The Poppy House

June 5, 2021

“We pass an abandoned house on our daily walks. It’s a mess, but I am drawn to it.   

Bright California poppies burst to life in the yard every spring, their blooms pushing through the overgrowth and tangled vines. We call it the “poppy house” and talk about it frequently.

‘It looks like it was well-loved once,’ I say.  

One day my husband and I send an email. ‘Please consider selling us this house. We want to make it our home, and walk our daughters to the school down the street.’

Our realtor says it’s a long shot.

But, what if?”

This “100-word story” was the first assignment I turned in to a writing workshop. Among the feedback on dialogue and sentence structure were several notes of encouragement.

“I hope whoever owns the house decides to sell it to you!”

“What a great story it would be if you got the house!”

I smiled as I read the well wishes. I hoped we would get the house too. It would be an incredible story—one of those I pulled out anytime I needed an anecdote about taking a bold step of faith.

For weeks nothing happened. We continued to pass the house daily. The grass and weeds continued to grow higher thanks to the summer sun and prolonged neglect. Each time we walked by the house it felt more like ours. Surely it would be our home eventually.

July 2, 2021

11:00pm

I shrieked loudly, interrupting David mid-guitar strum. He looked up from his practice in a panic, and found me with my face buried in my phone.

“The poppy house! It’s for sale!”

Now I waved my phone, opened to the Realtor.com app, wildly in his direction.

“It was listed 45 minutes ago!”

“You scared me, I thought something was wrong,” David sighed.

I ignored him, continuing with my frantic antics. “I’m serious, come look!”

We scrolled through pictures, trying to figure out if the place had been ransacked during its vacancy or if our former neighbor had a hoarding problem. The house had a similar layout to our current rental with some key changes.

“The fireplace is in a different spot than ours! It’s not in the playroom—I would have the long, uninterrupted stretch of wall in there I’ve always wanted,” I exclaimed.

David scrolled to a picture of the kitchen and zoomed in to see past the layer of junk that covered everything. “Hey, and the stove is a gas range!” he added.

“It’s a gas range and located where I always say ours should be,” I chimed in. “The upper cabinets blocking the view into the playroom have also been removed.”

“But the door between the garage and the kitchen is missing,” David pointed out. “How many critters do you think are hiding in those piles?”

We continued to scroll and the pictures quickly transformed in my mind. I saw a gallery wall of our family photos above a midcentury modern credenza in the living room, an expanded art and preschool area off of the kitchen, evenings snuggled up with David in front of the centrally located fireplace. The more I looked, the deeper I fell in love.

David interrupted my thoughts. “It’s priced astronomically low. Either something is really wrong with the property or we’ll be outbid by an all-cash offer.”

“Probably both,” I conceded. “But we have to try, right?”

At David’s insistence, I texted our realtor that night.

“Hi Chris, I know it’s late so I hope you don’t see this until tomorrow, but the property we sent the email about is on the market…”

July 3, 2021

I woke up to a reply text.

“That is quite a project! Are you and David interested in scheduling a showing?”

“I know, it’s a huge mess! We are very interested in a showing.”

David and I fed the girls breakfast while we finished up the last details of our mortgage pre-approval application. By 9:00am we had an appointment to see the house on the calendar and 100% of our paperwork turned in. The quick pace of everything made me dizzy. At the same time, I felt peace. If we got the house, it would be a sure sign we were supposed to be there. While I repeatedly reminded myself it was a long shot, I also couldn’t help but think we could beat the impossible odds. The inkling I felt to cold-call the homeowners a month prior had to mean something. Could we really come out empty-handed when I felt such a strong, inexplicable pull to the house?

At 10:30am, a call from Chris gave us our answer. After 12 hours on the market the sellers received and accepted a single offer. They wouldn’t even allow us to submit a sight unseen backup offer. The house was under contract.

Still whirling from the events of the morning, I declared that a few of our kitchen cabinets needed to be reorganized and set off on a solo trip to Target. I joked it was retail therapy, though the disappointment hadn’t had a chance to sink in yet. I browsed the aisles in the kitchen section, weighing equally the pros and cons of different sized OXO POP containers and the pros and cons of what we had just gone through.

Weeks later, I’m still left with more questions than answers. Why didn’t the homeowners respond to our email before putting the house on the market? Why did we feel such a strong call to put ourselves out there if it wasn’t going to work out? Why do I still feel like it should be our home?

Sometimes we don’t get a reward for being bold, other than the satisfaction of having tried.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Bold”.

On Poppies, Pandemics, and not so Pretty Endings

Multiple times a day I walk over to a typically ignored part of my front yard where fledgling poppies are growing through ugly lava rocks that cover the dirt on the side of the driveway. I have tried to grow poppies unsuccessfully for years, so I am very invested in these little soon-to-be flowers.

“Anything interesting?” David asked one evening, as I examined the plants.

I tilted my head, looking closer at the distinctive green leaves. “I don’t see any buds forming,” I said with pursed lips. “All of the other poppies in the neighborhood have started to bloom, and ours look so sad and bare.”

“Maybe this year they are just establishing themselves,” David offered. “Maybe they are growing tall and putting down good roots, and we’ll see flowers next spring.”

“I guess so,” I shrugged. “But wouldn’t that be really disappointing? It seems like a long time to wait.”


­­­­­“I tested positive. Kendra, I am so sorry.” The text flashed across my phone screen and my world stopped.  

Three out of the four adults in our pod, myself included, had been feeling under the weather for a few days. None of us thought it could be COVID—we were simply too careful. Our families had not been in close proximity to anyone outside of the pod and the only real place any of us had been in a couple of weeks was the grocery store, fully masked at that.

We have lived this way for a year. We have our pandemic rhythms and risk adverse behaviors down to a science.

But still, there were enough symptoms to cause mild concern—a sore throat, congestion, unrelenting fatigue. Since it’s always better to be safe, our pod mate who started to feel sick first decided to get tested.

Just to rule it out.

Just to give us peace of mind.

Just to make sure all of us could continue going about our day-to-day routines without “what if” hanging over our heads.

Obviously, we didn’t have it. We couldn’t have it.

But there I was, 24 hours after my friend’s test, staring blankly at my phone while my thoughts raced.

I moved quickly down the hall to David’s office and opened the door without bothering to knock.

“Her test is positive,” I said in a low voice. “What do we do?”

David jumped on his computer and within minutes I had an appointment to get tested myself. He made himself an appointment for later that evening, though he wasn’t showing any symptoms. I put on a mask and sat in the playroom with Ellie and Lauren, attempting to push through my physical sickness and mental panic.

How much have I already exposed them? Will the mask even help at this point? Will we all get sick?

A few hours later we had both been tested, the girls were in bed, and David and I sat on the couch to discuss our game plan. We didn’t need the test results to tell us what we already knew—I had been exposed, I had symptoms, everyone else in our house seemed healthy. We needed to act as if I had it, and I needed to isolate to protect the rest of my family.

“Pray with me first?” David asked pulling me tightly to him, his embrace conveying the worry he wouldn’t express with words. I let him wrap his arms around me, wanting so badly to accept his comfort, all the while unable to shake my acute awareness that it wasn’t safe for him to be near me. We lingered on our “amens” then I walked into our bedroom, my home for the next seven days, and shut the door behind me.  

Among my worst symptoms was a searing, all-encompassing headache that medicine did nothing to ease. When I first entered isolation, I wondered what I could do to be productive with my time. When the headache left me unable to sit up for days on end, I shifted my thoughts to what God might be trying to teach me. Does he really redeem all circumstances? Was there some sort of spiritual lesson to be learned? Does there always need to be a lesson, or are we sometimes dealt a hard hand for no reason? My head throbbed as my mind ruminated on these questions, unable to formulate a real, coherent answer.


On April 6th I received a text from my aunt commemorating California Poppy Day. That morning, vaccines in Sacramento had become available to all ages, and her text found me fighting bitterness over the fact that, thanks to actually contracting COVID, I had to wait 90 days to receive mine.

Poppies hold a place of significance in my life. Present in art hanging on my walls, a tattoo on my back, and my youngest daughter’s middle name, they are far more than a flower. Through the years they have represented a cherished mentor and special friendships, but they have ultimately grown into a reminder of God’s provision. My aunt’s sweet celebration text provided just the lift I needed.

I thought of the poppies in our front yard with a rueful smile. Their bare, still bloomless leaves stood out among the bright orange blossoms all around our neighborhood. They were left behind, forgotten—a physical representation of my own emotions.  

Later that evening we herded the girls outside for a walk. As David buckled Lauren into her stroller, Ellie and I instinctively walked over to the poppies where, to my great surprise, we found a single, perfect bud on the verge of opening. Our poppies weren’t left behind at all; they simply grew in their own time.

I don’t think God caused me to get COVID; he’s not in the business of suffering. I don’t think I got sick because of a lesson I needed to learn or spiritual growth that needed to take place. I think we live in a fallen world where moth and rust destroy and sometimes pandemic-level viruses breach even the most careful precautions. I can’t tie this moment in my life up with a pretty bow, or point to a reason I am thankful—some reason I never would have realized but for COVID. If anything, I am shaken up and angry at the timing of these events. However, while I don’t see a divine purpose, I know this is not a case of divine overlook.

God did not leave me behind. I am not forgotten.

He showed himself through the community that literally and figuratively sustained us—through the dinners left on our doorstep, gift cards for takeout, flowers, treats, and gifts to help me connect with the girls over FaceTime. We received messages of encouragement, regular check-ins, and I have never felt more prayed for. The next few months may look different than I hoped they would, but I have not been left behind. Not by God, and not by my friends.

God gives us the promise of what comes at the end of our time in this imperfect world. He gives us community to sustain us in the meantime.

And, he gives us poppies.

Proof of Toddler

Haiku + Photo Essay

Pictures collected.

Moments in time that span months,

glimpses of her days.

A mess to some, but

a different perspective will

remind that it’s play.

Imagination;

traces of it everywhere.

Momentary joy.

I give silent thanks

for a house filled with Ellie

radiating light.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Make A Mess”.

Short Stories, Long-lasting Love

“I didn’t wait 23 years to be in a relationship on Valentine’s Day just to have you assume I’ll be your Valentine,” I declared, my voice dripping with flirtation. “You have to ask!”

As young lovers are wont to do, I teased David mercilessly in the weeks leading up to our first Valentine’s Day. He met my ribbing with smiles and good-natured eye rolls, but stayed surprisingly silent on the matter.

Until one weeknight in front of the Chipotle on 19th when he grabbed my hand and stepped in front of me, lowering himself to one knee.

“What are you doing?” I almost shrieked, making panicked eye contact through the window with diners who had stopped eating their burritos to take in the scene.

“Kendra Victoria Cavecche, will you… *dramatic pause*… be my Valentine?” His eyes sparkled with mischief.

When it comes to making moments memorable, David is a master. He always has been.  


A full ten years after I thought I was being proposed to in front of Chipotle, I watched David walk into our kitchen with a note hidden behind his back.

He knelt down and presented it to our four-year-old with a sweet flourish.

“Dear Ellie, I am so excited for us to go on our Daddy-Ellie date today to get ice cream! We are going to have so much fun.”

Little arms wrapped around his neck with a smile that said it all.

Being loved by him remains one of the richest parts of my life. Watching that love extend to our daughters­—well, it’s an emotion I can’t quite put into words.

When it comes to making moments memorable, David is a master. He always has been.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “280 Words”.

His Words Are Just Enough

“Do you want to sit outside?” my then boyfriend David asked. A combination of the delta breeze and a much too large cup of frozen yogurt made the heat of this particular summer evening bearable, so I agreed and we wandered around the corner to a small set of stairs just off one of midtown’s main streets.

A handful of months prior, on our first date, David told me he had previously been engaged to be married. He introduced the topic by acknowledging it was a little early to talk about previous relationships, but he assumed I had been in at least one.

“Actually,” I drew out the word with a big gulp, looking straight ahead. “I’ve never dated anyone before.”

I peeked at David out of the corner of my eye, taking in his stunned face. “Well,” came his slow, methodical response, “that makes what I’m about to tell you a little awkward.”

Poor guy, if I had known he was using that as a lead up to tell me about his ex-fiancé, I might have saved my news until after he had finished talking.

He went on to tell me he felt I should know this because, while he “really liked” me (his exact words), he was committed to avoiding a rebound relationship.

Inspired by his bravery, I further admitted he was currently taking me on not just our first date, but my very first date ever. I think he found that revelation more terrifying than brave, but to his credit, instead of walking me home and never calling again, he suggested we keep seeing each other.

So, there we were, sitting on stairs in front of a closed boutique with our frozen yogurt, months into a new relationship. One party had zero dating experience; one party had more experience than he cared for. Both parties were awkwardly fumbling through the get to know you stage with a commitment to the kind of open communication established with those first confessions.

I perched on the top step facing forward, while David made himself comfortable a few steps below, choosing to face sideways with his back against the railing so he could look up at me. In the interest of taking things slow, we left plenty of space. I don’t remember exactly what he said to make me smile so much that evening, but I do remember one seemed to be constantly forming on my lips.

“I like your smile,” he quipped as he took a bite of vanilla yogurt, a small smile of his own starting. “It’s pretty and it lights up your whole face.”

Emboldened, and in the mood for some cheesy romance, I felt my smile grow even wider as I replied, “I like your blue eyes. They’re piercing, and they are the first thing I noticed about you.” 

This began a string of hours where we traded compliments and observations back and forth; a move that cemented our openness with each other. As the night wore on, we shifted on the steps, eventually landing on the same one. The physical space between us shrunk, and a safe space between us formed. A space where we could be vulnerable and love well with words. I sighed as I nestled my head on his shoulder. I knew our fledgling relationship had taken a monumental step forward, despite our best intentions to play it safe.


My mom leafed through the wedding program mock-up I handed her, studying the text I had written with a careful editing eye. For the better part of a year, she had helped David and I plan our wedding long distance. Now I sat with her in the living room of my childhood home with my wedding a week away. We assembled paper cones for a petal toss, the wording of the programs the last thing we needed to finalize.

“Are you sure this is all you want to say? I thought you and David would want to talk about each other.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, tying sheer grey ribbon into a bow. “I wrote about how we met and told a little bit of our dating story.”

“I meant more like letters, so everyone can read why you love each other and want to get married,” she clarified.

I understand why she made the suggestion. When David asked for my parents’ blessing to propose my mom asked what he loved about me. I didn’t witness the conversation, but I’m told his answer made her cry. He’s good with his words.

I can be somewhat prolific with what I say, but David speaks with a quiet steadiness. He’s consistent, not showy.

I thought about this, and I smiled.

“I already know why he loves me; he tells me all time. It doesn’t need to be written in a program.”


While pregnant with our oldest daughter, David and I took one of those multi-week birth courses—the kind that go over all the painstaking details. We faced our journey into parenthood the same way we face everything else as type-A planners. Prepared.

A big portion of the course centered around coping mechanisms to help us persevere through labor. We were asked to identify a place we loved and could imagine visiting as an escape, a favorite picture or comfort object, songs we would like to have playing, anything that would allow us to relax as much as possible.

I had no idea about the rough labor and delivery ahead of me. However, I did know myself well enough to understand mentally “escaping” to a beach would not be helpful in any way. A dancer since the age of three, I requested music from Swan Lake play in our birthing suite, but mostly I knew I would need to hear David’s voice. I asked him to talk to me.

As the adrenaline waned, the pain set in, and his own words ran out, David borrowed words from someone else. He grabbed a book he had pre-selected and began to read out loud. He read himself hoarse through 21 hours of labor, keeping one eye on the page, one eye on the clock, and his hand on my back. His voice carried me through the epidural that barely took the edge off, the panic around our daughter’s decelerating heartrate, and the moments where my life hung just as much in the balance as hers.

His voice continued to carry us through the jarring transition of two becoming three; when lovers turned into parents and all of a sudden everything seemed uncertain and hard. His voice directed us in prayer, suggested others to speak with when we couldn’t solve our problems on our own, and served as a constant reminder to give each other the benefit of the doubt.

We rediscovered the safe space we created during our dating days, our hard-fought ability to be open with each other. Once again, vulnerability found a home with us. Once again, we loved each other well with our words.


The other night after we put our daughters to bed, David suggested we spend the evening snuggled up with a movie, and even agreed when I asked to watch the live action version of Beauty and the Beast.

Right about the time Gaston ties Maurice up and leaves him for the wolves, David started whispering to me. Sweet nothings—the kind compliments that always feel like the most important somethings—spoken softly as he buried his face in the top of my head. I uncurled myself from his arms just long enough to look him in the eye.

“Do you know what night I think about a lot?”

Without having to say anything more, he knew exactly what I meant.   

Ten years, two babies, and a busy legal career have filled our lives since that night in midtown. These days, entangled by young children and surrounded by a pandemic, soft words often serve as our only lifeline to romance. The one tie we have to those days long ago when our friendship began and love blossomed quickly. They have turned into a haven, one of the truly redeeming aspects of our marriage—an example of how he loves me best.

Pressure

My eyes popped open and focused on the ceiling fan overhead. Even in a dark room, I woke up fully in an instant, a feat rarely accomplished those days. I closed my eyes again, staying as still as possible while my left hand blindly fumbled around the nightstand for my Zofran prescription. As the medicine dissolved in my mouth, its strawberry taste bringing the smallest of reprieves, I focused on my husband’s quiet breathing and our bulldog’s loud snores. After a deep breath of my own, I finally rolled over and glanced at my phone. First, I noticed the time—6:00am, a full hour before my scheduled alarm. Then I noticed a text notification with the news I had been expecting, but dreading.

I felt David shift behind me. His arm hooked over my waist and pulled me close as he pressed his face into the back of my neck. “Happy Anniversary sweetheart,” he whispered drowsily.

“She died,” was my short reply. “I need to get to the office.”

I stood in the shower mentally going over the day ahead. I thought of the statement I needed to send and the calls I would have to make. All the while I tried to force my nausea away; I simply had no time to feel sick. God, in his merciful goodness, somehow understood. It was the only day in the first half of my pregnancy I did not throw up.

Earlier that week, I sat with my boss for what I knew was the final time. I thanked her for everything she had given me and her shining example of faith, for the chance to achieve my dream job, for being more than just my boss, but a mentor as well. I told her I loved her and wished she could meet the little baby swishing around inside of me.

I squeezed her hand and left to finish my job—to take care of her one last time the best way I knew how. Billy Joel kept me company at my desk that summer evening as I carefully crafted a press release and prepared a biography filled with her earthly accomplishments.

His music seemed the natural choice that morning as well, his complex lyrics ushering me through my early morning commute as I drove closer to the most important day of my career.

A small smile crossed my lips when “Uptown Girl” came on, as it always does, and I pictured biking around UC Davis with it blaring in my iPod headphones.

The perfect ballad for singing out loud, “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” helped steady the quiver in my voice.

The song changed again.

You have to learn to pace yourself

Pressure

You’re just like everybody else

Pressure

My hand reached for the skip button. I didn’t need Billy Joel reminding me of the pressure I was under. But something about the frantic melody met me in the strange in-between I found myself, personally grieving yet ready to take on a task that required little to no emotion be shown.

A calm settled over my shaking body. “Pressure” would be my anthem for the day.

My hand diverted instead to the volume, turning the music up loud enough to drown out the buzzing of my phone. Reporters were already calling.

As the morning wore on, the hums of my office became a soundtrack of its own. Quiet tears and words of comfort shared between co-workers drifted in as I worked overtime to maintain my composure with pushy reporters. The angry mutterings of our legal consultant as he overheard my conversations became my lifeline. He said everything I wished I could while I stuck to calmly confirming details.

“Please refer to the statement from this morning.”

“No, the family will not be giving any interviews.”

Then a reporter called simply to say sorry. I cried for the first and last time that day.

Mid-afternoon, I slipped from my office and met David in his car. We had previously scheduled our 12-week ultrasound; it was supposed to be a fun way to spend our anniversary. Determined not to think of the outing as an inconvenience, I silenced my phone in the lobby of the doctor’s office and buried it deep in my purse. In the middle of death, I spent a blissful half an hour focused on new life as I held my husband’s hand and watched our tiny girl wiggle on the screen.

Back in the real world, I fished my phone out of my purse. Ten missed calls and even more new, unread emails.

Pressure.

I turned to David as he pulled out of the parking lot.

“Can I make a music request?”

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Playlist”.

On Hope in the Unknown

In our early dating days, David and I took full advantage of working just down the hall from each other. Lunches, when we could afford the time (and quick coffee breaks when we couldn’t), often found us in Capitol Park. We’d walk to a group of benches far away from the building where we could hold hands and talk without too many lobbyists or legislators passing by.  

“I’m often eager to know exactly where I’m going in life,” David confessed one afternoon when a breather from a hectic day took a philosophical turn. “But I’ve found God only makes things clear to me one step at a time.”

“Mmmm,” I mumbled, secretly thankful my mouth was full of the cookie I had purchased from the bakery across the street, allowing me to mask the slight terror flooding my type-A mind. Who doesn’t have the next five steps of their life planned?

“How does that affect your ability to make decisions?”

“Each time there is a big step to take, God gives me faith to make it. But he withholds what comes after that,” David continued. “I just have to be faithful in what God has given me to do right now, in this step, and trust that he will let me know when it is time for the next step.”

Having swallowed the last bite of cookie, I had nothing to hide behind.

“I think it’s great you have so much faith,” I ventured. “Thankfully God doesn’t work with me that way. I’m too much of a planner; I always know what’s coming next.”


I glanced over at my phone as I put the last swipe of peanut butter on Ellie’s sandwich. A notification for my personal email flashed across the screen with a subject line about termination paperwork. “That’s obviously a mistake,” I murmured to myself.  

The guestroom door popped open and David, three months into full-time working from home, ventured out to make his lunch.

I met him with a furrowed brow, “I just got a weird email from work that I’m pretty sure wasn’t meant for me. Can you watch the girls for a second?”  

I ran into what used to be my workspace before the pandemic, pushed David’s paper’s aside, and opened my laptop.

“WHAT?” I shrieked.

The company I worked for had plans to move my part-time, remote position out of state.

My mind raced. I could almost physically feel the goals we made over New Year’s slip through my fingers. The ones we carefully crafted with naive excitement, before we knew 2020 would be the year to end all years.  

I had done well so far. The pandemic, stay-at-home orders, everything closing, food flying off the shelves, my mom and mother-in-law simultaneously fighting cancer through all of it. I had handled myself just fine. But this? This broke me.

I was at my worst, anxiety gripping so tight I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.

I attempted to assuage the feeling by powering through with brute force – using my own two hands to pry each metaphorical finger from around my midsection. When that didn’t make me feel better, I withdrew far into myself.

Then, one day, came the still, silent knowing.

*Just breathe. You don’t know what comes next, but I do.*


“I thought these matched your Christmas décor and would look beautiful hanging in a window,” my mom said when I opened a set of Christmas-themed antique glass pendants.

At the time, we lived in a 1920s duplex that came with charm and gorgeous built-ins, but also a landlord who didn’t care enough to keep the dense landscaping trimmed away from the original windows. Our apartment had very little natural light.

I decided to use the pendants as ornaments on our Christmas tree instead and while the colorful strand lights didn’t show off their full beauty the way light streaming through a window would, it was a fine alternative.

We haven’t lived in that duplex for three Christmases now, but I have continued placing the pendants on our Christmas tree. This year, as I was unpacking our boxes of decorations, long-stifled inspiration finally hit, and they found a new home hanging from the gorgeous picture window in our living room.

I find myself staring at them often. There’s that slow stretch of time when we are done with breakfast but haven’t quite gotten ready for the day yet. Giggles come from imaginary worlds sprawled across our floor while the pendants sparkle in the mid-morning light. Then there’s the evenings when their soft glow catches my eye as I step away from making dinner to check on the girls watching Daniel Tiger.

You see, this house is a next step I didn’t see coming. The result of a series of events that worked together so perfectly, in my mind they can only be God’s leading.


The very thing that used to scare me now serves as my lifeline during this season of so much hopelessness. The waiting on bated breath, wondering what step God will give me the faith and bravery to take next.

I think about a dark, cramped duplex where I yearned for a bright, airy space that better met our family’s needs, painfully aware I couldn’t make it happen with my own strength. I think about being powerless to stop the loss of a job I loved and the refinement that came next. I think about the twenty-something version of myself sitting on a bench, unwilling to face the idea of not being in complete control over my own life.

We don’t know what is to come, but he does. This is the tension of where we sit. It’s a mystery that makes life hard and thrilling; it’s a warm comfort that makes it safe and beautiful.  

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Tethered to Hope”.

Things I Think About

For Larry

Ten years ago today, my father-in-law died.

He wasn’t my father-in-law then, but the dad of my relatively new boyfriend. The boyfriend I knew I loved, but hadn’t discussed marriage with yet. It was too soon for that.

I didn’t know if I would hold David’s hand forever, but I knew I had the privilege of holding it through that season. I met half of David’s relatives for the first time while they sat with Larry during his last night on earth. I stopped by to drop off food, trying to be as helpful as possible while not intruding. I met the other half of David’s family at Larry’s memorial service.

Being the new girlfriend during such a raw time produced a unique struggle – a funny push and pull of wanting to be supportive of my best friend, but also knowing I didn’t have a permanent place in the family.

Those feelings from a decade ago still sit with me, but they’ve morphed slightly. Now I feel the unique struggle of not actually knowing someone whose life played such a key role in mine. Without Larry, the three people I love most would not exist, yet I never had a real conversation with him. It’s something I think about a lot.


Picture for a minute a long, skinny room. A sky bursting with all the colors of a glorious sunrise and brilliant sunset comprises the ceiling. Soft mounds of pure white clouds make up the ground. Does it sound heavenly? Because that’s exactly where I am describing. At least in my mind.

There’s something special about the tufts of clouds on the ground, though. They aren’t just clouds, but a way for those in heaven to check in with earth periodically – to tune-in and watch special events: birthdays, weddings, graduations, new babies entering the world.

I have absolutely no idea what first put this image in my head; it’s likely a response of my childhood imagination to the well-meaning platitude that those who die are watching over us. I’m sure it’s not biblical, but for as long as I can remember I have pictured these Cloud TVs.

Many people I love dearly are in heaven, and visualizing them watching small snippets of my life like I watch my favorite movies always brings a smile to my face. I most often think of Larry in front of his Cloud TV. I can’t say exactly what his opinion of our family would be, but I bet he smiles a lot. 

Right now, we live in a city where he never visited us, in a house he’s never seen, with two little girls he’s never met. Yet there are traces of him everywhere.

A wooden cross he made hangs on the wall by our family wedding pictures, a symbol that he was such an important part of the celebration, even though he wasn’t physically there. I walk past it an immeasurable number of times a day and think of him.

He built the desk David works at. First owned by David’s older brother, it moved its way through a few other family members before landing in our home.

There’s the tools David uses for projects around the house and the bible he reads, all of which used to belong to Larry.

And then there are those little girls. Ellie has his smile and Lauren has his name.

It seems wrong he never got to meet them. That Grandpa Larry exists only in pictures and conversations about what it must be like to live in heaven. 

The other day, after one such conversation, Ellie told me she was going to play “heaven” during her quiet time, but she couldn’t figure out what stuffed animal could be God and what stuffed animal could be Grandpa Larry. Unable to find the perfect fit for them, she abandoned her plan and moved on to coloring.

Her musings left me glowing with the realization that even though she doesn’t know him, she knows him. Just how I feel as though I know him, too.

This is no one’s first choice, but it’s good enough until heaven isn’t an afternoon game to play, but home.   


Dear Larry,

You’ve been gone a long time, but you are thought of daily. That probably doesn’t matter to you, considering you’re in the presence of God, but to my human mind it’s comforting, so I thought you should know.

There are just a few things I want to thank you for publicly today, since I can’t tell you in person.

Thank you for my family.

Thank you for letting me spend an hour of your last days with you, watching NASCAR and holding your hand.

Thank you for helping to raise David to be the most amazing husband and father. He is incredible and his hard work makes him excel at so many things. I hear he gets that hard-working trait from you. I hope you really do have a Cloud TV and that you watch him from time to time; I know you would be so proud.

Today I’ll play with your granddaughters and we’ll talk about Grandpa Larry who lives in heaven. I’d like to think you’re having a big party.

I miss you, I love you, and I’m excited to really get to know you for myself someday. 

Love,

Kendra

The One With All the Canceled Plans

Since 2020 is moving us right along into our first and hopefully only pandemic holiday season, I have been doing quite a bit of reflecting. How do I make these upcoming celebrations special, yet safe? What traditions are the most important?

This landed me on November of last year and, let me tell you, the perfect storm of events surrounding Thanksgiving 2019 promise to make even a COVID Thanksgiving happy and calm in comparison.

So, journey back with me to those pre-COVID days when we could run around sans masks and buy plane tickets and plan group holiday get-togethers with abandon. It was approximately 100 years ago; do you remember?

Lauren was barely two months old, and my side of the family had been planning to spend Thanksgiving with us in Sacramento for months. I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t wait to show off our house and new baby; to have my parents, brothers, sister-in-law, and grandmother sitting around my living room; to go for walks together and enjoy the bright fall colors that Northern California bursts into each November.

I even had the Del Taco location picked out for our annual Thanksgiving feast. (I can hear you now, reader who is unaware of this beautiful tradition. “What? You eat Thanksgiving dinner at Del Taco?” Yes, we do; and yes, it is just as amazing as it sounds. But, that’s another story for another time.)

If you have been following along with my life this past year, you already know that in early November 2019 my mom received a breast cancer diagnosis. At this point, it’s not a new plot twist, but in the moment, it was heartbreaking. A few days after the diagnosis we found out she needed to start chemotherapy the week before Thanksgiving. Her doctor was adamant. There would be no Northern California holiday that year.

“I know not being able to host everyone is small compared to cancer,” I cried to David that night. “This disappointment feels so selfish, but right now I’m sad.”

I didn’t sit in the sadness for long, however, and within days everyone had either changed their flights or purchased new ones. We would spend Thanksgiving in Southern California with my parents. The location didn’t matter, really. Being together was our top priority.

I wish I could stop right here and wrap this story up with a sweet little anecdote about the importance of family time, but Thanksgiving 2019 had a few more tricks up its sleeve.

As is prone to happen to toddlers during cold and flu season, Ellie came down with croup, and we pushed our flights back to give her more time to get better. We wouldn’t be with my family on Thanksgiving, but we would be there the next day. That was good enough.

Ellie felt much better by Thanksgiving Day, so we decided, rather than put all celebrating on hold until we reached Southern California, we would find a few ways to make the day our own. We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in our jammies and David made “pancake balls” (that’s ableskivers for anyone over the age of three), declaring them our new official breakfast for any and all holidays.

“Do you still want to go to Del Taco for dinner?” David asked later in the afternoon.

I decided I would feel sad without the rest of my family so, despite David’s sweet attempts to convince me otherwise, I snagged a last-minute reservation at a restaurant that served actual Thanksgiving food.

Here’s where things get weird.

We waited in an absolute sea of humanity for what felt like ages to be seated, David trying to keep Ellie entertained while I tried to keep the crowd from breathing on tiny Lauren. We finally reached our table and, to my horror, the middle-aged woman seated next to us had taken off her shoes AND socks and had one foot propped up on the table leg while she used every last wet wipe the restaurant had to clean her face. Ellie refused to eat a single thing, including the snacks we brought, and the meal ended with Lauren projectile vomiting all over me, the table, and the floor.

Unfortunately, she missed our table neighbor’s bare feet. That would have been some poetic justice.

I should have gone with drive-thru bean and cheese burritos.

At 5:00am Friday morning, Lauren woke us up coughing. It was her turn to come down with croup. We canceled our flight.

I ended up with a Northern California holiday after all, just not the one I wanted.


I don’t know what the upcoming holidays will look like.

I know we won’t be traveling and will miss out on seeing family.

(I pray there are no barefooted strangers.)

I also know we’ll eat ableskivers. There will be pod dinners, giggling sisters, and quiet evenings at home. We’ll give thanks to God for his abundant blessings.

If last Thanksgiving taught me anything, it’s that you can feel absolute deep, guttural disappointment and, in your grief, still celebrate.

There will always be moments to savor. Sometimes, it just takes a little bit of creativity and a unique perspective to find them.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Savor”.

Joyful Cabin Fever

Only a few people know the story I am about to tell.

We were in the middle of a very hard phase of life. A relatively new lawyer, David was putting in long, long hours at his firm. A relatively new stay at home mom, I was not adjusting to the role with the ease and grace I thought I would. At seven months old, Ellie still woke up three or four times a night. Exhausted doesn’t seem a strong enough word to sum things up.

On an almost-whim we decided we needed a vacation and booked a quaint Airbnb in Pacific Grove that boasted views of the ocean and two free tickets to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. David took a week off of work and I was giddy over the thought of Ellie and I having him all to ourselves for seven days in a row. We planned to go over David’s birthday and bring our dog, Delaney, along for the ride.

Our third morning there, I sat on a daybed in the corner of our room trying to squeeze in a quick pumping session before we headed out to take advantage of those free aquarium tickets. I stared out the sliding glass doors into our host’s beautiful garden, the Pacific Ocean in the background, while David played on the floor with Ellie and Delaney. A short bark from the dog and a sudden, swift movement from David caught my attention. He lifted Delaney up off the ground and said with urgency in his voice, “I need you to come pick up Ellie. Now.”

“I’m a little tied up at the moment,” I laughed back. “What even happened that was so bad? It’s not like the dog bit her.”

His pointed stare told me all I needed to know. 

There was a small wound on Ellie’s cheek that we knew would heal quickly, but also deserved to be looked at by a doctor. Sea otters and the kelp forest exhibit were replaced with a 45-minute drive to the nearest Kaiser medical office.

We eventually made it to the aquarium later that week and discussed the possibility of finding our dog a new home, one without kids, as we weaved in and out of the exhibits. It was something we knew we needed, but didn’t want, to do.

On the way out I spotted the gift shop.

“I just want one small thing, I promise.”

David gave me a smile and amused eye roll as I plucked a bright, almost obnoxious red coffee mug off the shelf and handed it to the cashier.


I have this thing with mugs.

Our kitchen has an entire cabinet filled with them and David often teases me about it. It’s partially because they are my favorite souvenir to purchase, but really there is a deeper meaning. Many remind me of a specific person or time in my life, and I often decide which one to use in the morning based on how I feel or who I want to pray for that day.

In March, when the world came to a sudden halt, I found myself reaching for that Monterey Bay Aquarium mug several mornings in a row. It reminds me I can do hard things and make necessary decisions, even if those decisions make everything feel off kilter for a while.

In our house, the kitchen is adjacent to the playroom. The two spaces flow seamlessly together in a design I can only imagine was dreamed up by a mom once upon a time. From my perch at the coffee maker one spring 2020 morning, I could see pajama-clad Ellie lost in one of her imaginative games, Lauren batting at the toys hanging from her play gym, and David starting breakfast for me.

I looked around as a churning, fluttering sensation that had become all too familiar rose up within me. Taking deep breaths to soothe the butterflies, I wondered for what seemed like the 500th time how I was going to do this. In my fog, I completely tuned out the most important parts of my little world. I had become so obsessed with not being able to leave our four walls that I forgot to appreciate all they contained.  

Inspired by that trusty red mug, I decided this was not how the next few months would go.

I declared we were in a season of “joyful cabin fever,” adamant each day would hold enough joy to see us through.

I was defiant.

I created a hashtag for my all of 200 Instagram followers.

I determined to will joy into existence one prayer and small moment at a time.

For many reasons, 2020 threatened to be the hardest year of my life, but it was not going to win. I simply wouldn’t let it.

When food disappeared off the grocery store shelves, creating a false sense of panic almost impossible to keep at bay, our neighbor found us eggs and Ellie’s favorite “chocolate cat cookies” at Trader Joe’s. 

When drinking the news through a fire hose became too much to handle, I found Ellie and Lauren cuddled up on the floor holding hands and chose to focus on that instead.

Trips to the playground stopped, but as I sat in our backyard and watched Ellie run around, I allowed myself to remember a mere year and a half prior when we lived in a duplex with no outside space of our own and felt immense gratitude for our current home.

When the pandemic prevented me from traveling to Southern California for my mom’s mastectomy, Lauren made me laugh out loud with her lunchtime antics and Ellie and I baked the stress away.

I was very unexpectedly laid off from my job; my mom and mother-in-law both continued to struggle through their cancer related health problems; wildfire season began and smoke rolled into our city, bringing ash and hazardous air quality that lasted for weeks.

But also…

Ellie started choosing her own clothes and each day brought a new creative and off-the-wall outfit; Lauren taught herself to climb the steps out of our kitchen and could not have been more proud of her accomplishment; David hung string lights over our back patio; a dear friend I hadn’t heard from in years contacted me out of the blue, picking our friendship back up right where we left off.

When life knocked the wind out of me, this small daily discipline brought me back to myself, time and time again. Joyful cabin fever; small joys in unexpected places.


I will admit, when I started this practice, I assumed it would come with an end date.

We would stay home for a couple of months, and then I would have something I could point to. A phase in my life tied up with a neat little bow. See how I found joy when it was hard? What a helpful thing to get me through a crazy time.

Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t have my concrete ending. Life is filled with difficult stages and inevitably many future seasons will give me cabin fever, even if just in my own head.

This practice is lifelong.

The quarantine won’t always be so literal, but I plan on being delighted by small moments of joy wherever I find myself.

This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in this series “Unexpected Joy”.