Thursday, January 15, 2015

Lighten the Load

It was really hard to come here.

Is that a confession I’m allowed to make?

Coming here means acknowledging that a mother can lose a child.

That this kind of thing really happens to people other than strangers on the news.

Coming here means admitting that it could just as easily have happened to me, instead of you.

I don’t have an answer for why it’s you and not me.

I don’t know.

I do know that there should never be a funeral for a child.

Never.

Ever.

But then never turns to sometimes, and sometimes becomes your worst nightmare.

I didn’t have the privilege of knowing your baby, but you know mine.

And that means something to me.

For the better part of a year, you spent more hours of the day with her as her teacher than I did as her mother.

You were sweet, kind, stern, loving, and exactly what she needed you to be.

She came out better for having known you, for which I can never repay you.

Except maybe I can try today.

Today I come here to lift one brick off the load that has tumbled out of the heavens and buried you alive, somewhere between the Darkest Place on Earth and Hell, I imagine.

It’s all I can do to be here today, to lift just one brick off the pile of your suffering, I know.  It’s only one small piece of your pain and tears.

But I hope that the person before me will do likewise, as well as the person beside me and behind me, and together, with each person who passes through the door of the church, you will feel your load lightening.

And with each friend who reaches out to you with a card, a meal, or a remembrance, we will all together create a crack in the pile of bricks just large enough for a ray of light to shine through to your darkness.

A light that brings hope, peace, and love, even just for a moment in time.

We are all here, and we don’t know what to say or do, but we know we can do this for you today.

I am here today, as a fellow mother, holding space for your precious girl.

Carrying & absorbing whatever grief and pain I can manage and sending back love and prayers to surround you.

I’m sorry, and I wish I could do more.



In remembrance of Kobi Isabella Pickett (March 15, 1999 - January 11, 2015)



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best of 2014

2014 is coming to a close, and the ads on tv say I should be wearing a sparkly, silver mini-dress while  laughing and holding a glass of champagne.  But since overindulging consistently since Halloween, I can fit into nothing but yoga pants or a muumuu.  C'est la vie.

And since I'm too stuffed and bloated to write anything new, I give you my top five best-read posts of 2014, in case you missed any of them:

Head + Heart - My Messy Beautiful

I wrote this for the "Messy Beautiful Summer Series" at Momastery.com.  Glennon Melton is one of my favorite bloggers/writers, and I wanted to be a part of the collection of personal essays from her readers. Out of the many writers who submitted their stories, I was thrilled and honored to be selected as a featured writer.  The comments my post received on her site and on social media were overwhelming and encouraging.  This is the reason I do what I do.


Divine Secrets of the Duran Duran Sisterhood

The number one search term that leads traffic to my site is Duran Duran, so I guess I'm doing something right.  There must be a plethora of insomnia-riddled, middle-aged women googling DD at two in the morning.  Maybe they didn't find exactly what they were looking for, but I hope I made them smile and remember some things they hadn't thought of in awhile.



A Letter to the Preschool Teacher

One thing every mother in the world can identify with is the trepidation with which we hand off our little ones into unknown hands.  Things can go well, and your child can be blessed with a second mother. Or things can not go well, and you end up undoing the damage done for many years to come.  I am happy to report that my Little Man is in good hands, and I am sleeping well at night.


Facing the Darkness

Probably not my most cheerful post, and certainly difficult to write, but life-changing for me.  My eyes are open, and although I still haven't figured out what I can do to really make a difference in the war against human trafficking, at least I can help spread awareness, pray for the victims, and add my voice to the many who are dedicated to bringing light to this tragic issue of modern day slavery.

Love Letter to My Girl

My firstborn turned ten this year, and the milestone did not go unchecked with me.  I think every mother's heart bursts with emotion on these important days, and I wanted my daughter to have something tangible she could tuck away in a drawer and read and re-read as the years pass by, as they tend to do, without our permission.

Thank you for being here with me in this cozy, little corner of cyberspace.  Reading and thinking.  Laughing and maybe drying a tear.  I treasure your comments, likes and shares here and on social media.

Blessings and love to you all in 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ghost of Christmas Past

The house is quiet.

Perry Como is crooning about Christmastime in the City.
 
My wine glass is full.

After cleaning out the DVR, I plan to crawl into bed with my book and prepare for a long winter’s nap, not to be interrupted by anything short of an earthquake.

Contentment and satisfaction reign supreme, but then I feel a whispery tap on my shoulder, imploring me to turn away from the ease of the present and remember what is missing.

*****

“HO, HO, HO, time to wake up! It’s Christmas morn!”

I burrowed deeper into my nest of covers and clamped my eyes shut to the light from the window and the booming, cheerful voice I instantly recognized as my father’s.

“Come on now, Tootsie, everyone’s waiting to open presents!”

I was tempted to roll over and dig deeper into my cover-cave, but at the mention of “Tootsie,” his pet name for me, I couldn’t help but acquiesce to his request.

I dragged myself out of bed and followed him down the hall as he cheerfully hummed “Joy to the World” in time to my every step.

*****

The presents had been opened, the wrappings discarded like old dishrags with holes.

The parade on tv was over, and there was nothing more to do than wait for Christmas dinner to be served in the dining room, timed perfectly to conclude just before the start of the football game.

“Tootsie, let’s have some Christmas carols, shall we?”

With an eye roll only a teenager could muster, I shuffled to the piano to indulge the requests for “We Three Kings” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

As I belted out the majestic opening chords of my father’s favorite Christmas carol, I braced myself for the booming baritone that was sure to follow.

And I was not disappointed.

*****

As the last of the presents are wrapped, the wine glass is emptied, and I start off for bed, I pass by the old, out-of-tune Chickering piano and feel like I’m seeing it for the first time.

The rich, cherry-wood exterior, hiding the gilded gold strings inside.  Antique white keys offset with (some) faulty black notes comprise a beautifully grand set that provide an endless recipe for glorious song.

I couldn’t help but sit down on the creaky old bench and dig out my very first Christmas book, the music I’d been playing since I was a kid.



Silent Night

The First Noel

O Come All Ye Faithful

As I tuck into the familiar striking of the notes and placement of my fingers, I can feel the comforting, strong presence of my Dad standing behind me at the bench, belting out each of the carols with uninhibited zeal.

This is the piece of the Christmas experience that I’ve been searching for this year, wanting for, desperately.

Something I wake in the night dreaming of, wandering through the house seeking.

But it will not be found.

He is gone and nothing will bring him back, and I have to remember this over and over.

But he is with me as much as he can be.

In the smile of my son, his namesake.

In the carols I play on the piano, always remembering his favorites.

In the memories I replay of Christmases past.

I take small pieces of all of these holidays gone by, wrap them up in my arms like a newborn baby, and carry them around with me as I go through these days.

And together, these pieces all come together to complete me.

The me that I believe he always knew would be.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Love Letter to My Girl

Dear Big Sister,

I am writing this letter to you on your tenth birthday.  I still can’t believe that you are ten.  I will always remember the day that you were born, and how ecstatic your Dad and I were to meet you.

When the doctor announced, “Congratulations, you have a daughter!” that was the happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life.  And the first time I held you in my arms and kissed your sweet little face, I knew my life would never be the same.

I want you to know how extremely proud I am of you.  You have grown into such a beautiful young lady who is kind, sensitive, caring, funny, and blessed with many talents.  I love the passion I have seen you develop for dance, and you have truly blossomed into a ballerina over the past year.

I love the way that you are so in tune with others around you, and that you are always there to give a kind word to a friend who needs cheering up.

I love the way that you comfort your little brother when you see that he is upset.  He will always remember it.

I love your smile and your laugh, and I love to hear you singing in the shower.

I love that you make a friend wherever we go, and that you always see the best in people.

I love the way that you try and help me when you see that I am struggling.

I love everything about you, inside and out, and there is nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.

Though I may become annoyed, angry, or disappointed with you at times, that has no effect on the infinite bank account full of love for you that I carry deep inside.

Please forgive me for all the times I fall short as a mother, especially for the times I lose my patience or forget something important.  I promise I am doing the best I can, but sometimes I make mistakes.

There is a saying that to have a child is to forever have your heart walking around outside your body.

You are my heart, my soul, my first love, my everything.  I cannot wait to see what God has in store for you.

I hope that you have the most special birthday ever.

Love and kisses,

Mom

P.S. Double Digits!!!!!!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

The Friendship Files: Just Hang in There

When you can't make it to the Duran Duran concert in Austin, this is what you do: you send the family out, play the concert movie, crank up the surround sound, shut the blinds, and DANCE. And possibly take pictures of the tv, because you are a 15 year old girl trapped in a 44 year old's skin.

David Lynch's "Duran Duran Unstaged"

And then you collapse in the recliner, because your 44 year old body is not used to jumping up and down and squealing.

And while you’re collapsed, the music creates in your mind a jumbled mess of memories, mixed with present day worries, and you start to see patterns and faces, and everything runs together to the point that you don’t know what is Real and what is Regret.

*****

With a daughter in the house who is sneaking into tween territory (without my permission, I might add), emotions, hormones, and tempers are running high. There is often screaming and door slamming, followed by teary apologies and requests to cuddle.

Baby-ness fighting against a takeover of grown-up proportions.

The approach of puberty has brought with it a whole shit-storm of issues, one of the top hot-button subjects being friendship troubles.

All of a sudden, everything has become about friends.  Friends have always been important, but now, it’s all WHY DIDN’T SO-AND-SO INVITE ME TO HER BIRTHDAY PARTY.  And WHO IS PARTNERS WITH WHOM IN SPANISH CLASS.  And SO-AND-SO IS STEALING MY FRIEND AWAY, MOM.  And NO ONE LIKES ME, AND LIFE ISN'T FAIR.

Is your head hurting yet?  Because mine is.  In fact, I need a drink.   Or an escape pod to the Planet Why-Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along.

Cue the memories, some buried deep, but loosening and scraping their way to the surface, aided by an evening of indulging in the songs of my youth.

*****

Poised in front of the phone on the kitchen wall, curly-q cord twisted around my arm for good measure, I gripped my mother’s VISA card, waiting for the numbers on the “digital” clock to flip from 9:59 to 10:00 am.  The year was 1984.

Weeks of planning led up to this moment when Rainbow Ticketmaster seemingly held the key to all future happiness.  My heart raced as the clock turned and I dialed the phone number, only to be greeted with an annoying busy signal in my ear.

After a frenzy of frantic redialing, I finally broke through to a bored female voice on the other end of the line, and I placed my order for tickets to the Duran Duran concert.

*****

As I savor this enjoyable memory, I realize it is also tinged with a ghost of a dark cloud.  There are snippets of discourse attached to it, details muddled.

I can hear my own teenaged voice lamenting, WHY IS SHE GOING TO THE CONCERT WITH HER INSTEAD OF ME? WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH ME? I THOUGHT WE WERE BEST FRIENDS!  I’LL SHOW HER! I’LL FIND EVEN MORE FUNNERER FRIENDS TO GO WITH! *sobs into pillow after slamming bedroom door, sending Duran Duran wall poster plummeting to floor*

Ah, youth.

Times have not really changed, even though phones are anchored to kids’ palms instead of kitchen walls.

Amidst all the fun they have together, girls still have issues with each other in the form of jealousy, competition, and hurt feelings.

I don’t have any magic advice to give my daughter other than 1) be yourself, 2) be kind, and 3) it will all be OK.

Oh, and someday, you and these same girls will all be friends on The Next Facebook, all the drama will be long forgotten, and everyone will love each other and live happily ever after.

I promise.

Just hang in there, kid.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Facing the Darkness

I woke on the morning of my forty-fourth birthday with a lump in my throat and an overwhelming feeling of dread.  Not due to the number of candles on my cake, but because on this day that God brought me into the world, He was calling me to face a fear that I’d been running from for a decade.

*****

All of us have been exposed to injustices in life that revolt, appall, or offend us, either through personal experience or simply by watching the evening news.  I generally react with varying degrees of concern and/or shock, depending upon the headline of the day.

The unfortunate truth is that the abominations we hear about on the news, such as rape, murder, theft, and violence, have, sadly, meshed into the landscape of our existence.

They have become part of life in the Big City.

But there is one atrocity that isn't often reported on, yet when it is, it raises the hairs on my neck, tightens my throat, and leaves me with a crushing sensation of being punched in the gut.  Attempting to think about it leaves me completely undone, split down the middle, paralyzed with disgust.

The subject is so vile and inconceivable to me that I have literally become physically ill thinking about it.

The reality of it is something I've never allowed to fully permeate my brain.

But as I approached my forty-fourth birthday, I began to feel led to crack open the door to it, even for just a moment.  And those moments turned into hours, and the more I thought about it, the more I gathered the courage to face it, head on.

It’s happening all over our country, our city, even right in our own neighborhoods. Down the street from our schools, playgrounds, and the places we eat and shop.

And the only way to stop it is to shine light on it.

The issue I can no longer ignore, or allow myself to neglect is the tragedy of modern day slavery, Human Trafficking.
 
And today, instead of celebrating my birthday with a nice lunch out or a mani/pedi, I would be taking a van tour of brothels in Houston through an organization called Elijah Rising, a non-profit Christian group committed to the fight against sex trafficking.
 
The goal of the van tour would be to learn to identify these establishments and begin to understand the inner-workings of how this monstrous industry operates in spas, massage parlors, and cantinas across the city.

*****

I showed up at Elijah Rising's office for the van tour with a wad of Kleenex in my purse and my largest, darkest sunglasses to hide my tears.  I did not know how I would make it through this tour, but I was determined to do it.
 
Upon entering the building, a staff member explained that it used to be a functioning brothel.  I navigated the chopped up rooms with low ceilings and no windows, and felt my first wave of nausea as I turned the corner and encountered a row of six showers in a dark hallway.

Shells of rooms remained, scarred with the outlines of where dirty mattresses had lain.

Artifacts had been saved, restraints, drug paraphernalia, actual pictures of the human slaves formerly held within.

I felt the ghosts of despair and darkness slither up my spine like a poisonous snake. All the sins that these four walls had witnessed echoed throughout the building, long-forgotten lamentations that cried to be remembered.  Souls of young girls robbed of their innocence, plagued by circumstances, bound by fear.  Evil plastered into the walls, trapping the people within, draining the light and life from them.

I felt every ounce of it, and it took my breath away, like a swift punch to the gut.

My knees wobbled as I exited the building and climbed into the van.

The van tour drove us by establishments that were right under my nose, obscurely blending into the landscape, one in the same shopping center where I picked out my wedding china.

But the part that tore my insides out was just being inside that building.

It would haunt my dreams for days to come.

*****

Our van tour guide told us stories that chilled my blood and made me want to crawl outside my skin.

I am overwhelmed, burdened, and broken by what I saw and heard.

I am not clear on my place in this war against Human Trafficking, but I know I am being led to face the horror of it, think about it, and do something about it.

In the days ahead, I will be praying about what God wants me to do. I am not overly religious, but I have always heard people talk about being led to do something they didn't want to do, and now I know what they mean.  It would be much more pleasant and convenient to continue to focus on the nice, easy volunteer work of which I've become accustomed.

But I believe in the promise that if we are obedient and faithful to God’s call, He will equip us for battle.

I will not forget this forty-fourth birthday.

And I don’t believe I’m meant to forget.



Houston ranks No. 1 among U.S. cities thought to have the most victims of human trafficking. (KPRC-TV)

The average age of a girl entering the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14.(DoSomething.org)


California harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas on the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. (DoSomething.org)


The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state in the US. 15% of those calls are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. (DoSomething.org)


Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. (DoSomething.org)


If you feel compelled to learn more, here are some resources:
Elijah Rising
United Against Human Trafficking (UAHT)
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Letter to the Preschool Teacher

Dear Treasured Preschool Teacher,

Thank you for loving children enough to dedicate your life's work to them.

Today, I place my almost four-year-old into your hands.

He is the light of my life, my precious love, my everything.

He is bright, funny, boisterous, sensitive, loving, strong-willed, kind, tender-hearted, and joyful.

Although he may seem shy at first, he’ll warm up to you once he becomes used to your smile and your tone of voice. These are the things about you that he’ll be observing.

He will spend almost as much time with you as he does with me. Whether you realize it or not, these hours he spends with you will be life changing for him.

You are writing an entire chapter of his early, little life.

You are playing a vital role in growing a human.

I want you to know that I am praying for you. For patience, strength, wisdom, and a loving heart.

May I be so bold to ask a few things of you, since we don’t know each other?

Will you always remember that he is a child of God, created in His image?

Will you guard his heart, while you train his mind?

Will you look for the good in him, and seek to encourage him?

If he misbehaves (and he likely will…he’s four), will you discipline him in a firm, yet loving way?

Will you deliver consequences with empathy?

If he has little quirks, like he’s scared of loud noises or gets overwhelmed in large groups, will you honor his differences?

Will you love him?

You see, I have to ask, because unfortunately, I can’t assume.

I’ve seen the effects that a bad preschool experience can have on a child. Ripple effects that last years into a child’s life and must be undone like the intricate layers of a woven knot.

And I can’t bear the thought of his spirit being damaged in that way.

I am entrusting him to you and praying that you will be exactly what he needs, when he needs it.

So, it is with anticipation, hope, and a bit of nervousness that I turn him over to you at the threshold of your classroom.

The last words he said to me as we hugged goodbye in the hall were, “Mama, I’m gonna be a good friend! I’m gonna make a friend today!”

Dear Teacher, I hope he finds a friend in you.