Tag Archives: birthday

WHAT IS THIS LIFE

Dearest Abby June,

Today, you have completed 3 cycles around the sun. If you aren’t the best thing to ever happen to this little family, I’ll eat my hat.IMG_5655

You are 34 and a half inches tall… not yet to where Gideon and Ry were when they turned 2. TWO! Our little Half Pint. You’d be lucky to break 25 pounds, but you carry a quick right jab to make up for anything. You are painfully shy with strangers but fearless with frogs, 4-wheelers, trampolines, hills, tractors, busses, candy, chickens, ornery yearling calves, and wood stoves. Brave. You are brave. You are potty trained (again). You know your colors and your numbers and most of the make and models of our neighbors’ cars. You eat only pancakes and noodles and cereal (nothing has changed since last year… your word is CONSISTENT). You will not wear dresses and have to be in a good mood to wear shirts without pockets. You can dress yourself, including zipping your coat. You are, we have always said, the Little General. You are the child I worry the least about. You have largely raised yourself… I cannot take credit for the awesomeness we see on a daily basis.

IMG_6106

Thursday last, I left a choir concert early with your sister (You won’t remember this, but she puked. SHE PUKED AT HER CONCERT). We were sad to miss the live nativity, and I asked you to sneak the miniature donkey into Dad’s car on the way home. The next morning we had this conversation (keep in mind that I, your 37-year-old mother, am in red and you, still clinging to 2, are in black):

Did you bring me my donkey?

No, I did not.

Why not?!

You haft have money and buy one.

I don’t have any money!

Then you needa ask your dad.

But my dad is not here!

Well, he will be on Sunday.

Child, you have the craziest handle on language this family has ever seen. You’ve been talking for a year, and are fluent in humor, sarcasm, and passive-aggressive suggestions. Our conversations have become the stuff of legends online and certainly brighten the Michigan gray around here. I am constantly forgetting that I am speaking to a minor.

You are an unapologetic fibber. A liar. A student of the untruth. Abby! I say, Do you have chocolate in your mouth? Is that brown candy dripping out of your face at 7am in the morning? And without hesitation, you will answer NO every time. Every time, Child.

IMG_6263I just cannot get enough of you.

I do love you. What’s more, I like you. I would hang out with you even if you weren’t my child. A hundred times a day, Girl, you save me.

Love,

Mom

Abby is 2. (my favorite)

Abby is 1.

Abby is born.


Ry is 8.

Ry's native language

There are few ways to deal with fire, Child. You can douse it with water, but this may leave the area both flooded and burned. You can smother the flames, which is quick but you risk serious injury and are still left with damaged goods.  Sometimes, sometimes… the safest way to deal with a fire is to let the flames burn out on their own. It is beautiful and horrifying, but it purifies. And, it is the only way some flowers will ever see the sun.

These are the FIRE EPHEMERALS, or fire followers. They emerge only after devastation. Their seeds only open in extreme, intense heat… and they will wait 40 years if they have to. Some will not even attempt life if it’s been less than 10 years since the last flame. What kind of beauty is this? That which demands such a display, such destruction, before showing its face?

I am only just beginning to understand.

tarweed

It is the rare, the quiet, the high on the hill, the least sought after, the unique, and off the beaten path, the beauty from ashes kind of life.

I am only just beginning to know a God who would hide treasure among dust, who asks for obedience rather than results, who craves a relationship more than a receipt. He, himself, is a consuming fire, and there is no way through it but through it. 

This God did not give me a child the world wants to ‘fix’ in order that I might lead her and myself to a better life.

He gave me a child that I might love as He loves me.

There is no end to this journey, I find. Each time I reach a crossroad, a bench, a peak, a valley… each time, the road continues on into the sun and there is nothing to do but keep walking.

I have never been so broken or so full at the same time.

There is no end, but I am not doing it wrong. 

I am only just beginning to understand.

LUKE

You, my girl… you are eight.

You can say HAPPY BIRTHDAY this year. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, I AM EIGHT. It is a miracle and a testimony to your relentless spirit of indifference. I am convinced you still do not know nor care that your voice comes out differently than most of those around you. I (still) have more questions than answers at this point… and so I expect God desires this conversation to continue.

Ry, you are 51 inches tall. You weigh 50 pounds. You want your hair to be long… long, like Ms. Julie’s. You wear a medium/8 and a 3 in shoes. A THREE. Gas costs $2.75 and bread is $2 a loaf. Gideon is 4 and Abby is closing in on 3. Dad is 36 and I (mom) am a month away from 38.

You love to ride horses. You love to write: lists, letters, words- WORDS! You can read! You can do simple math. I am convinced that wonders will, truly, never cease. You’re in second grade with Mrs Burgess, and you love to ride the bus. Your best friend is Kaitlin, and she is one of many in your sweet circle of friends (and adults) that love you and pray for you and watch over you and look forward to you. I am so grateful for the beauty God has grown in the dessert of special-needs. What a community of kind and honest people we share life with, Rylie! Fire followers, all of them. And more vibrant because of it.

You do not ride a two-wheeler or tie your shoelaces, and we do not care. Your temper is fierce. You need a plan, you like to see the next thing, and you thrive when you have a task, a job, a purpose.  You want pizza every day. You can name all of our cows by sight, and you pack your own lunch. We are so incredibly proud of you, Ry. For how hard you work, for how honest you are, for how quickly you forgive.

You are a new creation. A beautiful, new, growing, ever-changing creation. A fire-follower.

You remind me every day that fires are not the end… they are the beginning.

I thank God for the beauty that is you, Girl.

Julie and Ry

Love you so much,

Mom

Past birthdays:

Ry is born

Ry is 1.

Ry is 2

Ry is 3

Ry is 4

Ry is 5

Ry is 6.

Ry is 7. 


Gideon is 4.

It’s always so hard for me to start again, to find my rhythm. When I do not know why to say or how to feel, I write a letter. The music always finds me there. 

GIDEON JAMES!

Did you think I had forgotten you in all the quiet of Lent? It is impossible to go a second without searching for you… in mind or on foot. Your name is usually said and spelled in ALL CAPS, either out of excitement or exasperation. Lawd, Child… if you aren’t the most full of life heartbreaker I’ve ever met. You must wear socks to bed and “baseball forts” (which, for the record, as actually basketball shorts) under all your pants just in case the weather blows fair. Most folks have never seen you without a baseball cap. You sleep in one most every night and sometimes forget to take it off in the shower.

Gus1

You grasped the concept of a wish list early and were prompting us for your 4th birthday well before March 11. A trumpet. A kite. A motorcycle. A movie about dragons. A blue helicopter. A soda pop. A fishing pole. A fast bike. A boat. I’m so sorry we weren’t able to come through on some of those… but you have a lot of life left. While I do not know the number of your years, I know the quality of your days. You have logged more smiles and tears in the first four trips around the sun than many do in a lifetime. You do nothing small or quiet or gently. You love big and hit hard, Gus. You will always be my Gus Man.

You wake up slow. You love fruit loops for breakfast. You eat a peanut butter sandwich every day for lunch. You are fascinated by machines and how things work. You struggle with empathy and focus. Abby is screaming in pain because you are sitting on her but wait is that a tractor and where are your fast shoes can you have some candy? You absolutely hate going to bed, and every night since the day you were born has been a battle to that end.

Gus3

You can drive a tractor by yourself and pull a wagon of passengers behind you. You can ride a 2-wheel bike. You can fly an RC helicopter (sorry it’s red) and make legitimate noise on a trumpet. You know all the names of Thomas and his friends by sight and can jump almost as high as Dad on the trampoline. You are life. Absolute untamed, unfiltered life.

My beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful boy.

You have thrown me into the high and low drama of being a mother of a son with the potential to change the world. I see Mary in a whole new light after meeting you, living with you, loving you. You can break my heart and save the day in a matter of minutes separated only by tears and laughter. Certainly, you have a mind of capable of comprehension, but should you find yourself lacking you will excel by sheer determination, bruises be damned. You are the middle child with no concept of being lost… only being where you never have been before.

Gus2

All of these lines across my face tell you the story of who I am: I am your biggest fan, your toughest critic, and your only mother. May you seek God’s face and desperately, gleefully chase after His heart. May I be the kind of parent who you gives you room to roam and as few hints as possible. Be wild at heart and compassionate in victory. I will be the one you see every time you turn around. But look ahead- eyes in front, Son. See all Christ has in store for you, which is immeasurably more than you can imagine, Child. So. Much. More.

You are worth every tear, every bruise, every broken anything.

I absolutely adore you.

Love, Mom

Gideon is born.

Gideon is 1.

Gideon is 2.

Gideon is 3.

 


purple

I had an inheritance from my father, It was the moon and the sun. And though I roam all over the world, The spending of it’s never done. – Ernest Hemingway

royalty

[Happy Birthday today to my boy… my tornado of awesome. You are a PRINCE!]

Open the eyes of their hearts, and let the light of Your truth flood in. Shine Your light on the hope You are calling them to embrace. Reveal to them the glorious riches You are preparing as their inheritance. [Ephesians chapter 1, verse 18]

My usual stories with words will be replaced by daily stories with photos for the days of Lent. You see, I’m trying to look for Lent this year instead of waiting for it to find me.

:: resources and readings ::

Jesus Calling Lenten companion by Sarah Young

Instagram Photo-a-Day Journey by Catholic Sistas

Beneath the Tree of Life Lenten devotional by Michelle DeRusha

Holy Lens Lent-stagram project by Survive Our Blessings

daily lectionary readings

Lent and Easter devotions from Bible Gateway

family Lent devotional from Ann Voskamp

 


an ode to Curt on his (almost) birthday

Dear Curtis James,

It’s 8:30 on Wednesday night and you are somewhere over Minnesota while I type, headed home. Your job doesn’t ask you to travel much, but we miss you when you are gone. The herd always knows when you are gone.

Curt! Saturday is your birthday!

This is where we started, you know?

You know.

We met on your birthday. 

[Y’all go ahead and click on that link above and refresh your memory… I’m warning you: it ain’t pretty.]

Two years later, we married and spent our first nights together at the Amway in downtown Grand Rapids.

This year, on your birthday, we’ll be at the Amyway again- for a marriage retreat.

It’s as if every part of our relationship up to this moment has been leading to this weekend!

I hope I don’t screw it up.

Also, I hope there’s room service at some point.

It’s been twelve years since we first met in California, nine years since we married and started sharing a bathroom, seven since our first kid and me dragging you out to the country, and five since the cows joined us in the pasture. How are you feeling about all of that? You’re (soon to be) 36. You’re a successful project manager known in Michigan and beyond for being calm, focused, and extremely adept at excel spreadsheets.

You’re a father to three kids. THREE! What in the world, Curt? What were we thinking? We weren’t thinking. It’s too many kids. Together, we juggle the three of them well, I think. Actually, let’s face it: Abby takes care of herself so really we just deal with the older two. Your patience, your ability to stay un-affected, and your complete devotion to peanut butter sandwiches on Saturdays makes you a rockstar dad and counter-balances my I HAVE NO PLAN plan to a perfect degree.

I do not know a harder worker who can push himself so far for so long without complaining or faltering. It is so incredibly… annoying. Seriously. What is my role here? Realism? Evening out the curve for our kids? Someone has to cook, I suppose… you are terrible at that. Cooking and ironing.

Not that you’re not an excitable person. People still talk about the night around the fire when you looked up an owl call on your phone and then had all of us sitting, literally, on the edge of our seats hoping right along with you that it would work and an owl would swoop down to join us. You’re enthusiasm is contagious. Owl calls. Truly.

I’ve watched you walk across a metal barn roof in the dead of an icy winter with no harness and no fear, and I’ve lived through about 800 cycles of research for the “next” thing: a skid steer, a car, a pair of shoes. I’ve watched you deal pragmatically with excruciating back surgery, kidney stones, and cavities. You go all-in, every time.

Again, annoying.

Your brain is a little scary. I think maybe it’s only numbers floating around in there. Numbers and engine parts. You calculate tire rotations and RPMs and speedometer accuracy to stay awake on long drives. You use Google Earth to figure exact linear footage of property for cattle fencing. You ask for maps of dirt roads and county lines. You explain frost cycles to friends over dinner, and make it educational and completely normal.

You will drive anywhere. Connecticut, overnight and back again with a 30-foot trailer and a friend? Sure. Kansas for a sale but we’re not buying? You bet. Texas for a 4-day weekend? Pack it up.

In Enneagram World, you are an uncontested 1– a stoic problem solver.

I am a 4– a creative, unique, emotional (and maybe a little lazy) spirit.

There is no logical or emotional reason we should be married or even friends.

Our marriage is the very definition of what is possible when two people with fall in love and let God fill in the cracks. There is no other way save Grace that an intense, focused, achievement-oriented guy would fall for and devote his life to supporting a gypsy of a girl who is constantly searching for solid ground.

Or maybe I found it. 

Maybe you show me stability every day… that you’re not going anywhere (except maybe to Connecticut “real quick”), that you love me unconditionally (but it would help if I would not read so late into the night with the light on and page-turning), that you believe in keeping and honoring promises (so you’re kind of stuck).

It’s our first marriage retreat ever. On your birthday! At the Amway! I can’t wait. These past 12 years have been an absolute blur of life. We are not new to this relationship or parenting thing anymore. And rather than let this next stage of life run over us with eleven more years of rising and setting suns, we are going to attempt to be intentional about it. I am excited to sit down and make space to talk to you and pray with you and eat dinner with you. Alone (except for every one else attending). I’ll try to take it seriously. But, honestly, Curt… if there’s a budget portion or even a “where do you want to be in 5 years” workshop, I’m gonna need a Coke and some Cheetos. ALL THE PLANNING. LAWD. I’m sweating already.

Happy birthday, Love. You’re amazing. You are the best bonfire-builder, farmer slash engineer, sword-maker I know, and I am just so darn happy to have you on my team.

I pick you. Every time.

Except when I’m panicking and then I pick another 4 who will hold me through the commotion instead of mapping out a (ridiculously effective and efficient) solution grid.

Love always,

Mary Kathryn

2 good + 2 be= 4gotten


soooo many candles

My parents both celebrate a BIG number of candles on the cake this year, and Dad’s birthday is Saturday. You can read Monday’s letter to Mom HERE.

boat

Dad,

I followed you from Texas to Germany to Kentucky back to Germany and back to Texas again; you’ve always had a way of making things circle back around.

There is not a joke you have not heard, prank you have not pulled, engine you cannot fix. I married a guy like you. You are prefer kids to adults, quiet to loud, and jeans to suits. My husband married someone like you. You are a peacemaker in community and a troubleshooter by trade… and a bit of a trouble-maker by nature. I have a few children like you.

My children think you live next door but won’t come to visit. The daily phone calls from Texas about anything and everything make up many miles and months of absence. You are a terrible cook, you secretly took 2-step lessons so we could dance together at my wedding, and you regularly buy my children gum. I have watched you lead men in formation, chaperone mom’s 2nd-graders’ field trips, and carry sick animals to the vet. Because of you, I have an unhealthy but deep understanding of Fleetwood Mac’s personal history and discography. I’m ok with it.

I remember you at my age. I remember that you were quiet and that you liked m&ms and that we never, ever ate pizza. We always ate dinner together as a family no matter how late you came home, and we always went to church on Sunday. Life after the military career has suited you well: you work for yourself, go out dancing with Mom every Friday night, and call my kids every day at lunch. I like this way this 2nd life breathes a little more for you.

Thank you for showing me the world before I could drive, for making your soldiers buy all my Girl Scout cookies, and for keeping all my friends’ cars running smoothly. Thank you for driving across the country with me and walking me down the aisle, for being the first person to her most of my stories, for having so many fun toys at your house.

Happy birthday, Daddy. Here’s to you.

Gus Man wants to know where you at?

Love, Mary Kate

TX March'12


fanny packs are uplifting

Thank you for all of your kind words and manic cheering for the post that went a little grass-roots crazy Thursday (huge!) and Friday (huge-er!). I’ve never, ever had anything like that happen before. It was amazing.

Many of you mentioned the photo: it was taken exactly 2 years ago at a gas station. It was difficult to see that face popping up on facebook all day- the stray hair bothers me like bad grammar in a church bulletin. It took more out of me to post that photo than to write the essay Wednesday night. But it was exactly right for those words, and now I know why I saved it all this time.

So, what will I do now?

I will do what I have always tried to do: tell you a good story.

This is a big year for my parents: both celebrate birthdays with a zero at the end. Today and Thursday will be tributes to each.

In 1986, I lived three hours from Germany’s Zugspitze. My brother and I learned to ski very young, a perk of being ARMY brats with adventurous (and Lawd knows, patient) parents. We spent every snow-filled weekend and every school vacation on those slopes. By the time this photo was taken, our family was skiing every color run from top to bottom and sometimes, if the snow was exceptional, all the way to our Jeep’s hatchback in the parking lot. I’m guessing I was 9 and Danny was 6 here. Or maybe 10 and 7. That would make Mom 32 or 33.

momskiing

[I’m realizing that right now I am older than she was in this picture and it’s completely blowing my mind.] 

That’s me in the red. People, I was no. joke. Hardcore and way too cool for school. Obviously, posing for a family photo was completely ruining my life. And then there was Danny… goggles up, snow in his eyes, pompom hat, who cares. Happy go lucky. Mom in her classic powder blue one piece. We never had trouble finding Mom on the hill.

See that buckle around my waist? It holds my fanny pack on. Danny’s is hidden under his jacket thus protecting him from direct incrimination, BUT WE ALL HAD THEM. They were packed each morning with tangerines, fun-size snickers, capri suns, and slimjims- treats for the long lift rides to the top of the mountain.

So, ok. I’m ten and I always ride with Dad on the lifts. Danny rides with Mom and they are always behind us. The chairs scoop you up and you swing a bar down over the top of yourself to stay in… and then you dig into your fanny pack for a quick snack on the way up. At the top of the hill, you raise the bar and glide out to the side of the hill while the chair continues around a huge wheel and then back down the line to the bottom… empty.

returnterminal

The day was perfect and sunny against a brilliant blue sky. We were literally on top of the world. This particular double lift dropped you off on the left, which meant Danny and I sat to the left of our parents. So 10-year old Katie slides off and confidently takes her place at the top of the hill and begins to adjust her goggles. Her dad is right behind her. Danny is bombing toward us at a ridiculous speed because he is not now nor ever careful. And, Mom? Mom is bringing up the rear.

But there is no Mom.

Which is when we heard the scream. It was immediately clear in a sea of international skiers that this was an American scream… and even more obvious in my deepest heart of hearts that it was my mother’s. I still have this sense of turning in slow motion back toward the chair lift and seeing… nothing.

And then looking up…

up the 10-foot snow bank piled against the large metal pole anchoring the return wheel…

and then up another 5 feet…

There. THERE was my mother in her powder blue snow suit against a sunny and brilliant blue sky… dangling by her fanny pack strap.

alfred-eisenstaedt-skier-riding-the-chair-lift-at-sun-valley-ski-resort-march-8-1937

[Just take a moment and picture it, please.]

It was the funniest and most embarrassing moment of my 10-year old existence. My dad giggled, folks… and you know Mister Dan. He doesn’t giggle.

I decided then and there that I would never be like my mom. She could work a full-time job, cook 99% of our meals from scratch, raise two kids in a foreign country while Dad drove tanks, and teach us to ski in the clouds, but she would never be cool to me. Someone PLEASE get that woman down from the wheel before I melt into the mountain.

The truth is I never knew my mother until I became one myself.

And while our whole story could be told in Brandi Carlile lyrics, suffice it to say I get it now.

This is a big year for you, Mom. In your life, you’ve lived on 2 continents, traveled to 3, had 2 kids on a military budget, taught hundreds of America’s youth to read and write and do math, tap danced at your school, and welcomed 4 grandchildren. You’ve cooked 40 Thanksgiving dinners, been to infinite gymnastics tournaments, and prayed your husband home from war. You’ve fed horses, goats, bunnies, hedgehogs, hamsters, and dogs… and all while grading papers with a red pen in your mouth.

All those times, I was looking the other way and you… you were looking out for me. I was a kid- arrogant and too smart and awkward and you were doing the best you could to work full-time, cook 99% of our meals from scratch, raise two kids in a foreign country, and teach us to ski in the clouds.

I love teaching and old movies and milky ways because of you. I know the importance of canning tomato sauce, going to church, and eating as a family because of you. I appreciate antiques, I work well alone, and I picked a good man because I was watching you… even when I was pretending I wasn’t.

You did all right.

All. Right.

Happy Big Birthday Year to you, and many, many more.

I got a new interpretation and it’s a better point of view.

You were looking for a landslide;

I was looking out for you, I was looking out for you.

Someone’s looking out for you.

Brandi Carlile, Looking Out