Seasons

seasons

For most of my life I have readily recognized the truth of the verse that says, “To everything there is a season.” I get it, the whole that was then, this is now thing. I understand that some life seasons are harder than others. I’m not sure I was fully prepared for how confusing and bewildering this season would be.

Becoming a mother of five adults crept up on me and by the time it popped out from behind the tree I was too far in to run and too scared to scream. Don’t get me wrong–there are some pretty awesome things about watching five adults grow wings and take flight and make their own way in the world. Something fulfilling, even, about knowing I had a key role and a ringside seat to who they have become.

But just about the time I get excited about being a big part of something so amazing, I catch a scent of something concerning going on with one of them and the creative in me goes all imagination-nutso and suddenly all the pride and joy gets vacuumed up in a whirlwind of worry. I like to consider myself fairly flexible and resilient, but this is maddening.

Maybe the truth is that I’m just beginning to realize what a key role fear has played in my life. What a key role it still plays, if I’m totally honest. The perfectionist in me grumbles that I should have grown out of this by now.

And yet here I am, in the throes of peri-menopause, with emotions flailing all over the map and me in the middle playing wack-a-mole to keep them subdued. I’m exhausted.

I find myself wondering what women do in my situation when they don’t have the fierce love and support of a family like mine. I know how the frustration mounts for me, how it feels like a vise I can’t escape, how on my worst days I wish I could start walking and not stop till I fall into an exhausted heap too far away to negatively affect my family. I can’t imagine doing this without the grace and patience of my people.

One bittersweet facet of this time in my life is that memory is acutely sharpened for times gone by. Someone asked today if I remember my childhood phone number. It’s 912-382-0273. I was eleven when that stopped being my phone number. Eleven was a very long time ago. Memory moments keep popping into my head–not just monumental moments but plain old ordinary ones–with an acuteness that has my senses piqued in ways it’s hard to describe. This is a part of my season that I don’t really mind; I find comfort in reminiscing.

All in all, I guess I don’t mind being here in this season. Things could be a lot worse, and I am not about to wish away the blessings that keep me rooted in the here and now. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s where I am. And even with the frustration and the occasional fantasy of heading for the mountains and the life of an old hermit lady, I’m glad I’m here.

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Simple

calm

“One day I will find the right words and they will be simple.”
Jack Kerouac

These days, they are anything but simple. They are complicated, complex, wrought with conflicting opinion and stand-taking and assertion. I am tired.

I long for calmer moments, of rainy afternoons and dark clouds gathered and thunder like the rumbling of a distant train.

Things are about to become much less quiet in my life as I start work as a TA and simultaneously begin work on my B.S. in Ed Studies full time online. This will be far from simple, but I need rest soul-deep if I have any hope of getting through the next two years.

I want the election to be over. Whatever we are going to wind up with for leadership I just want it done so (hopefully) the arguing and judgment will stop. If it doesn’t stop, then social media will not be seeing much of me. I need to focus in a positive direction.

I long for quietness, for lightness of being, for peace. I long for moments spent holding my husband’s hand or playing Little People with my grandchildren or making dinner for my big, beautiful family. I need to pull inward, to beckon my heart back home. Only then can I pour myself out the way God calls me to do as a wife, a mother, a Mimi, a teacher, a friend.

I am praying for renewal of purpose. For all of us.

Our Children

E-family 3.16
From back left: Papa, Charly, Jeff, Trevor, Matt, Steve. Next row: Amanda, Strider, Jenna, Rosie, Joe. Next row forward: Lisa, Nana, Morgan, Lakin, Luke. Front: Rosabelle, Archer.

One thing we believe in most strongly at Easterhouse is the value of FAMILY. We’ve built ours on a culture we’ve grown from our earliest days. It is a culture that says family done intentionally according to God’s design is the hub of everything in this life, and that what we do and say and experience becomes the spokes stretching from that base. We try with all we’ve got to live it personally, and we’ve mentored it in family ministry for years. We believe in it, and we know it works beautifully.

Our son Jeff, who arrived the day after we moved into our first apartment of our own, is a born leader. In those early years his headstrong personality provided quite a challenge for our fledgling parenting skills. We bumbled around trying to be a good mom and dad, but thankfully he is also quite resilient. Every so often we extend what we refer to as the “guinea pig apology”, our ongoing “I’m sorry” for him having to be the one on whom we learned the ropes of parenting. He has always been an amazing dad to Morgan (b. 2000). He served on staff at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa for 19 years, and in July of 2014 he moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft’s 343 Industries. He continues to spend as much time as possible with his beloved Charly, who is working on a biology doctorate at USF.

Just shy of five years later Luke joined us, with a disposition about as calm and accommodating as Jeff was headstrong. His goal was to bring peace and make everyone happy, and he did. I caught myself worrying that he would grow up to be a pushover who couldn’t speak up for himself or stand strong on his beliefs. That thought makes me laugh now, seeing the courageous man of God he is. He married Lakin in 2007 and has since become a daddy to Rosabelle (2010) and Archer (2013). He is Senior Director for a local youth sports enrichment program, and a sports journalist for USA Today‘s Draft Wire.

We lost a baby we named Jamie to miscarriage in May of 1989. In April of 1990 our precious newborn daughter Heather lived ten hours before she died of a Beta Strep infection. I share more about these times of grief and God’s provision and comfort within the pages of this blog.

Trevor joined our family in March of 1991. With chipmunk cheeks and a ready smile, he filled our home with joy and brought healing where our hearts had been crushed with grief. In the sixth grade he announced that he felt led into worship ministry. He set to work immediately preparing for that calling, and throughout his life has continually shown us ways to walk more closely with God. He married Amanda in November of 2011, and is now a worship leader at Grace Family Church in Tampa.

Matt came in March of 1993 with big blue eyes and a head full of curls. He quickly developed a disarming wit that left people scratching their heads. His childhood was spent growing into a young man who strongly values honor and personal integrity, and who pours himself completely into every task at hand. All who know him love and respect him as an exemplary man of God. He married our music pastor’s daughter Jenna in June of 2013. Their son Strider was born in December of 2014, and their daughter is due in August 2017. Matt works as a CAD drafter for UC Synergetic.

When Rosie came in May of 1995, our whole world turned pink. We named her Rose after my mother, and she brought a completeness to our family none of us could have anticipated. She twirled before she could walk, and has continued to follow her lifelong passion for dance. She teaches dance at a local studio and is working on a business degree at St. Petersburg College. She dearly loves children and is a trusted sitter and childcare worker. She and her beloved Joe have been together since May of 2011.

Marriage made in Heaven

S&LWed1

Steve and I had quite a beginning to our love story that you’ll want to read more about if you haven’t already, but here we’ll pick up where that part of our story left off.

Most folks would say we started off behind the eight-ball in our marriage. It’s hard to be deeply in love and not make unwise choices during a long engagement. We were grounded in our faith, and yet we still made some of those choices. We found out in June of 1980 that we were three, and on July 13 we walked the aisle in our tiny church in East Tampa and promised to love each other forever.

On our wedding day I was green with all-day sickness and Steve had the flu. We spent our three-day honeymoon unable to sleep too near each other, him burning up with fever and me with my face in a bucket. Thankfully we missed the memo that all these things were supposed to spell our doom as a couple. We loved each other, and we figured the “in sickness” part was just arriving a little early.

I was “Sixteen and Pregnant” before it was cool enough for a reality show. Truth is there was nothing cool about being a pregnant teenager. I watched my friends fall off like flies one by one, all but a tiny few who didn’t mind being seen with me. I resigned as band captain and left my beloved music program behind to finish the few classes I needed to finish school early. It was one of the loneliest times of my life with regard to friendship, but I will never forget how our parents and church family gathered around us and loved us through those early weeks and months.

Steve has always been my best friend. Because of that friendship rooted in our love for God, everything that has happened to us in life has happened to us, not between us. I really don’t know any other way to explain our relationship, or why we don’t argue, or why we don’t struggle in ways most people do. It isn’t that we never disagree; it’s that we approach everything as a matter of how we will work through it, not whether or not we will. We made a covenant on our wedding day that the D-word wasn’t even in our vocabulary, so we’ve simply lived our life together based in that safe place.

Our Love Story

slv

On Friday, August 31, 1979 my friend Cheri and I were on our way home from the mall. At a stop-light I noticed a blue 1965 Mustang stopped next to us, and about the time I noticed the driver’s afro bopping to the Blue Oyster Cult song shrieking from his radio, he also noticed me. I blushed and grinned, and for a reason known only to the Lord, I waved. He waved back.

The light changed, and since we had to turn left at the next light we fell in behind the Mustang. After both cars made the same turn I joked to Cheri that they probably thought we were following them. She grinned and said, “Hey, we should!” So we did, through a couple of turns, until they got smart and turned into a church parking lot. Spooked, we took off as quickly as her dad’s Beetle would carry us.

We should have expected that they would come after us. They were quickly behind us, so Cheri tried to lose them in an empty Winn-Dixie parking lot. Don’t judge. We were teenagers. To this day I’m not sure what Cheri was thinking when she drove straight to the apartment where my mother and I lived alone and parked in front of our building. I asked her if she’d lost her mind, certain those creepy stalkers were going to murder us before we could escape.

I hid behind my algebra book and Cheri tried to look busy. The guys got out of their car and I remember thinking as they approached ours that I was really not fond of the idea of dying so young. I was about to scream at Cheri for rolling down her window when she pointed to the afro and said, “Hey, I know you!” Bless Jesus, we could live.

Cheri laughed and we both sighed our relief, then we got out of the car to chat with the no-longer-total-strangers. Turns out about a year before, Cheri and Steve had been briefly introduced at a Tampa Jam concert. Briefly was working for me, since it at least assured me of seeing the morning. We talked for a while and before they left Steve asked if he and his best friend Dave could hang out with us sometime, and mentioned a concert that was coming up. We said sure, thinking we’d never see them again.

We bailed on the concert, of course, but I felt a little guilty we didn’t go, so I asked them to meet us for pizza after our high school football game the following Friday night. Friday came, along with a massive rainstorm that combined with a huge loss for our team and drenched us body and spirit. Cheri was in no mood to go out at all, but I convinced her to at least come to the pizza place and hang out for a while.

When we arrived Steve naturally paired up with Cheri (I assumed since they had been introduced) and I sat with Dave. Steve and I sat across the table from each other goofing off and making silly conversation (I recognize it now as massive flirting), and as the evening wore on I felt a heart connection with the tall, skinny Italian rocker with the big hair. They took me home and I introduced them to my mother, and after they left she said, “I think Dave is terrific, but I honestly think Steve is more your type.” I hurried off to my room so she couldn’t see the pink in my cheeks.

The following week I called Steve’s house “looking for Dave”. Of course he wasn’t there, so Steve and I chatted for a little bit. He mentioned that he was going to the mall later to buy a present for a fraternity brother and asked if I wanted to come along. As casually as I could voice it, I said yes, then promptly hung up the phone and went dashing through the house to find my good jeans and the red button-down with the gold lame’ stripes.

As we arrived at the mall, Steve mentioned that “The Muppet Movie” was playing at the cinema and asked if I’d seen it. I said no, so he invited me to the movie. I was beginning to feel really comfortable with this guy, and I still marvel at how easily I fell for him since I had grown up watching my mother struggle in relationships, had seen her used and abused by men, and had fallen into a wreck of a relationship myself at the tender age of barely-fifteen and paid a high price for my misjudgment. Steve made me feel safe.

And so we come to the corniest part of our story, when Miss Piggy sees Kermit and her eyes twinkle in that love-at-first-sight way and Steve kissed me. After you stop gagging and laughing, I will tell you that it was the most perfect kiss on the planet, ever—even better than Westley and Buttercup at the end of “The Princess Bride”. It was gentle and sweet and it melted my heart into a puddle then and there.

A few weeks later as my feelings for Steve continued to grow, it hit me like a freight train that it was going to kill us both when we broke up. Everyone broke up. Broken relationship was all I’d ever known. I hadn’t uttered the word love in regard to Steve because there was still that part of me that fearfully withdrew at the thought of giving my heart to a man. It’s hard to describe the terror that overtook me when I realized I loved him. So I did the only thing I felt would save us both: I broke up with him.

I asked that he not contact me, knowing it would take nothing for my will to break. He honored my request, and I cried for the next two days straight. After a weekend of misery and a painful heaviness I can’t even describe, I finally called a friend, who called him for me and nudged him to call. I told him there was something important I wanted to tell him but it needed to be in person. He said he’d pick me up from band practice the next night.

The whole ride home after practice was quiet. Scared out of my mind, I couldn’t even make small talk. We stood outside the Mustang the way we had done many evenings before, him leaning against the driver’s door and me leaning on him with his arms around me. Every time I tried to find my voice nothing would come out. Finally he took my face in his hands and said, “I love you.” Tears came quickly as I said, “I love you, too.” I don’t think I hit four of the twenty steps up to our apartment that night. I felt I could fly.

A month later he asked my mother if he could propose to me. We would go on to joke for many years about me thinking if I hadn’t been in love with him she would have made me marry him. She gave him her own wedding rings, and on November 17, 1979, he asked me to marry him. At my choked out “Yes!” he put the engagement ring on my finger. It was my 16th birthday.

Right Now

flourtortilla

I happened upon a blog post during a 30-day blogging challenge, and a short rabbit trail led me to Lisa Sonora’s blog/journal prompt “Right Now”. It’s simple, yet has somehow remained illusive over the years I’ve been writing and navigating writer’s block. It’s one of those moments when I feel like somebody opened the curtains and let sunlight stream into my usually dimly-lit room. Normally, I think light is overrated. Today, I like it.

Right now…I am listening to my daughter sing. Her voice rises and falls as she moves about the house, and I close my eyes for long moments just to feel it. Her voice has made me smile heart-deep for over twenty years now, and I could never imagine my life without it. Not long after she left for the dentist’s office this morning, I was startled awake by a dream where she was calling my name. I lay there chiding myself for worrying about her. She’s twenty! I sighed peacefully when she texted a few minutes later that she had safely arrived.

Right now, I am perusing photos of Mama. Aunt Vernell called yesterday and asked if I had a particular photo, and I said I would print it and send it to her. Talking to Aunt Vern is the closest thing to talking to Mama that can happen with her gone now almost ten years. Aunt Vern was the closest to Mama of all the sisters, and so much like her it’s hard to describe. I plan to call my beautiful aunt more often.

Right now, I am grateful for warmed-up leftover biscuits with butter and strawberry preserves. They remind me of my childhood, when Mama made them by hand in her big biscuit bowl. I have a wooden one of my own now, just the perfect size for a batch of dough that makes a dozen. I made homemade flour tortillas for the first time yesterday. I have some improving to do, but I’m optimistic. They made some pretty tasty grilled chicken fajitas for our little supper for three.

Right now I am watching the breeze sway the palm fronds just outside my office window. Muggs and her husband gave us a bird feeder for our anniversary and I’m hoping to put it up this evening in a location where it can be seen through both my office and the kitchen windows. The jays and cardinals have been swooping into the alcove often lately so I put a bowl of seed in the kitchen window sill, but the feeder will be easier for them to see.

Right now I feel grateful for these last few weeks of summer calm before school starts again, and I will be grateful when it does start and I get back into my study routine. The busyness fuels me, keeps me organized, makes me feel alive.

Right now I miss my husband and count the hours until he’s home again.

Heartstrings and Apron Pockets

Apron2

I attended an estate sale a few years ago, where a man was selling everything from his elderly mother’s home. I just found the whole thing gut-wrenchingly sad as I walked through and pondered over the items this woman had used and loved over the years.

He had most of the items priced well over what I would normally pay at such a sale, but browsing through a room near the back I came upon a bright orange apron the man said his mother had made. Being fond of aprons, I loved it at once. Tracing my fingers lovingly over the seams I noted that it was reversible with print on one side and eyelet on the other. I couldn’t help but wonder if she had worn it, because it looked rather new. I thought with sadness that perhaps she’d been too feeble or ill to use it herself. Somehow I felt like I’d known this dear lady, though I knew we’d never met.

I paid him the inflated price feeling like I was purchasing more than an apron. I was taking home a treasure with memories in its pockets–tiny facets of a woman whose worldly goods were being sold to strangers wandering through her home.

That apron remains one of my favorites, and I hope to make sure someone eventually gets it who will appreciate it for the memories of both its maker and me. I consider it an honor to wear it while making lovely meals for my family. I’d like to think she’d be smiling if she knew.

Apron1

Fathers and Faith and Word Formations

Sunshower

Sometimes I blog for everyone else. Today it’s more for me, but you’re invited.

It’s Father’s Day, and I will spend it as I have since I was twelve: without my daddy. I am grateful to have had Steve’s dad (my Papa) in my life since I was 15, and glad that he’s here still at 80 years young. I have much to thank God for, and some pretty special dads in my life. There aren’t any words to describe Steve’s presence in my life, or the blessing of the way he has loved and nurtured and provided our children and me. Three of our sons are dads who make us wildly proud. Rosie took Steve out for a daddy-daughter brunch, and we’re having a cookout this afternoon with the family all gathered together to celebrate the dads.

I’m trying not to allow my blogging to be controlled by how creative I feel, or how relevant I think my thoughts will be to the world. It’s hard to think inward and just write for me. Actually, it’s nearly impossible, but I’m trying. My words come out sounding dry and pointless in my own ears, and that doesn’t exactly inspire creative expression. It leaves me feeling like I really don’t have anything to say. It’s just so dry. But I write on, trooper that I am, and I unwrap a Hershey caramel kiss to make the whole process a little less painful.

My math study sheets glare at me from my desktop, algebraic expressions taunting me with reminders of my upcoming certification test. I really wish math and I were better friends. We’re more amicable than we were, but we still have a long road ahead of us if we’re going to go into teaching together with a good measure of success. And I do intend to be a spectacular teacher, so I’m willing to put in the work.

ThunderMountain

There’s a lot going on socially and politically right now, and sometimes it’s too much for my empathetic mind to take in without becoming overwhelmed. I trimmed my friends list down considerably, then scaled my news feed back even more, and the next step will be pulling all but one or two major news sources. I prefer to be informed about what is going on in the world, but sometimes I feel like I’m going to crushed by the weight of it all at once. Most of it I can’t even write about. The world is one big offense waiting to happen, and I don’t want to feed the ugly monster.

Waterfall

I burned my hand pretty badly this morning making baked beans for the cookout. I forgot bacon drippings could splash that high. The two blistered spots have had pain shooting up my arm for the past hour or so, but it’s starting to be a little more bearable.

While I sit here under the ceiling fan sipping coffee, I should probably be unloading the dishwasher and getting ready to grab a shower. I wonder if it’s possible to keep the warm water off my right hand. It hurts to think about it.

Church

I heard somebody say that faith is fluid. I have a slightly different take: I see faith as formative. We’re always growing in it in some fashion, whether it looks like growth to others or not. That doesn’t excuse everything, but maybe it does understand it. Thinking of faith as formative means it’s always being built. Fluid, to me, sounds weak and unintentional and random. Formative means purposeful, trying and failing and rising and falling but growing roots that push deeper, as painful as that can be. And God, how it can be.

Posted to my Facebook this morning:

Our cracked places can become windows where God’s light breaks through. The decision to shatter or shine comes with how we allow Him to purpose the pain in our breaking. Our wounds, like His, can be the currency for a depth of life we would not otherwise have known. We cannot always see how God is redeeming what we’ve lost, but we can always trust that He will.

I think I need to read that every morning just to remind myself that these days, these experiences aren’t going to kill me.

Also: Parents hurt when their kids hurt, even long after the kids stop being kids. Just thought I’d mention that, because we weren’t prepared for this. You’re welcome.

I made President’s Honor List again. Go me.

My coffee is cold.

PurpleFlowers

25

angel

One by one, they march along
So soon flew twenty-five swift years
Slowly fades the goodbye song
But not the sting of farewell tears

All these hearts remember you
Rosebud lips and tiny hands
Recall is all we now can do
This empty’s hard to understand

Yesterday I painted you
A graceful, earth-freed soaring dove
Upon a canvas spread with blue
Brush-stroked with a mother’s love

Time tries to help our parting fade
But April whispers soft your name
As Heather blooms in springtime shade
And I still miss you just the same

Love,
Mama

________________
In Memory
Heather Rose Easterling
B/D April 18, 1990
~ * ~

Him coming Home

Rest in peace, sweet Joey
3/9/10 – 1/24/14
Photo: Ali Flower Shryock

I must have felt it in the early hours
A tiny quake when startled awake whispering his name to Heaven
Mumbled soft in slumber but the heavens knew
It was him coming Home

There must be a sound, a shake, a sensing
When the fragile soul of a three-year-old
Breaks through time and space
To see God’s face

It’s emptier here in our numbness and tears
We fall trying to make sense of it all
We pray and we grieve
And yet still we believe

In our struggle to cope we are not without hope
Another treasure’s been laid sweetly up
A beautiful boy with blue eyes bright
To light our way to Heaven