Friday, March 29, 2013

11 years

Eleven years ago today, I married this guy who is an avid sports fan.  A serious lover of KU basketball.

And he married me during the NCAA basketball tournament.

A year that Kansas lost in the Final Four.  While we were on our honeymoon.  On a cruise ship, in the southern Caribbean.

This was before WiFi was everywhere.  

Before smartphones.

Before DVR.

The tournament schedule was to-be-announced when we chose our wedding date, but Bryan had to have known that he'd miss the entire last week of games.

And he still married me.

Our relationship has always been far more practical, simple and sporty than romantic.  I clearly remember the first time it registered with me that he was someone special.  I was slouched down on his couch, making him laugh with something I'd said, when he looked at me from across the room, smiled and said, "You're so cute."  It was not grandiose.  It was not "romantic" (by candlelight and rose petals standards).  There was absolutely no effort put into it.  It was simply natural and real...and he'd stolen my heart with it.

And I know he was hooked early on too.  We were at a Comets game, and the cheerleaders were tossing t-shirts into the crowd.  It had been a very fun and exciting game...and I was totally caught up in the moment.  When a cheerleader launched a balled-up t-shirt in our direction, I dove into a crowd of kids to catch it.  I came up empty-handed, but he loved my spunk.

And me.

Today we celebrate 11 years of marriage.  Like every marriage, we've had our ups and downs, but our relationship is typically easy and comfortable, generally little-to-no-fuss.  It works for both of us.

Flowers, heels, jewelry, the symphony, expensive dinners, rented limos.  It's just not our thing.

In our marriage, sexy is intelligent conversation mixed with a heavy dose of laughter.  Sexy is my man preparing dinner, washing the dishes, or picking up a chick flick for At-Home Date Night.  Or date mornings consisting of anything from breakfast, Starbucks, grocery shopping, or a bike ride to a doctor's appointment or early voting.  It's my guy providing biblical answers when our kids ask tough questions about sex, hatred, crime, punishment, and the like.  Sexy is my husband soothing our distraught son or attending a parent teacher conference alone...while sexy Mom stays home with the other son who has strep throat and the flu.  Sexy is my kids' dad on a pink Jeep in Camp Snoopy, at a kid's dental appointment, volunteering in kindergarten, or helping me grade papers long after the kids have gone to bed.  Sexy is this sweet man putting gas in the van when I've forgotten that the light came on five miles ago.

And sexy is sporting events.  My man loves when I get crazy cheering...or yell at the refs over a bad call.

Sexy around here is partnership, an attitude of service and cooperation, a desire to meet the others needs and lighten their load.  Sexy is fun, laughter, love.

If I had to don heels, cocktail dresses and eye make-up to float my husband's boat...we'd be up a creek and my load would be anything but lightened!

So, for my man on our anniversary...

These eleven years of marriage have been the happiest and most fulfilling of my entire life.  I've loved growing up (and older) with you.  You make me happy.  You make me laugh.  I know love, in large part, because of you.

Thanks for being so simple, and for letting me be simple.

In keeping with simplicity and tradition, I got you a new barbecue grill.  It is cute and smaller than the last one.  It will look really good on our deck...and eventually the patio that you're going to build.

I'll have filets for you to grill for dinner.  Or I can grill, if you'd like.

And the KU game will be on.

I promise to shout at the TV.

And I painted my toes red instead of going with the purple that had initially caught my eye.  You're welcome.

Now...  I can't do anything to make this happen, but I am hoping and praying that our beloved Jayhawks actually show up for the first half tonight and follow that up with an exciting win.

You deserve it.

Especially after that Final Four loss that you watched alone in a ballroom, on a cruise ship, on our honeymoon...

I'm sorry I petered out and napped during that game.  I had no idea then that I'd be blogging about it 11 years later!  (Did I ever thank you for letting me nap?)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

We are family

A week ago today, I woke up with a heavy heart.  My brother had been here for nine days, and it was time for him to head home.  I wasn't ready.

This "It's a boy!" moment had come nearly 31 years late.  And I'd been so busy studying his fingers and freckles that I hadn't yet handed out the chocolate cigars.  And now to put him on a plane and send him back?

The boys and I waited off to the side while my brother and sister-in-law checked in for their flight home.  Zach was the first to notice Luke sliding down the terminal wall beginning to cry.  As I comforted my son - and held back my own tears - Kerry and Alyssa were hearing words that the majority of travelers don't want to hear...  "Your flight has been overbooked."

They took the bump.  And the four free round-trip tickets the airline offered.

And we kept them for another 20 hours.  Very happily, I might add.

Before their arrival, a lot of people expressed shock (tempered with excitement) over how long they were staying.  NINE DAYS!  What's the saying, "Fish and company stink after three days"?  And their visit was three times that.  And we'd never met them.

But anything shorter would have been too short.  Sure, everyone was ready for some privacy, alone time, their own bed, to not dress out of a box...

But it took a couple of days just to get comfortable around each other.  Even though he and I had been in contact every day for the previous two months, we didn't know how to be around each other.  In those first couple of days, I found myself filtering every action with the thought, "But, what if he doesn't want..."  Thirty hours into their visit and I knew that had to stop.  I simply wasn't being me.  That night I prayed that he and I would both get comfortable being uncomfortable...and that we'd extend to the other whatever it was they needed.  I was myself again the next morning.

Over the course of the week, we shopped a lot, visited my kids' school, visited my school, had lunch with a couple of my students, saw all of my childhood sights (church, schools, homes, etc), ate ridiculously good barbecue, visited the art museum, had dear friends over for dessert, and had dinner with Jim, Shanna and all of my nephews and niece.  At home, we played a ton of games, talked for hours on end, looked through tons of photos, and Kerry and I ran/walked something like 14 miles. 

Ten days allowed for relationships to unfold naturally.  A long-weekend trip would barely allow for us to get comfortable.

I spent a long weekend with our dad 13 years ago, and I was casual and distracted.  I was doubtful and scared to be vulnerable, totally engaged and interested.  Today, I don't remember half of it.  And I wish I did.  I remember what it felt like to stand beside him and I remember what he looked like the first moment I laid eyes on him.  But I don't remember anything else.  I don't know the most basic things.  I have no idea what my hand felt like in his, I don't know if he smelled like anything, and I can't hear his voice.  And this man was my father. 

I was determined to walk away from this nine ten days with my brother with every possible distinct memory, so I watched a lot and took everything in.  Etching things on my heart and the backs of my eyelids.  Pictures may be worth a 1,000 words, but they can't convey the entire story.  This is why we have five senses, right?   And this guy's my brother.

How many times did I catch myself thinking that?  I'd look across the table and hear myself thinking, "He is every bit as much my brother as Jim."  And I know how much I love Jim, and it completely overwhelms me that this guy might fit into my life the way Jim does.  Like he was made to fit naturally and perfectly.  It is the weirdest and most wonderful thing ever.

In ten days, I watched him become Uncle Kerry.  He is a typical uncle.  Hype them up, then return them to their mother for reprogramming.  Play hard, sometimes until someone gets hurt.  Give them things Mom won't...within reason, of course.  All while hanging on their every word and taking an interest in everything they do.  In ten days, we went from a handshake at the airport, to everyone fighting to sit beside him and be on his team when we played games.

I even left my kids alone with him for a couple of hours while Alyssa and I went shopping.  Without hesitation.  This is completely unheard of.

Over the course of our visit, we grew comfortable being in each others personal space.  When you're a tactile and affectionate person, and you've gone 39 years having never really touched a member of your paternal family, you notice when you do finally touch.  Heck, I "feel" something merely touching things that others have touched, so you can imagine how I feel about real contact with real people.  Especially those people who were meant just for me.  And he was meant to be my younger brother.

He and I talked for hours, usually late at night or while out running/walking.  A lot of times we could finish the others thoughts, as there were many "me too" moments.  Those things that only siblings can relate to.  Those things that, for us, no one else has been able to relate to...until now.

The family resemblances are uncanny.  From appearances, to personalities, to values and life choices, to interests and hobbies, I see the connection between Kerry, my kids, and me.  It is incredible for two people who have never met, who never knew the one person that connected them, to be so similar.  Nature vs. nurture - nature scores some big points here.  In a good way.

It is so weird how a perfect stranger can complete the puzzle...and quickly become anything but a perfect stranger.

It is so wonderful - utterly miraculous - how God can mend the hearts of two abandoned kids and bring them together in a way that breathes life into a family.  Creates a family.

Seriously, this branch never existed on my family tree.  Indeed, God has created a family here.  And I couldn't be happier.

Friday, March 22, 2013

No regrets...full life

As Bryan and I prayed together this morning, he prayed that we'd live each day to the fullest - with no regrets - as life can change so much in a year, sometimes even in a day.

He is so right.

One year ago at this very moment, I was getting Zach ready for school, planning to meet with his principal after lunch and then set up for the school Mother/Son Skating Party later that afternoon.  What I did not plan...and certainly did not anticipate...was my mother passing away while I was at that meeting with the principal and receiving the news of her death while setting up for that party.

My life changed in a big way that day.

And it has continued to change ... oddly enough, to grow ... in ways I never could have expected over the next 12 months.

(I'm closing in on 40...  When I was younger, I thought I knew it all.  Funny how I'm finding every day just how much more I need to learn and grow up.)

An immediate change was the overwhelming and natural relational pull towards my sister.  There had been so many hurt feelings and unresolved issues between us for years, but those issues were non-issues in the days and weeks following Mom's death.  Miraculously, long over-due conversations were had, forgiveness granted, assumptions no longer made, insecurities checked at the door.  The old issues have remained non-issues.  We were always sisters in the family-tree sort of way... that whole "God gave me a sister" thing, but now we have CHOSEN also to be friends.  It is a precious gift to be friends with my sister again.  A gift to each of us, and to our children and our brother.  There's peace, joy and unity for the family as a whole.

Realizing that one will not live forever has effected us.  As has realizing that it was not our mother that connected us, but our choices and attitudes towards one another.

Look at us growing up...

And then there's my brother, Kerry.  My younger brother on my dad's side.

Over the course of the last 12 months, my life grew in a way that led me to him.  I'd been slowly moving towards him for 15 years...but losing my mom, regaining my sister, and finding my footing as a parentless child, resulted in a spotlight on the brother-sized hole in my heart.  And I finally had the courage - the peace - to pursue contacting him.  Having gotten to know him, I kick myself for not having looked for him sooner.

In a year's time, I have lost my mother and gained a sister and a brother (and sister-in-law!).  Six grandkids have mourned the loss of their grandmother...while also establishing new relationships with their cousins, aunts and uncles.  It is certainly bittersweet.

I praise God that my mother is no longer in pain, no longer ill, no longer suffering.  I take comfort and rejoice in the knowledge that she has spent the last 12 months with her heavenly father in utter wholeness.  Oh, what that must look like.

But I miss her.  Everyday.  How I wish she'd have seen my siblings and me together, in peace, loving one another.

And I praise God for his hand in every moment.  He has been so clearly all over all of this.  I am overwhelmed and humbled by his interest in our lives, his compassion and love for us.  His ever-presence and power is completely incomprehensible.

I am so very grateful that the life experience that awaits us all - death - does not have to be a gloomy finality, but can be a growing and feeding experience as well.  In the days and weeks following Mom's death, I experienced love, care, compassion and generosity in a special way that I'd never known before.  In the months since, I have grown and risked beyond my wildest imagination.

As my feet hit the ground today, I pray that I will live without regret, without fear, without holding back.  And, while I simply cannot imagine what more God has in store for my life, I look forward to what is coming.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  John 10:10

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Run like a mother

I am often amazed at how much my running life has changed over the years.

Beginning in 7th grade and continuing through my 27th birthday, I ran.  A lot.  I was a distance runner from the beginning - never a sprinter.  In high school I ran the 880 and the mile, and did high jump.  It was never about fitness or health, but always to escape dealing with my problems.  It was a very dysfunctional and self-destructive coping mechanism.

The summer after I turned 27, I moved back to Kansas City and started dating a nice guy that I wanted to trust.  I was tired of running...figuratively and literally.  So, I just shot straight with him about the pain in my life and promptly stopped running. 

For the next several years I joked about being fatter and happier than I'd been in my entire life...but the "fat" part was getting serious.  At my heaviest, I'd gained 30 pounds and weighed as much as I did when I gave birth to each of my kids.  I felt horrible and my body ached.  Doctors kept saying I needed to exercise, but I was terrified that I'd start running (literally) and would fall back into bad patterns of running from problems.  From my marriage.  From my family.  From my insecurities.

Thankfully, that did not happen.  I confided my fears to my husband and friends, and prayerfully embarked on a new running towards wellness and wholeness beyond my wildest imagination.

I didn't trust myself to run alone, so I found partners to train with.  Girls who knew my past and my issues and helped me to remain focused on the right stuff.  I signed up for my first 5K and ran it with a group of friends.  That was in April 2010.  Having not trained entirely right, I limped back to my car and didn't run again until January 2011...when it was time to train for that year's 5K.  I trained better that year, but it was a long and slow race.  A month later, I signed up for my first sprint distance triathlon.  My husband believed I was certifiable.  He was convinced I was going to die.  I had a great time at the 2011 tri, but was still really terrible at running.  I was slow and walked a lot.  Honestly, I hated the run portion.  Hated it with a passion.  The time with friends and the swim was what kept me motivated.  After the tri, I sat on my couch until it was time to start preparing for the April 2012 5K.  I took a new approach to training this time.  I used Couch to 5K and found that running really wasn't all that miserable.  On April 7, 2012, the 5K was unbelievably easy.  I wasn't even fatigued after the race...which could only mean one thing.

I was ready to run farther.

The next day, I laced up my shoes and announced that I was headed out for 4 miles.  Again, Bryan thought I was insane.  Having run 3.1 the day before, he expected that I needed a week (or month) of rest before running again.  He was wrong.  I finished my 4 miles with an impromptu dance party in the driveway...listening to (and singing along with) Party in the USA on my iPod.  If I had tweenage girls, they'd have wanted to die watching the scene unfold.

That was the first time I'd ever in my life run more than 3.1 miles.  That was only 11 months ago!  Shortly after...I signed up for the 2012 St. Jude Memphis Half Marathon.  Again, insert husband certain of my impending death and institutionalization.

But, I did it...

I ran that April 2012 5K with the words "Determination" and "God can" on my hands.  As in - God can sustain me.  Everything is possible with Him. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

I really was a quitter when it came to running.  I needed some seriously motivating reminders.

On my own, I certainly could not have done this.  Running is a choice to put one foot in front of the other.  It's a choice to take one step at a time, building on previous experience and efforts, believing that all things are possible.  It requires dismissing the voices shouting that it's impossible (usually all in my own head!) and reminding yourself to keep forging ahead towards the finish line.

My running journey reminds me a lot of life...

In case you have missed it -  I am nothing extraordinary.  I am not a natural athlete.  I did not even like running.  I'm just a wife.  A mom.  A teacher.  A friend, sister, daughter, niece, aunt, cousin.  If I can run...and LOVE it...anyone can run.

To my kids...  There are countless things in life that don't come easy or naturally that are totally worth doing.  Praying, going to church, serving, loving, forgiving, sacrificing, extending grace and mercy...even growing into men who watch chick flicks with their wives on occasion.  I pray that you will discover within yourselves the desire and determination to do the hard, uncomfortable, undesirable things.  To take the roads less traveled.  To submit.  To trust.  To become all that God intends for you.  In seeking His will and prayerfully following His lead, you will find a life far beyond anything you could possibly dream up.

Friday, March 1, 2013

We're going to Disney World!

For about 24 hours after finally booking our Disney vacation arrangements, Bryan and I were frequently spotted high-fiving one another.  We'd walk through a room, catch our children grinning and talking Disney at the speed of light, and we'd immediately high five as if we'd accomplished something really outstanding.

Merely booking our Disney vacation was no small feat.

If you ask around, everyone has an opinion and approach to vacationing at Disney.  It's a lot like talking politics.  Countless angles, desires and considerations.

We have a friend who is a Disney travel expert -- an actual travel agent who specializes in Disney.  So in-the-know and head-over-heels about Disney that she drives a VW Minnie bug.  And Bryan's company offers discount travel deals with pretty significant savings.  And Groupon always has Orlando hotel deals, and so on.

How do you weed through all the information, discounts and packages?

I am not a lover of options.  I prefer that someone else read my mind, figure out what I want, and bring me the few options that meet my needs...I can take it from there.  But that is not how vacationing at Disney works.

Add in the fact that Bryan and I weren't exactly looking for the same thing in a Disney vacation...and it was complicated.

Ultimately, we did agree on  a few key points.  We wanted lodging that allowed us to spread out and eat in.  Not one member of our family was interested in eating out 3 times a day for 6 days.  So, we need a kitchen.  In a condo.  And three of four of us are not terribly interested in all of the character stuff.  GASP!  I know, this is Disney we're talking about, and three of us do not want to be fully immersed in the Disney insanity magic for 144 hours.  We want a break when we're not at the theme parks.  So, that takes us off-property.

I hate facing loads of options, but was at least gifted with the ability to verbalize what I'm looking for - that at least helps to narrow things down!

We'd heard great things about Costco Travel, so we checked them out.  Along with our Disney travel agent friend.  And Bryan's work travel perks.  And direct bookings...  And anything else friends advised.

As we were looking at the Costco hotel options - which looked gorgeous! - I happened to notice a tiny box that was unchecked that said "condo".  I checked the condo box and it came up with TWO OPTIONS.  I must admit, I loved that there were only two.  And they were the exact same price as their swanky hotel options, which were the same price as the Disney on-property options (that did not include a rental car)!

The rental car...  Those families who are going to Disney for Disney only do not need a rental car...but we have friends and family in the area that we'd like to see.  And we're also going to the beach.  A FREE rental car with unlimited miles?  Yes, please, and thank you very much!

When we found the package we wanted - 6 days in a 2 bedroom condo, rental car, and Disney World park tickets for 5 days -  we shopped around for the best price.  Costco saved us over $1,300...which more than covered our airfare.


We're going to Disney World!  On a budget.  On Weight Watchers.  With arrangements that fit the needs of our entire family.

Did I mention that the condo place has something like five pools?  The kids are thrilled.

They have been watching Disney movies every day this week - from newer releases to classics.  And reading Disney books.  And scouring Walt Disney World websites and movies about the parks and attractions.

As my kids plot, plan, squeal...and even insist that they are not riding certain rides...I can't imagine surprising them at the airport with this trip.  Watching them excitedly plan and anticipate our vacation has already been worth every penny we'll spend.  And our trip is still nearly four months away!

The other day, Luke climbed up on my lap, wrapped his arms tightly around my neck, and said, "When I'm a dad, I'm going to tell my kids all about my trip to Disney World.  And I'm going to buy them Disney movies."  How could we ever have thought that Disney wasn't for us?  (Confession:  Bryan and I can both be quoted as having said we'd rather stick a fork in our eye than wait in the heat, in long lines, with our kids at Disney.  Bad, bad parents.)

Snow much fun...round 2

Our second major snowstorm in less than a week began moving in on Monday evening.  We were told to expect 6-14" of snow, so we weren't surprised to wake up to 6" Tuesday morning.  Actually... We might have been a little surprised that that was all we got...after last week.

This snow was different from the previous week's - much wetter and stuck to the trees.  This is way prettier...but has more potential for power outages, downed trees and collapsed roofs.  We lost a branch on our peach tree, but that was all the damage at our house.

These snow days happened to fall on Bryan's weekend, so we enjoyed some family fun outdoors.

The guys made a cool fort.  They even "painted" it with windshield wiper fluid.

And they threw snowballs.  Really huge snowballs.

And I made a snowman family.  I'd intended to make only the Mr. and Mrs., but I couldn't resist adding kids when Luke asked which one was him.  He's not quite over wanting to marry me...  He said it was okay with him if I only made two, "I'll just be the daddy one."  So, instead of the snowman and wife having a hot date, they are now hanging out on the lawn with their kids.

Bryan even taught Zach how to operate the snow blower.  He was in future-man heaven.

Since school was canceled, we had a mid-week sleepover with a cousin and went sledding the next day.  Sledding - after I ran 7 miles outdoors with Tiffany.  Between running and sledding...I was wiped out. 

The cousins even brought cookies - what a treat!

  Luke could have climbed these mounds of snow all day.  He had a little fort up there.

With mountains of snow piled high all over the city, it's hard to believe that we're heading into spring.

I remember five years ago, I started a new Bible study that met on Thursday nights.  Our first meeting was in mid-March, and every single Thursday night from weeks 2-6, we had to seek shelter because tornado sirens were blaring.  It's really hard to imagine exchanging our boots and bibs for flip flops and shorts seemingly overnight, but it will happen.

This is one wacky, wild and wonderful place to live.