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.