Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Making a Home into a House

The last week, I've watched my home become less and less of a home. Walls started looking bare. Pictures started coming down. Boxes began to appear. And my heart became anxious. It's time to do it again.

Time to wipe the path of caked-on toothpaste off the sink. The path that little mouths make each night, when I roll my eyes. I just cleaned that. It's gone. The little handprints on the sink handles are gone. I wiped them away. Like no one ever lived here. Like little people never made messes here.

Wiping away the memories. Cleaning up the life that lived.

Cleaning up the afternoons of finger painting when the toddler couldn't contain her creativity to the paper. When the walls and floor became her canvases. Over and over again. When she would stray with her painted fingers into other rooms, streaking her colors onto cabinets and sinks.

Wiping away the chocolate and Doritos from the sink in the bathroom. Again. For the last time. Wiping away the crayon and marker and paint streaked down into the drain, where they washed their tiny, precious hands. Wiping up the milky handprints off of the cupboard doors, where I hadn't noticed them unless I happened to be on my knees cleaning something else. 

Cleaning up the spilled flour and sugar from the baking we  did together. Little hands clumsily measuring, held inside mommy's hands. Careful. Pay attention. It's gone. The food that boiled over from meals lovingly made. Early in the morning for the husband, in the evening for the family. Sweet treats made for special days. Holiday feasts and Birthday celebrations.

Wiping away the footprints. That paced floors with a sick baby who wouldn't eat. Holding her. Tears falling. Pacing, praying. In the middle of the night, while the world slept and he was far away. Footprints from holding crying children who were missing Daddy. Or waking from nightmares. Fevers, coughs. Rocking, cuddling, praying more.

Footprints from wandering through the house, mindlessly fingering each blessed decade. Pacing because he hadn't called when he usually did. Forgetting he said he wouldn't be able to call. Remembering why he said he wouldn't call. Which made the worrying worse.

Cleaning up the banners and countdowns. Wiping up the tears of Homecoming. He's home! He's safe! No more sleepless nights of worry and fear. More footprints to clean. Praise God. More paint on the walls. Thank you, Jesus. Cleaning up after him again.

Footprints from pacing. Timing the contractions, it's almost time to go. Another sweet baby coming. A sweet, tiny baby who nearly didn't make it. So small. Waiting. The pacing fizzled out. Leaving for the hospital. Coming home with a new human person. A precious daughter. Adding to our fold. Sleepless night of feeding and swaddling. Treasuring every second. Because they grow too fast.

Wiping away the worry and then grief. Leaving for the hospital, but coming home empty-handed. Cleaning up the shattered hearts, the tears falling. Wiping the door that opened again and again, letting love and blessings come in. Hugs, friends, food, comfort. Cleaning up the realization that even death cannot reign over Love. God conquers all.

Cleaning up after all the friends and family. Aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. Grandmothers and Grandfathers. A house brimming with love, loud with joy. Wiping up the numerous little footprints that ran through the house all weekend, and then out the front door late Sunday night.

Books and plastic bangles found behind the furniture. Forgotten, lost. Now, found. Stuffing the little trinkets in the last few open boxes. Where all of our life lives.

Wiping up until it's clean. Stark. No individuality left. Just white walls, wooden floors. Wiping away the life like it was never here. Because behind us, someone else will come. They will come in and make their own beautiful mess.

And we will continue on our journey, enter a new home. Start a new chapter. A chapter peppered with inevitable struggle and hardship. A chapter overflowing with joy and blessings. A chapter with new streaks of color. God willing, new life. A chapter with new footprints.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I supposed it all started innocently enough. Or maybe naively enough. He had orders to leave for a year, and was leaving in about six months. I started reading, researching, and talking to Army Wives about deployment survival tips. Most of them said the same thing:

"Start a hobby or an activity that will distract you while he's gone. Something to work towards." 

I knew, when I graduated with my undergraduate degree that I was not done with school. I was very sure I would be pursuing a Masters at some point. My plan was much different than His. After teaching a year of high school, I would return to the East Coast to get my Masters. But, then the most amazing man walked into my life, and my goals were happily placed on hold. 

So, when the Army wives encouraged that "hobby," I could think of nothing better than starting my degree. What did I have to lose? I decided that I would start that August (of 2010) and I would take two classes each semester, finishing up shortly after he returned home. 


He was gone four days and I had just started my third and fourth classes when I found out about her. She had been there when my oldest and I had said good-bye to our hero for a year. We just didn't know it. And thus started my crazy ride through graduate school.

It's been quite a ride. 

Four moves, three pregnancies, two babies, two deployments and a few difficult seasons, and I am done. I never would have seen it turning out this way. 

But I finished. 

I finished because I wanted this. Felt called to do it. Because I needed something amidst all the upheaval of him leaving, him being gone, to pull my mind away from all the hardship. I needed this because I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. 

The semesters when I had tendinitis so badly I couldn't type. My husband bought me a voice to type program so that I could keep pushing through. The year that I took two semesters off, because we'd just added my second daughter, welcomed our Soldier home, and then moved a few months later. It added to the clock, but I desperately needed the break. The semester I thought I was going to lose my youngest daughter late in the pregnancy because her growth was behind and she wasn't moving. 

The semesters I made it through. I survived. The extremely gracious comments from my professors regarding my work. When I barely pulled off those A's. Last semester, when I was invited to join the International English Honors Society. 

I did it. 

When my daughters look at me someday and say, "I can't do this." I will say, "Yes. You can." Because I did it. Because I want them to look at Mommy and see that life is tough. Life kicks you down sometimes. Sometimes, it kicks you down and just won't stop kicking you. But you forge through. Because you are strong. You are capable. And you have God. 

I want them to see that, though life was hard at times for us, especially when their father was in graduate school at the same time, that we finished. We did the best we could and we made it. I want them to know that, often times, the best things in life require incredibly hard work. And they are capable of that hard work. 

I want them to know that they can do anything they want. If it's a M.D. from a prestigious school, fantastic. If they want to go to law school, they have my blessing. If it's dental hygienist school, I'm proud. If it's working towards your Masters as your house fills with blessed children and you are often alone while working on that degree, you will make it. You will succeed. 

Because life is hard. Work is hard. Big achievements take time. They take blood, sweat, and a lot of tears. Teary, heart-filled prayer. But, you can do it. 

I did it. 

Through sometimes insurmountable odds, I forged through. A year alone without my husband, but I finished four classes. A four month deployment that was determined to destroy me, and I finished another class. The loss of our son halfway through the pregnancy, and a week later I defended my thesis. And passed it. 

It's not only the degree. It's the odds I worked through. So many times, I could have walked away. I quit. Been done and gone back to just being a mother. But, I knew I needed to prove to myself that I could do this. And I did. Despite a crazy ride, I finished my Masters degree. 

But, I also needed to show my girls that we aren't quitters. Sometimes, though life is hard, we push through and finish what we started. When it all seems insurmountable: baby steps. Don't worry about next week, next month. Just focus on today. 

And, today, I'm done. I will cross the finish line in a couple of weeks when I walk the stage for my degree. My girls will look on. My husband will be cheering. My sweet family, my rock. My support. My beautiful life rejoicing with me.

Because, together, we did it.