“To Gilbert, Who Inspired Me With the Idea in the First Place”

April 30, 2015 by 1 Comment


One of my greatest secret ambitions was really quite impossible. I wanted to be Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables, Anne-girl, the fictional heroine of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s gorgeous imagination. Yes, I wanted to be a redheaded orphan girl, adopted by the staunch Marilla and the gloriously tender Matthew. I wanted to be skinny and a little freckled, I already talked too much. I wanted to sign my prayers “respectfully yours” and I wanted the honor of sleeping in a spare bedroom. I desperately wanted a good and sweet and faithful bosom friend with raven locks, a kindred spirit. I wanted a love story that began with slamming a slate over a cute but cocky boy’s head.

I settled for living in a world of make-believe, reading and writing stories, taking walks through the pasture of my childhood home imagining it to be the shores of Prince Edward Island. I settled for being the darling of my grandparents’ eyes and for reading too much. I settled for talking about  Anne too much, so much that my mom often reminded me in a teasing tone, “She’s not real, you know.”

And she wasn’t. Isn’t. But what she and Diana and Gil gave me, it most definitely is. They gave me a reality that didn’t seem too far fetched. They gave me a hero for my penchant to day dream, they gave me my first experience with the “you too? me too!” of true friendships. I felt a little less ridiculous in my over the top passions and a little more understood in my moments of despair.

Because I know how the story ends (the real story, not that Continuing Story nonsense), I believed that beauty and love and ambition and daydreams could amount to something lovely, something worth all the hard moments of the life before.

On April 15th, Jonathan Crombie, the actor who portrayed Gilbert Blythe in the movies, died of a sudden brain hemorrhage. A few days later, his family announced his death and when I read the news, I just felt silent. Silent and still. As someone who has read and cherishes all the books, maybe he oughtn’t figure so heavily into my vision of the utterly irresistible, boyish, and totally devoted Gilbert Blythe. But, he does. And at 48 years old, he was too young to die. I am so sad for Jonathan’s family and friends. I wouldn’t ever presume my silly grief can in any way compare to their own… but there’s something about Jonathan Crombie that breathed life into one of the greatest love stories, one of the most simple and romantic tales ever told. He showed us Gilbert Blythe, the young boy who loved Anne, in all his flesh and hope and faithfulness.

And he meant something to me.

He meant goodness. He meant escape. He meant truth. He meant secret hopes. He meant happy endings, even when girls like me get in our own way.

I felt a little silly as I sat stunned by his death. But then I remembered that my grief for “Gilbert” was a true tribute to the art that Jonathan Crombie pursued all his life. He touched my heart and he stayed with me all these years and years. It’s the hope of every artist, and I hope he knew that he attained it.

Oh, Gil. In so many ways there is a part of my girlish heart that will always feel that, “There could never be anybody else for me but you…” You gave my childhood broken heart someone to pin my daydreams on, and it occurred to me that even I could be loved like you loved Anne. You were the one to inspire me with that idea, in the first place.

Thank you, sweet Gil. Because of you, I knew the deep waters of love when I saw them. And to you, Jonathan, you were a true artist. Thank you for what you gave thousands of girls like me. A slice of romance we needed more than you could ever have known.


I found Church

April 13, 2015 by 5 Comments


Sometimes good things are just better than you could have guessed or even could have had the guts to hope they would be. To be honest, I don’t often have that experience, I live more in the land of the wild expectations and the slightly disappointed most of the time.

I went to bed so late last night, and even though I had to be up at 4:15 in the morning (I know.) I couldn’t stop saying thank you, I couldn’t fall asleep for the whirring of my brain and the noise my crazy soul was making in my head. I’ve been on this internet thing for a few years now, and I’ve heard the rhetoric, and I’ve heard it enough to grow weary and slightly suspicious of it all.

Find your tribe.

These are my people.

You too? Me too!

And then, you know where this is going… and THEN. It turns out, there are other people in this world that you can sit with and feel only one yes after another. Yes to who you are, yes to what you are offering, yes to how you are made, yes to unrest, yes to doubt, yes to a limping hope, yes to your process, yes to community, yes to the Church, yes to the kind of God your heart recognizes. And these people, my  people, are breathing new life into me, even now in the airport at six o’clock in the morning, by myself. I’m here and they’re sleeping or packing or boarding a plane, but now that I know they are real, they are flesh and blood, they are kind and good, they are no longer images on a screen or even just words on a page, and I feel brave.

I attended Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference in Portland this weekend because I needed to insert myself into this world. It was just time. I had this book proposal and all these words, and I needed to start acting like it. Classic introvert, I never expected to be swept along into dinner with new friends, out to a quiet bar in cloudy Portland, sputtering questions and telling stories late into the night. I didn’t expect to turn those pretty Twitter profile pics into three-dimensional, breathing, living, brilliant humanity. I didn’t expect to fall in love, with a tribe, and community. The very things I was pretty sure the cool kids just made up to seem even cooler.

But what else is new? It seems that so much of my life is made up of these unexpected realities and relationships and soul catching moments. I didn’t know for so many years that I wanted any of it. And things I tried to make fit, just disintegrated in my clenched fists. I thought it was about me, I thought it was because I was unworthy of a lucky break, or of fulfilled hopes. I thought my destiny was just to be the misfit, the one who never quite fit but was nice enough to invite to peripheral events… just not the inner circle. I believed in the inner circle, and I believed I would spend my life revolving around it.

I’m seeing it all a little differently after this weekend. I watched a million little circles form over the two days we all gathered as artists and writers. I saw tears and grins and hopeful eyes all around me. I watched people nodding and scribbling notes, I watched small clusters gather to wish each next person good luck as someone headed in to pitch an idea to the agents and editors waiting downstairs. And I think some of us arrived in this city of food and arts, because it was the next small step on a path that felt sure under our feet, even though we didn’t know why or how that could be true. And some of us discovered that it is possible to land right smack dab in the center of people you recognize with all your heart.

That’s the inner circle. It’s not some elite group, not really. I mean, sure in some spheres where it’s about power and hierarchy and competition…. but when it’s about art? When it’s about the kind of faith that lifts instead of shoves? It’s just about finding people your heart already knows, it’s about moments of introduction that turn into communion in a bar with an eight dollar cocktail and a handful of moments-ago-strangers.

It turns into Church. It’s about Church.

To be honest, I didn’t know it actually existed.

I didn’t want to leave. It’s a very good thing I have a husband I adore and children I’m kind of crazy about, because I just wanted to live at that little table, with those very people. I didn’t see how on earth I could get up, board a plane, and leave that kind of belonging behind.

But I’ve got work to do at home, I’ve got writing to do, and boys to love, and a man to walk humbly, side-by-side with. And I know that table is there, it’s not going anywhere. And really, neither am I.

Anything but that: Autism Awareness

April 1, 2015 by 5 Comments
At his brother's baseball practice. Building robots.

At his brother’s baseball practice. Building robots.

April is Autism Awareness Month. I have some thoughts.

I was well over half-way along in my first pregnancy when Oprah hosted a show about the 1 out of every 110 children that would be diagnosed with Autism. Just twenty-three years old, a closet people-pleaser with a tendency to nurture my worst fears, I rubbed my belly and prayed, “Anything but that.” Parents on the show described their perfectly delightful children, developing by leaps and bounds, completely normal and happy and bonded. And then one day, they lost them. Their baby stopped reaching for their Mommy. They stopped looking their parents in the eyes. They stopped wanting to be held, and in fact resisted it with mighty melt downs. They stopped talking. No “mama” or “dada” or “wuv ooo”. It terrified me. There was something particularly tragic about these parents who were raising these little children, knew them, loved them…. only to wake up one day with their precious child locked inside themselves. And worse, they found themselves without a key or any clue where to find one.

Anything but that.

On a hot June middle of the night, my boy pounded into the world. He screamed and hollered. We laughed and cried. He was eight pounds of perfection. I took him home, determined to be the best mother the world had ever seen. He would be good and sweet and happy. He would be loved and raised by two parents who were determined to do this thing right. Nothing would stop me, no one and nothing would touch a hair on his head.

The numbers are higher now, heartbreakingly so. One out of every sixty-eight kiddos, one out of every forty-two boys. My gorgeous, brilliant, hilarious, and sweet boy is that one.

I knew, you know. When we took a vacation and he was six months old, and he didn’t nap for seven days, I knew. When he was charming everyone in sight with his wide-open smiles and ability to run the VCR at 18 months, I knew. When he covered his ears and screamed, I knew. When he memorized the make and model of every vehicle of anyone we ever met, I knew. When he spoke in his own gibberish language for almost four years, I knew. When we went through the same, down to the smallest detail, three hour routine every single night, I knew.When I never taught him his letters, but he knew every single one by sight before he was two years old, I knew. When my second son was born, and it turned out the baby books were more or less right about how babies sleep and eat and play and grow, I knew.

I didn’t lose my son. I didn’t wake up one day and find that his very self and soul had gone missing somewhere deep inside himself. In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve never had him, not all of him, not his whole brilliant self in one full sweep. It was one little sign after another, almost from the day he was born,. It was hints along the way, hints I kept trying to disprove despite that mother-gut. There will be no great unveiling, like I once hoped. Instead, I’m slowly uncovering the corners of him. All the time. When the world is right, and I can sense the peace in his eyes, he gives me more glimpses than he usually can. On days that everything inside him is a jumble of dysregulation, pain, and anxiety, all he is able to show me is the pain he’s in. The torment that autism is on his peace and confidence and security. It’s gut-wrenching.

I used to say I wouldn’t trade his autism for anything. Because he is absolutely fantastic. He’s brilliant and quirky and sees the world in a way that makes me stop and stare in wonder. And those things, the gifts his diagnosis and his very being have given, they are some of the very best things this life has ever shown me. However, when the dark side of autism rears its ugly head, and it does not do this quietly or politely, I want to scream, “GET OUT! LEAVE HIM ALONE!” Because it hurts him. It robs him. It kicks him while he’s down. And it never stops.

I almost never write about this. I’m so very aware that someday he will read my words, he will wonder what it was like for me, to raise him. At least I hope he does, I pray he has that kind of ability. And I want him to know that it was my deepest honor, that the love he planted in my heart from the moment those two lines appeared on that pregnancy test, has never, ever been wasted. He has been worth every drop of it. I want him to tell his story. I want him to own his experiences. I don’t want to tread on something that belongs to him.

But I’m his mom. And as he grows, I am more and more certain that this world is not a kind place to kids like him. It has expectations he cannot and will not meet. This world does things one way, and it refuses to change just because a growing number of children does things in another way. And while I am able, I want to use whatever power and influence and words I have to beg for more understanding, to plead with those who love families like ours to learn and initiate and support. I want to ask you to go out of your way to get to know these kids, learn to see what we see when we look at them. Appreciate their unique perspectives and ideas. Let that little box you’ve assumed all kids fit into, that all parents should subscribe to, be blown wide open and then burned to the ground.  Learn how it all works, and offer a listening ear. It’s an honor that breaks my heart sometimes, and Brandon and I desperately need safe places to cry.

My son needs more and more safe places to grow and be himself.  I don’t want him to be alone, to navigate this hard world without the deep-inside knowledge that there are so many people that are for him. I don’t want him to think I’m sorry that the fears I had on that long-ago day, watching Oprah, in some ways, came true. Because they didn’t. I was so wrong about this whole thing. I want him to know that while there are days that I would love to pry autism from inside him, there are never days that make me wish it had all been different. This road we’re traveling is hard. It’s true. For him, for all of us. But it’s not as scary or terrible or tragic as I once imagined it to be. The tragedy would be if I lived my whole life and didn’t share the incredible gifts this child, and all the others like him, bring to this world.

I don’t want him, or any child ever, to think for a second that they should be different than they are.

Anything but that.

Middle of the Night Mothering

March 24, 2015 by 1 Comment


The big ‘ol moon floods everything I can see, and all the things I can’t. Like the paths and folds and firings and misfirings in his mind. This long-legged boy was once such a chunk, and now he’s all knees and elbows and shoulder blades pressed into me. His eyes are darting and his still little voice tries so hard to explain it all to me, but he can’t make me see or fear or anticipate.

I’m murmuring in the night, there’s nothing there, my son. Nothing but the shadows and the moon, nothing but your pup knocking around the house as she patrols. Nothing but your dad’s muffled sleeping sounds and nothing but my whispers against the fuzz of your freshly shorn hair. There’s nothing but my yawns and your voice, insisting.

I hear God makes babies that sleep, like all night. I’m not sure I believe the rumors though. I mean, I’ve held four little baby boys fresh from heaven and not one of them believed in sleeping long and well until they were well beyond babyhood.

My babiest baby had a fever of 103.1 last night.  He’s almost four years old, so not really much of a baby anymore, but he’s still rounded elbows and chubby feet. His cheeks still puff around his smile, and his little body still fits snug on my lap. He woke up crying and when Brandon went to him his paternal toned voice said, “Oh, Sarah, he’s burning up.” We spent the better part of a half hour trying to get him to take the Tylenol that would lower his temp and bring restful sleep. After another fitful not-quite-awake episode, I pulled him from his sheets and carried him down the hall and into our room. All night, he swung his legs every which way, into my back and over my head. His arms flew to my face and I eventually built a little pillowed fortress to protect myself from his wildly thrashing ways.

There are nightmares to interrupt and sheets to change, inhalers to dispense, and foreheads to cool. There are baseless fears and determined stretches of insomnia to sit with, to wait out with a boy or two pressed hard against his mama.

Sometimes I wonder about all this nighttime mothering I’ve had to do. I wonder why it is that sleep is such a foreign concept in our home. I’ve thrown angry eyes at God a time or two, I admit. But all the stages have been worked through, and I think I’ve landed on acceptance. For whatever reason, our kids need us in the nighttime.

And then I remember the moments. The ones where the whispers work and the fears slip away. The ones where the burning forehead turns suddenly clammy and cool and I can breathe easy again as the fever breaks. The ones where their voices are sleepy and gentle, and they prick at my heart and I can’t help but baby them a little. I remember that for all the daytime hours that I fail and ignore and snap… there have been so many minutes hidden away in the dark of this old house that made me feel like God didn’t screw it all up when He made me the mother around here. I’m doing right by these boys, even if it’s in the dead of night and no one else can see. I’m giving them the gentleness of a mother, the kindness of sacrifice and snuggles. I’m solving their problems with calm and sure sounds, with knowing hands and words. They can rest because I never leave them in the dark, never.

The newborn days are a blur now with my much larger babies calling out in the night. But they trained me and my sleepy body to get up and go, to hear the small sounds, the very breaths from across the hall. They gave me the rhythm and the practices, and now I have the joy. I love to mother my boys in the middle of the night. I love to know that those moments are known only by me and my boys, seen only by God. I love to feel their trust, love to know that their nightmares are of scary monsters, but not of being left alone to fight them.

I’m doing right by them. Not always, and not every time. Sometimes it’s too much, and I send their dad in there and I pull the pillow over my head. I think that’s allowed. I think it’s good for everyone.

But when the moon fills the sky and the rest of the world it seems, is sleeping soundly with their magic sleeping babies, sometimes I’m awake and I’m mothering in secret, with stealth comforting and fixing. And to my great surprise, more than I ever would have guessed, I’m smiling and soaking it up.

Most nights, I joke to at least one of my kids as I tuck them in, “See you soon!”

And I usually do.

And don’t tell God, but I secretly, most of the time, shockingly, love it.

The Biggest Thing In the World

February 24, 2015 by No Comments


It turns out that as much as I want to be someone who writes to Indie Rock or Mumford or All Sons, the words pour best when Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, and yes, John Denver pump through my ear buds. It’s the truest thing I can tell you about myself this morning. Well, that and the fact that I have given myself permission to eat as many ginger snaps as I like all day long, as a reward for keeping my hiney in this chair, hands poised over the keys and words hacked however slowly. I have things to finish, to stop obsessing over, to stop walking away from when they won’t bend into the form I’m trying to bend them to. I need to stay. I need to work. I need to let the words be a big old mess before I cut and edit and pull the story from the ruins.

I spent all last week not writing. I spent an entire five days watching, waiting, walking, breathing, cheering, rocking, burping, gazing in wonder. I’ve mentioned before what a great idea God had when He thought up nephews, and now I have two and my heart can barely stand it. I watched my stronger than she knew sister push a new life into the world, scoop him up like they were old friends, which of course they were. I watched their little family expand into four, at the slow and tired pace a newborn brings with him. And on the fifth day, I slipped out the front door, hopped a train, and came home to my own little men. No newborns here, growing pains long faded in our memories. They’re a noisy bunch, and my good husband looked absolutely blasted by a week of being Dad, and Mom, and Breadwinner, and Chauffeur. They smiled and laughed and hollered when they picked me up at the station, and I kissed their heads thinking how very good and small it all is, we’re just one little pile of people, and yet, it’s the biggest thing in the world.

So today, I pay the piper and the words will come, and the mess and the frustration and glimpses of yes, that’s what I was trying to say. I’ll switch from coffee to tea in about an hour or so, eventually I’ll climb from my jammies into decent clothes. I’ll throw make up on my face right before school pick up and the day will have its interruptions, its own beats. And the ginger snaps will probably be gone by the end of it all. But gosh danget, I will get this writing thing done today. Because having written, it’s just the best feeling.

Every day that passes, every month that comes to a close, I find myself more and more happy to hug the true things. The things like “Sweet Caroline” and “She’s Always a Woman” and my total lack of discipline when it comes to sweets, and little ones fresh to the world, carrying a scent reminiscent of heaven and God and glory. Things like little boys clad only in superhero undies and mussed hair, the exhausting bed time routines of these four crazies, the quiet words and secret knowings of Brandon and I, his deep and soft chuckle, the look in his eyes. He loves me so much.

Writing it down, calling it to the surface of my thoughts and heart, it’s the way I live from it all. It’s the way all the truest things shape me and remind me of all that I’ve been given, all that I can whisper thanks for. All that is honest and odd and kind of fun, who I am in my deepest places. I think most of us need to hush every now and then, need to shake our heads at the small parts of our lives and days, our quirky personalities. We need to laugh and say, “okay then,” and then we step into the sure places of who we are and what that looks like in this life we’re living. It all feels so small, all the things we do and the things we secretly like, the kids that make our hearts swell one minute and drive us to the edge the next. But it’s not, not really. It’s our life. It’s our people. It’s our own secret miracles.

It’s the biggest thing in the world.