Give Me a K. K! Give me an E. E!

I just want to look at her, in all her shiny redness and promises of a freshly brewed cup in two minutes or less.

Keurig, you are my Christmas surprise, and I’m quite smitten. I might name you Katie. Katie Keurig.

I have secretly been pining for this crazy invention for a while now. But I wasn’t going to ask for it for Christmas – not with all the gifts and joy my parents would already bestow on my happy little elfin children. It seemed a little over the top to ask for a most expensive gift for myself. I think it’s a sacrifice that comes with parenting: you resign yourself to a smaller line in the Christmas budget.

But then, oh, but then. My mom said, “I found a store with lots of great gifts for you, but then I also found another great plan B. Your dad is pretty excited about it, too.”

My dad’s interests are far and wide, so a gift that could ring his bell might be anything from a soft pashmina to a wall hanging to a sound trac to Glee to an air compressor. So I had no clues.

But also, I didn’t want any clues. I am perhaps, and I say this with humility, the best person ever to receive surprises. I love surprises. Love them. I even love knowing that a surprise is coming, and keeping my hands and thoughts to myself just so I don’t ruin the surprise for myself or anyone else. I used to tell Robb, “Please just tell me where it is, so I’ll know not to find it.” He kept the file for our Mexico trip in the lefthand desk drawer, right where I could have found it, knowing there wasn’t a snowball’s chance that I would look. This is how much I love surprises.

(Doesn’t that just make you want to plan a surprise for a girl like that?)

The gift looked very Suessical: red, white and green striped paper, wrapped and topped with a polkda dot bow of the same color scheme. (I have secret aspirations to dress a little girl in such loveliness.)

There is now a digital video of me opening one end of the box, seeing that my mom had written, “This is the wrong end” just under the inside flap. Because she knew I would pay attention to the directions, and she doesn’t like to have to interrupt the surprise process. So I opened the other side instead, and I saw that telltale K-E-U-R… and that’s when I knew.

It was like Dax Shepard’s surprise sloth for Kristen Bell. I mean, you can’t fake this stuff.

(And it’s not even like I deserve this kind of prestige. I’m the girl who sees nothing wrong with reheating yesterday’s batch of full and robust goodness.)

If anyone needs me, I’ll be spinning right through the ceiling in a caffeinated frenzy, because I’m delighting in making cup after cup.

I Hate you, Stupid Santa.

I have some serious contempt against you tonight, Santa. You big, red punk. I might hate you. I may or may not be planning your coming out party. Or at least orchestrating an elite plan to blow your stupid cover.

This is your very last year to take all the credit while I look like the mean mom who always says no. You just swoop in and save the day and leave a mess of cookies – that I decorated, mind you.

I’ve had just about enough of this. More than enough.

You might notice that I switched a few gift tags. The socks, toothbrushes, and underwear are from you, you little jerk.

I’m giving them the digital gaming systems. So there.

“From: Mommy. xoxoxo.”

I’ve done this to light the path to your exit, that they will like you just a bit less by the end of the day tomorrow.

I’m tired of paving the way, shelling out cash, making miracles happen, while you remain ever elusive. I’ll do every single one of those things for the sweet boys who will cheer and fall all over one another with boisterous joy in the morning.

But not for you, Santa. Not. For. You.

So, live it up, Santa. Your days are numbered around here.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Screw You.

White Water Rapids and Lipstick.

Robb and I went on a whitewater rafting trip when we had been married for a year or so. We camped with probably a dozen other couples, and we all donned our lifejackets and hit the rapids the next day.

I remember feeling that combination of afraid and excited and incredulous and brave and what are we thinking, but so ready to do this because it was on our collective bucket list.

We listened so carefully to the guide, listening to his advice on how to handle the greatest fear.

“If you get knocked out of the boat, don’t try to fight the current. Don’t try to stand, swim against the current, or even swim to a bank on the side. Just pick up your knees and let the water carry you. It’s stronger than you, bigger than you, and it’s going to do what it’s going to do. If you fight it, you’re only wasting your energy and causing a greater risk to yourself. So pick up your knees, float on your back, and wait to see where the river takes you. It’s the safest thing you can do, and I promise we will come find you, wherever you land.”

I don’t recall that I needed to heed his advice, particularly because the water level was record low that summer, and for even part of the rafting trip, the four of us got out of the raft and carried it across the emerged rocks in the middle of the river.

But his words found their way into my subconscious, only emerging today, so many years later.

I woke up this morning with the stiff tenderness of knowing it is December 23. My body knows the date long before I look at a calendar. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could pay no attention to the date and my physiology would still respond on the day of remembering.

The 22nd is annually more difficult than the 23rd, though neither day is one for cartoons and lemonade.

The 22nd is the day when everything was okay, good, healthy, and right with my world. And I just want to swoop into that happy scene and scoop everyone up before lightning strikes.

By the time I wake up on the 23rd, the moment of crisis has passed. He had already been pronounced. His life ended before the sun came up. It’s one small gift in the whole tragedy of it all: I don’t have to count the hours and watch the clock, count the seconds and listen to the tick-tocks of the end.

I woke up this morning, sure enough, three hours after the moment I can still picture and hear and revisit if I want to. Or if I don’t want to.

I had carefully planned this day, calling in reinforcements to give my kids a super-fun day and providing myself with acres of margin. And as I started the day, I went through my list of possibilities.

I could go to Starbucks.
I should write. For fun and for deadlines.
I need to clean the kitchen.
I have more wrapping to do.
Stocking stuffers.
Gifts for my dad.
I could…
I should…
I would…

But I couldn’t string two thoughts together. It took my greatest concentration to get myself home after dropping the boys off for their day. Everything in me begged for rest.

I climbed back into bed, feeling like a failure for not pushing through and getting myself out of bed and out of the house. I’ll just sleep for an hour, I told myself. Just for an hour.  Or two. Or just a little bit longer.

I slept until 3:00 pm.

Just as the guide had said – When you’re knocked out of the boat, don’t fight what is stronger than you. Lift your knees, surrender to the current, and let it carry you until it sets you down.

At 3:00, after sleeping the very day away, I was just very suddenly finished. I got dressed, from boots to lip gloss and a great pashmina, and I smiled at my cute self in the mirror.

Sometimes you’ve got to pretty yourself up just for you. Even if nobody else will see you to swoon.

You’ll know that you rode the current and landed safely. With lip gloss, no less.

In the Cave

How are you holding up? What are you up to?

I’m in bed.

The short response worries me. Not good, I’m guessing.

It’s too much. It’s all just too much.

It is too much. For anyone to handle on their own. Can you talk to me? Tell me what’s in your head? On your heart?

I wish you were closer.

Me, too. You need a physical presence.

I do. Friendship incarnate.

I’m trying to find words. I’m not not answering.

Don’t worry about having words. I know the feelings.

I’m in bed in the dark, in jeans and a sweater and a belt,
because I was fine and then I wasn’t.

Everything about me is tired. Please don’t go.

I won’t. I never do.

That’s true. You never do.

I think it’s trauma.

It is trauma.

It doesn’t seem to be depression or even sadness. That’s the dichotomy in my mind. The confusion. Asking myself why I feel this way. But I think I know the answer.

It’s the events. I remember them perfectly. It’s the ER and the flu test and the prognosis and the promises. It’s like I have to drive through an intersection where my life changed forever. It’s the awareness of where I was. And where he was. And how afraid I was. I loved him through that night.

Are you still afraid?

No, I’m not afraid. My mind is stuck in that room. I can remember everything but the sound of his voice.

What if you stepped out of that room? Instead of being a character whos’ there, be a narrator. Or a spectator.

I can’t seem to leave. I’m trying.

How do you feel? What are the chains holding you there?

I feel so weighed down. Like I have to stay. I was the only one there. If I’m not there, nobody is there.

Do you know what happens if you don’t stay?

He dies alone.

You were there then.

You had to be there then. But what if you’re not there now? I am not suggesting that you don’t want to be there then, like someone else said – ‘wouldn’t it have been great if you had slept through it all.’ I’m not suggesting that.  But what if you watch yourself caring for him. Don’t BE yourself caring for him.

I did it so well.

You did. You did it very well. But he’s taken care of now.

You’re right. He’s taken care of.

I think it’s a piece of me. It gets bigger sometimes.

Of course it does.

You know what? I’m out of bed now.

You are very brave to enter this dark place with me.

You’re not supposed to deal with this alone. And now you’re not.

I came downstairs. I’m reading a cookbook.

In the last three years, anytime I am overcome or overwhelmed, I turn to food. Not to eat it, but to think of how to prepare it. I watched the Food Network for months.  I read cookbooks and food magazines.

Do you feel bad about that?

No, not at all.

Good. Don’t.

I just think it’s interesting to see how my mind works.

I want to read, but I don’t want to think.

I want to read solid directions that lead a to a concrete result.

Thank you for coming to find me in the cave. For coming in and bringing me out. For not just calling my name.

You’re welcome. You needed someone with a flashlight.

And then you came. And now I’m out.

Now you’re out.

How do you feel about chili? Or sausage gravy over biscuits?

One Thousand Days Later

I don’t really know how it happened, since I have long loved Chris Tomlin. But somehow, I had never heard that song before.

Three years ago, there were two memorial services for Robb: one in Colorado, and one in Ohio, our home for so many years. The absence of Robb was felt far and wide. On the day we all came together to remember him, both venues were standing room only.

In the Ohio funeral, which took place in the very same chapel where we were married, I heard this song that I had somehow never heard.

Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, our God.

I sat in the front row, letting these words pour over me. Everyone around me, as far as I could hear, sang and worshipped the God who gives and takes away. That song has become pinnacle to me. Words, melody, lyrics, and truths that I cling to. It always takes me back to the front row of the Memorial Chapel, where I let my friends sing and believe when I could hardly do either.

Now, more than one thousand days later, I sit among the congregation of proud (and digitally equipped) parents listening to the children’s choir. My two sons are standing on the left as I face the stage. Tucker is in the third row, fiercely paying attention and singing his heart out. Tyler is standing in the third row, joyfully making up his own choreography, and sending messages to me through sketchy sign language and words written in the air.

(My favorite: he traced a heart in the air and pointed from his chest to me. I heart you, Mommy.)

And then, my children sang in a choir of voices loud and pure, unashamed and believing:

Our God is greater.
Our God is stronger.
God, you are higher than any other.
Our God is Healer,
Awesome in power,
Our God, our God.

And then my boys stomp their feet in rhythm with the song, because this, my friends, is our favorite part:

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us, than what could stand against?

Tears stream down my face as my children sing these words, these truths, that have held my pieces together. One thousand days later, my children lead me in worship.

Our God is greater and stronger. If he is for us, then nothing, nobody, can ever, ever stop us.