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Elbert Ray Estes, March 4 1935 – July 3 2017

July 23, 2017

19665606_10154959684008661_674441105584711547_nPapaw’s favorite story to tell of me was the time, when I was about 7 or 8, that I was so mad about how “far” we had to walk back to their apartment after taking a swim, that I stomped right past their apartment building, muttering angrily, without even realizing it. I can still hear him chuckling through telling that story. His favorite second story of me he told was the time Matt covered my school picture, hanging at their house, with a picture of Ronald Reagan. For reasons I can’t even remember now, other than I hated getting picked on, I sulked and pouted for the better part of that visit about being replaced by Ronald Reagan. I think Papaw was always amused and a bit confounded by these stories and how easily I got riled up — because he rarely did. There’s no memory I have with him without his calm, kind, and gentle demeanor. He was always a steadfast, loving presence in my life and in our family. I love how he loved his great-grandchildren. He meticulously put together state quarter collections for each one of his 13 great-grands, and a visit with Papaw was never complete without him giving a great-grand a dollar bill and a big ol’ Papaw hug. He was always the first to tell me how amazing he thought Reed was doing, and for that I’ll be forever thankful. Sometimes grief comes hard and fast, but my grief today seems a lot like Papaw — quiet, steady, and now, always with me. Papaw, you are loved and you are missed, today and always.

On My 6th Mother’s Day

May 13, 2017

My dear, wildly precious children,

Being your mother is, to me, a mostly impossible task. I’m being asked to be who I am not yet.

You see, I didn’t often feel the sting of failure in my mostly sheltered and protected suburban American upbringing. That is, until those nurses placed one tiny red-headed baby into my trembling arms, and then another, and then one more — I didn’t really know the full weight and measure, the intensifying humility of failing more times than I can recount.

All of my impatience, all of my fear, and all of my short-sightedness. My not yet good enough. Or kind enough. Or brave enough. My simply not enough. And yet you keep calling me mama and mom and mommy. Keep asking for my squishy hugs, my off-key singing, my silly games. You keep asking for all of me.

And some days it feels like I am cracking wide open.

So I look to those who have mama’d before me and around me. I search for reassurance that all these cracks aren’t disassembling me. No, you are breaking open deep wells of grace and light, all running together in a masterful design not too late in coming.

You, my dear ones, are my grace bearers. Grace upon grace upon grace. Because you know nothing more than to love me fiercely with your quick forgiveness and eager, whole-hearted affection. Your sweet kisses, and belly laughs and crazy joy.

Maybe, I’ve been thinking, this making parents out of failings, is purposeful. Perhaps Dr. Nixon is right – failure isn’t the problem, it’s the point. As your mama, I am both not enough and just enough. So that even though I am not yet who I ought to be, I am becoming.

The Year that Made You Four

April 30, 2017

To the boy who declared he turned 44 this birthday,

You are joyful and vibrant and full of light. You love purple and pink and swords and glitter and songs and numbers and dress up and dirt and treats. Your wild embrace of life swells up inside my heart. And there’s this spot, this wildly lovely spot, that you’ve taken up in my heart. Just like the spot you snuggle into early most mornings, right next to me waiting for the sun to yawn awake. You unfolding before us, sweet and loud and silly and passionate and louder still. And we love you, as you teach us to love a little louder and little better and a lot more freely.

Love, Mama

These Hands

April 2, 2017

21145432 - aging process - very old senior woman hands wrinkled skin

Has the skin of your heart ever seemed stretched thin? Like the canvas of an old lady’s hands?

Risen, well-marked life tracks. Smooth, fine wrinkles, a little bit gnarled. Worked over, stretched out. Bent round, cupping, loving, living, lived. Valleys, deserts, ridges, weather-beaten, sunset fading. Blue veins, slowly beating.

Wider, gnarled knuckles. Soft like Avon lotion. Reminiscent of coffee and linen. Washed a hundred thousand times. Kneaded like dough, risen and fallen. Thinned out, translucent. Cool and airy, slowly dying.

Spread wide, embracing. Lightly falling. Growing forward like thousand-year-old oak roots. Mountain ranges of glory after glory. Sun marks. Age spots. Lived life’s crowning beauty.

Secrets. Wisdom. Holding, loving. Shushing. Braiding. Smoothing. Stirring. Full of life and knowing. Marked. Criss-crossing. Knitting, knitted, knotted up. Life hazarded across these hands. Imprinted, stamped, etched deep with life, life that sometimes gave, often took, sometimes blossomed, others withered.

Hands that ache and show of aching. Of a life so lived that it’s worth telling. Tracing rivers and ravines, to see and feel the love and giving. To remember love in flesh, love in real. Gripping strength in the face of dying, giving strength despite the years.

Hands made by the molding and the pressing, the cradling and the straining, by the work and by the doing. These hands wrapped in thin-stretched skin.

The skin of my heart seems stretched thin, just like the canvas of an old lady’s hands.

Until I Know

February 6, 2017

Walking into Amanda’s home, I’m immediately surrounded by it’s warmth. An old farmhouse, rustic wooden floors, breezy yellow kitchen cabinets, cozy nooks and spaces inviting you to sit, talk, read, think, listen, or just be. Amanda’s artistry dapples the walls of the house and I feel the embrace of her home welcoming like an old friend.

Towards the end of the evening, I see Reed perched on an ottoman, talking with Amanda. He invites her to play blocks in another room and she concedes. His delight is palpable. If I give anyone a pass on playing blocks with my kids, it’d certainly be another mama with three kids of her own. But she says yes and I’m touched by her kindness and generosity to my oldest.

Her ready, willing yes made me wince a little as all the times I’ve declined his invitations to play bubbled up and popped on the surface of my heart. The reality is that people, classmates, other kids, sometimes even his own siblings, turn down his invitation to play with him, sometimes simply because he’s different. Because he can be difficult to understand. Because his interests don’t line up with theirs.

But what if, in a world that will probably tell him no more often than is fair, I can be his yes person? That person who eagerly agrees to chase him around the back yard, dig in the dirt, or take a walk down to the lake. The one who sits with him in his favorite spot and reads as many books as he’ll bring. The one who will always make time to mimic his silly faces. It could be my way to tip the scales back in his favor and make right what genetics has gotten wrong.

And yet I don’t feel like the hero I think this story needs. I mostly just feel like an over-tired, never gonna get it right mama. I want my yes’s to wrap him up in love, affirmation, and being known, and yet I know how life presses in and makes demands and fogs what in my prayers I promise to do. So I am here, in this place of yearning and difficulty, this place of being pressed and uncomfortable, this place of not knowing and worry that if I don’t say yes the most to him, then…

I can’t discern the path that rightly balances me, him, them…and the rest of the world with all its no’s and yes’s. So until I know, I love. Until I know, I celebrate all the times I (and others) do say yes. Until I know, I trust in a Love that is greater than all my yes’s and all my no’s.

A Letter to Reed’s Kindergarten Teacher

December 13, 2016

Dear Ms. R,

I was okay. Really, I was. Until I looked across the table at you and saw tears brimming in your eyes.

You’re a mom so you know that more than anything else we want for our kids, we want them to be loved. And while our love for them as mamas is big and fierce and strong, so very strong, we want to know that others appreciate, include, love our kids. It’s what keeps me up at night. Wondering, praying, hoping, searching for those little glimmers of reassurance.

Your tears reassured me that silly, sweet, loving, six year old boy is loved beyond our own four walls. Because you know that when someone knows they are loved, they can be so much more than we dare hope. Loved people love. 

You have spurred me on in my own love for him. Because if I’m honest, raw to the bone honest, sometimes love doesn’t come easy. Tired, frustrated, confused, sad, overwhelmed all come easy. But easy is a lie that never delivers and love is a truth that bears hope and light. So thank you for being a love bearer in his story.

After that meeting last week, that meeting where we all agreed that what he needs is a smaller, special needs-focused classroom, I cried because his season in your class is ending. I cried because he has done so well with you in your class. I know good things will come from his new teacher, new friends, and new school. But this good thing, this good space you created for him, deserves grieving. Grief testifies to great love.

You have done, as Mother Theresa once said, so many small things for him yet each one with great love. Small things with great love. That’s what’s made all the difference for him, for us. I know he will miss you, your classroom, and his friends fiercely. And I can’t change that, not even sure I should. Because I want y’all imprinted on his heart. I think that will give him great courage and great confidence as he takes these next steps. 

I know you haven’t done this all alone — your assistant teacher, his therapists, the resource teacher, the administration — all of you have come around this little boy and given him a great gift — love. And for that I am deeply grateful. 


A very thankful mama

The Sweetest Year

September 11, 2016

Dear Ansley,

My corn silk haired baby, you have been such a joy this year! You are a mile marker to the beginning of us — our family — all new. Long nights and tired days, yes. But still joy filled because you’re here. And sometimes that joy seems to rub out a little bit of the sleepy.

I finally feel some confidence, just a little cocktail of hey-I-might-know-what-I’m-doing with this baby thing, occasionally, every once in awhile. Until I don’t and then we just figure it out all over again. We’re bursting all antsy-like, watching you do all those things babies do — crawl, investigate stairs, crinkle-nose smile at us from across the room, stand, clap, discover new tastes and textures, splash happy in the pool, call us Mama and Daddy, laughingly giggle when we find just the right tickle spot – witnessing precisely, uniquely who God has made you to be.


My sweet, observant, gonna wait until you’ve got it figured out just so, baby girl. You are loved, loved, loved. You are a delight. Happiest of birthdays, Ansley Goose! Love, Mama.