Thursday, July 24, 2014

It's About The Donuts

I stayed at home with my kids, mostly, for over ten years. I finished the school year after Sarah was born in December of 1990, but after that I never returned to full-time work until 2003.
Christmas 2013

I worked, part-time. I filled in one semester for a music teacher who had to take a sick leave. I sold Pampered Chef. I taught piano lessons. I babysat other people's kids. I did a part-time worship leader gig.

But mostly, I took care of my kids.

Lest you think of me more highly than you ought, let me say this up front: I was a colossal failure as a stay-at-home mom, at least in regards to the expectations I had going in. My house was always an upside down, frightening mess. The kids' rooms were rarely clean. Laundry stayed in baskets. Sheets didn't get a weekly washing. The kids stayed alive, and most days that was a major accomplishment.

I'm a big-picture person, and I don't see details, and that made for a ridiculously awful experience when it came to the domestic  duties that a SAHM did. At least, what I assumed most of them did. One of my friends in Hico, Texas, stayed at home with her three at the same time I was home with my two. Mary had a schedule for herself; one day, as we pushed strollers up the hill towards the high school in that little town, she told me her daily plan.

Up at 6:30
Husband out the door
Kids ready for school
Daily chores for three hours
Then other stuff; Bible study, playdates, grocery shopping, etc.

Ha, ha, ha.

That was funny to me. I slept until the kids woke up, and then I had to get up. I fed them and cooked grown up food and changed diapers and cleaned up after them and just lived moment to moment until 8:30PM when they were asleep and I could think coherently.


Not in my world.

Mary had floors clean enough to eat off of. You could eat off my floors, too; but not because they were clean. Because you could find enough remnants from last night's dinner and Cheetos thrown from high chairs that you'd never go hungry.

I've been working now for a decade, and not much has change in terms of my housekeeping abilities. At least I have an excuse now...

But the truth is, I had other priorities. I was far from perfectly attentive to my kids; the internet had just appeared in our living rooms, and I was intrigued and distracted by email and instant messaging at times. However, overall, I stayed at home to simply be at home.

I tucked my kids into bed most nights. We read books. I watched them fight. I forced them to make up.

There were plenty of times that I screwed up, and those are probably the ones my kids remember. I dropped the ball a lot. I wasn't perfect.

But I was there. Their father was there as well, mostly; we had decided together that our priority would be family; more than salary, more than personal time. We did without a lot of things, living for a long time on a part-time salary and counting pennies carefully. We agonized over the cost of diapers. We stretched meat into as many dinners as possible.

It went by in a flash.

I became a parent in 1990. Since that time, it has defined me. Twenty-three years of life, directed by the requirements of maternal love and responsibility; they have, truly, flown by.

In three weeks, my eldest son will move out. Tonight, we drove by his dorm in Richmond; got a feel for what his new life will look like. His newly married sister and brother-in-law live just two blocks away, and how can I express the maternal comfort that washed over me when I measured that distance on Google Maps?

It was a good thing.

Shannon is married and in the beginning days of a wonderful life with her husband. Daniel moves out in 22 days. Sarah and Syd will soon head back to their respective college towns.

David will be still at home - the only one - and things will be different.

Tonight, I got home from work with donuts on my mind. An article in the local paper had referenced a new business venture with local ties; we'd talked about it in the office. Sydni had gone to that same donut shop earlier this week.

Donut brain. I had it.

After a quick dinner, I suggested a donut run. We ran out in the rain, hopped in the car and headed to Richmond. Forty-five minutes later, we were in the Sugar Shack parking lot. Six donuts later, we realized we needed more and got a refill (same box; MORE DONUTS). We brought them home for Tony and for tomorrow.

We meandered home, driving through Sydni's voice teacher's neighborhood and up Semmes Avenue and through Chesterfield County all the way up Route 60. Just past Chippenham, Daniel cried, "Look! It's on! It's on!"

You don't ignore the HOT NOW sign, even if you already have purchased a dozen donuts in the last 45 minutes.

I drove home, thinking of the ridiculous nature of the evening. Irresponsible in terms of gas expenditures and $21 worth of fattening, glutenous, sugar-soaked junk.*(SEE BELOW...) Irresponsible considering the state of the house, with laundry and dishes and even wedding stuff left out and scattered all over the place.

But that's just me. That's how it's been, all these years. The house can be a mess; the laundry can be undone, and we can stay up too late and maybe even do a lousy job on homework. That's the life we created and the essence of the moments we tried to live. There have been many times I've walked wearily through the door and sat on the couch for two hours before crawling into bed. Other times, we've jumped up and gone to Batman movie marathons. Either way, I've tried to remember that what matters is being here.

I wouldn't trade the years I had staying at home with my kids, or the 10 years afterwards that I've juggled work and kid responsibilities, and taken on the care of a husband and his family. It's been a worthwhile investment.

But this season is ending. My son is soon moving out, and although he'll come home, it'll never quite be the same. I've got four years left with the youngest, and I have learned through experience that he'll be a senior in what seems like the blink of an eye.

So tonight, we did the carpe diem thing and ran through the rain to jump in the car for a minor adventure. Tonight, I had three of my five kids crammed together (and met a forth at Sugar Shack to satisfy HER craving); the magic of the synergy and energy accumulated in their proximity is the very stuff in which my soul is grounded.

Being with these kids completely changed my life as a young mother. 
Being with them through a separation and divorce cast my survival instincts 
into iron strength that I never thought I had. 
Being with them through hardships and challenges and failures wrapped my soul in courage. 
Being with them in triumphs and accomplishments taught me a deep, gratifying pride.
Being with them tonight made me happy. That's the long and short of it, the simple truth. 
We were in the car, driving into Richmond, chatting about everything and nothing, singing songs, and I. Was. Happy.

We left Krispy Kreme, tossing about memories; the long drive from Cleveland to Ohio often included a stop in Cranberry, PA, at the Krispy Kreme store. Nosed pressed to the glass, they'd stretch their legs and watch the donuts slide into the glaze and back out again - "baptized", as our pastor says. They'd wear the silly paper hats and eat donuts in the back of the Suburban and the sugar would rush through their veins for the remainder of the ride.

They remember these things.

We walked out tonight and realized that Daniel was still inside. I looked back through the door, and there he stood: Nose pressed to the glass, watching the donuts slide into the glaze...

My heart choked, and then resumed beating, as it does. Time passes. Life goes on. Little boys grow up.

Years fly by, people. Hold your kids tight and dream about the day they'll be older. But don't dream too long, or you'll find yourself there too soon. Bankroll your memories.

And drive 45 minutes in the rain for donuts whenever you feel like it.

It's worth it.
*Note: The afore-mentioned 'junk' does NOT include the delicacies to be found
inside these doors. Sugar Shack donuts are, by far, the best donuts I have EVER had in my life.
They may be one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.
Kudos to the team of Powhatan natives and this donut venture, and best wishes for the future.
My new workout regime includes four hours of cardio, daily,
to work off the impact of this new addiction.
It's worth it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Sinner Called Pastor

This is not a post about the wedding.

This is a post about my reentry into my work world.

Because I was away - and really away - for a full week, busy with wedding prep, I came back to work this week with a very different perspective. The truth is, any time I've taken a vacation or study break, I have never fully stepped away from work. Technology makes it easy, but the blame rests fully on me.

I'm not alone. This morning, I received a text from a certain pastor who shall remain nameless, stating that he was rethinking the fall series and could he make some changes. I replied aren't you supposed to be on vacation? and the response I got was yes but I am going to the gym every morning and thinking about church and I am excited to come back and that's a good thing!

No pot calling kettle black here; I do the same thing. I rarely completely walk away.

But last week, I did. I can't say that I rested, although Sunday was a blessedly quiet day (I confess that I didn't even attend church; I tended instead to family from out of town and enjoyed the breakfast buffet at County Seat Restaurant, which I have never before done on a Sunday morning).

We worked our tails off for the wedding and stayed busy. But I didn't work my job. I did glance at email occasionally, but only to cull out the junk (without even looking) so to avoid the 300 emails in the inbox on Monday morning. I wasn't productive. I didn't add value to anything happening in the workplace throughout the week.

But now I'm back in the groove, and recognizing that maybe I should do things a bit differently. Because here's what I am noticing:

I work all the time.

I work all the time, though maybe you wouldn't always know it. When I spend the morning at home, I answer email in between cleaning the kitchen. While I put tablecloths in the washer, I think of the upcoming service. I am praying for people, thinking of the best way to support a friend whose husband is struggling with cancer. I am supporting a friend from a ministry platform by crafting an official letter of reference.

I went to the gym this morning, which I hardly every do anymore. I need to stay healthy, I have to get healthy, but it's so hard to justify an hour away from all the things I have to do. So I go with earbuds in and I listen to other church's services and scroll through new music looking for things that will work in a service. I talk to folks at the gym from church and I smile at everybody because I never know if they might be attending one of our campuses and maybe they know me. I lift weights and make notes on my phone about songs and series ideas in between sets.

I spend time at the office and then I teach some piano lessons and I do small group and I come home and text encouraging words to the first-timer at group tonight. I review a few emails. I check Facebook and keep an eye of what's going on with folks in the community. I make a note to pray specifically for a few folks who will need it tomorrow. I might grab a novel to read a bit before bed, but I feel like I really should be reading a book on leadership...

See, I work at a big ol' successful church. Close to 1,500 people come through our doors on a weekend. I'm in leadership and we are charged with creating unique and relevant services each week. We lead and encourage and manage and support an amazing staff of people who need our full engagement. Church work is demanding and challenging and deserving of our best effort.

Every seven days.

Plus there's the admin work and rearranging offices and making sure the doors are locked at night and trying to never miss an opportunity to offer an encouraging word; weekly reports and yearly evaluations. Hospital visits.

I'm a pastor. I'm a church leader. I'm always on, and I'm always attuned to what I need to do. The phone stays on and the computer stays close at hand and I'm available. And I'm always thinking; my mind is almost always on something related to ministry.

Then, tonight, while reading (stuff for church, of course; a blog that inspires and encourages and challenges me to stay fresh and think ahead about strategy), this Eugene Peterson quote struck me. Here I sat, Miss I'm-So-Busy Successful Church Leader, and these words slapped me in the face:

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches. 
There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world. 
The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them. 
In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community. The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God. It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades. - Eugene Peterson

Well, then.

It stung, but just for a second. Then it was a breath of get over yourself, girl and a reminder that there was a reason I was relaxed and happy and focused - although busy - last week.

I had a life.

I do have a life, and it's more than just thinking about church stuff 24/7. It's up to me to craft the boundaries, to decide on the richness of the moments. Nobody else is going to do this for me.

I know this. Why is it so hard to remember?

I love my job. I love my church. I am just one of several "sinners called pastor" at PCC, and I know - and love - the fact that my primary, designated responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.

Which doesn't always look like being busy or tied to technology 24 hours a day.

This was the reminder I needed. I want to do things differently.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Song We Sang

The exhaustion hit hard yesterday. I went back to work, back to 'normal'. With so much yet undone, it was no surprise that walking back into the house at 7pm was so overwhelming, I just wanted to slip under the waves and just. let. go.

Thank you, God, for Sarah, who had a small meal ready. She texted a picture and both Daniel and I replied "WE'RE COMING WE'RE COMING!!!". Using up wedding leftovers and dregs from the fridge, she made a beautiful, delicious meal.

Mostly awesome because it was there. And I didn't have to cook it.

The house is still littered with remnants of the previous week. As wonderful as the wedding ended up, there were a few things that got overlooked. The slate pieces with the menus artfully hand-lettered that never made it to the table. There's a mason jar of boutonnieres that somebody never got, and for the life of me, I have no idea who they were. Except I know that the two pastors never got flowers.


There's a program on the floor and a few leftover bags of M&Ms and a box of vases and a million things stacked in the hallway that need to be returned to their owners. The 10' table we used for all the craftiness and creative stuff is still parked in the living room, piled high with watercolors and ribbon and glue sticks.

Tony came home late from work yesterday, trying to catch back up on everything he let go in order to make this wedding happen. I was dead asleep at 10PM, and this morning I found a text stamped 12:11AM saying, On my way home but I never saw or heard him. And yet, at 7:30AM I crawled into the kitchen (yes, CRAWLED - there is no bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around here - EVER) and found spotless counters and a clean kitchen sink.

That man.


The first load of table linens are in the wash this morning, and I have resigned myself to the fact that it will probably take as long to clean up from this wedding as it did to prepare. But it's a happy resignation, truly; there is a smile on my face even now as I remember.

Somebody mentioned to one of the girls that they thought the wedding would be more of a production; because, well, that's what we do. That's stuck in my head for a few days and has brought me no slight measure of joy; because what we intended all along to make space for a sacred covenant and room to share joy. It was simple and focused and as far from a production as we could take it.

But there was an ebb and flow to the evening, and Shannon and Travis were determined to have a focused time of authentic worship as part of their marriage ceremony. We could have formed an incredible band by simply inviting half of the wedding party, the groom himself, and a good part of the crowd to take the platform and make music. However, they wanted something different, something that allowed the community present to join together and focus all the attention upward.

And they wanted to participate themselves, not have a performance.

So there was a simple acoustic guitar and the voice of the best friend and a sister. And there is this photograph, which would be heavily critiqued for its lack of model-esque posing; but you cannot argue with the heartfelt emotion you see on these faces.

Photo credit: Katelyn James
All around, the words of those songs echoed in the blue sky. In my first post about this event, in awestruck wonder I showed you MY YARD, PEOPLE - LOOK AT MY YARD!! Here, I wish I could convey the vibrant, purposeful sound of people who love Shannon and Travis, singing the strong strains of redemptive grace; the ringing acoustic guitar and the simply melody of a declaration of truth that God knows they will learn over and over again in their lives together:

You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us

And we sung a hymn; go figure. These kids, raised in the bubbling heart of a rock and roll church, chose "Come Thou Fount" as part of their worship service, along with Gungor's "Beautiful Things". And all the people, all of our friends, voicing the words, finding the harmony; it filled my heart. It was an exquisite moment, and it was so authentic and right for the people, for the couple, for the moment.

It wasn't a production. It was simple, and all we needed were the voices God gave us to make it holy and sacred.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Girls That Gave Her Away

Photo credit: Katelyn James
It occurred to me today that for the first time in her life, my newly-married daughter will be the only female in her home.

She has no one with whom to share clothes.

Coming from a family of seven - three of them females, four if you count the mother - and moving into a dorm and then a house full of women during her university years, this may count as minor tragedy. I don't know. We shall see how this particular culture shock wears upon their young marriage.

Shannon has had sisters Sarah and Syndi, and then she had this host of girls-becoming-women roommates who shared the 625 Cru House at JMU for several years. She has lived, all of her days, surrounded by girls.

There is something magnificent about such female bonds - blood and otherwise; something rich and vibrant and powerful. It's not always that way, of course; women can turn on one another so fiercely, can destroy confidence and hope in ways that no weapon every could. It comes with the territory.

Myself, I was shaped by such harshness. The only daughter - in fact, the only girl in my entire extended family - somewhere around the age of 10 I met the unyielding gaze of exclusion at the hand of what we might now call a bully. Back then, it was just the prettiest girl with the blondest hair and the most friends. In our tiny classroom, she ruled the roost, and one day, she deemed me unworthy. Her rule stood fast. For the entire fourth grade year, I had no friends, save the girl who ate paste and picked her nose and the poverty-stricken girl who was the token untouchable.

Wanda. Lena.

I remember their names, and still my heart clenches and fear snakes up the back of my neck, because my name was lumped in with theirs for those nine months.

Wanda. Lena. Beth.

Today, my heart hurts for the most broken. My heart aches for the untouchable. But as a child, all I knew was that some were in and some were out and the line was something none of us really understood, except that to be on the wrong side of it meant deep, searing pain.

/ / / / / /

So here I am, all grown up, the mother of three females who fit every stereotype of every girl you've ever known, who love makeup and dress up and have more clothes than they could wear in a million years; who have best friends and girl secrets and deep relational bonds with other females. (And also with one another.)

And this wedding becomes reality, and Shannon says she has eight friends who will stand with her.

And though I'm the mom of three girls who grew into womanhood right under my nose, and though I know that a lot of the world works like this for women, I confess that a part of me didn't get this. At all. Eight friends? Eight women who will stand with you, help you, surround you, love you and love one another and be anything and everything but awkward?

New to me.

When I married the kids' dad, I bought the dress by myself. I drove myself to get makeup and hair done the day of the wedding. I had a friend stand with me in the wedding, but that was it.

And now I'm the mom of three girls who grew up and into the kind of fierce, female companionship that can make or break a woman. They've learned the value of deep, unyielding love. They gain strength from one another, and they've found that outside of the family as well.

/ / / / / /

The morning of the wedding; before the glitz and glamour. They are beautiful.
So: These women, right here. These are the eight - the two sisters and the rest of the crew - who lived and laughed and cried with Shannon, and then came along to witness the most precious covenant she'll likely make in her entire life. Their presence brought a precise and intentional community to the marriage ceremony, one that burrows in more deeply to the relational support that God knew we all needed. The guests were the witnesses, but these women - and the men who stood opposite - were the community of faith and sisterhood that gently nudged Shannon to this point.

In effect, they gave her away as much as her father and I did.

In these past few days, I've come to know these girls; watched them do slow mornings and frantic, hurried deadlines, emotionally teary, joyous and giggly. Watched them follow the photographer's instructions. Watched them interact with the bride - their friend, my daughter. Each and every one is such a glorious example of the brilliant gift of life, given by the Father of Lights, pouring part of her heart and soul into the people who matter in her life. They inspire me. They bring joy. They are, in short, absolutely amazing women.

It is a rare and blessed privilege to know all eight of these women, to catch a glimpse of them at this unique moment, poised to make deep and meaningful marks upon the world.

I've come to love these girls. And I get it, in a beautiful example of all things working together for good. Three days of all this estrogen, all this female relationship stuff; it's brought some healing to the ten-year old girl who still lives in me, the one who still isn't sure that the girls in the room aren't going to turn on her and decide she is one of the untouchables.

Love like this can mend broken hearts, even just by the overflow.

In one of the many moments that brings tears as I recall this wedding, I am thankful to these girls, who invested their words and tears and stories and resources into my daughter, who walked and stumbled and cried and rejoiced with her in shaky steps that eventually gave her a confident stride towards her groom.

I never had friends like this in all my life. But there is not regret; only joy, and an impulse to look around and see where investing in my own 'sisters' might result in such big love, in this season of my life.

And there is this, a sense that I managed to do something right. I never understood the girly girl thing; never got female relationships. But somehow, with the strong influence of my own mom trickling down through me, my daughters figured out how important it was. And how to make it work.

And they know it's worth it.

Photo credit: Katelyn James

Saturday, July 12, 2014

She's Married!

With a million thoughts about Travis and Shannon's wedding floating around my head, I'll start with this:

I am so glad we had this party at our home. 

We looked at several venues - each one beautiful, with the potential to be an excellent location for their nuptials. Fairview Farm right here in Powhatan was, quite honestly, my first choice. I was secretly hoping she'd pick the rustic barn.

But when we asked, "Where do you see yourself, dancing your first dance with your husband, where do you want to be?"

She closed her eyes and thought for a minute.

"In the backyard. Under the trees."

And that's exactly what happened.

Every moment last night, from the ceremony to the party - it was as we dreamed it would be. Even better, because the reality of the friends and family gathered around to celebrate with us created a sense of fellowship and love unique to that particular moment.

It was amazing.

So, a few things that I've been thinking of since we crawled out of bed this morning, like old decrepit people who worked 16 hour days for the better part of the entire week.

(Because we did.)

First of all, the help of our friends this week was invaluable. Several people came by during the week to offer assistance with set up, flowers, table settings, creating signs and such. People dropped off stuff we needed to borrow. Folks came by with flowers for the happy couple - just because. Folks did so much, offering time and resources so generously; it made my heart full.

We're so thankful for every one of these gestures of love, but Judy Ringgold went above and beyond in unexpected ways. Jackie Heberle was the genius behind a lot of beautiful things. Chad Milburn not only orchestrated a surprise honeymoon (and Shannon was GENUINELY surprised to find out that she'd be leaving Sunday for a week-long cruise!), but he also showed up Thursday asking Tony, "Need any help?" Tony said, "Can you build a stage?"

And so, he did.

Amber Towler is a friend, but she's also and talented and incredibly valuable wedding planner and organizer. Her attitude and her skill set made this wedding happen. She's an honorary Brawley, for life.

Cathy Rusch drove in from Maryland to prepare appetizers and then drove back to Maryland.

Lisa Sizemore and her crew did a bang-up job with food, managing the largest event she'd ever tackled. It was wonderful to see familiar faces on her crew (I love living in a small town!) The food was delicious, and the bonus of special Powhatan High School Marching Band sausage balls specially prepared for Daniel was the icing on the cake.

Not to mention the actual cake she brought as a gift.

All of the friends and family who prepared desserts - you blessed us. The leftovers have provided an interesting post-party breakfast.

Lastly, Katelyn and Michael of Katelyn James Photography were a fabulous addition to the evening. The photographs they took will allow us to relive this incredible celebration for years to come; they give us a chance to share the evening with friends who weren't there. The combination of their professional work and the way Katelyn and Michael interacted with our family and friends made the day better. They became part of the celebration; it surprised me to realize what a great difference that made in our day. We'll have the photos, but we have the memories as well; Michael took the groomsmen to 7-11 to get free Slurpees (after all, the wedding date was 7/11/2014), ostensibly to kill time while Katelyn finished Shannon's pictures - and it became part of the fun of the day.

So many people made this a special day.

I am, truly, so glad we had this celebration at our home. I mean, look at this (all photo credits to the amazing Katelyn James):

That's OUR YARD, y'all!!!! 

What I love about this - the pallet that lived in our backyard for two years with bricks piled on top of it.
The fact that two weeks before the wedding, the kids and I moved bricks and the snow plow and other
assorted stuff to pull this and another pallet out. The fact that David pressure washed it, and Max helped paint
the heart, and Syd hand lettered the words and made the arrow and then REmade the arrow because it
didn't work.

MY YARD, Y'ALL. Have you figured that out yet? You don't know that I look out and see this every morning
from my kitchen window, gazing over the clothesline and the dry patches of grass that never grew.
And the shed, just to the left of where she's standing. It's just my yard.
But add some perspective and narrow the focus -
and put a beautiful girl in a beautiful gown in the frame and you have a thing of beauty.

Gravel. Gravel. Gravel.
Gravel that Tony spread over the course of two days last week.
To you, it looks like a driveway.
To me, it looks like the love of a man who would do anything for the children
he gladly claims as his own, because they belong to the woman he loves.
So he borrowed a tractor and called the gravel guy and spent two entire days away from his business,
sweating in the hot sun, pushing around gravel to make the perfect driveway.
Looks like love.

Indeed, it was a wonderful day at home.

However, the joy of having all this happen at home continues the next day. We woke up this morning and looked around and remembered: We had a big party here. Wow.

I wouldn't trade it for the world.

And just a note; the new Mrs. Wagner called early this afternoon. She's at Barnes & Noble, looking for books to take on the honeymoon.

That's my girl.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Night Before

Not a lot of words, but there's this:

At one point, I found myself completely drenched in love and warmth and hope and gratitude and trust and wonder and joy and awe.

This is really happening.

I leaned over towards Shannon's dad and whispered, "I can't believe this is really happening."

I don't think he was totally with me on that. Dads and moms probably find different depths of emotion welling up in them in such moments.

But that was it, and it washed over me like a tsunami.

Surrounded by love, in ways I cannot explain and would not, in this moment, if I could. Tomorrow is the day it becomes a story.

Today, it is our lives.

Thank you, to all who played a part. The list is long.

Every bit matters.



My niece. My student. My heart, so full.


Special women.

These guys....

The best surprise guests at the rehearsal - loved having these two here!

Two of my favorite people in the entire universe. I love these faces, so much.

Very fond of this group of people; the musicians.

This was...something... 
The menfolk at this event have excellent taste in footwear. And in socks.

Again, the socks. He claims to have knitted these himself.

What a joy to have this family part of this wedding.

This picture; this moment.

A flower girl; a maid of honor. 

The Wagner Family

And so the house is quiet. The girls are out for a final night of celebration with the bride. The remnants of their existence are all over the bathroom; five girls today, sharing one bathroom. Makeup and curling wands and straighteners and clothes littered everywhere...

Tony has given up. He is holding his tongue, and navigating his way through the clutter, using the other bathroom, picking up tables, and hanging lights, and painting boards, and figuring out how to make Every Impossible Thing Happen.

"We need to hang this fabric from that, that one...yes...the higher one...right..."

"We want to make a fence. Out of tulle."

"Can't you get 100 cars in this field? I know you can..."

"We need more money."

Et cetera. He smiles and nods his head and makes it happen.

My brother and his family have arrived; the little joys of a scant 45 minutes together for conversation outside of the wedding chaos were duly noted, and precious.

Everything is a mess. I am tired. Tomorrow, we start early with creating corsages and flower things and pulling together all the random things to make tables beautiful. We need to mow, again, because it rained (thank you, God) today and things are growing. The list is still long, though many boxes have been checked.

New talents have been discovered: Sydni is an artist of some exceptional and surprising depth. She has
hand-painted watercolors and graphics for signs and tables and all sorts of beautiful, lavender things. I am amazed by this young woman.

Sarah continues to cook amazing meals, under pressure. She's thriving on the hungry mouths.

There are two ginormous wooden pallets in the kitchen; it's like Pintrest, except for reals, in my house.

We've come to the end of the planned expenditures, and undoubtedly there will be a few more in the next 36 hours, but we made it. Mostly. Slightly over budget, but we made it.

And so, they will be married soon, and I'm too tired right now to notice much of anything other than the gentle rhythm in the house, the life sneaking into my ears as the guys watch a movie. The dim glow of the lights on the porch and the sound of the bullfrogs in the pond, if you listen at the window.

The faint smell of food in the kitchen; the scent of coffee waiting for the morning.

Clutter, everywhere - but purposed. Not just the laundry and the leftover shoes, the plates and glasses (like all the time), but veils and wedding shoes and boxes from Crate and Barrel and paint and easels and glue guns. Arms full of flowers crammed into the fridge. Tuxes hanging from the door jambs, and soft, flowing bridesmaids dresses hanging everywhere else.

There's a reason for all of this, from the tired, aching muscles to the piles of slate on the table. We're moving towards a moment, a celebration; a covenant that will take the purpose and intention of all that two families have poured into this young man and this young woman. It all gets poured into a promise and becomes a new thing, a new bond.

A family.

One of my jobs today was to take their new Bible up for an imprint. Unfortunately, it couldn't be done; the cover was too thick, and the sales clerk shook her head sadly and apologized. I carried it home, knowing that this minor glitch would be a disappointment.

She had asked for three words on the front of the Bible: The Wagner Family.

Purpose. Intention.

Whether the words are embossed on the navy blue cover of this Bible or not, it is so. The clutter will be gathered and gone, and they will go on their way and begin this new branch of the family.

I am so looking forward to this celebration with friends and family!

But tomorrow is going to be an incredibly busy day...

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Week From Now, She'll Be Married

It's wedding week. By this time on Friday evening one week from today, my second born child will be the wife of her high school sweetheart.

We have massive lists of Things To Do and a timeline and stuff piled high all over the house; it's a DIY wedding happening right here in our backyard, and that means there's just a heck of a lot to do to get ready.

I'll be busy.

But I've learned, lately, that it pays to be intentional; to count the moments that matter and take the time to speak truth aloud to myself when I most need it. To say, "Be here, now, in THIS moment. Notice. Pay attention. This won't come again."

A lot of parenting moments have flown by. I think they do for all of us; you bring home a bouncing baby boy and in the blink of an eye, he starts kindergarten; and then he's in 8th grade and before you know it he's driving a car and then he gets in that car and drives away to college.

For me, it was three bouncing baby girls and two handsome boys, all born in the space occupied by the first President Bush and Bill Clinton (I pretty much missed the 90's). So many hands and feet and mouths to manage during those years, and the decade after as well; some of our family history is just a blur to me. Pictures I find in scrapbooks and tucked away in boxes are incredibly special - they feel fresh and new, with faint tinges of memory; they assure me of what I hoped was happening all along. We had much joy; much laughter. We were a family.

I never raised my kids with the explicit expectation of marriage. Like my parents with my brother and me, I emphasized education. Post high school, it was a given that college was the natural next step. But, of course, my kids are human - and we humans crave companionship. And when Shannon and Travis became best friends in high school, something began to grow between them - and within their relationship - that was blatantly obvious to them and to those of us who loved them.

For six years now, they have dated one another. They broke up - once, and he wrote a heart breaking song about their time apart that continues to wreck me, when I remember sitting around a bonfire in the back yard, hearing him sing and understanding, for the first time, the depth of his affection for my daughter. They managed a long distance relationship for all four years of her university education, and I never was prouder than when she went with her first choice - JMU - rather than stay closer to home and closer to him. She chose internships that took her out of town for two full summers, while he stayed home and worked. And waited.

She lived the life she wanted, while finding a way to stay connected and nurture the relationship that continued to flourish between them.

And then he drove to North Carolina, to our family's jewelry store, and bought her a ring, and planned an elaborate surprise proposal and a surprise engagement party, and we began to plan, and now here we are.

In a week, they will be married.

I have purposed, in the midst of the to-do's and the scrambling and the mad dash to get it all done, to remember. To take the time to appreciate what got us here, and where this child came from. When we give her away next Friday afternoon, we will do so with full knowledge of the investment made in this incredible, intelligent, funny, thoughtful, kind, passionate, loyal daughter of God.

My daughter, Shannon; my ginger, my little red-headed brainiac.

How I love her.

Shannon, this evening - in a familiar pose. A party was happening
outside with her sisters and friends - and she was caught up in a
book, reluctant to leave. She'd rather read than just about anything
else, and I love that about her (that apple fell right close to the tree,
if you know what I mean).

The two of them were always together, and usually it
was like this; Sarah was a mess, and Shannon was steady. Here,
they were headed off to the first day of Pre-K for Shannon -
Kindergarten for Sarah. So sweet....

Again, together; another first day of school. Only 16 months
apart, so much of their childhood is intertwined. They love
one another deeply - and that passion works through their
interactions in various ways. One pre-wedding meltdown this
week included harsh words, insults and rude remarks - followed by
embraces and apologizes and tearful confessions as they
sat twined together on the couch. They are blessed to
have one another.

Again, with Sarah; but I cropped her out. A hint of the woman
she was becoming here, somewhere around 5th grade. She
was an excellent student and incredibly bright.

Here with Sydni - the middle sister, a healthy balance.
Shannon is gifted by nature and by her
circumstances. She navigates the middle child
role very well.

That's my girl, wearing the soccer shirt that was a
constant for four or five years. This picture shows a
bit of the fiery ginger personality that usually lays
far beneath her gentle kindness.
As I find time, I think I will reflect this week upon this extraordinary young woman's life thus far. I trust the photos will help prompt the memories.

One week, and counting. #agingerandagiant #shannonandtravisgetmarried