Tuesday, April 11, 2017

14 Leicester Street

14 Leicester Street***

"You brought the warm weather wit' ya!" I hear her say with a chuckle, as I sit on her front steps with my brother, aunties, and cousins. We spent many hours on this porch together, through the years. Tanner, my youngest cousin, is pumping his fist in the air, trying to get tractor trailers to blow their horns at us as they pass around the curve. It is February in New England and there is snow on the ground from the recent blizzard, but I am in a tank top because, somehow, the warm sun has found us. And though her voice is there, she is not. We just buried my grandmother the hour before, in the purple dress she wore to my wedding. I still have incense in my nostrils from the beautiful Mass at St. Ann's, where I read a part of Thessalonians 4. My brother, Jamie, and I called her "Meme," and she was "Grammy" to my younger cousins. My father is the oldest of the seven Casey children, and I am the oldest of the seven grandchildren--the only girl, the "princess".


As more gather with lawn chairs and coolers, Uncle David tells the story, again, of the guy who came around the curve too fast on his bike and ended up on the front lawn. Every time we sit out front together he tells it, even if years have gone by. It's not so much the story, but the passionate way he says his words, with his thick, Central Massachusetts accent, that makes me laugh--a welcome break from the heavy grief of the day. The relief lasts for only a moment, though, before I'm brought back to earth by the cold of the concrete steps seeping through the legs of my jeans. I stare at the steps through my bare toes and remember when the cement was crumbly and bluish gray. That was back when Pepe was alive. He left us nearly 20 years ago. And now, these moments today with my family, are the last we will spend together in the front yard of this house. Tonight will be the last night I will ever sleep here at 14 Leicester Street. I breathe in and try to soak in the fleeting moments--the voices of my loved ones, the crisp Massachusetts air, the warmth of the sun. We take one last "cousin picture" on the porch steps before the sun begins to set and before my cousin, Casey, has to catch his train back to Boston. It doesn't feel right to me without Tyson and Andrew, but we take it anyway.

Left to right: Jarrod, Sarah, Jamie, Casey, and Tanner (seated)
Missing: Tyson and Andrew

Inside the house, we are told to choose the things we want to keep. I can't decide if this task is comforting or exactly the opposite. Meme and Pepe are both gone now, and the house will be sold. As much as I don't want it to be so, I also can't imagine coming back again without either one of them inside. No matter how you slice it, it's painful to my fiercely sentimental heart. As I walk slowly through each room, I want everything and nothing all at once. I feel like an intruder as my father and I sift through their old papers from the lock box. At the same time, it is mysterious and exciting as we find the building plans for the house from 1926, signed by my great grandfather, Edmond Casey. We also find first communion certificates, birth certificates, report cards, girl scout awards, and Pepe's World War II Army records. He actually did two tours, and had commendations and medals, including a bronze star, that we never knew about. This little cottage holds lifetimes upon lifetimes of memories, and these material things represent just a fraction of them--my own memories a fraction of that.

Original general contractor proposal for building the house

As the temperature continues to drop, along with the sun, we gather for Chinese food around the large dining room table in the modest-but-big-enough dining room. We're long used to the close quarters of a Casey family dinner and it is never uncomfortable--and there is always room for one more. When I was 11 my father moved our family to Florida. Since then, when visiting, we've traditionally had Chinese food as our last meal before leaving Massachusetts. The Polynesian flavors of New England Chinese restaurants are something we miss the most. The Chinese restaurant next door, which was a clamorous pub until just a few years ago, has beef sticks that Meme recently said were her favorite. So we order tons of beef sticks. She was right. They are some of the best I've ever tasted. Jamie and I vow to eat them in her honor every time we come back to visit, from now on. We toast to Meme, clicking our beef sticks together as if they are champagne glasses. I wonder if she and Pepe are watching. I wonder what they're thinking as they watch us eat our last family meal together in their house, at their table.

Me, I'm thinking about Meme's delicioius ham that we ate at this table on Sunday afternoons after church. And the homemade Boston baked beans she made every single time I visited, their aroma from the oven hitting me within steps of walking through the door. I'm thinking about Pepe putting a thick layer of black pepper on his food...all of his food. Going down cellar to get him another tonic. Making sure I appeared to be chewing my food thoroughly so he wouldn't say, "Chew it good! You're going to choke!" He worried a lot about that for some reason. I'm thinking about Lady, the little black dog that would wait under the table, just in case we dropped something--until Pepe caught her and yelled for her to go to bed. It feels like that just happened. It feels like it's happening right now as I sit and eat my last meal in the dining room.

Pepe and Lady

Oh, this house. It has always been a special place for me. I spent my childhood here in North Oxford, Massachusetts, and most of my spare time at 14 Leicester Street, the childhood home of both my father and my Pepe. Everything happened here. Family birthday parties, holidays, lazy summer afternoons in the chilly pool, chewing rhubarb that grew in the backyard, with a cup of sugar from my Meme's kitchen to dip it in. "It'll be too sour!" she'd say, and then force the cup into my hand as I walked out the back door. One winter, Pepe thought it would be fun to get the old toboggans out and try to go down the small hill next to the rhubarb. We positioned ourselves at the top of the hill but the snow was too soft and Jamie and I sunk as poor Auntie Terry tried to get us going with a running start. Pepe joined her, lifting the front of the sled, but instead we slid sideways and flipped over into the frozen fluff. Auntie Chris pulled us up out of the snow as we laughed until we cried. Happiness!

I earned a lot of money in that backyard, picking up trash after the big celebrations we'd have. "I'll give you a nickel for every cigarette butt!" Pepe would say. And, if anything, he was a man of his word. I'd always look for trash near his grapevine or blueberry bushes because, chances were, there would be something ripe to pick and eat as I made the yard clean. I stayed away from the garden, though. Somehow I always would step on the newly sprouting crops no matter how careful I was to avoid them, earning a shout from the kitchen window to, "Get out of the garden!" I also earned quite a bit of candy money shooting hoops in the beat up basketball hoop at the end of the driveway. "A dollar a shot--for every one you get in a row," Pepe would tell me. Once I got better at it, it was a maximum of 10 shots in a row for $10. To an 8-year-old little girl, that was some major cash. I practiced so hard. I'll never forget the look on his face when I actually made 10 in a row. For the next week he told everyone who came down to the house about my skills. With my riches in hand, Auntie Pat walked me to our cousin's neighborhood store right down the street, and I traded some of my cash in for red Swedish fish, tootsie rolls, and sometimes an ice cream bar.

The backyard. The rhubarb grew toward the back left. The former garden is covered in snow.

My most distinct memories of Christmas are from "the porch" of Meme's and Pepe's house. The porch was formerly a true front porch. Before I was born it was enclosed with windows all around, to make a sun room. My Pepe loved to sit out there with his brothers, when the weather was nice, and play cribbage or backgammon or cards. But at Christmastime, when it really was too cold to sit and play anything, it was where the freshly cut Christmas tree had its home. As we'd crunch on the snow toward the front door of the little maroon house, I felt like I could smell the evergreen before the front door even opened. The tree always glowed with perfection and held what seemed like hundreds of presents close to its trunk. I loved to sit out on the porch by the Christmas tree. As a young girl, I would curl up on the frigid floor taking in the wonderful scent and imagining which presents were the toys I had earmarked in the big Sears catalog--until I was numb from the frozen outside or until I was caught and told I was going to catch pneumonia.

Now, I stare into the parlor and see their painted portraits staring back at me. My Meme and Pepe were both privileged to be able pass from this earth right there in the comfort of the parlor--the cozy room where I saw my first horror movie, played Atari for hours and hours, squeaked out my first sounds when learning to play the flute, and learned to cheer with my heart and soul for the New England Patriots, and yes, even for the poor, cursed Red Sox.

After I finish my beef sticks, I go and sit under their portraits, near the parlor window, hoping I can feel their presence somehow. It's strangely quiet because the next door pub, which normally provided constant background noise of loud Harley Davidson's and rowdy citizens until the wee hours of the mornings, is now making Meme's favorite beef sticks. I look up at their painted faces and wonder if we all will have the same faces in heaven. They look so happy up there on the parlor wall, here at 14 Leicester Street. And really, in all of the pictures I saw that day in the memorial slideshow, they looked so happy to simply be together. I know they had their share of troubles, hard times, heartaches. But at the end of the day, they loved each other and they loved their family. What else really matters?

 Pepe and his mother, Ida

The family trickles out as the hours pass. It is dark and only a few of us are left around the kitchen table. We talk about arrangements to get some of Meme and Pepe's items from Massachusetts to Florida. We talk about memories of the house, of Meme, and of Pepe. The past 48 hours have been a dream-like blur and then, suddenly, time screeches to a halt. I am alone, in the kitchen, locking the doors and switching the lights off for the night--the last night. I stop to listen, trying to memorize the sounds of the house that already have a home in my 39-year-old memory; I'm afraid I'll forget, so I keep listening. Then I tiptoe to the doorway of the parlor and stick my head into the darkness. "I love you," I whisper at their portraits. Maybe they hear me if this is where their souls were last on earth? I glance over my shoulder into the dining room, flooded with a memory of my Pepe playing Christmas carols on his big record player, underneath the cuckoo clock. Perry Como's The Little Drummer Boy. It will always be my favorite.

Finally, I head upstairs to bed. I count the stairs as they creak below my feet, on my way to Meme and Pepe's room. "Thirteen," I say out loud when I get to the top. I turn and look down the stairs. They used to be covered in dark, green carpet and I would slide down them on my back, feet first, until Meme caught me and told me I was going to crack my head open. I giggle at the memory. Meme's pink, flannel Nick and Nora pajamas lying on a table catch my eye as I walk into the bedroom. I gave them to her one year for Christmas. I think I want to take them home. I pull the 3 shades down over the row of windows and turn out the light. As I lay in their bed I listen for the sounds from the old pub that used to keep me from falling asleep. The silence is deafening. How is this day even real? The statue of Jesus on the headboard is watching me, just as it did when I took my Sunday afternoon naps as a child. Eventually, my body gives in and I find sleep. In a few hours I wake up to a blurry Jesus, still watching me, and practically startling me to consciousness. After breakfast we make some last minute decisions on a few of the items in the house and prepare to leave, not before I panic and start taking pictures of the rooms, the stairs, the yard, and even the splash of original maroon paint on the stone foundation--the only clue that the house wasn't always made of tan siding.

The Stairs

Maroon paint on the stone foundation. The house once had painted wood siding.

Before I pull out of the driveway, I roll the window down and listen one last time for traffic coming around the curve. I am leaving 14 Leicester Street forever, but I am taking with me so much more than the dining room hutch, Pepe's cribbage boards, and a pair of Nick and Nora pajamas that I gave Meme 3 Christmases ago. I'm taking front porch laughs, cousin pictures, and motorcycle wipe-outs on the front lawn. Close quartered meals in the dining room underneath the cuckoo clock with lots and lots of pepper. A reminder to be thoughtful and generous--making room at the table, even when it's crowded. Knowing how to chew my food "good." Beef sticks. The peaceful rowdiness of the North End Pub. The happiness of being together in a snowy backyard. Perseverance from the challenge of the basketball hoop. Knowing how to earn my keep, take pride in my yard, and exactly where to step in a newly planted garden. Swedish fish from walks to the Gagne store. The scent of Christmas trees on a cold porch. Exceptional Christmas decorating skills. Perry Como. Knowing how not to get pneumonia. Knowing how not to crack my head open. Hams, turkeys, meatballs, baked beans, carrot cakes, cookies, and holiday pies from the hands and the heart of my Meme. Being a woman of my word like my Pepe. Knowing how to cheer for my New England teams from my sports lessons in the parlor, superstition and all. Expert Atari skills. Endless kitchen table conversations and cups of Folgers coffee. Jesus always watching over me. The love for family through thick and thin. And all of the other countless precious memories in that house that my heart can hold, and hopefully conjure up at will, for the rest of my days. These memories--my little fraction--are worth far more than the humble house in North Oxford, Massachusetts that I will forever love. One day I will be with my Meme and Pepe again. And we will sit and talk for hours about our happiest days together in the house at 14 Leicester Street.

In loving memory of my precious Meme and Pepe
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words. Thessalonians 4:13-18

***Note: The original address of the house was 14 Leicester Street. It was changed to 18 Leicester Street some time after Pepe passed away, I believe, to accommodate the addition of residences on that side of the street. This is why in the photo you can see "18" as the house number instead of the original "14".











Monday, May 2, 2016

The Story of Linus, Part 1


     Linus is nearly 8 months now and I’ve been wanting to share his story for a while. It’s taken me some time to gather my thoughts and feelings of this part of our journey of parenthood. I think it’s an important story to share, though, especially after losing Bluberry. After sharing our story of Losing Baby Blueberry, I spoke with literally countless ladies who had their own story of loss. I noticed that many (not all, but many) of us had the same knee-jerk reaction to a miscarriage…FIX IT…meaning, get pregnant again and get pregnant again quickly. I think for me it was probably wanting the sense of control back in my life. If I got pregnant again, I was righting the wrong that just happened. Maybe it would be like it never happened, or at least make it feel like it never happened. Maybe I could shift my focus on something living, not dead. Yes, we would be pregnant as soon as possible, I thought. Being pregnant again will fix this.

     At that point in my life I was 35 years old. Being 35 is kind of like reaching an invisible brick wall at which you are supposed to stop having babies. Clearly time was of the essence, especially according to the internet. But month after month after month I was not pregnant. Wow, maybe that invisible brick wall isn’t so invisible? If you’re 35, and after 6 months you are not pregnant, you are supposed to consult your doctor about infertility. At the 6 month mark I stopped and evaluated my feelings. At this point it wasn’t about fixing my broken heart. My heart had to heal in other ways and a baby would not have sped that up. Ok, do I really want to be pregnant? I’m over 35. What if, what if, what if? I would look over at Arlis playing by himself and my heart would shred. He needs a sibling. A buddy. The shared experience of growing up with 2 absolutely insane parents. Ok, yes, I do want another child. But I don’t want to be tested for infertility. I don't want any more bad news. Denial is such a comfortable place for me. But denial is the stupidest place for a person to be. Yet I sat it in it for another 6 months.

     At the end of the year, I reluctantly called my doctor’s office and made an appointment. They couldn’t get me in until after the holidays. So the first week of January 2015 I was scheduled to go find out what was wrong with me. I was convinced having to have a repeat D&C had ruined my body and I just cringed at the things that I was certain I was going to find out about myself. Of course I was still hanging on to the very tiny thread that this one last month I would conceive, but I shoved it to the back of my mind-- since disappointment and I don’t get along very well. I had ordered some very cheap Chinese pregnancy test strips through Amazon (because my pregnancy test budget was already well in the red) and about 9 days after Christmas they came in the mail. Those of you who have been through the incessant early home pregnancy test routines will understand when I opened the batch of tests up and decided to take one just so I could see what it looked like when it was negative. If you know what it looks like when it’s negative, you can later detect the slightest changes that might indicate an early, early positive. I knew it would be negative because even if I were pregnant I was only what they call, 9 days post ovulation (yes, Linus was conceived on Christmas for those math whizzes out there). Most ladies who are actually pregnant would test negative at that point in pregnancy.

     I yelled out to Jonathan as I went up the stairs….got my pregnancy tests in, I’m going to go test one out! He just looked at me from the couch as if I were speaking a foreign language. He is used to my neurotic behavior, but I'm sure to this day he struggles to understand it. I opened the bag of strips and did my thing. As I was washing my hands I looked at the strip on the counter next to me. Was that 2 lines? Clearly these cheap Chinese strips were defective. Or maybe I was hallucinating again. Sometimes when you take a lot of pregnancy tests and you wish SO HARD for that second line….you actually hallucinate the second line. You have to kind of close your eyes and shake your head and look at it again to actually see there’s nothing there. Ok these things are cheap AND I’m hallucinating. I need backup. I called down to Jonathan to come look at it. Yep, he said. There’s 2 lines. It’s faint but it’s there. He then texted my poor sister-in-law (who by then had the pleasure of receiving many, MANY texts of my questionable pregnancy tests over the year) a picture of the strip, for more backup. Emily said that’s how it looked this early with Amelia, my husband called from the bedroom, it’s positive. In that moment, I was in denial yet again. Protective denial but still stupid denial. I can’t believe it’s positive until I KNOW for SURE it’s positive. So I squeezed out another sample and this time there was no doubt that the strip had 2 lines. Two very distinct lines. So, according to the instructions it was positive. BUT, it was a cheap Chinese test, so just to be sure, I sent Jonathan to the store to get a First Response Early Response test, the expensive gold standard of early pregnancy tests that are probably also made in China but are scientifically proven to be the earliest detector. If that was positive, I'd believe 100%. He returned with several of them. Sure enough, 2 pink lines. Days before my infertility appointment, I was pregnant!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Me? Have grace?


It's been over a year since I've posted a blog. I've intentionally stepped back from writing because I wanted to figure out this new life that I stepped into. It's been one of the craziest, most exciting, eventful years for the Kelley family. It's hard to believe that 1st Anniversary of Discover Family Church has come and gone! I have to say it's so fun to look back at the journey so far and see what great things have happened in our lives and in the lives of the people who have become DFC. It makes me so excited for the years to come and so determined to take the HUGE dreams that Johnny and I have and make them happen. I have to admit that in the midst of the excitement and accomplishment of this year I have taken more than a few deep sighs of relief. I walked into this "pastor's wife" role without training or experience or even with half an idea of what to do with myself. I have been far from perfect. I've not even been above average. I've just been myself, and the people of DFC have met me with such grace.

Ah yes, grace. As most of you know I recently fell like an elderly woman, broke my shoulder, and had to have major orthopedic surgery all while 7 1/2 months pregnant. While all of this was going down a friend posted on my Facebook wall how I was handling myself with such grace. Me? Have grace? Ha! If she only knew how very ungraceful I was. After all, I had the most boring reason in the world that I broke my shoulder...uh, yeah I tripped...like a klutz..no grace there!  If she only knew how angry I was at myself, actually choosing to put my baby in danger to regain full use of my right arm. And if she only saw me weeping every night in fear before my surgery. And if she only saw me weeping in pain and more fear in my hospital bed all night long after the surgery, wondering how I'd manage a newborn AND a toddler in this kind of pain. She'd change her mind. I have no grace.

What a foolish thing to think! I'd forgotten the gift of grace? While a different meaning than physical or emotional grace, I'd still overlooked the most important thing in my life. God's grace! You know, "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me"? I may never achieve physical grace. I may always dance like Elaine on Seinfeld. But God's saving grace was given to me the moment I accepted it. And I NEED it every second of every day because I am imperfect. I'm a klutz physically and I'm a klutz spiritually. I'm a weak and imperfect human but I'm supposed to depend on the grace of God. His gift of grace translates to strength for me:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10

It's backwards and illogical from what we would think...boast? Be glad in my weakness? Delight in hardship? For real? Ok, can you imagine this Facebook status?: 
OMG you'll never guess the good news! I fell down and broke the head off of the bone in my right shoulder and now I have to put my unborn baby's life at risk so they can fix it! Yeah, and guess what? It's going to hurt a LOT! I won't be able to dress myself or even brush my own hair for months. It's going to be awesome! And then, just when I'm starting to feel a little better, I'm going to have a C-section and have to care for a newborn baby with one arm. I'm so GLAD this is happening!

I don't think Paul intended for us to literally boast our woes and problems to the world...although some people on social media have clearly interpreted that differently...but we're supposed to be glad in the midst of them. Why? Because grace exists! Because when I am weak he is strong. That's what you boast about. God's power is made perfect...perfect!!! in our weakness. And when you're knocked down, tired, and weak, not only are you being carried by grace, the power of Christ rests upon you. Think about that for a second. You can't get any stronger than that.

When life deals us hardship and pain Jesus wants us to see his grace. And not only to see it, but to rest in it. Be carried by it. When that happens he is glorified. Looking back, I was carried by grace. I was strong because of Christ and Christ alone. The grace my friend saw, it was not mine. Not even a little bit of it. I hope next time a storm comes I remember clearly how grace carried me, and I hope that remembering it makes me glad. I hope that I remember that the power of Christ rests on me and I can be grateful for the storm simply because I have Jesus to guide me through it. It's hard to admit weakness, much less be delighted in it. But next time I'm faced with one of those awful life storms, I want to be delighted. Not about the storm, not about the problem, but about how I know I'm going to make it--by the sweet grace of God.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why, for me, Halloween = Love

When I was 6 years old my mom was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Cancer. When you're 6 you don't really understand the logistics of cancer.  I just knew that my mom was either feeling really bad or in the hospital all the time. And I was sad.  I was scared too.  When you're 6 and you're gone from your mom a lot it's scary. But I'm fortunate that I come from a very big family.  My dad has 5 sisters and 1 brother and endless cousins, and so even though I missed my mom and life was scary, there were family members all around us.  There was always someone there taking care of my brother and me when my dad was taking care of my mom.

When Halloween comes each year I can't help but remember my very first memory of going Trick-or-Treating.  It was that year--the year mom had cancer.  She had gone to the store with us the week before Halloween and let me pick out a Smurfette costume.  I couldn't believe she let me have Smurfette, but she did. (Some people back then thought Smurfs were from the devil.  I knew she wouldn't want people to think that we approved of the devil.) She came with us to the town Halloween party and I wore my Smurfette costume in the costume contest.  I remember smelling the weird scent of the plastic mask as I marched in a circle with all the other 6-year-olds.  Of course, my store-bought costume was no match against the elaborate, homemade costumes, but that was okay with me...that night we were going to go knock on people's doors and get candy!  But by the time we got home, mom was not well and dad had to stay with her.  Trick-or-Treating was not happening.

I'm not the kind of person who takes disappointment well.  That feeling, for me, ranks among the worst.  To be so excited and in such anticipation of something and then have it squashed..........
The 6-year-old me felt the same way.  But I tried not to cry because I could tell my mom really wanted to go too, but she just didn't have the strength.  I walked into my room swinging the Smurfette mask round and round by the elastic band and I heard the phone ring.  My mom called from the kitchen, excitement in her voice. Sarah, get ready! You're going to the farm!  "The farm" was our family's farm.  The Casey farm.  It went back a few generations and my older cousins Jessica and Margaret lived there.  I loved going to the farm because I loved the horses and cows, but most of all I loved Jessica and Margaret.  They were beautiful, they were allowed to wear lipstick, and their mom let them use as much hairspray as they wanted even when their Meme yelled at them that it was enough. Keep your costume on, my mom told me.  You're going Trick-or-Treating.  I don't think I could have smiled any bigger.

My dad took me outside and Jess and Margaret's mom pulled up in her car to take me to the farm. When I got there, my cousins were waiting for me.  I was kind of nervous because I wasn't sure they'd want a little kid tagging along.  But when they saw me they smiled and hugged me and told me how much they loved my Smurfette look.  I think Jessica had pink hair, and I wondered if my mom would let me do that next year...probably not.  As they finished getting ready, she and Margaret were arguing about what houses we were going to go to first.  I giggled because it didn't matter to me what street we walked or how much candy we got. Anything we did would be fantastic and fun.  If I couldn't go Trick-or-Treating with my mom, this was definitely the next best thing.  That night goes down as one of the best memories of my childhood...walking down the dark, country, Douglas, Massachusetts roads, holding hands with the big girls, screaming at the scary Halloween decorations, getting tootsie rolls stuck in my teeth.  I was loved and I felt loved. My cousins may not remember Trick-or-Treating that year, but I'll remember it for the rest of my life.

So for me Halloween isn't an evil holiday.  It's not the devil in disguise any more than a little girl in a Smurfette costume.  For me, Halloween represents a simple act of kindness that happened over 30 years ago that translated into a great big act of love.  It represents a time of joy for that 6-year-old little me who, at the time, had a lot of sadness and fear in her life.  I take Halloween as an opportunity to not only cherish that memory, but to remind myself to love like Jess and Margaret loved me on that crisp, New England, Halloween night. Thank you, Jessica and Margaret.  Because of you, Halloween = Love.


Many years later...me with Margaret (middle) and Jessica in Boston Common

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Togetherness!

Now that the stress and anxiety of launch Sunday is over, I've had time to just sit back, reflect, and frankly, be genuinely excited about our church. It's been a while since I've felt so....connected.  And it feels really good.

When I was in graduate school in the first year of my doctoral program I thought I was going to die. 12+ hour days combined with endless reading, writing, patient observation, and evil professors trying to weed us out every chance they could get. It was sink or swim, but swimming by yourself was a BAD idea. My classmates and I quickly realized we'd only make it if we stuck together. And stick together we did. We became family. We studied together, we worked together, we failed tests together, we laughed and cried together, we punctured eardrums together, and every once in a while....I mean like once or twice every semester....we'd have a moment to just enjoy the friendships we had formed. We'd go out for a real meal, plop ourselves into a booth, and I'd grin and hold up my Coca-Cola in a toast and say, "Here's to togetherness!"  They'd all laugh at me, but they would remember the next time we were out and I'd do it all over again. We're all still good friends now and we don't see each other nearly as often as we should but when we do I make sure we toast to togetherness!
Jen L., Alison, Julie, D'Arcy, Me, Jen D. circa 2002?
Last year we lost a dear friend, Tony (Anthony) Torres to a sudden and very serious respiratory illness. Tony was young. A husband. A father. His death was shocking. Tony was a member of our college church group, Quest. Tony's death caused us all to reflect about that time way back when, when we were doing life together.  It was really special because we had such a large number of people from all different ages, backgrounds, life stories, personalities, etc. who just simply loved to be together.  Those years were almost magical because all of these people literally became like a family. We'd do anything for each other. Of course life changed, people moved, people got married, had kids, did the things that people do. But when Tony passed away so many of us came back together to honor and remember him. And it was just like a family reunion. It was togetherness. And although the reason for it was so sad, the togetherness was awesome.
Quest togetherness, remembering our friend Tony Torres
Sometimes life gets crazy these days and it will be either Johnny or me who is "in charge" of Arlis on any given day. During the week it's mostly daddy and on weekends it's mostly mommy. But in the evening, when we're all home and winding down, he'll go and get a book, climb into our bed right between us, look up at us with those big brown eyes and say, "We're together!"  He notices. He notices when we don't all take the same car. He notices if one of us isn't at a meal. I never told him that togetherness was the way it's supposed to be. I never taught him to look for it or want it. He just knows.
An oldie but goodie of our family togetherness.
Togetherness is special. And we were created for it. God made us to have fellowship with other people. To communicate with each other. To share ideas, to create, to laugh, to cry, to feel, to be. To help and to be helped. To love and to be loved. Life wasn't made to be lived alone. It's sink or swim but you weren't meant to swim by yourself. We were meant to do this together. And now we have a new season of togetherness with Discover Family Church. For me it's exciting to have this feeling again. To be a part of this growing community, with friends old and new. My heart just explodes every week when I see all of these inspiring, talented, hardworking people who are now part of this togetherness.  It's real.  It's happening.  And, as Arlis would say, it's very very beautiful.  :)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I'm the wife.



So it's official.  I mean official official.  Discover Family Church is to be.  We have our location, our funding, our people--all the things that make a church plant...plant.  So....I guess that means that I'm officially a pastor's wife? I literally giggled to myself as I typed those words. It's absurd.  But it's the truth.

I'm not the stereotypical pastor's wife. Stereotypes, while society seems to resist them, are based on elements of truth.  But we just love to point out how we're NOT whatever we really are.  We're not just another sheep in the herd, right?  Well, like it or not, you and I fit into categories and we are judged accordingly. And I am now in "the wife" category and I will be duly judged.

It was made very clear to me as Johnny and I interviewed with churches last year that the non-stereotypical pastor's wife isn't really what most places out there are looking for.  I have a career AND I'm a mom.  I have interests, friends, hobbies AND I'm a wife.  I enjoy lots of different non-church places and activities AND I enjoy my church.  Most places didn't like that I really had those things before the big AND.  They didn't want anything, anyone, or anywhere to interfere with my pastor's wife duties and expectations, which varied depending on church and geographical region.

As we moved through that phase of our lives, the whole thing kind of took a toll on my self-esteem.  How could we accomplish what we thought we were meant to accomplish if we were rejected because of me?  I could try to make some changes......I could quit my job, pop out 6 more kids, homeschool them while posting 57 times a day on Facebook about how wonderful and perfect my life/husband/kid is, post Instagrams of the delicious gourmet meals I'm cooking every night for dinner, and devote all my free time to making casseroles for the "shut-ins" (LOL shut-ins, remember that term?  HORRIBLE!), all while having perfect hair, nails, clothes, and shoes. Oh yeah, and don't forget those picture perfect baby showers.

So obviously these are exaggerations.  And I don't mean to belittle anything a traditional pastor's wife does. If she does all of these things and is truly happy doing them, great.  I mean to say that what you think of your pastor's wife and who your pastor's wife really is are likely very, very different.  And I think a lot of churches (not all, but many) put pressure on these women to be and do so much more than they should.  I can't imagine I'm the only person in history who has felt a little out of place in this role. Come on, you know it's a lot of pressure.  People are watching.  You watch your pastor's wife, right?  I've watched all of mine for my entire life-- What is she wearing? Are her kids behaving? Why is she sitting there?  Why isn't she at church today?   Is her husband crazy?  Is she crazy? Are her kids crazy?  Has she gained some weight?  Did her hair color change?  Does she really think she can sing?

I was so fortunate that in our ARC 3.0 training back in April that this very issue was addressed. I was able to listen to some wives tell their stories, give their advice, and let us baby church-planting wives know....it's okay to be yourself. Don't try to live up to lofty expectations, because you'll fail.  You'll fail your people, your family, and yourself.  They also gave us some practical steps to take regarding the balance between church life and non-church life.  Yes!  You can have a non-church life and be a pastor's wife!  I felt SUCH a weight off of me after that session.  I don't have to be the pastor's wife pictured in other people's heads.  It's okay to be me.  Hm.  Kind of hope for all pastors' wives sake that this attitude is contagious.

I'm also so lucky that I had some great examples to refer to when I was in this little personal crisis.  I started thinking of one in particular because she and I share the same occupation.  Her name is Jenny Edgemon and she was the wife of the youth pastor at our church when I was in high school.  I thought of Jenny and how she was a working mom, a successful career woman, a loving and supportive wife, and a connected and involved presence in our church.  20 years ago.  Wait a minute.  Maybe I can do this. Then I thought of my mother-in-law, Betty Kelley.  Mom.  Grandma (or as she calls herself, Ya-Ya...she picked it folks).  Student. Hard worker.  Recently promoted at her job.  Successful.  She's going to be in charge of our nursery and preschool at DFC.  I have her wisdom...years and years of it... right there.

So maybe I can do this.  I'm not perfect--not even close.  I'm socially anxious.  I argue with my husband. My son enjoys sprinkling baby powder on furniture and floors.  He also screams and sometimes spits. My house is messy. My hair is messy.  My clothes are mostly boring.  I can cook but usually don't.  I occasionally have road rage....ok, more than occasionally but I'm working on it.  I get discouraged.  I make mistakes.  I mess up.  I am far from what you'd picture as a pastor's wife.  But I don't think I want to be doing anything else. Why? Because God put me right here.  I have watched this church miraculously form before our eyes one little piece at a time. I'm invested, heart and soul.  And as tentative as I am about this new role I am a million times more excited for the days ahead.  The friendships, the community, and the difference we make in each others' lives.  What an honor to be right in the middle of something so amazing.

So the truth is, I am a pastor's wife.  And I humbly and willfully am taking it, stereotypes and all.




Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Missing Baby Blueberry Part 2: Don't Compare

The day we found out that Blueberry was gone, I texted a friend.  She was one of few friends who knew about the pregnancy.  She also had experienced a loss of her own--only her loss was much later into her pregnancy.  I nearly cringed when I texted her about losing Baby Blueberry because, to me, her loss seemed agonizing and impossible.  Mine was tiny in comparison.  What would she say?  What would I say if I were in her position?  She texted back kind and comforting words.  And still I felt stupid.  I was grieving the loss of a tiny blueberry baby. She had to go through labor and give birth to her little girl, knowing she was gone.  I texted her back and thanked her and said something to the effect that my pain was no match for the pain she experienced.  No, she said.  Don't compare.  Grief is grief.

But I still felt guilty in my grief.  I have a healthy boy already.  Isn't he enough?  I never knew what Baby Blueberry looked like, sounded like, felt like.  I didn't know Baby Blueberry's personality.  I never felt Baby Blueberry kick.  It wasn't like I spent years with Baby Blueberry and had memories to mourn.  I never watched Baby Blueberry suffer through an illness and then die.  I never even actually gave birth to Blueberry. Who did I think I was?  I have a friend who gave birth to a son that lived only hours.  I have another friend who had a son who lived only weeks.  Those babies were held and seen and named.  My baby was the size of a blueberry.  My baby did not die under tragic circumstances.  As the doctor said, my baby probably had a serious genetic problem that was incompatible with life......I think they say that to everyone, by the way.

Don't compare.  Don't compare.  I think we are all about comparing these days. Jobs, money, kids, houses.....instagram pics.  It's a race to see who's the most beautiful, the richest, or the highest achieving...whose kids are the wittiest....who can post the sassiest comments on Facebook...who can shut down someone else in an online argument about this or that social issue.  And so then here I was comparing my loss to others.  Measuring up the loss of my baby.  How twisted is that?  I'm not blaming society or culture by any means.  I blame myself for getting caught up in the nasty game of comparing.  And it hurt me.

As I said in my last post, when I first wrote about losing Baby Blueberry I received so many messages and texts from other ladies who experienced a miscarriage or fetal demise, many of them friends.  But why hadn't I known about my friends' losses before?  I'm thinking maybe some of them felt the same way as I felt.  They were comparing.  They felt grief, pain, loss....but because they never met their baby they felt it didn't meet "the standard" for actual loss.  I'm thinking maybe most of them didn't have a friend like I had to say, stop.  Don't compare.  You lost something. You lost someone. Baby Blueberry was small and had a very short life.  But Baby Blueberry was.  And Baby Blueberry was mine.  The culture I live in says that Baby Blueberry wasn't a person. But to me, Baby Blueberry was a person.  A soul.  A creation of God. Someone I'll meet on the other side of heaven.

I'm not suggesting that everyone who loses a baby go and publicly declare their sadness as I have done....I'm doing it because there are ladies out there who need to find the grace that my friend had for me.  I'm saying be the grace for someone else.  Be life-giving! (I learned that at the ARC conference recently and LOVE IT) Don't belittle someone else's grief because you think you hold the title for "Worst Life Ever".  Validate it.  Help them through it.  And if you've lost someone...whether it be a baby or a child or a parent or a friend...sometimes it feels like no other human could ever give you the peace you're looking for.  And you're right.  Only your Heavenly Father can guide you to that peace.  But having a friend who knows what it's like........value beyond measure.

That's all.