Thursday, May 26, 2016

Come On In

If there's one thing that weirds me out about blogging, it's talking about blogging on my blog.

It feels like the worst kind of faux pas and I should know, because I am, in fact, one of the matriarchs of blogging. Or at least that's how it feels whenever I make a string of decisions that ends with me walking into a blogging conference of twenty-somethings wearing Pocahontas headbands slung about their foreheads, pushing their hair up on their head in a way that would make me look like I suffered an unfortunate event earlier in the day and didn't realize how ridiculous I still looked.

Only they don't look ridiculous.
They look dewy and amazing and tender-skinned.
They look like they probably know html code and like they own multiple legit lipsticks.
They give me the feeling that I should bear some measure of shame over my incapability of using a computer without a mouse. I love them and they love me, but they think I'm wise. If you know what I mean.

I've been at this gig this for a very long time. I know what works for me.

But today, I'm breaking my own rule. I'm flinging open my freshly-painted doors and inviting you in for a tour (don't go in the boys' room, just DON'T) and pretend cookies.

(If you receive my posts in your inbox, this would be a great time to click over and see my pretty new blog design!)

You might as well know, this is how I'm answering the door, only without the amazing lighting and related perks of Kelly's photography skills. Guys, this is me. On the daily. When I'm writing to you, this is how I look. If you ever find yourself imagining me for some strange reason, let it be exactly like this - with bedhead, no make-up, and a mug of Earl Grey.

Don't let the fancy photo on my sidebar confuse you. At my very core I'm all misbehaving hair and that wonky birthmark beside my eye.

But I do love having tea with you. I love what we've got going here.

I love that you take me just as I am.


Watercolor bloom by Jessica Flores Design
Hand lettering by Katy Girl Designs
Blog update by Danielle Burkleo 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

FPFG and A Fresh Start

I was out of state last spring at a church adoption conference when I knew it was time. For many reasons, these out-of-the-way speaking gigs are among my favorite kind. With any luck, they serve up a classic church potluck lunch, complete with every salad imaginable, deviled eggs, and eighteen desserts. And often, most of the crowd has no clue who I am. It's oddly freeing and I dig it. On this particular occasion, a woman approached me afterward and said, "You're so different from what I expected. I saw your name on the flyer, Flower Patch Farmgirl, and, I don't know, I guess I thought you'd be talking to us about canning or something."

I wasn't sure how to respond, because on one hand, canning is no joking matter and we would all be so lucky to be thought a canner. On the other hand, if I had to list my top five strengths, canning wouldn't exactly rank. And on both hands and feet combined, it began to feel important that my name represent who I am and what I do.

So I did what I usually do when it's time to make a change.

I talked about it incessantly. I wondered, worried, and twiddled my extra-long thumbs. 

The year that followed was a tangle of similar conversations, to the point that a legit identity crisis was brewing.

Exhibit A:

* April, 2016. Writing conference.
A writer I admire approaches my group. I begin to introduce myself (as Shannan Martin). She cuts me off, saying, "Oh, I know you! You're Flower Patch Farmgirl!" Conversation over.

Later that night, I mulled over the burning question of my existence for the umpteenth time with Cory. "I'm writing a book about living in the city! Not only that, I'm almost forty! The 'girl' part doesn't even work anymore!"

Exhibit B (aka The Final Straw):

* Two weeks later. City engagement conference.
One of the event coordinators is debriefing with me following the event and says, "So-and-so gave me the side-eye when I told her she was speaking with Flower Patch Farmgirl. All I could do is tell her, 'You've just got to trust me'." (So-and-so did trust her and we totally clicked and my fixation of so-and-so has now reached a potentially uncomfortable level for her.)

What I'm trying to say is, my name is getting increasingly difficult to explain. Even more, a name, by virtue, should not require explanation.

There's a disconnect between an author publishing a book about city life, urban poverty, jail, public school, neighborhood community, and diversity, but who bears the name Flower Patch Farmgirl.

I'm making a switch very soon to Shannan Martin Writes, because 1) I'm Shannan Martin. 2) I am a writer. 3) was already taken. ;)

The next time we hang out here, things will look a bit different. You won't have to do anything at all. Just keep showing up for me and I'll keep doing the same for you. The top of my blog will be fresh, fly, and so, so pretty. (I cannot wait to show you!)

But everything about who I am and what I'm about will stay the same, which is to say I'll never stop growing, changing, stretching, and circling back to where I started.

A part of me will always be a farmgirl at heart.
I will continue to bloom in the city.
Flowers will always be my friends.
I don't plan to ever stop tracking down the delight of God's goodness in my gritty corner of the world.
I'll keep writing it all down.

We met here, some of us nearly eight years ago, others more recently, and formed a community that is beautiful beyond anything I could have imagined. I can't quit you.

Change has a tendency to make us sweaty in the pits, but it's important. Necessary, even.

Thank you for never being afraid to grow with me.

Forever yours,

(Please don't stop calling me FPFG. It's part of me and I'd miss it too much.)
ps - Plates have all shipped! Glory.

Saturday, May 21, 2016


Um, you guys. The plates.

In the days leading up to the sale, Jolene and I shot cackling Voxes back and forth along the lines of, "What is this idea?" and "Will people get it?" "Will we hear crickets?"

You got it. You get me! (I sort of thought you might.)
After shipping is paid we made nearly $700 for this sweet family and THAT IS AMAZING. It exceeded my expectations. It was so, so worth it.

You're all my favorite!

In deep gratitude, I bring you an extra-special Weekending post, featuring some juicy weekend reads.

:: Darin (Jo's hubs) wrote a post about fundraising for adoptions. It's so good and helpful.

:: I love to write about home and I might love to read it even more. Especially when "home" is somewhere in Africa and Nic holds the pen. I've missed her writing. (I've missed her.)

:: Amber might be the only person who rivals my love for Taco Bell. It makes me want to get competitive about it (I loved her first!) but it mostly makes me want to take her out for a Spicy Tostada.

:: Amber's comments section led me to this girl, and the realization that even if I did love TB first, she might actually love it a tiny bit more though it's all sort of apples and oranges or tacos and burritos and whatever, youngster, I LOVED HER FIRST.

:: Knock knock. Who's there? How much Taco Bell can a good reader handle in one blog post? I'll stop now.

:: This post made me snort-laugh. He lived the male version of my early-teen years.

:: Alia paints a picture of marriage and I want to stitch it onto my own heart. "I am not that girl anymore, the one with plumeria oil on her neck and no weight on her shoulders. I am a woman now with my laundry basket almost emptied."

:: I spent half my childhood in Katie's home, as the bestie to her older sister. Katie's hair was somehow just as cool when she was in kindergarten and she had the cutest little voice. She's an artist now, and one of those people you just want to spend more time with. This post on Design Mom about her gorgeous home and the reason she's been quiet on her blog is the pitch-perfect weekend read.

:: Right this second I'm listening to this album and it simultaneously gives me the blues and makes me feel alive.

:: Tonight I got to see Glennon with some really fun friends. I scribbles notes on the program. "Addiction is a hiding place. Sensitive people go there to hide from love and from pain." She makes addiction sound like a complication rising up from a place of beauty and grief rather than a point of shame and judgment. I want to kiss her on both cheeks for it.

:: I made a batch of blueberry rhubarb jam this afternoon using Kendra's "recipe". (You'll want half blueberries and half rhubarb. Or maybe more. Or less. And plenty of sugar! But taste the berries because maybe they're really sweet and you won't need as much. Throw in some lemon juice.) IT IS DELICIOUS.

Happy weekend, Homies!
(Why not?)


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Auction Day!

We have winners!!!! Invoices will go out asap.
(I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!!! You have the hugest hearts!)

Set 1 - Paige $50
Set 2 - Jessie $60
Set 3 - Ann $90
Set 4 - Amy $70
Set 5 - Connie $100
Set 6 - Ann $80
Set 7 - Robyn $80
Set 8 - Cynda $40
Set 9 - Ann $75
Set 10 - Unknown (Nikki) $40

Set 11 - Cynda $55
Set 12 - Jessica $115 

Good morning!

Oh how I wish we were standing in a big, janky barn together, at a real auction. But honestly, this isn't a bad Plan B.

Thanks for showing up today to support Jolene and her family to bring their Leo home! You can follow the journey of their fun family right here. Darin is a fantastic writer and it's fun to read from a Dad's perspective. They are just fun, engaging, helpful, good-quirky, funny, light-bearing, all-around-awesome people. 

Enough gushing! I have plates to peddle!

A couple quick notes:
* The plates do not come with hangars. There are a couple of different styles, these and these. I've tried both and though the adhesive option is popular because the hangar itself doesn't "show", I've found that with some white plates, the yellow color of the disc shows through. I also like the standard, metal option because you can easily switch plates out. AND YOU KNOW I'M A SWITCHER. So I'm leaving hardware up to you, but as you can see from the above links, it's affordable. (You can also buy hangars at Hobby Lobby.)
* There are twelve sets, not thirteen as I said yesterday. I promise I didn't nab one for myself. Per usual, I'm just fuzzy on the particulars. 

Auctionary Proceduraral Details:

* Each set has a starting bid of $35, which includes shipping (limited to continental US.)

* Please leave a comment below with the number of the set you're bidding on and an active PayPal email address so I can invoice you at the end of the auction. (So sorry, but a PayPal account is required!)

* Leave one comment per bid. Example, if you'd like to bid on two sets, you will need to leave two separate comments.

* Check back! I wish there was a better way, but in order to ensure you haven't been outbid, you'll just have to scan the comments.

* Bidding ends tomorrow (Friday, May 20) at 10 am EST.

*Winners will be announced in a separate blog post on Saturday.

* Invite your friends! I'll be sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I'd love for you to share it!

*Have fun! Bid with gusto and help bring a little one to his forever family!

Now, let's get to it!

Friends, thanks for tracking with me in all my odd-ball ideas. You make this gig so very fun.
Happy bidding!

* NOTE: I need a PayPal address in the comments so I know for sure I can invoice you. Pretty please!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Plate Walls for All

Thrifting is my favorite frenemy.

You might recall two winters ago when I decided to buy only secondhand clothing for six months and it was basically the best thing ever. I combed the racks every couple of weeks. I bought outfits for strangers. I had found my new home, amid crammed racks of squat, discarded Ann Taylor Loft with  vintage Michael Jackson/The Cranberries/Genesis as my soundtrack. (Seriously, Goodwill Radio needs to be an immediate THING.)

Then spring came, and I found myself with a closet full of stuff I didn't really love. Complicating matters is my legendary affliction of feeling sorry for ignored, unloved apparel. Not only did I have to face their forlorn faces, I peer pressured myself into wearing them. Regularly.

(Yes, they have faces.)

So I purged. I repented. I regrouped.
I bought an $80 gingham shirt off the rack at JCrew.

Regrettably, I'm too complicated a person to say the story ends there. Because when winter came back around, I heard the siren call once again to get out amongst the people from time to time without spending money that didn't need to be spent.

I needed a new thrift-store diversion. I needed a new hunt.

I don't remember how I zeroed in on the next object of my obsession, I only know that when my sister and I went thrifting a few months ago, she heaved a deep sigh and said, "I guess I'll meet you in an hour right here in the plate aisle." She knew I would still be there an hour later and she was 100% correct.

I began scooping up plates for...something. Since I live a nearly-wall-less existence, it became clear to me that these plates were never meant for me. Lo, I would need to set them free.

For almost a full orbit of God's green earth, I scoured every thrift store I encountered for plates. I stepped around boxes of plates in the narrow walkway around the perimeter of our bed. I moved stacks of plates around the house like darling chess pieces. Not a day went by that I didn't think about the plates (and, by virtue, you) probably because it became freaking impossible to ignore the stacks of plates closing in on me especially in February when northerners basically begin to hate everything oh my gosh.

The funny thing is, I never did this to earn cash.
I figured the hours of idle pleasure the plates afforded me meant they had already paid for themselves and la-di-da about shipping costs and a big "Whatever, man" about the prices of bubble wrap.

Guess what? I wasn't a business major in college.

Long story short (let's pretend this is a short story), I had an epiphany.

My local friend Jolene and her family are embarking on bringing another babe home via adoption and I want to sell these plates and give the proceeds to them as a token of love and support. When we were in the process of adopting Calvin a friend sent us a check for $50 and a cried my eyelids raw. I get it, I love it, and I want to be a part of it. I've also watched Jolene generously support other adoptions over the three years I've known her and I want her to feel that love bouncing off of all of us and smacking her right back on the forehead. In love.

I have a feeling you'll want to be part of it, too. And not just for the plates, though they are pretty rad and curated and perfectly Anthro-quirky and wall-ready, if I do say so myself.

Here's all you need to know: I created a bunch of plate wall collections and one of them has your name on it because if there are only three things I truly believe in the world right now they are: 1) God is for us 2) Silas never, ever stinks, not ever and it's weirdly amazing. 3) Every home needs a plate wall.

Here's a picture of mine soon after we moved in:

Here's a post my friend Layla wrote about why we were hardwired to care deeply about plate walls, or at least that's my interpretation.

And since we're already getting much too geeked about plates, here are a few of my favorite plate walls, via Pinterest. (This one. This one. And this one. You can't make me stop. So many plates, so little time!)

Keep in mind, the sets could be their own little plate wall, or they could be a starting point for a big, crazy-awesome plate wall. Plates for all! Plates for your wall!

Plates are the new wallpaper. That's what I always say.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are thirteen sets of plates. Go ahead and gasp like Jolene did when I shared this cockamamie plan with her. It's okay, my loss is truly your gain. And my gain. (It's all so wonderfully complicated!)

Nitty Gritty:
  • The fun starts tomorrow at 10:00 AM EST.
  • We're going to run this like an old-school auction, minus the dolladollagimmetendoIheartwenty. (But oh man, would that ever be awesome.)
  • The starting bid for each will be $35 and will include shipping (along with a prayer that nothing breaks in transit.) 
  • Most collections include five plates. (One includes four, one includes seven because I couldn't split up the fam.)
  • The selection is varied, some are eclectic, some are colorful, some are neutral. I carefully curated each collection according to what I would want hanging on my own wall.
  • I actually wish I could keep them all for myself.
  • Announcement: Tomorrow's auction has been canceled!
  • J/k.
  • If you need one of these one-of-a-kind collections up in your business, you'll leave a comment on tomorrow's post with your paypal email address and your bid. 
  • Here's the kicker: you'll need to keep an eye on the comments, lest you be outbid. 
  • Remember, this is an adoption fund-raiser, so you're not just buying amazing plates, you're helping build a family!
  • Bidding will end on Friday at 10 am EST
  • Winners will be announced on Saturday. (Thank you, Ebay, for teaching us that buying something with actual cash can also be referred to as "winning"!)

I'll leave you with this one enticement, not because I secretly think it's the best collection, but simply because it's named Collection 1.

Isn't she pretty?

See you tomorrow!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Hand Jitters and Hope*Writers

Here's how a typical work day of mine has gone, lately:
  • Sit down with my piping hot Earl Grey around 8:00
  • Spend the next five straight hours typing and deleting words, jotting random phrases in a spiral-bound notebook like it's 1992, artfully avoiding necessary emails/decisions/deadlines.
  • Remember somewhere around 1:00 I still need to get groceries, take a shower, eat lunch, and get dinner on the table.
  • Welcome my littles home at exactly 3:00 with tremendous relief, and not just because their arrival signals the (temporary) reprieve from that which ails me.
True story: A friend of mine, also a writer, once mentioned how self-indulgent authors tend to be about our "work". On the one hand, it really does deserve air quotes. I will never take for granted the fact that I get to "work" in my cozy home, in near-solitude, wearing whatever I darn well please. That I don't have to fix my hair on a daily basis is a luxury no woman as quarrelsome and crabby-prone as me deserves. I am able to throw in loads of laundry on a lark and vacuum my floors with too much force, if the day warrants such. Lo, I can even chuck work altogether, keep Ruby home from school for the heck of it, and pretend there is no job. (cough cough, "hypothetically speaking")

On the other hand, I don't know what to tell you. Or my friend.
Writing, some days, feels impossibly beyond my social, emotional, psychological, and mental constraints. It feels like wrestling myself into a button-up shirt backwards, then convincing everyone it was an accident. It feels like all of my recurring dreams at once - my teeth fell out, I forgot to show up for class all semester, I'm jumping out of a swing on the playground, I'm being chased, I'm lying to someone I love...

It's terrifying, humbling, and exhilarating.
And I'm hooked.

Here's some insider scoop for you, my dears. As we speak, some of my favorite writers on the planet (and yours) have an unofficial copy of Falling Free on their nightstands. They're reading it, and putting their thoughts about it in actual writing. It is the strangest, best feeling. Most days, sweeping denial just feels right.

I honestly don't know why I'm sitting here spouting off at the mouth when I could be chopping vegetables or taking a walk. I guess it's just one of those days where there's a lot of self-talk happening, it's all feeling kind of big, and I thought it might help to yammer about it to you. You are, after all, a big reason we all ended up in this mess. ;)

I'm also telling you because I know so many of you are also writers. We might not be at the exact same phase of writing, but I promise you, there is no "best" phase. The best phase is whichever one you find yourself in, sort of like parenting. Wherever you are, keep on trucking, sister. Whatever those voices are telling you, do me a favor and round-kick them in the teeth. Our stories were meant to be shared. This, after all, is one way we are afforded the privilege of reflecting God's goodness.

In other words: I'm preaching to myself.

In one of my desperate avoidance attempts today, I put myself through the unique agony of watching an interview I recently taped with one of my faviest-faves, Emily P. Freeman. (<<- She's one of the people reading my book right now, eeeeekblergohmyword.) After a while, I couldn't bear my hand-flapping and strange expressions, so I switched tabs and just listened. But those things probably won't bother you quite like they bothered me.

{I want to stop taking screen shots, but it's cheering me up right now so bad!} 

{Me in every single frame: flap flap flap. Emily (thinking): Hmmm, I don't know about that...}

{This feels like a good bow to tie on it. Inhale!}

My video with Emily is one of twelve Hope*Writers videos featuring writers at various stages, discussing all of the nitty-gritty stuff we all want to know. My video was filmed back in October, the week I turned in my manuscript. It's full of angst and the sort of juicey, behind the scenes turmoil I wrote about at the beginning of this post. Only it was even more fresh and raw because I clearly lack a filter when it comes to airing my insecurities.

The videos are part of a special Hope*Writers Summit that begin TODAY (Monday, May 16) and run through May 19th. I have big plans to watch every. single. video. If you're already a Hope*Writers member, you already have full access to the content. If you're not already a member, you can sign up for free for the special, 3-day summit, pop some corn, pull on your comfy pants, and join the fun.
Click here to get started.

I'm completely smitten with the entire Hope*Writers site and the way they're guiding people like me through the details of blogging and writing. I simply cannot say enough about the quality of the content they're offering.

As for me, I've got "work" to do.

Happy Monday!

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Lemony Orzo Veggie Salad with Chicken
Beef and Barley Soup
Quick Chicken Pho
Boxed mac&cheese, frozen broccoli, smoked sausage (keeping it real)
Spaghetti with Prego and garlic bread, no salad (see above)
Jen Hatmaker's Pad Thai (also found on page 108 in For the Love)
Taco Bowls with homemade black beans, guac, and salsa
Ina Garten's Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Looking for Lovely by Annie Downs
"If you aren't experiencing pain, you aren't experiencing beauty. Darkness makes us appreciate the beauty of the light."

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker
"Church is a teeny bit crazy. I know this. I am this. Approximately four of you don't have church baggage. These wounds rage from 'this feels irrelevant and weird' to 'this place crushed my soul.' I've experienced both, so I promise to be a gentle friend."

The Cellist of Sarajevo  by Steven Galloway
"One of the things about the war," she says, "is that I've been down a lot of streets I'd never been on before. It has changed my geography." 

Assimilate or Go Home by D.L. Mayfield
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Bandersnatch by Erika Morrison

Bethel Magazine

Lately by Erin Loechner at Design for Mankind
"It takes great effort for me not to tell myself a story of why I’m sad. It takes great effort not to pinpoint a reason for the reasonless, to twist a tall tale of some sort of personal injustice, to blame someone else, to blame something else, to figure it out, to push through, to power through, to change up the routine, to shake it up, to sweep it under."

On Running Well by D.L. Mayfield
"Although it didn’t feel like the prayer I was used to, it also became a way to notice what God was up to, all around me.

Three Simple Things Every Laundry Room Needs by The Nester
"The fact that it’s often a mess really means one thing–it saves the rest of the house from being just as messy." {This post encompasses every thing I love about Nester. It's practical, accessible, honest, and funny. Also, she hung a swing in her laundry room as a shelf...}

And Before I Forget...
I've done a strange thing. I can't wait to spill the beans on Wednesday, so meet me back here.
I'll bring the croissants, you bring some strong, black tea.

Happy Weekending!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Going Home

I am constantly asking myself what it means to go home. It's a question that answers itself in the details of my everyday, the clatter of dishes, the broom and dustpan, the evenings huddled together on the couch. Still, it begs to be asked again. Where is "home"? How do we find it, and how do we behave once we get there?

I'm almost 40, and I never stop wanting to go home.
I'm almost 40, and I'm already there.

Home is a wood planked barn, hay dust whistling between its planks. Show me a 2x2 section, just a glimpse of the patina, and I'm there. The layers of silty history perfumed my childhood. The varnish of the basketball court, the cow feed, the rope that swung down from the eaves.

Home is a field, the one where we threw our kitchen scraps, where the small plane crashed one winter, blood soaking into the snow yet somehow, impossibly, no one died. It's where we hunted arrow-heads, sometimes finding them, very sure on the off-days that the unearthed shard of pottery once belonged to a braided women in a leather dress. I wanted to be an archaeologist, to set up a grid and dust the years from what remained, my pockets stuffed with tiny brushes and delicate scraping tools.

Home is a forest, the loamy mystery underfoot. It's skidding down too-steep hills, dodging branches and thorns. It's crawdads and folklore, shielded into solitude by the canopy over us. It's a split-rail fence where I casually leaned at the age of barely-twenty, for a snapshot with my one true love, the kid with the earring whom I couldn't wait to marry. I was made to be an explorer, but a little company wouldn't hurt.


This morning we walked to school, the same two blocks we've walked almost every day this year, dodging half-hearted raindrops. "What if we had an umbrella this big?" Silas asked, pointing up at the Maple leaves arching overhead. We picked up the first piece of junk for our annual summer junk sculpture, an indeterminate metal clip, rounded at the edges, a rivet in the center. It's a good sign of what's to come. Who knows, maybe this year's sculpture will be heavier on "industrial", lighter on crap plastic and busted cd's. A few feet down the sidewalk, we stepped over a brick, smack-dab in our path. I didn't bother wondering how it ended up there, or why. But I knew for sure it wasn't left-over from Indians, some centuries-old relic, timeworn and storied.

Walking back home, alone, I took a slightly different route, looping up the East side of the street rather than the West. Perspective is holographic. One tiny bend, and the whole shape shifts. On my normal route, I see my neighborhood in all its ranging beauty; flaking paint, chain link, tidy and grungy, spring dancing around all of us equally with the same tempo and pitch. But today, I saw how the little row we live in has become distinctly different from the rest. In the scheme of things, we appear to be the suburbanites with our gleaming vinyl siding, cookie-cutter houses made "unique" only by the shades we wear. What was once the sorest section has now become the "best". Maybe it's a bad thing. Maybe it's good. I honestly can't tell right now and I'm left worrying over the ways I'd rather hide behind something ramshackle than admit the obvious - I'm a white, middle-classer, born into privilege, holding a deed which would allow me to stay there forever.


My kids still say they miss the farm sometimes. Silas, who lived there for the most traumatic year of his life, calls it "The House With A Lot of Cats". I'm amazed his fragile psyche retained a single shred of that tumultuous year amid the hard work of learning to trust and allowing himself to love. He was always partial to the stray, who wandered in with just half a tail.

For a while, I was on track to give the kids the same experience of "home" I'd enjoyed. It's all I knew. It was the only way I could make sense of raising kids. Replicate, replicate, replicate. Yes to barns and wheat fields. Yes to white farmhouses with troublesome duct-work. Yes to large gardens and split-rail fences. No to litter, graffiti, and "bad influences".

I don't know what "home" will mean to my kids.

At eleven years old, Calvin has lived in four homes, and that's after traversing the globe with a pacifier in his mouth. It's probably not fair to even attempt a comparison.

But this matters to me. It feels like my one, true job, to give them a childhood full of...something, enough that it calls them home and keeps calling. That's all I want, for them to grow and gray and come to the striking realization that they belong distinctly to two different places - the one they build and the one that built them.


Robert, last week: "I got lost. I don't know how it happened, but my GPS was glitching and I couldn't figure out which way to go. The only place I knew how to get to was home. And I knew once I got here, I wouldn't be lost anymore."

Friday, May 6, 2016

Brave Love

The sun is streaming through my smudgy front windows, the tree is in hot pink bloom beyond them, and later today we'll drive the roads I know by heart, down to Ohio, to my mom.

Mother's Day is one of those special days that feels near-tangible to me. There are no required decorations, no boundless expectations. But usually, Spring is smiling hard on us. Usually the red-bud is blooming and the peonies are tight fists of what's to come.

There's the simple fact that my mom always makes things better, somehow. There's the fact that I'm a mother myself. I have caught the tears and folded the laundry and negotiated bedtimes, Kindle time, and consequences. I know who eats what and which one would eat peanut butter and honey for every meal until the end of time. I know I'm a mother because my twenty-two year old called me from work at 10:30 last night and when I answered he screamed, "Mommyyyyy!" into the phone, something I found both entirely ridiculous and completely endearing.

Then there's the other side of it all, four birth moms who created the reasons I am a mom. Two of them I have only imagined in my mind. We know basic details, written somewhere on a page, rendered into an image that is surely off target. We make assumptions, black hair, brown eyes. If I scan every Asian face I meet, wondering, "Does she look like that?" my sons do the same, or will one day.

I've seen a grainy, digitized photo of Robert's birth mom, and I see traces of him. He doesn't like to talk about her much, and I remain curious.

A few weeks ago, we sat around our table with Ruby's birth mom, her sweet, growing family, and her parents. Our relationship over the past nine years has been a tender thing, a flash of green poking through soil. We've tread carefully around it, risking inevitable awkwardness for the chance to make good on our shared solidarity - we did this together, and we'll see it through. Over frozen pizzas and hummus, I wished for the thousandth time that they lived close, rather than across the continent. There wasn't a shred of tension or doubt. It was easy. We'd found our groove, and no, nine years wasn't too long.

Later that night, after the paper plates had all been trashed and bedtime loomed, one of my sons wept. "It's not fair."

I couldn't argue.

There will be pans of chicken enchiladas this weekend, and pancakes in the morning. There will be garden talks and wooded walks and with any luck, a little time in the hammock. I'll honor my mom and be honored myself, hopefully with something handmade and wonky.

But at least half of my heart will be quietly honoring the four of them, who I will only ever know as stunning. Motherhood is a strong and fragile thing. Sometimes, it asks impossible things of us. Sometimes, we have the guts to say yes.

The Brave Love campaign created a video honoring birth mamas, and it pulled every string inside me. It's heartfelt and beautiful. It might make you cry. But can't we say that about many of the loveliest things? I hope you'll watch. I hope you'll share it.

I hope, this Sunday, you'll say a prayer for the mamas whose day might pulse with sadness, loss, longing, or even regret. So many among us carry burdens we cannot imagine. If you know a mother whose story might be complicated or hard, let's do what we can to lighten her load. We're sisters. We were made for this.

Happy Mother's Day, to each of you.

BraveLove is a movement dedicated to changing the perception of adoption through honest, informative, and hopeful communication that conveys the heroism and bravery a birth mother displays when she places her child with a loving family through adoption. (un)Wanted is their new campaign that addresses how adoption is a loving decision in which birth parents want the best for their child. BraveLove seeks to change the conversation surrounding adoption and provide a safe place for people to explore adoption.  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

How to Give

When I was nine, or maybe ten, a family from our church swooped in on Christmas eve, inviting us to their house where they showered us with second-hand gifts. All I remember thirty years later is the towels, practically new. They ranged from brown to tan to dusty orange, some striped, stacked on our laps as she pulled one more out of the bag at her feet. "It's Christmas at our house!" she crooned in a feverish, sing-song.

I glowed. I was stunned by their kindness, wrapped up in it. I was loved. We were loved.

I wonder now how the day felt to my mom and dad, whether they remember it at all. I wonder why I only remember the towels.


Tuesday, my neighborhood snapped awake. We'd been restless for a while, walking a bit bleary-eyed through the occasional warmer days, grinning sleep-drunk, then slinking back into hibernation. Maybe it was the puffy clouds or the fact that a warm day in May is measured on a weighted scale, but everyone seemed to be out.

Driving back from dropping Calvin off at Tae Kwon Do, I spotted them, my heart surging in that familiar blip of relief. When one of my adult neighbor-friends steps back into the picture after time away, it's often under bleak circumstances. The kids are different.

They chased behind my van, braids whipping, mouths wide. They filled me in on all I'd missed when we were frozen and quiet - moves, trouble at school, a broken arm. "She broke it last week and the next day she got popular!" she gestured toward her friend's blue cast, covered in ink and already dingy-looking.

We talked about summer, whether their moms would let them go to the city pool with us, or if they'd even be around, since there was buzz about exotic months spent in Chicago, maybe a trip to Six Flags or to the beach up in Michigan.

"Yeah, right." They laughed.

They told me they found a "big needle" at the other park earlier in the week. "It was filled with meth," she said, her wide eyes framed by grown-out bangs, a dull, purplish-brown.

"Did you touch it? Never touch it. Promise me." I thought about the hour I spent at the same park a week ago, how it rattled with a quiet despair.

No. They didn't touch it. They know better, these fourth graders of a different kind of life, where breaking your arm without crying means flash popularity and you already know about syringes filled with meth.


After fifteen minutes, maybe twenty, my mind drifted to the pot of stock simmering on my stove-top. It was 5:15 and I had a meeting at 6. I attempted a polite exit, but they just followed me inside, no invitation necessary. (Sometimes I offer hospitality as worship, more often it's wrenched from my hands by a God who wants me near and knows I need help.)

The dinners I cook are a long-standing joke, not just with the two of them, but with almost everyone from my neighborhood who has taken a seat at my island. Honestly, it's giving me a complex and growing me up. It's training me to plan more spaghetti and ground beef taco nights, just in case. It's causing me to buy bags of Takis when they're on sale.

But last night, the soup I stirred was extra-weird. I wasn't even sure how to pronounce it, and they were highly intrigued.

We chattered about this and that, the two of them giggling and light. Without thinking a thing about it, I opened the fridge. And they both lost their minds.


I've seen the show Hoarders before, though not on purpose. It doesn't strike me as dignified, more like using the poor/the lonely/the sick as entertainment. Like so many of the ways we position ourselves as better or more right, this is just another way to normalize our own failures. "I'm not that bad."

It makes my stomach hurt.
Guess what else makes it hurt? Watching two young girls gasp over how much food I have in my fridge.

I found myself making excuses that only made matters worse. "I got groceries two days in a row! We needed everything! People eat a lot of food!"

I got groceries.
Two days in a row.
We needed everything.
People eat a lot of food.

Meanwhile, they were still telling very short stories about what they usually had in their refrigerators, and how they had never even seen a fridge that full. Not once. "Maybe they're that full at a restaurant, but I don't know..." one of them trailed off.


When I was in second grade, my aunt bought all of my school supplies, hand-delivering them with a smile. For a second I was sad that I didn't get to choose my own backpack, but one whiff of that intoxicating cardboard-and-wax aroma and it didn't matter. I had pencils rattling around in a red plastic box. I was loved. The end.

There were bags of hand-me-downs from the "rich" girl at church.
There were DIY haircuts and canned frosting spread thin on Saltines.

There was the time I found my mom hiding on the floor by her bed, Elmer's-gluing lace around the perimeter of a needlepoint hoop for my handmade birthday gift, quietly crying that they couldn't do more that year.
There was the time a few years later when I found a brand new ten-speed bike in my room, light violet and gleaming, and I knew that it had cost them.

And I knew I was loved.


Community is a pinball machine, grace and goodness rocketing up and pinging around. Give and take. Learn to receive or don't bother offering. Feed another quarter into the slot and start again.

There's no science to loving, only art.

Layer on layer, we learn and we lean. But most days, I don't want to paint.
I'd rather not step back and survey the landscape, finding my unique place within it. I want to cram for this invisible test textbook-style and call it a day.

There's so much room for error here, in the land of the living. In so many ways, I wish I could make it different. More for you, less for me. I'd even the playing field if I could, rather than being accountable for my tendencies to believe I'm the one who still needs more.

I want the formula to balance. I want prescribed answers I can memorize and trot out when needed. I want to guarantee I'll never inflict harm. I don't like being reminded of the work I still have to do, or the fact that I bought more food than we can eat before it rots.


That decades-past Christmas still rings in my ears. I haven't seen the woman in a lifetime, but I can hear the precise pitch of her song, and all of the magic. It's proof that maybe it's not so much about what or how much or exactly when, but how. And why.

We all have something someone else needs.
We all need something someone else has.
It will require all of our courage and all of our humility and we will still muddy up the canvas, now and then.

But we'll move toward each other because we want to, wielding our brushes lightly. We'll bleed together and make something new.

With any luck, we'll all walk away under the weight of knowing we're loved.

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