Mail Call

I got a card in the mail yesterday.

In the midst of the grocery store ads that go straight to the recycling, the Family Fun issue with the Fourth of July cover that makes me feel guilty that I haven't even read the Easter edition yet, right next to the bills and the Athleta catalog and my college's alumni magazine.

A card.

It was from a sweet friend who just wanted to bless me (she did) and make me smile (I did).

In fact, I will smile every time I look at it, because you better believe it's going right next to my kitchen window, where the love from that piece of paper will warm me as regularly as the sun.

So. You know what I'm doing today? (Between diaper changes and hiding all the tubes of toothpaste from Kieran and making lunch and playing fairies with Teyla?)

Sending some cards.

They aren't going to be profound and they will probably be a little wordy since paper doesn't have a backspace button and they might not even be legible, since my carpal tunnel rears its head when I try to hold a pen for more than five seconds and turns my hand into a claw.

But I bet the people who pull them out of their mailboxes in a few days will know I love them.

And that's what it's all about.

(I might also send a letter to my Compassion and World Vision kids today. Did you know you can do that online now? So easy.)

Summer's Eve

Memorial Day isn't the official start to summer. I know this because every time I allude to summer lately, Connor reminds me that "it doesn't start until June 21, Mom."

But it feels like it's here, especially this year, since spring arrived early in Minnesota and summer followed her lead. The lilacs bloomed more than a week ago, and already, the ground is covered in purple flowers. The trees are deep green, the sky bright blue. The frogs sing good night like they know the melody by heart already.

I feel the tension of wanting to GO and DO and ENJOY this beloved season - but maybe after a nap in the sun. Summer is God's rest and His celebration. It is the sun beckoning you out of bed before 6:00 AM (For the love! That is so early for me, people) and a night that ends so gently, it forbids bed sleep until midnight lest you miss the magic.

It may not be summer on the calendar. And the big kids still have two weeks of school to go.

But what does a piece of paper know about living?

They Caught Him

They caught him.

To be honest, I never thought they would.

I got the phone call on a Wednesday morning in February. A detective told me a police department in a southern suburb of the Twin Cities had arrested a career burglar the day before. In his house, they found hundreds of stolen goods, including passports stolen from a home a few miles away from us, a home that was burglarized the same day as ours. "I can't guarantee anything," the detective told me. "But you had a red Dell laptop that was stolen, right? I know that's one of the items we've recovered."

I thanked him for the call and sat in the car stunned. Maybe delirious.

I didn't say anything about it on the blog back then, maybe because I wanted to wait and see how the story would play out. The detective said it would take a few weeks to sort through the stolen goods. They literally filled tables and tables with all the recovered stuff. The clip of all those necklaces, earrings, watches, cameras, laptops and purses made for good TV. The day I got the call from the detective, our thief's picture was on every local news station. (And you better believe I poured over every inch of the tape given to local media and sent to me by my detective contact, searching for my jewelry. "Is that my necklace? Oh my word, there's my bracelet from Grand Marais!")

It was very surreal.

Maybe even weirder than seeing some of my stuff on TV was seeing the face of the man who had broken in to our home.

Police said his MO was exactly what we experienced. (And they know this both because of clues he left behind and because they arrested him after doing surveillance.) He would knock at a front door. If no one answered, he would go around to the back, cut the phone line, break open a door with a crow bar and use a pillow case to grab the most expensive and portable items he could find. A few times, he actually opened the garage door from the inside and pulled his car in while he pillaged. It only took him a few minutes to enter the house, get what he wanted and leave. Police labeled him "very efficient."

You might say.

It took longer than I hoped, but eventually, the few pieces of my jewelry that were recovered were returned to me. It wasn't much. A few bracelets, a few earrings, a broach.

But it meant the world.

The blue-and-green bracelet I got at the flea market up north. The pink Mercy House bracelet I bought from Kristen Welch at the Orphan Summit last spring. A 31 Bits cuff I won in a giveaway from Love. A plastic beaded bauble Natalie made me "because blue and green are your favorite colors, Mom, and I put in gold because I know you love the sun." A broach that I borrowed from my mother's jewelry box when I was a teenager. A pair of earrings Corey got me that triggered one of the more memorable fights in our marriage.

Pulling each one out of a customary manila envelope a few weeks ago, sitting in a bare cement county building, it was like greeting a long-lost friend.

And that they are.

So the story ends. The thief has pleaded guilty to the 10 burglaries he's been charged with so far. He will be sentenced next month. Because my laptop wasn't password protected, it was used to sell stolen goods on Craigslist, so for the time being, it's court's evidence. I'm told I'll get it back eventually.

And I will probably never wear those bracelets again without smiling and thinking of the months they lay in someone else's house, of the things they saw. I still wonder what happened to the rest of my jewelry.

But I know I'm lucky to have even gotten back the few things that I did. I mean, who gets robbed and then gets their stuff back?

Time to shop for new jewelry.

Case closed.

On Not being That Mom

You're familiar with the phrase "helicopter parenting," right? Parents who hover over their children and try to micromanage every detail of their offsprings' lives. It's natural when your baby is 18 months. It's something else entirely when your baby is 18 years.

Today, I'm honored to feature a guest post written by a friend. I'm not naming her or linking to her blog, for reasons that will soon be made clear. Because she works in college admissions, she offers a cautionary tale for those of us who want to avoid staying too involved in our kids' lives long past the point when they should be ready to launch. Although my kids are years from college, I took this as a reminder to evaluate what I'm doing now to encourage independence and confidence in my children. And to be honest, I need to up the ante when it comes to my older kids. This summer, I'm teaching Natalie to do the laundry, and Connor is going to take over vacuuming. And I might just let them run with scissors. Maybe.

photo credit: Hugh Kretschmer for TIME
Nobody wants to be that mom.

The one who calls too often, hovers too close, holds too tight.

We all want to be the one who trusts God for every daily thing: for safety and protection, for clarity, for guidance. But we also want to hold on because we hear tell that these days slip like sand.

I’m not a mom yet, but I am a college admissions counselor. I’ve interacted with many of those moms.

The moms who answer emails I send to their child. The moms who fill out their child’s college application (“because she won’t do it if I don’t”). The moms who send me emails, then call, then leave voicemails checking to see if I’ve received their emails…on a Sunday.

The moms who call because they heard about some sick kids on campus and if it’s meningitis, their son isn’t vaccinated. The moms who call because their daughter isn’t picking up her phone and would I go find her in the dorm and make sure she’s okay? The moms who still sit beside their 20-year-old to help him through his homework. The moms who call because their child needs to be on time to the dentist, or the airport, or the chiropractor.

From my vantage point, I get it. You want your child’s application to be flawless so they get accepted. Once they’re here, you want them to be responsible and safe. Any mother would want that for their child.

What comes across to other adults, however, is the message that you are not done raising your child. You may have raised your child to be trustworthy, but in your hovering, you refuse to trust them.

Watching a child wilt under that mom is the most discouraging thing I see.

Because what comes across to the child of that mom is this message: I am not ready for you to grow up. I do not want you to grow up. That wordless guilt burdens these children in college and will one day hinder the relationship they forge with their mothers as grown adults.

Don’t become that mom. Be the one who trusts God instead of controlling the little details (and in the grand scheme, a college application is a little detail). Be the one whose child is confident in their own ability to try on adulthood.

Trust that you have done a good job. By the time your child is 18, you have passed along the essentials, whether you know it or not. They’ll figure out the rest.

Stand back and let your child make a wrong decision. It may be painful to you—and to them—but adulthood isn’t about being shielded.

And for heaven’s sake, stop calling me, worried about your child. They are flourishing marvelously here at college, rooted deeply in the foundation you have laid and discovering all the joys and challenges of that transition to adulthood. They are turning out just great.

You did good, Mom.

Kieran and the Delayed Birthday

Pity the last child.

Kieran turned 2 last Monday. We had no party for the birthday boy. A frozen custard from Culver's stood in for candles and a cake.

Thanks to a last-minute business trip, Corey wasn't even home. That was a decision we made together, because Corey was either going to miss Kieran's birthday or Connor's field trip which he had already agreed to chaperone. We sided with the experts who recommend you give more weight to the older child in Solomonic situations like this, since the older child will remember it and the younger child won't be aware.

Still. It perfectly illustrates the pitiful plight of the last child has, doesn't it?

Of course, Kieran had no birthday expectations, him being two and all. But I was a little sad. I'm always painfully aware of Natalie's first birthday at times like this. Since she was the first (and at the time, only) grandchild on both sides, we threw a three-day birthday extravaganza for her. We had a barbecue for our friends, accessorized by a balloon artist and piƱata. Both sets of grandparents and my sister flew to San Diego for the occasion. We decorated the house in pink and yellow "1st Birthday Girl" steamers and plates and glitter, and we went to the beach and ate al fresco in Coronado and spread out the present opening, because the sweet 12-month-old didn't have the stamina required to get through them all in one sitting.

So when my last baby turns two and his own father isn't here to celebrate, I feel a little melancholy. Kieran is just as special as Natalie, Connor and Teyla. It's just that these days, our cup of life runneth over. Or maybe we're more sane. Take your pick.

So this past weekend, we had a make-up party. It was just our immediate family, and we didn't decorate with streamers or buy balloons. (Mostly because it was too nice to be indoors and because balloons scare the pants off Connor. He hates that they spontaneously pop. You would think he has PTSD the way he reacts.) I didn't even cook a birthday dinner, because there are few things that Kieran loves more than pizza delivered right to the door. (A few weeks ago, the mailman brought a box up to the house. "Pizza!" Kieran shouted, throwing his arms in the air.) So it seemed only fitting that we order "Pizza!"

I did make cupcakes.

And we did have candles. We've taken to singing the Sprouts Happy Birthday song, which includes the line: "You're good to grow, so count your candles and blow." So Kieran was pretty ecstatic that he had real flame in front of him to blow out. We had to relight the candles and blow them out for many an encore.

And we did have gifts.

Here, again, the last child gets short changed. The older kids have already amassed so many toys, we often can't think of anything to get Kieran. Literally. Every toy out there is just an iteration of something we already have in our basement.

So this year, when I found not just one but two gifts that are unique and perfect for Kieran, well. I was beside myself. May I share what we got our two-year-old?

First was the Anniversary Edition of Little Tikes Cozy Coupe. These things are so popular, I've seen toddlers open a can of whoop a** on their best friend just so they can have a few more minutes behind the wheel.
Kieran's eyes almost popped out of his head when the big kids wheeled it around the corner, and he spent the rest of the night being wheeled around in it, turning the pretend key and honking the horn and running into Connor for laughs. (For the record, the Target reviews for the Coupe say it's more difficult and time consuming to assemble than the Great Pyramids. It took about an hour for Corey to do it, with an electric drill (ying) and three helpers (yang). Then again, he has assembled scores of things from Ikea. So maybe he's just a pro? My advice is: It's worth the time to assemble. Don't be intimidated.)

Up to now, the only outdoor toy Kieran's had to ride is an ancient Big Wheel that is more size-appropriate for Teyla - which means she's usually the one sitting on it. So present one: success. Huge success.

Present two was given to him post cupcake to encourage him to want to take a bath. And make no doubt: This bad boy did the trick.
Oh. Wait. Too amazed by my classy gift bag to see the gift? (First person to Pin that wrapping job gets a pony!)

Here's what's inside the bag.
Now, I realize I can be dramatic, but I don't think I'm exaggerating here. The B. Fish and Splish Bath Boat is one of the most brilliant bath toys we've ever owned. (Second only to the Baby Einstein ABC wall clings and soap crayons.) It has 13 separate water toys, including a captain, a life preserver (to save him from huge waves), a fishing pole and four fish to catch, a combination whale-nail brush, an octo-comb and a set of three nesting cups. But maybe the best part: the boat actually floats. So many bath boats I researched are reported to barely stay upright, much less above water. And all the toys can be stored below desk in the boat itself when bath time is done.


And the birthday celebration ended happily, even if a few days late. And the birthday boy couldn't stop smiling.
Kieran's presents were bought at Target, naturally. Special thanks goes to their "Find in Store" button, because that enabled me to browse for gifts online, when Kieran was in bed, so I could shop the next day with him in the cart and sneak gifts I'd already selected and knew were in my store into the checkout lane. Some of the links above are affiliate links, just so you know. Because Target is my bestie.

Why I'm not a fan of Mother's Day

This is proof of how crazy I am about my kids: I take pictures of them at the most mundane times,
like when they are all squished together on the couch after school watching "Wild Kratts."
Because yeah. Like that doesn't happen every day. But look! My babies!
I love being a mom. It's one of the biggest surprises of my life.

I love my children with an intensity I didn't know was possible. Sometimes, the sheer scope of that love feels like an 80-foot wave, powerful and more than a little scary. I'm just trying to ride it.

With that caveat out of the way, I will say what I want to say: I'm not a fan of Mother's Day. It's always felt contrived to me, and a tad self-indulgent. Getting to be someone's mom is one of life's most vibrant blessings. Being celebrated for that is like being honored for eating the whole lemon chiffon cake by myself.

And then I read this from Anne Lamott and I practically quivered with resonance.

Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings.

Ah yes. That. A whole day to celebrate only a certain subset of women. It's a day that excludes as much as includes, a day that divides rather than unites.

In fact, I would guess that Mother's Day is responsible for more pain than joy. Because for most moms, it's just another day, only with crumbs in the bed and clay corsages on the shirt. But for those who flinch at the mention, the celebration is fresh gouge in the wound.

Anne goes on to say:

I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers, and the daughters of dead mothers, and the mothers of dead or severely damaged children, feel the deepest kind of grief and failure. The non-mothers must sit in their churches, temples, mosques, recovery rooms and pretend to feel good about the day while they are excluded from a holiday that benefits no one but Hallmark and See’s.

I bet you know someone who fits that description. In fact, I bet you could find a few of them in the women's bathroom at your church today. They are the ones silently weeping in the stall, hoping no one hears their heart breaking again.

I see no reason why a small honor to me should come at such a great cost to them.

So while I am gushing over my children's homemade cards today and smiling at their sincere expressions of love, I will be loving them back and thanking God that He gave me this job. My kids might think they are celebrating me today. But it's really me celebrating them.

And I will be praying for you, friend, for those of you who feel your heart crush again today.

You do not need to be a mother in order to love and love well.

Anyone can unwrap that gift.

And I speak from experience: It's the best gift of all.


I had almost forgotten the blessing of not doing.

This afternoon, when Kieran went down for a late nap, I did not sit at my computer and work on one of my Orphan Summit posts. I did not edit pictures or check in with Facebook or bake banana bread or fold laundry or try to figure out why I cannot get the toilet in the bathroom to stop smelling like pee. (I clean it and clean it and clean it and it's driving me crazy!)

Instead, I grabbed my favorite outdoor blanket and headed for the backyard, where the sun and trees were making lacy patterns on the turf. I laid down and inhaled the bright green smell of freshly mowed grass and I listened to the birds sing and I faintly heard a plane trace a line in the bright blue sky. I felt my pulse slow and I felt an ant zig zag it's way across my foot. (At least, I hope it was an ant. That's my preferred version.) And without even recognizing it, I fell asleep, thanking God for the sacrament of Sabbath.

Maybe this summer, as the days stretch long and the breeze becomes a friend, I will make a point to be not do for a time every day.

Because when I do, my soul returns and my heart is made whole and I remember.


Yesterday was a surreal day to come home to Southern California.

When Corey and I landed at LAX, the skies hung low, gray and threatening. "It's a little early for June gloom," I thought to myself.

We disembarked, stretched our legs, gathered a rental car, ate some fish tacos. Then I got on a train bound for Oceanside. My brother, who came to live with Corey and me when we lived in San Diego, still lives in North County, as the locals call it. And while Corey had official Orphan Summit business last night, I did not. So I redeemed the time and made a run to see Michael and my niece and nephew for a few hours.

I had no idea what I was doing on the train. I boarded the wrong car and didn't know where I was supposed to sit. I laughed at myself and ended up moving around at each stop, settling on a seat on the upper deck so I could have a better view.

And what a view it was. Once we got beyond San Juan Capistrano, we traveled surfside. The sun came out. (Or maybe we entered an area where the sun was already shining.) The water sparkled aquamarine and blue and crashed white and sand-flecked. Surfers littered the swells and children on the beach waved to the train as we passed by. (It felt so wrong to hear the train whistle from inside the beast.) Piers and boardwalks roared by and flocks of seagulls and mounds of bougainvillea and tiny (gorgeous) million dollar homes. I sat next to the window and turned my whole body to the ocean and took pictures like a tourist and drank it in like a person dying of thirst.

By the time I go off the train in Oceanside, I had fallen in love with San Diego all over again.

Michael met me at the curb, and we laughed and hugged and I said hi to my four-year-old nephew and smiled at my two-year-old niece who was a sweaty mound, napping in her carseat.

Then Michael said, "Did you hear the news about Junior Seau?" And my heart sank.

When Corey and I moved to San Diego in 1994, Junior was already an hero. A local boy turned pro football player, he led the San Diego Chargers to the Super Bowl that year. Even after he retired from the NFL, he was an icon. He started his own restaurant, he was active with area charities. My brother said he often saw Junior walking around Oceanside, sometimes running mini "training camps" for kids who would gather outside his beachside home.

Michael drove me by that same house yesterday afternoon. It was just a few hundred yards from the train station. We could see the legions of live trucks set up on the beach. News choppers buzzed overhead. The splashing surf and bright sunlight was a sharp contrast to the somber faces of the people milling on the sidewalk.

What makes a person who "has it all" commit suicide? It's a question that will surely haunt Junior's family and friends. From where I sit, suicide is the ultimate howl of hopelessness. It's the darkness of the soul exposed.

I understand. Apart from Jesus, I am wretched too. There are a lot of amusements in this life. I can do many things to numb the heartache. But ultimately, only Jesus makes me whole, lifts my head, gives me hope.

I'm at Orphan Summit this week. And honestly? It can be discouraging. There are 163 million orphans in our world today. There are many amazing organizations standing in the gap, who work tirelessly to hand out food, clothes, hugs.

But I know they would join me in this chorus: We cannot do this without Jesus. Without Him as our hope, without the conviction that we act in love because we ourselves have been adopted, we burn out. We grow cynical and bitter, angry at the darkness and frustrated at our inability to break its chains.

Jesus is our only hope, not Obi-Wai Kenobi. He is the only answer to the orphan crisis, the only balm to our personal heartbreak, the only anchor that can withstand the tsunami of life in a broken world.

I wish Junior Seau has known that.

On a Jet Plane

I can hardly believe I'm writing this from 10,000 feet.

Technology astounds me on a daily basis. Poor Corey. I can't tell you how many times he's patiently listened to me rave about my love for GPS. ("Look! It follows me wherever I go! I'm the little blue dot!") And my favorite weather apps. Oy. I get a little swoony over the swirl of colors on the radar and the possibility of warmth in the extended 10-day forecast. ("This weekend is going to be cool and cloudy, but the European model says by next weekend.... Hey honey! Where'd you go?)

Today, Corey and I are en route without kids to Orphan Summit 8. It's in Orange County this year, at Saddleback Church, which means we will be just a jaunt up the 5 from our old hometown. I'm escatic, both for the conference and for the chance to return to California. I haven't been back since January 2009. It's been too long. (In N Out, I'm coming for you.)

You can expect me to blog from the Summit, about everything from global orphan care to how social media can be best harnessed by nonprofits that do orphan work. I'll also be posting pictures on Instagram (which can be accessed via Twitter or my Facebook page), in case you like to follow along with my adventures. And I'll try to resist updating you on the weather, especially if this cloud cover persists all the way to the West Coast.

May gray already, people? It doesn't seem right.


Nineteen years ago this morning, I woke up with one thought echoing in my head: FINALLY!

Finally, it was May 1.

Finally, the day of the wedding was here.

Finally, I was going to start my new life.

I was excited for the celebration. But honestly, I was just glad we were getting on with it. Corey and I had been engaged for seven months (after dating for eight weeks; clearly, we are all about the slow and measured), and at times, it felt like the wait for the wedding was interminable. We both remember a Sunday night in early February that year, when we found ourselves sitting in a booth at Perkins, seriously discussing elopment. We made a list of pros and cons in one of my college notebooks, and in the end, reluctantly agreed it was best to stay the course and keep May 1 as the date.

So we waited. And waited. And waited.

And FINALLY, May 1 had arrived.

I practically rushed through my morning. I took a shower, ate some breakfast, headed for the church. I did my make-up and hair in the women's bathroom, which was both practical and nostalgic. Being the pastor's daughter, that bathroom held thousands of memories for me. I remember giggling that I was doing everything well but to the bare minimum. My make-up was the same as every other day, my hair wasn't professionally styled. My best friend helped me pin back my long hair with my veil and we called it good.

Corey showed up late to the pictures. He and his groomsmen had gotten caught up in a game of pick-up basketball. But I didn't really care. Our photos were beside the point. We smiled at each other with a mixture of relief and joy.

And then the ceremony, a blur. My Dad walked me down the aisle. (I can't even comprehend what my parents must have been feeling that day. I'm sure it wasn't finally.) My little brother handed Corey a plastic spider ring instead of the gold and diamond band, a prank he had been put up to by Corey's best man. I made funny faces at my bridesmaids during prayers to keep them from crying.

Because clearly, this was not a day for tears. This was a day for rejoicing, a day for laughter.


Of course, now I look back at that 21-year-old bride, so eager to get on with the future, so ready to embrace her new life, and I smile with tenderness. Because now I know. The journey she was embarking on was so much more than she expected. Adventure, yes. Laughter. Discovery. But also loneliness. Confusion. Separateness. Heartache.

But I also smile because she and I still have this in common: The absolute clarity that Corey is the one for me. (For us?) Even in the darkest days, when I wondered why God would do this to me, why He would set me up to make me so miserable, I never doubted that this was my destiny.

I still don't.

In one more year, we will have 20 years of marriage to call our own. I am almost to the tipping point, when more of my life will have been with Corey than without. Our relationship has weathered 11 moves, five pregnancies, four babies, a million frequent flyer miles. It has endured neglect, cruelty, selfishness and ruin.

But we have seen God's grace flood through the holes in us. We have witnessed redemption and restoration on a scale almost unfathomable. We now know what the saying means: and two will become one.