Childhood vacations consisted of camping or visiting grandparents in Michigan. Sometimes we camped with grandparents or other relatives.
The first family vacation I remember was a camping trip to Cowan’s Gap State Park. I was six years old. My sister, Deborah, was three, and my baby brother, Nick, was six months old. Mom was newly pregnant with sister, Sharon. While there was a baby and an expected baby, the focus did not seem to be all on babies, yet, like it would soon become. It was exciting to be camping.
Our family camped in a square, heavy canvas tent, secured to the ground by metal stakes. I remember the distinct canvas smell and expansive space.
Cowan’s Gap State Parkhad a sandy beach area for swimming. There were also rowboats for rental. I know this because they seemed so exciting, and I really wanted to ride in one. The answer was no. They cost extra money which was something my Christian school teacher father and stay at home mother did not have.
My mom’s late-seventies style consisted of blouses, wrap-around skirts, and navy blue Dr. Scholls Exercise Sandals. These sandals were wooden with a toe-grip under the single adjustable strap. The action of walking in them provided exercise for the legs, hence the name.
We were at the campsite, and I was running around wearing mom’s exercise sandals with bare feet. I dashed behind the tent, and as I circled and rounded the right side, I didn’t clear the perimeter. My left ankle raked against the edge of a metal tent stake, slicing it open. There was a lot of crying and blood.
Dad took me to a small medical facility for care. I sat on a table in an exam room under bright lights. The doctor said, We just have to squirt some ketchup and mustard on your ankle, and then we will stitch you up.
I felt safe and at ease. It was funny to think about squirting ketchup and mustard on my foot! I got six stitches and clear instructions for their care ~ especially not to get them wet in the lake. This was disappointing. Swimming was my favorite activity.
As a consolation, Dad rented a rowboat and took me out in it. He also put my foot in a bread bag on the last day, so that I could go near the water without the stitches getting wet. I felt special.
Weeks later, after returning home, it was time to remove the stitches. This was done at home using my mom’s sewing stitch ripper to break the thread before pulling it out. I remember the funny, tickly feeling.
I wore my scar as a special badge for many years. Looking at it reminded me of how brave I had been on that table getting ketchup and mustard squirted on it, and how fun it was to ride in a rowboat with my dad.
This story illustrates how a traumatic childhood event became a memory of care because the trauma was tended well. There was no yelling at me in a panic or lecture on why I should not have been acting like a child. I understood about not renting a rowboat, since I knew why we couldn’t. It made the subsequent rental more special, because my disappointment in not being able to swim was noticed and cared for with kindness. A creative solution for going near the water on the last day was thought of, again, making me feel special.
The removal of the stitches at home could have been traumatic if I were fearful and being coerced forcefully. Instead it was explained and tried and did not hurt, as my memory of the tickly feeling reveals. It felt adventuresome. In hindsight, I also know it was much less expensive for my parents to remove them at home, but that was not made an issue to me at the time. Because of how my parents cared for me in this situation, I am able to look back at this childhood story and feel loved and safe at six years old.
As you think about stories from childhood, what comes to mind? What tales are told of you, and how do they feel?
Tomorrow I embark on Certificate Training, Level 2. I will share a story of childhood trauma that was not tended well. I will hear stories of others with the goal of learning to listen to and engage with stories of heartache to foster healing and hope.
Esther’s knowing eyebrows move up and down rapidly. She says this each time I tell her, or she overhears, that I have eight children. She seems to know what everyone does in their spare time. When a portly man passes us on deck she looks to me and says, I know what HE does in HIS spare time.
Esther is 88 with bright eyes and a foggy mind. Attentive to her appearance, her thin white hair is updone with various clips and combs, topped with a black floppy bow. This gives the appearance of a crown which helps me to remember her name. Queen Esther. The black bow is a fixture of her look each time I cross paths with her.
She introduces herself as Esther the Pester, but I cannot bring myself to call her that as so many passengers do freely. Hey, Esther the Pester! To me she is just Esther.
She is the one who ends up with the heartiest portion of food at our plated dinner each evening. While my plate arrives with a small piece of fish and some steamed vegetables, Esther’s is piled high with pasta, topped with a chicken breast or two.
Oh my, I’ll never be able to eat all of this. Do you want some? This question is rhetorical, as Esther begins cutting into chicken and sliding pasta onto my plate. She comes from a time when it was a sin to waste so much food. I agree that it is wasteful, but how did I end up the starving child that Esther must feed?
I take the food onto my plate graciously, for along with the generous sharing of her food is the generous sharing of the wine she has brought on board. It is not a bad tradeoff. My glass is filled and refilled copiously.
Esther was a beauty in her day, I am told. I believe it. Her eyes still sparkle, and her smile is free. The deep wrinkles on her face give her character and don’t seem dour at all. She, or someone who loves her, is attentive to her appearance. She looks attractive and smart in her dress.
Each night the photostaff takes several pictures of our table. Esther looks lovely in every picture. She really does. This hints that she looked pretty good once upon a time.
I used to live in Hollywood at Hollywood Studios when I was younger. Several other girls who lived there became actresses in movies. I could have, too, but I wouldn’t cooperate. She says this with that up and down eyebrow movement of hers. It’s pretty clear that cooperating would have involved sleeping with someone somewhere along the line.
This conversation took place eight years before its time, back in 2009. The media had not yet exploded with Hollywood (and beyond) sexual harassment allegations. If hashtags were even a thing, they were not yet mainstream. I was just a young woman listening to an old one relate her life experience and a part of her story.
I assure Esther that I’m glad that she didn’t cooperate or we might not be sharing a table on this cruise ship. I have no other words to offer. Only presence. We sit.
If I get ice cream for dessert will you have some? What flavor should I choose?
Something in me senses that Esther is a Butter Pecan kind of girl, which is exactly what I request for her.
It’s after 10:00 on Saturday night, and I’m picking up American Girl dolls and accessories from an elaborate set up in the TV room. They have been there for over a week.
I remember the intricacy involved and time it takes to set up and orchestrate proper play, and I want my youngest to have that freedom for as long as possible. As a result, we have all been navigating over and around tiny dishes and clothing and furniture and dolls, so many dolls. It is time to clean them up.
There are bins to contain everything, but Little Mae is clearly avoiding the task.
I warn her that if she doesn’t pick up, then I will do it for her.
Ok, Fine! She calls over her shoulder as she runs upstairs to play in her room with a sister before bed.
This is how I find myself here, and I do not even take a picture, though the thought crossed my mind. What if this is the last time?
It really could be now, unlike times before when there was always another sister or sibling next in line.
I allow myself to hold the memory of the scene in my heart as I sit in the midst of the play circle, paralyzed. I am transported back to my young self who desired to keep her world ordered, a seemingly impossible task with six younger siblings coming behind and messing things up.
I understand now Little Mae’s avoidance. It is overwhelming. In my overwhelm, I release perfectionism and just place things where they fit. Like with like, mostly. There is fun in unpacking surprises when the bins are brought back out.
Whenever that may be.
My husband works on his own late-night project in the kitchen, just off of the room where I sit. I gain momentum and snap tops on full bins, stacking them, preparing to move them back out to the kitchen set.
Music plays from the speaker in the kitchen. . . Changes . . .and the tears well in my eyes. My heart already feels fragile, and now I am packing and stacking and storing away toys that are nearing their expiration date.
Doubt creeps in and over and around my heart as I question my choice to allow the girls to spend so much birthday and Christmas money over the years on dolls and tiny dresses and miniature shoes and furniture.
I remember and question my own rush of anticipation, stalking Cyber Monday deals and trolling secondhand shops for unique tiny things.
I find a paper rolled and taped into a tiny cone shape with pompoms glued on it for cotton candy and ice cream sandwiches cut from craft foam and the tiny empty plastic bottles that held beads from a recent craft kit and smile.
There were only two visits I was able to make before the holidays. Mondays in Bridgewater afforded me time to stop by after a weekly meeting with friends. I planned to return this week. Back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress.
I was not prepared for the news.
It is easy to check mail on my phone, so when a ministry team message came through with only his name in the heading, I opened it instantly. Sometimes things can be too instant, leaving a person raw in the wake of the suddenness.
I thought I knew what it would say.
There would be a health update, maybe a way to serve the family. There might be specifics of how the disease was progressing or a general update to keep us informed as to how to pray for the man who continued to pray for us from the confines of his automated recliner.
My breath caught in my chest as I read that my dear friend’s breath had left him in the night as he slept.
Gone was the man who sat across from me for so many Stephen Ministry meetings, his faithfulness and genuine care and concern for people radiating from his face. He held many of my prayer requests close and would ask how God was working in my life, right up until our last visit together.
A fun fact is that he had attended the church my husband grew up in when they both lived in Northern Virginia. He remembered my husband as a boy and would laugh and tell stories of him. We had a connection.
Above all he loved the Lord and wanted to serve him in all that he did. Our last visit together was full of stories of days gone by, such as being roped in invited to help with the Awana program at his church when he was a younger man and how he cared for the kids who were difficult, understanding that they were the ones who needed love the most.
There were many times that he went out of his way to be present or show up for people. He sought out the hurting and humbly reached out with a kind word or thought.
He encouraged me with his words and his steadfast faith in God. He encouraged me by attending worship whenever he could, right up until his final weeks when it became difficult. I remember the last Sunday that I saw him from stage, sitting in his chair in the back. My heart caught in my chest and my eyes welled up, much as they did when I read that he died.
Bob is in heaven now. I don’t know how it works, but I am confident that he is present with the Lord. This song comes to mind as I sit with my tears remembering my friend. I think it captures his heart.
I sit in the day after Christmas, carving out some reflective quiet in the midst of all of the celebrating. In the moment there is relative peace. There are no deep conversations to engage, no projects to help facilitate, and no needs to meet. In the moment.
There has been much change and growth this season, and like most growth and change, it is not noticeable until you look back on what was. The looking back took place through the eyes of an adult son who was on the other side of the world last Christmas.
Christmas morning was so much more chill than it was two years ago when I was home.
It is true. Little people have grown and are growing, and while there is still excitement, there is not the frenetic level that once was. There is greater ability and capacity to wait with expectancy and hopeful patience and to enjoy the process of giving and receiving gifts on Christmas morning.
I noticed changes in many areas over the season.
Cookie baking looked different. It required minimal help from me in the gathering and helping to mix ingredients for dough. The rest took care of itself as four sisters sat and decorated them together.
There was such playfulness in the decorating, as inside family jokes were engaged and battle scenes created with cookies and icing. Growth. Laughter.
Christmas dinner felt calmer as we ate and laughed and played a game around the table. I really want to insert a picture, but it is the season where not everyone is fond of being posted. Changes. So I refrain and instead post the final result of our Advent tree.
That was a change, as well, since we kept up with the pieces and candles this year after a rocky beginning.
I am thankful that I pushed through the hard to get to the other side. We made a lot of memories around the table and the tree.
A final note on this day after Christmas is how my gifts have changed over the years. From giant plastic candy canes of days gone by to thoughtful gifts that show just how much my kids have grown and know me, this year’s Christmas bounty was so sweet. And I am not talking only about the giant truffle!
This is me entering the last week of 2017, blogging about Christmas changes, anticipating other changes on the horizon. While I do not know specifically what they are, I feel them inside.
I hope to have more time to process this week, maybe even on the blog, about what is coming up in 2018, including my word which will be revealed New Year’s Day.
It is Christmas Eve, 2017, and Christmas cards have not been sent. There are no Christmas cards in the mail this year. No New Year’s cards. None. If you have not received a card and you sent one, thank you for the joy that you brought to us. Thank you for extending grace and understanding this year.
It does not mean we will never send out cards again. The tradition may resume next year. It is just that this year Christmas cards were a thing we could say no to, and it is nobody’s fault, in spite of any rumors you may hear.
If there is any fault, I am the one to blame. The decision was made for sure after Thanksgiving, though the thought had been rolling around in my head a bit before then. Thanksgiving brought confirmation that I was trying to hold onto something that is not here right now, and the tighter I tried to grasp, the faster and messier it slipped from my hand.
Last Thanksgiving, all eight children sat around the table. It was a rare moment, and I thought, This could be the last time this happens in this way ~ no spouses or significant others ~ just the siblings. After our 4:00 meal, we dashed outside so that the grandparents could snap a picture of us, which became our Christmas Card.
That is how I remember it, dashing outside to snap a quick picture.
So this year, even though some were missing, I thought, We will do the same thing. Eat at 4, then head outside for a picture, and that will be what I use for Christmas.
Only we did not eat at 4, and with each passing moment, as the sun lowered in the sky, the photo-op slipped away. Still I grasped, and worse, I did not communicate my thoughts or desires to the family. That is what did me in and where the fault lies, if we are finding it.
I am not the only person in this family.
It was after 5:00. The sun was setting. People were being summoned from all corners of the house to come to the table, and I threw out, But first, let’s run outside and take a picture.
It did not go over well. Understandably. Each person has feelings and experiences tied to having a family picture taken, and just because some were more vocal does not mean others did not feel similarly. I realized immediately the many errors of my ways and retracted the request.
It’s okay. Really. We do not need to take a picture. I think I was trying to hold onto something that has passed, and I did not even prepare you for the moment. It’s nobody’s fault (because we often move to blame), it’s just what it is this year.
So Merry Christmas, Dear Readers and Friends! May you honor what is real while holding hope for what is to come as you celebrate!
I decided to get more candles. Rather, I requested that my husband pick some up last Saturday while running errands with a daughter. I knew exactly where I had seen the boxes of pre-packaged, advent-colored, purple and pink candles.
They were sold out.
Instead a text image came through with the image of bulk candles and a question, Is the indigo color okay? I missed the message.
He bought three indigo and one white candle. I like the indigo color much better in person.
The following day, I used the seasonal snowflake paperbag that the candles were packaged in to cover a small cardboard box. I glued the words Get ready on one side and Celebrate on the other. I pressed the five candles into floral foam, lining them with pinecones and berries.
It was my adult son’s idea to move it from the living room mantel to the lazy Susan in the middle of the table. Each night we light the candles during dinner and put up the felt tree piece afterwards. It has been the most chill Advent to date.
If you look closely, you can see some scatter I added this week in honor of Hanukkah.
I love all things miniature and could not resist them!
Speaking of felt tree, this is how ours looks today, December 16, 2017. There are 15 objects placed, and the wall hanging makes 16. Since this particular activity begins December 1, we are actually on track. This is a momentous occasion for us.
Usually we miss several days and spend much time catching up. The candles on the table have been the game changer for us this year.
I chose to persist, in keeping with my word for a few more days. It has not been easy, but it has been good.
I hear the grinder in the kitchen whirling beans. Rattling, Clanking. Pouring. Fresh coffee is set up by the one who loves me so well. This Wednesday morning is Thanksgiving Eve, and instead of being dressed in the kitchen doing a final slapping of peanut butter on bread or filling a thermos with Spaghettios, I am sitting in bed, Bible and journals scattered.
Usually by this time the house is in full buzz with last-minute running around and waking of sleepers whose errant alarm clocks failed to alarm. Today my scholars are home beginning their holiday rest, so I rest a little longer, too, savoring the blue glow of the approaching sunrise outside my bedroom window. I write a bit more and try to silence a mind already racing ahead to the rest of the day.
Fresh coffee means love and kindness from the one who knew I would be sleeping in, and its meaning is not lost to me.
I remember drinking coffee in Florida, its taste a comfort as I got “toddies” with my sister from Barnies Coffee and Tea Company before walking around Coastland Center in Naples. It offered respite from the work week, transition to shopping for a new outfit or item.
Akin to Starbucks with a signature plaid green trademark, coffee at Barnies symbolized rest and hope. I carried the ritual with me to Pensacola and the rare opportunities I had to get off campus with money. Both transportation and finances were in short supply back then.
I began drinking coffee in earnest when I lived in Golden Gate, Florida. It helped fuel my early morning work hours and kept me going into an evening full of classes. Warm comfort in a mug adorned my desk, carrying me away to a time when things would be different. I am in that time today ~ or am I? Are things different? I wonder.
It is a ritual that Steve and I have shared since our PCC “coffee station” days. He would walk from our breakfast table each morning to fill our mugs. Handcrafted coffee beverages were not as popular thirty years ago as they are today. There was not a campus coffee knockoff of Starbucks ~ or Barnies Coffee and Tea Company. There was morning coffee with Steve in the Varsity Commons out of beige melamine cafeteria mugs.
Family legend holds that I drank coffee at two years of age out of tiny creamer cups. My mom would fill them for me while we visited with her friend, Sarojeni, an Indian woman whose name I could pronounce perfectly, according to folklore.
So I have always been about coffee, which is why I can sit and sip and close my eyes and let all of the feelings flood me like the water that would flood the grounds in the single-serve red French Press that I got as a teen when trying to find who I was.
My daughter faithfully rises early each weekday morning to walk and care for her dog. She is often up before me, pulling on a coat and slipping on headphones before grabbing the leash. I remain in my room, doing my morning routine, preparing to engage another day.
One morning, I heard unusual scrambling and barking from Dewey upon returning from his walk. Run-in with Zephyr, I conjectured. She’s the boss of us all. I wonder what is up with them this morning. He must have crossed her.
I stepped out of my room to find a ball of white scampering around and under the dining room table with Dewey following closely behind, barking and snapping at it. It was another terrier.
I found Louie this morning on the walk. He was loose, so I brought him here to call his owner.
Sure enough, the name on his tag read Louie, which was kind of funny considering we have Dewey. We wondered aloud if they had been at the SPCA together, and if there was a Huey out there, also.
The morning routine continued as Dewey and Louie dashed around underfoot, reminding me of why I was hesitant to get a dog in the first place and why we have only one. Steve called the number on the tag which went directly to voicemail. He then offered the following words while preparing to drive Kirk to school:
I’m going to walk Louie around the block to see if someone is looking for him while Kirk finishes getting ready.
I got in my car to wait for the girls to come out for their ride to school. They exited the house as Steve returned from his walk around the block with another little dog under his arm.
I think they belong together, because this little one came running up. I had to grab him quickly before he got away.
Then there were three! I was laughing out loud in disbelief. The little brown dog had no tag. Of course we called him Huey.
Please don’t call the SPCA until I get home. The little brown dog is SOOOOO cute! Can we keep him?
I was beyond my comfort zone as Steve deposited the dogs in the backyard while I assured my daughter that I would make no sudden moves without her. We left for school.
I am not exaggerating when I say that at the top of our street there was a large white dog off-leash doing his business. No human in sight.
We are not even stopping for Donald! We have GOT to get to school.
I returned home to the sight of two dogs looking longingly at me through the fence.
Inside, Dewey was waiting by the back door. I opened it for him to join his friends in the back yard.
There was an incredible amount of cuteness.
Then it was time for me to go to breakfast with my son. This meant bringing Dewey inside but leaving the others out in case their owner should come looking for them. Can you guess the dynamic here? Which dog is supposed to be coming inside?
Please can I come in, too?
After a leisurely breakfast downtown, my son and I returned home to an empty yard. The dogs had been picked up. At least I hoped so!
The call came later. The dogs had, indeed, made it home, and we had made a fun family memory. I’m grateful for caring hearts, bounding dogs, and healing laughter.