This started off as a gripe but it turned into something else (and I’m too lazy to go back and revise it so the tone is more consistent).

I’m not sure which cable channel it is, but starting at about 4:00 p.m., one of them starts showing commercials for a program about that chimpanzee attack on that woman that occurred earlier this year. The commercial has the gut-wrenching 911 call dubbed over shadowy, ominous pictures. It is quite dramatic, and to girls my age it is both scary and irresistible. All they can seem to take away from that commercial is that chimpanzees/gorillas (yes, I know they are not the same thing, but I have  a hard time getting them to understand that) sometimes attack people and sometimes those people DIE. That’s what my six year-old focuses on: the gorilla attacked a woman and she DIED, and it his HORRIBLE, and AWFUL, and if there were a gorilla that came to our house…. and on and on and on.

You can imagine the effect all this has on my three year-old. After multiple reassurances that a gorilla (it’s a chimp anyway, I know) is NOT going to come to our house, her little mind has finally rested on the conclusion of that particular horrible story because LMG makes sure that everyone knows it. This, of course, has led to questions about death. Tough questions that no matter how truthful yet simple I try to keep the answers, no matter how reassuring and positive a light I put it in, all SL seems to understand about it is that she can go to heaven and be with friends, family, and Jesus–but what she really wants is to stay home. I try to explain to her that Heaven will be home when we get there, but it’s all too abstract for her. She wants to be here, at home.

A few years ago when my father-in-law died, LMG had similar questions about death and similar responses about wanting to stay home. She said she would “be shy to Jesus.” But then we were able to reassure her with that grandpa Vern was in heaven, and that it is a good place. SL doesn’t have any memory of someone who has died, so those reassurances really don’t work.

There’s part of me that wants to take the easy route and ask LMG to refrain from talking about this in front of SL because it is worrying her, and at this point the worry is unnecessarily. Buuut I also know that having some understanding of death is a good thing, even at a young age. And I don’t want to give LMG the idea that she can’t talk about it or ask questions when she has them. It is not easy to strike that balance sometimes. To explain the reality of death on one hand feels a little like chipping away a bit of a child’s innocence. But on the other hand, having to explain death opens up the door to talking about eternal life, and that is such a joy and treasure to share with children. It is such a privilege to plant those seeds into children… even though the information is not what they were hoping to hear.

I have read blogs by people who obviously don’t believe in God, Jesus, or any kind of afterlife for that matter, and the despair they express when they anticipate the pain their children will experience upon realizing that (according to their beliefs) everyone they know and love will one day be gone is almost unbearable to read. I can’t imagine having to shepherd my daughters through such a harsh and horrible (mis)understanding of life and death. I am so very thankful that I know that death is not the end of it all; I am so very thankful that I don’t have the heartbreaking task of trying to teach my children that horrible lie.

And so, for now, I will try to be wise, I will try to be sensitive, I will stop worrying about how SL is receiving this message for now. Because it is my Father’s message, and as long as I humbly, prayerfully speak his Truth, I can’t see how it can turn out bad.

So this is what 34 looks like.

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When I was six, I wanted to look just like my cousin Vicki. She had dark brown hair; big, beautiful brown eyes, and a mega-watt smile. (She still does.) She smiled a lot. Imagine the cutest brunette cheerleader you can, right down to the petite, athletic (not twiggy) physique and you’re probably close. I was also completely enthralled with her bedroom which was decked out in purple and gold, our local high school colors, and especially the giant bulletin board filled with mementos like prom pictures, concert ticket stubs, and other evidence of utter coolness.

When I was eleven, I wanted to be Latina. Of course, I didn’t know the name for it then, but these were the days of Menudo, Lisa Lisa Cult Jam, Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine and the movie Playing For Keeps and Purple Rain. I wanted the big, curly, dark wild hair, the beautiful brown skin that looked tan all year, the heavy eye make-up and the hoop earrings. I also wanted the accent.  I wanted to look wild and exotic, and most importantly, I wanted to be the most awesome dancer ever. There is a part of me that has never moved on from this aesthetic.

I honestly can’t remember who I wanted to look like when I was sixteen. That’s because I was more focused on boys and what they looked like.  If my junior year school picture is any indication, I still had a strong preference for big curly hair, but heavy make-up was not my thing. I do remember loving wild sweaters and thinking that turquoise and purple was the best color combination ever. I also could not wear enough jewelry at any given time.

At 21 I was dating my future husband, and I had figured out that I was never going to be glamorous, Latina, or a size 4. I wanted to be classic so I wore lots of long, floral, flowey skirts, solid colored blouses, and conservative jewelry. In other words, I dressed like someone my mother’s age. I was okay with not being beautiful, because heaven knows, I didn’t want to look like I was trying. Whatever I was, I wanted it to be nearly effortless, because to me there was nothing worse than someone trying so hard to look like something they just weren’t.

It was probably between the ages of 10-12 that I spent hours locked in our only bathroom, music on, performing the songs into the mirror. I studied myself very carefully: me serious, me smiling, me laughing, me silly. I wondered when I was going to stop looking like me and start looking like a woman.  And truthfully, even now when I look in the mirror there is still that thought rattling around in the back of my mind. What? I still look the same? When am I going to stop looking like me and start looking like a woman? And by that, I don’t mean that I think I still look 12 years old. I suppose what I’m looking for is the easy grace, the effortless beauty, the self-assurance, the vaVOOM that is woman to me.

But I’m assuming that when one reaches 34 years of age, there really is no need to hold out for womanhood to arrive. I suppose I’ve been here for quite some time now. I guess this is what me as a woman looks like. Huh.

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For Timmy.

Today I am sad. My day went on as planned, but for some very old friends of mine, life will never be the same. It is impossible to say anything about death that has not already been said before. And it feels wrong to talk about someone else’s death only in terms of how it affects me when I know there are others whose hurt is unspeakable.

I’m forced to fall back on the overwrought metaphor of life being a tapestry (and I know nothing about weaving). The Coffmans are one of those important threads stretch all the way back to nearly the beginning… lots of beginnings, actually. Tim Coffman, Sr. helped coach my very first softball team. Softball… the sport that solidified three of the four most important friendships I have to this day. Stacey Coffman and I were friends all the way through school, and if it weren’t for her, I would not have met my husband.

Timmy is Stacey’s younger brother and a part of a very well-known, well-liked family in my hometown. Timmy was always, and I mean always, unfailingly kind and sweet. Unlike a lot of younger brothers who could be annoying twerps (I have one, so I should know), Timmy was the kind of guy who seemed at ease and happy no matter who was around. I remember Timmy and Stacey painting a welcome home banner for my cousin when she returned home from Saudi Arabia after serving in Desert Storm. Stacey and Tim are both the types of people who would do anything to help anyone, and do so gladly. Tim’s sparkling blue eyes, easy smile, and gentle nature just made his kindness even more apparent.

I am sorry to say that I did not know the man that Timmy became, but I have a feeling that if I were to bump into him tomorrow, we would be able to chat and laugh as though barely a day had passed. I have to stop and remind myself that he was a husband and a father, which makes his sudden passing even more tragic. My memories of Tim’s warm spirit and sweet nature make me certain that he was an amazing husband and father. The condolences I see written for his family merely confirm what was obvious to anybody who knew him then, now, or all the years of his (too) short life.

And so, though this loss is not mine, it is huge nonetheless because the world needs more people like Timmy Coffman. He is exactly the kind of person that it can truly be said that he will be missed by so many… even by those of us who have not really known him or seen him in years.

My heart goes out to his wife, child, mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, nieces, newphews, friends.

A conversation about anything, something, and nothing.

Actual conversation with Super L, three years old:

[I walk into my bedroom. Super L is standing at my dresser. The Crayola fingerpaints that John purchased last week that I’ve been too lazy to take downstairs to the playroom are at her eye level, and her fingers are gently touching the box. The paints are still packaged perfectly. No worries].

SL: I wasn’t doing anyfing. [Shaking her head adamantly]

Me: Okay.

SL: I wasn’t doing anyfing.

Me: [smiling] I know. It’s okay.

SL: Did [insert sister’s name] tell on me?

Me: [hesitating, trying to remember] Nooooo?

SL: Did she tell you somefing.

Me: No. I don’t… think… so. What do you think she told me?

[Loooooong pause in which her facial expression ever so subtly, almost imperceptibly, changed from concern, to guilt, to calculating, to mischievousness, to composed innocence. A sweet little smile spreading across her face. A spritely little twinkle in her eye. She looks away. She looks back, still grinning.]

SL: Nofing.

Methinks I am going to get a run for my money with her. And it’s going to be great.

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