The thing about teamwork is…

So the thing about teamwork is, it really is a group effort.  Every part is important.  If the team is two, the work is even more concentrated and the two efforts are each bigger to make up the collective whole.

I’m thinking about teamwork in marriage right now, if that isn’t already clear, because I tend to do this terrible thing in our marriage where I forget we’re both doing important things.  Because the thing about teamwork is, if you look at what one person is doing for a really long time, you realize just how big and important that piece is.  I naturally see my efforts for the whole since I’m the one doing them.  I don’t have to work hard to see how vital my contribution is.  When I’m tired, I feel validated in my efforts.  When I’m exhausted, I can get that sneaking suspicion that maybe my efforts are so big, in fact, that they are the whole and not just a piece.  I can forget all about any of the ways my husband is sacrificing and learning and earning and tired.

He just went to bed.  I’m not as tired, maybe because I’m not the one who has to be somewhere by 7:30 at the very latest every day of the workweek.  I remember my first real job.  I thought full-time jobs were from 9-5 since that’s what everyone always says.  But actually, if a person needs to clock 40 actual hours and takes a lunch break, work has to start by 8 in order to be done by 5.  Those were long days, and I was sitting down for most of them.  In college, the 8am classes were just the worst.  It was almost impossible to get out of bed that early, much less shower and eat breakfast.  Forget it.  So now I have this cushy job where my alarm clock is a 2-year-old and I can take lunch whenever I feel like it.  Not that lunch is much of a break, but nap time certainly is.

I digress.  What I’m meaning to say is that my husband is a rockstar who wakes up incredibly early every day without complaining, without even making a big deal about it, and works at a job where people’s health and often lives are on the line, and comes home smiling.  And somehow in this equation, at the end of a long Thursday for him and a day for me that involved multiple cartoons, some emailing, online shopping, and finger-painting, I found myself feeling sorry for: me.

Because I have that affliction I told you about earlier, where I focus so much on my part that I forget about the other, the one who collapsed in bed at 9, tired and discouraged (tired from work, discouraged from me), and has to do it all again tomorrow.

So I sat down to write this because I desperately want to do better.  I don’t want to demoralize my teammate, because we’d be sunk without him.  When I stop staring at my little contribution to the whole, when I stop to think about just how much of the weight he’s pulling for our little team, I become grateful.  I need him; we need each other.  That’s the thing about teamwork.

Growing

My kids are the smallest they’re ever going to be right now.

I know that’s not profound, and I only mean that about the two in my house right now, growing like weeds, turning lights on suddenly when the longest arm stretch wouldn’t do it before.  Sarala pulled herself up under the table today and bumped her head.  She didn’t like it; neither did I.  It was a reminder that she is almost walking already, and so tall she can’t stand under there anymore.

Sar zooAnd Judah started playing pretend today.  I suppose he’s pretended for a while now, but he spent almost half an hour today, talking to himself in a funny high-pitched voice about space shuttles and such.  He has the gift of sound effects, and I love to hear his pretend space shuttle lift off.  “Wifftoff!”

Helping himself to an entire pack of yogurt.
Helping himself to an entire pack of yogurt.

Superman fliesIt’s not that I don’t want them to grow and change, but I guess I don’t want to look back and wonder if I enjoyed it enough. I want to know that I did, that I praised all of the small steps to great things they’re taking, and that they felt joy and love and peace in this place.   I want them to fly away strong, someday, and I’m ok with that still being a long ways away from now.  Thank you for still being little, guys!

New tooth

Making Friends

Although I have some friendships that seem to have grown of their own accord, I do believe most of mine have been made.  We call it that, too: making friends.  That verb is in there on purpose, because it isn’t just that friends suddenly are.  Usually it happens gradually, the making process, and almost always with on-purpose effort on both sides.

Today, I made a new friend.  I saw her at church on Sunday from afar, one of many new faces in our growing-quickly church.  She and her husband were in the back and looked like people I would want to know, but in the rush of everything after church such as saying hi to people I already know and making sure I don’t leave the kids too long in the nursery, I just didn’t get to stop and meet them.  But then there they were in our community group last night.  They just moved here, and might only be here for a few months.  Having been that exact same person before, I know: you almost don’t want to tell people because they’ll start to treat you temporarily.

So I gave her all of the ways to contact me, and then she came to my messy house and read books to my little boy and generally made this place really bright on a cold February day.

I told her a story while she was here, one that I don’t like to think about because it still makes me sad.  It was from our temporary days in Chicago.  We were there for four months, and did all of the things permanent people do: went to church, found a small group right away, joined a women’s Bible study.  One Sunday, our small group got together to do a “service project,” making meals for some of the home-bound people from the  church.  We all brought ingredients for a certain dish and cooked together in the church’s big industrial kitchen.  It was a warm, fun way to spend the afternoon.

When it came time to talk about who was going where to deliver what, the person in charge started explaining that there was one lady in particular who reaaaaally liked to talk and was terribly lonely.  All of the others just wanted their food dropped off, but this one had specifically said she’d love some company as well.  And would David and I be willing to deliver her meal?  What can a person say to that but “yes.”

At the same time, the rest of the group began making plans to meet up in half an hour to have dinner at a nearby fast food place.  As we wrote down the address where we would be bringing our meal and socializing with a sick, lonely woman, our temporary friends were all making plans to have fun without us.

I cried the whole drive to our appointment.  Past the airport, over train tracks, up and down the rows of mobile homes until we found hers.  I didn’t even want to get out of the car, but knew I had to.  She was expecting us.  What I didn’t know is that I was even lonelier than her, and probably needed her more in that moment than she needed us or our food.

We stayed for a few hours.  It’s all sort of hazy now; I don’t remember what we talked about or even what she looked like.  I remember she was kind and personable, and seemed joyful even though she had trouble just getting around her small home.  She loved her cats.  She loved Jesus.  She loved me.

And that (the short version) is what I told my new friend today.  I have been temporary, and know that temporary people need friends as much or more than anyone.  And really, today was just like that other day.  I invited her over in part because I know she is alone and new here, but I am the one who won.  I got to share tea and real conversation with a new friend while my kids played happily around us.  I’m making friendship, and even if it’s one I won’t get to keep for very long, I want to make it good.

Chocolate Chip Cookies {recipe}

I shared this today in my local MOPS group (which I love!) and thought I’d also put it here.  Thoughts from 2008 that are still so very true today.

I should have known chocolate chip cookies could be a spiritual experience.  I mean, they are glorious in pretty much every way.

So today, I made cookies.  Chocolate chip cookies.  They are delicious and warm right now, filling the house with that Taste of Home smell.  And I’m also sending them away, to someone who will be more excited about me, the cookie maker, than the cookies themselves.  I got a little teary-eyed thinking about that, about how many cookies I’ve sent off in cardboard boxes, to be consumed entirely out of sheer enjoyment for the cookie with very little thought to me, the one who stirred them all together.
And I was thinking about that, getting emotional about cookies, when I realized that I do the same thing to God.  Maybe I was even doing it right then, being exceedingly pleased with the cookies without thinking about Him, the best cookie maker ever.
So thanks for the cookies, God.  They are delicious, but mostly:
You Are.
And this is the recipe I always use, and pretty much always have in the freezer ready to be baked.  You’re welcome. 🙂 

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Chocolate Chip Cookies of Your Dreams

1 1/4 c. white sugar
1 1/4 c. brown sugar
3 sticks (1 1/2 c.) butter
2 eggs
2 t. baking soda
2 t. salt
1 T vanilla
4 c. flour
24 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips. Or 12 oz peanut butter chips and 12 oz semisweet.  Or whatever makes you happiest. 🙂

Cream the sugars and butter until smooth.  Add the eggs, beating after each.  Sprinkle salt and baking soda over batter, mixing until you’re sure they’re very well combined.  Stir in vanilla.  Add flour, 1 cup at a time, until 4 cups, or until the dough is stiff but still stir-able with a wooden spoon.  Add in the chips.  The dough should be able to be handled without sticking all over your hands.  If it isn’t, add 1/4 cup more flour.  At this point, I usually make the dough into balls, place them on a cookie sheet, and freeze them.  The balls can be stored in a ziploc bag once they’re frozen and kept in your freezer for any and all cookie emergencies.  Otherwise, bake them right away at 350 for 10-12 minutes.  Don’t overbake them!  They should be light brown and soft in the middle.  And eaten right away with milk.

We LOVE these cookies!  Thanks to Julie for passing on this recipe for the most perfect chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever tasted!

The Proposal, part 1

Perhaps not every girl dreams of the day she will face someone, down on his knee, asking her to marry him.  Some girls feel sure they can conquer the world entirely alone and are often surprised or even derailed by the love that sneaks up on them.

I am not that girl.

I am the girl who has loved babies since before I was strong enough to hold them on my own.  I am a total sucker for the happy endings, and have imagined mine from the time I understood that I could have my own love story.  I was voted (unofficially, around a college cafeteria table) Best Future Housewife (based, I’m almost sure, on the fact that I was one of the very few girls who could cook).

So fast-forward through 20+ angsty years of waiting for Mr. Right to finally come calling and there I was.  27 years old, dating someone who actually liked me as much as I liked him (maybe even more!).  We had talked about marriage; it was The Plan.  He had just over 2 years left of med school, I was ready to move across the country to cook his meals and take care of everything but the studying that only he could do, and we were ready to get married.

Although I tend to hope for and anticipate surprises so much that I rarely get to experience their full weight, this time I wasn’t expecting it.  It was March, and I was flying to Detroit to spend David’s birthday weekend with him.  My flight arrived on a Thursday night, and he had a test the following morning, so our plan was for me to spend the night with his aunt and uncle (which I did) and meet him after his exam.  This was a big exam, but so was every test in med school.  His first two years had been, shall we say, rocky, and his academics before I met him were shaky.  When I first met David, he was just climbing out of an academic nightmare, finally on solid footing but with special restrictions such as: you cannot fail another exam or that will be it.  Finished.  That was fine, though, because he wasn’t going to fail this, or any, exam.  He was going to do just fine, he told me.

You may be guessing that he didn’t do fine.  By the time he had arrived at his aunt and uncle’s house to pick me up, a terrifying email was waiting for us in his inbox.  You did not pass the exam.  He read this just a few minutes after he walked in the door, and I immediately ran into the hall bathroom to hide, and cry.  We both knew what this meant.  We had Plans, Dreams!  We were going to get married and fly to some country in great need of medical care and Jesus, and we were going to help people!  But.  Maybe not.  Our plan had been interrupted.

I called my friend Jess from the bathroom.  This is what I do when I don’t know what to do. She has a way of saying the right thing, or at least crying if there isn’t anything good to say.  So we cried.  There was nothing to say to fix it.  Only, what are you going to do now, Mandy?  How does this change things?  

I remember my Dad being confused about how this seemed like such a game-changer to me.  Are you just wanting to marry him because he’s going to be a doctor?  A career change shouldn’t call the relationship into question, right?

Right.  But I had lost my footing.  It wasn’t that I was falling into a terrible abyss, but where I thought I had been standing on rocks turned out to be an unpredictable ocean.  The cold water was surprising, and frightening, and I wanted to know where I was again before I made any more plans.

That’s what I told David.  On the day that he had planned to ask me to marry him, I told him I wanted to take some time to figure out what all of this meant before making any plans.  That morning, he had filled his house with candles and 100 red roses.  He placed rose petals on his ceiling fan, carefully, so they would flutter down around me at just the right moment.  He searched record stores and finally found the one he wanted, Norah Jones, to sing “Come Away With Me” into my ear.  Everything about the day had been planned, except for failing that test.

Of course, I didn’t know about all of that.  Yet.

So, confused and disappointed and afraid, we started walking through that difficult day together.  We went to World Market, one of my happy places, and didn’t buy anything.  Just looked at intricate Indian fabrics and smelled sandalwood candles that remind me of home.  We talked about normal things, in between talking about some of the scary questions the day brought up, and we cried.  I didn’t know how to fix the mess we were in, but I knew that I loved the person whose hand I was holding through it.  We were going to be okay, and even more than okay, I just couldn’t see that.  All I could see were looming questions and tough times.

About the  middle of the afternoon, we decided to go see a movie together.   I didn’t realize at any point that we had entirely avoided his house during the whole day.  We were just a few miles away, but hadn’t made it back there yet.  We were distracting ourselves from reality, and he was distracting me from his Surprise.

We decided to watch Confessions of a Shopaholic, most likely because there were zero other good options.  It isn’t really our “type” of movie (we’re more Argo or Braveheart or Anne of Green Gables people), but I wanted something light and fun, the opposite of our day.  I don’t remember what the movie was about, exactly, because that’s the one and only time I’ve seen it, but I remember a really feel-good ending and some statement about embracing life and love fully.  I went to the bathroom as the credits were rolling. leaving David in the dark to think about his life.  While I was gone, I asked Jesus a simple question: what is it that matters to you about people?  Do you care if they fail tests or don’t have a perfect body or cry in public on hard days?

Obviously, when pressed, we can all come up with a decent list of the things that Really Matter about people, but it’s harder in the normal parts of life when our decisions are not written down but just acted out from one small step to another.  All of my steps had been leading to David, but I had to make this big jump at the end, taking his failures on as my own, and that’s something I’m not very practiced in.  Not that I’ve never failed, but I certainly have never failed in school.

But by the time I was walking back to the dark room with my sad love waiting for me, I knew I needed to tell him: there were surely going to be more hard days and maybe even more failings in school, but he was the person I wanted to be standing next to during it all.  I wasn’t proposing, I was just letting him know I hadn’t let go.

Driving Master Judah

The most mundane things, when added to a two-year-old, suddenly become fun.  For example: driving.  I’ve been driving for years, pretty much every day, passing untold numbers of interesting things that I never even noticed before.  Do you know how many tractors, police cars, trains, ambulances, and semi trucks are in a regular city?  Since Judah started talking, I haven’t reached any of my destinations without first spotting something interesting along the way.  School bus, mail truck, motorcycle, cement truck.

We are part of a reading program here that sends Judah a new book every month.  Three months ago, the book that arrived in our mailbox was a simple story of a mom driving her son to visit Grandma.  Along the way, they saw every type of road construction and public service vehicle you can imagine.  I remember reading this every day for a few weeks, before the talking started, and thinking about how contrived it was.  Really?  Road work on the same drive as men trimming trees?  Now, it sounds like just another drive across town.  It’s amazing how many interesting things there are to see when someone can find pleasure just in hearing a siren and has his eyes peeled to find them.

The Truth

Is it just me, or is it sort of non-inspiring to read about other people’s triumphs in reaching their goals?

I’m thinking about this because I just read a status update on Facebook along the lines of: I’m losing all of my pregnancy weight so fast!  Look at me go!!!

That is actually my paraphrase.  What she said might have been: I fit into my favorite pair of pre-pregnancy jeans! (and her baby is only a few months old)  But, being post-pregnant and having lots of jeans that I sort of squish myself into and call it good, I didn’t find myself celebrating her success.

And why is that?  Am I just a mean person?  Or is Facebook perhaps not the place a person should run with this kind of news?  I’m sure she has a nice mother and lots of close girlfriends who would love to cheer her on, but I am an acquaintance and (clearly) not fit for the job.

The truth is, we tend to not tell the truth much in our status updates and 140-character-limit essays on life. Even our Instagram pictures aren’t very true.  For example, yesterday I posted a picture of my sweet 7-month-old scooting backwards on our floor.  It was a true part of my day, but was just a sliver compared to what I was really experiencing.  Most of my day was managing a pretty cranky toddler.  He bit the baby’s toe during our morning run, woke up early from his nap so he could be extra-cranky for me the rest of the day, and shouted “no-no-no-no-noooooooooo” throughout the afternoon at anything that wasn’t up to his expectations.  It was a hard day.

Another truth is, I tend to think the pretty things are what people want to see.  They also happen to be what I want to share, but they’re hardly the whole story.  And I know it’s pretty trendy right now to pretend like we’re telling the whole story when actually we’re still prettying up the truth.  I don’t want to be trendy or sugar-coat anything more than we already have.  I guess I just want to remind myself to ask before I put something out there: do these people who don’t really know me need to know this?

Helicopter

Sometimes I realize I’m unintentionally following a sort of “strict” pattern for parenting.  Like sticking to a regular bedtime, eating vegetables instead of cake for dinner.  In this (and so many other things), David is pretty perfect at helping me loosen up a bit without ever telling me that’s what I need.

Last night, we stayed up a little later than we had planned because our BAR STOOLS arrived in the mail, and we were excited to put them together and, of course, sit in front of the bar on them.  We’ve had a spot for them for a whole year but no space in our budget for the actual chairs.  Anyway, it was almost 11pm by the time we had finished chair assembly, and suddenly David was pulling out his remote-controlled helicopter.  I was immediately amused because this just isn’t something he does on his own much.  Although the helicopter was his 34th birthday present, Judah is the one who is the most thrilled by it and requests the “hocter with Dad” almost every day lately.  David asked me why I was laughing, and I told him I was just surprised because he usually only flies it with Judah.

“I was just going to get him,” he told me.

What?!  I thought about telling him this wasn’t a good idea, but I didn’t say anything.  Just let it happen, because Judah is a really incredible sleeper and, although I never really take advantage of this skill, he really can go right back to bed after being woken up.  So out of his dark bedroom came sleepy, disoriented Judah.  David had turned off the lamps in the living room so the only light was the red and blue one flashing from the little helicopter.  I got to sit with Judah, and we all counted down.  By the time we got to zero, Judah was excited and said his usual “wifftoff!”  Then for 3 or 4 minutes we watched the flight of the red and blue flashing helicopter, and Judah followed its every move up and around the ceiling fan, past the pillar behind the couch, over by us to say “hello.” (“Hello, hocter!“)

Then it was over.  Judah said goodnight to the hocter, and disappeared back into his dark room for the rest of his sleep.  When I asked David why he did that, he told me he wanted to be a great dad, and that his Dad would do fun things for them at odd times.  He remembers being up late at night once when they lived in Hawaii.  His Dad had the telescope set up in the yard, and they could see Jupiter and its little moons.  Probably this wasn’t something they regularly did, but that’s the funny thing about childhood memories.  Some of the ones that stand out are good parts of usual days, but more of mine are from something that just happened once or twice.  Like when my siblings and I set up an elaborate stuffed animal play and gave out candy (for some reason) during the show.  Or when my Dad had my sister and I go out to the chicken coop in the middle of the night to see a boa constrictor that had eaten one of our pets.  And when the river below our house flooded half the village and we sloshed around in the dark to see how roads looked when they were underwater.

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I guess I’m just saying this to remind myself to have fun.  The routines are so important, and I know they hem in my growing babies in a really important way.  But on the safe canvas of a routine I don’t want to forget to splash in the fun things.  Because if they’re like me, that’s what they’ll remember.

A year ago.

I keep a journal with pen and paper.  I’ve done this since high school, straight through college, with my most prolific years being the twenty-somethings.  Books are filled up with every kind of emotion a girl can feel while waiting (or thinking I’m waiting) for the Next Thing to come sweep me off my feet.

One of the reasons I write things down is that I love to see the journey.  Some days it just doesn’t feel like I’m moving, at all, but if you string together a dozen or few hundred of those, suddenly there is progress.  Forward motion.  Inertia, if you will.  Anyway, I found two entries in my journal from a year ago, and wanted to share them here.

11/2012

Oh, what a miserable week!  What a miserable life, really.  Alone.  Except for Judah, who is excellent company but a poor conversationalist (for now)–completely alone.  Someone asked me today what I do all day.  I didn’t even have an answer.  I don’t know what I do.  I survive.  I make good meals for my loves.  I play with my baby.  I sleep.  I make it through the day.

It’s the nights that are worst.  I am plagued by the worst kinds of thoughts, and nightmares.  I hate being alone.  I do things I don’t want.  I make David the enemy, even though he is closest to my heart.  He feels a thousand miles away, though, because the world he lives in is varied and interesting and beautiful.  And mine is barren and falling apart.  How can he be near me?  How can he flourish as I whither and die? I must be far away, or something is choking me.  So I flail about, trying to release the hold, injuring whatever is close enough to swing my desperate fists at: David.  He feels it and is crushed.  I’m crushing him.  So I hate myself all the more.  I want to disappear.  I want to feel differently.  I want to be the new creature I’m supposed to be.

So I question: I doubt God’s presence.  How can He be here and yet I flounder?  If He is author and perfecter, how am I unravelling at such a pace and finding myself more and more imperfect?  Have I not believed?  Have I not received the gift that can set me free?  I’ve tried.  And tried.  I want to be free (please free me!).  I want to be new (please make me new!).  I want to be kind and loving and good.  I want to have strength to fight the battle all around me.  I only want to know it’s not inside me, that I am not the cause of the darkness somehow.  That I am not the enemy.

God, please shine some light here. 

______________

I want to remember this day.  It has been a hard day.  I’ve felt lonely and tired and like I can’t keep going.  I want to remember because I hope I’ll look back and see that I’m out of this pit.  I hope to see that there was a reason for my anguish.  This place that we’re in, that there was a reason God has us here in this time and place.  That we are not states and oceans away from family and friends for nothing.  No, it cannot be for nothing. (Can it?)

So I want to remember there was an altar here, and that on it today was all of my happiness and sense of belonging.  Friendships.  Family.  The places that I feel most at home.  It all crackled on the fire and was consumed, and I was bereft.  It burned, and I had nothing valuable left to put in its place.
I wrote that on November 1, almost exactly a year ago, and I am so glad I did.  When I look back at last fall, I remember a few desperate moments.  I remember sitting in the car with David, driving him back to work one day, sobbing and telling him I could not go on.  He wanted to fix it, so he did what he does when he’s desperate: he called his parents, and asked them to come visit us.  I cried even more before they came, told him that won’t fix the problem.  They cannot be the friends I need to have here.  They cannot fix this place for me.  But they came, because it wasn’t up to me.  They came and played with Judah.  They did mundane things with me.  They washed my dishes and helped us put on a Christmas dinner party (it was December then).  They looked at our pictures and hugged us.  They told us: your home is so peaceful.  When we walk in here, we can tell this is a place of peace. They gave me compliments and lots of grace when I fell apart, a few times.  They sat in the backyard in the sunshine and let me sleep.

I never would have guessed it, but things started to change.  I don’t know that it was just because they came, but I know they prayed life and love into our home.  Into me.  This big, beautiful house with a Christmas tree in the middle started to feel like home to me.  They left; we stayed, right through Christmas, just the three of us and our pretty Christmas tree.  We invited friends to have Christmas brunch with us.  I made a big batch of fresh cinnamon rolls, and the friends never came.  But it was ok.  I was disappointed, and we had leftover cinnamon rolls for weeks, but I didn’t fall apart.  I was starting to feel whole again.

I know there are a lot of factors, like being pregnant and being in a brand new city in a brand new state.  I also know that those things I put on my invisible altar, they were given back to me.  I have friends and happiness and belonging here, in that place I called desolate.  Some weeks I think: there are too many things to get done and people to see and Bible studies to go to!  But those are problems I welcome with wide open arms.  Come here, full calendar!  Let me love you!

So I write these things down to say God is good.  I write down the bad things, too, to say: God is good there too.  In fact, I like these Good Things more because I know where I was just one year ago.