Monday, February 28, 2011

Love Has a Voice

Love has a voice. The voice
Issues from darkness, says
“I know you can’t see me, but
Walk toward me. Here I am.”

Young love has the voice of a
Starlet, breathy, and ears perk,
Strain to hear its words and
Accompanying, fluttery lashes.

Mature love’s voice is that of a
Mama cooking in her kitchen:
Chatty, cheerful, confident,
Overcoming tv, kids, pots, pans.

Even shattered love has a voice,
Though no one wants to hear it.
It calls in its quivery, tiny way:
“How could you do this to me?”

If continually silent, love is
Giving up, refusing, departing,
Ending, starving, dying. Or dead.
But there may yet be a little hope.

Each person chooses love, or not.
I, you, can call in darkness, and
Try to initiate a conversation…
Listen for an echo, or a reply.


I wrote this 09/22/09 and posted it, originally, on facebook.  I posted it here, tonight, as a reminder to self.

Happy February Highlights, in Photos

02/04/11: Cade's Postponed Taco Party & Sleepover... Celebration of His 11th Birthday
Here, w/ Birthday Sopapilla

02/10/11: Lunch w/ My Parents, in Staunton

02/17/11: Gnomeo & Juliet 3D

02/18/11: Metro Richmond Zoo

02/24/11: Clementine's 2nd Birthday

Homemade Dress and Owl Pillow from My Mom

02/25/11: Homemade Monkey Hat from Jeannine

02/26/11: Clementine's 2nd Birthday Party

02/28/11: Charleigh Turns 6 Months Old

My Dr. Facknitz and the Gift of Love

"We must never forget to love no matter how mundane the moment."
-Mark Facknitz

Photo by Alice Facknitz

Sharon, Clementine, Charleigh, and I were passing through Harrisonburg one day, and we stopped to have lunch at IHOP with "my Dr. Facknitz," who prefers that I call him Mark and has been trying to get me to do so for at least least nine years.  Sometimes I manage to call him Mark when he and I are together or talking on the phone, but I refer to him, always, as my Dr. Facknitz behind his back.  Never Dr. Facknitz.  Always my Dr. Facknitz.  Still my Dr. Facknitz, although eight years have passed since I graduated from JMU with my M.A.

Sharon was curious about the sticktoitiveness of this relationship, and I'm pretty sure I did a poor job of explaining it.  He--my Dr. Facknitz--would say it was born of my saying something kind to him after his dad's death and Wallace Stevens' "Martial Cadenza": funny the things we remember.  I would've long ago forgotten that moment had he not reminded me of it so many times, and I wouldn't have had kindness to speak had I not already admired and appreciated him.

When I studied at JMU, my Dr. Facknitz's teaching style appealed to me because he was the only English professor I'd ever known who seemed to realize that not all students are auditory learners.  I'm a visual learner, and the pictures he drew and movie clips he showed helped me "get it."  Also, his teaching style revealed a true passion for what he taught, and this helped me because--to put it simply--I have to feel about something before I can think about it.

Among other novels, I read Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune (a WWI novel recommended by my Dr. Facknitz for my fellow students and me) in preparation for comprehensive exams.  I loved the novel and wanted to contribute to what had been written about it by examining its biblical allusions.  I asked my Dr. Facknitz if he would advise this as a senior-thesis project.  He agreed and advised; I wrote and graduated.  The end. 

Only it wasn't, because I have visited his house, he has visited mine, and we have broken bread together many times, in many places.  We e-mail one another and talk on the phone.  He loves my children.  He loves me, too; he's been loving students for a long time.

I was present when my Dr. Facknitz became an elder in his Presbyterian church.  They laid hands on him.  (His daughter Hannah--eleven years old at the time--looked at me, I remember, and said solemnly: "I feel so sorry for my dad. They're probably going to touch his hair.")  Then they charged him to use his imagination and heart.  I remember my eyes welling up as I thought, with gladness: he does that every day

In fact, my Dr. Facknitz advised me, once: "Teaching is simple so long as you love your students, love yourself, and teach as though your hair is on fire."  I have found his words to be true: teaching is simple under those circumstances; however, it's no small thing to keep that criteria in place for a year, let alone for decades.  But that's what my Dr. Facknitz has done.  As to how he and I remain in one another's lives: who knows!  I don't spend time wondering; I just lean with gratefulness into love when it comes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Lives Inside

The other day, I rediscovered a poem I wrote a little less than twelve years ago, early in my pregnancy with Cade:


Even when the pregnancy test was positive,
It was hard for me to believe I was harboring you
I remember the time, as a child, when I allowed
Jesus within, somehow accepting His invisibility
I am told faith without sight is a good thing, but I
Find it easier, now, to wait for you than Jesus, as
I have seen and heard your busy heartbeat, but
Jesus is as inconspicuous as ever, and I am
Thankful for the sensory manners in which
Your inhabitation has been revealed; still, if
You bump Jesus in there, give Him my love

So, yeah, I just want to say: I don't find Jesus inconspicuous, anymore.  These days, I know He's in there.  And I am really very happy about (and grateful for) that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
-Mister Rogers

Here's to the ones who look my red, puffy eyes full on: the ones who listen for the words I can't string together beneath the broken-up ones I can.  The ones who have been there and say so.  The ones who promise: "If I don't answer but you really, really need me, call again right away, and I'll drop everything."  The ones who say: "3 AM is a fine time to call," and--over and over--things like: "God really loves you.  I love you.  I believe you, and I believe in you and in who you're becoming.  You're worth it.  I pick you.  You're doing a great job."  The ones who hug me and hold my hands, take me to lunch, show up with turkey-and-avacado sandwiches and homemade rolls and Dr. Pepper and whole milk.  The ones who wash my dishes and sweep my dining-room floor and rock my babies.  The ones who assist with my crazy projects and accompany me on my missions impossible.  The ones who try to unlock my doors, rescue me (or plow me out) after it snows, and can hardly wait to present me with giant bags of flour.  The ones who help me figure it all out by talking it all out.  The ones who share their families.  The ones who forgive and teach me.  The ones who peel back the covers of their own beds and tuck me under.  The ones who talk about what we will do together next week and in three months and when we are very, very old.  The ones who cheer me on, and pray for me: hard

The ones who stand behind me when--every once in a great-great while--I get in a swift kick to the devil's ass.

The ones who make me cry in knowing: I am Dorothy when the Wicked Witch says: "Curses, curses! Somebody always helps that girl!" 


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Shock of the Orange

So I wrote my prayer and took all the steps necessary to roll with the girls.  I had two errands to run: two.  One, two.  The first was to mail Clementine's invitations, which had been sitting here long enough to have Valentine's cards tucked inside.  Her birthday party will take place on Saturday; I mean, I really couldn't procrastinate any longer.  I used to love going to the post office, but--with the double stroller--it's become a production and a horror.  I don't know that I could make myself go for any reason, ever, if it weren't for the hope of running into David Samuel

Sadly, I didn't run into David, today. 

After I mailed the invitations, I put Charleigh back in the minivan.  I almost always put Clementine in the minivan, first, but it's cold and snowy, today, and Charleigh has a runny nose and cough.  Charleigh was already buckled into her infant seat when I put her in the minivan, so my back was turned to Clementine for mere seconds, but--when I turned around--the double stroller was empty, and Clementine was gone.

How to describe the horror of the next few seconds: the frantic looking and running around the minivan and screaming Clementine's name?  Cars rolling through the parking lot.  Cars moving 55 mph on the highway.  Then I saw her, in her hot-pink Dora fleece and red boggin hat with dangling strawberries.  She was running in the yard between the post office and the highway.  I ran and scooped her up, and everything was ok, again.

Just now, Rachel said: "This won't be the only time she leaves you breathless."  I know she's right, and it upends me.  Clementine has been a shock to my system from very early in my pregnancy with her.  I was ill with the others, too, but not like with Clementine: passing out in the Dollar Tree, requiring insulin shots, vomiting an entire bag of trail mix in the Walmart parking lot, oh! and abandoning my wallet and groceries at a Food-Lion checkout to run outside and vomit into a hale bale (peeing myself in the process), after which I had to go back into the store w/ my pee-drenched overalls in order to complete my transaction.  I may have peed myself, while vomiting, every day (sometimes several times a day) while pregnant with Clementine.  I don't think I peed myself once during my pregnancy with Charleigh, who was born only eighteen months after Clementine.  I'm still so confused.

It was humbling to parent Clementine before her arrival;, I don't even have words.  The mothers of teenaged girls keep saying: "You just wait!"  And I wish they would stop, because Clementine's not even two, and, already, I'm terrified of how many rough edges God is going to knock off of me in being her mom.  Already, she grieves me and stresses me to the point that...again, I don't have words. 

My boy, my baby: with very little exception, I have always known what they will do.  Unlike Clementine, they have my blood type, my personality.  But Clementine's every waking moment is a mystery-surprise.  I try to talk about it, and people say: "Oh, she's so adorable and full of life," and yes, yes, I see that, too.  She's wonderful!  She's the most loving child I've ever known, and her eyes dance and very often the rest of her, too.  It's not like I don't love her, don't want her.  It's more like I don't know what to do with her.  I believe God paired us together, but--aside from the fact that Clementine hates the sound of the vacuum cleaner almost as much as I hate using the vacuum cleaner--I don't really understand why?  Already, I know she will teach me more than my other two children times six, and I'm scared.  And admitting as much is the only thing that makes me feel better.  Except praying.

Earlier, Rachel said: "She's got guardian angels, Brandee.  And now Bob's up there, watching down."  And thank God, because I need them, and all of you, too.  I really, really do.

Mommy Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father:

Thank You for my children.  Thank You for their health.  Thank You for all the things that make each of them so special and unique.  Thank You for entrusting my children to me.  Thank You for their love for me and trust of me; help me be found worthy of these things.

Help me focus on the positive, even when I am overwhelmed.  Help me really notice and appreciate all my children's best qualities.  Help me enjoy their individual stages and realize they're fleeting...that some of the things that drive me crazy, now, will be the very things I'll miss and want back, later.  (Help me, especially, enjoy the stage of the Orange.)

Help me correct my children with love.  Help me remember: I am not made for roaring.

Help me remember: I, too, can be difficult to parent, but You've had endless patience with me.  Help me--during this season of my life--become more like You.

Help me be a witness for You inside these walls, where it's so important to be my best self...and where it's so easy not to be.  Help me teach my children to love You through my words and actions.

Please forgive me for all my failures and shortcomings, yesterday, and help me do better, today.

In Your name I pray,

Monday, February 21, 2011


The Wild Orange will turn two on Thursday.  The terribletwoness encroaches.  Who am I kidding, People?!  It's already here!  With a vengeance!

Yesterday, Clementine stood up and turned around in her booster seat; opened a high door in the hutch; grabbed a pink, ceramic tea kettle that had belonged to my grandmother; and dropped or threw it on the wooden, dining-room floor.  It broke, of course.

It did not hurt Clementine's hind end when I swatted it, after pulling her down; however, it very much hurt her feelings.  She stuck her lip out and said: "Mommy! Not happy! Cryin'!"

She's growing up.  She's figured out how to turn doorknobs, thereby opening doors.  She's learned how to climb the bar stools and grab things off the counter.  Today, she overturned an entire bag of Goldfish crackers on the kitchen floor.  Deja vu on the above swat-pout story.

Her hair is a perpetual rat's nest.  She draws on her hands with ink pens at every given opportunity.

When I tuck Clementine in, she bosses me; she likes to be covered by specific blankets, in a certain order.  She prefers a particular song on the mobile.  She wants to lie closest to the baby stuffed elephant, but she wants a whole host of other stuffed animals, too.  Sometimes, she will lie down without complaint only if she takes Sir Topham Hatt to bed with her.  I find this disturbing, somehow.

Her newest word is: "Huh?," and she's wearing that puppy out.  Here's an example, from earlier:



"Do not do that!"


"Crayons aren't for coloring your table!"


"Crayons are only for color books!"


You get the picture.  On a positive note, these highly annoying exchanges with Clementine--in which I star, as parent--really do motivate me to stop playing dumb with the Lord.  (Maybe with my beloved, too, but don't tell him I wrote that.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Prayer Request

I have a friend who had a house in which I felt more at home--at the time--than I felt at home.  And, one day, when I was broken-hearted and all cried-out, I called my friend and told her I needed a place to be for a few hours.  I asked if it would be ok if I came over, since hers was my favorite house.  She told me to come over right away, and she met me at the door.  She offered me breakfast, but I was too sad and tired to eat. Then she led me upstairs and tucked me under her own blankets, in her own bed, where I slept for many long hours.

It's a thing I will never forget and carry, always, in my heart.

My same friend needs prayer because her dad passed away, this morning, and her heart is broken.  Please ask God to grant her the comfort and rest she once extended to me.  With all my love and thanks...

Friday, February 18, 2011


The girls and I had been home for days while men installed our new heat pump, and Clementine was definitely showing signs of boredom: unrolling toilet paper and hitting herself over the head with an empty paper-towel tube.  So I decided to pull Cade out of school a few minutes early, yesterday, and take all three kids to see Gnomeo and Juliet.  Cade hadn't been to the movies since summertime and was thrilled even when I said no to popcorn.  Baby Charleigh was her typical, easygoing self, and Clementine got a bit squirrelly before all was said and done but behaved better at the theater than she had at home and in the minivan.  (See how wet her shirt is in the photo, above?  That happened in the minivan.  I had given her apple juice in a spill-proof cup.  So how, you ask, did her shirt get so wet?  Well, Friends, that's what happens when a child sucks a bunch of juice into her mouth and spits it back out with purposeful force...just because she can!)

Now, the 3D glasses were entirely too big for Clementine, so she held them over her eyes until she dropped them a little more than halfway through the movie, after which neither Cade nor I was able to find them, again.  Strangely, Clementine did not ask for Cade's or my glasses; she just shuffled up and down the aisle, looking down and muttering in her small, sad voice: "Glasses.  Glasses."  I slid mine over the bridge of my nose and peered over the top of the lenses in order to decide if I were willing to watch the movie without them; I decided fairly quickly, no.  I know; I know: mean mom.  But 3D glasses really do make all the difference when you're watching a 3D movie.

To be honest, I kind of regret not offering Clementine my glasses, now, because I got a little lost in my head--thinking about perception, vision, etc.--and didn't give the rest of the movie my full attention.  I sat there in the dark and remembered God's refusal of Eliab, and His advising Samuel: "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (I Samuel 16:7 - KJV).

Then I remembered my beloved Mister Rogers and this, slightly different versions of which he shared, often, in interviews and speeches:
Beside my chair is a saying in French.  It inspires me every day.  It’s a sentence from Saint-Exupery‘s The Little Prince, and it reads, "L’essential est invisible pour les yeux." (What is essential is invisible to your eyes.)  The closer we get to knowing the truth of that sentence, the closer I feel we get to wisdom.
And I asked myself: how much am I missing because I don't yet have God's eyes...or at least a pair of magic glasses to wear when I leave this theater?

The babies and I went back to the Metro Richmond Zoo, today, and I happened to take in the Bengal tiger sign for what was probably the first time.  It said that each tiger wears its stripes (the pattern of which is as unique as a human's fingerprints) not only on its fur but also on its skin beneath.  It also said something like: tigers' ability to roar is related to the configuration of bones beneath their tongues.  Sadly, I came home and learned that scientists have actually begun crediting a tiger's larynx for roaring; either way, it hits me: I am not made for roaring any more than I am made for seeing stripes worn under fur; on the back, under a shirt; or on someone's very heart.

I have so many reasons to depend upon God.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


It is a mistake to think you can solve any major problems just with potatoes.
-Douglas Adams

Dinner time. I pull the vegetable drawer out of refrigerator, set it on the counter, select one potato at a time. Some potatoes are small, coated in dirt; I know they're ones Dad grew and gave me at Christmastime, along with the turnips I wanted so badly. The turnips, save one, have already been diced and fried--lightly salted and heavily peppered--in oil and eaten, but the small dirty potatoes remain. I scrub them clean, take my paring knife to them.

And in my mind I am younger than the boy who, at my back, hums and stirs eggs and milk into the contents of two boxes of Jiffy corn muffin mix. 

It's close to dusk, and the outside air is sharp just inside my nostrils and perfect for a sweatshirt with a hood and a zipper. The plowed earth with its basic and beautiful smell is cool between my ever-hot toes. The aluminum pie plates tied to Lockjaw the scarecrow stir, and the tractor rumbles as it slowly drags the plow, and I amble behind, plucking potatoes from the ground and plunking them into a deep bucket.

I want back the grandparents who wave from the porch of their house next door; the mother with shoulder-length brown curls and long thin, brown unscarred legs that don't limp; the father of jet-black hair, cigarettes rolled into the sleeve of his white t-shirt, who supervises over his shoulder while driving the tractor; and especially--most of all--the little brother who has never known pain beyond quick tears of flesh from mis-casted hooks. I want to be with them in the dusky garden. 

But I don't, because my beloved, my boy, my babies: they are not in that place.

So I want to raise the grandma from the ground and set her across formica table from my boy, a game of Battleship between. I want to call the grandad from the dead, arrange my daughters on his knees so he can whisker-rub red their smooth cheeks and tell them about Billy Goats Gruff and Troll. I want to darken my parents' hair, restore their hearing and sight, stretch them, tan them, thin them, un-ache them. For the brother, I want even more (the most), and I want to crowd all of us together within these log walls.

I can't; I don't know how; it cannot be done outside my own mind.

So I wash and peel, and feel glad for living the bridge between that other time and this, despite the Troll under. My boy lines a pan with papers he spoons half-full with yellow muffin mix, and his dark hair shines in the old way of my father's. The babies babble. I catch the eye of my beloved, and he smiles out and winks. 

The immediate family. The faraway family. The root, the wheel, the whirr of the reel. The real, the peel. The potato.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


I was awakened not by either of my children, this morning, but by the men who came to install our new heat pump.  They're super-nice guys, but they were in and out all day, and whatever machinery they used under the house sounded like a jackhammer and may well have been one.  I tried to put Clementine down for a nap three times, in two different rooms, but the poor little thing couldn't sleep for the noise.  And, unfortunately, Clementine's one of those kids who needs a nap because--without one--she just kind of loses her mind:  meaning that she turns into a mixture of Evel Knievel, Pablo Picasso (Cubism period), Pepe Le Pew, and "Six" from that old tv show Blossom

I love my little MeMe, and she lights up my life, but I promise you: after awhile, she could drive Mister Rogers to drinkin'.  That's why I call her the Wild Orange.

Today, Clementine was bound and determined to remove her own poopy diaper, ride the cat, play a Veggie Tales cd out of the Playstation, and feed Baby Charleigh Goldfish crackers.  And I clean up the main living area for small group Bible study.  I tried to count blessings so as to diffuse my frustration, but I kept losing my train of thought because of the jackhammer sound.

That's when I remembered Sarah Winchester.  You know about her, right?  In case not, the nutshell version is that Sarah Winchester's infant daughter and filthy-rich husband died of disease, and Sarah went crazy.  She became convinced that the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles would "get her" unless she built a great big house in which they could all live together, and unless she made sure the sound of hammers never ceased.  The house ended up having 160 rooms; you can read more about it here.

Anyway, as the jackhammer sound under my house persisted, I thought to myself: no wonder Sarah Winchester's mind never recovered, what with the continuous sound of hammers in her house!

Then I thought: you know, this house, too, is nearly always filled with the sound of hammers.  Perhaps--without realizing it--I've gone plumb crazy!  And, disturbingly enough, it was much easier for me to come up with a list of suspicious thoughts and behaviors than a list of reasons to be thankful. 

#1: I found this under my tv stand, today:

#2: It actually cheered me up, a little, to find a rotten piece of fruit under my tv stand because it made me think of those old-lady faces carved out of apples, and I thought: oh, the kids and I should make apple dolls this summer!  In case you're interested in this folk art, you can learn more about it here.

#3: I feel more at home at the Metro Richmond Zoo than I do at home.  (There are no hammer sounds, there.)

#4: I have been spending a great deal of time defending and supporting a frenemy, lately.  And I don't really have plans to stop.

#5: Meanwhile, there's this other person?  I met him one time (as in, exchanged hellos, only), and I'm 100% convinced he's a psycho killer.  I can't stop thinking about it, but I'm afraid to talk about it.  Because he might kill me.

#6: For the past three nights, every single time (of the many times) Baby Charleigh has awakened me, I've had "It Is Well with My Soul" in my head.  Usually, Paul is singing it, but--every now and then--Bob is singing it.  And he has an angel choir to back him up.

#7: I'm fairly convinced that three people are angry with me, and I can't figure out why.

#8: Very often, I pray for people (sometimes even out loud, in my minivan!), but when I run into them at Wal-Mart or wherever, I totally space on their issues.  Then I come home and think: crap!  How could I have forgotten to ask about ___?

There are more; I've just forgotten what I remembered, earlier.  I'm very tired.  And happy day!  Baby Charleigh seems to be tired, too:

So tell me: do you think I'm crazy???

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentine's Day

I changed lots of diapers and one outfit.  I put Clementine on her Elmo potty seat.

I made two sippy cups of chocolate milk, peeled several oranges, and microwaved some pizza rolls and chicken n dumplings. 

I breastfed the baby (a lot) and fed her applesauce.

I made a double batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies and delivered some of them--along with a love note--to my son, who got off the bus at his dad's, today.

I wrote and delivered a thank-you note to my son's stepmother, who hung out with Cade last Thursday, when I was out of town longer than I had expected.

I prayed for someone who has a Valentine I don't trust.

I talked to Rachel and Jymmi on the phone. I left a message on Sharon's voicemail demanding that she be my Valentine. Then I talked to her when she called me back.

I sent messages to Beth, Christy, Mark, and Matthew on facebook.  I tagged Rena in a bunch of photos.  I sent Michael a friend request.  I read and commented on several blog posts.  I read Darlene's latest draft.

I finished off a bag of Hershey Kisses.

I washed and dried three loads of laundry and folded two.

I wrote a love note to my husband and put it in a little pink mailbox, and then I put the flag up.  I put pictures of the girls in monkey frames.  I put monkey key-toppers and the monkey frames in a little gold bag and added some red tissue paper.

I called my parents, brother, and neighbor Virginia Ann.

I took out the trash and unloaded and loaded the dishwasher.

I read Clementine her favorite train book, and we practiced saying: "I love you."

I laughed when Jim came in the door with two shiny red balloons, saying that the third shiny red balloon had escaped him outside the store.  I opened the box the mailman brought to find, inside, the Ann Voskamp book for which I had asked.

I read Hebrews 11 to Jim.

(I wrote this blog post and took these pictures to say: I hope your day and hearts were filled to the very brim with love, too.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thin Place, Pt. 2

I may lose some followers over this one, but I've decided that's ok, because this is what I've got, and it didn't come from nowhere.

Three days ago, I was driving south on I-81 when I witnessed a terrible accident across the highway, in the northbound lanes.  Having read this article, I know, now, that a tractor trailer traveling at least 60 mph struck three other vehicles, all of which were creep-crawling along because of clean-up from another accident a few miles up the road. 

Since I was driving, I didn't fully comprehend what was happening at the time, but I said to my sister-cousin: "Look!" as a tractor trailer started to slide down into the median.  I switched lanes for fear that the truck, or debris, would cross onto our side of the highway. 

As we drove past a smashed Pontiac, Andrea said, "Oh my goodness, Brandee Renee.  I don't even see a head in there."

Chilling.  I know, now, that everyone survived the accident, but--at the time--I didn't think there was any hope for the driver of the Pontiac.  It seemed probable that I had just witnessed someone being smashed to death, and it messed with my head.

I started thinking: it's happening all the time, everywhere.  People are dropping like flies from accidents, of cancer, of heart attacks, of starvation.  I came home: looked up the numbers.  There are about seven billion people on earth, and, every day, over 150,000 die.  Depressing, right?  And this will get darker before it gets brighter.  But hang in there with me.

I got to thinking: no one else I know aside from Andrea (and maybe Clementine) saw that driver get smashed to death.  What a crazy thing!  That driver's death...and life, for that matter...are completely meaningless to pretty much everyone I know!  And then I thought: well, I guess--in the great scheme of things--everyone's life is more meaningless than meaningful.  Take President Obama.  He's one of the most well-known people in this country, but there are just under two hundred countries in the world, and how many people in other countries know the name Obama?  I'm not afraid to reveal my ignorance and admit: I don't know the names of other countries' leaders.  And let's pretend everyone in the world does know who Obama is.  Who (especially outside of the U.S.) will recognize his name in one hundred years?

Then I thought, with surprise: oh my goodness!  I'm probably never going to be great in the ways I'd hoped!  (Go ahead and laugh: it's ok.)  My life is probably almost half over, and--with very little exception--the only people who know my name are, you know, people who know me.  And I guess it's that way with most people.  Some of us manage to send ourselves out into the world in bigger ways; however, most of us affect only those right in front of us, and our great opportunities lie within our direct circles of influence.  If we affect those in front of us well, they will affect others well, and those others will affect still more well, and so on and so throwing a stone into a lake and watching the water ripple out in bigger and bigger circles.

These are not new concepts.  In fact, I would argue that there are no new concepts, which is not--in and of itself--a new concept.  Consider Ecclesiasties 1:9 (KJV): "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."  But there comes a moment, sometimes, when I understand something I didn't understand, before.

The place at which I arrived after thinking--for a time--that I'd seen someone get smashed to death is that I really am ok with dying unknown to all but those who know me.  Also that--if I die a great wife, great mom, great daughtersisterfamilymember, great friend--those are enough claims to greatness.  I really just want to figure out how to say, "I love you," more often and in new ways.  That's what I really want.

I think I finally--after years and years--understand why people in the Christian community say, "It's not about you."  It's come to me now that I've decided to stop expecting (or aspiring to) greatness outside my circle of direct influence.  I get it, now: everyone is only one little person who will probably die unknown to everyone except those who actually know him or her.  We're all supposed to be working, together, to eliminate distractions and point everyone in the whole, huge wide world to Jesus.

I get why some Christians say, "It's not about you."  I really doI still think it's not a good idea to say it!  And here's why: God is not looking down on each of the 150,000 people who dies every day as a man looks down on an anthill.  God is not thinking, "Oh, too bad.  Another one just dropped dead.  But it's ok: there are seven billion more."

I am neither a stupid nor an uneducated person, and I have found it confusing and/or upsetting to hear John 3:16 (KJV): "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life, " and Luke 12:7 (KJV): "But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows," only to then hear, "It's not about you."  Perhaps it isn't about me in one sense, but--in another--it certainly is, isn't it?  God has a purpose for my life.  He wants me to be part of His great, intricate slide puzzle.  If I participate, I become great according to God's definition of greatness, which is the only one that matters.  Just because I've decided to follow Jesus doesn't mean it's not about me, anymore, because I am a child of the King!  He cares about my journey!  He wants me to continue to grow in my faith so that I might help others.

So part of the thin place in which I've been standing, recently, relates to my smallness but also to my potential for greatness...not necessarily by typical, human standards (my old standards!), but by God's standards, which are altogether different.

Please do share your thoughts.....

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Thin Place, Pt. 1

For the last week and a half, I've stood in what Mark Batterson would call a thin place, and--even as I've drawn close to God--I've struggled in processing and understanding what's been happening inside and all around me, let alone in sharing.  It's been a little like trying to work a slide puzzle with a bunch of other people.

It's also been very much like standing at the edge of the ocean and feeling awestruck by what I see, all the while realizing that my eye is seeing next to nothing of what really is, as my eye sees nothing beneath the waves, nothing beyond eight or ten miles of water, nothing but so far up and over.

I need to preface the rest by writing: what I am going to try to share, now, is about neither my friends nor me.  It's about God and a thin place in my walk with Him.  It's about where I've been standing: what I've been thinking, feeling, and experiencing.  It's just the edge of something far bigger, but--even in my smallness and limited vision--I've been completely overwhelmed by it.

On Thursday, February 3rd, Rachel called to say that Bob was on his way to the hospital and might not be with us much longer.  Before we ended our phone conversation, I led us in prayer. 

I need to interrupt myself to share: I'm pretty sure I've prayed over the phone with others a total of five times in my entire life, all within the past three months.  I overheard Sharon praying over the phone the week before Thanksgiving while we were driving up Afton Mountain in my van.  I was unbelievably blessed in being her captive audience and have felt called, ever since, to work toward becoming someone who--while on the phone--says, not: I will be praying for you, but, instead: let me pray with you right now. 

Praying with Rachel while Bob was in route to the hospital was very difficult.  I was not nervous or uncomfortable in any way, but I struggled because I loved Bob and was sad and sorry for his suffering.  I struggled even more because Rachel was crying while I prayed, which, inside, felt a little like someone was trying to wring water out of my heart. 

A while later, after a prayer request had been sent, I got a text message from Sharon, saying something like: "I'm so sorry about Bob, and I'm sitting in a restaurant praying, pretending I'm with you and Rachel."

I texted back something like: "It's working.  I led Rachel and myself in prayer over the phone.  It was very hard, and I got through it only by pretending I was you."

The days that followed were incredibly difficult.  After spending time in Bob's hospital room and waiting for Cade and three of his friends to fall asleep, I took Charleigh to bed with me Friday night, February 4th.  She woke up several times throughout the night, and--each time she interrupted my sleeping--I thought of Bob, prayed, and recited parts of the 23rd Psalm in my mind.  Bob went to be with Jesus the next morning, after which I cried a lot more than I'd expected.  Despite the fact that I'm one of only four choir members, I didn't go to church on Sunday; I sent my sad, improperly baked (as my oven was broken) communion bread with my son, and my son with my husband.  I felt sad for myself and sadder for Rachel, and I couldn't tell which of my tears were for whom.  I felt like I had work to do, but I didn't know what, and I wanted to help Rachel, but I didn't know how, and--feeling stuck--I prayed and cried, cried and prayed.       

On Wednesday, February 9th, I e-mailed Anne Conder (someone I didn't know) and requested prayer.  I had been following her blog for a couple weeks, and--after I read one of her posts that morning--I looked at a picture of her happy face and thought: she would pray for me.  And she did, right away; she e-mailed a gorgeous prayer for both Rachel and me.  I cried while reading it but, afterward, felt a little bit lighter.  Then I watched this video of Ann Voskamp discussing the second chapter of her book, which--since I don't yet own the book--I haven't yet read.  But she was talking (among other things) about thanksgiving as preceding joy, and I felt inspired, suddenly, to write a prayer of thanksgiving for all the riches Bob brought to my life.  I felt better after every line written and was on the very last sentence, bumping up against the "amen," when Rachel called. 

Rachel said something like: "I need you to pray for me, since I will be speaking at Bob's memorial service, and I have nothing prepared."

And I said: "Well, as it turns out, I've just written a prayer of thanksgiving for Bob, and you can have it."  I read it to her, and we both cried and talked about the amazing unfolding of things.  It was not the first time Rachel and I had intersected at Bob, and I could tell she felt better and more confident after we talked. 

Rachel did not read my words at the memorial service but, instead, allowed them to inspire her own prayer of thanksgiving: a beautiful homage to her very close relationship with Bob.

But think about this for a moment: Rachel and I prayed together and separately for Bob.  Sharon prayed for Bob, Rachel, and me.  I prayed with Rachel.  I prayed for Rachel.  I prayed to help Rachel.  Anne prayed for Rachel and me.  I prayed my thanks, for Bob, to God.  Rachel called to request prayer.  My prayer of thankgiving was an answer to my own prayer to help her.  Interlaced with these have been the prayers of my mom, my pastor, other friends.  They prayed for Bob, for me, for Rachel, for me in my efforts to support Rachel.    

And look: I know these prayers are nothing in the great sea of prayers that have poured and trickled into our celebrating Bob, today, let alone into our very lives.  What little I have seen and grasped makes me want to put my head down and cry in awe.  My head and heart aren't capable of holding much more!

My prayer-warrior friend Billy Brown wrote, once: "When we are asked to pray for someone or feel the need to pray, that is God's invitation for us to join Him in His work.  So prayer is to inform us to what God is doing that we may experience God and learn Kingdom ways."  I think I am starting...just get it. 

Thanks be to God.

Bob planned his memorial service.  The first scripture reading listed in the bulletin is Psalm 23, which I recited in my own little head in the sea of my own little bed, in the bedroom of the house where I live in the middle of the Bob's last hours.  I had never before recited Psalm 23 while thinking of someone, but I did that night.  God was awake, and He gave me the words, and He heard them in the silence of my own mind.  Amazing.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Dear Heavenly Father:

Thank You for Bob Pino.  Thank You for the amazing example he was to so many of us.

Thank You for Bob's caring heart and for all the times he really stopped and really listened to us in our concerns, fears, and frustrations.  Thank You for his gift in making everyone he met feel important, significant, and worthy of his attention. Thank You that he was the kind of person who--when unsure of how to advise--prayed before advising.  Thank You that he was willing to teach us but that, always, he acknowledged You as being the true Teacher.  Thank You for Bob's prayers.  Thank You for his follow-up, which revealed that he didn't just pray and forget that he prayed but, instead, that he both believed You would respond and cared to know how You would work things out.

Thank You for Bob's authenticity: that he wasn't afraid to tell us about his past with all its failures, mistakes, sins, and shortcomings.  Thank You because we were able to see clearly that Bob found You: that You filled and forgave him.  Bob's testimony provided hope to so many, Father, who just hadn't been certain of Your tremendous capacity for grace and love.  Thank You that--even as a Christian--Bob wasn't afraid to admit that he struggled, at times, with fear and sadness.  This helped so many to see that just because someone chooses You doesn't mean he or she becomes perfect, or that things become easy.

Thank You for Bob's willingness to ask for prayer.  I am so thankful for all the times he requested prayer not only for himself but also for his wife, children, sisters, and other family members and friends because this, too, revealed his absolute faith that You are available and listening; responding to our prayers; and all the time working things to our good.  Thank You for Bob's acceptance of the help we offered and the gifts we brought to his doorstep; this was a true indication of his caring heart and wisdom in You.  Bob understood that--in some small way--it made us feel better to do something for him, and he let us in over and over because he knew it helped us as much or more as it helped him.

Thank You for Bob's marriage and his eagerness to share that he and Jeannie were in all things together: that they read devotions together and prayed together, and that You were at the core of their relationship.  Thank You for Bob's relationships with other family members, too, and what he taught us in really loving his wife, blood relatives, and all those to whom he was a brother in Christ.

Thank You for Bob's voice: his amazing singing voice, and his incredible speaking voice.  Thank You for his ability to command attention with his voice, and for his willingness to use his voice for Your glory: whether in song, conversation, or instruction.

Thank You for all the ways in which Bob tried to prepare us for this moment: for the open dialogues and open doors.  Thank You that we know--beyond a shadow of doubt--where he is right this very moment!  Thank You that we were able to see his faith in You even in the very darkest of times.  Thank You for our grief because it reveals that he was here, that he loved us, and that we loved him.  Thank You for the hope we have, when we know You, of being reunited with Bob and all those who slip away from us and into heaven.

Thank You for giving us a true friend in Bob, and thank You that--in taking him away--You drew him to Yourself and to a much better place than this world with its pain and suffering.  Thank You for not leaving Your children alone during this time but for looking down on us (and living inside us) with love.  Thank You for truly understanding our heartbreak, and thank You for all of the ways in which You will continue to use our time with Bob to make us better soldiers of the cross.

In Your name I pray,

(written Wednesday, February 9, 2011)

Monday, February 7, 2011

In the Next Room

Indian Rocks Beach, 2008

I don't tend to post things that aren't my own, but, this morning, I pulled a well-loved book off my shelf in order to re-experience some comforting words that I discovered many years ago.  I share them with love:

In the Next Room

Death is nothing at all:

I have only slipped away into the next room.

I am I and you are you;

Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.

Call me by my old familiar name,

Speak to me in the easy way which you always used.

Put no difference in your tone;

Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.

Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.

Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near,

just around the corner.

All is well.

Canon Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918), England

Sunday, February 6, 2011

bobpino Is a Star

A decade or so ago, I sang in the choir of Christ United Methodist Church in Shenandoah, Virginia.  The pianist Norma Leap was talented, kind-hearted, and good to me in every way.  At some point in her battle with cancer, I prepared and delivered a meal to her and her husband Leroy and was taken aback by how gaunt and frail she had become.  Later, closer to the end of Norma's battle, God put a particular song on my heart, and I knew I was supposed to return to Norma's and Leroy's and sing it for Norma.  I practiced the song all the time: in the bathroom, in the car.  But I didn't return to the Leaps'; I didn't sing the song for Norma before she died.  I was too afraid.

I can think of very few things I have ever regretted more.  To this day, I can't talk (or write) about failing to sing for Norma without crying.  It grieves me that--when God called me to do something very specific for Him--I allowed fear to hold me back, that I lost the opportunity to reach out to a friend...that, ultimately, I missed out on a blessing. 

After years of nagging, painful regret, I am terrified of repeating my mistake.  I can't tell you (I wish I could!) that I never hestitate or argue with God.  What I can tell you is that--when God calls me to do something--it doesn't take long for me to think of Norma...

Twice, God called me to do something very specific for Bob and Jeannie Pino, and--both times--others came alongside in important ways.  I was called, first, to lay hands on Bob and pray for cancer to leave his body.  This was three or four months into 2009.  I had never been called to lay hands on anyone before, and I have never been called to lay hands on anyone, since.  I was nervous and uncomfortable at the thought of laying hands on Bob but more nervous and uncomfortable at the thought of not.  I went to Rachel with this thing on my heart.  She was glad to go with me, and she reached out to Bob and Jeannie, who were receptive to the idea.  Jackie Heberle accepted Rachel's invitation to join us, and my nine-year-old son Cade accepted mine.  So the evening came, and--while Baby Clementine slept off to the side, in her infant seat--Jeannie, Rachel, Jackie, Cade, and I placed our hands on Bob and prayed. 

A few things stand out in my mind from that time of praying.  I remember how difficult it was for me to pray aloud; I remember my voice cracking and breaking as I tried to push pleading words out of my aching heart.  I remember hearing the others pray things I hadn't thought to pray and truly understanding--for the first time, as our words interlocked and built something--the importance of gathering and praying together.  Finally, I remember Bob's praying for Rachel, who had gone to the doctor earlier that day for a little bit of help in conceiving a baby.  How incredible was it for Bob to take that moment (his moment) and pray for Rachel?!  And I believe with every fiber of my being that God responded to our group's heartfelt praying with two miracles: Bob's respite from cancer, and Rachel's son Zach.  (You can read more about the latter, here.)

Rachel & Clementine @ Bob's & Jeannie's, the Night We Laid Hands on Bob

Between this and the second time God called me to do something for Bob and Jeannie, my family spent a very small amount of time with them.  We saw them at Care-Team functions; Jim prepared a couple meals for them; and Bob was my most eager and supportive sugar-free-cookie taster.  Bob taught Cade and I a thing or two about backgammon (which we had already been playing, but incorrectly).  Bob and I had some meaningful e-mail exchanges on difficult subjects: Jim's unemployment, a situation with Cade.  And at one point--when Bob began to struggle, again, with his health--Clementine and I went to the Pinos', and I remember little beyond leaning against Bob's knees...trying to pray aloud while Clementine cried.  Bob interrupted my prayer with a sweetly-rendered: "It's ok, pick her up," or, "It's ok, give her to me." 

Bob loved my older children.  

Cade with Jeannie and Bob

Cade and Bob

Bob and Clementine

After the sure return of Bob's cancer, I cried and prayed myself sick, and my prayer group at Fine Creek prayed with me.  Bob's name was added to the back of our church bulletin.  Sometimes, updates on his condition were shared from the pulpit.  I prayed and prayed and prayedprayedprayed, and, one day, I heard God whisper, in His wordless way: "I love Bob more than you can imagine, and my plan for Bob is perfect.  His time with you is not long.  And the only job I have for you, right now, is to prepare Rachel."  I went to Rachel and told her what I'd experienced, after which my burden lifted and my grief subsided.

Here is a picture of the second thing God called me to do for Bob and Jeannie:

I had a lot of help in making the finished product--an anniversary gift--so terrific! 

On the day the mat was signed, Jim was home alone with the babies, and I couldn't linger long, so I rushed up to Bob and Jeannie to hug them and express my love for them.  Bob said: "I love you, too," but I could tell he no longer knew me. 

In the following months, I didn't want to steal precious moments from Bob's family and close friends, so I didn't return to him.  But late last night, Rachel drove Charleigh (who had never met Bob) and me to the hospital.  I hugged Jeannie, who introduced me to everyone in the room, and I sat down next to Bob's sister Alice.  After I talked with her for a minute, I closed my eyes, rested my chin on Charleigh's soft head, and sang this song at Bob's bedside:

He Set Me Free

verse 1)
once like a bird in prison i dwelt
no freedom from my sorrow i felt
but Jesus came, and He listened to me
and glory to God He set me free

He set me free; He set me free
and He broke the bonds of prison for me
i'm glory bound my Jesus to see
for glory to God He set me free

(verse 2)
goodbye to sin and things that confound
naught of the world shall turn me around
daily i'm working i'm praying too
and glory to God i'm going through

(repeat chorus)

(verse 3)
now i am climbing higher each day
darkness of night has drifted away
my feet are planted on higher ground
and glory to God i'm homeward bound

(repeat chorus)

It's the song I had because it's the one I know best: the one I've sung over and over, to each of my crying babies.  It came out of my center, from that place that doesn't forget, the one that can function on auto-repeat.

I could tell you that my singing was beautiful, but it wasn't; I sang more off-key than I've ever sung in my life.  I could tell you that I made, at least, a joyful noise, but I didn't; my voice was small and sad in its cracking and breaking and out-of-tune terribleness.  I could tell you that I felt called to sing for Bob, but I didn't.  I sang neither for Bob (who was snoring softly, unresponsive) nor for any other person in that room save myself. 

I sang as an offering to God: forgive me.  Forgive me for, ten years ago, failing to sing for Norma.  Here I am.  Here, God, I am.  See?  I can do it, and I will, God.  Call me, and I will answer.  I will obey.  I promise.

Bob would have approved my using his bedside for this.  Bob was a man who breathed God's grace--the grace he had been extended--back out of himself. 

So, ten years after the fact, I have decided to try and forgive myself for failing to sing for Norma.  I came home last night and paid to register a star.  I should be able to name it tomorrow: bobpino.  I will tell you, later, how to locate it in the night sky.

bobpino might be a star, but Bob Pino is not.  Bob Pino is a man-soul living in the presence of Jesus Christ.  When Bob Pino was here, he changed us.  He helped us believe that we really are loved--and can be forgiven--by Almighty God.  Bob Pino the man-soul is beautiful, and he lives in us, still, when we reach--through the hub of him and the God he served--toward one another and decide to function as spokes on a wheel... 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ooh Ooh Ahh Ahh and Ooh La La

I had heard that today was supposed to be unseasonably warm (especially in comparison to many other places in the country), and--being stricken with cabin fever (in the most literal sense), also having already made plans to buy season passes this year--I was determined to take the girls to the zoo today. 

It so almost didn't happen. 

Baby Charleigh had me up until 4:30 AM, again, so I didn't roll out of bed until 10:30, when Clementine decided she was ready to dance and jump in the world.  And Charleigh didn't wake up until an hour or so after that.  Plus I had asked all of my facebook friends if they could join us, and no one had signed up to go.  Plus I've been having some tummy issues.  Plus Clementine threw up an entire sippy cup of red Kool-Aid, this morning, on the rug.  Plus the groundhog said spring is on the way, so it didn't seem as pressing to soak up the nice weather.

The thing is: I don't think groundhogs look particularly trustworthy.  Right?  They just don't have the innocent expression of regular hogs.  If a hog said that spring were on the way, I would believe him instantly.  Maybe I've read Charlotte's Web too many times.

So, anyway, the girls and I loaded up in the van with the lunch I had packed for Cade last Thursday night, before he missed school on Friday.  (He has been camped out on his dad's sofa since Sunday and was diagnosed with the flu on Monday.  He will finally return to school tomorrow, but I have his lunchbox.  Oops!)  On the drive, I called my brother and left a voicemail saying I was off to see the monkeys, which made me think about his little face and miss him.  This cheered me up a great deal because I realized I'm not too old to have lost the bratty sister part of myself.

I was a little bit nervous that I might have a bathroom emergency while we were at the zoo, or that Clementine might throw up, again, but neither of those things happened.  What did happen is that Charleigh decided she didn't want to face backward in the back of the double stroller.  After about fifteen minutes of her crying, I took her out of her infant seat and carried her in my left arm while struggling to push the double stroller (with Clementine in it) with my right.  Somehow I managed to get us to the bear and tiger exhibits,  but Clementine was too low to the ground to see the animals.  So I let her out and decided to try Charleigh in Clementine's front seat, which has shoulder straps.  Charleigh was instantly very happy to ride facing forward, like a big girl.

Baby Charleigh, 5 Months Old

So Clementine was without a seat in the stroller, but she was surprisingly well behaved...especially for Clementine!  It brought me a lot of joy, actually, to see her trotting along the path like a little wild-haired pony, and she loved feeding the giraffes.

We did have one slightly scary moment when this thing's husband (I can't remember what kind of deer it is?) tried to butt Clementine through the fence:

I didn't get a picture of the angry husband because, hello!, I gasped, grabbed Clementine, and pulled her away from the fence.  But had I read the sign before it charged at her, I would've known that the males get aggressive this time of year.  Because of its aggression and interaction with the public, the husband's horns had been removed down to nubs by a supposedly painless procedure.  You know that had to tick it off even more!  Horns or no, it seemed like it could do some damage! 

My very favorite moment at the zoo, today, was hearing an elk.  I just looked up what an elk sound is called because what I heard wasn't a moo, a bleat, or a roar.  It was by far the most beautiful animal sound I've ever heard.  I had no idea that elk are musical...that their voices sound like trumpets.  Gorgeous:  I was stunned

Elk sounds--as it turns out--are known as bugling.  Here's what wikipedia has to say about it: "Bulls have a loud vocalization consisting of screams known as bugling, which can be heard for miles.  Bugling is often associated with an adaptation to open environments such as parklands, meadows, and savannas, where sound can travel great distances.  Females are attracted to the males that bugle more often and have the loudest call.  Bugling is most common early and late in the day and is one of the most distinctive sounds in nature, akin to the howl of the gray wolf."

I get why female elk like that bugling stuff.  I mean, that sound is flat-out sexy!  I am definitely going back to visit that male elk.  (No worries: I won't try to climb into the exhibit or anything!)  I feel very sorry for avoiding the deer loop of the zoo, before, in favor of the more "exciting" animals.  The last time I went to the zoo, I heard a lion roar, and--while that was fabulous--it sounded no different from the MGM lion's roar, which really just made me want to stop walking, pop some popcorn, and watch a movie.  The elk sound kicked the lion sound's hind end!

My second favorite moment at the zoo, today, was getting reent-reer whistled at by a bird.  Having dressed in my tightest blue jeans (since they were my only clean pair), I felt just great about the positive attention.

After riding the carousel, walking the zoo, and riding the train, Clementine's not-quite-two-year-old legs were just plumb worn out.  That's when we had to get creative:

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

With my happy girls and lungs full of fresh air, I felt like a good and brave mommy today (which is rare).  I'm glad we went to the zoo even though there were reasons to stay home.  And I am excited to go back again and again, so please let me know when you'd like to join us...