Tuesday, April 19, 2016


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,

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.

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 job...to 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.