Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Know, That You Know, That I Love You

Two years ago, I went home to Tennessee--as I always do--over the holidays. My dad's friend T.L. stopped by my parents' house to see me. He had moved, and--because I didn't have his new address--I hadn't sent him a Christmas card, so I apologized. He looked at me and said in his frank, sincere T.L. way: "It's alright, Brandee. I know you love me, " after which I burst into tears. At the time, I had no idea why his words affected me like that, and I'm pretty sure everyone else in the room was equally confused. But I think I've figured it out, and I think I can explain it like this:

After Grandma Shafer's death in 1992, the family gathered in Greencastle, Pennsylvania to clear out her house and prepare for an auction. Grandma had been the heart of our family and her house a warm, gathering place, so the air on this day was thick with grief. Everyone worked cooperatively, efficiently, quietly. There was a general understanding that each of us could reclaim gifts (s)he had given to Grandma, and--even as boxes were filled--small piles of these items were built throughout the house. I wandered from room to room, looking especially hard in the hutch, and found nothing I had given to Grandma. Nothing! I had loved her for eighteen years, and it was as though I had never given her a thing. My heart felt like a broken, concrete block in my chest.

Then I heard my name called from a back bedroom. There, in a cedar chest, someone had found a stack of letters I had written to Grandma. It was a thick stack tied together with satin ribbon: tens of letters written over the seven years since my parents had relocated our family to Tennessee. The rush of relief I experienced in that moment nearly drove me to my knees. Here was proof: Grandma knew that I loved her.

When there is no more opportunity for words, the question that will drive you crazy is less likely to be: Did (s)he love me?, than: Did (s)he know that I loved him or her? So it was a precious gift when T.L.--in his calm wisdom--acknowledged my love for him.

I encourage you, as you move through life, to say not only the deeply precious words: "I love you," but also: "I know you love me." On this earth, we must each be separated from the other, and--when those days come--what comfort it is to know that love was more than felt...that it was both expressed and realized!

Friday, November 12, 2010

I Can Do All Things

It took somewhere between six and eight weeks after Charleigh's birth for me to feel comfortable taking care of both babies by myself. From the time my mom left a few days after my return home from the hospital, it was on, it was me, and I did mostly ok, but I felt anxious and unsettled on the inside.

I had two big fears during that period of time. The first was that--with Charleigh on the scene--I would not be able to parent Clementine well. She was eighteen months old when her sister was born and right in the middle of a particularly aggressive, exploratory, and noncompliant phase. Let me put it another way: a few times, I saw horns popping out of her head! I called both my mom and my friend Christy and whined -- I love Clementine so much, but there are times I really don't like her! At all! -- after which I felt guilty in addition to frustrated.

My other big fear was that it would be a long, long time before I would ever again be able to do the things that make me feel like myself: bake cookies, write, serve on the Care Team, read, etc.

I don't remember the exact moment that everything became ok again, but--over the course of a couple months--I adapted. Clementine adapted, too, and (for the most part) has stopped jamming things into Charleigh's eyes and mouth and trying to pick her up by her head. And, to be fair, the eyes that saw horns in Clementine's head were very tired eyes connected to an overwhelmed brain, and imbedded in a hormone-filled body. I am once again able to see her for what she is: a communicative, curious, funny, loving, strong-willed child in touch with kinesthesia and the power of her own voice. And I like her through and through and all over.

Regarding my other fear, I have found the most remarkable thing to be true: if what I am trying to accomplish is something God has called me to do, He will allow it to happen. In a house where little people need (or otherwise demand) something constantly, there have been moments of deep silence when I have been creating or cooking something for someone else. I have been able to sing in the choir--with Charleigh in the sanctuary--every week.

Today someone held the door for me as I exited Macy's. The sun was in my eyes, and I swung my stroller immediately to the left so as to enter the parking lot at a curb cut. I thanked the door-holder just as I heard someone else say, "Hello," to my back, and I realized as I walked away that it was a bellringer. I am not necessarily prone to put money in buckets, but I could feel the Holy Spirit nudging me the whole way to my van. I put the girls and stroller inside, pulled a couple dollars from my diaper bag, and drove up to the front of what had been an incredibly busy storefront. I knew there wouldn't be any cars behind me, but--just to be sure--I checked my rearview mirror. No one there. So I hopped out of the van and ran up to the girl who had just seen me march away, wordless, with my small bus of a stroller. I still didn't say a word, but--for just a second--we looked in each other's eyes and beamed. She was still smiling when the babies and I drove away.

I believe with all of my heart that God stopped traffic so I could have my moment with the bellringer.

I don't tell you about it to try to make myself look good. I just referred to a plumber as the devil, remember? I tell you about it to make God look good. And He is really, really good. And really big and really powerful.

I can't tell you how many times over the years I have shaken my head and said of a friend -- I don't know how she does it! And in saying that, what I really meant was: I don't know how she does ... fill in the blank, whatever (in some cases, many things) she was doing ... so well. I have said that about Christy Conner, Rachel Huff, Beth Brawley, Anne Timberlake, my own grandma (who raised seven children), and Michelle Duggar...just to name a handful. But today it hit me: there is no real mystery to how these women have gotten it done! They aren't doing anything alone anymore than I am! They are doing all things through Christ, who strengthens them (Philippians 4:13). God is calling them, and he is equipping them!

And may He continue to help all of us in heeding His being faithful in even the smallest of things so that we will be given even greater opportunities (Matthew 25:21)!


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Devil Is a Plumber

Sometimes I feel like our log cabin is falling down around us. I have lost count of how many times in two and a half years that we have called plumbers, electricians, heating and air technicians, and general handymen. Many have tried to take (and some have succeeded in taking) us for a ride. And let's get real: even the honest and forthright ones we've met have never had much to say that we wanted to hear; it always boils down to: your stuff is broken, and it will cost money and take time to fix it. Some servicemen have suggested that we just take out a fat home equity loan, no big deal, and do it big. Do it right. These people have no concept of the frugal wonder that is my beloved. But anyway.

Part of the problem is that, somehow, Jim and I earned Master's degrees in fields that have nothing to do with fixing anything. If I had it to do over, maybe I would try harder to fill my brain with useful information.

Another part of the problem is that--when it comes to many of our home-repair needs--we don't have a choice in terms of servicemen. We get whomever the home-warranty company sends. Today the home-warranty company sent the devil.

This plumber took a flashlight off my deck and stashed it in his pocket. He repaired exactly one of two leaks listed on the work order; he replaced the leaking hot-water heater but not the leaking pipe connected to it. I didn't notice or care about the leaking pipe but was reluctant to let him leave because--when he hooked up the new hot-water heater--the pressure tank lost air, and the pump started clicking on and off too often. And if I ran water anywhere in the house, the pump clicked on and off every couple of seconds. The plumber insisted that he didn't touch the tank, that he was a Master Plumber and knew what he was talking about, that a lack of air wasn't the problem, that my pressure tank needed replaced, that there was something wrong with the pump itself, that I was mistaken about how often the pump was clicking on before, and it went on and on and on and on...just like the clicking of my pump.

Now, normally, I am very chill when it comes to home repair. Leaking roofs, holey ceilings, soaked and rotting wood floors, rooms that are too cool or warm...I can take it. But I cannot tolerate constant beeps and clicks. I just can't. I could feel the sanity oozing out of my skull. I knew that I would never be able to run the washer, dishwasher, sink, or even a toilet without hearing the clicking, and I knew the clicking would drive me crazy.

The plumber wouldn't listen to me. He kept arguing with me. Meanwhile, the clicking. I told him to get out of my house. Sobbing, I called the handyman who just fixed our roof and bathroom ceiling. He dropped everything to come out and put air in the pressure tank. The clicking stopped. He said I didn't owe him a thing. I wrote him a check, anyway, for making it ok for me to be in the house.

There is no point to this story except that the devil is a plumber. I know; I saw him today. And even if I am wrong, and that plumber isn't the devil, the devil sent the plumber and the clicking and the snot and the tears. And he got me. He got me good.

Good Mom

Erin Snyder, my close friend for half my life, and her daughter Mira came from Chicago to celebrate halloween with my family, and we did it up big: pumpkin patch, fall festivals, trick-or-treating, etc. Still, I had daydreamed about even better and more prior to their coming and wanted to, for example, bake apple dumplings for them. Erin knows me better than most and therefore was under no illusion, I'm sure, that I would be a Martha-Stewart-like hostess, but, in my heart, I wanted to be. To be even more specific, in my heart, I wanted to be Martha-Stewart-meets-Jo-Frost (of Supernanny). So you can imagine that I was particularly disappointed when I found myself looking across the table at a hot-chocolate-drenched, head-back-and-howling, Clementine.

Don't you just hate it when your plans--from the best most beautiful place in your heart--get all messed up? Even worse, don't you hate it when you've tried to do a perfectly sweet something for someone only to have it go terribly wrong? This particular morning, Cade was drinking hot chocolate, and Clementine (who has a recent obsession with "big people cups" and runs through her life on the look-out for ones to grab) wanted Cade's hot chocolate really badly. So I made her some. I microwaved milk for sixty seconds until just warm; mixed in some Swiss Miss; poured it all into a kid-friendly, plastic and rubber elephant mug; and gave her a straw.

As it turned out, there were a couple of errors in my thinking. First of all, I should not have put so much hot chocolate in the mug. And the straw was just a source of confusion for Clementine, who tried to drink out of it while simultaneously holding and tipping the cup. She was soaked and bawling in a matter of seconds. I moved into action, consoling and wiping...keeping my cool on the outside, while--on the inside--feeling frustrated, defeated. That's when Cade looked at me and said: "You're a really good mom."

Amazing what those words have done for me: just to know that someone saw and appreciated my heart-felt efforts. And--if my oldest and only (at this point) rational child thinks I'm a good mom--for what else can I ask, anyway?

Upon reflection, I am taking with me two thoughts. The first, as I have shared with Cade, is that it really IS possible to turn someone's moment, day, week, etc. around with a few words of encouragement. I am going to look even harder for opportunities to do just that. The second is that it may matter more what I do, or don't do, with how I feel than how I feel. I have been trying so hard to be ok on the inside, even when my kids are crying or draining me of every type of energy known to man, or even when other things go wrong. And I think--as a general rule--it's good and important to be ok and not just seem ok. But I guess there are moments when seeming ok is plenty good enough...