Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Empty Chair

I felt called, once, to visit an acquaintance at a local hospital, where he was receiving inpatient psychiatric care. I'd never visited this part of the hospital, before, so I didn't really know what to expect. I'd spoken with a mutual friend who hadn't particularly encouraged my going; he'd visited and didn't feel as though he'd blessed or helped.

Still, I felt called to go.

I told my husband. He--being the cautious, protective sort--wasn't especially thrilled with the idea, but, to his credit, he trusted and offered to drive me. He waited in the minivan with Cade and Clementine while I walked in the hospital, wearing maternity overalls.

My acquaintance had provided me the information I needed to receive access, so a nurse at the front desk unlocked the door to the visiting area. There were people everywhere: some sitting on sofas and chairs, others just sort of milling around.

I'd assumed I'd have to wait for my acquaintance to join me, but--to my surprise--I saw: he was already sitting in the visiting area. He was talking with two other men at a small, square table.

The chair just to the left of my acquaintance was the only empty chair in the room.

I don't think I have words to tell you how I felt in seeing that empty chair. I'd already felt confident that God was calling me to that place, but--when I saw the empty chair...the only empty chair!...beside my acquaintance, who hadn't known when I'd be visiting--my heart was flooded with joy. There may as well have been a shaft of light pouring into that chair; I knew it was my chair. I knew it was waiting for me: that I was the person meant to fill it.

It was a very humbling, satisfying, overwhelming moment in my spiritual journey and one I pray to never forget.

My acquaintance hugged me and introduced me to his friends, and I sat down in my chair. A pack of cards rested on the table, and I asked the men if they'd like a fourth, for spades. We proceeded to play, and I played well thanks to the countless "wasted" hours I'd spent playing the game, in college.

With the pressure for eye contact diminished, conversation flowed easily and well among us. Before I left, I asked if I might lead us in prayer; we joined hands and bowed; and God gave me words.

I don't share this story because I think I did something profound for my acquaintance that day. I share it because God did something profound for me.

If you're anything like me, at least once in your life, you've felt called or compelled to do something, and you've talked yourself out of it. You've told yourself: I'm not the best person for this job. I'm ill-equipped. There's someone better.

And you know what? You haven't been wrong, entirely. Because there's always someone better, more experienced, more polished and less bumbling.

Never-the-less, God doesn't make mistakes. When He calls you to do something, His reasons likely have as much or more to do with you than with anyone else. He wants to grow and teach you. He has a perfect plan for your life.

So just go: even if your hands shake, your knees knock, and you're at a loss in terms of what to say. Everything will be okay.

God's already in that place to which He's calling you, and He's preparing it (him? her?) for your arrival. Go. Find your empty chair.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Photo by Christine Donnier-Valentin

All my life, red, I've loved you best of the colors.You're my fiery, take-charge nature; Dorothy's Technicolor bed of poppies and her sequined slippers, too; Kool-Aid mustaches; the covers on The Church Hymnal and passed-down Famous Fairy Tales; Raggedy Ann's yarn hair and secret heart; Scott High and Maryville College; the lessons of my teachers' pens; stripes on my flag; my baby girls' winter coats; Santa Claus's suit and a rose--stashed by my beloved--in a tree.

You're the passion of every being, especially that of He who died to set everyone free.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Movie Review: The Muppets

Awhile back, my beloved--in all his frugality and wisdom--bought four movie tickets through Google; thus, for a grand total of $33, Cade and I watched Hugo 3D Thanksgiving night, and our family of five watched The Muppets, tonight.

'Twas a rare treat, all this movie-ing. 

A man who takes his wife, an 11-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 1-year-old to see The Muppets...30 minutes before the little ones' bedtime...and leaves the theater a real man. Not a Muppet of a man.

Everyone in my family loved the movie for different reasons. Jim appreciated its taking him back to The Muppet Show he enjoyed on tv in the '70's, and he loved sharing the experience with the girls. I thought Cade was going to fall out of his chair, laughing, during a scene with the Barbershop Quartet [Sam the Eagle, Rowlf the Dog, Link Hogthrob and Beake] and Jack Black. The chickens (squawking out Cee Lo's "Forget You") cracked Clementine's tiny hiney up, and Charleigh chair-danced through many of the musical numbers.

As for me, I left the theater feeling like I had whole new reasons to appreciate Jason Segel (I've been a fan since Freaks and Geeks: only the BEST. TV. SHOW. EVER!!!), who infused The Muppets, a classic, with his talent and spirit. Nothing better!

Also, I was delighted by the cameo appearances of so many fun celebrities, and I'll admit: I got teary-eyed when Kermit and Miss Piggy sang "The Rainbow Connection." (Cut me a break; I'm pregnant.)

All in all: fun for my whole family (ages 1-40).  Don't miss it!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Best Cupcakes EVER

Earlier this month, my friend Jayme at Tales from the Coop Keeper posted a recipe I've been excited to try: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting.

Today was the big day, and listen: these cupcakes are soooo good that I'm blogging them, and I almost never blog food.

Truly, these are the best cupcakes I've ever eaten. You should bake some. Today. Right now!

Click here for the recipe. (I recommend cutting the icing part of the recipe in half, or--better yet!--doubling the cupcake part. I have enough icing left for 24 more cupcakes, but you'll not hear me complain; I've got the stuff to make the cupcake part, again, and I was planning to share with my friends at the adult home, anyway.)

Quick! Get your cupcake on! Don't delay! Yummmm!

Friday, November 25, 2011

On Flipping a Car & Landing Upside-down in a Swamp

"Begin a volume of Pages that tell of what He has done for you, through you, in you. We are a people of forgetfulness. We need reminders. And these reminders, as they accumulate, provide us with ammunition to combat the lies of the evil one as he whispers in our ears that He doesn't move on our behalf, that He doesn't care about us. Collect your stories. Create a strong heritage of those stories for your family, for future generations." -Anne Conder of

Well, it's Heritage of Faith Friday, and--off and on, today (i.e., when I wasn't trying to manage a steroids-ridden Clementine)--I tried to decide which moment of my life I wanted to write. There are so many moments from which to choose: I asked Jesus into my heart when I was eight years old, and there hasn't been a time, since, that He hasn't been faithful to me...despite long periods of my being unfaithful to Him.

One of these periods--and a lesson, born out of it--came to mind, today, and it's the one I've chosen to write...even though it brings me low to remember. It went like this: 

I wasn't walking closely with the Lord. I was a college student consumed with having a rip-roaring good time. It hadn't taken long for me to get there, and--while I'm not a person particularly prone to regret--I do look back and feel sad for the opportunities I missed in failing to let my light shine.

My high-school friend Matthew, college friend Erin, and I decided to drive from East Tennessee to New Orleans for spring break. We didn't have much money and decided to take Matthew's Geo Metro, which got excellent gas mileage. I was driving down a particularly long, dark stretch of highway near Hattiesburg, Mississippi when a large, yellow dog ran out in front of the car.

In a split second, I decided I didn't want to hit the dog. So I pulled the wheel, hard, to the left and got around it. Honestly, everything happened so fast: I can't say for sure that I ever tapped the brakes. We kept barreling down the highway, and I was struggling to keep the car on the road...on any lane of the (otherwise) empty highway.

Matthew--in the passenger seat of his car--decided to help me out and grabbed the wheel. We probably would've wrecked regardless; I was totally out of control. But, together, he and I (without communicating at all, so far as I can recall) took that Geo Metro over the right shoulder and down an embankment, where we landed upside-down, in a swamp.

My head hit the steering wheel, and I blacked out. I remember very little of the rest, but I'm told that Erin--who'd been sleeping in the back, sans seat belt--put one of her feet through a window. Matthew couldn't exit the car from the passenger side, so he (despite his large size) crawled under my upside-down body and out my broken, driver's side window. He scrambled up the embankment and flagged down help: no easy task given his dark, rock-star attire and long hair.

All things considered, we fared well. Lots of bruises, scrapes, and scratches, and I broke most of the blood vessels in my eyes, but we didn't sustain serious injuries. The Geo Metro was totaled, so my dad and brother drove over eight hours to retrieve my friends and me from the dingy hotel room where we rested after our ambulance ride, hospital visit, and subsequent release. My brother wrapped his right arm around me and held me against his side for the entire ride home: long after he lost all sensation in it.

I'm telling you: it's all very fuzzy in my mind. Except for this:

When I regained consciousness, I awoke somewhere in the middle of the Lord's Prayer. And--in that instant, in a whole new way--I understood what it means to be sealed unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13). I knew: regardless of any and all bad behavior on my part, I was a child of the King, and He was with me in that totaled and upside-down Geo Metro, where it had come to rest. In the swamp at the bottom of an embankment along a dark stretch of highway near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, He was with me

I've never forgotten.

I don't know why I was spared. I don't know why, but I was, and maybe part of the reason is so I can say to you: if you have at any point in your life asked Christ into your heart, He is in there, still. He has promised to never leave nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). No matter what you've done, or how you've sinned, or how far you've wandered: you belong to Him, and He loves you. 

And it's alright if the vehicle in which you arrived doesn't drive anymore; it's really just a matter of turning around with your bruises, scrapes, and scratches and making your way back to Him, however you need to get there. Home isn't as far away as you might think.

Movie Review: Hugo 3D

A few years ago, I bought a book for my little cousin Daniel: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. Daniel spoke so highly of the book that I bought another copy for Cade, who's read it many times. I haven't read it, but--when I saw a trailer for Hugo--I recognized the movie as being based on the book I've seen Cade carry, off and on, over the past few years.

Cade and I went to see Hugo this evening, and I'm so glad we did. It's beautiful with its navy shadows and snow (think The Polar Express without animation); the actors fit their roles well; and--while the story moves slowly at points--in the end, everything comes together in a very satisfying way.

I love the messages of Hugo: everyone has a purpose, or (s)he wouldn't be here. Happiness comes from finding and fulfilling purpose. Love inspires purpose and keeps it alive. Finally, if a person is faithful and long-suffering regarding his or her purpose, the universe will send helpers and work alongside to insure success.

My favorite thing, by far, about my Hugo experience was sharing with Cade something he finds meaningful and learning why. I've been the child he was tonight, and I loved being on the parent end of things: taking time out to engage, encourage, and see something special through his eyes.

If you're looking for something to do this season, I recommend watching Hugo. I don't know how much the 3D contributed, really; I would've enjoyed, probably, as much without.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving at Our House

Pretty Enough to Play Drive in the Yard

Coloring's Back to Normal

I don't know why the above photo loaded sideways, 
but I took it in honor of my mother-in-law, who gave me the dish. 
My broccoli casserole, today, was a sad, sad thing in comparison to hers.

Charleigh had sparkling grape juice in her sippy. :)

When Rachel heard, on Tuesday, that we weren't going to Tennessee because of Clementine's having the croup, she showed up with a Paula Deen Ham, sweet potatoes, apples, deer sausage, and potato rolls. I wanted to lay my head over and cry. I kept thinking about the Christmas Mr. Edwards crossed the creek, his pockets full of sweet potatoes for Laura Ingalls and her family. Mr. Edwards is one of my favorite characters in literature.

Our menu today? Ham, sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole, macaroni and cheese, deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, potato rolls, and sparkling grape juice. I still haven't made our pumpkin cupcakes, but we've been eating Cherry M&M cookies all day.

Jim asked Clementine: "What are YOU thankful for, this Thanksgiving?"

Without missing a beat, Clementine said: "I'm thankful for my friends. Camden and Zach, Rachel and Chel, and David and Scott."

I'm thankful for them, too. These are among the friends who do life with us.

 Cade expressed thankfulness for his sisters.


Still hoping to catch a movie with Cade before the night's over. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mindfulness: Poem of Thanksgiving

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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Have Somehow Arrived

When I'm wide awake at 3 AM
to run a hot shower
and sit on the floor in the steam,
rocking and praying aloud
into matted and tangled hair,
just beside the vent of cool air;
to sing "Farther Along" before
administering liquid Tylenol
from a stainless silver spoon
and a dose of Albuterol Sulfate
through a rubber fish mask;
to microwave and cool to tepid
caffeine free peppermint tea
and offer it in an Elmo sippy;
to prop her up on striped pillows
and cover her with a crazy quilt;
and to turn on Yo Gabba Gabba!;

when I'm able to let go calmly,
all my hopes for Thanksgiving
with my people, and his,
not to mention our three-day
babymoon in Sevierville;

when I care only that she rest
with no barking



I feel it deep inside:
I have somehow arrived

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Being Pregnant with #4

Last Sunday morning, I was mourning because--for the first time in nearly 3.5 years--I was neither pregnant nor breastfeeding. I hadn't nursed the baby for four days, but she was miserable with the croup, and I was miserable with extra milk, so--that afternoon--I unbuttoned. I caved.

Saturday evening, I learned: I'm four weeks pregnant.

So--in a week's time--I've gone from mourning neither to celebrating both. Jim asked if I were planning to write a retraction to this post. So here it is: my retraction!

I'd been praying, hard, for one more baby before my 40th birthday in 2014.

For about a week, I'd heard the Lord speak plainly into my heart: Thank me for your baby.

In obedience, I'd whispered back thanks, but I hadn't understood; I'd already taken two tests and gotten negative results. I'd awakened Jim in the middle of the night, once, to tell him. I'd told Rachel, too.

Three days before I took the last test, Cade had asked if I were pregnant. I should've trusted his instincts, since he knew with the others. Such a funny little boy, but he spent nine years as my only. He studies my face...knows me better, sometimes, than I know myself.

Also, my grandmother had come through beautifully, and I've never managed to dream my grandparents clearly except when I'm pregnant.

Even so, I can't pretend I'm not surprised! We're so excited and ask that you keep us in your prayers. I feel fine, at the moment, but I was pretty sick in carrying each of my other children...especially Clementine, with whom I had gestational diabetes.

Update from the Wild Orange

When I woke up, my mama said I sounded like a donkey. I like donkeys, don't you? Mary rode a donkey on her way to get Baby Jesus. 

That was before she built a hospital.

We went to Mary's hospital, today, to get the donkey noise out. Mary wasn't there, though.

I had to drink a pink potion for the donkey noise. My mama said nice as the people at Mary's hospital are, she hopes she doesn't have to see them ever again.

(We had seven visits to the doctor's office and Mary's hospital in two weeks.)

We missed Sunday school and church, today, so we decided to visit Jesus on our way home. I love Jesus. He's not a baby, anymore. He's really big.

I wanted to thank Jesus for giving us another baby! He listened when I prayed!

I hope He heard the "brother" part of my prayer. I have one brother and one sister, already. But my sister climbs on my back and makes horse noises. She pulls my hair. So I want a brother. I'm going to name him Chip.

The end. Love, Clementine

Friday, November 18, 2011

On Dragging Myself to Him

My boy and I drove in the dark, in the rain, to church. My eyes were red-rimmed from crying: at one point so hard I'd thrown up in the kitchen sink. I gripped the steering wheel and said to him: "I want you to pay attention to what's happening right now."

He looked up from the passenger seat. Even in the dark, I could see the depth and width of his gray-green eyes.

"I know I'm not perfect," I told him. "I know I mess up all the time, that I'm not always nice. But I believe in the power of prayer. I want you to see and hear me praying. I want you to know: this is what I do. And--just in case I step off a sidewalk, tomorrow, and get hit by a Mack Truck--I want you to remember: prayer is a good thing to do when you're in trouble, or scared, or upset.

"And it's a good thing to do first. That's the part that takes practice. We want to try to fix it on our own first. But I'm learning," I told him. "I'm learning! to pray first.

"Even though Mrs. Darlene's coming to our house tomorrow, and it's a wreck...even though I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning...I choose prayer meeting."

We walked, together, into our church with its warm light and faces. I was a wounded animal; I felt it. I dragged my heart like a dog drags broken hind legs, but I'd needed to make the trip in the dark, in the rain, because where better to go when I'm broken? I needed to go home where my trusted Master waited, and I write not of a physical place, but of a spiritual one.

I'm tired--do you hear me?--of cowering in a heap when darkness falls, when rain falls. I'll not sit in the pit anymore, licking my wounds. If I have to crawl on my belly, fingers in the dirt, I'll make my way to the foot of the cross. It's everywhere; He's everywhere; I'll never have far to go.

I'm more than a conqueror, and I can't be separated from His love (Romans 8:37-39), and I felt it, today, even though I'd knelt by Clementine's bed and prayed for the pink flower to drop out of her ear, and it hadn't. I could almost see the prayers of our people in the waiting room; they felt thick and shoulder-to-shoulder in the air around us.

A woman in a scrub cap approached us. We'd spoken with several kind people, already, and Clementine had eyed them, mostly, with indifference. But she held out her arms and lunged from Jim to this woman before she had a chance to introduce herself as someone from anesthesia come to take our girl away. The woman laughed and said: "That was easy." She talked with us for several minutes, holding Clementine all the while. Then she carried out our happily-chattering, tearless girl.

And that's how Jesus shows up for heartsick parents, also in the just-released girl's bounding from her wheelchair, curbside, to splash in puddles with her floral rain boots.

Sometimes the pink flower doesn't drop out; sometimes it has to be drawn out.

Sometimes our hearts don't fall gently into the lap of the Savior. Sometimes they have to be snapped, hard, in His direction. The importance lies in their blooming, one way or another.

On the left, the pink flower from Clementine's left ear.

Cade and Clementine, dancing tonight.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ana Bana Beana Wild Orange MeMe

My name is Clementine, but my whole, big name is something else.

I think my whole, big name is Oh My Darlin' Clementine. Did you know someone wrote a song about me and put it inside a bear? Do you know that song? Do you know that bear? It's purple. It sings: "Oh my darlin' Clementine, you are lost and gone forever; please come back, my Clementine."

My mama doesn't call me Oh My Darlin' Clementine. She calls me Ana Bana Beana Wild Orange MeMe.

The wild part is because I can roar like a dinosaur. It's not because I got bored after ten million days at home with my coughly sister. It's not because I put a pink flower in my ear last night.

My daddy shone a flashlight in my ear. He tried to pull the flower out with a snot sucker. He squirted water in my ear and put tweezers in my ear, but the flower didn't come out. He called the doctor and asked if we should go to the hospital. The doctor said no since my ear wasn't hurting.

My mama took me to see the doctor this morning. He tried to get the flower out. He hurt my ear really bad, but he didn't get the flower out. Just my blood.

My mama took me to see a different doctor after naptime. That doctor shone a light in my ear and said I have to go to the hospital tomorrow.

Do you know what Ana Bana Beana means? It means "when you get stuff." My daddy Ana Bana Beana-ed me tonight when he got me the dinosaur sundae instead of the baby cone.

My mama says I am my daddy's girl. Not because my daddy Ana Bana Beana-ed me. Because the doctors pulled a rock, an eraser, and a Monopoly car out of his ear when he was little. Plus a bean out of his nose.

**Clementine will have outpatient surgery tomorrow to remove the "flower?" from her left ear. The ENT doctor thinks it best to put her under based upon the location of the item and her level of distress. He does not anticipate permanent damage to her ear. She cried today at the pediatrician's office but hasn't otherwise experienced pain. (I took all the above photos, today.) Thank you for praying for our Wild Orange. Please pray for her sister, too, who continues to recover from the croup. Love, Brandee

**Update 11/17/11. All went well and quickly. We're home and resting. Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Prayer for Sick Children

I took Charleigh back to her pediatrician, today, because--after a full week of antibiotics--she seemed worse, if anything. The pediatrician confirmed: Charleigh still has the croup and an ear infection in her right ear. We came home with three new medications and our very own nebulizer.

I've been a parent for almost twelve years, but--until today--I'd never used a nebulizer. Given the fact that the nurse and I, together, could barely manage the first treatment for Charleigh's screaming and thrashing, I'm not gonna lie: I felt pretty intimidated at the thought of giving the second treatment alone. Thankfully, Charleigh and I found our groove with the help of the Barney "I Love You" song. And the third treatment went easily and sweetly with Jim's help.

Our red-headed wonder will be just fine, but, tonight, my heart feels heavy for the other sick children out there, and I'd like to offer a prayer. Please join me, if you feel led to do so.

Dear Heavenly Father:

I come to You, tonight, on behalf of the sick children...both born and unborn. I ask You to be with them in their discomfort and pain. I ask Your help for those with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed problems; those without sufficient clothing and housing; those without healthcare and medical care and parental care; those who suffer from serious illnesses for which there is no cure.

I ask, Father, Your strength for those who keep vigil over sick children: the loved ones who don't know You and don't know how to pray; the loved ones who do know You but wage war with fear, anyway; the doctors who examine, diagnose problems, perform surgery, and prescribe medications; and all the healthcare professionals who do their best to follow orders and bring comfort.

I pray, Father: please send helpers. And no matter when or where, please draw sick children and their loved ones close to You, because You are the source of all true comfort and peace.

No matter the season or circumstance, Father, You are good, and we praise You. Thank You for loving us so much that you sent Your Son Jesus to a place of sickness and sin to suffer and die on our behalf. And thank You for truly understanding all our grief and pain.

In Your name I pray, Amen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Ache of Motherhood

For almost 3.5 years, I carried a child within and/or fed one from my body. I experienced a five-month period of "and."

I open my eyes to Day #4 of neither.

I reclaim my body because my mind says it's time. The baby doesn't cry, or even ask, for my milk. When she wakes in the middle of the night, I pull her into bed, and she nestles in beside.

In the pitch dark, her hand unfurls as a flower reaching toward the sun. She strokes my cheek with her warm palm and falls asleep.

I reclaim my body, but for what? What can be greater than growing a child? I can't celebrate what issues from an empty womb, what drips from a too-full breast.

No one travels this loneliness with me. It feels like the silence of 3:30 AM after first snow; like the injured elk tipping its great chin and bugling, at dusk; like the owl hooting, unheard, at midnight.

It feels like standing among empty chairs in the middle of a meadow, somewhere. I don't know quite where; I'm only about half there.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dream of Grandma

Grandma, Clementine, and Mom. 2009.

She came to me in a dream, my grandma. I should've been with her, that day, but I hadn't wanted Charleigh to pass on the croup.

The pediatrician had asked: "Maybe just keep Charleigh from breathing on your grandma?" I had looked at her and shaken my head with sadness. Charleigh's breathing on Grandma had been pretty much the whole point.

So I didn't go to Grandma, but Grandma came to me.

In my dream, she looked into my eyes and said: "There's something wrong with my mind." Then she said it again: "There's something wrong with my mind, and I can't remember things, but bring your children to me, anyway. I can talk to them about what's happening right now.

"I can't remember who you are," she continued, "But you love Jesus, don't you?"

I nodded, grabbed her, sobbed into her shoulder: "I do! I do love Jesus! I love Him so much!"

And patting my back, she said: "Then we're headed to a better place, and I will know you, when we get there."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gonnigan to Hannigan & Back Again, with Delight

On Monday, I took Charleigh to her pediatrician, whose diagnosis was croup and ear infection. So we've spent most of the week at home, which does not a happy Gonnigan make.

Neither does a child's biting someone; lying to her mom; pulling hair; standing on the kitchen table; scaling the steps; throwing toys; sucking on a light bulb; pulling an upholstery tack out of furniture; sticking her finger into the blue water in the toilet brush holder and licking said finger; smacking her mom; pulling weather stripping out of a window; breaking a tv; or regressing in terms of "making stinky" on the potty.

And one of the wee sisters did each of these things, this week. I'm chalking part of it up to Charleigh's being hopped up on steroids. Yes, we further childproofed against that monkey. Yes, we disciplined one or both sisters when appropriate.

I had great moments. I had, also, some straight-up Miss Hannigan moments. Not so much the drunk ones as the yelling ones. Gonnigan to Hannigan can occur in a flash; trust me.

Last night, Jim met us in town for dinner. Then we switched vehicles, and he headed home, taking Thing 1 and Thing 2 with him. 

I had the nicest little break. Everywhere I went, bargains jumped off the racks and shelves. At Good Will, I bought the most beautiful piece of fabric for $2. At Sears, I bought the perfect sweater for half price. At Barnes and Noble (where I had a 25% coupon), I stood at the shelf looking for one thing when my eye caught another: a book I'd almost purchased from Amazon at one point. I pulled it off the shelf, read the back, and thought: this man's words would probably really help me. So I bought the book. At Kroger, I discovered and bought Metromint, which I hadn't enjoyed since Jim had a case delivered, last Christmas.

I was putting my groceries in the back of Jim's minivan when my friend Beth pulled up behind me. Think of it: late last night, on my first blogiversary, the very person who inspired me to blog appeared in the Kroger parking lot. We had the best conversation, and I shared some things I can almost never share face-to-face...or at all...with someone I love: someone who loves me, someone who shines out Jesus.

Later, at home, I unstapled and unfolded the fabric I'd bought at Good Will, and Jim helped me hold it up to a window in the dining room. As it turns out, there's just enough for an appropriately-gathered valance for each of the four windows in that room.

I share the details of my break in order to say this: I could talk about luck, good fortune, coincidence, serendipity, or fortuitousness. I could. But, instead, I want to say: I credit all of it to a Heavenly Father who wants to delight me...and who wants to delight you, just the same.

I believe He cares about my wanting to--on a dime--wear a rainbow-colored sweater and dress my dining-room windows in lime green with a vintage, floral pattern. I believe He cares about my weary mommy moments: about my frustration with my children, about my frustration with myself. I believe He hears me crying out in prayer meeting, also as I cook spaghetti and scrub scrambled eggs out of a (supposedly?) nonstick skillet. I believe He sees me climbing into my husband's lap and waking our older daughter at midnight to weep apologies for yelling. I believe He honors my longing to know Him, to learn of Him, and to weave words that Honor Him.

Can you see Him, waving His arms like a conductor, commanding--with His hands--angels and men? Can you see all of life--including your life, mine--as part of a symphony? The upbeats, the down-, the timing, the volume?

He cues the Metromint. He cues Beth Stoddard, Pastor of Creative Arts: sends her driving through the grocery-store parking lot.

He wants to delight us; He does. I'm delighted. Are you?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Blogiversary: Why Smooth Stones

Cade's and Clementine's hands: I love the unintentional, heart shape.
Today is my one-year blogiversary. When I hit publish on this post, it will be my 222nd published post (not counting the one I published and deleted). I've paid Blog2Print for 3 books at this point; they're 111, 125, and 143 pages long, respectively.

I reckon I had a lot to say.

I wrote about my reasons for blogging when I hit Post #200. I had planned to video myself, today, but I look particularly awful, and I'm not in the mood to do anything about it.

But I thought I might share with you my reasons for the blog title Smooth Stones.

During my years at Maryville College (Fall '92-Spring '96), I worked in the school library. One day, while working, I came across a book called Cries of the Spirit: a Celebration of Women's Spirituality, edited by Marilyn Sewell. (I own this book, today, and if I were required to give up all the books in my library except what I could carry, I assure you: this book would remain mine. I can't recommend it highly enough for any woman with a love for poetry and an interest in spiritual matters.)

Inside Cries of the Spirit is a poem by Alta with no name, only the number "7.3." It has a beautiful format that I can't seem to recapture here (I've tried!), but the words are as follows:

love is believable. keep that as a smooth stone, for sometimes you will be the only one to love. for sometimes, you will be hated, & all the love within reach will have to be your own, & what you can tap from the spirits who fly to be with us at those moments, & lend us their wings. who land on the lamps to give us comfort & courage, when we think we have nothing to say. when we have nothing to say, perhaps it is time to listen. to take dictation from the saints of the past, without judgement can one say that, “saints,” without judgement, can one love, can one seek out people who make one feel good. without judgement, can one survive, buying food. without judgement. casting our pearls.

love is free sometimes, & costly othertimes. we may only have each other. our true touch. we may only have. 

To this day, I think few words more beautiful have ever been written. I memorized this poem in the early or mid '90's, and I've carried it with me every day, like a smooth stone. In dark moments, I have repeated to myself, over and over: "love is believable. keep that as a smooth stone."

While at Maryville College, I could find nothing else (except for a couple other poems in the same book) by Alta in the library and nothing about her on the Internet. Since then, I've read more of her work and learned a few things about her, but--when I was a student at Maryville College--I had no tools of interpretation beyond my own imagination.

My initial interpretation (which remains my favorite) of the first line of Alta's "7:3" went like this: God is love (I John 4:16). If love is believable, so is God. And David the shepherd boy felled a nearly ten-foot-tall giant with a smooth stone (I Samuel 17). So a smooth stone is a weapon. My belief that love is believable...that God is a weapon I'm to keep. David's opponent was decked out in armor; David wore no armor but the "whole armor of God." But he carried his smooth stones.

I chose the blog title Smooth Stones because it reflects my heartfelt desire to write down things that matter for my children. I want them to have a record of my love for them. It's a believable love: something on which they can count. I didn't know--when I started blogging, exactly one year ago--that I'd write so much about being a child of the King, but I should've known, because so much of what much of what I want my children to understand...revolves around my profound love for Christ Jesus. He breathes meaning and beauty into my life. All my happiness...all my peace...stems from my relationship with Him.

And I know: if my children determine that God is believable, they will have the only Weapon they will ever need.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


from Pinterest

I reached out, today, to a man of God and trusted friend. I was feeling a little overwhelmed, and Rob came to mind; I knew he'd have sound words of advice, also that I'd feel better in knowing he was praying for me during this season of my life.

Rob listened as I told him about the Sunday school class I've started teaching and the book I've started writing. He listened, too, as I told him about two friends to whom I've been ministering in hopes that they will accept Christ.

I shared with Rob how God led me, recently, to I Corinthians 2:9-16, how--for the first time--I realized: I'd been placing entirely too much confidence in my ability to understand things of God. I understand only what the Holy Spirit teaches me. God teaches me about God.

And, actually (as I sit here writing with my Bible open on my lap), I think the mystery even more profound than I communicated to Rob. I think, suddenly, that I never understand things of God: that my "mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:16) understands things of God...that simply, profoundly, God understands things of God.

I want so desperately, I told Rob, for Jesus to move into my friends' hearts. But I can't teach them things of God; God has to teach them things of God, and He's not living in their hearts in the form of the Holy Spirit.

Rob proceeded to talk with me about the Parable of the Sower: about how we sow seeds (the Word of God) and only some of it falls on good ground. The ground, Rob explained, has to be broken...i.e., the hearer has to be willing to receive God. And, he said, people aren't drawn to God by how much we know, but by how much we care for them. Rob encouraged me to pray for my friends, also to continue demonstrating how much I care for them.

I hung up the phone and sat down with my Bible to prepare my Sunday school lesson on fear. In mid-September, I'd identified Mark 4:36-41 as the passage for this Sunday: the story of the disciples' fear on the day Jesus fell asleep in a ship, during a storm.

I've tried to be sure--in teaching this topical study on emotions--that I understand the context of the passages we examine in class. Tonight, I started reading at the beginning of Mark 4.

And at the beginning of Mark 4? The Parable of the Sower.

What a sweet confirmation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

God and His Zoo Pancakes

Sometimes I ask for a lollipop, and God shakes His great, shaggy head and whispers: "No. A lollipop is not what I have in mind for you, right now."

I look plaintively at Him and ask: "Why? I really want a lollipop."

God looks back at me. He furrows His brow. He could talk to me about a cavity in my mandibular third molar: how the sugar in a chocolate Tootsie Pop would grow the hole. He could talk to me about my health, in general: how a Tootsie Pop would hurt, not help, it. He could explain that He has a different (finer) plan for me: that He wants to fill my belly with something better for my body.

But God has lots of kids, and tons of the others are talking to Him, too, so He tells me, simply: "Because I said, 'No.' Just give me a minute, ok? Trust me."

I stomp my foot and yell: "I don't WANT to give you a minute! I don't WANT to trust you! I want a lollipop!"

And God booms out: "NO! I SAID NO LOLLIPOP!"

I burst into tears and withdraw, pouting, to another room.

Later, God calls my name sweetly and says: "Come and see what I have for you."

I peek around the doorframe and into God's kitchen. "What is it?" I want to know.

He raises His wild, gray eyebrows and says: "I made you pancakes."

I shake my head, insisting: "I don't WANT pancakes!"

"But they look like zoo animals," He says, and I can't resist. I run to God's table and eat up His giraffe- and monkey-shaped, whole-wheat pancakes. He's coated them in Parkay, sugar-free syrup, and light whipped cream, and they taste amazing. I eat them up every bit, and then I lick the plate.

God smiles at me and says: "See? I love you! I know what's best for you!"

And, tilting my head to the side, I smile back and ask: "Can I have a lollipop, now?"

Photo by Rachel Huff