Greatness: remarkable in magnitude; degree or effectiveness.  Sometimes, I look at my life and wonder if I have achieved greatness, in any capacity.  I recently attended my daughters moving up ceremony.  There was a whole hour dedicated to awarding certain children with certificates.  Perfect attendance; Presidential awards; Most improved.  There was even an award for best behaved while having a substitute.  I look back, and realize that I have never won anything.  Maybe I never tried hard enough, or cared enough.  There are a lot of talented people out there.  They accomplish much, they hone their crafts, they perfect whatever it is they are passionate about.  They conquer the world, and win.  Do I win?  The truth is, I am a simpleton.  I laugh at dumb things, like silly voices, and sarcasm.  I giggle when someone calls me a dummy, and I get excited when there are fireworks or big waves at the beach.  It doesn’t take much to bring me joy.  A cup of coffee, and a long walk.  A new eye liner, a new cleaning product..or a string of pretty lights.  I’d be happier with an imperfect stone, than a new diamond.  My biggest dream, is to have a porch.  The world is a big place to me.  It’s exciting, and scary and I wonder sometimes if I’m too small or insignificant to make any kind of difference in the world…and then I I need to?  Is it enough, just to live my life?  Maybe make someone smile or to do my best to raise my children well.  Can I do what is in front of me, with remarkable magnitude?  Am I able, to be effective in the little things?  There is no award for best dishwasher at work, and nobody is counting how many times I fold my children’s clothes.  I will most likely never win an award for anything, and maybe at the end of my life; when all is said and done, not many people will even know I existed.  I will enter Heaven, and the only evidence of my life will be my grandchildren, and their children.  I realize that, that is enough for me.  I am significant to a small few..I matter to some.  I search for magic and hope.  Sometimes, on quiet summer nights, the magic comes in bright colors and sparkles and booming sounds of life and excitement.  Sometimes, the sky is dull, and silent and even the brightest of stars are difficult to see.  I wont stop looking though, and I won’t stop searching…because my porch is waiting for me.  Whether I sit on it alone, or with someone someday..I will know that I am perfectly okay…and that even if I haven’t achieved greatness, I will have peace.

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The Empty Well

As an introvert, my personality is usually in direct conflict with having multiple children.  I have four.  My home is a constant hub of activity, noise and voices.  Mornings are most challenging, when chaos erupts and the walls hum with discontent.  I’ve learned it doesn’t matter how early I wake up, sometimes 4 am…I am never truly prepared for the miscellaneous outbreaks of tween and teen girl tragedy.  In nearly twenty years of being a mother, I have come to understand, that children are well drainers.  I do not say that in a disparaging way…The very nature of a child is need.  From infancy and beyond…We as parents are here to meet the need.  Whether a diaper change, or a feeding; a calm voice after a nightmare or a ride to the mall.  The needs grow as our children do.  My days usually sound like this….mom MOM, can you, will you, mommy I need, mom would you….????  And on and on from dawn till dark.  Not only do we meet the basic needs of our children, but we soothe the hurts of their hearts, we manage their feelings and we pour all of our souls into making sure they are safe, well adjusted, good human beings. In the midst of all this.. we have to manage our own lives, our own hearts.  We have jobs that pull at us, marriages that require attention and maybe God forbid we want to eat a meal.  Sometimes it feels like all I do is give and sacrifice my own needs with diminishing returns.  There are mornings, where I’ve poured my heart out in prayer and actively done everything I can possibly do to make my children happy.  From cooking a nice breakfast and waking them up with a delicate cheery voice; to setting up a makeshift hair salon at the table so I can do the hairstyle they want with professional precision.  From singing their favorite song to packing a perfect lunch.  I’ve done everything in my power, short of renting a pony to make it all OK..Only to be met with cries of calamity that the t shirt won’t sit right on the waist of the leggings..Or that there is a dreaded bump after I dutifully made the ponytail so tight that I’ve caused myself nerve damage in my finger.  One child has breathed in the direction of the other and now there is growling and incessant wails of mommy you never punish her.  By the time I get them dropped off at school my entire body is vibrating with anxiety and now I’ve got to get myself ready for work.  Not even 9am and my well is bone dry.  I have nothing left.  My heart cries..God I just can’t do it anymore!  I go about my day, feeling like a failure and wondering why everyone else seems to have it together and I don’t…AFTER TWENTY YEARS!!!!! My well needs constant replenishing..I suppose it’s the old comparison to the oxygen on an airplane.  If you don’t put yours on first..You won’t be able to help anyone else.  So maybe I’m learning that some of my needs have to be a priority.  I gain energy from being alone, it’s who I am and I can’t change it.  My oxygen comes in the form of solitude.  I require time in the sanctity of silence. Noise and voices drain me.  I’ve never understood those who are able to withstand the sound of constant chatter; (nothing irritates me more than two voices going at once, cross talking, or worse someone talking to you while you’re clearly concentrating on something)…. It is how I recharge, regenerate and it is where God restores my soul.  It is in the quiet that my well is filled.  Otherwise I keep dipping in, and giving to everyone else and there is nothing left for me. So I sit here on a dreary afternoon…It is dead silent and the lack of sound is like a soothing balm.  I am alone, writing of course and I can feel my brain balancing itself out again.  I try not to anticipate what is to come..The noise will begin soon.  There will be stories from the day, arguing over pencils and the snack I prepare will be insufficient…But I have enough in the well to get through.  I will give it all, because that is what mothers do; and there will be a moment at day’s end where I remember why and that it is all worth it.  In the sweetness of a long hug or the soft cheek pressing against mine as I comfort, or reassure or say goodnight.  One day, there will be too much quiet..And I’m sure to miss the noise. 

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That Old Wineskin

New: not existing before, made introduced or discovered recently.

This past Sunday my husband I became new members at a church we’ve been attending for a few months.  For 5 years my children have been members of this church along with their Dad, my ex husband.  If anyone told me 5 years ago that I would be sitting in these pews I wouldn’t have believed it.  Nobody who hasn’t gone through divorce, can fully understand the devastation.  Not only the pain of a marriage ending..but the ripple effect it creates.  Relationships are changed, friendships disappear and although divorce is still seems to carry this stigma of feared contagion.  It is sometimes treated as a disease that ones we thought were friends…are afraid to get too close to.  Divorce is lonely.  It is also fraught with emotion..anger, hurt and sorrow.  Yet, 5 years later I find myself joining this church where my ex husband is highly involved.  He has established friendships, and my children call this place their spiritual home.  Throughout the ending of our marriage, as I began to survive on my own I was forced to work on Sundays.  I could no longer bring my children to church and so they began to attend their father’s church.  I saw immediately how happy they much they loved it.  When my schedule changed and I was now able to attend church I didn’t want to uproot my children from where they were going.  They had enough upheaval in their lives, and if they were attending a church they loved and they were comfortable, then I had to let them be.  I began to really feel the void, however.  Not worshipping next to my children, started to really bother me.  I wanted to be where they were.  I felt it was unfair though, to infiltrate the church that had become a safe haven for my ex husband.  On the few occasions that I attended his church, I was welcomed with sincere kindness and the utmost respect.  I felt drawn in, this was where my children were and it felt like I belonged.  I had since remarried, and I couldn’t imagine my ex husband being comfortable with his ex wife and her new husband coming to this place every week.  In the end though, he was the one who brought it up.  He expressed how great it would be if we joined, and that all of us worshipping with the kids would be good for them.  So…on Sunday we became new members.  I was struck by the newness of it all.  In the book of Mark, Jesus explains the importance of using a new wineskin; pouring new wine into an old wineskin is fruitless.  The old, broken down vessel won’t hold.  So, as we stand in line for communion..I realize I am standing next to my ex husband, with my son in front of me and my husband behind me.  We walk together towards the healing body and blood of Christ.  It doesn’t escape my knowledge how significant this is.  We have travelled the depths of pain, we have been broken and now we stand facing the cross..holding a new wineskin.  What healing power there is in Christ!  Something old can be made new, something broken can change shape and still be used to glorify our Lord.  God is merciful, and His hope is everlasting.

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I was two weeks into my 21st year on this planet when I gave birth to my first child.  I was so uninformed I didn’t even know I was in labor.  Young, naive, innocent; not only to the practicalities of taking care of a newborn but also to what lay ahead.  I suppose we all are, we read books and listen to our mommy friends.  We ask advice in  nonchalant please don’t judge me subtleties.  How many times a night does your baby wake up screaming like there’s a pin in his eye?  We move through the early days in slow exhausted motion..until one day we are strapping a newborn into a car seat with one hand and cutting up miniscule particles of pasta for our toddler with the other.  One day we realize;that there are now seemingly 14 pairs of shoes and 75 coats littering the floor and we are in full fledged motherhood with sweat stained armpits and all we want to do is sit down.  Here’s the thing though.  All that sweaty racing to find matching socks and get dinner ready, all the lost homework and constant injuries…all the typical crazy day to day minutiae will fade slowly and at warp speed at the same time.  One day you’ll find yourself sitting alone all weekend.  At first you’ll be excited…binge watching things you can’t watch in front of your kids. You’ll pour the wine.  You’ll do a face mask.  Your nails will be on point…no little hands bumping into wet polish.  You’ll walk past their room to get something from the bathroom..and the blankets on the bed of your youngest will look sad.  How can blankets look sad?  They just do.  The shoes on the floor.. abandoned in the position they were thrown will look sad too.  You’ll wander in.  Look around.  The sweater your oldest girl rejected lays tossed on her rumpled sheets.  You see the jeans your middle daughter never put away crumpled in the corner.  It will look like a creepy museum of childhood.  You’ll go back to your shows.  The quiet will be loud.  You’ll think of your oldest, your 19 year old who doesn’t even live with you…how does a newborn suddenly become a man who puts gas in his car???? See, nobody really tells you.  Everyone told you to breastfeed, or to never ever use a pacifier.  Nobody told you that when they leave..when they begin to discover the world and forget about you….it will hurt more than childbirth.  Sleepovers, parties and dances…jobs, proms and the mall. All of those things will be more important, more exciting than  Nobody tells you they won’t remember that you sang to them, wiped their fevered faces and cleaned their throw up.  Nobody tells you…because if they did you wouldn’t understand it.  You have to experience it for yourself.  It’s the natural progression.  Wings have become strong enough to fly out of that nest.  It’s heartbreaking!!!! You’ll want to shout..COME BACK!!!!! But that wouldn’t be healthy, you have to let them go.  So, you find other things to do while you wait for the key in the door, or the phone call asking you to come get them.  You’ll clean more than you ever thought normal, and you’ll watch a lot of dumb movies.  You’ll cherish it when the youngest sneaks into your bed after a nightmare.  You’ll enjoy being needed even though you might roll your eyes when the hairbrush goes missing and you’re the only one with the super power to find it.  Nobody tells you, that love so big and so deep can knock you down with the force of the ocean.. rendering you useless on a lonely Saturday that all you can do is stare at the wall in your dumb face mask and remember.  Remember the smell of formula at 2am, and the sound of small voices calling Mamma!   Nobody tells you, but even if they had, you know you’d do it all over again, because it is so worth it.  Even on a Monday morning, with sweat stains and that missing’s worth it.

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My husband and I just celebrated our first wedding anniversary. It is the second marriage for both of us; and as I am looking back on our year I see how two broken people have found love and redemption in the imperfections and idiosyncrasies of our humanity.  I have a habit of zoning out and my attention span is extremely low.. somewhat like a goldfish.  My husband is detail oriented and has never forgotten even a particle of information.  I like sitcoms and Wonder Woman.  My husband likes documentaries and I don’t believe he has ever intentionally watched a sitcom.  I could sit for hours reading a book, my husband can’t even stay still while sleeping.  We are different.  What is it that drew us together? The answer…  that mountain we were both facing.  When Vinny and I met, I was 3 years into a divorce and working 3 jobs.  I had spent those 3 difficult years desperately trying to find an affordable apartment big enough for all my children.  For 3 long years they didn’t live with me.  I lived in a mice infested apartment that smelled like decay and urine.  I slept on a mattress on the floor.  I moved to a studio above an angry woman who never stopped screaming in Italian.  I worked hard, I cried hard and I prayed hard.  Vinny had his own share of struggles.  He had moved half way across the country, come back and moved away again.  Divorce, relationships that didn’t work and a deeply broken heart kept him moving around.  I think of those years when we didn’t know each other..we were like two fallen leaves swirling around in the wind.  Restless, searching and quite lost.  Somehow..we both ended up swirling into each other.  I had miraculously found a home for me and my children..and my life although improving was difficult to say the least.  I was now figuring out working full-time and part-time while managing a household and living with my children.  When I met Vinny, I was tired.  I had no room in my life for nonsense.  I had this huge mountain in front of me and I didn’t have the strength to drag someone along with me.  I had jobs to work, bills to pay and children to raise.  I liked him though.  After our first date he hugged me, and I will never forget the feeling of pure comfort that rose up in my heart as I rested my head on this man’s shoulder.  Still..that mountain.  How could I invite someone into my life when it was a circus..when time was constantly running away from me and I was getting groceries at the dollar store.  When I felt like I had nothing to could I expect him to want to stay?  It was in front of that huge mountain I suppose, that Vinny stood with me and took my hand.  He wanted to climb it with me.  He wanted to get tired and worn out along side of me.  He wanted to see the triumphs..share the victories and be right in the middle of our circus.  Our dating experience wasn’t about restaurants and was sitting in the yard with the kids spying on us.  It was washing dishes, and doing fourth grade homework.  It was him, figuring out how to make my life easier.  It was me, figuring out how to make him feel loved.  It was us, holding one another’s broken pieces and seeing the beauty in them.  It’s been a long climb..and there’s more to go, higher places to see.  Sometimes I stumble and sometimes he gets worn out..but we never quit.  We lift each other over the pitfalls, and wipe the sweat from one another’s brow.  I am awed by this man who chose to climb next to me, chose to love me.  So, here we begin another year, the sun is more visible now and there is more rest but we climb..him and I together.

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I’ve lived most of my life operating within the confines of mediocrity.  I am not, by nature one who pushes myself.  Physically, I am not athletic.  I always hated gym class with a deep abiding passion.  I could never understand the point.  Running around with a ball..either to kick it, or hit it or catch it with some sort of implement.  I remember looking with confusion at my classmates as they yelled and screamed about bases and goals.  I couldn’t have cared less about scores or winning or losing.  It was dumb as far as I was concerned.  I tried my hand at soccer and volleyball during my middle school years.  More to try and fit in than anything else.  In the end I just couldn’t connect with it.  After 4 pregnancies I was unrecognizable to I started walking.  Walking with strollers and around parks and tracks.  I never enjoyed it..I just wanted to get into my jeans.  Anything physical I’ve done has been with the intention of reducing my size.  Having children kept me active..until my life took a drastic turn and I found myself divorced and responsible for things like rent and electricity.  I worked in the restaurant industry for a few years; and did cleaning jobs.  Both physically demanding and for awhile I stayed comfortable in my jeans.  It was a job change that brought me into a very sedentary existence.  I began working full-time as a caregiver and most of my day was spent sitting.  The lady I cared for slept most of the time..and my job was to be there with her while her family worked.  Basically.. sitting.  Basically..eating.  I noticed a very rapid weight gain and a very intense exhaustion all at once.  The truth is..I didn’t care.  Don’t get me wrong I hated getting dressed because nothing fit me anymore.  My body expanded..and physically it drained my energy.  I was tired all the time, too tired to do anything about it.  About 8 months ago, a group of my friends and I joined a popular weight loss program together.  It was useful in learning how to change my diet..sort of hitting the reset button.  I started slowly losing weight, not as quickly as I would have preferred but it was a slow and steady process.  In I started thinking about my 40th birthday looming, I began to feel something I’d never felt before.  I believe some people call aspiration.  I had a bizarre and sudden desire to run.  Ive always admired runners.  All I knew of running was that debilitating sense of imminent death as my breath and body would rebel against any such activity.  I’ve tried running in the past..and that horrid lung burning, legs giving out feeling would always win out.  This time however.. something was different.  Maybe it was a sense of empowerment?  After all I had come pretty far since my divorce.  I started the process with no viable income, no skills and no idea how to even pay a bill.  I had ended up working three jobs and learning how to pump my own gas, change a toilet seat and in short..figuring out how to be a single working mom with no safety net.  I used to be a “do it for me” kind of girl.  I learned how to be more independent. I learned how to achieve things without much help. My life has changed since then.  I am remarried, and I am no longer at that weight gaining job. So, as 40 danced towards me with an evil look on its face.. beckoning me into middle life; I decided to rise up and show 40 just who I was.  I started out running half a block.  Seriously that was all I could do.  I thought I might die.  The next few weeks were a test of will.  I forced myself to do more..and more until I was able to run a half a mile.  My new goal was a mile by 40.  It happened on a Friday night..and it took me 27 minutes.  I also didn’t enjoy it.  I enjoyed the feeling afterwards however.  That sore, accomplished sense of movement.  I had done something hard.  Coinciding with this personal Olympic event..were the real Olympics.  I found myself actually caring.  I made time to watch, it excited me to see people pushing themselves beyond normal limits to succeed.  I watched the races standing up..yelling just like those idiots in my gym class.  I cared.  As the summer months progressed, I turned 40 and continued running.  Each step, although slow has brought me a deeper understanding of who Laura is.  I have become my opposite.  I have gotten my mile time down to 12 minutes..hardly worthy of celebration in the eyes of seasoned runners..but I celebrate it.  I run steady, I run strong as I can.  I have days where I dread it and don’t do my best.  I have days where I silently giggle with pride because I am excited to be operating beyond mediocrity.  It’s become important to me to be my opposite.  To rise up to a challenge, to be new.  So, 40 isn’t so bad.  Instead of dancing towards it…I ran.

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We Will Dance Again

I’m not a big fan of old photos.  Maybe it’s the writer in me, the storyteller heart that cannot look at a glimpse of the past, without seeing the future.  Knowing the outcome perhaps; seeing my innocent childhood eyes staring into the lens and understanding that she has no idea what she will eventually face.  She doesn’t know who will hurt her feelings, who will cause her pain.  She doesn’t know what will break her heart; how she will fail or whether or not her dreams will come true.  I look at baby pictures of my children, and it saddens me to think of what they have faced in their young lives.  I see my son, blue eyed and fuzzy headed at his 1st birthday..and I know that a year from that photo his leg will be amputated.  The course of everything will change.  He will know pain.  I gaze at the smiles of my daughters in snapshots of first days of school, or first haircuts.  I know that soon after those events, their home will be torn apart by divorce.  That they will hear and see things that will change them.  They will go from carefree, to carrying burdens that aren’t meant for their little shoulders.  I see my own eyes looking back at me..I want to yell at myself..”There’s a fork in the road just ahead!  Don’t go left! “. I want to take my young face in my older hands and tell that girl in the photo that if she just stays the course it will all be ok.  I wish I could tell her to be strong.  That foolish mistakes will lead to more pain than is bearable.  Oh how I hate seeing her in those photos..I see it all mapped out before her.  I see shadows reaching towards her, calling her and I know her weaknesses will win.  I know she will spend years crying out for hope.  I also know..that she will eventually rise up.  That she will climb mountains with bloodied knees and hands clawing her way back to where she needs to be.  I see her slipping and gripping and grabbing on and I know in the end she made it.  I also know that my son will defy odds.  That he will navigate through challenges with a steady force of will.  That he will stand proud and straight and strong.  I tell his baby picture..”You’re going to be a firefighter”. I whisper to photos of my girls..”You’re going to stand together through a big mess and come out shining.  You’re going to make friends and sing songs and we will all dance again”. I look at these photos, these captured images of joy and pivotal events.  I see trees in the background that have since been cut down..or living rooms in houses we no longer live in.  Cars that are long gone.. toys that got lost or sweaters that were misplaced forever.  These things..along with smiles and sparkling eyes are indelibly etched onto photo paper and painted on the walls of time, they tell a long story. Chapter after chapter of celebration, heartache and love.  As much as I don’t enjoy old photos..I still take pictures quite a lot.  Maybe because I know the sorrowful as it might be sometimes, is still an important one to tell.  I know that looking at it reinforces the threads that hold my life together.  Frayed as they might be at times.  The girl in the photo…she knows too.  Her heart isn’t as bruised as mine, and she has a lot to learn..but I know she will be ok.  

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