Atlas – how to not be afraid.

My biggest question?

Where did you go.

It isn’t even a question anymore, actually. It reads more like a definitive statement. It’s my current definition in my waking life, to which I am steadfastly beholden.

That thought runs through my mind dozens of times on any given day.

When did you turn from this living, breathing being into the still photos on my mantle?

How does it seem like it just happened? The same way that rain falls from above. The same way sunlight streams in through uncovered windows and washes across the floor. 

It feels like everything just happens now. Silently. Unnoticed. Expectantly.

If they told me tomorrow that I was dying, would I even be surprised? I don’t think so. Not the same way I was surprised on the day that you died; when I finally saw that we really are just beings wrapped in flesh who all go away the same way that even summer heat eventually gives way to winter cold.

I was disheartened when I saw for the first time that we are all reduced to lines on a screen that turn flat. No more rhythm. No coursing. Just lines being drawn inexplicably to an end. 

And that’s what terrifies me. I used to not be afraid like I am now, because I hardly ever thought about it. And now that I do, I worry about what you felt. What you sensed. If you felt panic or fear or loneliness.

What does it feel like to slip away? 

And what was there when you opened your eyes on the other side, and breathed in for the first time again? The breath of one whose burdens are removed, who feels complete freedom from turmoil. Who sees perfectly now, as we were meant to. Is that the place where you are? 

I don’t know if it would surprise me if I were to learn that I was going to die. I breathe in and out now like I’m expecting it. Like I will lose it all tomorrow. Silently. Unassumingly. Without care. Like it will happen the same way those white lines flattened.

When did you fade into just being these fractured memories from my childhood? I try not to box those memories in too gently, the way you would fine bone china. I try to hang on to them as tightly as I can, to not recast them as something more delicate than they were. 

But they’re still mine.

And even though I promise that I’m looking, I still can’t find you. 

Even though I’m living this life backwards, and all that I see now is what has transpired, I can’t find you amidst those waves of memories. They’re like shadows dancing on a wall.

What was really real?

I am this empty space trying to absorb the chaotic dust and particles that are floating by. I’m waiting for gravity to take hold. For it to help form something, for the elements to meet and fuse and bond. So that I will eventually have something solid to stand on. Sometimes, I would rather just wait than move on.

But so many things have formed from and in the depths of blackness. Gases and poisons; heat and ice. Cratered surfaces and oceans of lightning. Hidden moons and distant planets spinning in the dark. 

So many things are born when something else shatters. They are beautiful and volatile; terrifying but majestic.

But not every thing that forms right under your feet is a place that you should stay.

I’m caught up in waves of thought; of how things begin, and I stand eagerly trying to reconcile them to the way that things end.

Beginning – end. Beginning – end. My mind turns it all over, once and again. The way that bones grow hard in the womb, the way that they weaken and give way to age and illness. 

Strong to weak. Something to nothing. Alive to dead. Born to die. 

What is out there, exactly? Do we ever really die? Tell me it’s not true.

I’ve become a wanderer. I’m not trying to find my way – I’m trying to find out why. My world was shattered, and now I want to know where the pieces went as they were flung off into the darkness of space after impact; I want to see the things they made, the things I hope they formed.

These are places I need to see, even though I know I can’t stay. I just want to know that the hurt was worth it.

The stars and blackness become a map to me. It’s out there that is the most wild and yet, feels the most comforting – in those places where I would be the most alone, where no one can find me. Where no one even wants to look.

But God says those stars and planets, galaxies and hidden moons, black holes and lost things are already named. He already knows where they each are. Every cratered surface. Each red storm. Every piece of rock, ice covered, hurtling angrily through space, bent on destroying something else, the same way it was dislodged when destruction came calling.

I

Even burning stars, whose lives gave out long ago, but whose light hasn’t yet reached its final destination, He knows where each lost thing is. Because whatever is out there in the dark is still not lost.

It still matters. 

Each hurt that filters through me, that chips off pieces of me is named and counted, grief upon sorrow. It isn’t unknown where they will land; where they will collide; where they will begin to orbit.

As I wander, and I discover and confront each of them, I find that He was present all along. I wasn’t alone in the planes of space. It’s almost palpable, each time I find myself somewhere new; the feeling that He’s already marked it. That it already belongs to him, no matter how vast. No matter how far removed. 

Those lost pieces – He has already set them in place. A solar system, a galaxy of hurts and loss, hate and burning love, turned into ethereal beauty for the ages. Fixed but always moving, always rotating, always going onward, unafraid, into the blackness. 

Affixed invisibly to the sun.

A river of stars, light still being given off from pieces of me that have already gone. Still there to help chart where to wander next. A sea of black above, full of spinning, giant planets and moons. A trail of tears in the dusts and particles.

A forrest of hurt, and yet a map of hope. 

Each lost thing named, not forgotten. Charted.

Claimed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Love Letter to Moms on Valentine’s Day

Does it feel like Valentine’s Day?

When you haven’t showered for three days, and there’s a dirty frying pan from last night still sitting on a grease caked stovetop, and the sink is spewing dishes over the side?

Does it feel like the day of romance?

Maybe you used to enjoy getting a dozen red roses and ferrero rocher chocolates from your significant other. Maybe it meant curling your hair before you both slipped out to dinner together.  Maybe it meant daydreaming in the days before about what your other half had planned for you on the day circled in bright red on the calendar.

Everything was quiet. Everything was so much easier, a lot less complicated. You figured that this was always the way it was always going to be.

There were no feeding routines. No babysitters that cancelled. No husbands that worked late, again. No radioactive sippy cups to clean, no laundry that clogged your hallways, multiplying surreptitiously in the hampers. 

It was so much easier to feel loved when you felt good about yourself.

It was so much easier to feel love when that love came attached to candy hearts and dinner reservations at the swankiest place in town.

It was so much easier to feel loved when you felt interesting and mysterious to your other half because you were insulated in a bubble of self love. When you knew that you deserved to feel wanted.

Now?

It’s all you can do to keep your eyes open past nine p.m. Never mind even attempting to put on mascara, or managing to get both legs shaved in the shower before someone barges in needing a granola bar. 

It’s easy to feel like you’re nailing it when your skin is clean and your hair is washed. When the kitchen counters are clean, the laundry is folded and put away, and the kids are sleeping soundly.

It’s easy to feel like you’re fascinating when you have things to talk about with other adults that aren’t related to children’s cartoons and bowel movements and changing polka-dotted sheets at 2 a.m. and how the last well checkup went. 

It’s easy to feel like you’re a masterpiece in the making when your child isn’t angry with you; when you don’t feel like you fell just short of the parenting mark. 

It’s easy to feel like you’re wonderful when you don’t have to be enough for other people.

Now, when it’s chaos piled upon mayhem, when winter germs move through your house like wildfire, and you have to count back the days in your head to the last time you snuck off to nab a shower before the baby started putting blueberries in the toilet…

You run solely on the fumes of hope that today will be easier than yesterday was.

And Valentine’s Day just becomes one more thing to do. One more part of life that feels completely contradictory to the season and place you find yourself in.

Nobody sees you. I get it. 

Nobody sees you silently picking up crumbs and old french fries from off the floor in the van. Nobody sees how many times you have to scrub the crusted pee from behind the toilet. Nobody sees how many times your meals are interrupted, your sleep is interrupted, your life is interrupted.

I get that you feel like nobody sees you. Because really? They probably don’t. 

I used to take for granted that lady at the grocery store, pushing a shopping cart with three children hanging off of it while they clamored loudly over whose turn it was to pick out the cereal.

I used to wonder how she got to where she was. I took her for granted, if I even noticed her at all. 

Now, I realize that strangers hardly ever LOOK at me unless my child is causing a ruckus. And if they are friendly enough to randomly chirp up and say hi, it’s usually the standard platitudes about how old my littles are, how cute they are, etc…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s so nice when someone does that. But man, it would be nice to feel like people looked at me and thought, now there’s a woman whose opinion I’d love to hear. There’s a lady who has it all together. There’s a lady who is strong and capable.

Truthfully, though, even if they did, I would feel unworthy of such attention.

Because it is so, so much easier to feel loved and worthy when there is more coming in than there is going out everyday. When you and others value every thing you do unquestionably.

But it’s the reversed currency in our lives that only parenting can bring, where you feel emptied on a nearly daily basis, that teaches us that it’s actually in the seasons of depletion that can love grow. 

Where you realize it takes more than red roses and candied sweets to hold you together. Where you realize that sometimes, you have to be your own biggest cheerleader and friend, because you’ve only got you when you’re awake, rocking babies at 2 a.m.

When you are taught through experience that love is not just an action, but it’s also an education. And you will yourself to learn how to be molded, to love when even when it hurts and you’re bone tired and you’re struggling.

You learn to love even when you yourself don’t feel very loved.

I was putting the kiddos to bed last night. My middle child was teetering over to the edge of a breakdown because it was the end of the day, and everyone’s nerves were fried. And I brought her back from that edge in the ways that only a parent could. 

As I brushed her hair from her face, this refreshing and empowering thought came into my mind that actually, yea, sometimes, I do know what I’m doing

It’s like these metaphysical pieces lock in to place when I remember that I CAN do this. Love grows inside of me when I remember to value and cherish the work that I do each day; to hold on to it preciously but with the most ferocious iron grip I can muster.

It doesn’t seem like much at first. It doesn’t put the laundry away, it doesn’t clean the house, it doesn’t get the bottle of sage that your child dumped all over the floor cleaned up. 

But it’s when my my safety tether is broken, when there is no padding to protect me from how much it takes to truly love my littles and my husband to completion, and I’m talking messy, imperfect love even when they don’t come close to deserving it, that I learn that love grows deeper when my soil is fertile and when the watering is plenty. 

And you are both of those things, momma.

When you let love take hold of you and it grows in you, you are like a lush garden in the bloom of spring. When you are a spring to be drawn from, you are an endless river that churns mightily.

And in, your children find peace and strength, hope and perseverance.

Because you love, you are loved.

You cover them – even when they don’t deserve it. And your love never ceases, never fails. 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, momma.

 

 

Moms Forget.

Seven and a half years in, three kids deep – somehow, I know the kinds of shrieks and cries in the middle of the night that mean that someone is sick. 

Laying on the couch, watching reruns on Netflix with the husband, our minds had both started to drift off to the idea of it being Friday, of bedtime and sleeping in the next morning. 

Then we heard the littlest one cry out. Somehow I knew. 

We were greeted with the smell of what I can only consider toxic bile when we walked into her room. Stomach bugs always emerge long after the kids have gone to bed, didn’t you know?

I snapped into formation. Peeling soaked pajamas off of her while she cried in confusion, and I’m sure in horror. I equate throwing up to anarchy in the universe. What is going on? What is happening? Nothing makes sense anymore. This is horrible!!

It is literally an existential crisis. 

God gives moms the ability to not be grossed out lots of times when we really probably should be, though maybe not always, I chanted to myself. I pushed those thoughts out of my mind as I scooped her smelly body up, and down the stairs we went. Directly to the bath, do not pass go. 

We cleaned her up. Lysol’d and Febreez’d her room. Pondered whether our faithful purple flannel sheet was a lost cause, or if we felt like even trying. Poor Mickey Mouse, he was covered. 

We cleaned her up. Gave her some water. She wasn’t sure about brushing her teeth. I plopped her in bed with me, where she proceeded to squirm and wriggle and poke my forehead with her index finger for the next forty minutes, before I gave up and put her back in her bed. 

She woke me up a few hours later, where we repeated this same disgusting and tedious process. The sickness. A bath. Her wanting to snuggle in bed with me before she gave up and went back to her bed of confusion and terror. And then again another hour after that. 

Somewhere between swiping her mattress with paper towels, peeling off her soaked pillow case (she has effectively now run us out of extra sheets and pillows), and being poked in the forehead with her tiny index finger, I realized how long it had been since I had an up- and-down-and-up-again night. 

Like, seriously. 

I was telling a friend of mine recently that the moment you start catching a break, the moment they start sleeping through the night, eating their vegetables without complaint, letting you dress them, not resisting you at every turn, you get soft. 

You forget. 

Your body is quick to put those memories out of your mind about how you had to feed your fifteen month old blueberries while she laid in bed on your chest because she wouldn’t go back to sleep. 

Your mind is quick to forget what it’s like to marathon nurse all night while your newborn turns your nipples into ground beef.

Your mind is quick to forget what it’s like when they turn two, and stomp their foot and scream “no!” at you for the first time. 

Your mind is quick to forget how they put a toy train in the oven, play-doh and coins down the heating vent, and dumped a bottle of sage that they stole from the counter in their shoes when you weren’t looking. 

You catch any break at all, and then you get soft. And then you have to fight to remember, and it’s like doing it all again for the first time. 

My aim in this life, if I have learned anything worth saving after surviving four score and three years of toddlerhood (time is relative, toddlerhood is the longest time period in existence in case you were wondering), it’s that I don’t want to be the lady in the grocery store, wagging her finger at a young mother, telling her to soak up every moment. 

If I remember nothing about vomit in my hair, pudding on my nice white sweater, crying and kicking the bottom of the fridge because I had to cancel date night, if I forget how it feels to be tired down on molecular level where I want to just gouge out my eyes when they hurt from being so tired – I hope I remember enough to be smart and wise enough not to be that woman. 

That woman, with the brushed hair, mascara on both eyes instead of just one (and not smeared even a little bit), wearing clean clothes, putting her avocados and Kashi cereal in the cart as she buys groceries for just herself and her partner. Chiding the mom whose child is emptying the grocery cart one box of Nutrigrain bars at a time, whose child just sent an entire jar of salsa crashing onto the beige tile floors, to smile and enjoy it. Because it goes oh so fast. 

I hope I can appreciate how soft I will have gotten as time drifted away from those toddler years. 

I hope I can tell her, hey, I know how hard those years are. But you can do it. Heck, you’re doing it now. These years are special, sure. But don’t give up. You can make it. 

Something like that. I hope I’m that woman. Who remembers before she speaks that she has probably forgotten,. She probably forgot a long, long time ago just how hard it is. 

And I hope she remembers.