Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer and the Sea

“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean, in a drop.” - Rumi
Every once in a while, I suppose, it might be good for us to get away from the city and spend some time with just the four (ok nearly five) of us. Thanks to my always-generous parents, we were able to spend a week in a hotel room in Florida this week. They reminded us if they had gotten us anything bigger than one room, we would have immediately invited some of the boys to join us (guilty as charged). Not that we dont love bringing the boys to Florida. We do, every time. It's just that we are also realizing, for the sake of our own kid's hearts, they sometimes need our undivided attention. 
And that, I hope, is what they got this week. Particularly because the single room also meant us all going to bed at a shockingly early hour. In fact, I only finished one book (also shocking). 

I also re-discovered that not only are my children quite exhausting, but they are also majorly delightful. Hilarious and adorable and mostly well-mannered. 
And so I apologize for the picture overload, but I cannot help it: my kids are irresistible. I mean, Caden has quite possibly turned into the cutest three year old of all time.
And Jayci might have her days of sass and all-of-the-fighting, but she is also absolutely beautiful both inside and out. Stubborn and determined and smart and sweet, all wrapped up with pretty blond hair and steel-blue eyes. Sigh.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

For The Bestest Daddy

 Looking back on pictures of when we first brought Jayci home from the hospital, it mostly feels like we were just babies ourselves. How could we have known what we were doing? The truth is, in many (or most) ways we didn't. Luckily, you were a natural from the very first minute. Dubbed the "baby whisperer" and "swaddle master," you took to fatherhood from the very start. Watching the way you love Jayci, and the ways you have grown into your role as father in big and small steps every day, has only grown my respect and admiration and love for you. You have taught and continue to teach Jayci the ways she deserves to be cherished by a man, and how she needs to be delighted in and loved deeply and with gentleness. And you also teach her it's ok to make mistakes, to take risks, to be silly, and not to take herself so seriously. You are absolutely the best dad for Jayci, and it's amazing to see the ways you were made perfectly to be her father.
 When we went from one child to two, parenthood was a whole new ball-game. Throw in Caden's unexpected heart defect and those first few days and weeks after his birth were a make-or-break moment for us in our marriage, and for our family. Luckily, you have never been anything less than a rock. A super-dad who handles everything thrown at you with grace and skill (it's borderline maddening how good you are everything really). Those days besides Caden's hospital bed, and the nights we cried together and prayed together, they are cemented in my mind as a beautiful and poignant picture of the ways that Jesus carried us and held us every step of the way. He still holds us, and this is the real reason you are such an amazing father - because you rely on Christ every single day and He works in and through you to draw our entire family closer to Him as a result.
I love the way you father Caden. How you are always teaching him about how to be the kind of man who isn't afraid to ask for help. Who takes care of those around him, both practically and by noticing their needs and desires and making sure every person feels included and loved. You show him in small and big ways how he can pursue Christ as the head of our household without ever wielding your authority in anything but servitude. Caden's sense of humor always reminds me of you, the way you disarm and win people over immediately by making them laugh. I hope our children learn this gift from you. And I especially hope that they might follow in your footsteps as a protector and provider, and a man after God's heart. 
You are the kind of dad everyone wishes they had. The perfect mixture of patience and silliness, of kindness and wisdom, of playful tickle-fights and snuggles on the couch. You teach our kids (not to mention all the kiddos) about fairness and about fun, and especially about what it means to be a man who loves and follows Jesus every single day.

I just wanted to take a minute today and make sure you knew how grateful we are for who you are. We have all-the-jokes around here about you being "the pioneer woman," and about all the ways you are good at everything. But the truth is that this little urban-homestead we have here runs a whole lot less smoothly without you. Together, we parent our children well, and that is only because you are such an anchor, even when you are at your silliest. Thank you for the ways you love all of us, and for the ways that you allow yourself to learn and grow throughout the process.

I cant wait to see how our newest chapter will unfold as the third Stanley baby joins our clan in just a few short weeks. We've already decided perhaps he will be our craziest one yet, since he kicks me and turns somersaults in my belly on a fairly-constant basis. You always joke that he's a "little Adam," to which I roll my eyes and laughingly joke about how I'm going to need Jesus's help with that one (which is obviously true). But also, if we can raise our boys to be anything like the husband, father, and man that you are every single day - I will consider our work as parents a success. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

10 Things

1. Two weeks ago, Adam took 50 kids to Missouri for KAA. The kids and I were at home by our lonesome, particularly because Adam had brought most of the neighborhood kids with him. Thankfully, our next-door neighbors took care of the chickens, or they may not have made it. The kids and I survived by the skin of our teeth, mostly with lots of pool time and park visits. 
2. Here's a few of the biggest boys at camp, oh my heart. I was really sad not to be there with them, and I guess Caden heard me complain a time-or-two that they wouldn't let me go along because I was pregnant. One night as I was tucking them into their new bunk beds, Caden said, a little tearfully, "mommy, are Jayci and I pregnant people and that's why we couldn't go to camp this time?
3. Speaking of new bunk beds, Jayci and Caden have moved into their new shared room. There was a little bit of a learning curve in figuring out how to fall asleep in a shared room (which unfortunately I bore the brunt of while daddy was at camp), but they're old pros at this point. I just finished hanging a gallery wall (without Adam! this is unheard of for me to accomplish things by myself), pictures coming soon. 
4. Adam was only home for four days before leaving again on a contract-work trip to Dallas. In those four days, we managed to host a cookout/playoff game in the backyard night to celebrate a few of the boys graduating high school. After I took this picture, approximately twelve more boys and a few girlfriends showed up. Which meant my heart was full, and that all the food and four pitchers of lemonade were gone in no time.
5. I dont know about anyone else, but I can tell first thing in the morning whether or not my kids are going to have a good day or a bad one. Some mornings they are cheerful and all "yes ma'am" when I tell them only one show, and other mornings there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and plenty of fights. The interesting thing is that the beginnings of the day tend to trickle all the way through and they will either play great and behave wonderfully all-day-long, or the exact opposite of that. Now if I only could figure out the secret to either A) procuring more good days or B) turning around a bad day. 
6. I am realizing that this pregnancy is in the home-stretch (kind of). Tomorrow, I will be 32 weeks pregnant, which is just insane - 8 more weeks seems both impossibly long and way-too-short. We have started kinda-sorta working on the nursery. By which I mean Adam went in the attic and dragged down boxes for me to sort through and try to find all the baby things. This, of course, only makes me realize that our lack of organization on the front-end really just makes life that much harder. For example, being completely unable to find a stitch of baby clothing smaller than size 6 months. Maybe I'll have a really big baby and that wont be a problem . . .
7. We are still loving all our blackberries, blueberries, and now rasberries from the garden. One of my most beloved techniques for buying myself 20 minutes is to tell the kids to go pick all the ripe berries for me. Also, a few times a day, the kids yell to people walking by the berries to help yourselves to berries! As a matter of fact, our garden continues to be a source of community-building and encouragement. I'm trying to convince Adam to write some posts here with his greatest gardening tips, wouldn't you guys love that?
8. Our neighborhood park (right behind our house) is still one of our favorites. Although I tend to leave exhausted because all of the kiddos want all of the pushes on the swings and for me to watch them do all-of-the-things. 
 9. My parents' pool has also been a life-saver so far this summer. Yesterday, we brought one of our favorites over to swim and Jayci spent much time bossing him around and "teaching him how to swim underwater." Said teaching mostly involved him watching HER swim underwater ad nauseum. Thankfully, he's known her for approximately four years and has learned the art of indulgence. All of this made me realize we need to teach Caden how to swim, and Jayci learned from the wonderful "learning to swim" counselors at Camp Grace. Meaning I have no idea how to teach another human being how to swim (something I'm not exactly awesome at myself).
10. On days/evenings when it's not too hot, we spend lots of time on our backyard tire swing, which for sure is the best (nearly free!) Christmas present we ever gave the kids. Our neighborhood is ripe with abandoned tires, as it turns out. Anyways, Adam is planning on putting together a little tutorial on how he made the best-tire-swing-ever. I am always telling Adam he would make such a wonderful lifestyle blogger. Except he couldnt share pictures of his outfits because it typically involves one of his four pink Anteaters shirts with athletic shorts, or possibly with his quick-dry shorts (which are actually zip-off pants because he could not be more fashionable). 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Things Carried

In the early part of summer, I always look forward to going to Carver HS’s graduation. Technically called The New Schools at Carver, this Title 1 high school in our neighborhood actually consists of four different schools: early college, arts, technology, and health and science research. All four schools combine for one graduation ceremony, with an atmosphere bordering on raucous. We file into a large room at the World Congress Center, filled with chairs and echoing loud with cheering. Jayci asks me if she can stand on her chair to try and see the boys walking in, and I hesitate for only a second before nodding my assent, noticing that basically every folding chair boasts someone standing on top and yelling loudly, snapping pictures and waving signs. I grin, and decline to lumber on top on my own chair, feeling unsteady enough these days without perching on a precarious folding chair. I stand on tip-toes instead, trying to catch a glimpse as the graduates file in, smiling and waving to the crowd.

My favorite part of the ceremony is always the speeches from the valedictorians and salutatorians: eight of them, two from each school. A friend from church sits next to me, and I whisper that last year, at least five of the eight mentioned they had lost a parent. He looks at me disbelievingly, and I nod with eyebrows raised. Their speeches begin, although the chatter around me does not end. I just barely resist the urge to shush loudly. Jayci lays in my lap and I rub her back, hoping she’s not actually sick again though she claims an upset stomach.

The remarkable students who graduated at the top of their respective classes tell stories that make me cringe and occasionally my eyes brim with tears. Two students have immigrated, and they thank their mothers in spanish through tears, translating to the rest of us how hard their mothers worked, how much they sacrificed, how deeply her belief in each carried them through the difficult journey of high school, even after losing a father. One boy jokes about his athletic build after comparing the four years of high school to the four quarters of a basketball game. He ends by declaring himself MVP, and sharing he will be the first in his immediate family to graduate high school, and the first in his extended family to attend college. Two girls are from Africa, and knew little English when they arrived, though their careful diction and perfect heartfelt words reveal barely an accent now. They speak of the American dream their families sought, and how it disappointed, elusive and impossible to attain with odds stacked against them. One by one, the student describe the things they’ve overcome, the lives they watched slip away, the mistakes they made, and the people who believed in them. They talk about making a decision to work harder, and to build their own better future, despite their circumstances.
I, of course, cant help but wonder where they found this elusive resilience. Why some kids choose hard work and academic success as their escape route, over gang-banging or pregnancy. If only we could bottle this mysterious elixir somehow, and administer it to all. The audience applauds their bravery, and murmurs over their achievements. This is the stuff of movies, of Freedom Writers and Dangerous Minds. Proof positive that with enough grit and determination, kids at underfunded inner-city schools can make something of themselves. And perhaps even justification, evidence gathered against the rest of the graduates: perhaps they should have just tried harder.

Quintessential American Dream stories. Overcoming the odds by yanking up bootstraps, or Nike shoelaces as-it-goes. The problem, of course, lies in all the ways this dream fails to satisfy finally. That of course we celebrate these remarkable kids, the ones who have shown great courage and wisdom in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. But not at the expense of all the others; because I look at the stage and recognize bleachers chock-full of kids who are, in fact, all quite remarkable. My own graduation seems so paltry in comparison, a smooth ride to the finish line that seemed inevitable rather than hard-won. So cheer louder, I think, celebrate big, and raise banners to the things overcome. Stay raucous and of course you can stand on your chairs, because we are determined to “always try to seek a compassion that can stand in awe at what everybody in poor communities have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it” (Father Greg Boyle).

This Saturday, Adam somehow thought it would be a good idea for to hold our Five8Football championship game and cookout, and then also leave with 50 kids for camp in Missouri immediately afterwards. Needless to say, Saturday was a bit crazy. Beautiful and fun, yes, but also crazy (basically, story of our lives). I watched the boys play against each other in football, while neighbors grilled hotdogs and chickens and smaller kids insisted they could help man the grills. I heard them encouraging each other, teasing each other, and losing with surprising grace. I mingled with parents, and endured lots of folks rubbing my belly and loud cheering when I tell them it’s another boy (what would they have done if I said it was a girl, I wonder). Then I rush to help with check-in for camp, trying to contain children nearly bursting with the excitement over a cross-country bus ride and a week at camp. Containing them is no easy task, and certainly not for the faint of heart. Before long, sweat drips down my legs and I wonder if it was the smartest idea to leave all the teenage boys alone at our house to shower and probably eat all the food they can find.

Finally, the kids all load onto the bus. I watch with a smile, despite my underlying sadness over not getting to be a part of the trip this year. And in each child that climbs aboard, I see potential. Future valedictorians, or future high-school dropouts; but valuable and brimming with promise regardless of the outcome. Because these are the ones who will shape the future, the ones who will fight for reconciliation and learn to climb over all the biggest obstacles. The ones who get to be kids for another week, who will cheer and sing, and eat to their hearts content. I pray for hearts that soften to the bigger dream, not the American dream so much as the God-sized one. The one that promises hope and a future far deeper and wider than a white picket fence and a college education. Adventure and life abundant with grace and joy for every day. Emptying themselves to be filled fuller and loved deeper than they ever imagined.


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