Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Belated 9th Anniversary Post

"Come to Hatteras," they said, and I didn't want to go with you. It had gone bad between us, again. Nine years married, and there's been more bad than good, more hard than easy. We are weary.

I worry about what our children have learned about marriage. We have taught them all we know about it, but our understanding is a bag with holes. We've prayed, read articles and books, watched videos, met with a counselor; yet, we can't seem to get it together.

I've been an excellent learner all my life, but I can't seem to learn this: can't seem to break our painful cycles that are, in many ways, similar to the ones I witnessed, growing up. Sometimes, I'm tempted to blame my parents; other times, I'm tempted to blame yours. I've asked you to imagine throwing my daddy and yours into a sack and shaking it; what would be the outcome? Not good, and I'm not always sure who is who in this scenario; regardless, the truth is that we're the adults (the ones influencing children), now, and aren't we responsible for the choices we make?

It doesn't feel like it; I know. Our behaviors feel innate, primal, beyond the capacity of our excellent brains and kind, Jesus-loving hearts. I live with the fear that, down the pike, our children--our daughters, especially--will choose this: not because it's happy or healthy or normal, but because it's familiar.

We long for respite. We found it, for a few days, in Hatteras. With lights and nets, one night we walked to the sea to hunt ghost crabs.


I'd never hunted ghost crabs, before, and in truth participated this time only through the lens of my old camera, a T3i, which has limited ISO capabilities. It has a flash, but I wanted to see what I could get with ambient lighting. The resulting photos are blurry, but I love them; I think they capture both my wild excitement and my disorientation.






 

They also capture Charleigh's trepidation.



I took many beautiful photos while we were in Hatteras, but these are the ones I've studied over and over. I haven't been able to stop thinking about that night: the dark air so thick with salt that, licking my lips, I could taste it; the beams of the flashlights and lanterns; Charleigh's eyes, wide with concern; the delighted laughter of the other children and shouts of the adults ("We've got one; bring the bucket!"); the surf's occasional lap at my flip-flop-clad feet. Again and again, I have played the movie of this--the ghost-crab hunt--in my mind, until I could not doubt that there was something more I was supposed to see in it, write about it.

So I did the thing I do, sometimes, in which I force my spirit open like a pistachio nut left in the bottom of the bag: one of those we pick out and toss back in because it has an ungenerous gap, because it must be either pried open with something other than our fingers or cracked with a snap between our teeth.

After days and days, this is what I found.

Hunting ghost crabs is a perfect analogy for our marriage. We are haunted people. We are together but alone. We each carry a little light and benefit from the (little) light of others; still, we are severely limited in what we can see. It's dark, here. There are ghosts, here, but good on us if we're committed to capturing them: to seeing and accepting them for what they are and, ultimately, to setting them free.


Your beams illuminate my ghosts; my beams illuminate yours. Our power in one another's life is this and only this: illumination. Not eradication. Eradication is deeply personal. We have long been distracted by one another's ghosts. If there is to be peace and progress, each of us must commit to dealing with his or her own ghosts, also to giving the other space and time to do the same.

May we stumble ever closer to a better and brighter place; may we find one another there. This is nine years married. Hear me when I say: I love you, still.




Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dark Night of the Soul: A Poem


No one is coming.
Your dad is not coming.
Your brother is not coming.
Neither your friends nor
their spouses are coming.
Your counselor isn't coming.
None of your ex-boyfriends
has ever been interested
in this kind of coming. ha
No one from your church
is coming. God, Himself,
is not coming. But, wait.

God is not coming because
He has always been here,
waiting for you to request
His help
in rescuing yourself, at last.



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

To My Daughters, in the Wake of Mother's Day

Dear Clementine. Dear Charleigh.

It is late, and I am tired. I am so tired in my body (deep down in my bones) and in my spirit. I am so tired, and I have a midterm to write, a syllabus to rewrite, photos to edit, and clothes to fold. I won't have another night off for two weeks, and I feel as though I've done nothing well for the longest time. I've been aiming for okay, for good enough, and sometimes I've fallen short of even that.

So I'm taking a little time for you, now: just a little time, time that I don't really have, to write down a few things I want you to know in case I get run over by a truck or, more likely, choke to death on a pancake. A few things for your future.

The first thing I want to tell you, in the wake of Mother's Day, is that I'm sorry. I don't think I've been the mother to you that I've been to your brothers. They have been so much easier for me to parent. I like to place the blame on you and say that your brothers seem so happy, so grateful, to have a mommy, while you seem so irritated with me: like you want to kill me off and take over the running of the house.

But lately I've been feeling like there's more to the story: like maybe my difficulties with you have more to do with me than with you. This notion makes me squirmy and a little breathless, if I'm being honest, but there's something to it. I think you frighten me in a way the boys do not. I think I am terrified of failing you in the ways I have been failed by others and in the ways I have failed myself. It's surfacing, now, and I'm going to have to deal with it: for your sake, and for mine. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

I'm sorry if I have, at some points, yelled at you and, at others, checked out on you. These are learned behaviors that I am trying to unlearn. I want you to be tough (tougher than I), and to that end I want to tell you: true strength is engaged but controlled. True strength has words, but they are calm and calculated. There should never be a need to apologize for them.

Say what you mean and own what you've said. Speak up for yourself, especially as children of God. Don't let anyone but Jesus tell you who you are and especially who you are in Jesus. (S)he hasn't the right. Don't receive as truth any blanket statements, from human mouths, about women. Pray and delve into the primary source of God's Word, thereby seeking your truth as individuals and directly from the Father.

I don't know what He will say to you, but it will be everything you need to know. He will show you what you need to do, and those things--whatever they are!--are your highest callings as Clementine and Charleigh. Whatever they are, your inspired contributions are equal in value to the inspired contributions of others. The prayers you've been led to pray, for example, are just as important as the prayers of others. Anything else, even a mere implication of anything else, is a lie. If you call it such, you may find your audience apathetic, and that's okay. You care, anyway. You may find your audience offended, and that's okay, too. You reject the lie, anyway.

Your inspired contributions may or may not involve motherhood. Motherhood is not necessarily the crowning glory of womanhood. What matters is that you, as individual believers, do what God calls each of you to do. The crowning glory of your personhood is your sold-out obedience to the King of Kings. And here's the thing about that: He is your free choice. Receive Him as a choice. Eat and drink Him as a choice.

Your inspired contributions may or may not involve handling the kids (yours and others'); running Vacation Bible School; playing the piano; cooking up some food; cleaning...everything; and singing in the choir. These are high callings, indeed, but they're also things that menfolk often don't want to do. Again, God will show you what you need to do.

Regarding the "authority" and "leadership" of others and especially men, at every turn, you are free to choose who leads you and speaks into your life. Just because an individual is a man, even a man in the church!, doesn't mean he is your spiritual leader. You can turn your back on most any man and walk away, and you'll need to do this many times. Most times, even. Choose husbands and pastors carefully, prayerfully, in an attempt to avoid messy break-ups, but know this: there may be messy break-ups, anyway. You can control only yourself and never the other in a relationship. The best relationships include Christ as a third strand and are, therefore and as Solomon advises, not easily broken.

I pray that you will become soldiers of the cross. I pray that you will become spiritual leaders. I pray that God will pour out His Spirit upon you, that He will pour generously. I pray that you will open your mouths and prophesy because then we will know--won't we?--that we are in the last days in this dreadful place.

I believe in you. I am thankful that mothering you is one thing (not the only thing, and not necessarily the most important thing, but one thing) God has given and called me to do. I am thankful because I love you so very much, way down deep in my tired, aging bones.

Mama



Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Winsome.

I have so many stories to tell and so little time with which to tell them: no time, really, considering the lesson-planning and dishes I need to do. If it's a good story, though, I try to write it anyway and in spite of, and the best story I have to tell has to do with Winsome: a Christian women's retreat held in Mann's Choice, Pennsylvania.

I guess I first heard of Winsome while in Nebraska for a different retreat; certainly, that was where I met founder and host Kim Hyland. (You can read that story, here.) I thought from summer on that I was meant to go, but Jim lost his job in late July, and we were counting pennies. I said to God something about how, if He really meant for me to go, He'd have to make it possible.

Then, just before Christmas, I received a note and a check from Debbie, whom I'd met briefly at the other retreat. "What did you say to her," Jim asked, "that she would send us money?" I had no idea. 

If I'm being honest, Debbie wasn't the only person who gave us money around that time, but Winsome hadn't crossed my mind until just then. Because of Debbie's written words, the check amount, and how she and I had met, it didn't take long for me to look at Jim with awe and say: "I think this is for Winsome." Even so, I didn't deposit the check right away but, instead, held onto and prayed about it until I was sure. 

I was a little nervous, telling Debbie what I intended to do with the money; what if she thinks I'm selfish, I wondered, for spending it on myself? She seemed delighted, though, and I asked if she could attend Winsome and room with me. In the end, given that there's no airport particularly close to the retreat location, she flew into Richmond and drove to and from Mann's Choice, Pennsylvania with me. We had an adventure inside of an adventure, then: not only attending the retreat but also, while we were together, exploring parts of Winchester, Virginia; Schellsburg, Pennsylvania; Harpers Ferry, West Virginia; and, in Richmond, Hollywood Cemetery.

There was a time, not so long ago, that I wouldn't have been able to imagine spending so much time with someone who was, for all intents and purposes, a stranger. I'm learning, though, and growing. I'm trying to actively, thoughtfully assume that I'm where I'm meant to be, with whom I'm meant to be, and if that's true, that I have things to learn and work to do. My time with Debbie was blessed. As for Winsome specifically, I connected meaningfully with several people and gained some clarity regarding what's next for me. 

I did retreat with some questions because--while Debbie and I were in route to Winsome--Jim called with details of a job offer that (after over eight months of his being unemployed) he'd just accepted. After the phone conversation, Debbie looked at me and said something like: "You know it's not a coincidence that this worked out today, right?" And yes, I did know. I knew that God had always known how it would all play out. Like we sang at the retreat, He's a good, good Father, for us and not against us, amen.

Debbie at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where her great-great grandfather was captured during the Civil War

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Emptiness, Forgiveness

I'm sick. The little kids have all been sick, too, and sometimes I think it's kinder for everyone to go down at once, but it hasn't gone that way, this time; someone has been sick for weeks, and maybe it's the flu: exhaustion, body aches, light fever, and worst of all, a pervasive, hacking cough: the kind that doesn't go away with hot drinks, cold drinks, cough drops, or nebulizer treatments. The kind that makes your ribs hurt.

I could easily write a blog post about my physical sickness, but I'm more interested in thinking and writing about what happens to me when my defenses are down. I become every wounded age I've ever been. I feel as hollow as a wing bone, which is to say that I wrestle with a sense of emptiness. The fact that I can name it is progress. The fact that I can have conversations with myself about it is progress.

When I feel empty, I (think I) want everyone I've ever lost to come back. I (think I) want everyone who's ever hurt me to show up and say (s)he's sorry.

But I know I don't: not really. What would I do with all those people in my current state? I'm sick as a dog. I'm wearing neither make-up nor a bra.

The fact that I can identify that I don't really want everyone I've ever lost to come back--or everyone who's ever hurt me to show up and say (s)he's sorry--is progress. I used to take my (yet unnamed) feelings of emptiness and do dangerous, destructive things. Sometimes it worked out (kind of); for example, I reconnected with Jim in an effort to fill a (perceived) void. I didn't know it then, but I know it, now. I was in the throes of a break-up with another man, and Jim was someone I'd lost some thirteen years before. He was someone who had hurt me. (I had hurt him, too.)

But I've gone off course. In my physical sickness, my defenses are down. I feel empty, and so many difficult memories have come to mind over the last couple days. And this is where I want to go with this post: instead of doing dangerous, destructive things, I am learning to turn to God. More specifically, I am learning to ask God to forgive me for my unforgiveness of others. I came across this concept in Stormie Omartian's Lord, I Want to Be Whole. It rattled my cage to the point that I put the book down for something like a month. Really, God? You want me to confess when I was the person wronged? You want me to ask Your forgiveness for my unforgiveness toward these people who hurt me so deeply? And, yes. I do think that's what God is asking of me. Furthermore (and this really hurts my brain), I think He wants me to seek His forgiveness for my unforgiveness of myself. Because if He has forgiven me for something, who am I to hold and use it against myself?

I'm finding that it's one thing to say I want to forgive someone and another altogether to confess and seek forgiveness for my unforgiveness. I'm finding that it's still a process: that--for deep-seated hurts I've carried for years and years--I often have to confess and ask for forgiveness and help over and over. But I'm hopeful.

I'm not hopeful that everyone I've ever lost will come back or that everyone who's ever hurt me will show up and say (s)he's sorry. Even if that were realistic, it would be unrealistic to expect that I would be able to process the situation or words. Just after the holidays, in fact, someone who hurt me when I was a child apologized to me in a very sincere way (again). That doesn't mean I've managed to forgive him, but the work that needs to be done is mine.

The work that needs to be done is always mine. God is loving and merciful. He wouldn't make my healing dependent upon the actions or words of others. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden," He says, "and I [not another human] will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28, KJV).

O Lamb of God, I come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Clementine Turns Seven



Oh My Darlin',

On one hand, it seems like you were born yesterday, and on that hand I'm astonished--just bowled over!-- that you're seven.

But (at the continued risk of sounding like Randy Travis) on the other hand, I feel like we've been so long together, and hasn't it been fairly wearisome at points? You present as "first born" just like I do, and we get stuck in cycles of bossing and fussing in which both of us can dish it out, and neither of us can take it. Why, just this morning, I yelled: "Clementine! Are you the police?" in exasperation, and in response, you rolled your eyes, which sure enough stay in their proper place no better than mine do.

But hey, now. You're sharp as a tack. Not so long ago, you came skipping into the bathroom while I was in the tub. "Can I read to you, Mama?" you asked, and I waved my copy of My Antonia at you.

"I'm already reading," I said, "but you can take over for me, if you like." I should've remembered: you haven't been intimidated by a thing your whole life long. Willa Cather, pshaw (ain't no thing but a chicken wing); you entered her words like a champ.

Also, you're tender-hearted, especially toward animals. You want a horse so badly, and the secret I haven't shared until now is that I want one for you; I do. I want art and piano lessons for you, too. I guess we'll figure it all out, in time. Meanwhile, your dog, cat, and fish are well-loved critters.

You'll always be okay, I think. You're a leader with a good head on your shoulders and Jesus in your heart. I'd be sorry for all the times we've gone 'round and 'round, but I know I've helped you raise your game...and you've helped me raise mine.

I guess life is all about each of us becoming the best possible version of herself. I say: you're already pretty terrific, so do you, Honey, and I'll always be here to cheer you on.

I love you so much,
Mama








Sunday, February 14, 2016

To Jim on Valentine's Day



Dear Jim,

I'm thinking of February seven years ago. Remember how that guy Tony told you he no longer wanted to be intimate with his wife after watching her give birth? I still have no idea why he told you that, or why you shared the conversation with me. But I was so insecure after Clementine was born--remember?--that I squeezed into your single bed right there in the hospital room. Hold me: tell me you still want me after witnessing that.

I'm so glad to say I know you better, now. I know you, now, as the man who crossed to the nether side of the drape while Dr. Reutinger was performing my c-section to deliver Chip. "Well," you said, watching every bit of the action (and barely raising an eyebrow), "now I can say I've seen parts of you that no one else ever has."

There's been so much blood. No one much talks about the blood inside of a marriage, inside of a family. No one much talks about the snot, the shit...and I'm being literal, here: not figurative in the least (although there's been plenty of figurative shit, too, and someone is even now shaking his or her head over my word choice, but poo doesn't quite cover it).

The puke. Remember the time Cade threw up in his loft bed? Then I--having climbed up to clean up--vomited on top of Cade's vomit. You pulled down the mattress, knelt on the bedroom floor and cleaned it all up.

Something has shifted since Valentine's Day, last. I've shed some paranoia. Just the other day I said of you: "I guess if he were going to leave me, he would've done it, by now." Lesser men are leaving all the time: in search of love, I guess, but love isn't something found; it's something made...and not always (or even often) between the sheets.

What I want to say to you, My Valentine, is thank you. Thank you for staying with me. We've survived so much, including one another, and

I love you.
Brandee