Tuesday, May 24, 2011

O The Places

It's graduation season. PreK, Kindergarten, High School, College, Grad School - graduates left and right.

Borders, Barnes & Noble, independent bookstores and probably Hallmark are selling their annual boost of this Dr. Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You'll Go!

I'm a fan of Dr. Seuss. And this book is indeed a classic, well versed and well gifted for such an occasion.

We have multiple copies.

I read it to the boys again recently, their bedtime story of choice.

A few of my favorite excerpts...

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You're on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who'll decide where to go.

You'll look up and down streets. Look 'em over with care.
About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."
With your head full of brains and your shoes full of feet,
you're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

And you may not find any
you'll want to go down.
In that case, of course,
you'll head straight out of town.

It's opener there
in the wide open air.

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And when things start to happen,
don't worry. Don't stew.
Just go right along.
You'll start happening too.

You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
Wherever you fly, you'll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don't
Because, sometimes, you won't.

I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
that Hang-ups and Bang-ups
can happen to you.

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right...
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.
I'm afraid that sometimes
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you'll be quite a lot.

And when you're alone, there's a very good chance
you'll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won't want to go on.

Stop right there. Tyler was stuck on this page. He really didn't want to turn the next. He needed to think on this page, this stanza, this illustration. The things between hither and yon, the things that will scare you right out of your pants.

Even as I pushed him further, he kept flipping back to this page.

Things that will scare you. He was stuck.

Eventually, we finished the book, with my gentle prodding.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

And as I kissed him good night, he flipped back to that page. He lingered.

I whispered to him the seeds he and I have been sewing into his heart, "Be strong a courageous, kiddo. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Lie down and sleep in peace, for God will keep you safe."

"Good night, Mommy."

"Good night, sweet boy."

I'm pretty sure we both fell asleep thinking of that page.

The Gift of Weeping

When God heard them,

he was very angry;

he rejected Israel completely.

He gave his people over to the sword;

he was very angry with his inheritance.

Fire consumed their young men,

and their maidens had no wedding songs;

their priests were put to the sword,

and their widows could not weep.

~ Psalm 78

His wrath rained on Israel because they continued to turn from God, they questioned his faithfulness, and they forgot his greatness.

The worst of all things happened to them.

This psalm looks at the various hardships for different groups of people,

and I read that the widow could not weep.

That was the worst that could happen to her:

she could not weep.

This impacts me profoundly.

Weeping is a gift.

It cleanses.

It renews.

It quiets.

It strengthens.

It releases.

The worst is when a widow is unable to weep.

Not when she chooses not to, not when she has reasons to smile, but when she wishes for the cleansing release of weeping, and it will not come.

Weeping is a gift.

Ears, Noses, Throats, and Strength

I took Tucker to an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist last week. The poor kid has something going on in there that makes him have to breathe through his mouth at all times, perpetuates a constant runny nose, makes him snore, and doesn't allow him to chew with his mouth closed (since he can't close his mouth and breathe simultaneously).

We need to get to the bottom of this. Off to a specialist.

As we sat with the nurse before the doctor came in, she asked us all the typical questions that accompany such a visit.

Many of them involve family history.

Has anyone in your family experienced sleep apnea?

Has anyone had chronic tonsil infections?

Has anyone had tonsils/adenoids removed?

Has anyone...

Has anyone...

Has anyone...

So many of these were true of Robb.

And I found myself saying, "His dad did... Well, his dad was... His dad had..."

His dad. And past tense.

All of this makes it sound alarmingly like I am single by choice, like 'his dad' wasn't my husband, like we were perhaps abandoned by a man who didn't care.

And I am committed to honoring my husband's name for the rest of my days. The words may be hard to say, but I will not welcome assumptions.

"I'm sorry - I need to tell you this before we go any further. My husband died two days before Christmas. Tucker is built just like his daddy, and many of these questions pertain to my husband. I'm answering as well as I can, but some of them... well, I just don't know all the answers. I wish he were here to answer with me."

She put down her pen.

"Oh... oh, my. He died? Just recently? As in, this past Christmas?"

"Yes. As in, five months ago."

Her face went white. Her eyes filled with tears.

She said, "I'm sorry... I just don't know what to say. I don't know what to do with this. You are so, so... so strong."

I don't really know what to say when people comment on my strength. I don't feel very strong; I simply feel present. I don't feel like I can handle this, but I don't feel like I have a choice.

My children need me. I have no choice but to be strong.

But here sat this nurse, making eye contact with a woman who was vertical, dressed, speaking on behalf of her children and deceased husband, making conversation, and not moled away in her home.

And I imagine that in that instant, she thought of her husband, her children, what on earth she would do if she were in my shoes... and then she thought I was a picture of strength.

Maybe I am. But only by the grace of God.

Really, I have a little boy with some breathing issues, and I need answers. I need help. And I have to do what I have to do.

The same thought process leads me to call a plumber, pump my gas, register for PreK and Kindergarten, put the laundry away, and put cereal on the table every morning.

Because I just have to do what I have to do.

And for the boys who need me, I'll do everything. And anything.

No Night

"Where we are going, there will be no night. No darkness at all. We will dwell in the bright, broad daylight of Christ's glorious presence."

~ Beth Moore

Robb is there.

No night. No darkness at all. Bright, broad daylight of Christ's glorious presence.

Sometimes this takes my breath away.

Sometimes it makes me crazy jealous.

Ear Wax

"Mommy, I gave my ear wax to Bummy."

Bummy is Tyler's Build-a-Bear from Tucker's fourth birthday. Tucker named his panda 'Dennis'; Tyler named his bear 'Bummy.'

For a split second, I thought about talking him out of it. Bummy? We're going to say this word a lot at our house... are we sure we want to stick with Bummy?

But then I thought, of course, we do. It's endearing. Bummy. Plus, Tyler declared his beloved bear's name when he was two. And that's even better.

Back to the ear wax.

"What is ear wax, Tyler?"

This is my trusty test: when he says something questionable or new, I ask him to define it. And then I know if we're really dealing with a new concept or just a new sound on his lips, a new vocabulary word.

"It's the sticky stuff in my ear that keeps it clean."

Well, he's clear on the meaning.

"I gave it to Bummy. I put it in his ear."

I laughed to myself. A very thoughtful gesture, suppose.

Tyler noticed that quiet laughter, his cue that he hit the humor target.

A few minutes later, he said, "Mommy, I'm going to make you laugh. Ready? Ear Wack."

Ear Wack. As in the singular of Wacks.

Apparently he gave Bummy some Ear Wacks. That's different. But only a little.

Places of Fear

“We can remind each other of the dominant role that fear plays in our lives. …It is no accident that all of the world’s wisdom traditions address the fact of fear, for all of them originated in the human struggle to overcome this ancient enemy. And all of these traditions, despite their great diversity, unite in one exhortation to those who walk in their ways: ‘Be not afraid.’

As one who is no stranger to fear, I have had to read those words with care so as not to twist them into a discouraging counsel of perfection. ‘Be not afraid’ does not mean we cannot have fear. Everyone has fear, and people who embrace the call to leadership often find fear abounding. Instead, the words say we do not need to be the fear we have. We do not have to lead from a place of fear, thereby engendering a world in which fear is multiplied.

We have places of fear inside of us, but we have other places as well—places with names like trust and hope and faith. We can choose to lead from one of those places, to stand on ground that is not riddled with the fault lines of fear, to move toward others from a place of promise instead of anxiety. As we stand in one of those places, fear may remain close at hand and our spirits may tremble. But now we stand on ground that will support us, ground from which we can lead others toward a more trustworthy, more hopeful, more faithful way of being in the world.”

- Parker Palmer

Let Your Life Speak

Beef Stroganoff

Robb was a good cook. He specialized in tasting someone else's best dish, asking for the recipe, tweaking it ever so slightly, and making it his own. Melanie's cheesy sausage toast... Brad's mango salsa... Jen's lasagna... He believed that once you serve something three times with your own alterations, the recipe is now your own.

My personal favorite was his beef stroganoff. Originally his mom's recipe, Robb 'made it his own.' I often teased that I would request it as my very last meal, were I to be executed at midnight.

I ordered the 'mushroom stroganoff' at Noodles & Co. last week... I wasn't really thinking. Suddenly, it was the closest thing I've tasted to Robb's stroganoff brilliance. I wasn't prepared.

These five senses of mine... they hold memories of their own.

Memories with a quick trigger.

Just in case you've ever tried it, and just in case you haven't, I decided to share the recipe.

And it's for real-deal my favorite.


Beef Stroganoff

(Number of servings depends on how much you make -easily adjustable.)

Round Steak

Red Cooking Wine

1/2 t garlic powder

salt and pepper

1 pkg. brown gravy mix

2 C sour cream

1/2 t paprika

egg noodles

1 stick butter/margarine

2 tsp parsley

Cut the round steak into bite-sized pieces. (Robb liked to marinade it overnight in red cooking wine.)

Put the round steak into nonstick skillet. Sprinkle garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste over the meat and toss; add enough water to cover the bottom of the pan and keep the meat from sticking. Over medium high heat, cook the meat until it is browned. Put the meat into a crock pot.

About an hour before serving, add the brown gravy mix, 1/2 stick of margarine, paprika, and sour cream. If not to desired consistency, add more wine or sour cream as needed. (Robb's recipe was nice and creamy.) :)

Cook noodles per directions, drain, and then add the other 1/2 stick of margarine; stir until margarine is melted. Add parsley to noodles.

Serve sauce mix over noodles with a side of fresh bread.


It's freaking amazing. Enjoy.

On caveat: He would want you to say, "This was Robb's recipe."

Sacred Hearts

Such heaviness they carry, so early in their lives, these little children of mine.

More than they can know,

they are learning that grief is part of life,

that God is faithful,

that his grace is sufficient,

that heaven is for real,

that there is life after loss,

that remembering is beautiful,

that sorrow and happiness, laughter and loss,

are sisters in the same house,

that there is room for both.

I worry about them,

their tender spirits,

their sacred hearts.

God, grant me wisdom,

that I may help them obey -

not just me -

but every authority in their lives,

even without their daddy's voice to say it is so.

Jesus, you are good,



full of mercy,

abundant in compassion,

fully ours.

Please claim their hearts,

these sweet young men.

Be my husband.

Be their father.

Give me wisdom.

Give them faith.

May they grow in wisdom and stature,

in favor among God and men.

You created them.

You love them.

You have entrusted them to me,

now me alone.

Give me wisdom, Jesus.

Claim their sacred hearts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Words of Influence

A leader in business, a voice in academia, a veteran of the armed forces, an expert in relational mentoring, and a professor of influence, he's more than 70 years old.

He's been mentoring me for two years.

He has called me every two weeks for the last five months. His last message: "Hey, kid. I'm not giving up on you. Let me buy you lunch."

He sat across the table with his creamy cup of coffee, me with my diet Coke. And he poured himself into me.

Everything will be different now, kid. Harder. Everything. Harder.

The world won't stay in this with you. Some of them will... a few of them. But most of them won't. The world can't deal. They don't want to stay in this place. News has a three-day cycle; tragedies that happened four days ago aren't on the news anymore. Because there's another one around the bend, and the world is waiting for that one. They can't stay where you are, kid.

It's sad but true.

They'll move on. You gotta learn how to do this, whether they stay in it with you or not.

I know it doesn't feel like it, but you're one lucky girl. You had ten years of what most people don't get twenty minutes of. You had love. You had friendship. I could see it in your eyes, every time you talked about him. You had it. And that'll carry you another fifty years, kid. Fifty years.

I don't know if you'll get married again, but you know what I say? Who cares if you do? Who cares if you don't? You had it once. That's a pretty great gig, if you can get it.

If you do get married, it won't be because you need a man in your life. It will be because someone sees your strengths and your skills, and he comes alongside you. You know what I mean by 'alongside?' I mean, alongside. Together beside you. Not pulling you along or dragging you behind. Alongside.

People are watching you, but you can't give them all a voice. You know what I say? I say don't defend yourself to anyone. You do your best, you do it your way, the way you know how. And you don't defend yourself. They'll have advice; they'll have criticism. You can't let it shape you, kid. Make the best decision you can every single day. And don't defend it. Just do your best. You know your best.

You can get an A- on a paper, but you know if it really deserved a B. You can snowball a professor now and then, but you know if you did your best.

You can get a standing ovation, but you know if you deserved it. You know. You know if you had your head in the game or if you just stood up there and read your notes.

You know, kid. You gotta do your best. And don't defend it. Just do your best.

Look at this empty chair. Pretend he's in it. What did he call you? He called you Baby Girl... you know what he'd say? He'd say,

'Hey, Baby Girl? I love you. I still do. I didn't want to leave you. But I'm so proud of you. You go do this, Baby Girl. You're strong, you're wise, and you can do this. Now you do it. Do it your way. I'm proud of you, Baby Girl.'

It's a new chapter now, kid. You're a writer - you know what that means. It means you decide what happens next. It'll be hard. It'll be different. But you can do it.

Leadership is the path from intelligence to wisdom. You're on that path, kid. You're earning wisdom that a dozen degrees can never give you.

You need to cry? You call me. I can host a pity party with you. You bet I can, you bet I will. And then I'll tell you to get out there and do this thing. Because you can. I know you can.

And Robb knows you can. You hear him, Tricia? "Baby Girl, I'm proud of you."

Kid, I just had to see you for myself. I had to look at you with my own eyes. I had to see that you're okay. And I think you're right where you should be.

Can you stay longer today, Tricia?

"Oh, I would love to, I really would. And you have blessed me today. But really, I'm learning that I need to sleep. I have to sleep every day. I really need to."

Hey, kid. What did I tell you? No defending. Don't defend yourself. You make your decision, and you don't defend it. You didn't offend me, you owe me no apology. No defending. You do what's best for you and those boys.

And you stay in touch. I'm not giving up on you, kid.

And neither is he.

"I'm proud of you, Baby Girl." That's what he'd say.

Now you go do this thing.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Perfect T-shirt

For the last twelve years, I rarely knew what to get Robb for his birthday.

He was an efficient man with a woefully short wish list.

Tonight, I found just the thing: a GAP t-shirt with the periodic table on it.

I really wanted to buy it.

He would have said, "You're trying to make me look like a geek, aren't you? You're trying to look like the cool one."

And I would have said, "Yes, because I am the cool one."

And then he would have worn it until it wore out.

Because he was a pretty great geek.

(Would-be-birthday-gifts will probably get the best of me for a long, long time.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Farming Education

"On TV, I saw a chicken poop an egg."

"Tyler, that's not pooping. It's actually where all eggs come from."

"No, it isn't."

"Yes, it is."

"Well, there's a lot of farmers out there who don't know that."

Saving Early

"Tyler, you should put that dollar bill somewhere important. People who have money take care of it, and you always want to know where it is."

"I'll put it here." He put it on the windowsill.

"That's not a very careful spot, kiddo. What about your treasure box upstairs?"

"It has other stuff in it."

"Well, pick a place."

He chose a 50-gallon Rubbermaid trunk on its way to the basement for storage.

"I choose this."

I'm gonna veto that. When you can measure your money in gallons, we'll open a bank account with your name on it.

Need or Want

I need a cup of coffee.

I need to sleep in.

I need retail therapy.

I need quiet.

I need a good book.

I need to sing.

I need to talk.

I need to listen.

I need my friends.

I need time alone.

I need.

I need a job that honors my gifts.

I need a job.

I need to be happily married.

I need to be married.

I need to have children.

I need my children to obey.

I need my children.

I need.

I need her.

I need him.

I need.

Maturity knows the difference between need and want.

They are not synonymous.

I am learning. My list is changing.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coming Spring

"Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"

"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine."

~ Frances Hodgson Burnett,
The Secret Garden

Not Everything is a Hand-Me-Down

It's springtime at our house... at least by the calendar.

And that means it's time to do a sort-and-purge of all the little boy clothes that have become too snug, too short, too tight, or too little.

As I sorted, I heard Robb in my head. A memory surfaced.

One day, I was tempted to put Tucker's outgrown underwear into Tyler's drawer. I mean, why not? They're in fine shape, we can get another year out of these, and it's not like I'm asking him to wear a dirty pair that his brother just cast aside.

Robb, careful with money and not prone to spending on needless things, nonetheless stopped me on that one.

"Tricia, promise me you'll never give Tyler his brother's hand-me-down underwear. Let's buy him new ones. A man should never have to wear another man's underwear."

(That last sentence is really a pretty good rule for living.)

Let's buy him new ones, he said. I believe we will.

Tyler, you have your daddy to thank for the new underwear.

(And FYI, kiddo, he called you a man. And you weren't yet three years old.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In All Honesty

We're coming close to five months. Five months.

A lot can happen in five months. And I'm learning, sadly, a lot cannot yet take place.

I'm learning so much in this journey - things I never expected to learn, in ways I never wanted to explore. But one lesson - on behalf of myself and anyone who has ever experienced great, wrenching loss - is how truly long the healing process takes.

Six months ago, I might have thought that five months after loss, a person might begin to see more sunshine, might be ready to handle more, might be ready to piece things back together.

In some ways, this is true.

I do see more sunshine.

I laugh more than I cry.

I don't sleep as much; if I slept on a newborn schedule in the early days without Robb, I'd say I'm nearing the preschool stage. I can handle more of the day, but I really need to rest every afternoon.

Every afternoon.

Sometimes, I can think more clearly, and I see glimpses of my professional brain.

I've finished one editing assignment in the last five months. (One. I used to do at least five a week.)

Some things are easier, by the grace of God and the blessing of medicine.

But some things are still hard. Harder than I would ever imagine.

I still can't fall asleep easily at night. My mind races with remembering.

I haven't been to the grocery store, except for a quick stop for bread and milk. The task of planning a menu, cutting coupons, making my list, venturing every aisle, and putting it all away at home... the very words on the page overwhelm me.

Depression is real. Fatigue is debilitating.

It's hard to find me in this mess, although sometimes I see surprising, encouraging snapshots of who I will become again someday.

I haven't cooked a meal in five months.

I can wake my children in the morning, get them dressed for the day, enjoy breakfast together. I can tuck my kids in bed, I can bathe them, and I can do bedtime stories. But I cannot yet handle a full day with them. I must be by myself - literally by myself - for much of the day, in order to have the endurance to offer them my best for the late afternoon and early evening.

I am learning how to pace my physical strength, how to play my chips carefully to make them last as long as possible.

But I'm also learning that emotional exhaustion is far more depleting, and it can zap my physical strength with lightning speed.

An hour with a friend? Even someone who is safe, whom I trust, whom I deeply enjoy? The task of engaging in conversation will take its toll for nearly two days.

It is a horrible contradiction to miss the ones I love and yet not have the strength to be with them, to long for a day alone with my sons and know that my body can't keep up.

I had no idea this is what it was like; I had no idea it takes this long.

I had no idea.

Some things are better; some things aren't yet. People assume it's time to put the pieces together. In gentle optimism and a glance at the calendar, some believe I should be ready for things I really just can't do yet. I really just can't.

In all honesty, this whole journey is still so hard, even five months later.

To anyone who has walked this journey before me, I tip my hat and lend my heart to you: your journey was harder than I ever imagined. There was no way I could know.

There is no timeline.