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Friday, March 8, 2024

An Unhealthy Alliance

Who We Were

I was unexpectedly pregnant with our fourth baby. Stephen and I were still both under thirty. I cried in the bathroom that November morning telling him about the test result. We wanted more kids but not quite yet. We had been planning for years to take a risk and move our family to Portland, but instead I found myself asking if we could, please, move home. 

When we decided to head back to Indiana, it was on the condition that we would reimagine what it would look like to live there. We bought a house downtown searching for walkability and diversity. 

Looking for a church, the Alliance stood out. An old friend introduced us to this group that was youthful (literally) and trying to re envision church. Composed of mostly college educated millennials who had grown up in christian households, all the shoulds and have-tos had been thrown out. There was such a sense of freedom. Pursuing faith didn't have to be attached to a certain political agenda. Services didn't have to happen in a church building on a Sunday morning. Worship could be loud or still and quiet. The community embraced playfulness and creativity.  Church members were practicing their faith by living in community, farming in the city, biking instead of driving, and making music and art. 

Stephen and I were longing to be more than the sum of our responsibilities, an almost decade old marriage, four kids, and two mortgages. This community and the faith they carried invited us into something more. 



All this freedom came with a caveat, little structure and lack of stability.

When we arrived, the church was on its third pastor in five years. Nothing dramatic had happened. All of them had been young, leading the church for a season before life opened up to go after their deeper callings. One had left to pursue music full time, another to live in Northern Ireland as a missionary. 

After we had been at the church a year and a half, another pastor moved on. The Reverend took his place.

The Reverend was already attending the church when we joined. I found it confusing to sort out his position. There was no formal list to look at. He was a sidekick to our pastor, a best friend. He was often working in the back at the sound booth, and because of his youth and unique style, I didn’t assume he was in leadership. 

We joined a small group that initially met in his apartment, although he wasn't named as its leader. The group's intention was to build relationships, and, yet, he didn’t share much about himself. After months of meeting, I knew hardly anything about him. 

He did take it upon himself, once, to prompt another group member to apologize to me. The Reverend thought this person was dismissive as I shared about my mother's cancer diagnosis. He met with us each separately, outlining his expectation of an apology. The funny thing was, I hadn't felt slighted at all and wasn't sure why the Reverend was inserting himself in a non-existent drama.

Our church was a part of a larger denomination who made pastoral appointments. The Reverend was qualified because he had previously interned at a sister church. So, without seemingly any consultation with our local congregation, he was all of a sudden our pastor.  

At our previous church in Texas, my questions or thoughts were warmly met. My pastor, a woman, heard me, saw me, and encouraged me to translate my thoughts into actionable service. She was safe.

Because the Alliance was a church that seemed to run on grassroots energy, I assumed they would welcome my voice. However, I got a less than enthusiastic response to my questions and suggestions from the Reverend. Some of his words cut me off at the knees, undermined my confidence, and made me deeply self conscious.

“We will tell people when they need to know.”

“(Instead of questioning my vision…) Maybe you should move into the neighborhood.”

“What makes you think you could be a church leader?”

“You are the last couple I would suggest to give counsel to other married couples.”

I took the hint. My voice was unwelcome, and so I silenced it. 


An Apology Tour

Not long before we had our fifth baby, I joined Stephen on a business trip to San Francisco. We woke up in our hotel that Sunday morning and I felt a bodily sense of relief that we didn't have to attend church. 

The heater in the church had broken that winter, and the whole congregation would huddle in the closed off side room wearing our coats and mittens. Most of the congregation, which seemed to be inexplicably growing, joyfully sang worship songs and laughed at the Reverend's goofy jokes. The nursery was closed so I sat in the back trying to keep my children occupied and my face from betraying how bitter I felt.

But sometime that year, there came a surprise apology. The Reverend asked to meet with me. A pastoral organization he was embedded in had recently collapsed, and in that wake, he was realizing some of the ways he had been taught to lead were off base. He was seeking my forgiveness.

His apology was on target enough to bring tears to my eyes. Secrecy, defensiveness, and control were mentioned. 

I was eager to forgive, desperate not to have to make the hard choice of finding another church. And, so, I didn't ask many questions. I didn't bring up specific situations where his cutting words diminished me. 

I was nervous that if I got too specific the apology would crack open.

I wasn't the only person he was apologizing to. Several others had been hurt by his approaches and had left the church. The Reverend appreciated my faithfulness. I had continued to show up even when the situation had become uncomfortable. 

We started again, walking forward on wobbly stilts of trust. One stilt was named loyalty, the other necessity. 



My loyalty seemed to have won me enough favor to be invited to preach on occasion (something I had done at my previous church), and then to have a permanent place on the teaching pool. According to the Reverend, none of us in the pool were naturally gifted preachers, but we were all heartily committed which would do.

The Reverend invited me to coffee one day. Sitting at the window table, he asked if I would be interested in starting the consecration process with our denomination. Consecration was essentially ordination for women. Same process, different name. Distinct, but equal? My past biblical and leadership courses qualified me. I felt initially flattered and seen. Although, I didn't ask him to clarify what he saw in me specifically to prompt the recommendation.

Maybe I just didn't get the chance. Mid conversation, Stephen called to say our daughter had fallen down the stairs and needed to go to the Emergency Room for stitches. Hurriedly gathering my things, the Reverend stood up and knocked his coffee cup over. In a bit of foreshadowing, it spilled all over the paper describing the consecration process and all over my lap.


The Interview

In January of 2017, I put on my nicest jeans and cardigan in an attempt to look professional. I stepped out of the land of women and children and into a conference room of seven white men, not the four mentioned on the phone the day before, but seven pastors in our district who were all a part of the Licensing, Ordination, and Consecration Committee. 

Oh, and also one woman, the wife of one of the pastors. She worked in full time ministry alongside her husband, but was not on the committee and had never been through the process herself. She was brought in for my comfort.

I had already submitted an extensive application and taken a preliminary test. These men would interview me and hopefully affirm the calling to ministry on my life. 

“You are much shorter than I thought you would be!” said one, not long into the interview. The others seemed to tense up a bit, embarrassed by his candor. He went on, "After reading your application, I came in ready to debate you on some points. But now we are here in the same room and you are not what I pictured." He was disarmed.

Tears sprang to my eyes, and my thin veil of confidence tore. Their questions exposed my inability to confidently articulate my calling, my irregular practice of spiritual disciplines, and my limited theological vocabulary. Regeneration is not just what lizards’ tails do, I guess. 

They asked me about my relationship with The Reverend.  In his email recommendation, the Reverend mentioned our relationship challenges but said he couldn't recall what had caused them. 

That seemed convenient for him. I remembered and was left to share my point of view without coming across too proud or bitter. They wanted to know what my role in the conflict had been. Years later, I'm still trying to figure that out. Did I share my thoughts too intensely? Was I too eager? Did my gender make it worse?

After conferring privately, I was invited to continue the consecration process which, among other things, entailed lots of reading, writing theological position papers, and attending a conference. 

I was assigned a mentor, the woman in the room. Sometime in the interview, she had discovered we had the same Myer-Briggs personality type, ENFP. She told me that we were often champions for other people but sometimes we needed someone to champion us. 

I did need someone to champion me, but, as I left feeling somewhat humiliated, I wasn't sure if this was the group to do it. 



Over years, I took on more responsibility at the Alliance, always with The Reverend's permission and often at his prompting. I led children's ministry. Stephen and I became elders. I joined the financial team.

I volunteered because I had both the skill and passion to contribute to each of those areas. But, I also volunteered because I wanted the church to move forward, not backward. I volunteered because I wanted to keep the Reverend accountable. I engaged in my own sort of controlling behavior as a way to minimize The Reverend’s weaknesses while he grew in his potential. 

I pushed to implement structure and transparency; a yearly financial meeting and pastoral review, established by-laws, and an independent eldership search committee. I argued to preach from a wider variety of biblical texts. I shared some of my reservations about the Reverend's constant reference to a certain pastor “influencer” and his sometimes bizarre and sensational descriptions during sermons. I would wince when The Reverend described Jesus as teleporting across the Sea of Galilee, for example.

I had a meeting of some kind with the Reverend almost weekly, many of them filled with landmines. I began noticing the same patterns of control, secrecy, and manipulation and would come home needing to debrief with Stephen.  

Others were struggling with The Reverend as well. For years, when people left, I never asked about the circumstances, afraid it would necessitate action on my part. Eventually, I started sitting in on some meetings as a mediator, hopeful that I could soften the frustration. What I was hearing from the Reverend made my own frustrations build. 

“That is the very definition of gossip!”

“She didn’t come to me so I can’t trust her anymore.”

“I don't put my sermons online because they could be misperceived outside of our context.”

“I didn’t have time to ask anyone else before I took action.”

“Maybe you should go pray about that more.”

“I will not be guilted into taking action.”

“Feel free to cry.”

“You don’t know what is necessary in being a pastor.”

“Even after their apology, I will never stop by their house again.”

“You mentioned this about yourself, but I felt God showed me something different.”

“I did not give you permission to reach out to them for advice on this project.”



We gave our partnership a solid try, both of us. 

The Reverend understood over time that I felt loved through acts of service and so he came over to help as I undertook a bathroom renovation by myself. It does feel nice to have a partner while doing hard things, and I appreciated his gesture. He delivered himself as a bit of the resident expert, having done some tile work in the past. This is a good example of how he approached pastoring in general, he often entered a situation as the one with answers and access to God, and instead of encouraging you in your process, he would insert his knowledge with the expectation you accept it. 

We attended our district conference together in Chicago one spring. During a morning session, a certain pastor who the Reverend had issues with was preaching. I don't remember the details of the drama, maybe something about an assistant pastor, a friend of the Reverend's losing his job because of this man. I do remember the moment the Reverend decided to show his protest, though. He lifted himself from his pew near the back, and walked to the front. He hadn't shared his intention with me. I watched him curiously at first, and then my heart began to race. He proceeded, slowly like a bride allowing the crowd to take him in, across the entire front of the sanctuary. I couldn't peel my eyes away. He approached the district superintendent who was sitting in one of the first rows, directly catty corner from where the Reverend began. He kneeled in front of him and whispered some words. The speaker paused, unsure what to make of this action. He even said something to jest about it, laughing to himself. 

I couldn't decide whether to be embarrassed or inspired. I couldn't imagine being that bold although, sometimes, I wanted to be.

As we drove home from the conference, the Reverend and I discussed the Enneagram, a new, to us, personality typing that categorized people into nine numbers. His wife suggested the Reverend might be an eight. I quickly googled the typical attributes; self-confident, assertive, protective, straight-talking, decisive, potentially domineering. According to the Enneagram Institute, “Eights feel they must control their environment, especially people, sometimes becoming confrontational and intimidating…At their Best: self-mastering, they use their strength to improve others' lives, becoming heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.”

Yes, I thought. This makes sense. Maybe our differences have all been personality related. Potentially, this is the key to understanding and acceptance, to friendship and respect. 

Eventually, I would conclude that personalities might give us insight into our first instincts, but they don't excuse our bad behavior. And the reality was, that a lot of people seemed to have “personality” struggles with the Reverend. 

Years later, The Reverend, over the enneagram craze, would joke that he wasn’t a one through nine, but a ten. 


Burst Eardrum

Just before Christmas in 2018, I broke down. I have this tendency to reframe life positively as a strategy to avoid hard things and just get on with it. Maybe I would have done that if I hadn't also been physically ill. My physical exasperation prevented me from managing the psychological weight of my life at the time. For once, I couldn’t shrug my frustration and bitterness away. I was doing too much, trying to keep my community chugging along and to prove myself. My attempts were not working out well.   

My ear ache seemed to correspond to my emotional distress in that season. It started as just twinges of pain on the same night I was feeling desperately lonely while spray painting cardboard doves for the church's children's Christmas program.

I obtained antibiotics which didn't provide any relief. This at the same time I had come to the conclusion that, despite our best efforts, the Reverend and I were not friends. We were never going to openly share our personal lives with one another.

Soon, my ear was actively weeping. My ear drum burst the same week that I called Stephen sobbing inconsolably after a phone conversation with the Reverend. I made a passive aggressive comment about the group planning our beloved Christmas cantata. He, validly, asked me to address this offense head on. After I sent a group email, he called me, sternly saying, "That's not how I told you to handle it, Melissa."

In that moment, I was able to be honest with myself about just how weary I had become. 



By February, I had my hearing back and discovered I had learned a few things. One, antibiotics won't work for a fungal ear infection. Two, I needed to take some ownership in this situation. I couldn't change him, but I could change me. 

I had been meeting with my new mentor sporadically since my consecration interview. She didn't seem deeply invested in our relationship, but when we were together, she was kind and shared her wisdom. Some of her words, I will carry with me my whole life. 

We met just after my mother's death, and I confessed that I was relieved to get back to my life. She tenderly said, “This is your life, Melissa. Maybe one of the most important moments of it.”

She was deeply devoted to the practices of silence and solitude and was encouraging me to develop these disciplines. This was foundational in the clarity I got after my breakdown. I felt I was given a directive from God.

Slow down. Finish what you've started before you begin anything else. Get clear about what you want and dive deep. Be bold and calm in asking for what you need and let the chips fall where they may. 

There were some commitments I knew I needed to finish, I just didn't know that my connection to the Alliance would be one of them. 


Are you stuck? 

It took me nearly three years, but I finally completed all the requirements to be consecrated. I sat for my final interview one fall afternoon in 2019. 

I was nervous about crying again. My mentor encouraged me to prepare for it, to not be ashamed of my tears. One particular question certainly inspired them. A pastor astutely asked, “Melissa, are you stuck at your church?” In denial, I rebuffed his question. “Is it hard? Sure. But what church isn't hard?”

But, I was stuck. Where else would I be able to find such a connected, beautiful community? Where else would I be able to serve a community I love? Despite my attempts at holding the Reverend at arms length, the emotional toll of working alongside him was growing. 


Cider tears

That same fall, I met a friend for lunch at a local cider company. I was trying to intentionally connect with people I was curious about or drawn to. I came prepared with questions. 

This particular friend was the only member of our church with a seminary degree, but she didn't seem particularly interested in day to day church ministry. She was moving onto a doctoral program soon, and I was curious about her path.

“What brought you to seminary in the first place and how do you want to use your education?” I asked

“Why!?! Are you interested in going? You should absolutely go! You are already gifted, just think how impactful you could be if you honed those gifts.”

This response took me off guard. No. This wasn't about me. I was just interested in getting to know her better, but her insistence brought tears to my eyes. My body was acknowledging something my brain would not. 

She was the first person in my life, even after a decade of intense church service, many leadership training courses, and a years-long consecration process, to suggest I go to seminary. Why was that? 

I shook my head and downed some more cider. I'm too old. It costs too much. We are about to put five kids through college! 

She wouldn't accept my excuses. I left a little tipsy and with a seed planted in my heart. 


Consecration & Concussion

One Sunday morning in January 2020, the church celebrated my consecration. In February, the Reverend suffered a severe concussion. Seemingly unrelated events, they served as the catalyst for my decision to leave. 

The Reverend’s behavior became even more challenging to accept after the concussion. He was having lots of dreams and visions. At our elders’ meeting, I came with concerns about how elders were selected in our congregation. I was working on being bold and calm in naming my concerns. He quickly dismissed this discussion, stating he had special permission from the district to circumvent the by-laws. Instead, he took us up to a room on the second floor. He had a vision of this becoming a “prayer tower”. The room had a very specific look in his vision which he wanted us to recreate. He asked us to pray about going forward with the renovation. 

    Days later, I responded via email with my reservations on the plan and he replied, “Melissa- the rest of your email I am discarding. Everything in regards to the prayer tower you wrote was what I asked folks to not prioritize or respond with.” He told me to go pray again. 

On the same day, within an hour of his disregard for my thoughts on the prayer tower, he sent details of another dream he had, this one about our family. The dream identified a demonic spirit in our home, “the thief of joy”. He said, “The thief of joy says joy is the outcome of distant goals and sets up false diagrams and arguments that say ‘unless I get my way I will never be happy'. It feeds on preference and opinions.”

He encouraged us that “God was purifying your house - almost like a spring cleaning. Things that have robbed your presence of Joy can be flooded out of your home if you desire this.”

I did desire this. The one thing that was stealing my joy was his spiritual manipulation, and it was time to flood it out. 


A Marriage

One morning in early March, Stephen and I were sitting in our car, parked outside our house. I turned to him and said, “I can't do this anymore. If you want to keep attending, I'll understand, but I can't keep emotionally torturing myself.”

I think, deep down, for years, I wanted him to recognize how painful and damaging this relationship was for me. I wanted him to be the one to call it out and save me. I didn't want to force him to leave a beloved community simply because I couldn't get along. 

But I had come to realize that I needed to clearly say what I needed, to advocate for myself. 

Stephen looked at me and said, “Melissa, we are married. Whatever we do, we'll do together.”


Twelve steps to breakup with a church

  1.  I stayed home the next Sunday (the last Sunday before COVID shut down our world) to pray. My resolve only grew, not necessarily to break up with The Reverend and the church, but to set some clear boundaries that I assumed would end the relationship. 

  2. I called The Reverend to let him know I was wrestling with a lot. I had some questions about the church. He took this to mean that I was feeling overwhelmed and overcommitted and needed to work on myself. He was sympathetic. He was less sympathetic when he discovered that I had strong concerns about his leadership.

  3. I wrote down all of my grievances, grouped into three categories;preaching, administration, and pastoral care. I didn't want to leave anything unsaid. I wanted to expose the deep wound instead of placing a bandaid.Looking back, I could have at least used “I statements” and subsequent questions. For example, I need decision making to be balanced and reflect our bylaws. Is this something that we can mutually agree on?

  1. I sent this scorched earth email to The Reverend and the two other elders (besides Stephen and I), a woman and the old friend who had originally invited us to the church.

  2. We set a date to meet over Zoom. Our old friend called us the night before asking if we wanted one of The Reverend's close pastoral friends to be on the call as a mediator. Um, no. 

  3. We met and no one wanted to speak first. I had put all of my thoughts in the email and simply wanted to know if they believed my points had merit. 

  4. The woman said I was clearly offended. I needed to get the speck out of my own eye before I could try to remove someone else's. Some of what I said had merit, but nothing could be done because I didn't come right. I felt like I'd been slapped. 

  5. The Reverend said he had only read the email once and would never read it again. He believed I didn’t know what is necessary to lead a church. He had a letter he wanted to read over us as our pastor. I snapped, “You are not my pastor.” And there it was, the truth of the matter. The letter was only redirection and manipulation, and I didn’t want to listen anymore.

  1. I asked our old friend if he agreed with the other two. He said he needed to think about it more. He has never broached the subject again.

  2. In an attempt to show that I wasn't just a mad woman, I wrote and sent an email sharing what I like and respect about The Reverend. It was heartfelt. 

  3. I set up a call with the district superintendent. After giving him some examples of The Reverend's leadership, he said that The Reverend is definitely a general and I would do better with a more diplomatic leader. He was right. He offered to send a mediating team if everyone was willing. They were not. 

  1. I submitted my resignation and drafted a letter to read to the congregation. The Reverend asked me to remove a couple of sentences, which I did. I delivered it one May morning over zoom, with my family beside me. The Reverend turned off his camera.


Trust Yourself

In April 2020, I received a little anonymous package in the mail. I opened it to find a pin that read “Trust Yourself”, a gift from a listening friend. This would become my mantra as I moved forward in healing. 

I went to therapy a handful of times that summer. My counselor introduced me to words like codependency. I needed something from the Reverend, the stability of a beloved community and a space to live out my calling, so I was desperate to find a way to minimize the effects of his unhealthy leadership styles. She also taught me a way to mother myself, to put my hand on my heart and acknowledge that this is hard. But I quit therapy when I got anxious about the money and when the sessions weren't keeping up with the pace of my 2020 worries.

I had the instinct to write down all the ways I had been hurt. I wanted to hold onto them so tightly, to not let time take them from me. I googled “how to write a memoir” and the predominant advice was to center yourself in whatever you write. 

Shit. I knew at the time that I only wanted to highlight him, those who defended him, and those who sat passively by chalking the whole thing up to personality differences. So, I waited and worked, trying to center myself in the narrative. 



I started seminary a year after I exited the Alliance. My consecration mentor wrote my referral letter. I embraced the lengthy process, hoping it would be a time of healing for me. 

In the winter of 2022, I read a book for one of my classes about family systems theory. I was struggling to understand why I stayed at the Alliance for so many years when my relationship with the Reverend was strained, really, from the beginning. 

The book used this word triangulating. You stabilize something hard with something good or hopeful. I had made so many triangles. Me, the beloved community, the Reverend.

Me, Stephen, the Reverend. Me, consecration, the Reverend. Me, our old friend, the Reverend. For years, I thought, if our old friend (who is the most decent human I know) sees potential in him, surely there is hope for growth. 

As I did the work, beginning after my ear drum burst, these false stabilizers started to fall away. By the spring of 2020, I stopped looking at the situation through these other circumstances and just looked at it for what it was. 


Turning the page

My exit in May 2020 began a host of church conversations which led to more people exiting that summer. What was small became tiny. The webpage came down and the church changed its name. 

I would see the Reverend and his wife out in our small part of the city. My instinctual wave would get a nod from the Reverend and not even a glance from his wife. Once, when she spotted my kids on the local playground, she picked their child up and walked away. I was shocked by this icy reception. I had hope that someday we could at least be in the same room together with ease. 

We began attending a new church, over zoom for nearly a year and then in person. The head pastor invited Stephen and I out to lunch after we attended an intro class. I felt nervous in his presence, even more so when he told me he knew the Reverend although no particulars of our situation. He offered to meet with us to process our church hurt. Tired of trying to convince people of what went wrong, I declined. 

It's been nearly four years since my decision to leave. I've been eager for this to not be my current story, to turn the page. I know that time is required, but what actions can nudge the processing along?

I decided it was finally time to take the pastor up on his offer. We met one early morning in November. I skipped my normal tennis lesson to sit on his couch and get his thoughts. He asked a lot of questions. Believed me. Grieved with me. And encouraged me to take back my power. For the first time in so many years, I felt safe in a pastor’s office. 

I told him that my relationship with the Reverend had been one of the most painful of my life, an admission that feels silly. But when I think about it, it was a relationship that was about more than he and I. It was about my community and my marriage. It was about the roles we are taught to play as men and women, as pastors and parishioners. It was about who I was and who I was becoming.

I'm becoming someone who is learning to trust herself, to know that she is created in the image of God and has unique gifts and callings. Becoming someone who can take her time, invest deeply, and be open to the unknown ahead. Becoming someone who needs people to support, encourage, and challenge her but is thoughtful about who she invites into that space. Becoming someone who is both honest and curious when something is hurting. Becoming someone who still loves the church and will fight for it to be healthy. 

I no longer want to hold tight to how I was misunderstood or disrespected or looked over, I want to hold tight to that story of becoming. 

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Julian is SEVENTEEN.

Julian turned seventeen with little fanfare. We woke up in Nashville and spent the day driving towards Texas. We finally crossed the state line around sunset and Julian drove us most of the way to Austin on the very congested and dark Texas highways. He is so close to having all the hours he needs to get his license. After years of being a one car family, we are planning to get a second van so he and D'arcy have more access to a car this summer.

Earlier in the week, we did attend Spiderverse at Clowes Hall with a few of his buddies. The movie was accompanied by a live orchestra. Spiderman has been bringing him joy since he was a toddler. He confessed to me recently that many of his dreams are comprised of him using webs to swing through the air. 

Although both spiderverse movies are some of his favorites, Julian likes all kinds of movies. He wanted to see Barbie and Oppenheimer back to back, but the best we could do was seeing them within twenty-four hours of each other. He said that he cried during Barbie, and he convinced his cousin to see it with him a second time. 

Stephen and I watched Lady Bird with him one evening. It's my kind of movie, funny, quirky, and heartwarming, a coming of age story that focus on the relationship between a daughter and her mom. Not long after, I overheard him mentioning that it was his favorite movie. I think it shows his tenderness. I like that we like the same thing. 

He and I started to watch Haiku together, finding common ground between his love of anime and my love of shows that highlight sports. We only made it through a season, but we will hopefully pick it up again over break. I appreciate that we are finding mutuality, hopefully building a foundation for ways we can spend time together in the future. 

Julian has spent the year learning to advocate for himself. He is figuring out how to care for his mental health and how to trust himself in the face of anxiety. I've appreciated seeing him be introspective and hearing his insights. 

He stepped away from tennis this fall when he got a lead part in the Mean Girls musical. He played Aaron, Kady and Regina's love interest. I really hadn't heard him sing before. Rap, yes. Sing, no. I was blown away by his stage presence and voice. He had to kiss the girl playing Regina on stage a couple of times each show, and her dad joked every night that he had his eyes on Julian. The musical was funny, thought provoking, and SO much work. He spent loads of long evenings and nearly a month of Saturdays working alongside his cast and crew to make it all come together. 

Julian is still playing trumpet and piano. He began a two year, diploma program music theory class. He is interested in listening to and playing jazz. He also listens to a lot of rap music. He asked for an album entitled "Scaring the Hoes" for Christmas. My knowledge and appreciation of rap is growing as I ride along in the car with him and so that title no longer scares this hoe.

Julian convinced us to let him move up into the attic when D'arcy is at school. For nine months out of the year, he and Schroeder will effectively have their own rooms for the first time  in their lives. I was nervous about them being lonely, but they have gotten along just fine. 

Whenever D'arcy does come home, Julian moves his gaming computer and monitor, a computer he earned by working hard to walk with his whole foot, down to his brother's room. He sleeps on the top bunk now that Schroeder has claimed the bottom. 

Seventeen. I feel emotional just saying it. Months away from being an adult, this beautiful, funny boy of mine. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Maggie is a teenager.

 Maggie celebrated her thirteenth birthday with a long awaited slumber party. There was a heat wave in Indiana that week so I suggested we tuck everyone in the van and drive down to grandpa's to have an evening swim. I loaded the cooler with drinks, fruit, and ice cream and we stopped along the way to pick up pizza. The girls spent the car ride singing along to Taylor Swift at the top of their lungs. They kept the jam session going in the pool, making requests to the DJ (my dad).

Her party was on a Friday night which also happened to be D'arcy's birthday. In years past, Maggie would have had to arrange her birthday plans around her sister's, but now that D'arcy is away at school, she doesn't have to share her birthday weekend.

Maggie's wish list included art supplies, jewelry, leggings, and a kindle. We gave her a kindle. She tends to be a faithful reader. She started Little Women recently but confessed that the language was old which made the reading slow going. However, she is blowing through The Summer I Turned Pretty series and is firmly team Conrad.

She continues to be an extremely thoughtful person. For Mother's Day, she filled a jar with little slips of paper that describe why she loves me. Some of the reasons include my little lavender tattoo, because I am a substitute teacher, and because I love her. What a gift to be seen.

She also says she "loves me for correcting her grammar". I regularly point out her excessive use of the word like. I've always felt she is frustrated with me in those moments, but the paper says otherwise.

Over the past year, she has taken improv classes and continued to play piano. She is working on the song Cardigan by Taylor Swift. (What era is your favorite?!) She plays flute in the band and jumped back into hip hop this fall. They are doing a routine to a song from the Barbie movie. She already has her outfit planned per usual.

We went to France this summer and she looked regularly fabulous. I gave her the jean jacket I bought for my honeymoon. It's a size too small now and she wore it draped over her shoulders in Paris which made me deeply happy.

We love this girl so much.

Penelope is TEN!!

 Penelope turned ten in May.

She plays soccer during the fall and spring seasons. We call her a defensive specialist. She's a strong student and got to join a reading group that met with the media specialist weekly. She has WAY too many squishmallows. They fill her entire bed. She has a group of good friends at school and has even started to make some friends at church. A year ago, she was reluctant to go to her children's ministry class on Sundays, but now seems to look forward to it. She's addicted to seltzer waters and chips and salsa.

Based on Julian's influence, she is catching up on One Piece. I've never watched One Piece so I have no idea if it's age appropriate. That's sort of the rub when you have sisters and brothers significantly older than you, you get early exposure to older content. A couple of times this year, though, I've been surprised to find out she is still oblivious to the meaning of certain words or phrases.

We spent two weeks as a family in France and England this summer. I had initially planned this trip for summer 2020. I'm not sure that seven year old Penelope would have been able to keep up, but ten year old Penelope was able to hang.

She walked everywhere we walked, pushed her way into the metro, and climbed and counted all the stairs of the Eiffel tower. She did want to hold someones hand most of the time, usually me or Julian.

She also carried her own backpack and pulled her own suitcase through the airport, train stations, and city streets. She had won a stuffed otter at Dave and Busters a few nights before we left and insisted on bringing him with us. Too big to be stuffed in her suitcase, he rode on top, arms wrapped around the handle. It was a sweet reminder that she is both big and little at the same time.

Penelope was eager to go swimming in the English Channel as redemption for Hawaii. Unfortunately, unlike the ocean around Hawaii, the water is cold and shallow and the tide goes out really far. Plus, Steve kept us hopping leaving little time for the beach.

Penelope has her own unique style. A little bit tomboy. A little bit athletic. But she has a feminine flair. She seems to either choose a tight, short top with baggier pants or a big t-shirt with shorts. She loves a pair of overalls. Mostly she wears whatever she finds at the top of her drawers, forgetting what's buried underneath.

She hates to put her hair up and is usually unprepared for those hot soccer games when it's necessary, running over to the side to ask me if I happen to have a hair tie. Recently, she asked for curtain bangs, sending me inspiration pics through kids messenger app.

Happy Birthday Penelope!

Schroeder is fourteen.

Schroeder turned fourteen in March. He celebrated by inviting a dozen boys and girls over to the house for pizza, a trip to DQ, and some sardines despite the cold, rainy, dark conditions. I was nervous about someone slipping and cracking their head.

I was reading Schroeder's birthday post from last year and realized not much has changed. He's still that competitive boy who is eager to get better at sports. He's playing on two soccer teams this spring. I hear him often in the backyard kicking his soccer ball against the fence. He's hoping to make the Shortridge team in the fall.

He still prefers math and neglects his art assignments. He's still growing, now taller than his oldest sister.

He still has a strong voice when he's in front of a crowd or cracking a joke and a voice that falters in a more emotionally charged situation or asking for something he wants. He was loud and clear when leading community meetings and during his community project presentation. Sometimes, though, he'll come into my room and pause and I'll have to invite him to spit his thoughts out and then repeat them louder. 

He told me recently that he really just wanted to be the best at one thing among his peers. I relate to this desire, but I've also discovered it's a trap.

He's headed to high school in the fall. It was clear where he would go, but I fretted over it anyway. Did he want to tour other options? Would any of his friends join him? Schroeder made his comfort in the choice clear by wearing the Shortridge bracelet and T-shirt he received regularly. It turns out that quite a few of his friends and classmates will join him.

A week before his birthday, I had the chance to chaperone his trip to Camp Tecumseh. I'm grateful he was happy to have me along. While we were there, his gym teacher told me that he was always up to play any game or invest in an activity...even the dumb ones. His kindergarten teacher and fellow 8th grade mom said he should earn a scholarship for his high ropes course skills.

At Christmas, we bought him a phone. We normally wait for High School to start, but there was a sale. Also, his birthday doesn't happen to fall at the beginning of the school year, and I wasn't going to buy him Christmas and birthday gifts AND then a phone. He's playing a lot of chess on it. He also has a 150 day streak on Duolingo. Both sound like smart uses of time but not when they distract you at school.

We love this boy.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Julian is 16!

 Julian turned  SIXTEEN on October 7th.

This last year felt like a negotiation. As someone who grew up in conservative evangelical churches, training for parenting doesn't include negotiation. I heard a lot of messages about authority...laying down expectations and demanding they be done or face consequences. But each kid has their own thoughts, desires, inclinations, hopes, and wills. All of that needs to be taken into consideration as we form our expectations. Therein lies the negotiation. 

Last year, Julian was telling us more about who he was becoming and we tried to listen. We negotiated his level of church participation, academic and extra curricular expectations, and what our role as his parents should be in the next few years. 

It feels like we emerged with a peace agreement. 

He was always such a silly, easy going, no nonsense kid. We would occasionally see his temper. These days we are seeing more emotional and creative sides of him. It's a privilege to watch. 

Julian managed girls tennis in the spring and played tennis in the fall. He is taking piano lessons once a week and playing trumpet in the Shortridge band. He has worked on crew for the theatre productions, and this year he tried out for the musical and got a part! Most nights, we can hear him upstairs lifting weights. 

He has a group of friends that attend various high schools. They make plans to see movies, go to the zoo and baseball games, and have sleepovers. They support each other well. He credits them sometimes for his well being, and I wonder "what about those awesome parents you have?"

This story makes me laugh. Julian had Spanish in middle school so as a freshman he took a placement test which put him in Spanish 2. He breezed through the class. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he found himself in a Spanish 3 class. He felt immediately intimidated because he was one of the only non-native speakers in the class. I took a little joy in him finding himself challenged at school. He wasn't so sure, and ended up asking the teacher if he could be put back into Spanish 2. He confessed that the placement test he took was a Google doc with a translate button... which he maybe he really shouldn't be a year ahead. His teacher told him she couldn't put him back in a class he had easily passed last year! Oh, the natural consequences!

He's done great, though, in Spanish 3 and all his other classes. He's up and on the redline to school before anyone else in the house is awake. He's doing his own laundry these days and learning to drive. He got his permit in September. He has emerged from middle school a responsible kid. 

And funny. He's always sending me a good meme. He doesn't have a sense of humor about me taking his picture, though. If I ask him to smile, I get a kind of I-hate-you look. He still looks handsome, though. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Maggie is twelve.

 If Penelope is nine going on nine, Maggie is twelve going on twenty. 

She shared her birthday with my dad's wedding. She wasn't bothered, just excited to dress up and eat good food. We found her an extra small dress from the Juniors department. She fixed her hair and makeup and kept mentioning how grown up she felt. 

Maggie declared that she wasn't a "sports girl" this summer. Instead, she is artistic and musical. She plays piano and, inspired by Lizzo, started learning the flute. Her desk is always covered in dry paint. Still, she decided to join volleyball this fall. Maybe she's learning she doesn't have to define herself so rigidly, that she can always choose to learn and play a sport if the urge strikes. 

She uses words like "aesthetic" and "facts". She reads tween novels especially those with LGBTQ themes, and proudly displays her pride flags in her room. She enthusiastically utilizes Pinterest boards. She sent me one for her birthday, in fact. She had pinned all the presents she wanted; bath and body works soaps, a tortilla blanket, delicate beaded jewelry. '

A couple of months ago, she messaged me on Facebook messenger asking if she could start shaving her legs. When I didn't notice the message for a few days, she left me a sticky not by my bed asking me to check messenger. My response was sure, go ahead and start a task that will never, ever be done or done well. There will always be that pesky spot on your knee, ankle, or on the back of your calf that you missed. 

Our school district has just put out a plan to move and merge her K-8 school. The transition with have her at four buildings in four years. She will tentatively spend her eighth grade year at the middle school just blocks from our home, within easy walking distance. She already has plans that her and her friends will cross the street to the Dairy Queen at least once a month for a treat. 

I joke that if there is an argument in our house between siblings, there's a 99% chance that she is involved. I appreciate that she has quick access to her emotions and words. 

This weekend, a friend was sharing that she had a first date but was tired of the same old first date questions. Maggie pulled out her sticky notes that she keeps in her purse in case she needs to draw and began creating some new questions. What kind of grapes do you like, green or red? Who would you say is your best friend? She advised our friend that if he says "my mom", you should walk the other way. Maggies said, "You never want a guy who will choose his mother over you." Her book of dating advise and questions will be out next year...when she's thirteen.