Sunday, March 22, 2015

To Cade at Fifteen

Dear Cade,

I had the opportunity to meet with a bereaved family, the other day, and they passed around a letter that had been written by the mother of the one whom they'd just lost. The words were simple but had held deep meaning, obviously, for their dearly departed, who had kept them close for more than twenty-five years. They held meaning, still, for those left behind; I could see that clearly.

I couldn't help but think of you and this birthday letter, almost two months overdue.

I want to tell you how proud of you I am. I could start listing your achievements one by one, and we'd have us a right long letter, but (while I appreciate those) it's not about your achievements and has never been. You mean so much more to me than anything--or all the things--you've ever achieved.

I love you for you. You make it so easy, loving me for me, the way you do. I worried about these teenage years; thank you for being gentle with me. You would never think of raising your voice to me; thank you, and thank you for the ways we work and talk it out.

Thank you for every time you've seen me. I didn't expect your eyes, at this stage in our lives, to be the ones seeking my eyes across the room, but so it is. One of your sisters will say something funny, and we'll look at one another and laugh without a word. Or something not-so-funny will happen, and your eyes will say: Are you okay? and then, sometimes: I'm sorry you're not.

And here you come with your cracked iPhone: "Watch this, Mom," and that talk-show duo you like met Merle Haggard, whom I love. I pass you a book; you read it right away. You come in the door waving something: "Look what I found, cleaning out my room at Dad's: a Regal gift card! Do you wanna go to the movies with me?" I'm so touched that you've chosen me over any one of your excellent friends.

You let me choose the movie: Still Alice. I'm crying at the end, and (our having just watched both What Dreams May Come and Dead Poet's Society) you wonder aloud what's up with me and the depressing movies. "You know that's my greatest fear; right?" I ask: "Alzheimer's?" and you nod. You know. Thank you for knowing. Thank you for being the one to ask if I've been writing. Thank you for snatching up my blog books as soon as they arrive and reading them straight through.

Thank you for, without complaint, going to church and singing in choir with me. I know you're doing those things for me, right now; I'm grateful. Thank you for never acting embarrassed of me in front of your friends. Thank you for ruffling my hair on your way to bed. And you know when Jim was sick with the kidney stone and we ran, that night, to Food Lion? I felt uncomfortable, suddenly, about wearing fleece pajama pants and said: "I really should've changed clothes before we left."

"Nah, Mamsie, you so swag," you said, and you took my arm. Thank you so much for that.

You're a good son. You bless my life. I know it may not always be as sweet and uncomplicated between us as it is right now, but I want you to know: I'm just crazy about you at fifteen.

Love, Mom

Cade with Phillip, Andrew, and Sam

Monday, March 9, 2015

Charleigh's Birthday Weekend

Charleigh turned four over six months ago. I wrote her birthday post but didn't share photos of her birthday weekend, which we celebrated at Jellystone in Natural Bridge. I like to use my blog as a kind of scrapbook and print and bind every so often, but I'm way behind; I'm going to try and catch up.

Charleigh's is our only summer birthday, so we make the most of it. This was our third birthday celebration at Jellystone in Natural Bridge. (We didn't go in 2012, when I was pregnant with Chip.) The first time had been a little rough because Charleigh didn't particularly care for Yogi Bear and his friends (also because 2.5-year-old Clementine had released the parking brake on a golf cart, sending it crashing into a fire pit, but we don't have to talk about that). The second time had been close to perfect, so we tried in many respects to replicate the experience.

This is Cade's our friend Sam, who always takes the seventh seat in our minivan without complaint and makes sure everyone's buckled up for safety, back there. We love him so much.

If I'm being honest, the thirteen-year age span between our oldest and youngest children can make it challenging to entertain them simultaneously. We've found that one easy solution is to include one of Cade's friends as often as possible; they're all such great kids. And certain places--Jellystone, Chuck E. Cheese's, Busch Gardens--are fun for everyone.

My parents have driven from East Tennessee up to Natural Bridge every time we've camped at Jellystone. I'm so thankful for all the memories we've made with them, there.

What with arts n crafts and events in the rec center; the pool, splash park, lake, and river; miniature golf, the arcade, and the jumping pillow, there's plenty to do without ever leaving Jellystone. We're talking about me, though, so in 2011 we visited Natural Bridge, also a toy museum and butterfly exhibit (included, at the time, for the price of admission), and in 2013 we visited Natural Bridge Zoo. In 2014, we decided to visit Virginia Safari Park, where...

...Charleigh lost it. I've been her mother for 4.5 years, now, and I've never seen her so completely and utterly freaked out. Those big animals started sticking their heads into our minivan for food, and she melted down. All the way down. We're talking hyperventilation. ("I was a little freaked out myself," Sam said, "by the emu." Jim--concerned about the paint on the minivan--would've preferred a bit more distance from the elk.) Charleigh survived the drive-thru experience by climbing into Cade's lap in the back seat and smashing her face into his armpit until it was over.

She's still talking about how we tortured her on her birthday. Oh, and I forgot candles for the ice cream cake that Yogi delivered. She's still talking about that, too.

The great news is that Virginia Safari Park includes a walk-thru village, which was much more Charleigh's speed (even if she would take no part in petting the giant snake or feeding a budgie).

Overall, Charleigh's birthday weekend was a fun time. Sam's mama came and picked up the big kids early (Sam had to play soccer; Cade had to march his bass clarinet; and both had to start high school.), but Jim, the little kids, and I were able to watch Mark Cline perform a magic show before heading home. (I didn't take photos.) Oh, and I paid twenty-five cents, that same day, for an old book of children's Bible stories that I love far beyond any other homeschooling resource we have.

I wonder what Charleigh will remember, years from now. Love, I hope.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

I Still Don't Know What to Say

It pretty much never appeals to me to be fake. Lately, it hasn't appealed to me to be real, either, but I'm going to try to ease back into this blogging thing. I have birthday posts to write for two of my children, but I expect that, aside from those, I'll be sharing more images than words. I just...something is broken. Thanks for being here with me while I figure it out.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

'Tis So Sweet

I haven't known what to share for what feels like forever. When I write that, I mean it: I haven't known. I puzzled over it for awhile; I couldn't figure out why, having written through so much for so long, I was suddenly at such a loss.

But I know, now: I haven't trusted my feelings, lately. I seem able to write any feelings I have as long as I trust them, but I don't always, anymore. It's related to counseling, and I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing; in fact, I think it's a good thing to step back and say: yes, I feel this way, but should I? Is my perspective fair? Am I seeing this situation from all sides and for what it really is, or am I seeing it only through a flawed lens?

And I don't think I'm being unfair to myself, because I don't trust Jim's feelings (or anyone else's) any more than I trust my own. I think the truth transcends feelings. I suspect that, most of the time, the truth sprouts in middle ground...or maybe on some distant plain no one can see in his or her shortsightedness.

I may not trust my feelings, right now, but I think it's important that I write: I trust Jesus; I do. I think He does good work in me when I'm in a state of discomfiture. I know He hears me. I know He sees straight through to the heart of me. And just like the old hymn says: I've proved Him over and over.

Things are not always well between Jim and me, but I believe they will be because we want them to be, because we're working on it. I would say that, otherwise, things are very well. I'm deeply encouraged in our homeschooling journey with the little kids. Maybe I'll write more about that, soon. I want to write, too, about our little dog and how I know she's meant to heal just one more broken place in my heart.

Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

Sunday, December 7, 2014


My one word for 2014 was "ignore." I remember well writing this. I remember the frustration I felt regarding facebook, especially. Many posts in my newsfeed had gotten under my skin: political, religious, and especially those I'd thought judgmental. I'd felt the need, often, to comment—to express my “righteous indignation”—but even when I'd managed to refrain from commenting, I'd found myself arguing in my head with the person whose words had offended me.

Sometimes, after crafting an argument in my head for days, I'd blogged it out. Those argumentative posts, while popular, hadn’t fulfilled my purpose in blogging: to capture my family and myself in words. I hadn’t been writing for my children but, instead, to those with whom I'd disagreed most vehemently.

Over time, I'd damaged relationships—including some that I hold most dearly—with anger, distraction, or both.

I started unfriending and unfollowing people whose words offended me but realized pretty quickly: I wasn't any less angry or angry less often. Facebook felt like a bottomless barrel of offense, and the facebook friends whose words offended me had, in most cases, nothing in common but me. I was the common denominator. I knew my anger was my problem, but I didn't know how to fix my problem! Finally, I deactivated my account.

I was facebook free for four months, and it was a good four months. It was quieter in my head. I thought and wrote happier thoughts, and God seemed nearer. I seemed nearer to myself.

Ultimately, though, I missed my friends...some with whom I retain contact only through facebook. I missed the ease with which I could get in touch with them, ask them questions, and keep up with not only their lives but also local events and opportunities. Facebook is an incredible source of information!

Since reactivating my account, I've handled facebook a bit better. I avoid it when my feed blows up over a particularly divisive issue. In most cases, when someone's words offend me, I choose not to comment, and inasmuch as possible, I choose to think about something else. I still unfriend and unfollow on occasion.

But what I really want to share with you is this: my counselor, in talking with me about my reactionary tendencies, suggested gently that I'm giving most anyone the power to trigger my anger at any moment. I'm like a marionette dangling from thousands of strings. The great irony in this is that--often, when I respond with anger--it's because I feel like someone is attempting to control me: trying to tell me what to think or do, judging me, patronizing me. But only in getting worked up (over what I perceive as someone's attempt to control me) do I lose I, effectively, hand over control.

I shared some of my struggles, recently, with a pastor friend. (I would be remiss if I failed to say: it was incredibly providential that we even had the time and space for the conversation; we were supposed to be meeting with others who were--through no fault of their own--running late.) My friend is a student of Bowen Family Systems Theory, and he offered me a new word: differentiation, which relates to one's ability to separate his or her emotions and thinking from that of others. A person with a high level of differentiation, according to Bowen, will find himself or herself capable of connection (relationships) with others, in general, but disconnection from others' emotions and thinking. 

I realized: I don't want to ignore others. I want to differentiate from others. I want to grow in terms of emotional maturity. I want, in short, to be able to think and convey with calmness and dignity: inasmuch as you are you, I am me, and I will choose how I behave and think. 

So my word for 2015, and the remainder of 2014, is differentiate. I'm tired of being a marionette! And isn't God good for helping us, oftentimes through other people? I'm so thankful.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pain, Rage, and Thoughts on Advent

If you were my therapist--asking what I'm thinking or learning, or how I'm being led--I would tell you I'm thinking about pain and rage. I'm thinking about everyone's pain and rage, but it's easiest (safest) to write about my own, knowing I am--to a certain extent--everyone. I am him, and her, and you.

I'm just figuring out: I know very little about managing my pain. I'm talking about inner, not physical, pain. My parents didn't offer much help in this regard. I know they did the very best they could with what they had. Also, in all fairness, no one else has offered much help, either.

I'm forty years old. I know I'm responsible for my own behavior, that I have choices regarding all of my behavior. I know I'm lacking some tools in my toolbox but that they can be acquired. I didn't know these things for the longest time.

A friend said to me: "You're more than your emotions, you know." His words penetrated my consciousness like an arrow shot out of the dark. I received them immediately and as truth, but with surprise. That was a year ago, maybe: an important moment in this leg of my journey.

I'm more than my emotions. In times of conflict, I don't have to fight. I don't have to flee. I don't have to be anyone's doormat, ever. (I've never chosen that last scenario, anyway, but know how it works.) I have the option to say: "I'm going to take a break from this and come back to it when we're able to have a civilized conversation." As I've written before, that option feels unnatural, even painful, to me. But I'll choose it over and over until I've learned it...because I don't want any of my children, at forty, to have to pay someone to learn something (s)he should be learning from me.

And, now. Advent.

My friend Sharon asked me to go with her to a Blue Christmas service held on the first night of Advent. I took Clementine, my five-year-old daughter, with me. I took her mostly because she had dance class until shortly before the service, but given that her mamaw had flown to heaven at the end of May, I wondered if there would be takeaways for her.

A Blue Christmas service makes space for sadness at Christmastime. It acknowledges that grief is part of the human experience and that Jesus, having suffered Himself, understands. I watched my little daughter write: "I miss Mamaw," on a piece of paper; cry real tears; light one candle; and carry another candle from darkness into light. I hadn't imagined that the service would hold so much meaning for her.

I could use more of this, I thought, in my life. If I have to wait--if I have to, for example, take a step back from conflict--I would prefer to do so in an atmosphere like this. I would like for someone to stand beside me, wordless, in my darkness. I would like for someone to pass me a candle...or the peace. I would like for someone to acknowledge my pain. These things would go a long way, I think, toward diffusing my rage.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Mindfulness: Poem of Thanksgiving (Repost)

What is man, that thou are mindful of him? Psalm 8:4a

He sees you clearly in the bleary, in the crowd, under the one umbrella you've managed not to lose;
road raging in your car, whaling on the wheel, bellowing unheard insults at the driver just ahead;
lying on your hollow belly, crying for one whom you love but haven't yet been able to hold, or for
one whom you love whom you lost before you'd thought how you might, without, get up and go.

He sees you reaching deep, tapping into next-to-nothing, scraping at scraps just to comfort a friend;
dragging--another day another dollar--into a joyless jobplace because dear ones depend on you;
fighting to forgive (s)he who stole a piece of your soul and walked away, never once looking back;
cooking, cleaning, diapering and dreaming of the day when your art will wing its way out. And out.

He is mindful of you.

Thank Him.