Category Archives: Family

A Tale of Two Easter Baskets.

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetThe first married holiday that Kellan and I celebrated together was Easter. We’d been married for all of ten minutes, and I had no sooner hung up his and her bathroom towels when quite suddenly, Easter was upon us.

In my family, every holiday is a rather grand affair. Growing up, Easter around the Peterson table often included our immediate family, and no less than thirty of our closest friends. [Really. Thirty. My Mother is the only woman that I know that has forty place settings of her dishes, and makes good use of them on the regular.]  My Mama would cook impossibly elaborate dinners while my brothers and I dusted the furniture and lit every Yankee candle in the house as strains of classical music lilted from our grand piano as my Daddy played.

Petersons know how to celebrate. Our holidays overflow with food and dear friends and the happiest, happiest noise. We ardently believe that it’s not a party without a crowd, to the point where one Thanksgiving after my family had recently moved, I forlornly looked at my Mother and in all seriousness, asked if we could drive around town looking for unsuspecting homeless people to invite to Thanksgiving dinner. [An idea that was heartily applauded by my siblings.] I was quite convinced that to celebrate with only our immediate family would have been absolute MISERY from which we might never recover.

I digress. Last year, Easter rolled in slowly, like a quiet morning fog, and took me by surprise. Though we had no friends to be invited, [save the deli-man, with whom I had been carefully cultivating my one and only New York friendship over quarter pounds of oven roasted honey glazed turkey,] I was determined to do the very bare minimum, and make an Easter dinner. I felt like the Whos on The Grinch who Stole Christmas, gathering hand in hand in the heart of Whoville to bravely sing da-who-dores even though their trimmings and trappings had been stolen by that wily old Grinch.

The day before Easter, I bravely plugged the fanciest grocery store in town into my trusty GPS, and ventured onto the highways and byways of upstate New York. After much angst and great inner turmoil at the meat counter, I threw caution and $18.94 to the wind and splurged on a perfect rack of lamb. Grocery list ready in my hot little hand, I had channeled my inner 1950’s housewife and Pinterested my heart out—luscious scalloped potatoes, buttery yeast rolls, a Greek salad and a decadent chocolate pie…we were friendless, but by George, I  was going to SAVE EASTER! As I stood in the check out line, a veritable mountain of Made in China Easter candy infused in franken-colors not to be found in nature caught my wandering eye.

For a heartbeat, I considered putting together an Easter basket for my newly-minted husband, but quickly thought better of it. After all, what man on earth would think to make an Easter basket for his wife? I didn’t want Kellan to feel badly, and so I opted to forgo the whole thing. His Mama had already given us baskets, I consoled myself. You are wife of the year—anticipating his every move! YOU SHOULD WRITE A BOOK ON HUSBANDS.

That very evening, after groceries had been safely tucked away and our little apartment had been dusted [old habits die hard, friends!], the handsome man that I’d called mine for mere weeks grinned at me from across our living room, and with twinkling eyes casually mentioned how excited he was to give me my Easter basket the next morning.

I immediately googled “signs of an aneurysm”, confident that I’d just had one. Come again? YOU made ME an Easter basket?

I was shattered, ready to write off my entire month of wifehood as a dismal failure. Twas the night before Easter and all through the house, there wasn’t so much as a tiny chocolate egg, because his wife was a louse. My fragile new-wife ego was hanging on by a gossamer thread, and gravely, I stared at Kellan as though he were the next of kin.

Honey, …I didn’t get you an Easter basket.

He looked almost startled. Quietly disappointed, he slowly assured me that it was okay.

Hi. Have we met?

IT. IS. NOT. OKAY.

I had crazy eyes. It was 11:00 PM, or as I like to call it, the stabbing hour. Frantic, I looked at Kellan and firmly announced that I NEEDED to go get him an Easter basket. No amount of cajoling and pleading and I-don’t-even-want-one-ing would dissuade me, and ten minutes later we were in the car. [Oh yes. To add insult to injury, the man had to drive me to Target so that I could get him an Easter basket.] I flew through the aisles, hastily tossing candy, trail mix and plastic green grass into my little red cart while my husband [who had, of course, been exiled from the store to maintain a sense of mystery about the whole miserable endeavor] waited for me outside.

The next morning, I handed Kellan a white Target bag filled with the previous night’s plunder [and, I’m sure, the receipt] because in my haste to give him an Easter basket, I’d forgotten the actual basket. He laughingly made a crack about his white trash Easter bag and I was all PARDON ME IF NOT ALL OF US CHOOSE TO JOIN YOU IN YOUR LIFE OF EXCESS.

You can bet every marshmallow Peep in town that I didn’t make the same mistake this year. PLEASE. This year, I tried not to look too eager for praise as Kellan awoke to a perfect wicker Easter basket full of enough candy to make his butt feel like a bean bag chair for the next decade. The whole thing was very Normal Rockwell.

Da-who-dores, indeed.

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Filed under Family, First World Problems, Holidays other than Christmas, Marriage

Make Them Eat Cake.

I am INSUFFERABLE about my birthday.

However, I adamantly maintain my innocence, because it’s really not my fault. As a little girl, my parents celebrated my birthday for the entire month of April, effectively making April THE MONTH OF ME. I was like a tiny fascist dictator, merrily barking orders about what I wanted for dinner and which Anne of Green Gables VHS tape the family would watch that evening. Thus, with a solid month of build-up and sweet anticipation, my parents inadvertently created a complete monster by teaching me that April 19th was a national holiday. The message was unmistakably clear: the world celebrated Jesus Christ in December, and Ashley Peterson in April.

Now, a necessary clarification: my love of birthdays has very little to do with gifts. I love a good present as much as the next girl, but for me, celebrating is more about the time and effort put in to planning fun things that we can all do together, and less about unwrapping. [This does, of course, become null and void if somebody wants me to unwrap round trip tickets to Paris.]

Kellan and I had never been in the same country for my birthday until last year. And y’all, I just KNEW that my first married birthday was going to be HEAVEN. I had big plans for a nine course breakfast in bed and a sweet surprise date and MAYHAP a brass band to follow me around, heralding my impending arrival everywhere I went.

Also balloons.

Unfortunately, in a wildly unexpected [read: TRAGIC] turn of events, several weeks before my birthday my darling husband informed me that he had a board meeting that was going to last  THE ENTIRE DAY. I laughed and waited for Ashton Kutcher to pop out from behind a nearby potted plant, because I was clearly being PUNKED.

Sadly, Ashton was nowhere to be found. Constraints of the English language make it utterly impossible for me to communicate the vast depths of my despair over this bombshell, but suffice it to say that I was certain that human civilization as I knew it, was crumbling to the ground.

April 19th dawned, and Kellan attempted to ply me with bacon by taking me out to an early breakfast. He then left to attend his meeting while I breathed into a paper bag because THIS WAS NOT MAGICAL. My Mama was all PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER ASHLEY. IT’S A BIRTHDAY, NOT VIETNAM, and I was all THIS BIRTHDAY IS GOING TO DRIVE ME TO HARD DRUGS.

I spent the day driving around the block soulfully belting “It Matters to Me” by Faith Hill with all of the pent-up angst of a menstrual seventh grader. I felt like Faith and I were united in our uncertainty of getting through tomorrow but commitment to bravely soldier on in the face of insurmountable tragedy.

My beloved returned right before I fell asleep. Clearly, there was nothing that he could have done to change his meeting and spend my birthday with me…but that didn’t stop me from staring at him like he’d just burned down an orphanage and crying like a small, emotionally disturbed child.

I told you. Insufferable.

They say that marriage is about clear communication and a steady supply of Merlot. In our house, one of those is always easy to come by, mostly because you can buy it for 6.29 and that’s cheaper than marriage counseling. But in the spirit of WORKING on our communication, in the aftermath of the Great Birthday Disaster of 2013 I sat Kellan down for a coming to Jesus moment.

Honey. LOOK. I know this one wasn’t your fault, but I don’t feel like you’ve really GRASPED the month of me. We need to have a little chat about birthdays.

The best relationship advice that I ever got was from my Mama way back in high school, when she looked me in the eyeballs and soberly informed me that men can’t read minds. That is just the HIGHLY unfortunate, sorry state of things. And so, I benevolently broke it down for Kellan. I told him all about breakfast in bed and balloons and the brass band. I informed him he didn’t need to buy me anything as long as we could just HANG OUT, and I gravely confessed if he ever had another board meeting on my birthday, there was a distinct possibility that I would go to prison for arson and spend the rest of my life in an orange jumpsuit watching bad daytime television and eating jello pudding with a plastic spoon.

My wise husband took me very seriously.

And so yesterday at the Dickens’ house was not April Fools Day. I woke up and my sweet husband beamed, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY MONTH, HONEY!”

Indeed it is

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Filed under Family, First World Problems, Holidays other than Christmas, Marriage, Then I found $5.00

Mama Always Said…

I’d like you to meet my Mama.

Her name is Cindy. She is feisty and sarcastic and ENTIRELY inappropriate. She makes a decadent chocolate cake that will change your whole entire life, and when I was little she religiously danced to Richard Simmons’ Sweatin’ to the Oldies work out video every. single. morning. [On account of the cake.] To this day, every time I hear “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to”, I have PTSD flashbacks of mint-green striped spandex and coordinating scrunchies.

My Mama also happens to be the director of women’s discipleship at The Summit Church, a minor miracle given the fact that she is probably the least-holy person that I know. She tells it like it is, and this talk that she gave is no exception. She’s my best friend and my first phone call should I ever need to dispose of a body with no questions asked, and if she died tomorrow I would inscribe one thing on her headstone:

God only gives good gifts.

It’s been her mantra since I was tiny. To be perfectly honest, for a long time I thought it was a cliche; something to be needlepointed onto tacky decorative pillows or slapped onto bumper stickers. That all changed the day that her little brother died. I was in the 8th grade, and in the face of incredible pain, Cindy Peterson still believed to her core that God was incapable of being anything but good to her. Spending my life watching her believe–really believe that–taught me to believe it, too.

If you have ever experienced grief or questioned the goodness of God, this video is worth your time.

And if you’d like to hear about the time that she and I belted “Gold Digger” to Ian until 3:00 in the morning in a dark ICU, well, that’s in there too.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Hope, Ian

Eleven.

Holding IanMy family carefully hung each of Ian’s ornaments, placing his treasured, tacky yellow Big Bird at the very top of the tree, right next to the angel. The ornament is an eyesore that I’ve always hated and hidden on the back of the tree when Ian wasn’t looking, but this year I allowed Big Bird a place of prominence. The absurd irreverence of Big Bird and an antique angel adorning the top of our tree together belied the heaviness that everybody felt.

Christmas hurt.

Unwrapping presents without Ian felt hollow—joy is elusive when the only thing in the whole world that you want is for a curly head to burst through the front door. He has been gone for eleven months today, and eleven months later I am still quite certain that at any moment, Ian will come back. Eleven months later, my heart still adamantly refuses to believe that he could really be gone. There are brief moments when understanding begins to dawn, and my heart starts to comprehend that there will be no more Christmas mornings with my brother. No more birthday candles, no more kitchen dances, no more songs. Not here. And suddenly, it is once again February 27th, and I am stumbling away from my little brother’s body all over again.

Grief feels like sprinting exhausted through a marathon, only to discover at the finish line with gasping lungs and screaming legs that somehow, you haven’t even started yet. Eleven months later, I find myself still at the very beginning of grief, wondering what to do.

Over Christmas, I found myself thinking a lot about Mary. Mary, who knew with absolute certainty that God had favored and chosen her. [After all, He’d sent an angel to tell her just that.] How must she have felt after arriving in Bethlehem at long last, only to discover that there wasn’t so much as a place for her to stay?

I’d always glossed over the stable, but this year was different. I pictured her. Shaking, too exhausted to stand. Filthy from her journey to Bethlehem. Emotionally spent from nine swollen months of a watching community disdainfully condemning her for a crime that she hadn’t committed.

God, after all of this, not so much as a place to stay? Really?

How must she have felt as labor wracked her body? God, this is YOUR child! And he’s being born into filth! Do you care? Do you see?

I wonder if she felt forgotten.

I wondered why God chose it that way. Why He sent His precious Son to be born into filth when it would have been such a small thing to give Mary a comfortable place to deliver. One break for the scared teen aged girl who had so carefully carried the God of the Universe inside of her all of those months.

I thought about Ian. I closed my eyes and pictured my Mama holding his swollen hand and cradling his bald head in the ICU. God, do you care? Do you see?

I wonder if maybe, God orchestrated his Son’s birth to be in a dirty barn as a gentle reminder that even when the world feels like it is spinning madly out of control, it isn’t. He sees. He’s present. He understands. There would be no sterile, safe place for His baby, just as there would be none for so many of our babies that followed. His Son would later be broken, just as so many of ours would. And 2,000 years later when a Mama cried in sterile white room over her broken son, His heart would bleed and crack and ache with hers because He would understand.

Of course He hadn’t forgotten Mary. He hasn’t forgotten us, either.

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Filed under Christmas, Family, God's faithfulness, Grief, Ian

The Extravagant, Irrational Point.

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[Today is my Dad’s birthday! In his honor, I’m re-posting a blog that I wrote about him months ago. I love you, Daddy!]

My Mom tells me that when she was pregnant with me, my Daddy desperately wanted a girl from day one. She originally wanted a boy, but seeing how much my Dad hoped for a little girl made her hope for one too. I like to remind them that I fulfilled all of their pink tinted dreams simply by being born.

My Dad has long been the man I’ve looked up to the most in the world. I didn’t understand what a precious gift that was until high school, when I came to the startling realization that not every little girl grew up wanting to marry somebody like her Daddy. I watched friends reel with the sting of being overlooked and hurt by their Dads, and something in me just couldn’t understand it. Where other girls looked at their Dads and only saw pain, all I could ever see when I looked at mine were a thousand burned and rather salty chocolate chip cookies that he choked down over lemon-water tea parties with a smile. I saw a man who was reading his Bible when I woke up every morning. A man who determined when I was a very little girl that he would buy me more flowers than any other man on the planet—and thus far, no contender has even come CLOSE. I have an overflowing stack of dried flowers from my Dad sitting on top of a dresser in my old room, and the first time Kellan saw them he was so disheartened that  he didn’t buy me so much as a carnation for a solid year. [He’s rallied.]

As the years spun on, I looked at my Dad and saw a man who would take me out for overpriced lattes and let me rant or cry or float about whatever it was that was stirring the still waters of my world. I saw a man who would patiently, wisely counsel me when I had questions or was hurting. I saw a man who encouraged me to hop a plane to West Africa for two years, not because it was safe or he wanted me gone, but because he fervently believed that Jesus was better than being comfortable. It was a lesson I’d learned simply from observing his life over the course of mine. I looked at my Dad, and I saw a hero. Not perfect, but perfect to be mine.

The past year has revealed new things about my Dad. I look at him today, and see a man who fitfully slept in an uncomfortable recliner by his son’s hospital bed every single night that Ian was there so he would never be alone. [And over the course of a five month bout with cancer, there were many.]  A man who would switch off with my Mom during the day and instead of running home to sleep in an actual bed, would go to work or take my little sister Emily to ballet. I remember during the last week of Ian’s final three week stay in the ICU, I walked into my parent’s house one morning and saw my Dad sitting at the living room table. He hadn’t really slept in weeks, and in fact had barely left the ICU at all. Confused as to why he wasn’t taking a nap or at least eating a meal that hadn’t come wrapped in paper, I asked him what he was doing.

He was working on his sermon for my wedding. Honey, I really enjoy this. I’m really excited about your wedding! He said it with a smile.

It was the same man that left the hospital just long enough to buy me a bouquet of roses on Valentine’s day. The same man that insisted that we practice our waltz over and over again in the kitchen even JCP_3351though he was unspeakably exhausted, and the world outside of our front door was crumbling into a thousand irretrievable pieces. Our waltz was still important to him because I never stopped being important to him.

That’s just my Dad. I look at him today and see a man that confidently, brokenly, humbly reminded me in the whitewashed hallway outside of room 17 in the ICU that if God chose not to heal Ian, it would not be because He didn’t love us or hadn’t heard us. I knew that he meant it because he had spent his life teaching me that God is a good Father. It was a lesson that I never found hard to believe, because I already had one.

To you Daddies out there—especially y’all with little girls—buy her flowers. Buy her so many flowers that no other man will ever be able to compete. They are expensive and unnecessary and will die in a week and that is the extravagant, irrational point. It is through your extravagant, irrational love that she will begin to understand the way that Jesus loves her. Eat everything that she proudly hands you as she’s learning to bake, and every once in a while ask for seconds. Wear the feather boa AND the floppy hat, and cheers her stuffed bunny rabbit when she invites you to tea. Tell her that she looks just beautiful every single morning. Let her see you read your Bible, but more importantly, let her see you value the God that gave it to you. Value that God above all of his gifts—above her Mother, above a comfortable life, above keeping her safe. Push her to follow Jesus wherever He leads. Remind her that God is good no matter what it feels like—whether a boy hurts her feelings or her little brother is dying. God longs for your daughter to know how He treasures and adores her through you.

And if you have questions about any of this, feel free to give my Daddy a call. He’s pretty great at it.

Happy Father’s day to the greatest one that I have ever known!  I love you, Daddy.

JCP_4006 bw

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Filed under Family, God's faithfulness, Joy

The Family Tree.

My little brother Stephen graduates from college tomorrow morning, and so Kellan and I are hopping a Raleigh-bound flight and heading home for Christmas early! Stephen is only a year younger than I am, but already has approximately eleventy billion degrees, every single one of which I attribute to my graciously allowing him to complete my math homework for me when I had better things to do.

Like talk on the phone. Or eat Cheetos. Or really ANYTHING besides my math homework.

YOU’RE WELCOME, STEPHEN.

[Also, I expect a healthy cut of your salary for my efforts.]

My family has waited for Kellan and I to arrive to decorate their tree, and so I imagine that we’ll spend part of tomorrow unwrapping and carefully hanging boxes of ornaments. We’ve done the same thing for as long as I can remember—strains of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas lilt through the air and the lingering scent of molasses hangs heavy as Dad and the boys string cranberry beads and white lights. In keeping with tradition, the kids all fight over whose turn it is to hang which ornament. There’s the “house” ornament purchased the year that last minute plans allowed us to be unexpectedly, blissfully home for Christmas. There’s a polka dotted bunny rabbit snuck into my red stocking as a little girl, in honor of the stuffed bunny that I carried with me everywhere that I went. Ornaments are handmade and popsicle-sticked, shattered and mended back together after eager little hands dropped bulbs on hardwood floors and a patient Father sat and glued. Some are painfully ugly—treasures found by children and brought home to proudly hang on a tree while a Mama bit her tongue and smiled. Stephen and I have matching blue and pink angels that predate our two siblings, the two of which share custody of the single set of wings left between them. Truthfully, my pink angel hasn’t been great at sharing the wings over the past couple of years.

As Kellan and I decorated our tree the other night and unwrapped our little collection of red and silver ornaments one by one for the very first time, my mind wandered as I imagined our own children unwrapping those same ornaments one day. I’m a story-teller, and I will tell the stories over and over again—you see that gold Santa? That one’s from my Aunt Lynn. She gave us a whole box of ornaments right before our wedding. And the spinning ornament? We had those when I was a little girl! Your Grandpa always made sure that each one hung directly over a light. And that clay house ornament? Your Daddy and I got that the very first year that we were married. We barely had any Christmas decorations at all—we had to wrap bath towels around the base of our tree!

And then, carefully, we will unwrap one more.

Ornament

This was the last time that my brothers and sister and I got to decorate our tree all together. Your Uncle Ian would have just LOVED you.

And I will tell stories. Stories of fighting over ornaments and eating too many molasses cookies, stories of snow sledding in Ukraine and waking up at 3:00 AM on Christmas mornings. I’ll talk about curly hair and belting Broadway tunes while we washed dinner dishes, and I will roll my eyes as I tell them how the girls used to swoon over their Uncle. And every year, we will remember together that even in the face of death, we can still confidently, defiantly sing Joy to the World. We will remember that the world is broken and grief may threaten to overwhelm, but it never, never can because Jesus came and gave a weary world a reason to rejoice.

This year, and every year, I will miss my little brother.

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Filed under Christmas, Family, God's faithfulness, Grief, Hope, Ian

The Bald Ballerina.

DSC_0120The day we shaved off Ian’s curly hair, he didn’t do it alone. My brother Stephen, cousin Justin and my Uncle Anthony shaved their heads bald right along side of him, [Daddy’s head was, shall we say, already shaved? ;)] because in my family, we will elbow our way right into when you’re hurting and hurt right along side of you. You may lose your hair, but we’ll be darned if you lose it alone.

[Side note: the men in my family are devastatingly handsome with or without hair, and I love them something fierce.]

I briefly contemplated shaving my head that day, but dismissed the idea because MY HAIR.

Also, MY HAIR.

My little sister Emily and I stood by with our hearts stapled to our sleeves, grinning bravely and determinedly cheering in the kitchen while our Mama shaved head after head. Curls fell to the floor, and we oohed and ahhed as cancer left her chilling calling card. In the months that followed, people would stare as Ian shuffled into coffee shops and grocery stores with gaunt cheeks and a telling bald head. I would stare rudely, unflinchingly back until embarrassed, they looked away– because NOBODY got to treat my little brother like the dying kid. Not on my watch.

The day that Ian slipped away, I had one arm around Emily while we both tightly clung to his hand. My shattered heart throbbed at the searing loss of my little brother. I ached as I watched my fourteen year old sister grow up in a single afternoon.

After Ian died, Emily began to talk about shaving her head to raise money to fight cancer. She didn’t want any more sisters to lose their brothers, and told me that a bald head was a small price to pay next to giving other girls a chance to wave at their big brother from a graduation stage, or dance with him at their wedding.

And so, for all of the other sisters out there, Emily Scott Peterson is shaving her head. In so doing, she is hoping to raise $2,100—a hundred dollars for every year of her big brother’s life.

Y’all, I’ll be darned if I let my ballerina sister shave her long brown hair off for a red cent less than that.

Emily asked me if I’d write a blog to tell you what she’s doing, and I promised that I would. I’m writing to you not simply because we’re talking about my little brother, and my little sister, but because the world has been badly broken by sin. Since the February day that I walked out of Ian’s dark ICU room for the very last time, I’ve noticed that brokenness in a way that I never had before. Brokenness now leaps off of life’s pages, begging to be restored.

When I look at Jesus’ life, I see restoration. The God-man entered right into our brokenness, and a weary world rejoiced. The Restorer had finally come! Everywhere He went, the hungry were fed, the lame walked, the blind saw. God and sinners were reconciled, brokenness that He encountered was restored, and these were all earthly pictures of a heavenly reality that’s coming.

A thrill of hope, indeed.

I believe that Jesus has called you and I to be on the front lines of restoration. Restoration is our messy, heartbreaking, holy work.

I don’t know how Jesus is asking you to be a part of restoration, simply that He is. In the midst of this Christmas season, let’s remember that sacred good news of great joy—Emmanuel, God WITH us—means that an end to pain is coming. That everything sad is becoming untrue, and until Jesus comes back and our restoration is complete we are to incarnate Christ to a broken world that desperately needs Him.

I am proud of Emily for working to restore, by fighting cancer. If you would like to help her, click here. Select “Seat yourself”, then at the top of the page click “Make a donation”, and then fill in the required information.

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Filed under Family, Grief, Hope, Ian