Be Happy (A Giveaway)


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This morning when I stepped out on the porch with Bonnie, a flock of geese cut through the newly born blue of the sky above—honking the day into awakening. They were so low I could hear the swoosh of air pushed underneath wings, almost feel the breeze of the passing. I spun around to watch their flying V move across the sky, until they soared out of sight. I could hear them long after they disappeared over the horizon, cradled the memory of long-necked grace amidst receding trumpet blasts.

On Tuesday we saw our son off to his second year of college; drove for hours, helped him unpack and organize all the stuff of life, and then left him in his dorm room. This was an easier departure than last year’s, for we all knew a little more what we were doing. Last year we drove away from him with a sinking feeling, fear in our gut. This year his roommate had driven down from New York all by himself—no parents, no entourage. The young man’s confidence in his solitary travels gave me pause. When we pulled away I wondered aloud if this would be our last year of dropping our boy off in this way. We’ve talked about sending him with a car next year, and if that’s the case, it’s unlikely we will tag along. This thought added a new dimension to my musings and I studied the landscape more intently as we drove toward home.

A century ago, the Anglican Bishop, Phillips Brooks told his ministerial students to study three “books”: the book of books, the book of the Bible; the book of nature; and the book of mankind. I find this sound advice for the span of a life—both for the college sophomore and the mother driving away from him. Life itself is the best of schools if we pay attention. I know I cannot hold all of his life in my hand. There is only One who can do such a thing.

This is the natural way. Kids grow up. Life changes. We roll with it. But every once in a while something inside of me rises up and says, “hold on, things are moving too fast here.” I want to memorize the moments, hold on to them as they pass.

Somehow I think driving away from our boy will never be easy. It has been a long, hard summer, with his grandfather’s illness, and he was a big help on that front. The memory of his face lighting up when his friend came into the room lingered with me on the trip home. I could still see his smile long after we were gone. He was happy. Happy to be back in school, to have a purpose, to see his friends.

And because he was happy, I was too. I am learning that happiness doesn’t have to be a complicated thing. In her book, The Happiness Dare Jennifer Dukes Lee says,

“You are the imago dei. You carry the DNA of your happy and holy God. … God is the inventor of happiness and the chief spreader of it. When you desire happiness, you …  are responding to something built into your soul. Your desire to live happy is not a flaw. It is your soul’s memory of the original paradise, etched and alive in you.”

I think I would add that your desire for your children—for all of your loved ones, in fact—to be happy, is a God-designed thing. Opening the hand in this way requires a trust I don’t always feel. There are so many things in life that pass out of our vision but still remain strong in our hearts and minds—the trumpet calls of love.

Last year, in honor of Teddy’s first year of school I hosted a giveaway of some good reads I’d been enjoying. I think this is a nice tradition. This year, I did a little shopping at the school bookstore (one of my favorite things about the campus). In this happy giveaway package, one reader will receive a copy of Jennifer Dukes Lee’s new book The Happiness Dare, one pair of Natures Precious Gems hand embossed natural brass earrings, one pinkhouse handmade scarf, and a sweet little Be Happy bag from naturallife.com.

Just leave a comment by Sunday 8/28 at midnight for a chance to win! Winner will be announced on Monday 8/29.

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Halloween Ghosts

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This morning I am awakened by the sounds of the shower from down the hall. Little Jeffrey is up early to report to the high school so the whole retinue can get on the road for another band competition. I’m tired from a late night of working the hot chocolate station for the band concessions during the football game. My arm is sore from the flu shot I got on Thursday, and I slept fitfully for some reason, dreaming of milk and puppies. It’s still dark outside, but I get up to make the boy a good breakfast—he’ll be gone all day and into the evening.

The bacon sizzles and I flip his favorite pancakes while he studies who-knows-what on his phone screen. He feels so far away lately, coming and going like a ghost, moving in and out of the house on my peripheries. I study him studying the screen and I am seized with that feeling again, that terrible sadness that comes with being left behind.

I know the almost-empty is meant to prepare me for the empty-empty but sometimes my heart refuses to budge. The earth is filled with longing and preparation for a sleep that gives new life but my roots long for the sun.

The boys and I have kept this tradition. Every year, before Halloween, we dig out their old radio flyer and march up the sidewalk a mile or so to the Halfway Market. There, we tap on and inspect every pumpkin before making our picks. One for Ted, one for Jeffy, and a small one for the resident dog. Then we trudge back home with our loaded wagon and proudly place said pumpkins on the porch until carving time. This year, with Teddy gone and Jeffrey ghosting in and out of the house constantly, their dad and I picked out two plump pumpkins at Kroger when we were grocery shopping one day. No pomp. No circumstance. We barely got the things carved in time for trick-or-treat.

Last week, I realized it would be the first Halloween with no Ted. So I sent him a care package with some Halloween goodies—a collection of light-up necklaces and glow-in-the-dark stuff to share with his friends. I wondered as I bought the trinkets if it was a waste of money. Surely he will think his mother has lost her mind. “Now if you go out haunting late at night, at least you’ll be visible in the dark,” I wrote, in the Happy Halloween card enclosed. Before I left for the game last night, he texted to tell me to check Facebook for a picture of him and a couple friends sporting some of the “stuff.” “I shared the stuff,” he said. “Some people said nice things about you for sending them.”

It made me smile but I still missed him.

On trick-or-treat night, after all the ghosts and goblins were back inside with bags full of candy, Jeff and I sat outside under the stars a little bit longer. As we sat with Bon, the little girl from across the street skipped over to visit with us for a moment. She had doffed her Cleopatra costume but still wore the remnants of her Egyptian makeup. “I went to every house,” she bragged. And we exclaimed over her fortitude, making much over the huge amounts of candy she amassed. This little sprite always fills my heart and I must fight the urge to scoop her up, pepper her white brow with little kisses. But I realize this would be beneath her. She is, after all, a world champion trick-or-treater.

So I just smile and memorize the curve of her face in the moonlight and sigh as I think how it was only yesterday my boys were small and their short legs were challenged to walk these streets with their pumpkin-shaped buckets full of candy.

And this morning, I make Jeffrey pancakes. And sit with him while he eats, showing him the little watercolor vignettes I’m working on for some friends, reading to him from my bird field guide all the particulars about the blue-gray gnatcatcher.

Before he leaves, he bends over me to hug me tight and kiss me on the cheek.

“I love you, mama,” he says. And then he ghosts away.

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series.  I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to stop by this post for a chance to win some signed copies of S.D. Smith’s children’s books. And stop by this post for a chance to win The Girlfriend’s Short Stack. 

Almost Empty

31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest: Two Natures

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The milkweed pods have rent their hearts wide open, spilling feather-soft seeds into the wind. Everywhere we walk they hover in our midst—silky filament-clad aviators. Bonnie tries to catch them, taking great bounding leaps and biting at the air. But the more she chases, the more she disturbs the invisible current and the higher the seed cluster lifts into the sky. The milkweed seed is surrounded by a crown of silky hairs that act as miniature parachutes when the wind gives flight. These soft halos allow the wind to carry the seed as far or as close as it will. We stand, earth-bound, and watch it drift away.

When we were kids, we would break open the pods and strip the milkweed of her silk. We would stroke the soft tendrils and use them to decorate our mud pies and cakes. I know that if every seed found purchase, we would be overrun by milkweed, which can be invasive. Still, my heart smiles at the thought of the forgotten milkweed seed, growing up out of my mud pie. Perhaps the Monarchs would be happy at this too.

The milkweed is in the genus Asclepias, named after the Greek god of healing. It was named thus because of the many folk remedies it is party to, but as I watch the seed drift higher, I feel a different kind of healing in my spirit. I want to learn from the milkweed seed. How to be so light? How to be lifted by the wind? It’s not in my nature to give myself away like this.

In rest and flight, the milkweed is a thing of wonder. The way the seeds are lined up in neat rows when they are within the pod—like the feathers of a bird—reminds me of the beauty and order that can be found in nature. But when the pod ruptures and the seeds are given to the wind, I am taken by the wild unpredictability.

These two natures—order and unpredictability—have been at war inside of me too during this season. In the almost-empty nest, I have struggled against the urge to hold on—not only to my children and the old ways, but to being at the center of their lives. The more I chase this drifting crown, the further it lifts away from me. Every day is different than the next. I want to grab the rent open heart of my pod and pull its leathery sides together—contain these seeds that cling rakishly by one thin strand—waiting for that devil wind.

But when the wind breaks its thin hold and carries it soundlessly heavenward, the beauty of this sudden abandonment creates tightness in my throat and I know this is the way it is supposed to be.

I must hold hands with wildness and order and let the drifting seeds gather light the way a dewdrop does in the morning.

To listen to this story, scroll all the way to bottom of the page for the audio recording. And forgive my raspy voice? I’m still recovering from this cold. 

This post is part of my 31 Days of the Almost Empty Nest series. I’m writing in community with the thirty-one dayers. Women all over the world are joining together in the month of October to write every day about something they’re passionate about. Check out some of the other writers here. So much good stuff. To read my first post, with links to all the days, go here. Don’t forget to leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a cool giveaway.

Almost Empty