sections and explore. Be warned: you may end up, like me, with a big ol’ long list of blogs to read each morning!

November 30, 2010

This is FAMILY.

What is family, mami? Are WE a family?
Well, Isabel, family is different for every person, for every circumstance, even for every stage of life. To me this is FAMILY
The house is quiet. It is around seven am on a cold Saturday morning. Little hurried footsteps down the hall result in little arms and legs wrapping tightly around me, seeking my warmth and love under the covers. I feel myself being flipped onto my back and a tiny version of a person hoists herself on top of me and claims her rightful spot, belly to belly, head on my chest. Eyes still closed, breathing the scent of her hair. All is well.
Smaller yet faster footsteps running down the hallway result in a cannon ball to the middle of the bed.  An even tinier version of a person wrestles his way into the mix of covers and body parts. I feel him snuggle between Matt and I, his back to Daddy, his front, hands, belly, and face directed at me. I reach out to touch his soft cheek. Eyes still closed, feeling the softness of his skin. All is well.
Sleepy murmurs of I love you, You are MY Daddy, You are MY Mami, You are MY baby are whispered over clasped hands and fluffy pillows.
And I’m the lucky one. I have my hair stroked, my cheeks patted, my nose kissed. I have to referee, in my sleep, between two children who both want to hold my hands, be encircled by my arms, share my space. And as we compromise and find our perfect fit, the four of us we become like puzzle pieces that create a beautiful picture of a perfect moment: a family at rest. All is well.
This is FAMILY.
Later in the day, while everyone is in the kitchen, I steal away to spend some time conversing with my old friend of the black and white keys. Together we make Christmas music until a little voice joins me singing love songs to Jesus on his birthday. All is joy.  
Soon ten tiny fingers join mine on the other side of the keyboard, pounding the keys in dis-harmony, while the little voice continues to sing and the three of us play and sing and celebrate His birth. All is joy.
And then a man who loves jazz and who would love to be a jazz pianist begins to pick at a key here and there while I stroke the keys, and ten little fingers pound, and a little voice sings made-up words, and the four of us make noise that sounds like a masterpiece to my ears. All is joy.
This is FAMILY.
As the day winds down I find my way to the kitchen once again and I begin the process of creating a meal out of ingredients while the other three join me one by one. First comes the little chef who insists on helping me. And I have to create a job, a side-dish, a child-like recipe she can follow. And we laugh and cook together. All is sharing.
Then comes the tiny mimicker who drags his toy kitchen in to make his own creations and serves us while we stir and chop and season. All is sharing.
At last comes my companion, who sits and talks to me while I invite him to participate, to eat at the tiny kitchen of the little mimicker, to taste the creations of the tiny chef. All is sharing.
This is FAMILY.  
And as we separate at the end of the night, the kids to their bedroom and us to ours, after baths and prayers and last minute hugs, we will not be physically together again until morning, but we will rest in the tender knowledge that we belong to each other and we will sleep the sleep of the content, the protected, and the cherished.
This is FAMILY.
And we are blessed beyond measure…

November 27, 2010

Burnt Cookbooks and Second Chances

To say that I didn’t know how to cook when I got married would not begin to describe the depth of my culinary ignorance. To say that I didn’t know how to boil water without burning it would be closer to the truth. Matt should have seen it coming when I offered to cook us dinner on our second date and served him a piece of tough chicken, swimming, yes, swimming, in soupy, yet hard, rice with tomato chunks floating along. Bravely he took a bite and, to his credit, smiled and said it was mmmmhhhh, good but one bite is all he took before claiming he just was not hungry that evening.
Early into our marriage I decided making spaghetti sauce from scratch could not possibly be too difficult. I had, of course, never made it, but how hard could it be, right? It was going fine until the recipe called for “simmering” for 45 minutes. I had no idea what simmering meant but was too proud and stubborn to ask Matt. So, I put the heat on medium (neither too hot nor too cold should be fine!) and left it for 45 minutes. Yup. You guessed it. I had a ruined pan and no sauce to show for.
The first church we pastored had some amazing cooks and bakers and our potluck dinners could be legendary. My reputation in the kitchen preceded me and every time we had a potluck dinner I was asked to bring…a bag of chips. It didn’t hurt my feelings, not really; I understood their trepidation. After the floating pecan pie incident I didn’t have much faith that there was hope for me yet.
Shortly after I quit my job to stay home with the children I began to experiment more and more in the kitchen. Since the house was now my job I decided I should quit asking Matt to make dinner and step up to the plate. The journey was a slow and painful one, but after some trial and error, a few dishes nobody wants to eat again ever, and a cookbook that caught on fire, I began to feel more and more confident that I could feed my family and not poison them.
I will never forget the first time I was asked to bring a dessert to a church potluck. This was our new church and, apparently, they knew nothing of my infamous cooking skills, so they thought it natural to ask the preacher’s wife to contribute a dish to the meal. Oh, joy of joys! I hung up the phone, eyes wide with surprise and wonder, turned to Matt and said: “They asked me to bring a dessert! They asked ME to bring a dessert! They asked me to bring a DESSERT!!!”
This may sound silly to you but my heart was full to the brim. They didn’t know I couldn’t cook, they didn’t assume I would bring pie in a glass, or cookies that would only serve to stop a door. They just gave me a chance and I took it. I spent hours pouring over recipes, watching videos on and trying to decide what to make. I finally decided, purchased the ingredients, carefully prepared the dessert and proudly took it to church that Sunday morning.
I watched people come up to the dessert table, take a sampling, and take it back to their table…and eat it! My dessert! The word got out that it was the first time I had brought a home-made dessert to a public gathering and people went out of their way to congratulate me and even asked for the recipe. It was nothing complicated, nothing delicious, nothing that those veterans of the kitchen world could not whip up with their eyes closed. But to me, their enthusiasm, encouragement, and grace made me feel like Julia Childs made over.
Since then I’ve gone down a path I never thought I would take. I have developed a love for cooking, and especially, baking, that has brought my family hours of enjoyment, if not a few extra pounds. Today my sweet husband braved the crazy black Friday sales to buy me a Kitchen Aid mixer (the dream of many bakers!) because he says he can’t wait to see what yummy treats will come out of it.
This Thanksgiving I’m grateful for second chances that heal and restore confidence. I’m grateful for new beginnings, clean slates, and opportunities to learn from past mistakes. But I’m even more grateful that I’m a friend of the God who invented second chances, new beginnings, clean slates, and opportunities to learn from past mistakes not only in the kitched but in every aspect of our lives. And a people who, created in his image and following his lead, believe in each other and encourage one another, mentor each other and forgive one another with love, grace, and warmth. 

November 16, 2010

Do you really want to know?

Because we wanted to be parents.
Because there are children who don’t have anyone to snuggle with them in bed on a cold winter morning.
Because we ourselves were adopted into God’s family.
Because no child should spend a birthday without their existence on this earth being celebrated and cherished.
Because every child should have someone that will come running in the middle of the night to hug them when they had a nightmare.
Because every utterance of mama or daddy should be answered to by a loving parent.
Because there are tears to be wiped and booboos to be kissed.
Because God places the fatherless in families (and the childless too!)
Because we were meant for each other.
Because those are our children, unequivocally.
Because we had too much love for just two people.
Because we were obedient and God is faithful.
Because we cannot imagine our life without them.
Because we needed to be more than Matt and Gaby.
Because we had laughter to share, knowledge to impart, and stories to tell.
Because families are made up of more than shared DNA.
Because there are many ways to build a family.
Because God told us to.
Because we got a call about a little girl who needed a mom and a dad and we had empty arms and a ready heart.
Because we got a call about a little boy who had a sister who had a mom and dad, who had their arms full but not full enough and still a ready heart.
Because love...

November 13, 2010

About Time

I’ve been thinking about time. Young children seem to look forward to each and every day with delight and expectation. Every morning, the first questions Isabel and Noah ask are Where are we going today and what are we going to do? They are concerned with today and today only. Time is not linear to them yet, so when we tell them about an event that will happen in a few months their minds cannot wrap around this concept. Yesterday and tomorrow are barely making sense to them right now and they use the words interchangeably. They don’t worry about the future beyond this moment and they live in the freedom of that perspective.
 As we get older we begin to live from Christmas to Christmas and from birthday to birthday. When you are six years old a year is a sixth of your life and it seems like the time between one Christmas and the next is never-ending.  You begin to count days and weeks and months in a pattern that prepares you for the next stage of I can’t wait.
Early in young adulthood we fully enter the I can’t wait stage. I can’t wait to graduate from high school. I can’t wait to leave home.  I can’t wait to finish college. I can’t wait to start working. I can’t wait to get married. I can’t wait to have kids. It is as if we are never content with our current stage but are always looking to the distance future, to the greener-grass of tomorrow’s chapter.
Over the last few years I seem to have left the I can’t wait stage and have entered into a slower-paced, more reflective one. Lately, I have started to look for the button that will make time stand still. It seems the older I get the faster it flies. Don’t blink, Kenny Chesney tells us in his country song.
 I can’t wait to finish high school…I blinked and college welcomed me.
 I can’t wait to leave home…I blinked and I was an hour away from my mom, even when I was lonely and missed her.
 I can’t wait to finish college…I blinked and I was starting graduate school.
I can’t wait to start working…I blinked and my first year teaching had slipped away.
I can’t wait to get married…I blinked and we are celebrating our tenth anniversary next month.
 I can’t wait to have kids…I blinked again. Isabel will be five years old next month; Noah just turned three.
Now I don’t know how to stop blinking.
Time, please stop ticking. Please. Everything is going by so fast…
Yesterday we watched a movie called The Prince of Persia.
(If you have not yet seen this and are planning on it, tread carefully from this point forward; I am going to spoil it a little)
In the movie there is a magic dagger that holds the Sands of Time. If you press the handle you can go back in time one minute. There is said to be a way to make the dagger take you back in time much further than that.
I thought about this. I would not go back to change my choices or even undo my mistakes. I would not marry someone else, choose a different profession, or change anything in my life. I am the person I am because of what I have been, good and bad. My mistakes have taught me wisdom, compassion, and reliance on God for his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. My good choices have brought me blessings and a deeper understanding of God’s love for me.
But I would go back to enjoy the present more. I would go back and, rather than wait for the next instant to come, I would stop and live, really live in the moment.
I would slow my pace, savor the friendships, embrace the solitude, enjoy the family, not rush the new beginnings, discover the places, play with the baby, listen to the hurting, get to know the student.
 I saw an elderly couple a few days ago at the store. She was holding his hand as they walked across the parking lot. I thought about Matt and me, and silently prayed that God would allow us to grow old together. Time will not stop, I know that. In fact, if the last few years are any indication, it will march even faster on and on. I don’t have the magic dagger, I know that too. It doesn’t do me any good to pine for what was not.
But recently my eyes have been opened to these truths and so I’m faced with a choice:
I can keep looking back with regret, or I can keep my senses focused on the years to come and the can’t waits, and worrying about the future…
… Or I can finally learn to live for today again, like I did as a child, eyes wide open to the world around me, savoring every day with its challenges and unexpected blessings, asking the Lord every morning with delight and expectation Where are we going today and what are we going to do?

November 8, 2010

A Bad Hair Day

When Matt and I got married, we were full-time students and part-time workers. Like many young couples starting out we were poor as dirt and we did what we could to make ends meet and to cut corners. One of the ways Matt thought of to help us save money was to invest on a hair-cutting kit and take care of his own hair at home. He figured the cost of the kit would be made up quickly by the money he would save not going to the barbershop. 
I had some reservations about it because neither one of us had any experience cutting hair, but Matt assured me it would work out. I accepted on two conditions: 1. that my locks would be handled by a professional and 2. that I would not be forced to perform the role of beautician. It was agreed.
As I feared, however, after a couple of times of self-inflicted hair cuts I was dragged into the venture. Matt asked me to help him trim the back, the part he could not reach, and handed me the clippers.
I tried to explain very clearly that I knew nothing about hair cutting, that I had never even held a set of clippers, and that I knew - I just knew - Matt would get mad at me if I screwed up. I was assured several times that anyone (even a mechanically challenged person like me) could use these clippers, that no, nobody would be upset if I messed up, and that yes, it would all work out. What do they say about hindsight again?
Why. Tell me why did I ever believe him? Who would NOT get upset? How many people do you see leaving  a beauty shop with a clearly fudged hair cut and a smile on their face? What possessed me to believe that my gentle husband would simple smile and say: it’s ok, honey, I know you tried. Why.
"- All right, you said I should just put the clippers to your hair and go up from the bottom like thi…oh, oh…"
"- Um…."
"- Gaby...
"- Well…...I did what you told me and now there is a hole on your head."
"- WHAAAAT???? Did you remember to use the guard???"
"- What guard?"
"- Oh, no. Oh, no. You didn’t use the guard? Why in the world did you not use the guard???"
"- I don’t know what a guard is! I told you I didn’t know anything about cutting hair. You said you would not get upset. You lied!"
"- There is a hole on my head. It’s the size of a quarter! Now I’m going to have to shave the whole back of my head!"
"- I think it looks cute…" (said with an adorable grin)
No answer…just glowering.
"- One day we will laugh about this, I'm sure" (said with an even more adorable grin)
 Still no answer…more glowering.
"- I guess now you will have to go to the barbershop…" (no adorable grin now)
That didn’t help.
It also didn’t help to remind him that he pinky-promised not to get upset, that I said I didn’t know anything about cutting hair, or that it was just hair and it would grow back. In fact, that last one made it worse. He was upset, and a little balder – (although today he has a permanent hole the size of a half-dollar on the top of his head that I didn’t cause, which I find sweetly ironic) – and until the back of his head caught up with the front, several professional haircuts later, we were not able to laugh about it all like I hoped.
We learned pretty early on that sometimes you have to spend a little money to save your marriage. That is until the day I thought it would save us money to have Matt highlight my hair at home...but that's a story for another time.
I'm linking this post for Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. Better late than never. Thank you Jennifer for the idea! Click on her button to see more Hair Disaster stories and her weekly prompts.

Mama's Losin' It

November 1, 2010

A simple request

In my early walk with the Lord I was petrified to pray out loud. I would hear the prayers of others and know that mine would never sound so beautiful, so fluid. Anytime I was in a situation where I would have an opportunity to pray out loud, I would wait quietly, seconds dragging by, for the silence to be filled by someone else calling on God. I was embarrassed of stumbling. I did not want to sound like a bumbling fool before these godly people whose prayers, I was sure, delighted the Lord in their purity and simplicity.
Praying alone was not a problem. I could be honest with God and just be myself. But to open my mouth in front of others, that was a different story. I made it through high school and college mostly dodging the spotlight of prayer.
When you are a pastor’s wife, however, you can’t stay away from community prayer for very long, so soon enough I couldn’t hide anymore. I would be called to pray out loud often. And my face would turn red and hot. And my words would not make sense. And I would hear myself and think, as I prayed, you sound like an idiot; get it together; why did you just say that?; you need to stop now. And I was sure the pats and hugs from people afterwards were expressions of sympathy and pity for my poor attempt at divine communication on their behalf.
And I wasted so many wonderful years feeling that way…
I wish I could say I remember the moment in which this changed. I wish I could pinpoint a divine intervention or specific situation that opened my eyes to promises of spoken prayer but I can’t. At some point I cannot define, perhaps just out of growing intimacy with Jesus, I stopped worrying about what others heard and begun to dialogue with my “Audience of One,” to use the well-known expression.  I came to understand that to my Holy God my words sounded like music both in the secret of my prayer closet, and in the open of a spoken conversation.
I don’t pray long, elaborate prayers. I simply talk to my Maker. He talks and I talk and we talk. And my friends listen and are encouraged and I listen to them and I’m encouraged and together we lift our voices in a chorus of agreement and we call on the Lord, claiming his promises and his presence. “When two or more are gathered…” you know the rest.
And when I discovered the power of communal intercession I also discovered a new avenue to love. When someone has a need, rather than saying I will pray for you, I say let’s pray. And we stop, right then and there, and raise our voices to the heavens in unison, pleading and thanking. And I count it a privilege to share that moment with you and an honor that you trusted me to intercede on your behalf.
Let’s pray together…
Let me pray for you; let me hear you pray for me. I promise to never judge your conversation with our Father. I promise to simply listen, to echo, to agree. I promise we will be changed and feel closer to each other and closer to the Lord in the end. Be my “two” and I will be your “two” and He promises to come and listen and respond.

October 27, 2010

Don't you know?

My daughter humbles me. She has an understanding of who God is that is unadulterated by any personal agenda, any past experiences and any un-repented transgression. She takes Him at his word, with child-like trust, and believes He is exactly what she has been taught He is. No doubts, no questions, no suspicions.
Yesterday she and her little friend M. were sitting down to watch a movie while M.’s mom and I chatted in the kitchen. In an unusual move she didn’t pick a princess movie when I gave her the choice but took instead The Lion King.
I was surprised because she had not seen this movie in a while. When she was younger she had a love-hate relationship with Simba, Mufasa, and Scar. She loved, loved, loved the movie but would only watch the scary parts holding on to one of us. She would bury her face in her daddy’s chest but refuse vehemently when we asked if we should turn it off. As she got older and traded her animals-dressed-as-people stage for baby dolls, so did her taste in movies shift to princesses and fairies, and she had not asked to see Lion King in a while.
When M. found out what movie they would be watching she voiced similar concerns to those Isabel had had in the past about the story:
-“But the Lion King has Scar and Scar is scary!”
And here I was humbled. My little girl replied with a smile on her face:
-“But we don’t have to be scared. God will take care of us. Don’t you know?”
Don’t you know?
I know, don’t I? It is what I tell her when she is worried and we sing God is bigger than the boogie man. I know. It is what I say to her when she is afraid to walk from her bed to the potty in the middle of the night. I know.
Don’t I?
I know until…the doctor tells us a biological child is not likely to happen for us.
I know until… God calls me to quit my job and stay home with my children and the budget doesn’t add up.
I know until…my friend is diagnosed with terminal cancer at 15.
I know until…something happens to stir my world around and to take away from me all the illusion of control.
I know until…
…and then I don’t know. Then I panic. Then my faith slips through my fingers like water. Then it’s hard to look at someone and ask “don’t you know?”

and then...
…Isabel and Noah happen.
… a job from home happens.
…my friends’ parents reconnect with Christ in the sorrow of her loss.
…God shows up.
Over and over again. God shows up. I know. I’ve seen. I’ve experienced.
And yet, this four-year-old with seemingly no life-experience to speak of or tangible answers to prayer to show for, trusts God’s care wholeheartedly. She, who does not have volumes and volumes of journals recording all the times God has shown up; she, who doesn’t have story after story of God-ordained moments that saved the day; she, who in her short existence cannot look back and marvel at God’s constant hand over her life. She can ask confidently: “don’t you know?”
And humbling.
One day I will be like her.
One day maybe I will have faith like a child.

October 18, 2010

The Picture

On my nightstand there is a picture of us on our first date.
 We look so young! Sometimes I forget what we looked like then.
Ten years ago your hair was still brown and your face was smooth and fresh. Life was not yet written on it; it was full of possibility. Over time and almost imperceptibly your face has begun to show the results of living and loving, of suffering and rejoicing.
I watched you the other day wondering when these changes happened. They have been gradual, to be sure, and I, who memorize you again and again each morning, sometimes have to step back a moment to notice how times marches on.
There are lines around your mouth. Those began to appear almost five years ago when we brought Isabel home and have become deeper since the arrival of Noah. They are laugh lines. Lines of happy moments and the joys of being a dad and all the laughter shared with your children. Those are a work in progress and day after day I enjoy watching them deepen.
There is a small groove between your eyes. That one is the legacy of a hellish year I put your through when we almost didn’t make it. How you grieved and prayed through that time. Your prayers and your unshakeable love for me saved me; saved us. I’ll never really know how much pain sketched that little groove but I do know that I will do anything I can to keep it from growing, till death do us part.
There are little wrinkles next to your eyes. They are the result of your growing passion for photography and all those hours spent squinting into a camera lens. There are very few pictures of you, dear moment-capturer, but when I look through your snapshots I see us through your eyes. Your pictures are glimpses of your love for us, as you patiently wait for the perfect smile, the sweetest shot, the right light.
There are ridges crossing your forehead that speak of your wonderment at the world. I love the face that wrinkles your brow. It’s the wide-eyed face you make when life sends you a pleasant surprise, a moment to cherish. You help me see the world with child-like amazement at the ordinary. You laugh, teaching me how not to take myself so seriously.
You have changed over the last decade. The kid smiling at me from that picture so long ago is not the same man who kisses me so tenderly every night. The one I can reach out and touch is infinitely better, stronger, wiser, weathered.
Life has left its mark on your face but in it I read different parts of the story of us. I thank God every day for you and for each line on your face that reminds me how blessed we are.

October 14, 2010

The Wide-Eyed, Clenched-Jawed Monster

I lose my temper.

I’m not proud of this. I wish I were one of those people who, like my father-in-law says, are sweeter by nature than others are by grace. But I’m not. I have a short fuse, a quick temper, and a wide-eyed, clenched-jaw, scary look when I get angry. It’s not pretty.

Nowhere does my temper cause me more pain than in my parenting attempts. My children’s antics can make me go from zero to sixty in no time and anger me more than anyone else. I don’t like this side of myself and I’m trying to be a gentler momma. Sometimes I succeed, many times I fail.

One of those times happened this week. It was one of those days. You know, THOSE days. From the moment my feet hit the floor everything was a struggle. The kids woke up in their own difficult moods, the morning was hard, lunch was hard, life was hard. By the afternoon, I was tired, grumpy, and dejected. I asked Isabel to pick up some toys lying around the living room while I piddled in the kitchen. She came to the kitchen with all the toys, dumped them on the island and started to leave the room. When I turned around and saw the toys on the table I lost it.

Silly, right? It was just some toys on the table. Right. Right. RIGHT. I see that now. But at that moment those toys were the whole day’s worth of repeated requests, whining, and siblings’squabbles.


With a clean motion of my arm I swept all the toys from the island.

- I TOLD YOU TO PUT THE TOYS AWAAAAAAY! growled the wide-eyed, clenched-jawed monster as she threw the toys to the floor.

As soon as the last item hit the ground I realized what I had done: Jonas, Isabel’s precious newborn baby she had lovingly “carried in her belly” for two days, and then birthed to great rejoicing of the whole family, was among the victims of my ire.

Too late.

Her little face crumpled into a look of such pain and betrayal that I wanted to crawl into the trashcan and be carried to the curb the way I deserved at that moment. All the anger evaporated in an instant giving way to nothing but shame and regret.

I once heard someone say that apologizing to your children only makes you look weak in their eyes. I pity the children who grew up in that household. Thankfully, I follow the One who is as gentle and humble as a lamb, so as quickly as I could I hit my knees to come eye-to-eye with my little girl and try to explain to her, between her tears and mine, how sorry, so, so sorry I was.

- Mami made a mistake, baby. I should not have reacted the way I did. Mami got angry, but she did not have the right to yell and throw Jonas to the floor. Please forgive me, do you forgive me?

Thankfully, she is learning to follow the One how is as gentle and humble as a lamb, so she nodded and nuzzled her head on my shoulder. Thank you, Jesus, for a child’s innocent forgiveness.

I teach Isabel many things every day. With me she is learning to read, to count, to cook. But I worry about the other lessons she is learning also; the ones I don’t want her to learn. My lack of self-control could damage her little soul and teach her ways to respond to anger for which I will have to give account. “In your anger do not sin” Paul reminds us in Ephesians. I want my children to watch me get angry and know that it is normal. I also want them to see in my response a reflection of the God I serve who is “compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.” (from Exodus 34).

I need your help. Will you please pray for me and ask me how it’s coming?

September 27, 2010

When God laughs...

There is a game my students used to love playing. It is called “I’ve never…” The premise of the game is to state experiences you have never had in hopes the other players have had them. The person with the longest list of lack of experiences wins the game. For the last ten years God and I have been playing a slightly twisted version of this game. It is called: “I will never….” Here is how it goes: I say “I will never….” and God laughs. He must be really good at this game because he is yet to lose.

In college I was a Resident Assistant in a Freshman dorm at a small Christian university. I spent many evenings counseling sobbing Freshmen girls who would come in shaking because some upperclassman, religion major told them the Almighty himself pronounced they would marry each other some day. I vowed to never marry a religion major.

God laughed…

In December I will celebrate ten years of marriage to my husband, the pastor. Being his wife has been one of the greatest blessings God has given me. The man is unparalleled, in my humble opinion.

When I graduated from college with a degree in Communication Education, my goal was to teach debate and drama. Being a native Spanish speaker, I let my advisor convince me to pursue an endorsement in Spanish as well, just in case, she said. I told her I would never, ever, ever, EVER teach Spanish. This is only plan B, I said.

God laughed… I think that time I actually heard him.

When I started looking for a job, there were no Communication jobs to be found. I taught Spanish for the better part of seven years and I discovered that teaching teenagers a new language also opens up their eyes to new cultures and a new worldview. Very cool. In the process my life was enriched by some amazing kids who shared their stories with me and still do. Even cooler.

When Matt graduated from the Seminary and began his search for a church to pastor, I had resigned myself to the role of pastor’s wife. But, I clearly told God in no uncertain terms, I will NOT sing and play the piano like the stereotypical pastor’s wife.

Guess what God was doing the whole time I was ranting?

The first church we pastored needed…you guessed it, a piano player and one more voice in the worship team. We are no longer at the same church and I am still playing the piano and singing. It is my honor to be a part of leading our congregation to worship.

As I continued my journey discovering how God wanted to use me, I have done many things and served in many capacities. The one thing I said I would not do is lead any kind of women’s ministry. Leading women, I told God, was neither my calling nor my passion.

By now I imagine tears were pouring from my Lord’s eyes, he was laughing so hard.

About March of this year our church began a Wednesday night Women’s Bible Study led by…who else? Recently I even organized a women’s retreat for our church with the help of some amazing ladies. To surround myself with these incredible women has changed me from the inside out. I, who have been an only child, have found sisters… and lots of them.

A few months ago I sat at a Starbucks with one of these sisters of mine discussing Isabel’s education. My friend and I were weighing the pros and cons of public education, private education, and homeschooling. She had homeschooled her two oldest daughters and is a big proponent. I told her I admired her and gave her the old: “more power to ya, sister” but informed her that homeschooling simply was not for me.

That time God had a laughing companion…

In true God-like subtlety he began to send my way sign after sign that I was speaking too soon. In typical Gaby-like stubbornness I began to fight him. Long story short, I’m homeschooling Isabel…at least this year. In hand-to-hand combat, God’s grace always prevails over my stubbornness. Thank you for that, Lord.

The dreams and desires God has for my life are not those he has for everyone’s life. Not everyone is called to become a teacher, a pastor’s wife, a women’s ministry leader, or a homeschooling mom. But he does say: "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)

I don’t think I’m done saying “I will never” to him. It is in my nature to be hard-headed and it takes me a while to learn a lesson. I think God made me this way to assure a good laugh for himself every now and then. I don’t mind. And I don’t mind losing at this game. When He laughs, I know something life-changing is coming my way. Laugh away, Jesus, laugh away.

September 24, 2010


I wasn’t going to write this one. I didn’t know if I could tackle it in a way that would truly give voice to my thoughts in the sentiment in which they are intended. But I have quickly found that when something grabs me and won’t let go, it is blog-worthy. So please bear with me as I try to put into words some thoughts brought upon by a simple game of tag.

Last Saturday I took my kids to McDonald’s with my friend J. and her two little ones. It was a cloudy, mild day so we sat outside and let the kids play in the outdoor playground. Because the day was beautiful there were several other families with children eating outside and quickly the playground was swarming with kids between the ages of 2 and 5. They were running, laughing, and having a great time, while J. and I caught up on news and chatted. As I was watching the games, I realized all the children would run out of the slide screaming and laughing, calling out for the “monster.”

“-He’s coming, hurry, run!”

“-Ahhhh….run! He’s coming!”

I was half listening to J. and half processing this game when I realized the “monster” they were all fleeing was my son, Noah. It looked like an innocent enough game but I noticed they were using his name:

“-Run away, Noah is coming!”

As any concerned parent, I wanted to make sure he was a willing participant and that he was not being shunned by the other children. I caught him as he ran past me and I asked him: “Baby, do you like being the monster?” He nodded, smiled at me, and ran away growling and making paws of his hands. Ok, no harm done yet. He obviously did not think anything of being the monster they all avoided and was enjoying the role. I silently prayed, as I watched, that he would always have that innocent, open outlook.

As I reflected upon the events of the day, I realized it is a natural thing that happened. Noah is usually the youngest, he enjoys chasing other children while growling, and he doesn’t get his feelings hurt easily. What a better combination to be nominated monster of the game? But I am, by my own admission, hypersensitive to my children’s future struggles because their situation is, in so many ways, unique. So my wheels started turning...

When I taught high school I used to do an activity to raise awareness among my students about the ugliness of stereotypes. We would openly discuss the origin and validity of stereotypes they had heard or even believed at one point about people of other races. I loved how open and honest the kids were and I always felt that, by the end of the hour, we all walked away better informed, and more compassionate. We got to know each other more deeply and we had a more sympathetic understanding of each others’ ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and struggles as well. One of the questions I would ask is how many of them had ever been followed in a store by a security guard, had noticed people changing sides of the street if they saw them coming, or had, in any other way, been made aware that people feared them or didn’t trust them. Invariably it would be my males of color (Black and Hispanic) who would raise their hand. Every now and then I would have females of color raise their hands as well (I, myself, was followed in a JC Penny when I was in high school). Many of the kids who would raise their hands were straight “A” students, good kids who did not get in trouble. Others were kids who looked rough but had hearts of gold. Usually, they expressed dismay and hurt that this was the case.

The reasons behind this phenomenon are multiple and I’m not going to get into that. It’s just that lately, the voices of my students have begun to hit very close to home. I started to think about how cute Noah is. He has always been. When he was a baby, people would stop on the street to fuss over him. He has a dimpled smile, big brown eyes, and a winning disposition. As he grows, however, he will turn from a cute little boy to an ugly-duckling elementary school child, to an awkward, moody, teenager. And not just any teenager: a Black teenage-boy. I wonder if the same people that right now flirt with him in the grocery store will clutch their purses a little tighter when they see him coming. My little boy, a threat? My sweet little, compassionate Noah? It is a hard pill to swallow and yet it may just be his reality in a few years. It is what it is and I alone cannot change these facts. This is not a rant against society or an attempt at making any kind of social commentary. These are just the ponderings of a wistful mother.

A few months ago Isabel came crying to me because her little friend had told her they were no longer friends. My heart broke with hers but I knew what to say and how to console her: friends may be mean, they may have a bad day, they may be grumpy. She understood; she had been grumpy herself, she has been mean to others before. In a few years, when Noah comes to me hurt and bewildered because a stranger played “monster” with him and he was an unwilling participant, what could I say to mend his little heart? How do I explain that one?

September 3, 2010

The Measure of a Man

This has been a hard week. It began with the passing of a beautiful 15-year old girl from our church. She had been battling bone cancer for a couple of years and went to be with Jesus last Sunday. Matt had been spending considerable amount of time with the family prior to her passing, to be a source of comfort, strength, prayer, wisdom, and whatever else a family in such a situation needs. He was there when our little friend took her last breath, and he accompanied the family through planning the funeral, choosing the casket, and making sure all the arrangements were made.

On Tuesday he spent the afternoon and evening with them at the viewing, and on Wednesday he performed part of her funeral, held at our church, before a crowd of about six hundred people. When he got into the car after the funeral was over, he broke down in exhaustion and grief. We made our way to the graveside service, accompanied the family home for a few more minutes and left. Matt has been in full-time ministry for eight years now. This sweet teenager was the first member a congregation he pastored to die.

The next day he stayed home to rest after what had been four grueling days. Late that night he received a call from a dear friend and congregation member stating that her husband had a heart attack and was recovering in CICU. Off he went to the hospital to pray with them and be their pastor. The next morning he got up early to take me to the doctor, for I had not been feeling well for a few days. The diagnosis: pneumonia. Since I was bed-ridden and very sick he had been taking care of the children and me, visiting the hospital, going to be instructed on how to take care of two different households full of cats that we would watch over the weekend while their owners were away, and trying to squeeze the necessary work that is required to hold a Sunday morning service, including preaching and leading worship.

Last night I walked into the living room feverish and miserable, and I found him listening to a broadcast of his beloved football team playing and folding laundry. Later on he got up in the middle of the night to hand me medicine and rub my back. Sunday he will stand in front of his congregation and deliver a sermon he has carefully researched and prepared and nobody but I will notice the stress marks around his mouth or the few extra gray hairs he developed this week.

And I simply watched and marveled. Because I married the man I have a certain bias, this I know. Sometimes it is a positive bias that sees the things he does as wonderful and sometimes I can be his worst critic because I know what he is capable of accomplishing. But this week I saw a side of him I had not had the privilege to experience before. This is not a tribute to a husband or a man; this is a tribute to my pastor. I knew just how broken he was about L’s death, how much he agonized to find the right words to say that would paint the picture of the wonderful human being that she was, and how much he prayed for her family as they dealt with her loss. I saw him hop to his feet, weary as he was, and jump in his car to get to the hospital when his friend needed him by his side in the CICU. I’ve witnessed him feeding, bathing, playing and reading to our kids at the end of the last few long days, then come to our room to make sure I had water, a blanket, or a kiss. And come Sunday, I will sit in the front row as he brings us words from God to encourage us and challenge us.

You may know lots of pastors who do this on a regular basis. This is what the good ones do. I just happened to have a front row seat this week into the world of one and a pair of eyes willing to pay attention. I thought about the old cliché: “what is the measure of a man?” Matt loves his congregation deeply, his family tenderly, and his God passionately. And because he loves them, he serves them unconditionally. I thought about the words of Jesus in Matthew 20:19 when he states that “whoever wants to be great among you must be a servant.” Matt serves. His understanding of Christ is that of a loving God who takes care of his people and that is the image of God he strives to portray every day of his life. What the measure of a man is can be debated. But the measure of my pastor is love.