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Initial Summary:

Where were you when 2016 began?
At home!

Who were you with?
Close family – we smashed our gingerbread house and Eli played on his new toy horse.

Was 2016 a good year for you?
It was, sort of. It was pretty rough. It was long. It was life changing.

What countries/states did you visit?
We visited Alan, Mandy and Ethan in Oklahoma as a family first half of the year.  Then Justin and I took an awesome mini-vacation where we drove through Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Maine.

Did you keep your new years’ resolutions? 
I did not make any, so, yes. One of the interesting things, when I was asked last year what I wanted in 2016 that I lacked in 2015 I said more camping, more friends and a church home.  Luckily, I can add all of those to my list of accomplishments. We went camping 3 times (spring break, summer, and thanksgiving), found a new church home, and I’ve developed some friendships at work.

Did anyone close to you give birth? 
Cory and Erin added baby David, aka Boog, to the family!

Did anyone close to you die? 
No.  Lots of other people did, though, it was a rough year.

What date from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
August 1st, 2016, the day Lilly came to live with us AND the day that I started my new career at the Police Department.

Experiences:

What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
We took my niece in for the school year to help her out.  Justin and I got to visit the east coast, which was pretty awesome.  I became the Accreditation and Compliance Coordinator at my job, which is a completely different job than dispatching.

Did you have fun in 2016?
I believe the phrase that best sums up this year is: “All joy and no fun.”  We did get some good camping trips in this year.  My new job is pretty amazing, too.  I enjoy it a lot.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wish I’d spent more time living instead of responding and surviving.  I wish I’d been more empathetic and given more grace to Justin.  It’s been a pretty rough year.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
I wish I’d been less judgmental, less controlling, less bossy.  I wish I’d spoken less and listened more.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 32! I worked, because the last few birthdays have kind of sucked and I was tired of trying to do something special.  So my brother-from-another-mother Gabe and some of the other guys took me to lunch.  That evening was our very first Community Group with our new church, and that was a pretty great birthday present.  That’s been a worthwhile and awesome investment.

What did you want and get?
A break from dispatching. Leslie got me a really awesome coffee mug from my Pinterest wish list, too!

What did you want and not get?
Debt free.  And I see no sign of that in the near future.

Others:

Whose behavior merited celebration? 
My families. Lilly has shown a willingness to grow and change and become more self-aware, which for a 13-year-old is pretty incredible. Justin has stepped up and really helped mitigate some of these changes with grace I can’t comprehend. Benjamin has taken on the task of having a big older sister with a good sense of humor and a willingness to grow.  It has been QUITE an adjustment for him, but he’s done amazing.  Eli has kept everyone smiling and shows compassion that I didn’t think a 2 year old was capable of, but there he is every day asking me how my day was.

Whose behavior made you appalled, depressed, or sad?
People who put their needs over the needs of others, people who refuse to listen to loved ones, people who won’t change. People that choose to take dark paths because they’re easy. People that scream that they’re being judged and no one will tolerate them, when they’re the ones who aren’t tolerating others.  Also my own behavior, which was characterized by impatience.

Did somebody treat you badly in 2016?
Yeah but I probably deserved at least some of it.

Who were some new people you met?
Beth!!!!!!!

Favorites/Least Favorites:

What was your favorite month of 2016? 
That is actually easy this year.  April we went to go visit family in Oklahoma, I was given an award at work for my work to help victims of domestic violence, I got to teach at the APCO/NENA conference, AND we got to go to NASA. Oh, and I had a lady’s weekend with my family.  I’m gonna have to go with April!!!

What was your favorite moment of the year?
The entirety of Justin and I’s vacation together. Also, Benjamin learning how to ride his bike. That was a pretty incredible experience with him in front of the house.  He just kept trying and trying until he could do it. And then, he did!

What was your least favorite moment of the year? 
There are a lot of least favorite moments this year.  Most of them involved dealing with things out of my control.

What was your favorite TV program? 
One Piece!

What was the best book you read? 
Hmm. Tough decision, as always.  Non-fiction I really liked “Drive” by Daniel Pink. Fiction I really liked “We’re all Damaged” by Mathew Norman.

What were your favorite films of this year? 
The new Star Wars!

What was your favorite video game you played this year?
I haven’t played any this year.

What was your favorite new technology/application?
My fitbit was pretty awesome for most of the year!

What was your greatest musical discovery?
Aviccii.

What was the best thing you bought? 
New tires for the truck #oldlady

Self-reflection:

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 
I took in a teenager. Pretty much everything pales in comparison to that.

What was your biggest failure? 
I could be doing better at the teenager thing.

Did you suffer illness or injury? 
Not really.  Luckily I paid attention to my body a lot better this year and didn’t have any major injuries.  Eli had a lot of illness, but he’s doing good on his medicine this fall so we haven’t had nearly the sickness we did last year (thank you Jesus).

Where did most of your money go?
Kids and gasoline.

What kept you sane?
I’m not sure I kept it…

Who did you miss?
My husband.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? 
CAMPING!

Compared to this time last year, are you:
I. happier or sadder? Sadder
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner!
iii. richer or poorer? POORER!

Did you fall in love in 2016? 
Yes, with a temporary daughter!

Did you lose anything important this year?
Yes.  We lost the previous family dynamic. But, it’s being reshaped into something new and different, and sometimes losing something important isn’t a bad thing, just a thing.

What was your proudest moment of 2016?
Listening to Benjamin try to teach Lilly about God. Getting my new job.

What was your most embarrassing moment of 2016?
Telling my boss he shouldn’t worry about being sloppy with his Y’s, as long as he’s not sloppy with his wives *facepalm*

Gauge your:
(On a scale of: Very Good, Good, Fairly Good, Fairly Bad, Bad, Very Bad)
• Relational Health – Fairly good
• Emotional Health – Fairly bad
• Physical Health – Good
• Social Health – Fairly good (this has consistently been bad, but this year we really improved it)
• Spiritual Health – Good
• Intellectual Health – Very good!!! This new job is really helping that!!!
• Financial Health –  Bad. Almost very bad. But not quite!

It seems to me, each year, that one of these things is bad. Balance is a terrible, terrible thing.

In the future:

How will you be spending Christmas? 
We already had it! We spent Christmas Eve at our house, and it was absolute chaos. It wasn’t nearly enjoyable enough considering how much effort was put into it! Next year: everyone opens presents ONE AT A TIME.  Christmas morning we were at Aunt Tina and Uncle Scott’s and we had a great time.  The kids got some really fun presents.

How will you be spending New Years? 
Already done (I am totally late this year filling this out).  We went to visit Aunt Charla and Uncle Brad and Alexis in Bastrop where they camped, and then drove over to Gabe and Rachel’s house for the nights.  We rang in the new year with all the kids and I kissed my husband at midnight.  We hung out with friends, laughed, talked, snorted with laughter and made some great memories.  I loved it.

What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016? 
More organization in the house. I would really like it a lot if Justin and I could work out a way to balance and prioritize our life a little more.  Adjusting to this year has been ridiculously difficult, and while I know we’ll come out stronger on the other side of this, it’s definitely been a challenge.

What are your plans for 2017?
To spend a lot of time outdoors, to get Eli potty trained, to log more time on my bicycle, to get my BMI to 27.4 (170 lbs, right in the middle of “overweight” instead of obese). To improve my relational and emotional health to the “very good” categories.

Will you make any new years resolutions for 2017?
Yeah – I gave up candy, cakes, and cookies for the first 11 months of the year, with a few exceptions (like the kids birthday).  I gave up candy in 2015 and it helped a lot with my awareness.  This is a big more extreme, but I think it will be a good experiment.

In Conclusion:

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016: 

I am still learning it.  I think it’s something about the importance of listening, and shutting up, and servant leadership.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: 

I have two:

All my friends are heathens, take it slow
Wait for them to ask you who you know
Please don’t make any sudden moves
You don’t know the half of the abuse

And:

You’re the reason that I feel so strong
The reason that I’m hanging on
You know you gave me all the time
Oh, did I give enough of mine?

Hold on, darling
This body is yours,
This body is yours and mine
Well hold on, my darling
This mess was yours,
Now your mess is mine

 

My dear Eli, my Bouk’um, my snuggle bear, my youngest,

Today you are THREE! The past year has been a whirlwind of growth and amazing experiences for you, and watching you discover the world has been an incredible thing.  Your health this year has been significantly better, thanks in part to regular allergy medicine during your roughest season (October through April, sorry son, same as mine).

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You had a lot of fun. We did a lot of fun family adventure type things this year; Sea World, Camping, Vacations, Family trips, etc. You loved almost everything. Whereas last year you showed a lot of trepidation at social events, this year you’ve really embraced the unknown and have shown less shyness at large events.

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But you still love to sit quietly and observe.

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You love superheros and fire fighters. There have been so many adventures this year where we have had to “rescue the people in the tall tall building, Mommy!” Every time you see a fire truck, we have to acknowledge, wave, and go visit if we can.

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You love to smile and laugh. You love to be tickled.

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You love your family desperately. Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from you – “how was your day, Mommy? Did you have fun?” You love to check in with us. If we look emotional, you ask us if we’re ok. You care. You remind me SO MUCH of your Daddy.

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Your vocabulary has grown so much this year. You have this amazing accent that doesn’t belong to anyone in the family, none of the shows you watch, it’s uniquely you.  Cars are “kaahhs”, Lilly is “Yillee”, monster trucks are “Mahhhhnsta trucks”, just to name a few.  You also do a really great impersonation of a fire truck – “weeeohhh weeeohhh”.

You don’t like sweet potatoes, wearing costumes, or sharing.  You play HARD. You play until you can’t play anymore, and then you nap and start over.

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Your favorite story is “The Awkward Owl,” a story about an owl who can’t fly very well until he is loved and given the space to heal. Then he…well, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you don’t remember. But it’s a great story and you have an owl you sleep with every night – named owl – and we love to make him fly upside down and back side first, just like the awkward owl, into your arms each night. You smile so big!

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You love Animal Mechanicals, Oso, Thomas the train, Bob the Builder, Wild Kratz, construction equipment, puzzles, legos (or as you insist they be called: BLOCKS!), trains, toys, race cars, sweets (cookies, candy, ice cream, all of it!), but fire trucks (and fire fighters) most of all.

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I don’t know what the future holds for you, Eli, but you are so full of love and kindness, so full of empathy, so full of all the good traits that make amazing people.  I hope we can foster those and help you to grow into an amazing man.  I hope we can shelter you from the world, at least a little, and help you to realize how much good a simple smile can do.  How much a kind word is needed.  How much you are needed.

Thanks for being the most amazing Eli I’ve ever known.  I can’t wait to see what next year holds in store for us!

Love,

Mama

Dear Benjamin,

Today is your 6th birthday!!!!  The past year has been so much fun, and you’ve grown up so much.  You completed your first year of school (Kindergarten with Ms. Smith) and learned to read.  You learned how to swim (including jumping off the diving board). You’ve continued to learn the piano and had some pretty awesome recitals.

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You lost 2 teeth and started wearing glasses (took my breath away the day you lost a tooth and got your glasses, so grown up!)

You’ve gotten stronger, faster, and maybe a little bit kinder.

You try passionately to be a good kid.

We’ve given you quite a bit more responsibility this year.  You’ve got chores that are your job, that we expect you to do.  Things like helping with the dishes, cleaning the living room floor, and feeding the dog.

Overall, I would mark this as a year with lots of growth.

We talked yesterday to you about some of your summer chores – one of which includes a certain amount of reading.  It was pretty clear to us that even though you’d “read” you hadn’t actually retained anything you read.  That was a pretty common thing when we were growing up – especially me – so I told your Dad the way to fix it was to make you read out loud for your “required reading.” You got upset at us; you told us that you didn’t mean to get in trouble, that you were still learning how to be a good reader.  We told you that it was OK, that we were learning how to be good parents, and sometimes we have to adjust the rules so we can all be better. It’s a small lesson, but hopefully one you will take to heart.

You learned a lot more about being a good friend from your time in school.  I saw you talk through problems with your friends, challenge them, and lose with just a TINY bit more grace than you have in years past (you still hate it though).

You have a strong internal desire for others to follow the rules.  Half the times you got in trouble in Kindergarten was because you were getting on to the other kids for not following the rules. You hated rug time because you had to sit criss-cross apple sauce, but you’d sit there patiently with a bubble in your mouth UNLESS you were telling the other kids (who weren’t listening) that they needed to sit down too!

In spite of your rigidness regarding rules, you were well liked and enjoyed by your classmates. You went home frequently lamenting that you were having problems and no one liked you, but over and over again we saw evidence that your classmates adored you.

And, true to family tradition, you were enjoyed by your teachers. They said they’re going to miss you SO MUCH.

You’re finally understanding what a “figure of speech” is.  The past year your literal nature has led to lots of misunderstandings when your Dad and I say things like, “You took the words right out of my mouth!” But yesterday you used that line on Dad, to which he replied “that sounds painful” and you painstakingly advised him that you were just using a figure of speech and you weren’t REALLY taking words out of anyone’s mouth.

It was such a simple thing, but it made me really happy for you – it was a sign that your brain was growing up, right there before my eyes.

You’re slowly starting to see the world around us.  You got kind of upset at us the other day because there was a homeless person panhandling and we didn’t give them any money. We told you we didn’t have any money on us at the time, to which you replied that we needed to have money on hand in case we saw someone who needed help.  You asked about why they were homeless, and what it meant.  You’re going to collect money for your birthday to give to homeless people, since you don’t really need presents.

Your silliness makes life more fun.

There were a few things this year that were very very awesome, where we got to make fun memories. We got to go visit Uncle Alan, Aunt Mandy and Cousin Ethan in Oklahoma. We had a blast!

It rained a bit, and we played video games for a bunch of it, but even for the short trip we had it was memorable.

Also, we went to the NASA space center in Houston.

You love space and rocket ships, so it was especially awesome. We didn’t have nearly enough time, honestly, but even the few hours we got was well worth the time.  We’ll go back as soon as we can!

I love spending time in the kitchen with you. You’re quite a good helper! You can chop vegetables, help stir things as long as they’re not too hot, and most recently you’ve helped me measure and read directions. Cooking with you reminds me of all the happy memories I have of doing that with MY mom, so I’m glad you play along (even though some days you’re just as likely to prefer a few minutes of screen time).

You and Eli have become quite a pair.  He drives you a little crazy, but you obviously love him and dote on him.  You’ve started trying to teach him things, but you also often try to take advantage of him to get what you want.  I can’t blame you, I’m sure I did the same thing with my little brother.

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I see so much of myself and your Daddy in your personality. You’ve got my competitive streak and my desire to be a people pleaser. But, you’ve also got your Daddies logic and intellect. You have his intelligence, and right next to it, strong awareness of when you fail to meet your own expectations. We give you frequent reassurances that you’ll get there – you’ll figure it out, you’re still learning how to be a person – heck, sometimes your Daddy and I fail as people, and we’re much older! I just hope you learn to give yourself the same grace that Jesus gives us, the same grace we give you, because loving yourself? Man, kiddo, that’s tough some days.

I have a feeling this is something you’re going to need to hear frequently, so let me just say, for the record: You’re a great kid. You are loved. You are cherished. You got this.

If you ever doubt my love, you’ll have these letters to remind you. I love you Benjamin, and I’m always going to cheer for you, no matter what.

Love,

Mom

One of my friends posted about this poem on facebook, and I thought it was worth posting here.  Happy Father’s Day to my amazing husband who is one of the best Father’s I’ve ever known!!

A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray,
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whatever he see me do, he tries.
Like me, he says, he’s going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine.
The base in me he must not see,
That little fellow who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Thru summers’ sun and winters’ snow.
I am building for the years to be,
In the little chap who follows me.

by Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr

On February 5, 1988, I was 3 1/2 years old.   We had been going through the process of moving to a new house. I don’t remember much about that time period; just glimpses and flashes of memories – an empty house at 2655 Sierra Street, a mattress on the floor, a stuffed animal held tight at night.

On that night, 25 years ago, I went to the hospital with my Dad. Honestly, it might have been the day after, but for purposes of this blog we’re going to pretend it was the 5th, OK?

I was so excited! I was wearing a purple shirt. I walked into the hospital room, and saw my mom.  In her arms she was holding my brand new baby brother.   I walked into the corner, by the couch, and stood there until she beckoned me closer. I peeked over the edge of the bed, nervous, but excited.  I saw, for the first time ever, my youngest brother.

I didn’t know then how much joy he would bring me.  I didn’t know the love I would feel teaching him something new – the first thing I ever taught him was how to spell “Banana.”

 I didn’t know how much I would tease him, how much he would tease me.

I didn’t know he would have the power to break my heart and yet make me feel more loved than any of my other siblings during a lot of my younger years.

I didn’t know he would love me so much, hold my pinky so fiercely, turn to me in times of need as much as he did. I didn’t know what it was to truly love another person because of who they were before he came around.

I didn’t know how he would drive my mom crazy with his mohawk, I didn’t know how he would live so close and yet so far away and drive me crazy.

I didn’t know he would be my adventure-buddy, my friend without judgement.

All I knew was that this little bundle of joy was my brother; his soft cries made me so proud.

In fact, he made me so happy that I didn’t want to leave the side of his bed, so happy in fact, that I peed in my pants, making my dad take me back home in wet britches.

HAPPY 25th BIRTHDAY JAKE!

One of the joys of parenting is watching my son discover how he fits into the world. 

I have, in my opinion, a highly articulate 2.5 year old.  He speaks in full sentences most of the time, although his standard answer is very 2-year-old-esque: “Because I can” or “Because I can’t.”  Occasionally we’re able to get better sentences out of him.  He has two new things.  One of them is to tell us about something he wants to do, or something he wants to happen, and then end it with, “That will be a good idea.”  The other new thing is to “match” things.

For example: “I wanna go see Skye and Brian and Papa and Nanny and then play with my race cars and then pet Lucky and that will be a good idea!”

He was laying on his Nanny’s bed, watching Dumbo with her. I brought him Friend-Ent, his favorite stuffed animal, a very tired Dumbo that has been with him almost every night since his birth. He held up his stuffed animal to the TV screen.  “Look Nanny, it matches!”

“I want chocolate milk. That will be a good idea, Mommy!” To really feel the genius of this one, you have to mispronounce chocolate – think “cschok-lit.”  He pronounces other C-words correctly, but Cschok-lit? I’m not correcting that one until he graduates high school.

For Christmas, his cousins Teresa, James and Mandy gifted him 2 really awesome Dr. Seuss puzzles.  When he unwrapped it he got very excited.  We asked him what it was and he said, “It’s Dr. Whouss!”  Hmm. That’s another thing I’m not correcting.  He thinks Dr. Who and Dr. Seuss are the same, and who am I to argue?!

He’s already put both puzzles together and taken them apart multiple times.  One of the puzzles is from his favorite book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”  The night he put it together for the first time we read that book at bedtime. He paused on the page that the puzzle is inspired by and said, “Look Mommy! It matches my puzzle! Let’s go put it together. That will be a good idea.”

Benjamin at Christmastime

Some days are crazy and insane. But some days end with him snuggled in my arms, and especially on days like those I find myself unable to articulate how lucky I am to be his Mommy.

The players:
Benjamin – on a natural christmas high from getting presents and being surrounded by family and love all day long.
Various friends and family – scattered throughout the house.

The background:
Papa and Nanny bought Benjamin a fake black and decker tool set for Christmas so Benjamin could “help” Papa work on stuff.  He had cycled through all of his toys at least twice already that day.

The scene:
Christmas night, 9pm, at home.  Benjamin is playing in his playroom, there’s several people in the kitchen baking cookies and Benjamin’s parents and Aunt Charla are in the living room standing around talking about the days events.  The weather outside is, appropriately, frightful.  Low 30’s with a severe wind chill.

Aaaaannnd, ACTION:
Dim lights. Three adults speaking to each other in murmured conversation as they hear loud footsteps.  All heads turn to see the two year old running towards them, still in Christmas best, wild sugar-fuled eyes, small pupils, a large smile, and his left arm raised into a 90 degree angle with his hand holding a small plastic hammer.  The child runs through the kitchen, deftly dodging the cookie-bakers, straight at the small group of adults.  At the last minute he swerves to the right, still at full speed, towards the closed back door.  Without a word he flings the door open with his empty right hand and starts to push against the cold breeze.  The adults watch as the cold temperature registers in his brain and he steps back, slamming the door, and turns to look at the small group of adults who up until this point have been silently watching.

JUSTIN: Benjamin, what in the world are you doing?!

The child looks at his father with the wild, excited eyes of a two year old on Christmas night.

BENJAMIN: I WANT TO BANG THINGS!

ADULTS: [Laughter]

JUSTIN: Son, that feeling will never go away.

The child, unaware of why his comments are funny, turns from the adults and starts to hammer away on the closed door.  The outside chill, for now, forgotten.

I just had to share this quote because, well, I think it needs to be read.  And reread.  Sarah Bessey is one of the few reasons I haven’t completely given up on reading blogs.  Some days there’s too much anger and misunderstood words on the internet, and she is a peace to me in the storm.  I love her writing, so let me share what she wrote about the Shikh Temple shooting.

Hard conversations are coming, perhaps legislation, around gun control, about hatred, racism, religion, about our culture’s glorification of violence, our nationalism, and the divisions between us, yes, those conversations need to happen, but not just now: now is the time for grieving, now is the time for loving, for burying, for mourning with those who mourn, for gathering humanity together, and for compassion.

I believe that it is precisely because of my Christian faith that I am sitting my heart down, mourning with those that mourn, grieving and honouring, loving and praying. Love casts out fear, and may the mouths of the faithful be filled with words of Love and hope and peace, never fear.

Thank you, Sarah, for your beautiful words.

(Source)

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

Camping was an integral part of my childhood.  We all loved the outdoors, we were never more at home than when we were in the middle of nowhere.  There was one particular spot that we found when we were pretty young that became “our” spot.  We always called it Cherry Lake.

 Jake, Jennet, Alan and Dad

That was the only year it really snowed while we were there.  I remember pulling up to the campsite and hiding in the car while Alan, Mom and Dad set up the campsite.  While we slept, snow fell across the campground and blanketed the world in white.  This picture doesn’t do it justice.

I remember waking up when we camped there.  It was always so cold in the morning, so I’d be buried deep in my sleeping bag and listen to the rustling of the tent, the songbirds, the crackle of the fire.  I could hear my parents hushed voices and the occasional laugh as they shared their morning coffee.  If I close my eyes I feel myself transport back to those moments, when the world was perfect and at peace.

As we visited and grew older we wandered further and further away.  The following picture is the “Rock Club,” a place just far enough away from the campsite to make us feel independent.  We would wander there daily, hang out on rocks and talk about life, or have adventures in between the cracks.  We would climb to the top of the rocks, and look out, terrified of falling and thrilled at the prospects ahead of us.

 

We went there every year, sometimes twice a year.  I remember being 9 years old, laying on a hot rock and contemplating the grandness of God.  I remember learning to whittle sticks, and trampling through brush to find a “walking stick.”  I remember seeing a water snake for the first time in the lake down the hill.

It was always the most beautiful place on earth.

 

I climbed up this wall once, and got all the way to the top.  On the way back down I felt myself losing my grip, but something pushed me back against the wall.  I believed in angels before, but that experience pretty much cinched the deal.

 

The last time we visited Cherry Lake it was 2002 and right before we moved to Texas. 

 

Ten years is a long time.

Since that time, my older sisters have tried in vain to find our old campsite.  They’ve combed Stanislaus Forest and driven around for hours, all to no avail.  When I visited in 2010 I tried to help them find it and we were yet again unsuccessful.  I told them I’d see what I could do in the future for my next visit.

So I contacted the Stanislaus National Forest Office in Groveland, since that was closest to where we thought the campsite was.  I spoke with a charming lady named Gail who was willing to listen to my story and my plea for help.  She gave me her email address and I sent her a bunch of pictures, and a map of the grounds (as best I could remember).  Then I waited.

She called me back just a short time ago and thanked me for giving her such a fun project.  She said she had some of her park rangers act as detectives – print up the pictures and try to match up the pictures while they were out driving around.  She thanked me for the map I had drawn, and said we had done a good job remembering.

An old ranger, one who had lived there forever, knew exactly where we were talking about when he saw the pictures.  We had always called it Cherry Lake, but the park rangers knew it as Cherry Barrow.  Gail told me if we drove to the Groveland Park Ranger station she would be able to show us exactly how to get there.

I cried when she told me.

 

I’m going back in just over a week – I’m flying to California Monday for Amy’s wedding and after the wedding I’m heading to visit my sisters.  We will go camping, hopefully at this spot, and I will once again drink in the beauty.

I can’t wait.