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Dear Benjamin,

Last week you turned the big TWO!!  I was reading the letter I wrote you at 21 months and it’s amazing how much you have changed.  Even over just a few months you change and grow. 

You still talk and talk and talk.  You love to run through the house, play with swords, and tickle Mommy and Daddy.  The dogs drive you crazy (especially Frankie), and when you and Frankie are energetic and chasing each other you both drive US crazy.  We’ve been swimming half a dozen times this summer and if I put you in your swim donut you can swim around the pool yelling “Kick! Kick! Kick!” as your legs frantically propel you forward.  It’s a joy to watch.

We had your birthday party the day after your actual birthday.  Lots of friends and family came over.  I made you chocolate and vanilla cupcakes with chocolate and vanilla ice cream.  You started crying when I lit the candle on your cupcake and everyone started singing.  I’m not sure why – maybe the attention? Maybe the singing? However, as soon as we were done and you got to eat the cupcake, you were much better!

You got some neat toys for your birthday and love to play with them.  Lots of animals and blocks and cars and trucks.  Puzzles and dinosaurs and oh, my, the vehicles.  Our house has become a speedway and you are the driver of racing machines darting in, out, and over the couch.

We took a trip to California almost two months ago.  We were worried about how you would do in the plane, but we shouldn’t have worried.  You love any kind of vehicle, planes included.  Daddy sat next to you on the plane and talked about how you were going to go really, really fast, and go up, up, up!  You loved it.  We rode in the car for ages and ages, and you rarely fussed about it.  We drove through random subdivisions in Elk Grove, and you asked if we were going to Mae Mae’s house! It was the cutest thing, and you made Mae Mae’s mom giggle about it when I told her.  We went to a wedding for my best friend Amy.  You love Amy, and you loved dancing at Amy and Keith’s wedding.   We went to Monterey Bay Aquarium, and you had such a blast hanging out with your 3 cousins.  We went camping (which you LOVED) at my old camping site in California.  It was heart-wrenchingly beautiful to see you scale the same rocks I had scaled as a child.  To see you in the “rock club” and down at the water’s edge was an incredible experience for me.  Even though the water was freezing cold you stood in it until your feet turned to chubby little icicles, and you loved it.  Watching you eat s’mores with your cousins is a memory I will treasure forever.

A few weeks ago we travelled to Senatobia, Mississippi to visit Papa’s parents.  Mimi and PaPaw loved you, and we loved visiting them, and you had a good time running around their house and showing off.  A mere week after that we went down to Houston for your cousin Austin’s graduation.  Each road trip you demonstrated your willingness to sit still when needed, your love of movement, and your love of music.  I love how you love music.

Son, I’ll be honest, because it’s my letter and I’m allowed to be: I don’t know what the future holds for you.  What I do know is that you capture the attention of people – your joy, your mannerisms, and your movement.  Watching you is like watching life take place – it’s like observing the best the world has to offer.  Maybe you’re just like every other two-year old on the planet, I’m not sure.  I hope that I can teach you to harness that attention-grabbing skill and use it to better the world around you.  I know that living with you teaches me every day the meaning of slow down. Observe. Breathe. Love. Be patient.

Your Daddy and I talk about you, often, after you’ve finally given up and gone to sleep.  We lay in bed, snuggled, and talk about whether or not we’re doing a good job (most days we think we’re doing OK).  Recently we were talking about your exposure to television and video games.  We don’t want to shelter you from the world and its issues, but we don’t want to desensitize you either.  It’s tough to say “No, we won’t play this video game while Benjamin is awake, because it depicts violence too accurately,” but that’s exactly where we are at. 

This world is dangerous and violent and broken, son, and you’ll have your whole life to learn that.  I hope that we can teach you about the beauty of the world first, and it’s dark side later. 

Eventually, Lucky will die, and you will learn grief.  Eventually, you will ask where Mommy’s parents are, and you will see me cry.  Eventually, you will ask why Jesus hangs on the cross, broken and beaten, and you will learn about sacrifice. 

Our hope, though all of that, is to teach you about love.  Love that shines through grief and brokenness, love that taught Mommy how to heal, love that makes Daddy get up even on the days when his depression beats his heart and soul, love that put Christ on the cross and love that triumphs all of the dark things in this world.

However, before you have to learn all of those things, I want you to know joy.  I want to continue to see my baby boy, beautiful and full of grace and energy, running around squealing with laughter.  I want to continue to love you so much it hurts.  I want to see animals for the first time all over again, though your eyes.  I want to continue to chase the dogs in the backyard until we collapse into fits of giggles.  I want to dance with you in the living room until I’m sweaty and exhausted.  I want these good and wonderful things for you so that when darkness seems to sneak in, you can remember the things from the light.

I hope you understand, one day, how hard it is trying to figure all this stuff out.  I hope you have enough grace to forgive us when we mess up.  I hope I have enough grace to forgive myself!  But either way, we’ll muddle through this crazy adventure together.  Being a Mommy is quite an amazing experience in general, but being Mommy to you – well – I think that’s my favorite job yet.

I love you son, happy 2nd birthday.

Love,
Mama

I don’t really even know how to start this. 

Ska music is, and always will be, a part of who I am as a person.  Growing up my parents didn’t like any “new” music, but ska music forced its way into my soul.  It was cheerful and bouncy and never fails to make me happy when listening to it.  Ska music was the catalyst that introduced me to my best friend Amy.  I am forever indebted to ska music for the friendship I have with her.  I’ll never forget the apprehension and excitedness and how hard it was for me to reach out to the pretty girl that sat behind me in class (or was it in front of me? I can’t remember now…) and tell her that I liked her backpack, I liked the FIF patch, and OHMYGOODNESSSOMEONEELSEKNOWSWHATSKAMUSICIS!!  And she liked my hair clip and the rest is history.

I guess some people already know this, but I did not: OC Supertones is making a new album! If they can get funded, that is.  They are one of the classic Christian ska bands from the 90s/2000s, and my personal favorite.  I’m going to be donating to their Kickstarter project, and I ask you very nicely to please do the same?  We have 18 days to come up with another $10,061 and if I had that much money I could give it to them in a heartbeat.  For just a glimpse of what this band means to me, read one of my blog posts where I wrote them a letter.  This was the first ska band I heard, and I can’t even describe how excited I am to know I’m going to get new music from them.

Seriously.

Excited. 

So, go to the Kickstarter page, listen to their new song (here’s a link to some lyrics), and give them 100 bucks. Or $50. Or $25. Or $5. Or a dollar. Just help them, please, a tiny bit, for me, and for the world.

She is running
A hundred miles an hour in the wrong direction

I would like someone to write a song, please.  I don’t have the skill for songwriting.  I would like you to model it after “Does Anybody Hear Her?” by Casting Crowns.  I would like you to tell a different side of the story.

She is trying but the canyon’s ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart

The song is about a broken woman who wants love and acceptance and help from the people of the church but does not get the help she needs.  I would like you to write a song about the people who offer love and acceptance and help to a broken person… to no avail. 

So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She’s another two years older
And she’s three more steps behind

I would like you to talk about how heartbreaking it is to sit beside them and watch them run in the wrong direction.

Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she’s going down today?

I would like you to talk about having an opportunity to help them.  About how scary it is when they move in to your world and how happy and hopeful you are that this time, this time it will be different.

Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that’s tucked away in you and me
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?

Sometimes we do see.  Sometimes we see the hurting, and the broken, and the bruised.  Sometimes we say to ourselves: Hey, we should be like Jesus and try to help them.  Sometimes they ask for help and you see an opportunity.

 She is yearning for shelter and affection
That she never found at home

So we invite them into our world.  We take them to church.  We hug them and cry with them.  We feed them and clothe them and pray for them and with them.  Sometimes it works for a while. 

She is searching for a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day

Sometimes you tell them their worth and they nod, and they smile, but they don’t believe it.  You tell them to have faith in their own worth.  You tell them that they are God’s precious and loved child, and their lips say “I know” while their heart can’t believe it yet.

You pray for them.  You kneel at your bed and you cry for their soul.  You pray that God will give you the words you need to reach them in the midst of their brokenness. 

And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say
Momentary lapse of reason
And she gives herself away

And then… then they tell you that they’re leaving.  That they’ve found another path, another way out, one that doesn’t involve the hard work of facing the pain.  They’re leaving so they don’t have to deal with someone loving them, but telling them that they need to make better (and admittedly more difficult) choices.

If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can’t see past her scarlet letter
And we’ve never even met her

You watch them go.  Despite the sacrifice of time and energy you watch them leave.  You know it’s fruitless.  You know they’re not ready to change.  You’ve seen for some time now that your argument was ineffective. 

One of the worst parts about this, in my opinion, is that when it’s all said and done there is a small part of you that is relieved it’s over.  Don’t get me wrong: the overwhelming emotion is grief and sadness.  But there is also relief tinged with guilt – relief that your time of sacrifice is over, and guilt at being relieved.  How can you be relieved they’re going back to their broken life?  But you’re human, and you’re glad that this means less stress and sacrifice to you and your family.

And there’s a bit of doubt.  Did I try hard enough? Did I show them enough love? Could I have changed the situation a bit and had more success?

The important thing to remember here, and the thing I have to remind myself, is that I can’t fix anyone.  I can’t make them better.  Only God can.   That is what I hold on to.  When I feel all these emotions so strongly, I remind myself that God is the great physician and we are his broken church.  Ultimately, He is the one who heals.  We just point people in His direction.    

So, dear reader, if you decide to write a song about one of the other sides of “Does Anybody Hear Her” then please make sure you talk about how in the end, God is the great transformer…not us.  I know I’m asking a lot, and I know you probably won’t write a song about such a sad and helpless place, but my request has been made. 

I’d like a song that reminds me that sometimes we fail, but at least we tried.

(all italicized words from “Does Anybody Hear Her” by Casting Crowns from their album Lifesong.)

Dear Supertones,

You were my first love outside of my family (and the cute boy that went to church in the town next to mine, but that’s a different story). I’ll never forget the first time I heard your music.

It was 1997 and life for this then-13-year-old girl was pretty good. I had a good family. Lots of siblings. But music…music was not really my “thing.” I would much rather be reading, sticking my nose into a book and escaping to worlds far away. Worlds where dwarves and hobbits lived among ents, and rings were things whispered about in secret.

My sisters were much more passionate about music. They had their Silverchair and Metallica albums that they listened to in secret. My parents allowed only certain types of music in the house…. anything modern and “rock” was strictly prohibited. It was the devil’s music, you see.

I wasn’t rebellious so I stuck with what was approved and allowed. I listened to some Willie Nelson, George Strait, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash. I listened to Spirit and Bride, which was an amazing Christian band from the early 90’s on an old half-worn cassette tape. I listened to the Statler Brothers.

But see, Supertones, the day my life changed because of you was really a day like any other. We had our chores to do. We had a few fights (and only a little blood was drawn). We probably watched The Adams Family (which was the ONLY movie that 5 Threet children would ever agree on). There was no magical excitement in the air, it was a day like any other. I received your CD as a present – this was when CDs were still kind of a big deal, back when I was nervous about putting a CD in the stereo because heaven forbid I do it wrong and break the expensive machine.

I stared at the cover. Seven men in sunglasses stared back at me. You guys looked great! I had no idea what ska was, by the way. I figured, hey, how bad could these guys be? I used the remote to open the CD tray. Czzh-jjjggg. I wrestled with the cellophane on the CD case. My sisters tried to distract me. I gingerly placed the CD into the tray. Jake ran some GI Joe’s into my foot. I closed the CD tray. I pressed play. The CD player rotated my CD to the back of the stereo. It cycled around a few times to get it’s bearings on the shiny new CD.

I can’t describe the first 7 notes of your first song on that CD in words that are fitting. You know what they are anyways. I can tell you that there are drums and horns and that it’s a smashing way to start an album. You know that. But that doesn’t tell you how my musical world was shattered.

I told you, right, that I listened to country and hokey Christian music for the first 13 years of my life. I didn’t listen to rock, alternative, rap, or anything even remotely close to ska. Your 7 notes absolutely shattered the idea of what music was in my brain. It was this radical new way of looking at music.

I danced around to that CD all day long that day. And the day after that. And the day after that. Your music became a constant theme in my life; something I whistled while at the bus stop and sang in the shower.

Through your first CD I found Five Iron Frenzy and Insyderz and through them I found DC Talk and Jars of Clay and Third Day. But it started with you, Supertones. So I can’t give any other band credit for getting me through a rough spot without first going back to that first day in 1997 when 7 notes rocked my world. I can’t tell Robby Seay Band how much their “Song of Hope” means to me without a nod in your direction because you got me to this point. I can’t tell Jars of Clay how their song “Worlds Apart” is my all time favorite song EVER without a nod to the last song on Supertones Strike Back, “So Great a Salvation.”

You got me here, Supertones. Maybe not by yourself, but those 7 notes that introduce your second album definitely helped pave the way. So thank you. I know you don’t make music anymore – it was 13 years ago, I guess you’ve all moved on to bigger and brighter things. I guess I have too.

But you know what, Supertones? When I was pregnant with my son (who is now 5 months old and super cute) we didn’t bother playing Bach or Beethoven for him. I plugged my ipod into my car and scrolled down to OC Supertones, The. I rolled down to the album “Supertones Strike Back.”

I turned up the volume.

Love,

Jennet

For as much as she stumbled she’s runnin’
For as much as she runs she’s still here
Always hoping to find something quicker than heaven
To make the damage of her days disappear
Just like Guinevere
(via Eli Young Band)

Today one of the trending topics on Twitter was #iwillneverforget.  I never know how these trending topics get started, but for those not “in” on the twittermania the trending topics are popular phrases, basically the top ten things people are talking about right now.  A lot of times they’ll use the hashtag (that’s the pound sign for you non-geeks) to denote particular things. 

When news broke about Michael Jackson, I found out about it on twitter’s trending topics before it had even hit the AM radio waves. It’s fast.

So twitters trending topics are kind of like instant snapshots in the life and times of people on twitter, on the internet, walking around the globe letting others know what they’re thinking about.  Kind of awesome if you ask me.

So anyways, today was #iwillneverforget and it made me think first of all, what made this be popular? And second, what will I never forget?

I don’t know exactly what made it be popular other than the fact that when I started thinking about it, a flood of memories overwhelmed me and some were good, some were happy, some were sad… but it made me think for a minute about the things that, God willing, I will remember until I die.

The things that we’ll never forget kind of define us as people.  Sure, there are things that impact people on a wide scale (the Challenger explosion back in 1986, 9/11, the Tsunami in 2004, Virginia Tech Shootings, Hurricane Katrina) and then there are things that impact people on an individual level (the death of a loved one, the birth of a loved one, a graduation, a victory, a defeat).  Combined together we have this menagerie of memories.

So I thought I’d share some things I’ll never (hopefully) forget.

  • I will never forget the feeling of waking up when camping with my family at Cherry Lake.  None of the other places I camped had the same magic that Cherry Lake did.  I remember waking up in my sleeping bag, peeking my head out of the sleeping bag into the cold brisk mountain air.  I never would get up right away, and that served several purposes. One, it was WAY to cold outside to get up right away.  Two, and more importantly, I loved the experience of the morning – the birds chirping, the wind gently rustling my tent, the smell of the fire and the pop of the pine cones heating up, the smell of coffee, and my parents voices still quiet for fear of waking us.  It was absolute and utter serenity the likes of which I have only glimpsed since then.  If I sleep in heaven, when I wake up I think it will feel like those cold mornings did.
  • The first time I heard ska.  When I was a  young girl I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything other than christian music, and the only stuff my parents listened to were by people born in the 20s… so my experience with music was VERY limited.  When my step-sisters moved in they had been listening to county at their grandparents, so in the wisdom of minimizing trauma my parents let us listen to country.  A few years after that I wrote an article about my best friend, the preacher’s daughter, that got published in the denomination’s teen magazine.  As a reward they sent me a few cds.  The first one I put in was Supertones Strike Back by The Orange County Supertones.  I put the CD into the music player, turned it up to a volume not generally allowed, and hit play.  The drums sounded, trumpets blared and it literally changed my life.  Before hearing their upbeat, happy tunes I had no idea that music anything close to that existed.  Seriously. I can’t stress that enough, that CD changed my life on many, many levels.  It has an amazingly soft spot in my  heart and rightfully so.  You can hear it here, but it won’t be the same.
  • The day I got my letter about passing the CHSPE – The California High School Proficiency Exam, the test that gave me freedom from the confines of modern education.  I had prayed and prayed and prayed and knew that I had a reasonable shot of passing but I also knew that my prayer had been “If you want me to go back to high school, then let me fail this test.” I passed, and when I read those words I ran around the pool table shouting, jumping around, and jumped so much I sprained my ankle. It was a great way to become a sort-of high school graduate.

I won’t bore you with waking up to my dad saying “wake up, the country’s under attack” on 9/11, or the meal I ate the night my grandfather committed suicide.  Those aren’t happy.  But I do think that in the right amount, a bit of reminiscience isn’t bad.  It’s good to remember where we’ve come from, it’s good to remember important events in our life because even if they didn’t affect you directly sometimes they still help define you as a person.  We are, for better or for worse, partially defined by the events around us.  How we are defined though, that’s up to us.

You’re in a better place, I’ve heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I’ve rejoiced for you
But the reason why I’m broken, the reason why I cry
Is how long must I wait to be with you

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
I’ve never been more homesick than now

Help me Lord cause I don’t understand your ways
The reason why I wonder if I’ll ever know
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
Cause I’m still here so far away from home

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
I’ve never been more homesick than now

In Christ, there are no goodbye
And in Christ, there is no end
So I’ll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
To see you again
To see you again

And I close my eyes and I see your face
If home’s where my heart is then I’m out of place
Lord, won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
Won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow
Won’t you give me strength to make it through somehow

I’ve never been more homesick than now
(Mercy Me – Homesick)

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