Late Night Texts

My eleven year old was sick a few weeks ago. He had gone to his bed with a slight fever and a big metal barf bowl that I put in his hands as he started down the stairs to his room. Before I went to bed I filled a sports bottle with ice water and grabbed some Tylenol and went down to check on him.

As I walked into his dark room that had a faint smell of sickness, he rolled towards me and squinted at the light coming from the hall.

“I brought you some medicine and ice water, bud, so I need you to sit up for a minute.”

He sat up with exaggerated weakness and took the medicine I gave him and sipped some water.

“Will you lay by me for a minute, Mom?” he asked.

He scooted over while I lifted his comforter and slipped in next to him. He wasn’t miserably sick, but his low grade fever quickly warmed me as I wrapped him up in my arms and we lay there and chatted some, but mostly enjoyed the silence and peace that came with being together without the distraction of electronics or homework or siblings or rush.

Fifteen minutes later the risk of falling asleep myself became too great and I tried to slip away unnoticed. His breathing had slowed and I thought he was sleeping.

“Thank you for bringing me water and laying by me Mom. I love you.”

I reached the sliver of light at the door and turned and told him I loved him too and then went to bed.

The next morning he was miraculously better and I didn’t think much about the night before.

That night about an hour after I sent him to bed I got a text:

Mom. Will you fill my water bottle and come tuck me in?

It had, sadly, been awhile since I had regularly tucked him in at night and he is very consistent about filling his own water bottle before going to bed so I was surprised, but I filled it and took it down to him. I tucked him in and rubbed his back for a few minutes before going back upstairs.

A few days later I get the same text:

Mom. Will you fill my water bottle and come tuck me in?

This time I questioned him:

Why didn’t you do it before you went down?

I forgot and I am really tired. Pleeeease?

Okay. I filled it and took it down and sat with him for a few minutes.

The next few of weeks I got similar texts every couple of days. Now I was starting to feel taken advantage of. His habit of washing and filling his water bottle each night had turned into him texting and asking me to to do it for him more often than not. Sometimes I was home and did it and sometimes I was at the grocery store or visiting my parents and he had to get out of bed and do it himself. Sometimes I was home, but busy, and made him come up and do it.

Then I had a moment of clarity. He had texted me one night while I was out and I told him I was not there to do it. He told me he would wait and I could do it when I got home.

I got home much later than I thought and I decided to fill it anyways and take it down to him in case he woke up in the night.

I walked in his room and the hall light fell on the bundle of comforter and boy that was lying still on his bed. His breathing was even and he didn’t budge by the sound of the door or the light that invaded his pitch dark basement room. I set down his water bottle on his dresser and gently sat on the edge of his bed and stroked his hair softly enough to not wake him.

I realized he hadn’t broken his habit of filling his water bottle and he had not started taking advantage of me by asking me to do it. He had found a way to find a few quiet personal moments with me at the end of our busy days. I felt regret for not making it home before he fell asleep as I kissed his sweaty cheek goodnight and whispered “I love you” into his ear before leaving him to his dreams.

I would love to say that I have tucked him into bed each night since then. I haven’t. But I have tucked him in more often that I had and I am trying to find those moments to connect and give him my undivided attention more often throughout the day so he doesn’t feel a deficit when he goes to bed.

I know I miss a lot of signals from my kids, but I am always filled with gratitude when I pause long enough to get their subtle messages.



Appreciating the Beauty

I had just gotten out of the shower and was minimally dressed with a towel twisted up on my head when my five-year old son Taran ran down the hall and grabbed my hand.

“Mom! Hurry! It is so pretty outside and you are going to miss it!”

I stumbled as he pulled me down the hall and dragged me out the door.

A beautiful painting of many shades of pink, gold, and blue greeted us in the evening sky as Taran excitedly pointed through the branches of our backyard trees.

I agreed. The sky was beautiful. But the thing that was most beautiful to me was that he took the time to appreciate it and that he wanted to share it with me.  


Each Life That Touches Ours For Good

Grandma Roberts wasn’t really my grandma, but I didn’t know that for the first few years of my childhood. I knew her so long that I don’t remember a time that she wasn’t in my life.

She lived about a third of a mile up the road from my family and she was a widow. She went to our church and I imagine that is how my parents got to know her. I don’t know how and when she became “Grandma”, but that is what she always was to me and my siblings.

She kept a very clean and organized home. Her table was always set with placemats and a simple centerpiece. She was educated and had done some traveling and her shelves were full of interesting souvenirs that each had a story of their own. When I was old enough I would help her with her dusting and she would tell me the stories as I cleaned each piece. She also had interesting artwork on her walls, some of which she had embroidered or painted. Her home was interesting, warm, and welcoming.

Grandma Roberts was a healthy eater and introduced me to wheat bread with seeds, real butter instead of margarine, plain yogurt with fresh fruit, prickly pear jelly, and unsweetened applesauce. She also taught me how to use a toaster oven. I had never seen one until she did.

When her grandson from California started spending summers with her my two brothers just older than me and I started to spend the bulk of our free time at her house during the day while our parents were at work. We built lemonade stands, made rubber band guns, spent hours drawing and painting at her kitchen table, did yard work, cleaned, played on her piano, and learned how to crochet. She would take us grocery shopping, drop us off at the pool, provide us with endless craft and art supplies, and feed us. But she didn’t spoil us. We worked hard at her house. She labeled me the “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” as it was my job to help her clean up the dishes after a meal. The boys spent hours in the hot Southern Utah sun mowing her lawn and pulling weeds from the hard unforgiving red dirt. She didn’t let us waste food at her house and I didn’t argue with her about it like I did in my own home.

We would often ask her if she had any extra jobs we could do to earn money and she was known for paying whatever she had in her wallet. You could spend two hard hours of labor and get $2 or $20 (which was a lot back then!). It was kind of exciting to take the gamble and I loved to brag to my brothers when I got lucky.

Grandma Roberts would read to me. She had a collection of children’s books, but the only one I remember, because I had her read it to me over and over, was Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. She had been a school teacher in her younger years and she had a great reading voice. I would sit right up next to her on her orange velvet sofa and lay my head on her shoulder while she told me the story of Sylvester and how, in a moment of fear, he used his magic pebble to turn himself into a boulder. The story nearly brought me to tears as he watched and listened to his parents as they mourned him when he disappeared, and then delighted in their reunion later in the book. I bought the book for my kids and read it to them when they were little. Although it was fun to share it with my kids, it wasn’t the same as it was when she read to me.

She also taught me to crochet. After weeks of making chains that were longer than her living room, she tried in vain to teach me a double crochet. I tried and tried and tried, but just couldn’t get it right.

After a few frustrating weeks of repeated attempts I was watching her crochet and asked her, “What are you making? It looks like a ladder?”

“It is a ladder stitch! Isn’t it neat?”

It was. I wanted to make ladders.

“Scoot over here,” she said, “I will show you how to do it.”

After just a few minutes of instruction I was building onto my massive chain with the “ladder stitch.” It was a long time later when I was crocheting with my mom and she told me I was doing the double crochet stitch that had evaded me for so long. Soon after I started my first afghan using the skills she had taught me. I was nine years old.

I only remember her getting mad at me once in all those years. My brothers and I had been bickering all afternoon and she finally ordered us to the car and chewed us out all the way home. We were much more careful with our words to each other when we were around her after that.

I had two amazing biological grandmothers and one of them lived right next door to me. I was incredibly lucky. That didn’t mean that my bonus grandma played a backup role in my life. She was just as much a grandma to me and she contributed to my childhood as much as if she had been related by blood.

The last time I saw her I was married and visiting my family. I was shocked at her weakness and inability to take care of herself. She had friends and neighbors, including my mom, checking in on her regularly to help her with her daily needs. She shuffled out to a living room chair and I sat in the one next to it and held her hand as we reminisced and laughed. She had lived a long and productive life and I sensed that she was ready to move on and be with her husband again.

It was months later and I was living in Seattle and nearly full term with my first baby. I knew she had been in a nursing time and my mom had been giving me updates on her condition. When I heard that she had passed away I was not surprised, but I felt a great loss. I was too far along in my pregnancy to travel so I was unable to attend her funeral. It made finding closure difficult.

On my next trip back, with my new baby in tow, my mom gave me a handmade Mary Poppins doll that grandma Roberts had promised to me years before. She had made it without a pattern and it was masterful from the details of the stitching to the little carpet bag that she carried.

I am reminded of the words of a Mormon hymn, Each Life that Touches Ours For Good, that I always enjoyed:

Each life that touches ours for good

Reflects Thine own great mercy, Lord;

Thou sendest blessings from above

Through words and deeds of those who love.

What greater gift does thou bestow,

What greater goodness can we know

Than Christlike friends, whose gentle ways

Strengthen our faith, enrich our days.

When such a friend from us departs,

We hold forever in our hearts

A sweet and hallowed memory,

Bringing us nearer, Lord, to Thee.

While I would expand the words now in my mind to include Christian, Muslim, Atheist, and friends from many beliefs and walks of life, I still love the message in the song.

I hope that one day someone will be able to look back and say that I in some way touched their life for good in the way that Grandma Roberts touched mine.



Can’t Fight This Feeling

Music has always been very important to me. Over the years I have viewed it as a big part of the timeline of my life.  A melody, rift, or lyric can throw me back to emotions and experiences in my life that can bring me back to the laughter, tears, and various emotions of the many slices of my life.

This being my twenty-first wedding anniversary I decided to put on an album that made me think of the time when Brett and I first met…

After several months of becoming good friends through email, online chat, and late night telephone calls we were finally meeting in person. Brett was working at a computer show in Las Vegas and I was attending the show with my dad, brother, and brother-in-law. Although we had talked for, likely, hundreds of hours, we had developed a friendship without an expectation of a romantic relationship. The distance alone was a big factor, as he was in Seattle and I was in Southern Utah, but we were also nearly ten years apart in age and had both determined that we were happier being single for the time being. This made it so much easier to open up and say whatever was on our minds as we got to know each other.

After nearly not finding each other at the computer show (the Microsoft booths were endless), we happened to run into each other in an unfortunate moment of my immaturity while playing dodgeball with my brother-in-law right down the aisle of a big presentation at a Microsoft booth.

My dad was nearly ready to head home and we only had about twenty minutes to chat. I noticed an immediate warmth and positive energy between us and I was instantly comfortable with him. We made plans for me to make the two-hour drive back to Las Vegas the next day to go to dinner and spend some time together.

As I made the drive back down the next evening I remember having some anxiety as I thought about the chemistry that was obviously there. I was sure that nothing more would come of this relationship as I was in school in Utah and he was working in Seattle and neither of us had any plans to uproot our lives. I was also only nineteen years old and had many plans ahead of me before getting into a serious relationship.

I made my way to his hotel room and knocked on the door. My anxiety quickly left as he opened the door and we slipped right into our familiar conversation as we made our way to dinner. Dinner was long and drawn out as I was not ready to make the drive back. We realized that we were both not ready to end our time together, but it was getting late. I had a family member working in Vegas at the time so I made arrangements for me to spend the night at their place and we set up a time to meet the next day.

The next day we had lunch, walked the mall, and held hands so comfortably that you would think we had been dating for some time. By dinner time we realized we were still not ready to end our time together. Brett still had some things to finish up with for work that night, but he changed his flight and decided to head back to St. George with me for the weekend. I napped while he worked and, although Brett was a perfect gentleman, for reasons of propriety (and keeping my mom happy) we spent the night talking at a twenty-four hour cafe at the hotel.

Our short time together in St. George was full of talking, kissing, hiking in Zion Canyon, good food, and developing feelings that I had no chance of squashing.

After two days together we made the drive back to Las Vegas to the airport. I was scared of what I was feeling. I had never really been in love and didn’t know if that is what I was feeling, but I knew I didn’t want to be apart.

We waited at the gate while they called groups to board his plane. I leaned against him and held his hand as we waited until the very last call was made for his flight and then hesitantly gave a final embrace and kiss. There were no tears, yet, but lots of emotion was clearly felt from us both. He waved as he walked onto the loading ramp and then turned and walked away. As soon as I couldn’t see him anymore the tears came and I couldn’t turn them off.

As I got in the car I put in my REO Speedwagon disc and played the song “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” on repeat. I cried for much of the trip home as the words played over and over.

Oh, I can’t fight this feeling any longer

And yet I’m still afraid to let it flow

What started out as friendship has grown stronger

I only wish I had the strength to let it show


I tell myself that I can’t hold out forever

I said there is no reason for my fear

‘Cause I feel so secure when we’re together

You give my life direction

You make everything so clear…


Twenty one years later and I still remember how my heart hurt as I didn’t know if and when I would see him again. I realized that I had got in over my head and was in love despite my efforts to not let that happen.

I shouldn’t have worried too much…less than a month later he made the long drive in a record-breaking snowstorm to spend over a week with me during Christmas break. By the time he left we had discussed getting married and three and a half months and many weekend visits later we did just that.

And I can’t fight this feeling anymore

I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for

It’s time to bring this ship into the shore

And throw away the oars, forever


‘Cause I can’t fight this feeling anymore

I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for

And if I have to crawl upon the floor

Come crashing through your door

Baby, I can’t fight this feeling anymore

Sleep, Baby Sleep

I wasn’t feeling well tonight so, without telling anyone, I quietly put my pajamas on and went to hide in my bed, knowing that nobody in my family would look for me there before midnight. At 10pm my five year old found me, because remember, I was hiding, so nobody had put him to bed.

“Mom, if you go anywhere I will just follow you because I love you the most and I will marry you forever. And I farted at you.”

I realized if I was going to continue to nurse my headache with not talking (because it was one of those headaches that hurt worse when you talk) I was going to have to be sneaky.

I pulled out my phone and went into my Spotify app and started my new favorite public playlist called “Sleep, Baby Sleep.”

“Mom. It’s not going to make me go to sleep this time. I promise.”

I had developed full confidence in “Sleep, Baby Sleep,” and felt genuine affection for the stranger that created it. I wasn’t worried.

“Moooom, my eyes are still open,” he bragged, 45 seconds into the first song, a slow sweet piano solo of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

“See….I am still awake,” he said at the end of the song. It was only 90 seconds long.

We moved onto a beautiful piano rendition of “Here Comes The Sun.” Still no sleep, but also no talking.

Three minutes later “Brother John” starts. I hear a yawn, He shifts his head from his pillow to my softer butt.

“Mom,” he says in a much softer and slower voice, “I think it IS going to make me go to sleep again.”

And it did.


Spots of Sunshine

When I was a little girl I knew all the spots in the house that would warm up for periods of time when the sun would stream through the windows. The best spot was in our front room and the bright warm spot would move as the sun changed position throughout the day. My mom liked to move the furniture around often so sometimes the spot landed on a couch or a chair, but my favorite was when it warmed up a piece of the orange and brown variegated shag carpet. I would curl my body up into whatever size and shape the warm spot was and watch the dust particles float around in the sunbeams. I loved to read or daydream or sleep, and I preferred to have it quiet. Being alone was especially appreciated.

During the winter there were more opportunities to lay in the sun, because the shade trees on each side of the house were bare of leaves and they were more accommodating for my need to feel the sunbeams. In the summer you had to be on top of things and know just when to be there for snippets of time that the sun would peak through a gap in the leafy branches. I actually could have used the warm spots more in the hot Southern Utah summer, because our swamp cooler, and later central air-conditioning, worked quiet well in that part of the house. During the winter we always had a blazing fire in our black coal stove that wasn’t too far from the front window so warmth wasn’t as much of an issue. But I wasn’t picky. I would enjoy it any time of year as the light beams looked the same no matter what season it was.

In all the moves I have made in the years since my childhood I still watch for those special spots in each home I live in. In some homes I have found several, but in others it might take weeks or months to discover a new spot.

In the house we are currently in, a former owner must have been very energy efficient as he planned the trees, bushes, and positioning of the windows and eaves so that not as many of those sunbeams would make it into the house to heat it up. We have been in homes where the air conditioning couldn’t keep up well enough to properly cool the house during our extended summers but that has not been a problem where we are now. While the economical side of me appreciates this, the nostalgic side longs for more sunny spots to get my fix.

A few months after we moved here a tree blew down outside a window in what we call “the piano room.” We were very sad that it was gone as it had housed a colony of busy carpenter bees. I would sit at the window with my little boys each evening and watch as they all flew home for the night and disappeared into the holes they had worked so hard to dig. I knew I would miss those twenty minutes of spying into their busy lives each day. But it didn’t take long to see the upside as it has become the one spot in the house that now has a good sun spot to sit in for a portion of the morning. I don’t take advantage of it nearly enough, but even just knowing it is there when I need I need a few quiet meditative minutes to myself is enough.

What spot do you go to relax and find peace?

Sun peaking through the window of a pioneer home in the ghost town of Grafton, UT

Your Dash

I was sitting with Brett and my son Lincoln at a local small town cafe. We were killing time before we had to be to an awards ceremony at Linc’s school. We had finished eating and were laughing and talking about the quirky distinct personalities of our four other kids. Brett and I had commented on how pretty Lincoln’s sisters were and that his friends were starting to take notice.

“Hi. I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about pretty ladies so I had to come see what was up.”

The three off us jumped at the close proximity of the deep gravelly voice that had clearly crossed the line into our personal space.

We looked up to see an older man whose weathered skin had obviously spent a lot of time in our hot desert sun. His khaki shorts and oversized striped polo shirt were divided by a large and very full fanny pack. His tube socks were pulled high on his shins and his sun hat dipped low on his forehead.

He looked at Brett. “How’s your dash going?”

“Excuse me?” Brett said with a hesitant smile.

He had leaned over so close and so unexpectedly that my body had set off it’s alarms: tingling scalp, accelerated heart rate, moisture disappearing from my mouth, a sensation of numbness. I was glad Lincoln was on the other side of Brett and further away from the stranger.

“What did you think I said,” the man roared.

“Uh. My dash?”

“Yep. Your dash. How’s it going?”

“My dash? Like the dash in my car?” I could see that Brett was thinking this guy was trying to sell something.

“You know. Your dash! Like on a tombstone. There is your birthdate at the start and eventually your death date at the end and the dash is everything in between. You know. Your life! How’s your’s going?”

(Mostly what I heard was “your death date.”)

“Ooohh,” Brett said. “I see what you mean. It is going great.” He smiled. He was more comfortable with the man than I was.

“Do you ever use the Google?” He asked.

“Yes. Yes we do.”

“Well, next time you are on the Google look up the poem ‘The Dash’. It has been a favorite of mine since I read it many years ago.”

Something about him mentioning poetry took away the tingling in my scalp and allowed the moisture to return to my mouth. I could also feel my limbs again.

“I will look it up when we get home,” I told him as I finally joined in on the conversation. “I love a good thought provoking poem.”

He turned to Brett again. “How old do you think I am?”

I was glad it wasn’t me he asked. He was one of those people that could have reasonably fit any number within a range of at least thirty years.


“You think I am that old!” He hollered.

Brett shrugged.

The man leaned even closer into Brett’s personal space and lowered his voice to just over a whisper and said, “I am 82 years old.”

In my head I had guessed 56.

Anna then skipped through the door to meet us and he put her through the same set of questions and she giggled and interacted with him in a much less guarded manner than I had.

A few minutes of small chat later we said goodbye as we gathered up our stuff and headed for the door. As we were walking away he approached the counter and said he wanted to pay for the $35 order that a large family had just made. It was clear he had never met them as he then began the same set of questions on his new audience.

“Do you use the google?” we heard as the door shut.

As we started to pull away I watched through the window as he shuffled over and sat in a booth across from a woman I had not noticed earlier. As they smiled and started talking I imagined she was his wife or a dear lady friend and that this was probably not the first time she had waited while he asked those around him how their “dash” was going. I wished I had asked him how his dash was going, although, I could see that at this point in his life he was clearly enjoying it. I wished I knew his name and where he came from. I wished I hadn’t been suspicious of him in the beginning.

We started to make speculations as we drove away. Maybe he had recently retired to the area and was hoping to make friends. Maybe he was here on vacation visiting family. Maybe they travelled the country in an RV…him making the rounds at each stop as he shared his favorite poem. I decided he had walked over from the Veteran’s home across the street to have a date with his wife.

I hope I run into him again.

The DASH by Linda Ellis

I Think I Love You

It wasn’t any easier to get up this morning than any other morning, but something stopped me from hitting snooze for the second time. It might have been the thought of my freshly turned sixteen year old daughter Luca sitting on her bedroom floor putting her make-up on. I knew she was anticipating her birthday breakfast of puffy pancake drenched in melted butter, powdered sugar, and fresh fruit and it wasn’t going to make itself. Or it might have been the realization that with Brett out of town all the responsibility of getting kids up, bellies fed, lunches made, and bodies delivered to three schools rested on my shoulders. My shoulders are lucky to have the shoulders of a work at home husband that typically carry much more of the morning responsibilities.

Twenty minutes later, I sit at the kitchen table and just observe for the next few minutes. Usually in the mornings my mind is foggy, my body feels weak, and my mood is salty, as my kids like to say. This morning I feel more alert, despite only four restless hours of sleep, and I feel more present and aware than I typically do at this hour.

Luca walks in first and starts her careful preparation of her lunch. Heated quinoa wild rice topped with diced chicken and black beans, which she then wraps in two layers of tinfoil to preserve some heat. She then cuts up strawberries and washes blueberries and layers it in a container that she will later pour over her honey flavored Noosa yogurt. When she realizes we are out of granola she quickly calls her best friend and asks her to take some to school for her. Everything about her process was smooth, calm, purposeful, and left plenty of time to spare for any surprise road blocks to her routine.

If I didn’t know fourteen year old Lincoln so well, I would have been worried that he had slept through his alarm, but, he never does that. I just realize that my boy is quietly going about his own morning routine of getting ready. He eventually walks into the kitchen and starts to load up his lunch box with the items I have laid out for him. He isn’t smiling, or scowling, or complaining or demanding. He is just calm and that calm slowly sweeps across the room and seeps into me, as he is always so generous in sharing his calm.

Four year old Taran stumbles into the dining room with an iPad dangling precariously under one arm and his tired eyes half closed. He shuffles to the dining room table and climbs into a chair and lays his head down on the table. He and I had a long restless night as we typically don’t share a bed, but with dad gone, he insisted on sleeping by me. His legs and arms tossed and turned and sought me out until 3am when I finally picked him up to carry him to his own bed. His eyes popped open as soon as I stood and when I explained to him the issues he promised to lay down and be still and sleep. He kept his promise and didn’t move from his spot for the next four and a half hours until he found his new resting spot at the kitchen table.

“ARGH!!! I hate my freaking life!!!” a voice growls as a groggy and wrinkled version of twelve year old Anna lumbers into the kitchen. She was at dress rehearsal for a school play until nearly 9pm last night and the excitement of it all kept her spinning and singing and cracking jokes until nearly midnight. She is tired. She grabs her backpack and starts pulling out dirty clothes, yesterday’s lunch, and containers of dried out slime in search of something she doesn’t find.

I glance into the dark corner of the dining room and notice Taran has found some purpose and is dancing and quietly singing, “Whip, whip, watch me nae nae.” His eyes are still half closed and full of sleepiness.

I turn and see Anna’s face light up with a grin as she joins Taran with a much more animated version of the dance. In a matter of two minutes she has gone from freaking hating her life to freaking loving it.

The puffy pancake finishes with only minutes to spare before the bus driver (me) pulls away in the school bus (mini van) so I leave them to dish up while I holler down the stairs to see if nine year old Kai is awake. He is the only elementary school kid in the house right now so he soaks up his extra 30 minutes of sleep each morning.

“Kai!” I yell down into the dark basement. “Do you want some puffy pancake?”

I forgot he slept on the blow up bed in the family room so his tired voice answers from closer than I expect.

“No, I’m good. I am just going to sleep until my alarm goes off in two minutes.”

Okay then.

I grab my keys and herd the older kids and Taran to the car, knowing full well that Kai will get up the second his alarm goes off and be showered, fed, have his lunch packed, and be waiting impatiently for me to comb his hair in twenty minutes when I return. School starts at 9 and it takes him no more than three minutes to ride his scooter there, but he feels late if he isn’t out the door at 8:30. Those who know me well question that he is really mine.

The drive to school with the kids is pleasant. They are silly and upbeat and make me laugh. Yesterday’s morning drop off involved sarcasm and arguing from them and scolding from me, but today was a big scoop of agreeable.

I drive home with the warm sun shining through my window and the beautiful backdrop of the red mountains and beyond that the distant blue mountains still topped with snow. I flip on Taran’s playlist and it goes straight to his new favorite (as of last night when he first heard it), “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy. I sing along and he attempts to sing along (new song) and dances as well as he can in the confines of his five point harness carseat.

“I think I love you isn’t that what life is made of

Though it worries me to say I never felt this way

Believe me you really don’t have to worry

I only wanna make you happy and if you say “hey go away” I will

But I think better still I’d better stay around and love you

Do you think I have a case let me ask you to your face

Do you think you love me?

I think I love you

I think I love you

I think I love you

I think I love you

I think I love you

I think I love you

I think I love you

I think I love you”

As You Are

Brett and I drove to Las Vegas a few weeks ago to meet up with some dear friends and former backyard neighbors from Auburn, Washington, who were in town for a volleyball competition with the team he coaches. We moved away almost two years ago after living back to back for eight years. We shared meals, kids, games, clothes, friends, laughter, tears, and religious beliefs.

I felt excitement as we made the two hour drive to see them, but there was also anxiety. Things had changed. We had changed. Since our previous visit exactly a year ago, Brett had come to the decision that the religious views that we had both grown up with did not resonate with him any longer. He had stepped away from our church. The church attendance of a couple of my kids had stopped almost completely and the others had become part-timers like me. My own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs had been swirling and battling in my head for the past few months and there were potential questions I didn’t know how to answer.

Our early dinner reservations made for a very private and intimate dinner, as most tourists like to go out when the sun has gone down and the lights of Vegas are blaring and flashing. The high backed round leather seat in our booth blocked most of the few other patrons anyways and the dim light, the brown, gold, and black decor, and the mirrored walls instantly made me think of my favorite Broadway show, “Chicago”, and of scenes from “The Sopranos”. When Brett ordered a beer my heart sped up and I held my breath a little as I watched our friends out of the corner of my eye for a reaction that never came.

I don’t remember our dinner conversation turning to religion or beliefs. It takes awhile to catch up on the lives of the eight kids we have between us and the many friends we have shared over the years. I was immediately cognizant of the familiar comfort level that we have shared with them since we first met. The laughter was just as rampant as it has always been, as the men share a similar ridiculous sense of humor and us girls share jokes of a much more dignified and classy nature. (eh hem.)

Later that night my friend and I found a couple of hours to ourselves to chat on a deeper level. It takes time to warm up to some topics and we found our groove as we sat in front of the Monte Carlo at 11pm, eating gelato. We watched couples and groups of friends, more attuned to the night life, make their way into the bustling web of sidewalks and overpasses leading to the hundreds of crowded clubs and bars on the Las Vegas strip. We still loved to people watch. We had moments of tears, laughter, and sappy looks that said, “I get it”, as we talked about some of our struggles over the past year. I found myself sharing thoughts I hadn’t been able to put into words yet, knowing that it might surprise and concern her, but feeling safe in that moment to try to sort through them out loud.

When her husband showed up to take her back to their hotel, I walked up to my room, not feeling like I had let her down with my questions and thoughts, but feeling warm and filled to the brim with acceptance and love.

The four of us met again to have lunch the next day before heading back home. The meal was light hearted and fun and instead of being full of family updates and travel logs, was dripping with dry humor and inside jokes.

He had a volleyball team to get back to and we had kids anxiously waiting at home, but as we walked to our cars the conversation took a sudden and unexpected turn to the sadness and hurt we have felt at times by comments and innuendos made by friends or family about our situation, or our character and values. Some made innocently and some not. I found myself trying to keep the tears back as I explained how it feels to hear people say, or to hear of people say, that they are worried about our kids or that they hurt for our kids. Or that they are worried about our marriage. Or to suggest that Brett must not be living his life the way he should or he would still share their faith. Or to ask questions about where things went wrong….as if things ARE wrong. I felt the anger and hurt I have tried to ignore come back to the surface as we shared some of our experiences, anger, and pain. I could feel my cheeks grow hot and my head start to pound as I relived watching our kids experience hurt, confusion, and exclusion because others weren’t happy with their dad…and possibly me.

They slowed down and then stopped and heard us out, despite being late for a team meeting. They gave us hugs and comfort and left Brett with the words, “We love you because you are you, not because of what you believe.” I saw Brett tear up as we walked away, and again later as he told me how much that meant to him.

It has been two weeks and that phrase has played over and over in my mind. “We love you because you are you, not because of what you believe.” They are not the only ones that have made us feel loved and accepted, we are fortunate to have many good people in our lives. But their words were especially right in that moment.

If this last year has taught me anything, it is that I want to be the person to say words such as those that will make someone feel that they are enough for being just who they are.

Picking Pansies

As a young girl I often preferred to play alone. I had no problem going for long slow walks by myself as I filled my head with outrageous ideas and stories that I concocted as I observed the people and surroundings in my small town neighborhood. I could often bring myself to tears as I imagined witnessing a terrible car accident and singlehandedly dragging the small unconscious child from the backseat of the burning car as his poor mother went up in flames with the green paneled station wagon. Or, the common daydream I had, of being snatched away by a “stranger” and shoved into the back of a seatless van with small drapes covering the tinted windows. I could walk and think for hours about how I would make my daring escape and find my way back to my devastated family. I loved to imagine their joy and the tears they would shed when I limped back through the front door, dirty and bruised and exhausted.

I remember one such walk when I found myself in the backyard of an elderly man and woman in the culdesac across from my house. WelI…I was physically in their backyard…but in my mind I was wandering what I imagined to be a deserted island. I was excited as I unexpectedly came upon an abandoned cottage which was surrounded by beautiful wild flowers. I immediately saw all the possibilities I could create with all these flowers so I started picking and gathering them up in my arms without a second thought.

I was startled when a loud gruff voice with a English accent called out, “Who is out there picking my pansies?”

I looked around, but didn’t see anyone. I slumped a bit in an attempt to hide myself and began creeping around the side of the house to make an escape.

“Why are you picking my pansies?” the voice called out again.

I peeked up over the planter box into the covered carport-turned patio- and saw my neighbor, who was only the topic of childhood gossip to me, sitting in a vinyl lounge chair surrounded by a halo of cigarette smoke. I squirmed under his gaze as he squinted at me and waited for me to respond.

“Um. I’m sorry. I didn’t know they were your flowers.”

“Well who else would they belong to?” he demanded. “They are in my yard!”

“I didn’t know I was in your yard,” I said, as I started to drop them back into the planter box.

“Well, you might as well take them home to your mother now. I sure can’t do anything with them like that.”

I mumbled a quick thank you and scrambled away back to the safety of my house.

I took my walks in different directions for awhile, but something pulled me back in that direction after a few weeks.

“Hey! Aren’t you the little girl that was picking my pansies?” He called out one day when I walked by his house.

I hesitantly walked up his drive way and noticed that his wife, or so I thought, was sitting next to him.

I slid into one of the lawn chairs that was set out and for the next few minutes answered questions such as, “What is your name? Are you Lewey and Dorothy’s granddaughter? Why were you picking my pansies?”

The thought crossed my mind as I sat there getting to know this couple, that my mom and dad might not be happy if I went home smelling of cigarette smoke. Also…. that I was spending time with a couple that, as I found out in our chat, were not married, but lived together in the same house! That was sure to be a problem with my parents.

Well, those thoughts weren’t given time to reside long in my head as I learned from Bob and Jeanette that they knew my parents and grandparents quite well and thought fondly of them. My grandmother had been visiting Jeanette regularly for years and my mom had taken meals in to them on many occasions, so they must not be all bad. My mom later confirmed that she would be happy for me to get to know them better.

My walks took me more frequently in their direction and I enjoyed my short visits, even though I was still quite intimidated and a little scared of Bob.

I quickly learned that Jeanette was an artist. She had paintings all over her home that she had painted. I also had an interest in art and she loved to show me her work and tell me about why and how she painted each piece. I remember her being particularly fond of painting flowers.

A few years later when I was in my young teens with my time much more dictated by friends, boys, homework, and MTV, and my visits had become very infrequent, even many months apart, my mother informed me that Jeanette had become sick with cancer and was bedridden and needed people to sit with her often to help keep her spirits up. It was decided that I would take art lessons from her. I would pack up my paper, pencils, and water colors, and I would walk down to her house, and sit next to her for an hour each week while she gave me direction and advice on whatever I was working on. Bob would answer the door, and after all those years he would still greet me with, “Oh look! It is the little girl that picked my pansies!” But the tone of his voice was very different than it had been when I was seven years old. Even though he still did not remember my name, I could tell he had grown some sort of affection for the little pest down the road. Looking back I understand how he must have appreciated the break in the monotony of his day as he took care of his dear Jeanette, whose body was slowly deteriorating. My mom’s brilliant plan had given both Jeanette and I the idea that I was there primarily for art lessons. She did not feel like a burden for needing someone to sit with her and I didn’t go to my lessons out of pity, but instead, excitement to learn from an artist that I admired.

I don’t remember how long the lessons lasted. Not long. Maybe four months. I also don’t remember any details of the stories she told me as I sat and attempted to create a picture worthy of her praise. But I do remember as we talked the picture in my mind of Jeanette developed from an elderly shut in down the road to a fascinating woman who was highly educated, had extensively travelled the world in her youth, and had been a successful business woman in her prime. I remember the feeling of contentment and warmth and love for this woman, and even her gruff intimidating partner, as they welcomed me into their home and allowed me to be a part of a difficult and emotional time in their lives. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they were the ones helping me through a trying and emotional time in my life, as I dealt with the hardships of a changing body and hormones, difficulties from peer pressure and trying to find who I was, and an ongoing struggle with fatigue and school attendance. My hour a week with Jeanette was my sanctuary from the drama of my adolescent life.

Jeanette’s illness came to a point that she was no longer able to give me art lessons, and I was not able to stay longer than just a few minutes to hold her hand and tell her I loved her, before I had to slip out to let her rest. And then she was gone.

I still visited Bob off and on throughout the next few years as I accompanied my grandparents or parents on their regular visits. Even into my later teens I was still “the girl who picked his pansies”, but it had become an endearing name to me and I didn’t mind.

Then he was was gone.