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.

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Our Children

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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.

Right Now

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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.

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
~ * ~

When I fall

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Thanks for catching me when I fall
Sometimes the empty of it all caves in
Like waves rushing over pushing memory
Where too many moments crush at once
I run and the tears come and I miss her so
And you reach out and steady me again
I did that for her

Thanks for loving me through it all
When the sadness steals truth from my knowing
And I don’t hear your heart at first
Know that I always feel it, look past the surface
And see you reaching out to grab my hand
Knowing you love me like I love her
And you

Old Yeller

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I never wanted to be a yelling mom. I wanted to be kind and loving and gentle and never raise my voice at my children. Enter our firstborn who, as my mother always used to say, “would argue with a sign and take the wrong road home”. That boy gave me a run for my money, especially in those early days of this very young mama. By the time he was around four I had become what I never wanted to be: a yeller.

I remember one evening around that time standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes and Jeff doing or saying something I didn’t like, and as I opened my mouth to yell at him something stopped me. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I know the thought that followed the interruption was, I don’t like yelling. That isn’t who I want to be. And that isn’t who I’m going to be any more.

I don’t remember what I ended up saying to him, but I do remember it was something instructive and calm. I also remember the look of surprise on his face and the hint of a smile that followed as he darted off to build something or maybe to read yet another book.

Unless I’m just remembering badly, I’m pretty sure I have never screamed at my children in anger or annoyance since that day some 28 years ago. I’ve spoken sternly on occasion, but I’ve made it a point not to yell. I’ve heard, read, and seen for myself that yelling puts up walls, shuts down hearts, severs relationship. I’ve tried hard to build up, not tear down my children. I’m a far from perfect mama, but I’m glad to be a fairly calm one.

I’m blessed to know that God doesn’t leave us in our old ways, but whispers to our hearts when changes need to be made. It’s up to us to hear and obey. He spoke that night at the kitchen sink, and I bade Old Yeller goodbye.

I don’t miss her one bit.

A Beautiful Life

ABLbookcoverFREE for Kindle this weekend

It’s a lot like giving birth, this book releasing thing, like holding a newborn out to the waiting world and whispering, “Please love it?” Makes me a little queasy, if I’m completely honest, and I admit moments of wondering what in the world I was thinking taking this on. But I did, and here it is, and I really do hope you love it.

I’ve been writing my whole life, and it’s no secret that I have a particular passion for using words to build into people–especially other women–and offer them courage and hope. I’ve had bits and pieces of books written and stored for a long time, but it wasn’t until Brian Williams’ book writing class that the motivation and accountability teamed up with my love for writing and resulted in a finished work.

My first book. As I consider how many women have received it since it went live yesterday, the thought of that many people holding a me-shaped piece of hope is both terrifying and exhilarating at once. Deep down I am awed by God’s grace that I get to be a part of something this lovely, this inviting of others to remember what it was like to dream.

I won a writing contest in fifth grade, and from the moment I read my story aloud and saw the wonder on my classmates’ faces, I was hooked. With a million butterflies dancing around in my tummy, I was overcome by an excitement I couldn’t word. I had a feeling that was just the beginning, and I was right. There is no feeling quite like having someone walk up to me and say, “I read your book, and I love it! Thank you for being real on the page and putting it out here for all of us.” That happened this morning, and I’m pretty sure it will never get old.

So here’s my baby, and I offer it out to you, my sweet friend. Because it’s you I pictured sitting across the table from me as I wrote. You, with your questions and your exhaustion and your wondering if you can keep going one more single minute. You can, and I’m going to be here cheering you on. You aren’t alone, and don’t you forget it. We’re in this together, and I can’t wait to meet you on the page.

My heart to yours, I wish you an ever-increasingly beautiful life.

When you’re warmly invited to dream

invited

Oh, it is a hard thing, the speaking of dreams in a world that no longer believes in happy ever after. Dreaming gets hard when our hearts know what we’re up against, that we live in a world that holds hands with sorrow like a lifelong friend.  This world is particularly hostile to the gifts we swaddle and hold close and protect, especially if we’ve gone beyond one or two.

These little ones so fresh from God still smell of Heaven but we get sideswiped off the road of grateful and the gravel flies and the swerving back can feel like whiplash as we grab the neck and wince and crumple and cry and wave the Holy Spirit on to do what He does–speak those guttural sounds that pierce God’s ear on our behalf when we’re too wrung out to form words.

The day my sonogram showed fourth boy a woman at the ball field spoke words that stung. “Oh, wow. I bet you’re disappointed.” Blinking hard, I backed away from her, practically ran to the car to sweep my sweet boy far from her dark words. I remember wanting to blanket my belly, to never let him hear or feel or believe such a terrible thought. That day I went home and named him Matthew. “Gift of Jehovah”. I never wanted him to doubt for a second that I considered him all gift from our graceful God. He is 20 now, still gift and full of grace.

Sometimes our beautiful is the world’s ugly, and that can hurt deep. But if we understand our calling we grasp that we live in a world that needs Jesus and the hard truth is that they can’t understand Him so they run far and fast from His presence. And from His gifts.

They run from our happy marriages and our big closely-knit families and our sweet relationships with our children. They run from our friendships that put the other first and let one another breathe free and always try to believe the best. They run from our dreams because they are afraid to fly.

And isn’t it our hope for them that they are freed to fly?

In a few short weeks I will release my first full-length book to Kindle, and later to print. It is an invitation to dream and believe and fully live.

A Beautiful Life – An Invitation to Truly Live is my hand held out in warm welcome. And you are invited.

Peace in the face of fear

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It was just past 6am when the call came. “Mama, I’m okay, but I was in an accident.”

My surroundings panned back, lengthening like a movie scene as I struggled to find my voice. “Is it serious? What happened? Where are you?” Questions popped like shots from a flare gun.

“It’s pretty serious. The traffic is never backed up or stopped on this road, but this morning it was. It all happened so fast. I got out right away to check on the lady I hit and tried to keep her calm till the ambulance came. I think she will be okay.”

I found out where he was and jumped into the car, my mind still wrapped in a fog. In the midst of the blur, phrases from the call kept floating forward. He’d been driving his future father-in-law’s car, and as I pulled up to the scene I could tell it was totaled. I felt sick. He was talking to an officer when I arrived but quickly came over and put his arms around me. I was wrecked but in emergency mama mode and my baby needed me strong.

It was two weeks till his wedding, and I fought to stop the flow of what-ifs. It was surreal that he walked away from the accident uninjured. His account of the accident playing over in my head was nearly more than I could stand. He’s 20, but he will always be my baby boy.

I’ve rarely known fear like that. Really, I don’t think there is anything like the fear a mother feels for the safety of her children. I generally stay in a constant stream-of-dialogue prayer, and let me tell you that morning God and I had quite the conversation. The fear of a mama for her babies is the kind that grips and doesn’t let go, squeezes the breath right out and threatens to smother any hope or reason.

But when the God of Peace lives deep within the soul of a mama, it changes everything.

Scripture says that we don’t “grieve like those who have no hope.” (I Thess. 4:13) That verse has always made me think well beyond grief and mourning, has made me realize that we don’t do anything like those who have no hope. Not with the Creator of the Universe in the driver’s seat.

We don’t live like those who have no hope.
We don’t stress like those who have no hope.
We don’t fear like those who have no hope.

There’s no peace like God’s peace, that unwordable calm that settles deep and assures the heart that no matter what happens God will never lose control.

My sweet boy and his beautiful wife have been married for just over five months, and the same God who settles my soul watches over our newlyweds with a protectiveness like no other. I will always worry, because I am a mama. But fear will not hold me long, because my hope rests in the One Whose perfect love casts out all fear.

It is a hope that drives everything I do.
And I pray this hope for you.

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A real-life fairy tale: myth or magic?

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I believe in fairy tales. For the past 34 years I’ve been living in one.

Hear me out: I don’t go around telling people they must live a fairy tale because I do. Not everyone even wants one.

Some people want conflict–and by conflict I mean out-and-out fighting, arguing, screaming, belittling. Hatefulness. I can’t imagine why people would thrive on such things, but I understand not everyone thinks like I do and I’m willing to consider that some people might like that kind of “spice” in their marriage. I like spice. I don’t like meanness.

My husband has never said an unkind word to me. We’ve been together since I was 15 and for the longest time I wouldn’t even mention that little fact because I didn’t fancy people laughing in my face. And I have had people tell me flat out that they don’t believe me. I’ve grown to be okay with that. I no longer worry about whether or not people believe it, because I’m living it and in the end that’s what matters.

I’d like to say I’ve never spoken unkindly to him. I can say I’ve never intentionally been mean to him. I’ve been frustrated (as I’m sure he has been with me) and on occasion (especially at “that” time of the month) my tone hasn’t been as gentle. But it isn’t in my heart to hurt him.

We’ve never intentionally wounded one another. Believe it or don’t.

We don’t have to wound one another to have a spicy marriage. We decided long ago that playful imaginary fighting was much more fun and less damaging. It also fits right in with the goofball atmosphere we’ve always maintained in our family relationships–an atmosphere that still exists today among our family that has grown to include us and our five and their beloveds plus some grandloves. It’s working for us.

While I’m at it, I may as well go for broke and toss out a few more myth-busters:

  • There has never been a moment when I have wondered why I married him.
  • I have never “awakened one morning wishing we weren’t married”.
  • Our passion has never “cooled and settled into something less fiery”.
  • We have never “grown apart” or “realized we don’t really know one another”.
  • We have never had regular date nights.
  • We mutually placed our children as a high priority and it didn’t ruin our marriage.
  • We co-slept with our babies and toddlers and practiced extended breastfeeding and it didn’t quash intimacy in our relationship.
  • We were firmly attached to our children and it didn’t negatively affect our attachment to one another.
  • We practiced intuitive parenting as a team that included firmly enforced guidelines.
  • We are growing old together, completely crazy about each other, and are approaching an empty nest without fear.

When I say I’m living a fairy tale, I’m not bragging. I’m not gloating. I’m not thinking I’m better than anyone else. Who am I to deserve this? I am fully aware that I don’t, and I am more grateful than I could ever express for the grace that brought this magic into my life all those years ago and has sustained it all this time.

When I say I’m living a fairy tale, I’m not asking you to encourage me. I’m not even asking you to believe me. I’m just saying please don’t be mean.

Please stop trying to make it seem ridiculous, or less than real, or even outright wrong. I won’t ask you to live it, and I won’t tread on your choice of relationship style–even if I don’t understand it. Deal?

If I might be so bold as to ask one favor, it is this: Please don’t trade off any possible notion of living a real-life fairy tale by normalizing an erratic, conflict-ridden, it’s-all-about-me existence. Understand that fairy tale doesn’t mean perfect. It means walking through conflict with kindness and concern for the other. It means taking the blows life dishes out as one unit and facing it all together with one heart. It means loving, no matter what.

I never mean to boast. I only mean to encourage. This is a beautiful thing, and the truth is I wish everyone could know this joy.

Living a fairy tale is not trouble-free, nor is it repulsive. It is a blessing we embrace with one heart full of gratitude and hope. Before you knock it, you might want to give it a try.

You might discover a wish you never expected your heart to make.