The Monday That Changed The World (as we knew it)

It was an ordinary Monday. They make the best memories.

I was wearing a faded Invisible Children shirt, doing paperwork from the couch on my old laptop, listening to Yanni. Sunlight was streaming in through the blinds making patterns on the wood floor from the layers of leaves. The house smelled like air-conditioned summer.

I finished paperwork and called Dave. He was harvesting wheat. “We’re going to run the rest of this field, so I won’t be home for a little while”, he said. In between my questions about his plans, my phone beeped an incoming call. I glanced at the screen to see who it was, and suddenly our entire lives changed.

The strange thing about this day, June 25th, 2012, (yeah I’m a day late, but it’s a Monday memory most of all) that I can go back and entirely relive 5 years later, is that it holds pain and sadness as well as excitement and joy.                                                    

I was aware of the paradox in those first moments. I’ve become far more in tune with it as I try to consider the world from my daughters’ angle, see the anniversaries and memories and holidays through their eyes, framed by their loss.

For a while, I felt the sorrowful side of these anniversaries so heavily I hardly mentioned them, almost ashamed of the joy that was also there.

As I anticipated this date and felt conflicted emotions with its memory, I realized I was doing it again. Trying to fit life into an either/or category, when the human existence is mostly always a both/and.

The story of June 25th is the girls’ birth story into this family, after all, and they should get to hear it.  What child doesn’t love to hear her parents fondly reminisce about the day they found out, the sheer joy of finally seeing the face of their precious child? This one is theirs, and there is no lack of sheer joy.

So this year, I tell them the story with enthusiasm, about the call that changed our whole world. They laugh when I demonstrate how I had to sit on the floor because my knees were shaking so hard. I tell how the dog raced around the house, not knowing why I was crying and gasping and laughing and laying on the floor. How their Daddy had to make Uncle Kendall drive the combine because he was shaking so much from the call. How he cut his harvesting short and I ran barefoot until my feet nearly bled to meet him down the street so we could come home and open the pictures for the first time together. How we stayed up late that night, reading everything we could about their story, practicing saying their names, dreaming of meeting them for the first time.

And they grin but their eyes glisten with emotion when I describe how we sat side-by-side, looking into photos of their tiny faces, and wept. Overcome at the unimaginable fear they’d experienced, at the privilege of becoming their parents, at the loss from which our family was being born.

Then it’s our turn to listen as they ask questions, stare at pictures of their own little faces and giggle at the sight of themselves, and then begin to reminisce. Quickly stories of their homecoming surface. Cy tries to remember the first time she saw a photo of us, but gets sidetracked with details of friends and caretakers. “Not to be disrespectful”, she prefaces, “but the blankets they gave us in Ethiopia were TERRIBLY itchy!”. Not to be left out, S chimes in with her own “memories” of eating applesauce and learning to crawl.

They’re full of animation tonight, and I’m stern with myself about not getting all up in my mommy-stalgic feelings as we look back at photos of this day over the past 5 years. After more reminiscing with Cy, S wants her turn at the mic again. I’ve watched her emotions building just below the chatty surface. She wants to tell something she remembers, but it’s from last night. It starts out as a dream about a monster, but quickly turns into a sincere telling of her awaking last night thinking Mommy and Daddy were lost. She tries to tell it nonchalant, but one big tear escapes on the final word. She climbs into my lap and wraps her body around mine, and I’m in full on comfort mode until she asks to hear “her song”. (Each girl has a special song I sing to them.) Midway through John Denver’s croon of I’ll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand, my emotions stage a revolt.

I manage to regain territory before she sees my tears. She relaxes in my arms, and when the next song is Thank God I’m a Country Boy, we all end up in a kitchen dance-off, seeing who can come up with the weirdest country moves. Laughing and crying, Laughing and crying. We’re learning the both/and dance too.

The human heart is capable of honoring both the joy and the heartache.  

Maybe some years they’ll be desperate to see and hear and revisit every single detail like they were tonight. Maybe some years they won’t want to go there at all, and we’ll let June 25th pass for an ordinary summer Monday.

But I’ll treasure it always in my heart, the day that held the biggest surprise. The highest anticipation. The fiercest love. The gravest responsibility. The scariest lack of qualification. The heaviest sadness. The sharpest juxtaposition.

The best both/and day of my life.  


I'll walk in the rain by your side

I'll cling to the warmth of your tiny hand

I'll do anything to help you understand

And I'll love you more than anybody can

~John Denver



Long Distance Love- When You Won't All Be Home For Christmas

I’m the oldest of six spunky, more-sensitive-than-we-like-to-admit kids, raised by the best parents you’ll ever come across. Our family landscape has changed drastically in a handful of years, going from a passel of siblings arguing over the last of the Lucky Charms and playing backyard soccer between two five gallon buckets, to graduations and weddings and new babies in a nanosecond. Currently, the family of eight has multiplied to eighteen.

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We grew up in an old brick house, riding bikes on country roads to our grandma’s, and then home to eat dinner around the table. We were used to togetherness.

I got married first, and cried of loneliness for months even though I was only a few miles away. Then my sister Meg got married and moved over an hour away, and we all cried and wondered how we would survive not seeing her every week. A few years later, Jan got married. She moved clear across the country.

Having adult siblings for friends is one of the greatest delights. Adding long distance to our love is one of the hardest adjustments. Seasons change, holidays pass, hard and happy days go by, new babies arrive, and we’re no longer experiencing it side by side.

Jan’s first baby arrived a few years ago in the shadow of the Cascade mountains, right after Thanksgiving. A few hours post-delivery, Jan and Jordan left one hospital and drove to another where the baby had been transferred to.

 We all waited by our phones, counting back the time difference from Ohio to Washington. When I finally heard her voice, soft with exhaustion, smiling as she told me her daughter’s beautiful name, then breaking when she said, “I just really want to hold my baby”, I wept bitter tears over the miles between the Yakima hospital room and I.

A week later they left the hospital, healthy and happy. But the plans to come home for Christmas were disrupted by unanticipated medical bills.

We couldn’t bear the thought of Christmas with Jan’s seat empty, without the new baby to cuddle. We all slipped some cash in an envelope and told them if it was possible, we’d do anything to get them home.

Weeks later, we made a ruckus in the Indianapolis airport, running in through the snow and sweeping Jan up, kissing the little blond head peeking out of her carrier. We spent the short days in a flurry of presents and photos and laughing in the kitchen over french toast and lefse and endless pots of coffee.

 In a flash, the airport greetings faded to watery eyes and avoidant small talk, prolonging the inevitable goodbye.

As darkness settled on our last night together, we kissed baby faces and sibling’s cheeks and tried to laugh instead of cry. Then it was time and we exited fast, one more “love you so much” called around the porch.

When I’d put the last box of Christmas gifts in the car and fastened my daughters’ seatbelts and then my own, the tears I’d been holding back all day broke loose. I sobbed into my coat for the too fast days and the too many miles.

We drove around the house, and I looked up through my tears into the warmly lit windows of home, glowing out into the sleeting night. I saw my parents standing in the dining room, strong and quiet, looking on in affection as they cradled the baby a few remaining minutes. I saw my brother Jesse by his soon to be wife. His eyes had been dark with un-shed tears when I told him goodbye. They were standing in close, soaking up the last moments. Jes motioned big and Jan threw her head back, shoulders shaking in silent laughter. But my ears had already memorized the sound, and knew it to be the most contagious and free bursts of pure happiness. Jordan gestured in vivid animation as only he can do, and all four sets of shoulders dipped and bounced, inaudible joy flung through the windows and straight to my heart.                                                        

Jan has another baby now, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be home for Christmas this year.

 I don’t know how to keep long distance relationships close, with babies and time zones and the fact that I tend to forget my phone can actually be used to make calls. For those of us whose emotions run on high power, whose introversion craves deep connections, whose love expression lives and breathes on quality time, but who’s dearest and best people are far away, relationships can become confusing.

Even when we are together, the connection isn’t always like I imagine it to be. Life, with its needy children and moods and exhaustion keeps rolling, and we are still our flawed selves. We struggle to keep up on the current events of our people, fall asleep at 9:30 on what could have been an all-night catch-up, and fear the shrinking in-commonness we sometimes feel with the ones we used to share everything with.

I tend to be all or none. If I can’t have it all, why have any? It hurts to stay present in the distance. To disengage seems a relief. I’d rather not look too closely at the packages wrapped with postage stamps instead of bows, because if I sit in the ache of that empty seat, traced the swirly handwriting on the mailing label, I might spend the happiest season of all sobbing.

I want to resent the miles, the changes, the days flying by like geese overhead.

But when we vacation in the Rocky Mountains, all of us driving in from the east and west to meet in the middle, or spend a few days together celebrating a wedding, I am ever more aware of moments.

I watch and memorize how Trav roams the kitchen bleary-eyed first thing in the morning, carefully selecting his daughter’s favorite cereal. How Dad’s eyes linger on each face when we’re all around the dinner table. How Adayah’s voice has a little whisper in it. How my baby brother is so close to being taller than all of us, but still has a little boy grin. How mom still folds our laundry when we aren’t looking.

Instead of wishing for what could be, what used to be, I want to get better at savoring what is: eighteen imperfect, delightful, funny, passionate people I get to call my family.

The window scene that cold, Christmas night delivered a gift given by the dreaded miles. The gift of not holding back. The miles are teaching us to say what we feel, to give another kiss, to laugh a little louder. Without them, the baby’s hair wouldn’t be inhaled so slowly, the deepest words of love wouldn’t roll off the tongue as freely. They are teaching me that these people are worth staying present for. That even in the pain of distance, love spans any space, trumps any change.

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Here’s to savoring the moments and holding our precious people close this Christmas, even if it is across the miles.