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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Starry Night and Bailey

The first time I saw Bailey, I knew I was in love.

She wore purple leggings and a white, sparkly sweater.  Her little tan boots were embellished with fringe in a Native American style.  She had dark brown eyes.  Her mother had styled her full and lush hair into perfect ponytails.  Purple bows were attached to each one.  Truly, she was an adorable five-year-old!

I was picking Camren up from school that day--the day I first saw her.  I walked into the brightly lit and happily decorated classroom and scanned the squatty tables for Camren.  I watched as Bailey excitedly ran towards him and yelled, "Camren!  Camren!  Do you want to meet my baby brother?!"

I saw a baby boy--comparable to Bridget's age--toddling towards Bailey.  Camren stretched out his hand and tenderly patted him on the head.  "He's so cute," replied Cam in a high-pitched voice!  Bailey giggled, Cam grinned.  It was the sweetest thing.

I've learned a lot about Bailey since that day.  I've learned she often runs to greet Cam when James drops him off in the morning.  I've learned she leaves letters and hand-drawn pictures in Cam's cubby for him.  She's always happy to see him.  She wanted to stand beside him in the class winter program.  (They were the only two who jumped and danced during the performance of "Jingle Bells!")

Bailey doesn't mind that Camren doesn't speak well.  His quirks and idiosyncrasies don't bother her.  Young children are so beautifully innocent and unconditionally loving like that!  Bailey doesn't see Cam's learning disabilities, his sensory seeking behaviors, his Asperger's, or his social struggles.  She just sees HIM.  She sees her friend.

Vincent Van Gogh was a brilliant and notable Post-Impressionist painter.  His works are among the world's most expensive paintings ever sold at auction and in private sales.  They are known for their emotional honesty; "Starry Night" being the artist's depiction of how a night sky feels.  Van Gogh's paintings are known for their bold colors, and according to one art critic, "their rough beauty."

(Rough beauty.  I love that.  Like children with special needs.  Challenging.  Abrasive.  Bright.  Beautiful.)

And it was Van Gogh who once wrote, "Close friends are truly life's treasures.  Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves.  With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears.  Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone."

As 2014 closes, I think about the people in my life and the relationships I have established.  My heart sings with an honest love of people, and my lips whisper prayers of gratitude for friendship.  The type of friendship Van Gogh wrote about--one that stretches beyond the standard and becomes a gift, a blessing, a miracle, a treasure.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Shopping With Jesus

I had a "shopping with Jesus" experience last week.

I have this friend, Melody.  She is refreshingly real and vastly poetic--her talent for verse runs deeper than a river.  She is as wise as she is kind.  I respect her appreciation for the beauty of the natural world and her awareness of the people around her.  I adore her.

Melody once wrote a post on her blog about the phenomenon, "Shopping with Jesus."  It is that exhilarating moment when all the "retail planets align" and you find EXACTLY what you were shopping for, what you wanted, what you needed.  It is being at the right place at the right time.  It's finding the perfect pair of pumps the night before the wedding.  It's finding the "out-of-stock"  Christmas gift--that you have been searching and searching and searching for--on an obscure shelf in the toy aisle.  It's heaven!

On Thursday night--as I was tucking Lilly into bed--she informed me that it was "Christmas Sweater Day" at school on Friday.  Friday.  As in, THE NEXT DAY.  With tears in her eyes and worry in her voice, she said, "I don't' have a Christmas sweater.  What will I wear?"

She had had a rough day at school.  She had broken up with her troll-like (ahem) best friend AGAIN, the girls on the bus had been unkind, and she forgot her library book.  When the front door swung open--signifying her return--I knew immediately that something was wrong.  Her boots trudged heavily on the tile and her shoulders slumped.  I could see tears on her cheeks.  It broke my mama's heart.

So, with a quick hug and a kiss on the forehead, I said to Lilly, "Not to worry.  You go to sleep.  I will take care of it." 

I knew I wanted to do something special for her--to brighten her sadness and to bring a little Christmas magic into her heart.  I wanted to remind her of how much she matters to me.

There was only one thing I could do.  Go to Target.

I carefully perused the sweater racks.  I searched the piles of t-shirts on the shelves.  I double-checked the clearance section.  I walked around and around on that red carpet--dizzy by the bright lights, the Christmas music, and the lack of selection.  It was late; I was tired.  I was starting to feel stressed.

I found a long-sleeved red shirt with a glittery Christmas tree on it.  The moment I saw the glitter, I knew it was perfect.  I looked through all the sizes.  Extra small.  Large.  Extra large.  Lilly needed a medium.  I checked again and again, willing that medium to miraculously appear.  There wasn't one to be found.

In my infinite wisdom and technologically savvy ways (har, har), I pulled out my phone and did a search for the shirt.  It was out of stock everywhere except for one store.  One store.  And it was across town.

What to do?  What to do?  My heart felt heavy in my chest as the sadness started creeping in.  I didn't want to disappoint Lilly.  I took a deep breath, threw back my shoulders, and marched out of that Target store.  I knew I was about to visit my second Target of the night.

A repeat of my first shopping experience transpired:  Searching.  Walking.  Scouring.  Looking.  Walking more, searching more.  Finally, I found the rack where all the Christmas shirts were hanging.  They were a mess!  Mismatched and out of size order.  I slowly went through each and every one.  Not only was there no Christmas tree shirt to be found, there were no other shirts in her size.  At all.  Tears pricked my eyes.

Please, God, I silently prayed as I slid the shirts along the metal bar, I just wanted to find a shirt for Lilly.  I just wanted to do something nice for her, to cheer her up.  Please help me find something...

And as soon as the word, "something," rolled through my mind, there it was.  A Christmas tree shirt.  Size: Medium.  THE ONLY shirt left.  The ONLY medium.  The ONLY Christmas tree shirt.  I clicked my heels and laughed happinly as I made my way to the register!  I knew I had just shopped with Jesus!

It was late--well past the evening news and The Tonight Show--when I crept into Lilly's room.  I could hear her breathing heavily--signs of deep and peaceful sleep.  I laid the shirt on her dresser, beside the pants she had set out to wear the next day.  I also placed new Christmas socks on her dresser.  I couldn't wait for her to discover her surprise in the morning!

As I left her room, I peeked one more time at her shirt.  I peeked one more time at her sweet, sleeping face and thought...

Thank you, Jesus. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014


I had a dream.

It was late.  The children were sleeping, the house was quiet, and James was snoring beside me.  I was lying in bed--covers tucked under my chin like so many nights from my girlhood--thinking about all I needed to get done for the week!

(And isn't that the truth?!  As women, as mothers, we think and think and think about our "to-do" lists when we should be sleeping!)

I had recently cleaned out the pantry and the storage closet, and was thinking about the closets I had yet to finish.  I knew Lilly and Camren's closet was bad, and that that would be the next on my list to tackle.  As I was drifting into slumber, I thought about the boxes of books buried beneath the toys in their closet.  I thought about how I needed to sort through them...

And then I dreamed about giving books away.  I set up a booth--like a lemonade stand on a sidewalk--and handed them out.  It was weird.  But it was wonderful!

The next morning--as I was sluggishly rolling out of bed--an idea struck me like a splash of ice water in the face!  Donate some of your children's books to kids who could use some literary love for Christmas.

The idea resonated within my heart and rang brightly in my mind.  I knew, knew it was something I was supposed to do.  I felt my breath quicken as I ran for Lilly and Cam's bedroom and threw open the closet door!  That's how it started--me in my pajamas, sporting my noteworthy bedhead, sitting on the floor, sorting stacks of picture books.

My sister, Erika (who writes a book review blog), saw my Instagram posts about giving books away, and quickly caught the vision of my project.  She eagerly got on board and it became our project.  Our blessing.

We set up a GoFundMe campaign and started spreading the word.  We watched as what started as a spark of a dream turned into a warm fire of love and kindness.  And then we watched as friends and strangers alike took that beautiful, burning fire and turned into a blaze of service.

Fifty new books were donated.  We received over $400 to help cover shipping and packaging costs, as well as the purchase of more books.  Wrapping paper was donated.  Requests for books flooded my inbox.  A fifth grade teacher felt inspired to include her students in the project.  They donated books using their class book order points.  To say that the generosity of others has been astounding would be an understatement.

Books have been sent to local Sub For Santa families.  They have been sent to first graders in Georgia.  They have been sent to a children's hospital, to a family who lost their home in a fire, to children in a number of states in the US, and to special needs children with disabilities similar to my Camren's.  All have received new books from us.  From you--Christmas angels who have lifted us and have shared our desire to put books in children's homes.

Through this experience I have learned a number of things.  I have learned that there are good people in the world; the unsung heroes, the silent saviors, the humble givers.  I have learned that the sincerest of desires can be made reality, that God always prepares a way for goodness, and that we are loved more than we comprehend.  We are a universal family; we take care of each other.

I've learned that "charity never faileth."  That books, cards, pinatas, whatever the matters.  Because it's love.  And I've learned that I live to love others.

Thank you, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  Thank you for your love, enthusiasm, donations, and support.  Thank you for your willingness to help me, to buoy me up, and sustain me.  YOU inspire ME!  Thank you for being the good in the world and the beauty in this holiday season.

Thank you for being so divine.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Dear Santa; Another Letter From A Mama

Dear Santa,

Take a peek inside my house,
and you will truly see--
A diva daughter and a "barnacle" baby,
and a son with ASD.

Don't get me wrong, dear Santa--
Please don't misunderstand.
My kids warm my heart and fill it up...
I just wish I had extra hands!

OT visits and working on speech--
Second grade math homework is hard!
Baby in the garbage, in the toilet, in trouble,
I frequently play the "stressed out" card!

So a VALIUM for Christmas is just what I need!
(I know it's a strange gift to plan.)
But then when Lilly tells me to, "Chill out!,"
I actually, blessedly can!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dear Santa; A Letter From A Mama

Dear Santa,

I have a confession to make.
It doesn't make me proud.
Whenever my home is chaotic,
and my children are being loud--

I search for a place to hide,
to take a little break.
To take deep breaths and drink a Coke,
until my joy's no longer fake!

But my children are so clever--
They keep finding me!
Hiding places are becoming scarce--
a good one is a rarity.

After weeks of looking all around,
I think I got it right.
MY BEDROOM CLOSET is dark and quiet,
but void of any light!

So when you drive your sleigh to my house,
under the cloak of night,
Remember a simple gift for me...