“Well, it depends.”

One of the most bizarre things a mother can experience is that she can birth a child into the world who has a personality completely different than her own.

My mother did just that.

I came into this world, very quickly (my dad barely made it to the hospital in time) and very loudly, according to my father. I was a horrible sleeper (a trait I passed on to my own child) and sensitive and fearful. I was wired for anxiety and phobias and seemed to be driven by my emotions.

From the time I was two years old, up until adulthood, my mother spent a lot of time sagely advising me to slow down. To wait. To be patient. To think. I didn’t like that she was telling me these things, but I mostly listened because something inside of me knew she was speaking wisdom to me.

But the best piece of advice my mother ever gave me of all time was simply two words, or sometimes three, depending on how she framed it:

“It depends.”

That’s right, folks. Two words: IT DEPENDS. Sometimes she added in the extra word, “well,” at the beginning, and in that case, she said:

Well, it depends.”

If I had a dollar for every time my mother said, “It depends,” I would be rolling in the dough. To this day, she says it frequently in response to people making “should” statements that are filled with emotion. The following are a list of statements to which my mother has responded with her adage, “Well, it depends.”

  • Our culture: “Follow your heart.” Mom: “Well, it depends. Sometimes the heart is just a bunch of feelings.”
  • Our culture: “Be fearless.” Mom: “It depends; sometimes fear is there to protect you.”
  • Our culture: “Live your life with no regrets.” Mom: “Well it depends. Sometimes regret can teach us things.”
  • Our culture: “Stand up for what you know is right.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You may not be right and may just be being stubborn.”
  • Our culture: “Take the bull by the horns and act quickly and efficiently.” Mom: “Well, it depends. You can take your time and be efficient as well.”

You see??? IT JUST DEPENDS. That is what I have learned from my mother.

My whole point in sharing how my mother’s phrase has helped me, is because I realize today that it has caused me, despite the fact that I’m wired to be emotional and even anxious, to choose to be OPEN to multiple perspectives. To be OPEN to multiple ways of existing, and feeling and thinking.

And while there are definite moral truths that cannot be argued with when it comes to equality and justice for humanity–no matter who you are, where you live, or what you have done– beyond those universal truths lies the world of “It depends.”

No one has this freaking thing called life figured out. We are all going to make independent judgments based on our experiences. However, there is great comfort in knowing that feelings are just feelings and, as a wise yoga teacher once said, “I am determined to see this mountain as just a mountain. It’s not a statement on my life,” (meaning not everything we perceive as terrible that’s happening to us has anything to do with us).

Pastor Rob Bell says our culture is all treble and no bass. People get their news and develop their thoughts from what they are exposed to on social media. Through the lens of technology, we have begun to believe there are quick answers to everything. In the craziness of all of this, my mom has been my bass, my voice of reason, by asserting that we cannot depend entirely on feelings, or easily swayed by new voices simply because they sound good. It just depends.

I close with a photo of my Mom, telling everyone to chill out, because no one knows what’s going to happen. “It depends,” she probably is saying. ⬇️

Robert Earl Whitehead

Yesterday, my dad turned 77 years old. Like I said in my last blog about my mother, who just turned 79, it’s so hard to believe that my parents are almost in their 80s. In my mind, they are still like 62 or something. But as I discovered the other day, my parents are older than some of my friends’ grandparents. They are aging, and that is a reality which has somehow never been easy for me to grasp.

But, back to my dad. My dad has always been an unusual character. Out of my two parents, he’s the most like me, in personality. He’s extraverted, works better with children than adults (he still teaches Sunday School to preschoolers), enjoys adventure, and tells the most interesting stories of ANYONE I’ve ever known.

When I was a child, I remember one of my cousins describing a man in an airport she had observed that reminded her of my father.

“Did he look like my dad? Like bald and kinda short?” I asked.

“No, she said. “Not at all. But it wasn’t the way he looked that reminded me of your dad… it was the way he moved around.”

“Moved around?”

“Yeah, like he stood there with his hands on his hips, turning his head in every direction, frenetically observing everything happening around him. And his face had a look on him like this 🤨.”

Yep, that sounds about right, I thought to myself.

My dad has never known a stranger. He has always spoken to everyone about anything and everything. If my dad were a cat instead of a human, curiosity would have killed all of his nine lives before he had even made it to adulthood.

My father’s stories have always intrigued my friends and I. His stories include some of the following: the time the nuns made up a lie about him in order to kick him out of the choir in Catholic school, the time he almost drowned in the ocean when he kicked off in an inner tube from the north shore of Oahu, the time when he got fired in the college cafeteria, the time he dropped a mercury thermometer and infected large quantities of tomatoes at the canned tomato factory, the time he failed sex education class IN COLLEGE, and the time he was thrown in jail in Florida on spring break.

Despite his animated storytelling and unique way of carrying himself, he always struck me as someone who perhaps has been misunderstood. People have mistaken his kindness for weakness, his ADHD nature for being unobservant, and his sense of adventure for fearlessness.

When I was in high school, a mentor of mine told me that every nuclear family tends to have a scapegoat–the person who gets blamed for everything or is picked on more than others. Upon hearing this statement, I immediately thought of my father, and realized that he was our family’s scapegoat. Something missing? Dad surely misplaced it. Forgot the one item on the grocery list we needed? Dad’s fault. People are laughing at us? Dad must be doing something ridiculous. Happy birthday rendition sounds like nails on the chalkboard? Dad tried to sing.

Everything wrong? Dad must have done something.

And here’s the thing about scapegoats–they often play along in their role. And my dad did just that. He had no problems being the brunt of jokes or being blamed for crap for the most part. He just went with the flow.

But here’s the other thing about scapegoats–they are often misunderstood.

I want to tell you a story about my father that only I can tell so that maybe I can show a side of him that not everyone knows. When I was about eight years old, we were walking out to the car together to go to the grocery store and I said, “Oh my God!” about something, and my dad froze in his tracks. I looked up at him in that moment, and the outrage I saw in his eyes made me truly afraid of him for the first, and possibly only, time. You see, my dad would get mad here and there, but I never took it too seriously because I knew he was just pouty and a little emotional. But this time, I had apparently hit a nerve. He was angry, but he didn’t scream. He got down on his knees, eye level, and told me, “Don’t you ever take the Lord’s name in vain again. You know I don’t spank, but I will spank you for that.”

And I don’t think I ever said, “Oh my God,” until I was like 33 years old after that. My dad wasn’t strict with me (that was my mom’s job in our home,) but he was apparently strict about invoking the name of the Lord.

A couple of years ago, I gave my dad a book that had questions in it that I wanted him to write the answers to. The questions were mostly about his life, and the experiences he has had. When he was done, he gave the book back to me to have as a keepsake. I am a sentimental person when it comes to my aging parents, so I didn’t open the book up until yesterday because I was afraid it would make me cry.

But it didn’t make me cry. Instead, it made me laugh a little. Mostly, it made me feel profound gratitude for having had my dad as MY DAD.

Here are a couple thoughts he wrote in the book:

“I would like everyone to remember me as a person that loved his family and tried to do everything I could to create a happy family.

I also want people to know I tried to live a life that I felt as a human could follow the love of Christ. I also tried to make life better to others that I related to. I truly wanted to not hurt others and tried to create a life that Jesus wanted me to live.”

What stood out to me is that he said he wanted to follow the LOVE of Christ. Because an awful lot of people these days are talking about Jesus as if he were some conservative dude who supported the wealthy and those in power. I am not an expert on Jesus, but one thing I learned from my dad is that Jesus showed love to those who were OUTCASTS. To those who were poor. To those who were underprivileged and not accepted by mainstream society. To those that were the antithesis of popular and respected.

And that’s the Jesus my dad modeled his life after.

So Dad, even if you are the scapegoat of the family, one thing you can be sure of is this: you will be remembered as you want to be, because that is WHO YOU ARE: someone who loved his family, always quick to forgive and the first to apologize, and someone who loved the outcasts of this world: the homeless, the refugees, children in poverty, the drug addicts, and I could go on and on.

I learned how to love others from you. And I learned what love IS from you.

Thank you for your unconditional love, Dad.

Grace Elaine Sommers Whitehead

This past week my mom turned 79. It’s kind of jolting, because I don’t think of her as being someone who is close to entering her octogenarian years. She’s just my mom. However, she’s MY MOM. And being that I’m a mom, this has caused me to reflect on what it must be like to be my mom.

Sometimes I look at old pictures of myself from when I was a kid, and try to remember what my personality was like. I’m guessing my mom would say I was a happy and talkative child, and I was, for the most part. I liked to play outdoors in the dirt, ride my tricycle, talk to the neighbors, and play in the sandbox. I also liked to pretend I had imaginary friends and even children. One day I told my mom that I had two daughters–one named Ruthie (after my grandma who I was obsessed with) and Crouton (after my favorite salad bar topping-BECAUSE WHO DOESN’T LOVE SEASONED BREAD?!). I was creative and liked to color and draw and watch the birds at the bird feeder.

My mom would sit at the foot of my bed every night until I fell asleep. We said bedtime prayers, and she helped me to learn how to pray. She cooked healthy food for us, and we always ate at the table.

(God, I should stop reminiscing because this is actually making me think about all the ways I’ve failed as a parent.)

But before I stop, I must mention one more thing.

I remember lying in bed in my childhood bedroom. Only I wasn’t a child anymore. I was 30 years old. My mom had pulled the curtains up, in hopes that I would feel the sunshine. It was springtime and it was beautiful weather. And yet, I couldn’t stop crying, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew my parents were concerned, but every time they tried to speak to me, I either cried or shut down. And all I remember thinking was, why can’t I just enjoy the sunshine? There are actual people who are getting up with the sun and going outside and living their lives and going to the grocery store and shit. And getting up to go pee was overwhelming to me. Eating was overwhelming to me. Showering was overwhelming to me.

I felt like I was getting evicted from my own life. This was during my second separation from my husband. Things were crumbling and I did not want to surrender. What I didn’t yet understand was that, as Glennon always says, nobody gets evicted from his or her life unless she is being called to a truer, deeper life. Rock bottom is always an invitation to something else- something even more authentic and beautiful.

My mother came into my bedroom. She sat down on my bed. She told me she had baked some homemade bread and had fresh strawberry jam, made with strawberries from our garden. While my mother is an incredible cook, it was very out of character for her to make homemade bread. I looked at her, perplexed. But then I knew: she’s trying to get me to eat AND baking may be her way of coping with the fact that her child is feeling hopeless and not eating or sleeping.

She convinced me to eat a piece of bread. She brought it upstairs to me and sat on my bed. I put the bread in my mouth and could tell it was nearly a perfect tasting piece of bread, so I began to chew it, even though I wasn’t enjoying the process of eating. Every time I swallowed food, it went into the pit of my stomach and I thought would vomit. But I didn’t vomit. So I continued to slowly and thoroughly chew the bread in my mouth so that I could nourish my body at least.

“I’ve been thinking,” my mother suddenly said, “about you.”

I sat up in bed. She had my attention.

“I have this vision of you in my mind. You are an exquisite, beautiful flower. And yet, you’ve been buried for so long under the dirt. The ground above you is hard and cracked, and the soil is not good. However, you continue to grow and you will soon sprout above this ground that is holding you back–this ground that has held you down for so many years, and you will begin to bloom. And you’re just the most beautiful flower. You’re becoming yourself and you’re stunning. You are going to bloom and break free.”

I looked at her in awe, because she was envisioning things for me that I simply couldn’t see. But what she said–her words–were so intricate and fascinating, that it drew me in.

Everyone has always loved my mother. At times I resented this, because I didn’t like sharing her. I would get jealous and hide for attention or act out (when I was a child, to clarify-not last week 😜). But now I know why people are so drawn to her-it’s because she showed up for them, and never fell apart. It’s because she’s a vault when it comes to trust. My mother has exhibited grace under pressure, time and time again. When others are stressed, she remains serious. When people are crying and crushed, she responds with compassion. That’s why people love her.

So that is my mother. She is a believer in things that dwell in truth and possibility. Happy birthday, Mom.

Child of God

On Tuesday, I drove up to Kokomo to be with my dad at his doctor’s appointment. On the way there, I stopped to grab some coffee. 

I went inside the coffee shop and ordered. As I was waiting for my organic, almond milk, local pumpkin “spiced” latte, (I know, I’m annoying), I sat down on a couch and peered out the window. 

Outside there was a child with a beautiful round face playing with legos at a table while a woman (presumably the child’s  mother) chatted with a few of her friends. 

The child came up to the window and waved at me through the glass. I waved back, smiling, and wondered what gender the child was. It was hard for me to discern, and I found myself wanting to know. 

And then I sighed. And just sat there, mesmerized by this child’s smile, until I heard the barista say, “Order for Emily!”

And as I walked away, I suddenly snapped out of my wondering. I am not sure why. Maybe it was just the emotional state I was in. I was trying to go into the doctor’s appointment with an open heart, trusting what was about to happen, despite my fear.  And so I heard a voice inside me say, “You don’t really need to know everything, Emily. Don’t put that beautiful child in a box. Separate yourself from this world of boxes and labels.”

And I began to think about my own baby, who is really not a baby anymore, but a vibrant 8 year old. As I’ve mentioned in this blog before, when people ask her, “What are you mixed with?” I feel weird and awkward and like some boundary has been crossed. I am still stunned when strangers and acquaintances ask that question so effortlessly. It slides of their tongues like smooth butter. 

“What is she mixed with?”

“What is she?” 

“Are you her mom? What is her dad?”

It’s a label–a category–that people want. And it bugs me. Perhaps I’m overly sensitive. Or perhaps I’m not. 

But here I was with this beautiful child, in the coffee shop, wanting the same. I wanted a label. A box. A category. Male or female? I’m embarrassed to admit that my psyche may have wanted to know, so that it could structure my interactions with this child based upon knowledge of his or her gender. 

And that is NOT someone I want to be. 

I suppose my brain knows that deep down–which is why it started talking to me about boxes and labels. The child is a child is a child. The child has his or her own identity which is being shaped and formed and I have no business being involved in that process. 

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, (who recently divorced her husband) announced that she’s in love with another female, who happens to be badass soccer player, Abby Wambach. Everyone is suddenly like, “Is Glennon gay? Is she bisexual? What IS she?”

And there’s something about those questions that I find unnverving. It’s like, we humans are so obsessed with checking boxes. These are some of the common boxes we like to check: 

  • Gender 
  • Race
  • Sexuality

And there’s a lot more. But those above are the three biggies. And there’s a reason for that–people treat you differently based upon their associations and/or unsettling beliefs they associate with those labels. 

There are people in this world who are very uncomfortable without labels; these are the people who can’t stand not knowing what “categories” others fall into. They find comfort in categories and do not like ambiguity. 

And yet, if there’s one thing to be certain of in life, it is that our lives WILL be filled with ambiguity. We are not omniscient nor were we designed to be.

And so I was thinking about ALL the things I just said (I’ve a busy brain) as I entered my dad’s doctor appointment with his neurologist. And as the neurologist gave me his diagnosis, “Your dad is in the beginning to moderate stages of Alzheimer’s disease,” I made a conscious decision right then and there to not let this diagnositic label DEFINE him. 

I saw my dad’s face, as the neurologist told him that the disease is not curable. He was unable to make eye contact with the doctor. He was somber. He did not ask questions. So I did. 

“What does this mean?” I asked. 

“It means he needs to start this medication I’m prescribing as soon as possible to prolong the quality of his life,” the doctor said. 

He went on to explain that with this medication, we are buying at least 8-11 more years of a life that is true to him. 

When I looked over at my dad, I thought I would cry, but instead I just felt overwhelming love and compassion for him. I looked him square in the eyes when we left and told him that this is a condition… but it’s not WHO he is. 

We cannot let these labels–these boxes, these words–DEFINE each other. They are cages. You know what my most important identity is? Child of God. That’s it. Because I’ve had important labels taken away from me–wife, niece, granddaughter, and friend. And yet, I’ve gone on living. 

People build walls in the name of labels; when what we REALLY need is proximity. 

As for me, I am going to do my best to fall in love with the ambiguity, while  decreasing the distance between myself and those different from me. 

And I’m going to keep reminding my dad of his most important identity: child of God. I love you, dad. 

Your Children are not your Children

My mom was born in her grandparents’ home in the cold of winter on January 14th, 1939. Her mom, Ruth, was a homemaker, and her father, Clayton, was a farmer and Mennonite pastor. They named her Grace Elaine. 

This is the home/farm where she grew up:   
She was the first born of three children, and the only girl, but was not spoiled in any way shape or form. Those Mennonite grandparents of mine were too busy thinking about how to put a meal on the table and sew their own clothes and milk cows and crap. 

Here’s a photo of my mama and her cousins when she was younger. My mom is in the center, with her hands up by her mouth. Her younger brother, Elson, is in the front, putting God knows what into his mouth. 

 

When I asked her to describe her childhood, she said the following, “We had good, simple food and were never hungry because we had cows my parents milked and food from the garden which was canned in the summer. We kept potatoes and apples in the basement during the winter.  

We had chickens who laid eggs which we needed to gather. Sometimes we bought groceries from a huckster, a man with a truck which had shelves of food. ”

I have no idea what the hell a huckster is. 

Anyways, my mom was a good girl. She pretty much did what her parents wanted her to do. Despite that fact, they SENT HER AWAY to Mennonite boarding school–a private, Mennonite high school that was located two hours from home. I guess they just wanted to make sure she was a hundred percent Mennonite a hundred percent of the time. 

And she pretty much was. She sewed, read the Bible, sang hymns, cooked awesome food, and even wore a covering on her head. She was beautiful, but concealed her beauty in order not to be vain. That was the “Mennonite way” during that time.

My mom was a unique mother. She became an ordained minister when I was in the third grade. (More on that here, if you’re curious.She was extremely matter of fact all of the time, as well as logical and honest. When I was around seven years old, she sat me down and talked to me about menstruation. I was like, “This sucks, and why the heck are you telling me about this because I’m freaking seven years old??!!” 

Her reply, “Because it’s going to happen someday, and you need to be informed.” Such a Grace answer. 

She bought my brother and me a book about body parts and bodies changing. When she saw us reading it, she said, “Let me know if you have any questions. It’s okay to talk about the book.” We were like, “Um, no,” and quickly put the book away in embarrassment. 

She believed in rules and following them, but definitely picked her battles carefully. If she said, “If you do that one more time, you will get spanked,” she meant it. 

For whatever reason, she neither encouraged nor discouraged us from believing in Santa or the Easter Bunny. My theory is that she could not tell a lie. Ever. She was like freaking George Washington, for God’s sake. 

She rarely showed emotion, and was often even-keeled–the opposite of my dad. However, when she lost her brother to cancer, I remember seeing her tears. She says, “My saddest time was when my brother Elson died from a four year battle with cancer. Since he was 18 months younger than I, I felt he was part of me. I had so many tears even though we lived hundreds of miles apart for many years. Even a long time after the funeral I was surprised that when I looked into a mirror I felt like crying. That has never happened before or since.”

That’s what cancer does, people. It’s devastating. 

My mom continued to parent me into my adulthood. The first time my exhusband and I separated prior to my divorce, that woman sent me a freaking Bible verse every.stinking.day through email. Every morning I knew I would have a piece of encouragement in my inbox when I woke up. 

When I was in the midst of grieving the death of my marriage, I literally could not get out of my bed one day. The tears flowed from my eyes to the point that my eyeballs were swollen and I couldn’t see. My mom stayed with me. She baked me homemade bread. She prayed. She told me she envisioned me like a beautiful flower who was about to blossom, but I had been covered with dirt for so long and I was finally reaching out of the soil. She saw my potential before I did.

I wanted to be my mom. She’s just that kind of strong woman I was longing to be. 

So right after I gave birth to my own daughter, I started to breastfeed. It was very challenging for me on many levels. I went back to work when Aliana was eight weeks, my marriage was continuing to crumble, and I was trying to do everything perfect. I put tremendous amounts of pressure on myself, and I was an  emotional post-partum wreck. 

I decided to see a lactation consultant. 

When I was sitting in the consultant’s office, feeling overwhelmed, I said, “My mom nursed me until I was two years old! I know I can do this. I just don’t get it.”

The consultant looked at me and said, “You are referring to your mom a lot, and that’s okay. Could it be, though, that you are a different kind of mother?”

Ugh. When the truth stares you in the face, it’s often hard to hear, but necessary.

I realized in that moment that I would never be my mother, and I would need to accept that. The truth was, I was a working mom, whereas my mom stayed home with us until I went to school. The truth was, I was in an unhealthy marriage that was falling apart and I had minimal support in my child rearing, whereas my mom had the support of my dad. The truth was… I was NOT my mother. 

Not only were our circumstances different, but our personalities are very different as well. My mom is shy, and I’m a social butterfly. My mom is graceful under pressure, whereas I get emotional. My mom is the best cook I know, I am not. My mom is a minister, and I MOST DEFINITELY am not. 

The educator in me wants to draw a Venn Diagram for you to explicitly show you our similarities and differences, but it’s getting late, and I don’t have time for that, and neither do you. 

What I will say is this: Parenting is hard. I am thankful I had good parents. I am also trusting in the fact that although I am very different than my mother, that I am designed to parent my daughter. 

And I know that my daughter is not me either. It can be difficult to accept that our children are not going to be us or be exactly who we want them to be. 

This quote from Kahlil Gibran (one of my heroes), sums it up:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, 

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.”

I love you, mom. ❤️

Hitch Hikers and Family Love

When I was in first grade, I hitch hiked for the first time. 

My family and I were on our way to a very important event–the State Spelling Bee competition. My brother, Christopher, was in the fifth grade and had just won the Howard County Spelling Bee. He now had to represent our county in the BIG state spelling bee competition in BIG Indianapolis. This, in no uncertain terms, was a BIG deal. 

So there we were, our little family of four, cruising down highway 31 south to the big city of Indianapolis, when our Oldsmobile  suddenly started to sloooooow down. My dad instinctively pulled to the side of the road. The atmosphere in the car was tense. Dad was visibly pissed. Mom was visibly worried.  Dad attempted to restart the car to no avail. 

My brother, Christopher, was in the back seat with ginormous headphones on, listening to a casette tape of God only knows what, while trying to remain in a zenlike state; but I knew he was very preoccupied. I mean, a lot was riding on the line here. If we didn’t make it to Indianapolis in time for the Spelling Bee, HE WOULD BE LETTING ALL OF HOWARD COUNTY DOWN. After listening to my questions about what was going to happen and hearing my mom sigh in disappointment, my dad was finally like, “Hey you guys! I’m gonna get out and do what I do best–start moving around.” 

I remember peering at him through the window, watching him stand there with his thumb up in the air. I remember wondering what would come of this and who would be either dumb or kind or scary enough to pick us up. I didn’t have to wonder long, though, when a man wearing dark shades and smoking a cigarette pulled up to us on the side of the road. 

My dad chatted with him for a minute, and then my dad nodded to all of us to get in the man’s car. We were all freaked out, but it was the only plan we had, so we were sticking to it. I remember him smoking his cig with the windows down as we blazed down the highway in his hot car. This man “got it.” He understood the Spelling Bee was a big freaking deal. He sped his way all the way to Indy and drove us up to the doors of the humongous building where the state spelling bee was taking place. We were late–but not too late. We hustled Christopher into the building and he got up onto stage. 

I sat in the back of the dark auditorium, trying to recover from the craziness of the day, while listening to children spell words into the microphone in front of some very austere judges. I looked over at my parents every time my brother took the mic to spell a hard word. They had love and faith and concern all wrapped up brightly in their eyes. In that moment, my little first grade brain was able to process that my family had our backs. No matter what kind of crap would hit the fan, they would be there for my brother and me. 

And I feel thankful to still feel this way. My parents are a little austere at times–especially my mom. I mean, she was raised Mennonite, for crying out loud so it makes sense that she is that way. But they have always listened to me and been there for me. I feel grateful–VERY grateful–that they let me and Aliana come and live with them for the three and a half months following my divorce. We drove each other a little batty at the time. My mom would yell at me in the middle of the night to make sure I “jiggled the handle on the toilet” if I got up to use the bathroom. My dad drove me a little crazy with his long stories about random people who had no bearing on my life. And both of them, for some reason, kept telling me I needed to drink green tea at the time, which for some reason annoyed me.

And I’m sure I drove them bananas with my strange music and texting habits and sudden tearful outbursts. But they knew that I was doing the best I could. And I knew they were proud of me for doing my best. 

Sometimes we are afraid others are going to judge us, when all they want to do is love us. For a long time, I was afraid to show my parents who I really was. I was afraid I wouldn’t live up to their expectations for  me.  When my world began to shatter in my divorce, I came to the realization that the people who wanted to be there for me needed transparency from me

Sometimes we have to be honest about our reality and our pain and how messy our lives are with those who REALLY love us. Because only then can we get the support we need. I learned to talk about all the crap I had been through with my parents, even though it felt WEIRD to say everything to them. I hadn’t wanted them to know I had made mistakes. But they really NEEDED to know it so they could support me in my next steps. 

My brother lost the spelling bee that day, but he went back to the state competition two additional times. He was truly a champion speller. 

We love you, Mom and Dad. Thank you for always having our backs. And for teaching us to hitch hike. ❤️

(My family and I, circa 1999, the day I graduated from college.) 

The Nine Shades Of Bob

My father is a man of many faces.  

 

I love that he wears his heart on his sleeve. 

While in his presence, you will know how he is feeling at all times, because he will tell you ALL about it. 

He is not a man of mystery. 

He is, however, a man of many shades. 

In honor of Father’s Day, I present to you captioned photos for a few of my dad’s many faces:

1. The Storyteller


“Oh my gosh, (laughing so hard he’s choking) I’m not done….(gasping for breath) 😂😂😂 let me finish the story, it gets worse.”  

2. The Professional

 “Contrary to popular belief, I actually do put on a serious face when needed in my job as a 4th grade teacher. My favorite unit of study to teach is Indiana History. And stop asking me if I want to be a school administrator just because I’m a male educator. Seriously. I’m so over that question.”

3.  The Handsome Silver Fox

 

“Don’t let my balding head fool you. I stay in dapper, fit shape by golfing every day, biking, and gardening. I drink tons of green tea because my wife makes me and I take garlic pills to help with my digestion. Please don’t compliment me on my athletic body frame, because I will either get nervous and change the subject or start talking about my college wrestling days when I was at the height of my athleticism.”

4.  The Bored ADHD Bob

“Man, I wish it were my turn to talk. Actually, I haven’t really been paying attention to the story being told. Man, I keep burping up garlic from my garlic pill I took this morning. Grace is gonna be mad if she smells it. Better get up and walk around and find a glass of water.”

5.  Sleepyhead Bob 

“I’m tired from playing golf all day. I know I look like I’ve been drinking in this pic, but I don’t drink. At least that’s what I tell everyone…” 😉

6.  The “I Don’t Speak Spanish” Bob

 

“I don’t speak Spanish. But I like this man, so I will pretend to understand. Everything he is saying about this tree sounds important. I  think I even heard him say the word importante something or other.”

7.  The Breakfast Man

 

“Every day, I eat the same thing for breakfast: a gargantuan bowl of Chex cereal with raisins and freshly cut bananas. I forget a lot of things at the grocery store, but I never forget my raisins and bananas.”

8. The Thinker

  
“I sometimes sit and people watch. I think it’s pretty easy to identify a person’s political party based upon how he carries himself. I could be wrong, but I think I’m right.”

9)  The Toupee Bob

“Yes, I once wore a toupee. When I travelled back to Hawaii in the 1960s after going bald, I didn’t tell my extended family that my hair wasn’t real. I forgot I had it on, though, and went swimming in the ocean with my cousins. When it came off my head and began to float away, my cousins screamed in horror. ‘It’s a toupee! A toupee!’ I consoled them.  After I got married, Grace told me one day that she preferred my natural balding head, so I haven’t worn it since. Gotta please my lady. 😉”

I am grateful to my dad for teaching me not to be afraid of feelings. Feelings are just…feelings. They come and go. I love you, dad. 

  

  

I Grew Up Mennonite 😱

I grew up Mennonite. 

Some of you may be shocked. Some of you may think that means I used to look like this: 

 

But in fact, I didn’t.  I didn’t wear a covering. (Except for the one time my cousins and I found a box of my grandma’s coverings after she died and tried them on, just to be funny.) I didn’t dress plainly. I didn’t wear dresses as a way of life. I didn’t speak Pennsylvania Dutch, (though my mom’s parents did). We drove cars–and they weren’t dark colored, either. 

Truth be told, there are around forty different Mennonite groups in the United States alone, and they are each unique. To give you an idea of my Mennonite church’s philosophies, my mom was an ordained minister in the church. So, my church would have been on the “liberal end” of the spectrum, since they ordained women.

But when I was in high school, the idea of revealing to people around me that I was a Mennonite scared the holy crap out of me. It just felt so… embarrassing. 😮 (Isn’t that awful I was embarrassed about my own faith?) I was afraid that people would box me into a stereotype that I didn’t want to be a part of. I was afraid people would think I was conservative and close minded. I was afraid others would think I was wearing a covering in secret. (The horror!) I was afraid that I wouldn’t get invited to hang out with people because they would assume I was so different from them. 

When I arrived to college, things changed. That’s because I went to a Mennonite college–Goshen College–ever heard of it? Suddenly I was surrounded by Mennos. I didn’t think about how “different” I was anymore. It was a stark contrast for me from high school.

Fast forward to the present. I don’t identify myself as a Mennonite today. The irony of this is that I now ENJOY telling people I used to be Mennonite. I love shocking them while simultaneously informing them that there are so many different kinds of Mennonites, and that my mom was even a Mennonite pastor. 

The other day, I went with two friends of mine into the local Ten Thousand Villages store. Ten Thousand Villages is associated with the Mennonite Central Committee. When I walked into the store, I went up to the people who volunteer in the store and told them “I was one of them.” 

They looked at me strangely, and I said, “You are my people. I’m Mennonite… Er, I mean I was Mennonite.”

They continued to look at me strangely and told me they weren’t Mennonite, although I was correct in my assumption that the store is affiliated with the Mennonite church. 

What I’ve realized is that as I’ve matured into an adult, I finally have embraced that which is different about me. And let me tell you folks, that is one of the keys to happiness. Each of us were born to stand out and tell our stories. That is the only reason I am able to write a blog–because I know that being a weirdo is okay. (Not that Mennonites are weirdos–I’m just talking about myself IN GENERAL. I’m a weirdo.)

Quote from Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonite church:

  

And I’m very appreciative of the foundation paved in my heart by the Mennonite church. I learned from Mennonites about what it means to live out one’s faith by helping those less fortunate and the courage that comes with choosing peace and forgiveness over war and resentment. 

I ❤️ you, Mennos.

I Went to Church

On Mother’s Day, my daughter and I were visiting my parents and attended church with them in the morning. This was my first visit to my parents’ church (the one I grew up in) in over two years. 

My daughter and I arrived ten minutes late because I made the mistake of stopping for an espresso at Starbucks (Happy Mothers’ Day to me!) When we walked in, my dad met us in the foyer and said, “It’s a good thing you just got here because mom is trying to sing a song in Spanish.”

Confused by his comment, I shot my dad a “What the freaking heck?” look, and then decided it was best we sit by ourselves in the off chance he was implying I was going to assist my mom in the song leading portion of the worship service. 

We proceeded to enter the sanctuary. I sat down with my daughter towards the back, and my brother and sister-in-law joined me. 

During the service, my daughter, Aliana,  entertained herself by scribbling on a church bulletin.  

 

Apparently she believes that she is synonymous with the Lord Jesus Christ. And the month of May. 

Aliana went over to my dad and asked him when the church service would be over during the sermon. 

“What’s the matter? You don’t like my church?” he asked Aliana. 

“Dad, she’s six–it’s not about her liking the church or not–she’s just tired of sitting still,” I tried to explain. Dad was still confused. 

Later on during the congregational prayer, Aliana tried to speak to my dad again.  “Leave him alone. He’s trying to pray,” I said. 

“No, he’s not. He’s falling asleep,” she said. 

I realized in that moment that we probably don’t pray enough in our home. 😳

But I suppose you could say the most interesting part of the morning was Sunday School. I attended the Sunday School class that my dad teaches to primary aged children. 

He was talking about something… precious? 

 

And here, my daughter can’t contain her inability to understand the androgynous toys and the “precious” block.  

The block is precious, okay? 😂 

 
   

Aliana is still not buying the precious Pearl analogy for something that she knows is a decoration from my parents’ home. 

 And when I accidentally referred to my dad using a female pronoun, all focus was lost. 

 

These videos bring me laughing to tears because I love my dad’s zeal for Bible stories, coupled with Aliana’s commentary. These are two people who bring both JOY and stress to my life. 

I’m kinda starting to realize that is how many healthy familial relationships are–joyful with intermittent moments of stress. 

The good always outweighs the bad. I love them. 

  
  
  

The Journey to Oahu and Maui

So, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to write about my trip to Hawaii now. 

People have been asking me about my experiences in the short week I was there. What’s interesting is that I feel like people are expecting the word “fun” to pop out of my mouth. This is partly because people who know me know that I highly value fun. Furthermore, “vacations” are usually fun, right?

But the thing about this trip, though, was that it wasn’t exactly a vacation. It was a journey into the past–into my father’s childhood, and surprisingly my childhood as well. 

We went to the beautiful beaches. We saw exotic plants and smashingly gorgeous mountains. We touched the sand and reveled in the smell of the ocean. We ate all the foods that we could only get there–foods that reminded me of my grandmother and foods that reminded my dad of his parents and grandparents. We devoured guavas and passion fruit, ate rice covered in soy sauce and didn’t think about calories or anything like that. We nourished our five senses in ways that they hadn’t been nourished in years. We behaved as if we had been deprived. 

And it was all so lovely…so lovely to be close to my dad and my daughter. Yes, we had disagreements. We bickered over bedtimes and whether or not we should eat at the expensive restaurant or the cheap one–you know–we disagreed about things that families disagree about. But none of that matters, and actually I had completely forgotten about the bickering until I wrote those sentences just now. None of it matters because we were creating memories while simultaneously soaking up the past.

   

         

We spent time with my dad’s friends and family. I couldn’t believe how familiar the pidgin English sounded in my ears. I learned more about the Portuguese influence in the Hawaiian culture. I learned that my dad thought he was his grandpa’s “favorite grandchild,” but it turns out all of his cousins felt that way–because that was the kind of person that Antoine Amorin was–a person who loved his grandchildren dearly and wanted them to each feel special. 

 

Is it possible to love someone without knowing them? Because that’s how I feel about this man, my great grandpa, Antoine Amorin, in the photo above. He is smoking a cigarette while his grandson, Macky-boy, eats fresh mango. 

Although Macky-boy isn’t my dad, that picture encapsulates my father’s memories of his grandfather. He wanted his grandchildren next to him. He wanted them to feel special, even if he was getting all stern with them for accidentally dropping one of his prized hen’s eggs. 

When we were with friends and family, we received love–love in the form of time, listening, sharing, hugging, kissing, teaching, and gift giving. I felt so much love from family I hadn’t seen in years–or in some cases–never even met. I soaked it all up and convinced my heart that I could pay them back some day for all the memories and love they gave to me.

So, “fun” would not be the word I use to summarize this trip, because it’s simply not deep enough to describe my feelings.  If love were an adjective, I would use the word, “love,” but since it’s not, I will say that I left the islands feeling beloved, cherished, expectant, and enamored with my family and the Hawaiian culture. 

  

I am revived and planning my next trip back.