sent off with a sandwich and a prayer.

Back to School.

I’m reading all the Facebook posts and seeing all your pictures on Instagram of your baby loves heading back to school in their new uniforms and tennis shoes that have just enough wiggle room…the summer sunshine mixed with pool chlorine no doubt serves as a juvenile cocktail for growth spurts.

“Child. How can the pants you wore 12 weeks ago be three inches too short?!”

Am I lying? No. You know it’s true. Kids sprout in the summer.

A photo is a must. I’m loving all the new ways to document the year…the letter boards declaring their age, grade and a quote…

Annabelle 6, 1st grade. “I like Dora the Explorer and bacon.”

We didn’t have letter boards or Instagram when my girls were little..Let me think what I would have shared for this first day  back picture…

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Paige 8, 3rd grade. I like tweety bird and having my own room.

Laken 5, Kindergarten. I like to pick out my own clothes and this dress is stupid.

Ask my girls about the year I was burning up with a fever on their first day back…I stumble out of my bedroom just as they are preparing to exit the infirmary and insist on a picture. “Wait, girls! Lemme get your picture.” Hunched over in a wrinkled oversized t-shirt and my underwear I capture another “first”. I didn’t want to miss it. I won’t miss it.

That’s what we  do…we snap one photo after another…trying to stop time and freeze moments in squares.

You will blink and it’s Christmas Break.

You will blink again and need to blink real fast to hold back tears as they walk across the stage and close this chapter.

You feed and clothe and teach and nurture your birdies for 18 years then in what seems like a minute they leave home and you have boring couches where the pillows stay in the same place for weeks… The same five loads of repetitive laundry with socks that stick with their partners…Their rooms feel stark and hollow without their personalities and your refrigerator is left with mayonnaise and ketchup that will be tossed before consumed. Where is everyone?! It’s a ghost town up in here.

Empty Nest Syndrome is not something that lasts a scientifically researched set amount of time and then dissipates…no, ENS comes and goes in waves…waves of nostalgia dipped and battered in crocodile tears. Odds are it was brought on by a song, or commercial or seeing another mom loving on her baby. The onset and symptoms may vary but the cure is universal: Hearing that they still need you and watching them build their own nests with some of the love, comfort and care that you desperately tried to teach.

Mama. Daddy.

It goes by fast. It goes by more. than. fast.

Back When It Didn’t Feel So Fast…

School days were hard. Getting them all out the door happy was my personal mission impossible. If all three of them were chipper and satisfied with what they were wearing and how their hair looked, I knew to get right with Jesus…He was on His way. Get right with the Lord! I’m dropping them happy girls off and going back home to curl up in my designated “quiet time” chair with my half-attempted Beth Moore bible study so when He finds me He shall find me faithful.

Can I stop and chase a rabbit for a minute?…Those bible studies. Y’all. I tried so hard to emulate some of the precious women in my church that spoke spiritual discipline into my life. They were all about having a quiet time.  They had comfy chairs in carefully selected corners next to a small table bedecked with a lamp giving off a perfect 60 watt glow. Along with the lamp was a bible, a stack of current books from Lifeway Christian Book Store and a fill in the blank bible study. The chair was accented with a throw in complimentary colors to place in their lap while they sipped coffee, prayed and dug into The Word at 5 am. Girls. I tried. I did. Except I was tired as hell. I blamed my borderline anemia and the dry West Texas winds for my eternal fatigue but the truth was I was tired from all the pressure to be perfect. Jesus and I had an ongoing conversation…like I started praying from the time my feet hit the ground and never said Amen.  I prayed they loved their teachers, made good friends with good values, felt and held onto their worth, felt safe and WERE safe. Like, I would start out strong then find myself saying, hold on…I’ll be back…don’t leave…I’ve just got to see if I can find her other shoe and get them to school on time but I still have some things to say…and ask of You.  I never wanted to raise my kids without Him. It just seemed like I couldn’t measure up. I mixed what was meant to be grace and mercy and my greatest love story with shades of shame, self- defeating talk and a focus on inadequacy. Just as the enemy would have wanted.  I wish I could go back and release Young Mama Gina from the standards I thought I needed to meet.

Now back to the Back to School Blogging…

I cannot recall a time when all three of my girls liked the same thing in their lunches. It was mayonnaise for one, mustard for another and PB&J for the third. Which one hates turkey? Which one wants vanilla pudding?  Crisis Alert: I only have two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos left…someone is getting regular Lay’s…please forgive me.  Dear Lord Jesus…please don’t let her starve today and please help her pass her spelling test on an empty stomach if I fail to pack the provisions necessary in order for her to do so.

But this… THIS tops all of that…

‘Twas the night before a new school year and I called for the customary family meeting. We gathered in the lamplit living room and I began my rhetoric.

“This year will be different. My expectations are higher. Paige you will be in middle school, Laken at Devonian, and Hannah starts kindergarten…This will mean I’ll have 3 kids at 3 different schools. The ONLY way I can pull this off is if we ALL cooperate.”

I then began my well comprised list of To Do’s…

Eat breakfast and brush your teeth before you get dressed. I don’t want toaster strudel icing or toothpaste on your clothes. Eat naked if you have to but DO NOT eat or brush your teeth after you’ve dressed. And you better brush your teeth.

I will not sign ANY papers or check homework in the mornings. I won’t. I mean it. All of this needs to be taken care of the night before or it doesn’t get taken care of…

Speaking of homework…get your homework done before you do anything…like right when you get home. Before you watch Lizzie McGuire…before you jump on the trampoline…They nod in agreement and I carry on…I made sure we would be on our toes this year…like professional ballerinas on pointe. No more lazy up in this house.

I finish my New School Year Dissertation when Paige raises her hand.

Yes Paige?

“Can I say something.”

Of course.

“Can you stop saying crap so much?”

Hello?

The room got oddly quiet and I got uncomfortable…

Yes. Yes, Paige. I…I will stop saying crap.

There I was dropping the law and cultivating a plan for a smooth as butter school year and all my daughter wanted was for me to not say crap?

You could feel the struggle to hold in laughter. It didn’t take long for this stuffy meeting to make some great memories. I love it.

Attempts at perfection are nothing more than catalysts for profanity.

Perfection still makes me say crap.

Good Lawsy…I WISH I could tell you the worst thing I ever did as a mom was illicit a synonym for cow pies upon moments of frustration.

Nope.

My rap sheet is longer than that.

Now Listen.

With all my babies out of school…officially as of last Saturday…Go Hannah and Praise Jesus…I come at you from The Other Side as an encourager of peace and gently ask you to slow down and take it easy. It’s messy sometimes. It’s messy MOST of the times…

Beds won’t get made. Papers won’t get signed. The breakfast of your champions might some days include Teddy Grahams and a Diet Dr. Pepper. Dirty gym clothes found in a backpack on the way to school will fly under the stink radar thanks to a quick spritz of Victoria’s Secret body spray…and brace yourself for this one…retainers will be accidentally thrown in the lunchroom trash can…more than once.

It’s. Okay.

You will one day long for these moments. Moments you will treasure more once they pass, but learning to treasure them now will serve your heart well later.

And when nostalgia comes knocking and you long for the noise and the busy and the days you can’t get back…the days that sometimes made you say doggy doo but also the days that gave you meaning and purpose and crazy beautiful joy…

Something as simple as one of your babies calling to ask for something that they remember as part of the place they called home will remind you that a part of you will forever be with them…

Mom…Can I get your taco soup recipe?

You know you can…

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Stripes must have been the theme this year. Hannah 5, Kindergarten. Gymnastics, Blue’s Clues and honey mustard on everything.  Paige 12, 7th. Volleyball, Choir and Friends.  Laken 9, 4th. Dancing, Even Stevens and American Girl Dolls.

 

 

e l l a…

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Dear Ella,

We celebrated your first birthday this past Saturday along with Uncle KJ, Claire, Ty, Lucy Claire, her pal Laurel, Sadie the Cupcake Queen and Kerald.

We went to my favorite restaurant and had pink drinks and appetizers and of course, I had my Wasabi Chicken Salad. As soon as your pretty teeth learn the art of chewing we will have girl dates to Bistro Byronz and I will treat you to this salad. Yum. But we know birthdays are for cupcakes and you know a good cupcake when you see one…before my camera was ready you dug in! We don’t blame you. Sadie knows cupcakes.

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0987You had no idea you were an official whole number but you had a fantastic grasp on the bash in your honor…and you were twenty different kinds of excited. I get the feeling life will be cause to celebrate when you are around. Your enthusiasm for life is captivating and contagious and I pray it never stops!

You love an audience…attention…you amaze us with your love of people…and trust me when I say they love you right back.

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Lucy Claire and Laurel brought handmade cards. Adorable.

You got some really cute and educational toys but all you want is the tissue paper and boxes! You will make Christmas shopping super easy if this remains your joy.

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So…this is you at 1. You’re taking a few steps now and talking ALL DAY LONG. You have a language all your own and love to sing. You love patty cake and sign language and we recently discovered Elmo’s World. This is a nice break from Baby Einstein. We are convinced you’re brilliant and we tell you about it daily. Every night before bed we hammock and say Psalm 23 together.  Poppy is super close to having it memorized. We pray over you and remind you that you are created for a purpose and God has big plans for your beautiful life.

We can’t wait to watch you grow…but let’s take it slow….

We know it’s best to let you be little.

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We love you Ella.

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t i n d e r e l l a…

treeAt the end of this blog there is the most beautiful video I’ve ever seen…

But before that, there was this…

I honestly don’t know where to begin…the story of us is so much more than I can squeeze into a blog post.

It’s a novel and perhaps one day I will write it and read it and wish I were her… then suddenly realize I am…and smile.

I know our story begins way before we ever met…but I’ll start from the part where I actively participated.

I was living with my parents in East Texas after I closed Rabbit Martinis. I had prayed and committed to 90 days of working on myself so I could get back out there and either open up the juice bar again or possibly go back to teaching. When I moved from Lubbock to Jacksonville I was depressed and broke and broken. Not pretty. It was humiliating to be 45 and moving in with your parents but there was a tug on my heart and I was being led by something bigger than myself. I focused on spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and financial improvements.  I spent time praying and reading anything that drew me closer to God and His plan for my life. I listened to uplifting music and fought the negativity with metaphorical swords and a gratitude journal. I looked myself in the mirror and told myself I was loved and God was not finished with me yet. I signed up to sell Nerium and went outside my comfort zone and made cold calls and advanced to Director and had some cash flow. It was January and freezing temps but I bundled up and ran the country roads by my parents’ house. My dad sometimes followed behind me with his car lighting the way so I could keep my commitment to improve physically.  I was determined. I was my own personal life coach and I was kicking my own butt. I drove by a gym in town and stopped to see if they needed any help or if I could possibly barter my knowledge of women and weights, or teach a juicing class in exchange for a membership. The answer was no.

After 90 days I was ready to go back to Lubbock…I missed my babies terribly and it was time. After paying bills, I needed a few more dollars to help with the gas money to drive the 400 plus miles. I called an individual that I met while selling Nerium and asked if he needed any help at his car dealership. I could organize files or office space…design ads…heck, I’d answer phones…I just needed to make about $200. He called and asked for my resume. A former juice customer was a staffing and recruiting guru in town for Texas Tech Homecoming. She gave me her business card and told me I needed to be on 7th street in Dallas. I saved her card and after moving in with my parents I reached out to see if she could help me with my resume. She did and I sent it to my friend. He gave it to his brother in law and the phone rang. I met him the next day and he said he needed some marketing help with his steel recycling firm.

I’ve been where you are. I know you want to get home to your children but can you give me 3 months. If you want to do this,  I really need a commitment.

For real? 3 months. You mean 90 days….90 more days.

I got in my car and prayed.

God give me a sign. I need to know this is from you. I want to go home.

My phone rang on my way back to my parents’ house. It was the man offering me the job.

Hey, do you work out?

No. I mean yes. Well, I just run or walk or whatever. Why?

My wife and I have a gym membership and I’m happy to put you on our plan. It will be good for you. Stop by the gym, I’m here now and I’ll sign you up.

What?

You know it was the gym I wanted to join but couldn’t.

So I took that as a sign and agreed to 90 more days.

Not only did I get a gym membership but he set me up with his personal trainer.

It’s time to meet Kurt…

One night after an intense crossfit session I drove into Tyler to Smashburger to get some food. I placed my order and shortly after sitting down my vision got wonky and I felt super strange. I tried to activate the lamaze that carried me through 3 deliveries and breathe my way past whatever was happening to my body. The pain progressed, I was getting nervous and called my sister to come get me. I thought I was having a stroke but later found out I was having what is known as a complex migraine. My words were jumbled and there was a disconnect going on in my brain. Let me just say it takes a lot for me to ask for help…HELP.

Glenda picked me up and put me to bed with some tramadol for the pain. Once the pressure relieved around 2 am, 2 days later, I did what any wide awake American would do…I got on Facebook….and then…blame it on the tramadol…I got on Tinder. When what to my wondering eyes did appear but a cutie named Kurt.

I swiped.

We matched.

The next morning I had a lengthy, courteous hello.

I read it. That’s all. Just read it.

That evening I had another lengthy, courteous hello.

I read it. That’s all. Just read it.

The next day I dug down deep into my flirtatious reservoir and politely responded…

Hello Kurt. You type a lot.

Yep. That’s my game. It’s strong.

He laughed and continued texting me even though I’m every bit of a rude texter.

The day we met I thought I could make him run.

I let him know straight out of the gate that I lived with my parents, I’d lost everything and my car was going to be repo’d in a day or two.

He stuck around…even asked for a front row seat to the show.

He invited me to his show. He races motorcycles….no doubt he makes me blush when he slips into that leather suit but what impressed me more was his commitment to his occupation. He is a total nerd. A smoking hot daredevil brainiac and it didn’t take my heart long to melt.

track day

After 14 months of long distance we decided to remedy the distance..being the designated gypsy of the mix, I moved to Baton Rouge.

Within 5 months of getting to spend more time together we were engaged and planning a wedding. We knew we wanted a small, simple affair to join our families and played with ideas of flying us all somewhere or flying the kids here…we wanted it to be about them. We could go to the courthouse and call it good and it would not make us love each other any less, but we knew this moment was more than just a trip to a judge and leaving with an official document. What we had found needed to be seen and shared with the ones who matter most to us.

Plottwist…

In May, in the middle of all the planning, Kurt received a disturbing call and rushed to get his granddaughter out of harm’s way before she became a case for the state.

Say hello to Ella.

Say hello to me knowing more than ever before that closing my juice bar and answering the tug on my heart to move 7 hours away to my parents for 90 days only to be asked to remain for 90 more was part of a much bigger plan. 

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We took all the plans before and tossed them. We decided it would be easiest on everyone to meet somewhere in Texas. Kurt began looking for venues in Austin when he stumbled upon Hotel Ella. What could be more perfect? I got in contact with Kristen Dyess and shared our story with her. She was so encouraging and welcomed our event with open arms. She introduced me to Maggie and between the two of them arrangements were made for a sweet ceremony outside under the pecan tree. The hotel was magnificent, everything was perfect and the staff felt like family.

My spontaneity gene was beneficial in planning all the details of our wedding. I found a dress within 20 minutes at Gabriella’s in Baton Rouge. I think I made their jaws drop when I said I was marrying in a week, but they were happy to help. I called my dad to see if he knew of any preachers in the Austin area that might be up for officiating our vows and he directed me to Tommy Estes. So happy he did. The kindest soul of a man and even though we met 30 minutes prior, he gently encouraged us and prayed over us with words we will cherish forever.

The day of the wedding was a flesh/heart struggle. I was scared. How am I going to do this? This child. This new calling. The what if’s. The fear of the unknown.  I knocked on Paige’s door and all three girls were inside. I said, “time to pray!” We circled up and each of them prayed over me and then I asked God to give me what I needed for the task He had called me to …you see…it wasn’t just about me being Kurt’s wife…that’s easy…I’m all in…it was about us, together, loving and nurturing and providing a home for this little girl… I left that room and never looked back. All I see now is the beauty of not only me and Kurt in her life, but my daughters, and my son in law, and my grandson and all those who will later join us as family.

Ella…you are not abandoned. You are surrounded by so much love and strength and not a day will pass that you are not prayed over.

***Kurt…I know you are reading this. I would love to hear your side of the story. I know you can type…Sir Typesalot. Maybe you should be the blogger in the family and I’ll just be cute and buy shoes and decorate the house…

Finally, I’d like to offer this toast: Here’s to being crazy enough to quit our jobs and nurture our entrepreneurial spirits. Here’s to falling on our faces and losing everything. Here’s to parents who say we can move home at 45. Here’s to crossfit and headaches and sisters who take good care of us.  Here’s to Tinder…here’s to being brave and taking a chance on love again. Here’s to dancing and feeling like a princess. Here’s to wearing white and believing in the blood of Jesus as a redemption for our sins. Here’s to the children who need us and the God that gives us strength and provision to meet their needs. Here’s to marriage and love and mystery and grace. Here’s to all the days ahead that will give us opportunity for growth and a chance to offer kindness to a hurting world. Here’s to you Mr. Miller. Here’s to being your wife.

You killed the gypsy…you’re stuck with me.

I pray that if you are wondering if God has a plan for your life that you can read our story and trust that He does…trust His timing…trust the journey…and if and when I forget…remind me of what I just told you.

love gina

Calvin Millar, you are ridiculous. Thank you for letting us be in the moment while you captured it…Now click on the following link and enjoy a front row seat to the best day ever…wish you could’ve been there…

Kurt and Gina Wedding

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