Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Forgetta: A Poem

After he first said: “I love you,” she responded in kind
and with bright sincerity. He believed her. He couldn’t
help noticing, though, how she seemed uncomfortable
in her body for hours afterward: how she would raise a
shoulder and simultaneously tilt her head toward it…
sometimes cup or rub her neck. “Are you ok?” he asked.
She smiled up and out of places he couldn’t see and said
she was fine, so happy, her voice cheery as birdsong.
It took time, but he realized that ‘I love you’ was never
what she longed to hear. Over more time, he learned why
(how often it had been said by those who had seemed,
just after, to forget her). Over more time, still, he found
the phrase that always unlocked the happiest of her sighs:
                         'I'm thinking of you.'

Sunday, January 24, 2016

To Cade at Sixteen

Dear Cade,

It seems like yesterday that I was sixteen. No, really. It seems like yesterday. I'm so much the same as I was, then, and I can't say if that's a good thing or bad. Both, I guess. Most things are good and bad. DP says that one of our greatest challenges is to see things and people for what and who they are: good and bad. I am good and bad, and so are you.

As your belief system shapes up to look differently than mine, you've worried that I think you are bad. I know this only because you told me, your longing for my approval so palpable in that moment. I wanted to say things that would feel kinder than the truth, but having lived just long enough to know better, I didn't. "I can't pretend to be happy that you don't believe what I do," I said, "in part because my belief system guides me in making decisions. But I think you're bad and good just like everyone else, and I will love you in and through your bad and good. I will love you no matter what you say, or do, or believe."

Then I sort of choked (or gasped) and said, "What if something happens to me? How will you find me, again?"

We stared at one another, our mouths agape, and cried. It was a terrible moment, but it was beautiful, too. There was no heat in it. It felt as if we were forehead-to-forehead over a divide, or perhaps as if a tightrope were running from my hurting heart to yours, never mind the canyon below.

What I want to say to you at sixteen is that I want you: the real you, whoever that is and whatever that means. I don't want the you that you think I want unless it's the real you. I don't want the you that I think I want unless it's the real you. I want the real you more than I want other (possibly more pleasant or less complex) versions of you because what's the point, really, in knowing someone if you don't really know him or her? I'm not encouraging bad behavior, here; I'm encouraging authenticity. I'm saying that if I'm going to love you no matter what (and I am), I want to love the real you.

The real you is going to change. I could cry, and sometimes do, for all that I didn't (and don't) know, raising you. You're halfway through high school, and I'm just now starting to figure out some very vital things. Maybe this isn't uncommon; maybe most people are well past their child-bearing (and possibly -raising) years before they get much sense about them. I'll guarantee you that I've messed some things up. At this point, I see more of my mistakes than you do, but that may flip with time. I promise: I'll talk with you about whatever you want, whenever you want.

The real you is going to change, but it isn't. I love my friends from high school as much as ever; in fact, I wager that I love them more than I did when I was sixteen. My capacity for love has grown. To say goodbye (or see you later) to Jason Hatfield still hurts more than I can say.

Life is beautiful and terrible. Things and people are bad and good. I do not hope to be beautiful or good so much as I hope, always, to be yours.

Happy 16th Birthday, Son.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our Christmas Miracle

In the fall of 1992, I was a freshman at Maryville College and on work-study in the library. My friend Akiko was standing just on the other side of the circulation desk, talking with me, when a security guard approached and said I needed to call home. I hurried with dread to the payphone in the lobby, Akiko on my heels, and learned that my (paternal) grandma had died. I've never forgotten the comfort of my friend: how she walked with me to my dorm room, stayed with me as I packed. I've always believed that God sent her to the library to be with me.

I remembered this at the restaurant, last night, when I was hurrying to leave work and looked up to see Andrea and Vanderhoop just inside the front door. Am I dying? I thought, then: Whatever is happening, God has sent them. I've been here before.

My sister-cousin Andrea is a nurse. When I told her I was leaving work and why (more bleeding than after childbirth or miscarriage), she insisted not only that I go to the ER but also that I allow her to drive me. Jim and the four children had been at the zoo for the live nativity and headed toward the hospital. "Go ahead and check in," he said. "I'll bring the insurance card."

As I left with a nurse for triage, Andrea asked: "How do you want this to go?"

"I want you to take the children home," I told her. "I want Jim to stay with me."

And even as the words left my mouth, I realized: I already have my Christmas miracle.

I've been praying for a different one; Jim had a fourth interview, last week, and whatever the company decided, they decided, yesterday. They told him they would turn yesterday's decision over to HR and contact the candidate of choice early next week. I can't tell you how many times I've thought: Wouldn't it be nice if they called, this week, to say he has the job? 

I've been longing for my parents and brother's family in East Tennessee; I haven't been home for an entire year, and I guess I've never been apart from my mom at Christmastime. I haven't been able to bring myself to ship her a package. She hasn't been able to bring herself to put up a tree. Wouldn't it be nice, I've thought, to know Jim has that just pack up and go home?

Our situation has not yet been resolved; yet, already I can say:

I would not go back.

I would not go back to where we were before Jim lost his job. We were with our third marriage counselor, and while he is incredible!, progress was painfully slow. Jim was so frustrated that he walked out of our last session. He lost his job right after; then, we didn't have the option to return to our (slow) miracle worker. We didn't have the $300/month to spare.

Trust me when I say: after Jim lost his job, things got much worse before they got better. But this situation has been like a jump-start, or defibrillation, to our marriage. I believe we will make it, now. I believe we will be okay. And I'm going to be okay: I was discharged from the hospital with a doctor's note for work and strict instructions to visit my OB/GYN, today. My body is changing. (There's a pill for me.)

My heart is changing, too, and Jim's. We are changing. God is at work, here. There has already been a Christmas miracle.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When Santa Sat in My Section

Jim's concerns were broader than mine when it became necessary for me to start working nights; I fretted only in anticipation of missing Cade (who attends school during the day) and certain nighttime events, especially holiday ones. I prayed about these concerns and tried my best to trust that whatever was meant to work out, would.

Halloween rolled around, first, and I love halloween. One year when Cade was small, I taught a composition class three times in order to accommodate all the students in a class I'd cancelled: a class I'd been scheduled to teach on halloween night. It was worth it, too, to take Cade trick-or-treating.

I tried to get halloween off, this year, but got scheduled to work. Rachel suggested that we trick-or-treat with her family (and many others from our small group) at Bethpage Camp-Resort the Saturday before halloween, and upon hire at the restaurant, I had requested that night off...but only because I'd been paid generously to take some family photos. To further complicate matters, I was hoping to catch Cade's band performance (which I hadn't yet seen) at the Fall Classic.

In the end (and I can still scarcely believe it all worked out), the family asked to be photographed in the morning as opposed to the oft-requested afternoon; Jim, the little kids, and I enjoyed Bethpage to the fullest; and I made it to the late (10 pm) band performance.

I worked halloween night joyfully and met a customer for whom I pray often. He's an older gentleman and was alone on a slow night, so I did a rare thing: I sat down with him. He told me his wife had just died.

Next, Thanksgiving. Travel was impossible given that I had to work the days before and after, but the restaurant was closed, Thanksgiving day, and Cade and I spent hours hiking together.

After all this, I wish I could tell you I had no trepidation about Christmas, but I wondered about Christmas eve; I did. The restaurant is closed on Christmas day, but Cade spends Christmas day with his dad, Christmas eve with me. This is how we all prefer it; Cade's other family has a big meal on Christmas day, while this family attends candlelight service on Christmas eve. Amazingly, management granted not only my request to have Christmas eve off, but also lunch, today, to attend Jesus's birthday party at church.

Friday night, I walked into my section at work only to realize that Santa and Mrs. Claus were seated in one of my booths. When I introduced myself, Santa said: "I already know your name. And furthermore, I know you've been a very good girl this year." I burst into tears right there at the table.

Later, I said to a friend: "I was way too emotionally disregulated to serve Santa Claus!"

He shook his head, laughed, and said: "You were the perfect person! No one else would've cared as much as you. You got the full effect of what he was trying to do. I think it's awesome!" And, yes. Awesome. Because there's something no one--neither Santa nor my friend--knew.

My recent prayers have included my asking God to help me trust Him with my little-girl self, and I received Santa's visit as a response, from God, to that prayer. It was as if God were saying: I hear you (all of you, including the little-girl you), and I care about you, and I care very much about your Christmas. I couldn't wonder if God had sent Santa for my children because my children weren't present. I was alone. But I am never alone.

The further I journey, the more fully I believe that a relationship with God is just that: a relationship. It requires faith on my part (and sometimes, the suspension of disbelief). It requires my seeking with expectancy. I could chalk everything I've just shared and more! up to coincidence, luck, serendipity, fortune, or---I don't know--an alien spark? But I find it so much more thrilling to believe I am blessed...that God is using all things to my good: even (especially?) the hard things. Because if that's true, I have nothing to fear and everything to anticipate with joy. Bad is good if He is with me, and He is. His very name tells it. He is Immanuel.

The front of the card Santa left me.

The back of the card Santa left me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Most Outrageous Story I Have to Tell

I was driving my best friend and her daughter to the airport, this summer, when her daughter (almost six, at the time) asked when she'd first met us. I answered that my daughter Clementine and I had flown to Chicago to meet her when she was three months old and Clementine nine months old. I proceeded to explain: the plan had always been for me to attend her birth, but life got in the way. Maybe one of my daughters will allow me to attend a birth one day, I said, I sure hope so.

The very next day, my friend Sharon called and asked if I'd like to ride with her to the hospital; one of her grandchildren was about to be born. I'd never met either Sharon's son or her daughter-in-law but love my time with Sharon and agreed to go. I imagined I'd be doing some waiting and packed a novel, also--with a fleeting thought of newborn photos--my camera.

At the hospital, Sharon's son came out to greet us. He and Sharon left me to enter the room where the mother was laboring. Within just a few minutes, though, Sharon returned to invite me into the room with my camera. One day after I'd said aloud, in my minivan, that I'd hoped to attend a birth.

This is the most outrageous story I have to tell: that I found myself photographing the birth of a baby one day after expressing, aloud, my desire to attend the birth of a baby. I hadn't discussed this desire with Sharon. There had been no plan for me to meet her son and daughter-in-law that day or in that way, but there I was--in that most sacred space, chillbumps running up and down my arms--watching a baby enter the world.

This is an example of why I believe in God.

I believe in God because I couldn't make up a story like that if I tried. I've had permission to blog about this experience for almost four months and have spent the entire time trying to wrap my head around it. The most logical explanation I can offer is that my Heavenly Father wishes to delight me. And He did. He does.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I'm not going to pretend I know how to speak into your pain. I trust that you have it. Maybe your body hurts. Your heart almost certainly does, even if just in one corner, because you miss or long for someone. Perhaps that someone is yourself: someone you used to be, or someone you hope to become. It seems likely to me that things are imperfect in your world, but even if I'm wrong, things are imperfect in the world. We both know that.

Life is painful in this broken place, and I don't have the answers. I don't have even one answer related to one source of my own, personal pain. But in the event that someone may find this helpful, I want to offer: I have started practicing relinquishment. I read an article about it--a reprint by Catherine Marshall--in a recent Guideposts. Then I read it again. And again. I rarely reread like that, but the premise intrigued me and still does.

"Gradually," Marshall writes in the Guideposts article, "I saw that a demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer. I understood that the reason for this is that God absolutely refuses to violate our free will; that, therefore, unless self-will is voluntarily given up, even God cannot move to answer prayer." She goes on to explain that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, becomes our example; He doesn't want to die but--with His own free will, regarding His very life--submits to the will of His Father. 

To relinquish something, or someone, to God is to accept that I am not in control and that I may not see or experience the outcome I think I desire. It is to trust, however, that God is in control; that He knows best; and that He will work all things to my good. It is to remember that He is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness, that I tend to grow more in hard times than in easy ones. (Click here to read an example of Marshall's Relinquishment Prayer.) 

When I look (and read) back, I see clearly that I've tended to relinquish things and people to God only out of utter exhaustion. (See, for example, this post related to my brother's illness, or this post related to my miscarriage.) This, what I'm trying to do now, involves letting go earlier, before I spend all of my emotional energy. 

I almost always pray on my drive to work, and I've been challenging myself with the question: what can I turn over, today? I've offered to God (among other things/people) the spiritual condition of my children, my marriage, my husband, my husband's joblessness, my job situation, my creativity, and various sources of my pain. And I've experienced some manner of peace. I've experienced Immanuel (God with us: me!) in ways that I find personally irrefutable. In seeking Him, I've found Him, and isn't He good for never hiding from us? Isn't He good for working even in our details?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Chip Turns 3

Dear Super Chip,

Happy third birthday. Over and over again, your sisters have been a sharp intake of my breath, but you have been my exhale. You are my everything-makes-sense and everything-is-okay-in-the-world. You are fairly predictable and almost always content.

You are my full circle. You are home to me. You remind me of my grandma, my mom, my brother, your brother Cade. You remind me of myself. (Finally, I have a child who pretend plays like I did. Fisher-Price Little People: hooray!)

You are my fellow night owl, and when I walk in the door from the restaurant, you always greet me with: "Mama! You came back! You always come back! I love you!" You still sleep best in my arms, and that's (mostly) okay. Thank you for waiting for me. I waited for you for so long. We belong to one another; I feel that every day, and

I love you. I loved your "Blue Birthday" party. I love your red sword. I love your laugh, your kisses. I love every one of your sweet teeth. I love it that you think we should trick-or-treat every night; I think so, too. I love it that, in the dark, no other story works for you but "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." I love it that you're nice to pretty much everyone but Cade's girlfriend. (I understand why you pull her hair. She's a nice girl, but her hair is straight out of "The Goose Girl"; Conrad would've tried to pull it, too.)

You're my very favorite super hero. I believe in every single one of your powers. You hold my heart in your hands.