Monday, January 31, 2011

Erin and the Gift of No Matter What

Dear Erin,

I've been working on your blog post for three weeks, and--despite my best efforts--I haven't been able to make it work in the same way as those I have written in honor of other close friends.  Today I realized: the only way to write about us is in letter format, as if you are sitting in front of me.  It feels right because, in fact, you are almost never actually sitting in front of me when I talk to you, and I talk to you a couple times a week.  So I have deleted my other sad attempt and am starting from scratch.

The other day, on the phone, I remarked about how special our friendship is in its closeness and everydayness, especially considering that you are in Illinois, and I am in Virginia.  I said it is one thing to be close with someone who lives nearby and another, altogether, to be close with someone who lives states away.  You replied in your vague, dreamy way something like: "Yes, I'm not sure how we got so attached to each other.  But it's been so nice to have the girls in common." 

I've been asking myself how it became what it is, trying to determine if one moment, in particular, sealed it, but I think there have been a thousand moments.  I remember how, rejected, we were thrown together as roommates our freshman year in college...how we looked just enough alike that, sometimes, people who had never seen us together confused us for one another.  I lived with Erin Quigley our sophomore and junior years (mostly because you were a moody sock thief), but you and I spent a lot of time together, anyway, and our senior year--when we roomed together, again--was our best: don't you think? 

So many things from our Maryville-College years stick out in my mind: countless line dances, pinch wars, spades games, and pizza deliveries.  The morning I yelled at someone about changing a lightbulb in our room and what happened next.  The night you advised me that it was not at all in my best interest to eat chili-cheese fries.  (And the morning after I ate them, anyway.)  The procedure to correct my toenail problem.  The argument over the full-length mirror.  All the times we walked hand-in-hand, our fingers interlaced like lovers'.  Our blue refrigerator and scungy dishes.  The night we flipped the car in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and landed upside-down in a swamp.  (We really could have died: you know?)  The Citgo guy thing.  The day your mom saved our hind ends by passing out handouts over the nicest lunch we'd eaten in almost four years.  Our ritual of watching Carnie!.  Our refusal to study for comprehensive exams.  ("If we don't know it by now," we insisted, "we're not going to learn it in a few weeks."  We applied our make-up, dressed in our most flattering blue jeans, and left the others huddled around their open books with stressed-out expressions.) 
 
1993ish

Then--two years after our graduation, and immediately after your earning your master's degree--you followed Jason and me to Dallas.  Camped out on our couch for awhile.  That was a good year, too, with all the boys.

Justin, Erin, Darin, Brandee, & Jeremy: 1998

But, come early 1999, Jason and I moved to Virginia, and you and I have not lived in the same state, since.  For the past twelve years, our relationship has consisted of one or two visits per year (often ended by our saying to one another, gently, "I hate you," so we won't cry) and a million phone calls; yet, somehow, it's thrived.  You're not here, but you are, because you're at the other end of the line: the phone line, but also--in the Jane-Eyre spirit of things--at the other end of the little line running from my heart to yours. 

It's an amazing thing to be tethered to another person by time, celebration, pain, and inside-out knowing.  I don't know how to thank you for holding onto me--every second--for over half my life, thus preventing me from being lost like a released, helium balloon.

But I can say this: when I am really sad and reach for a happy memory, I grasp the night I sat between you and my brother on top of the waterfall.  Every time.  I can still feel the cool water rushing over my bare legs; hear the river sounds; see the full moon, and--in its glow--your faces.  I remember the campfire and the tent on the bank.  The pick-up.  And I remember thinking, in that moment: don't forget; you will need to remember how loved and safe you feel between these two people.

Proverbs 8:24 says, matter-of-factly: "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."  In my world, as you know, that is huge; my brother lives in the same part of my heart as my children.  But you are that friend.

You knew Jim when I dated him the first time and, in fact, used to play pool with him in Gamble Hall.  Eleven years after the three of us graduated, you found yourself engaged to Dave, whom you had dated while we were in school, and I found myself engaged to Jim.  I could barely keep myself together at your wedding; I was so happy and relieved that you had waited and were marrying the right person the first time: that you would never suffer, in that regard, as I had.  Then we had three daughters in a span of eighteen months and have shipped, back and forth, many gigantic boxes of baby clothing.

These are amazing things, but they are not--in and of themselves--the glue that holds us together.  The tattoo experience, the nose-piercing experience, all the church experiences: they are not the glue.  Even the fact that you are the person I call when I desperately need to say the "f word" aloud: not the glue.  But we are glued, stuck, committed, tied.  It's a forever thing.  I have never wondered when or if you would return because I have never lost or misplaced you.


If they made me say who among my amazing girlfriends is most likely to be my friend in forty years, I would speak your name.  What we have is more time-tested than my favorite t-shirt. 

If a terrible something happened and I were wracked with grief, you are the friend I would want.  I know because you have been that friend to me, before.  I remember lying curled up in a ball on the floor, hyperventilating from crying so hard.  I remember Jason saying: "Erin, I don't know what to do; she's really upset.  Can you...will you...talk to her?"  I remember his holding the phone to my ear, and I remember your voice wafting through the line like smoke, cradling my being until I could, once again, utter words. 

If they came into the room and said: "It's time for you to die," I would want to say goodbye to Jim and the kids.  But then I would want you and my brother to sit one on either side of me for my slipping into the arms of Jesus. 

Thank you for being the friend who makes me feel the most secure, understood, and worth it.  Thank you for knowing me almost as well as you know yourself...and for really, really loving me anyway.  Thank you for being my "no matter what" friend.

What I have written, here, is only part of our history, and our eighteen years together mark only the beginning of what we will become.  It's somewhat frustrating that, already, "I love you" isn't nearly big enough, especially because I suspect it's the very best I will ever have.

Brandee


With Cade, Halloween 2000

2001

2002

2003

2007

2008
 
Erin's Daughter Mira & Clementine, Chicago 2009

2010

2010

Clementine's Art

I have no idea where the Orange found it, but--by the time she brought it to me--she had decorated it with tiny brown and purple crayon circles she calls "flowers."  There was a second or two during which I was disappointed that she had drawn on my love note from Jim, but then I read the words again:


I laughed and thought: well, she--with her unruly hair, jumpin' legs, crayon-coloring hands, and chatteringkissinglaughing mouth--is proof of his words.  She is proof, and the contribution of her brown and purple flowers is just perfect!  So I added my own purple flower in the top right corner, but it isn't nearly as beautiful as hers:

 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

But then...

...the husband for whom I prayed said to wake up the boy who came through the door sick and sad and went straight to bed.  So I called: "Cade!  Wake up!  Jim is going to take you on an adventure!" 

The boy with rat's-nest hair and red eyes got out of bed and put on his glasses, shoes, coat.  He jammed his hands down in his coat pockets and asked, low and sincere: "Mom, is Jim taking me to the doctor?"

I laughed and said: "No."

Cade said: "I'm glad, because that wouldn't be a very good adventure."

On the way out the door, I heard them talking about where they will go to buy snacks to eat while we watch a rented movie, and I know there will be an ice-cream-cake surprise for an overdue birthday celebration for the coughing Scout with the postponed sleepover and disqualified pinewood-derby car.

The Wild Orange is pretending to talk to my sister-cousin on the phone for the hundredth time, today, and I am glad they know and love one another.  Occasionally, the Orange breaks out in song, and I am glad "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is her favorite, that she is learning more of the words, and that--at twenty-three months--she already sings in key.  I am glad for Baby Charleigh sleeping in my arms, and I am glad for the husband and son who are trying to make a relationship-something from next to nothing.  I am glad for the friends who will have lunch with us on Monday and for the electric and propane heaters we can use until our broken, forced-air unit is replaced.  I am glad the broken unit (with its sudden, gaping hole) did not catch on fire, force an abundance of soot into our house, or poison us with carbon monoxide.  I am glad for Handy Andy, who can't always fix our problems but always answers his phone or calls us right back.  I am glad Clementine's lumps are swollen lymph nodes and nothing more, also that they are shrinking thanks to antibiotics and are much smaller, now, than peas.  But, more than any of it, I am glad for the Heavenly Father who sees broken mommy hearts and works patiently, quietly, lovingly, to make things ok.

Nap

There are days...days like today, during which I would like to give myself a leave of absence from my job as Stay-at-Home Mom.  It would be like Captain Donald Cragen saying: "Don't try and rush it, [Detective] Olivia [Benson]. Take a vacation and relax. You'll be back before you know it."  Only I would say those things to myself.  I would brush my teeth; shower; remove, color, style hair.  I would apply make-up!  I would dress nicely (perhaps in an outfit that doesn't require easy access to my frontal units?) and go to Olive Garden.  By myself.  I would order a Frozen Peach Bellini and unlimited garden-fresh salad and minestrone, which I would consume liesurely, while reading the book my little brother bought me for Christmas: the one I haven't yet opened.

Since a leave of absence was not in the cards, today, I did the next best thing.  (For the record, I did it yesterday, too.)  I took a nap.

Baby Charleigh took a nap with me, of course.  She will be five months old tomorrow, but she may be the only person on the face of the earth who really could draw blood from a turnip.  She is happy to nurse around the clock, and here's the other thing about Baby Charleigh: she reminds me a little of this parakeet named Billy that used to live in my Grandma Shafer's living room.  When Billy drove Grandma crazy, Grandma made it dark in Billy's cage, and Billy stopped singing...went off to sleep.  I have learned that Baby Charleigh is like that...that--if I hold her close and make it dark, warm, quiet, and milk-filled--she is sure to stop babbling and go off to sleep.

So I snuggled with Baby Charleigh, and--in the place to which I sailed, in my dreams--there were no broken, forced-air-heating units; pinewood-derby guides undeciferable and vague to fairly intelligent and well-educated parents (and, therefore, no pinewood-derby cars created outside of regulation); crying children of any age or size; cancer, Tarlov cysts, or Alzheimer's disease; or endless piles of laundry and stuff.

One might expect that I would awaken refreshed, happy after my respite.  To be honest, I kind of expected that, myself.  But I am not happy.  I am still sad.  I don't want anyone to try to talk me out of my sadness or ask me to interrupt it by considering the abundance of blessings in my life.  I am blessed.  I am also sad.  And I would really like to go back to sleep.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Shattered

"Are you ok?" I asked, as I pulled the quilts up around his shoulders.  His eyes welled up with tears.

"I'm just thinking," he answered, "about the times you say you'll come in and kiss me goodnight, but you don't."

"How do you know I don't?" I asked.

"Because," he replied, "I stay awake."  A tear slid down his cheek.

Sighing, I said, "Cade, you know I always tuck you in unless I'm nursing the baby when it's time for you to go to bed.  And, yes, I'm sure there have been times that I have forgotten to come in and kiss you..."

He interrupted me.  "I knew it!  I knew you didn't come when you said you would."

"Cade," I admonished, frustrated, "I think you're a little hard on me, sometimes.  I mean, did I not just bake five dozen cookies, on Tuesday, for your birthday?  Did I not find someone to sit in the van with your sisters in order to deliver the cookies to your class?  Have I not spent days cleaning the addition so you can sleep out there, with your friends?  Am I not having a party for you tomorrow night?  Are you really going to try to make me feel like a bad mom right now?  Really?"

He looked away.  "No," he answered.  "You're right.  It's ok." 

I turned on my heels and left the room without saying: goodnight I love you, you impossibly needy child; I don't know how to say or show it better, or bigger, especially considering that I seem to have completely lost myself in caring for all of you and haven't even brushed my hair, today, as a matter of fact.  Didn't you notice that your dinner, tonight, was actually healthy: baked chicken in barbeque sauce with cut green beans and real mashed potatoes?  I made it all by myself, thank you very little, because your stepdad was busy helping you with your pinewood-derby car.  And what about the Heath cookies I baked, today, that had no home for a change, other than in your belly and the bellies of the other people who live here?

I plopped down on the couch with the littlest one to write this blog post and cry my eyes out.

But now...now I think I will try to slide the sleeping baby off my lap, surround her with pillows on the couch, tiptoe back into Cade's room, climb into his bed, take his sleeping head into my arms and say: open your eyes here I am goodnight I love you, you little punk.

Just Let Go

Between now and Valentine's Day, Ann Voskamp has encouraged her readers to share stories related to the practice of marriage.  This is the first time I have responded to one of her invitations, but--as it turns out--my friend Jen confided in me, recently, a wonderful story from her marriage.  I feel in my spirit that it might be of help to someone else, and it is with Jen's blessing that I write and share the following: 

When Jen and her husband Mike got together, she had been close friends with Bill for about six years.  Due to a unique set of cirumstances, Jen's and Bill's relationship had been built mostly through an exchange of written words.  Perhaps due to the same unique set of circumstances (as opposed to any real righteousness or restraint on Jen's, or Bill's, part), Jen and Bill had never been physically intimate; however, they had experienced and expressed romantic feelings at different points in their six-year friendship.  They were not at one of those points when Jen and Mike got together, and Jen did not feel as though her friendship with Bill were a threat to her and Mike's relationship.  But Mike was uncomfortable with Jen's continuing it.  Mike tried to compromise for about a year, and--at one point--he wrote down the strict guidelines under which he gave permission for Jen's and Bill's friendship to continue.  Although both Jen and Bill adhered carefully to the guidelines, their friendship continued to be a point of contention in Jen's and Mike's marriage, and it became increasingly clear to both Jen and Mike that Mike would be satisfied with nothing less than Jen's having no contact with Bill, ever, under any circumstances.

This knowledge was devastating to Jen for many reasons.  She didn't want to lose her friend, and she really cared to know what the future held for him.  She believed Bill needed her support.  She had promised Bill for years that she would never forsake him and detested the idea of going back on her word, and even more, the idea of hurting him.  She was angry that she and Bill had adhered to Mike's guidelines, but Mike required more; it seemed so unfair!  She was troubled because she felt like Mike didn't trust her.  She was afraid that--if she did what Mike wanted--he would lean on her to give up other things about which (or people about whom) she cared deeply.  Finally, after the painful ending of a different friendship (in which Jen had been wearing Bill's shoes) decades before, Jen had promised herself that she would never let anyone force her to give up a friendship.  So the prospect of doing what Mike wanted felt like betraying herself.

Jen grieved deeply, which only made things worse; the more central to her happiness that Mike perceived her friendship with Bill to be, the more Mike wanted Jen to end it.  Jen cried, argued with Mike both in person and in her mind, and prayed.  She remains thankful that she went to the Lord in prayer because, one day, she believes He spoke to her.  And this is what He said:

Jen. You are spending too much energy fighting with Mike about who is right and who is wrong.  I know that you have followed Mike's guidelines; that you are being asked to give up something important to you; and that your intentions in your friendship with Bill are pure.  But you are still wrong.  You are wrong because you are hurting Mike, and you have the choice not to hurt him.  Whether you're right or wrong doesn't matter if you're choosing to hurt your husband.  Because that means, automatically, that YOU ARE WRONG.

It was a lightbulb moment for Jen. 

Jen gave up her friendship with Bill.  Instantly, the quality of her marriage improved as greater trust was established.  Tension evaporated.  Jen calls Mike good and fair and reports that he has not asked her to give up anything or anyone (male or female) since that time.  I asked if she misses Bill.  She answered: "I can promise you that there is no void.  God has blessed me with several new--and very strong--Christ-centered friendships.  When Bill crosses my mind, which happens very infrequently, I offer up a prayer for him and move on with my thoughts, and my day.  And I have peace." 

Jen's story compels me to ask myself: to what am I clinging, "on principle?"  Are those things and people more valuable to me than the peace (both inside and outside of my marriage) I could attain in giving them up?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Celebrating Cade

Cade, December 2010

Cade, 4 Days Old

Today is Cade's eleventh birthday.  I found the following in my myspace notes; I wrote it three years ago, before I had baby daughters.

***

Just over eight years and one hour ago, my son was born.  He was 16 days late.  The 14th day after my due date was a Sunday, so the doctors induced my labor at 9 AM on the 15th day (January 24th).  They inserted some kind of pill inside me, but they did not break my water.  My water broke on its own while my pastor was visiting with me.  The nurse was not convinced my water had broken, but I knew I had not peed myself.  Someone put a fluid sample under a microscope, and lo and behold, I was "ferning."

I remember playing a lot of Yahtzee with my ex-husband and my mother that day.  I did not have any medication until around 5 pm, when I started to get very tired, and the pain seemed unbearable. I took Stadol.  Around 8 pm, I requested a shot of Epidural. The nurse put the (very long) needle in incorrectly the first time, and my mother had to leave the room so she wouldn't beat the nurse to death.  Everything went smoothly the second time.

I did not scream all day.  I was not mean, as my ex-husband feared I would be.  I cried many, many silent tears.

When it was time for my son to be born, I pushed harder, longer than I was asked to push.  I stared at my striped toe socks and declined the doctor's offer to watch, in a mirror, my son's head crown.  My son shook his head back and forth as he was leaving my body.  The doctor laughed and said, "Your son does not want to be born."

And then Cade was here.  It was just after midnight on January 25th.  My ex-husband cut the thick, blue umbilical cord.  He, my mother, and I all cried.  Cade weighed 9 lbs., 5 oz., and he was 20" long.  I was almost 26 years old.

I look back and feel like I was born that day, also.  I felt a shift inside me.  I became cautious, protective...not only of Cade, but also of myself.  I can't allow anything bad to happen to me; I am someone's mother.  I can honestly say that, for the past eight years, I have not made one single, solitary decision without considering the well being of my son.  Someday, he will ask me about certain decisions I have made, and it will be a privilege to explain them.  I have to be fair, and I have to be kind.  But I am allowed--obligated, even--to be honest.

I have a ferocious, savage love for my son.  I love him most and best, and best and most.  I watch him dance, laugh, and skip.  I watch him love others, and I know: as many things as I have screwed up in my lifetime, I have not failed my boy.  I may have been someone before he was born, but the self I have come to accept, even love, is the mother of my son.  If I seem confident to you, if I seem happy to you, it's because I know God loves me.  The proof of His love for me is the remarkable child He gave me, as a gift.

Someday, when Cade is grown, I will tell him how hard it was to let him go three nights a week and Saturdays.  I will tell him there were nights I cried because I couldn't smell his hair and tuck him into bed.  And I will tell him that--because it was best for him--I kept a smile on my face for him, shared him with his dad.  He is a light.  He is a bright light.  He is a bright, sparkling scarecrow light.

He is the love of my life.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Even So


Sharing, today, one of my very favorite poems.  I still remember the exact moment in which I discovered it.  Jim found me sitting Indian-style on the carpeted aisle of a Barnes & Noble, reading and crying.  A place in my heart needed this poem and still does.  

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice—it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

-Mary Oliver

In this poem, Oliver writes about caring for the "least of these," but the caregiver in me is less affected by her words than the unprepared person in me.  I never feel prepared for God.  I have never once--in my whole entire life--felt prepared for Him.  I walk more closely with Him, today, than I ever have, and I try...I really try to do the right things; still, I live with the consequences of my past.  The sin in my life glares, and I feel so easily convicted and overwhelmed by anything and everything dark in my heart.  I want so desperately to be better than I am.  I doubt that my harshest critic would attack me with more vehemence than I attack myself.  But despite my failures, despite my disappointment in myself...

God comes to me, anyway.

Unwashed hair, dried spit-up on the front of my shirt, fountain-pen marks on the back of my shirt, cereal smashed into the carpet, handprints on the windows, overflowing trashcan, rooms full of...who knows? And that's only what can be seen by the naked eye and nothing compared to the mess I am on the inside.  God sees that, too.  Still, He comes.

Jesus comes, willingly, into whatever vessel we offer, but we have to offer it.  He must have something offered, to fill.  It can be a broken or dirty something; He doesn't mind.  That's where He works best.  

We offered Jesus a barn on the day of his birth, and He took it.  He filled a manger.  Mary Oliver offers her animal-filled house; He is on His way.  I offer Him a jumbled mess of pain and sin just before consuming His body and blood, and He takes it.  He fills my heart.  I offer him--through prayer--my sin on a platter.  He takes it and fills with peace the closet space it occupied. 

Such profound love.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Shame

There are so many things about which (and people about whom) I want to write, but--for some reason--I feel like I need to write about keeping house.  Or my failure to keep house well.  At the moment, this failure is one of my sore spots.  In terms of insecurity and personal frustration, it's the sorest of my sore spots. 

Allow me to preface the rest by saying:  I know I am loved by most (if not all) of the people reading this, and I know you are even now having a conversation with me in your minds.  I have italicized and bolded what I guess to be your thoughts and questions, below, and will proceed to address them. 

Your house can't really be that messy or dirty.
I would not want to die of shame or embarrassment if you walked through my front door right this second; however, this would not have been the case had you walked through my front door Tuesday morning.  In preparation for a small group Bible study in my living room, I spent the entire day cleaning up the main part of my house and Clementine's bedroom on Tuesday.  Even so, during Bible study, my eyes were drawn over and over again to the fingerprints on my windows, the dust on my furniture, the mysterious smears of food on the blanket on my tv stand, and the UFOs underneath the tv stand.  None of these issues have been addressed in the two days since Bible study.  Furthermore, since Bible study, dirty clothes and random objects have accumulated on my living room floor, as well as unwashed dishes in my kitchen sink.  (My dishwasher is broken, currently.)

My clean-up of the aforementioned rooms of my house involved the vacuuming and sweeping of a few rooms, but not every room, and there was no dusting or mopping.  Dusting and mopping occurs only rarely, here.

There are two rooms in my house into which I would not invite you.

Your house doesn't look that terrible in your pictures.
Notice that I take a lot of close-up photos, and these in only a few rooms.  I am known for kicking stuff out of the way before taking close-up photos in these few rooms.

So, are you, like, a hoarder?
There are a couple people in my life who would probably say, "Yes."  These are people who have helped me move on several occasions and therefore have a good grasp on the sheer amount of my worldly possessions.  I love the hoarding shows on tv and have watched them with rapt attention...less because I identify with these overwhelmed, exposed individuals and more because I find comfort in knowing the situation in my house could be worse.

I do not consider myself a hoarder but acknowledge a sentimental attachment to many items, also a desire for my unwanted items to find their way to perfect, new homes.  The two above-mentioned rooms are the two we use least: an addition we hope to turn into a playroom, and our bedroom.  These rooms are catch-alls for boxes, bins, hampers, and laundry baskets of "stuff."  Sometimes I sweep my arm across our counters and knock everything my arm touches into a box, which I subsequently shove out of sight in my addition or bedroom.

Well, Poor Thing, you DO have three kids, two of whom are babies.
That's true; I do.  And--to that end--the babies are almost never in the care of anyone but Jim or me.  They are almost never asleep at the same time, and the two particularly cluttered rooms are nearly impossible to address when even one of the babies is awake.  Clementine is very busy and cannot be left to her own devices at all, but especially in a messy room.  She is also a light sleeper, which presents a problem in my cleaning of my bedroom (which is next to hers).  If Clementine were napping, I could put Charleigh in her bouncy seat and work in the addition downstairs, but the addition is unheated, which presents a problem.

Having said that, those who have known me longest will tell you I had the housekeeping issue before I had children and when I had only one child, so I can't really blame the situation on bringing baby girls into the world.

Are you saying you're lazy?
I don't consider myself lazy.  I am pretty much always doing something...to the point that I watch very little tv and read much less than I would like.  I am, however, less physically active than I should be.  I spend a lot of time sitting, hanging out with my kids.  I should put Charleigh in a carrier more often, but her weight gets me in the back.

What are you doing with your time?
Taking care of and playing with my kids.  Cooking and baking as much as possible.  Also blogging and performing various acts of community care.

Speaking of which: if your house is out of control, is it safe to eat your food?
Absolutely.  The food I prepare is unexpired.  All of the dishes, pans, utensils, and work spaces I use in preparing your food are clean.  Anything that falls on the floor goes in the trashcan. :)

Can I help you?
In terms of cleaning?  No.  There is only one person who does not live in this house whom I would allow to help me clean (unless I were desperate), and that is my mom.  She lives eight hours away.  Jim told me I could bring a housekeeper in right before Charleigh was born, but I wouldn't do it.  I felt like I needed to address my clutter before she could clean, and I was embarrassed for anyone (even a housekeeper) to see the state of my house.  A friend came to visit last week and asked (begged, really) to help me go through some piles in my dining room.  This person has a perfect heart, but I didn't know how to tell her I'd rather suffocate under a stack of fallen boxes than have her help me in this respect.

I would tell you that you could help me by playing with my babies, but that's probably not entirely true, either, because--if you came over--I would want to visit with you, not clean.  Also, I would feel pressured to clean to a certain degree before your arrival.  I'm not sure whether this added stress would be a good or a bad thing.

What is your point in sharing this?
Well, I could use your prayers.  I feel very convicted to change this problem area in my life.  The problem and my feelings about it are more complicated than you might suspect:
  • A friend of mine surprised me, one day, by showing up with a chocolate cake.  (She is almost sure to read this, and she will know who she is.)  This person has a perfect heart and had perfect intentions in bringing the cake, and, in fact, I had said to this person: "Come over any time."  But my house was DISGUSTING on the day of her surprise visit, and I wanted to die when she showed up; thus, I have stopped saying to people: "Come over any time."  But I want to be someone who says this and means it.  I get lonely.
  • Brian Hughes preached a sermon, once, in which he said that Satan loves secrets.  I hate Satan.  You can be sure I have not been readily sharing my housekeeping issues.  I feel like, after talking openly about them, I will be more apt to correct them.
  • My pastor David Simpson loves to use an analogy about closed-off rooms.  He's really talking about parts of our hearts/lives into which we won't allow God, but he compares these to messy rooms in our houses into which we won't allow guests.  Every time he uses that analogy, I squirm in my pew.  I'm tired of it.  I want to have clean rooms in my house so I can appreciate his analogy.
  • My housekeeping issues are a source of envy and sometimes hate.  I go into clean and organized houses--or see pictures of clean and organized houses--and I envy the people to whom those houses belong.  Sometimes I want to stab those people with one of the dirty forks in my kitchen sink.
  • I fear that my housekeeping issues are a matter of pride.  To be honest, I often feel like I have more important things to do (bigger callings) than to clean house.  Who do I think I am???
  • I fear that my housekeeping issues reveal messed up priorities.  In some cases, I am spending time caregiving instead of cleaning, but doesn't God expect me to care for my family, first?  This is a matter of prayer and definitely one of those areas in which I need balance.  I don't know that I'll ever desire perfection in my house, but it would be nice if my children could play in our addition.  It would be nice to have a freshly-mopped kitchen floor, say, weekly.
  • Disorganization breeds chaos.  I can't find things.  It's never worse than on Sunday mornings when we are trying to get out the door for church.  I tend to get frustrated (and sometimes downright hateful) while trying to get somewhere or accomplish something at a set time.  Sadly, there are times that my nasty attitude ruins our entire day.
  • I fear that I am setting a poor example for my children.  Cade, bless his little piggy heart, is known for being a disorganized mess at school.  Clementine tries very often to "help" me with a broom or a dishrag.  This makes me feel guilty.  What does it say that more hope for a clean space rests in my not-quite-two-year-old daughter than in me?
  • I fear that I am a sad excuse for a wife because my husband cannot always find clean clothes for work.  Also because he has a difficult time in navigating through the giant piles of stuff in our bedroom...to get to our unmade bed.
  • I know God wants better for me because he has called me to host a second Bible study in my house starting next month.  I have two birthday parties and an untold number of playdates to host within the next two months.
Are you going to stop blogging?
Awww...thanks for caring about that.  No.  Very often, I blog while breastfeeding, and I anticipate another nine months of that action.  And I will make time for blogging for many other reasons.  Perhaps I will share those at a later time.  For now, I'm going to share pictures of my house, all taken this morning.  Please pray for me.  I know I tend to be all (as Christy would say) "jokey jokey," but--even if you find this post humorous--I have been serious in writing it.  Sore spot.  Embarrassing and hard to share.  Shameful.

Kitchen Sink

Living Room Window

Dining Room

Laundry Room
 
Bedroom

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Follow Up to "Joy"

Interview with Clementine 01/18/11. See previous post for a complete understanding of yesterday's events.

video

Monday, January 17, 2011

Joy

Clementine and Sidda

I was standing right there, next to the bathtub.  Next thing I knew: screams, splashes. I turned ninety degrees to the left to discover our cat Sidda in the bathtub with Clementine.  Sidda leapt, leaving Clementine alone in the tub, crying and bleeding from one scratch on her arm and another on her chest.

"Clementine," I asked, "did you grab Sidda and pull her in the tub?"

"Yes," Clementine answered--between sobs--in her smallest, saddest voice.

"Honey, kitties don't like it when they get wet," I said.

"Like it," Clementine said, nodding.

Generous amounts of Neosporin, two Spiderman and two plain Band-Aids later, the Wild Orange sleeps diapered, lotioned, and dressed.  In her play pen, since she took it upon herself to remove a poopy diaper (of the diarrhea variety) in her crib, today.  Her crib bedding hasn't yet made it out of the dryer.

Clementine will be fine.  I have a couple months of cold weather to try to convince Jim that Sidda should not take up residence outside.  Thank God Charleigh wasn't in the bathtub with her sister. 

It's been one of THOSE days with all three off my delightful offspring.

Cade spent most of the morning writing a three-page essay on why he should speak respectfully to Jim.  I heard many sighs, moans, and pencil thwacks on formica.  Upon Jim's return from a day of waiting for vehicle repairs, Cade discovered his own failure to shut the lid of the deep freezer.  Five days ago. 

Charleigh pooped out the top of her diaper first thing this morning, through her new pajamas, onto my new pajamas.  She has refused to nap, today, unless held. 

Clementine went napless, today, thanks to two unfortunate incidents with diarrhea. She decided to play with Jim's eyeglasses and bent them (beyond repair, I suspect).  Also, she found a fountain pen and drew all over her upholstered chair, limbs, and stomach.  This prior, of course, to her party with the cat, in the bathtub.

I would try to write a conclusion oozing with profundity, but--since my dishwasher is yet unrepaired--I need to fellowship with my dishwashing liquid.  I reckon it's one surefire way to experience Joy. :)



Love Poem for Jim

I remembered this poem (published in my fb notes on August 2, 2009) while hanging out in the middle of the morning, exhausted, with a different baby daughter.  So I'm sharing.

***

Love Poem for Jim

Our baby awakens after three seconds in her crib

I, defeated and exhausted, carry her to our bed

Where you are already sleeping

I need to feed her from my fuller breast, also

Keep her next to me only, not between us, so

She and I lie down heads-to-feet with you

You stir a little,

Extend your hand and catch my foot in it,

Interlace your fingers with my toes,

Make circles on my foot with your thumb, and

I am too tired for words beyond these:

Family, Home, Love.

Baby Clementine Adele


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cade Becomes a Boy Scout

My little man is camping out this weekend.  He and four of his friends (also former Webelos) became Boy Scouts this evening.  I went to the campground with my camera to witness the crossing-over ceremony, in which they crossed a lake by boat. 

Cade's loving life!










Terye and the Gift of "Been There, Done That"


I met Terye because, in 1999, I played Mary the mother of Jesus in the Christ United Methodist Church Christmas play.  I was pregnant with Cade, who was born 9 lb 5 oz in January; therefore, I had the "great with child" thing down pat, at least.  In 1999, the youngest baby in the church was Terye's son Cody, so he was assigned the role of Baby Jesus.


I met Cody and Terye on the night of dress rehearsal.  Terye is vivacious with a hearty laugh, and I was drawn to her right away.  She asked if my soon-to-be-born Cade needed anything, and I told her he had everything he could possibly need or want aside from bedding for the bassinet I had purchased at a yard sale.  She said she had bassinet bedding, as a matter of fact, and would be happy for Cade to have it, along with some clothes Cody had outgrown.  So Terye and I fell into a friendship, and--after Cade was born--Cade and I spent many happy afternoons with Cody and Terye. 

Terye and her family lived in a farmhouse on a gravel road in Shenandoah that I called, with affection, "Sleepy Hollow" because trees hugged it on both sides, and because a black, train trestle hung above it; still, the house itself was cozy and warm with Terye's parents Joe and Jan; Terye and Cody; Grandma Elsie the organist, who lived in the mother-in-law suite; dog Tequila and parrot Jasmine; and a million toy tractors.  Cade and I made ourselves at home to the point that I knew my way around the refrigerator and laid claim to a vintage, pink aluminum tumbler that I pulled from a kitchen cupboard on every visit.  Sometimes, Terye and I walked Sleepy Hollow with the boys in strollers; other times, I slipped over to the farmhouse, alone, for "girl time" with Terye.

Unfortunately, in 2001, when Cade was about eighteen months old, my ex-husband was transferred from Harrisonburg to Richmond, which pretty much marked the end of Cade's and my time in Sleepy Hollow.

Cody, Terye's Dad Joe, and Cade (<--Charleigh looks just like him!!!)

I moved away, but Terye never let me go, and she is one of very few friends in Shenandoah with whom I have remained in touch.  I struggle in telling the rest of Terye's and my story because it includes so much suffering (significantly more in her life than mine).  I can tell you that Terye's son Cody and her dad Joe died separately, suddenly, accidentally.  Also that Terye has battled cancer.  A part of me gets mired in these horrors, sometimes, but--although they have impacted my friend, of course!--they do not define Terye, and they do not define my friendship with her.

Terye is my friend because--even before her above-mentioned difficulties--she had the gift of "been there, done that."  My friend Gabriela's dad used to say: "Cuando tu vas, yo ya vengo." Gabby complains that this phrase translates poorly as: "When you are going, I am already on my way back,"  but the essence is: "You can't fool me; I'm two steps ahead of you."  That's Terye.  She's heard and seen it all and done most of it.  She's unshockable, unflappable, non-judgmental.  If I were burdened by a deep, dark secret, I would whisper it in Terye's ear, and she would offer immediate assistance in the form of a prayer.  Or a hit man.

Terye is fiercely loyal, big- and tender-hearted, and deeply creative.  She can design and make jewelry, sing, paint, write poetry, and bake and decorate cake, and I'm sure she has other creative talents of which I'm unaware.  I know God has a special plan for her life, and, in my mind, Terye is Phoenix.  She rises with more beauty, brilliance, and strength than she had before the flames.  She sings; she soars.  She is Job, who clings to his faith when everything else is taken, and subsequently experiences favor and reward from God.  So I offer up a prayer, and--after you read it--I invite you to pray the same on behalf of my friend.

Dear Heavenly Father: Thank You for Terye and the person You created her to be.  I ask that You cup her in Your right hand and cover her with Your left.  Your Word says, Father, that You will work all things to our good if we love You and are called according to Your purpose.  I claim this promise on Terye's behalf and ask that You continue to work in her life, draw her ever closer to You, and make her path clear.  If it is Your will, Father, I ask that You heal Terye in every respect.  Thank You for loving us and for being awake and helping even when we close our eyes to sleep.  In Your name I pray, Amen.

Love you, Terye.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pigeons


I'm pausing in writing about my friends so as to let the well refill and share my thoughts on pigeons. 

Six or seven years ago, my niece-cousin Brandi, my son Cade, and I drove to Maryland to visit my college roommate Erin Quigley, and all of us took a day trip to Annapolis Harbor.  As we walked and enjoyed sunshine, breezy saltwater air, and boats big and small, I read aloud a sign: "DO NOT FEED THE PIGEONS!!!"  I looked around, furrowed my brow, and turned to Quigley.  "Huh," I said, "I don't see a pigeon, anywhere."

Without missing a beat, she responded matter-of-factly: "That's because no one feeds them."

Oh.

In my mind, I traveled back in time to early 1999 and house shopping in Shenandoah.  I looked at a house right in the middle of town, liked it very much, and may well have bought it but for the house across the street.  The roof of this house--my potential neighbors' house--was covered in pigeons...to the point that there was no roof to be seen.  Creepy, Man!  Think Addams Family creepy, plus pigeons!  And there was no way I wanted to come out my front door, everyday, and look straight into a million beady, little pigeon eyes; feel like I had a hungry audience behind me while carrying groceries into my house; or worry, daily, that a pigeon might fly over--on his way "home"--and poop in my hair.  So I left and never looked back.


I spent a little bit of time reading up on pigeons this morning, and I learned some interesting things.  For example, 32 pigeons were decorated with the Dickin Medal for their work in war; homing pigeons delivered financial information to the Rothschilde family with such speed that the family rose above their competition in Wall-Street trading; and--to this very day--there is big money in pigeon racing.  Pigeons and doves are in the same family: hardy little birds capable of flying over floods with olive branches.   Bert (from Sesame Street) has always loved pigeons; I'm not trying to trash them! 

Still, where the rubber meets the road, there is the matter of pigeon poop, which carries the bacteria of diseases like salmonella and meningitis.  Also the fact that--if you feed a pigeon--he will return with his wife, parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins, and even the friends he met by the park bench once upon a day.

People are the same.  If you feed them (not only their bellies, but their spirits), they will return for more, and they may bring others with them.  You will have to deal with their crap and possibly the crap of their relatives and friends.  Hear what I'm saying: everyone is a sinner, and everyone messes up in your realm, here and there.  That's ok.  But it is not ok for you to be overtaken by urban pests.  

You say, Jesus wants us to care for others.  No kidding!  Jesus does want us to care for others!  But I don't think Jesus wants us to enable those who are physically sound but would stop working in order to squat on our roofs (sometimes with their relatives and friends) while growing to enormous proportions on the food we kill ourselves to provide.  Furthermore, Jesus wants us to make the best use of our time for His kingdom.  Am I making a statement about the poor or unemployed? Sure, if those people have no good reason for being poor or unemployed.  But it's bigger than that, and I might be referring to the wealthiest person you've ever known: the one who calls you constantly and drains your emotional and mental energy and messes with your functionality.  If you are spending all your time on a lazy, bacteria-ridden bird, how many more deserving creatures are you overlooking, neglecting?  Here's another question: how many would-be loving neighbors are you repelling as you sit there, covered in bird crap?

No one should ever underestimate the importance of examining his or her relationships.  Each of us has God-given free will and can--under most circumstances--rid ourselves of pests.  If a relationship is toxic, we can end it by starving it.  Your "friends" (frenemies?) may be smart and swift (and I can guarantee their hardiness!), but--if they aren't worth the crap they bring to your life--stop feeding them

Samuel Johnson is famous for writing: "To let friendship die away by negligence and silence is certainly not wise. It is voluntarily to throw away one of the greatest comforts of this weary pilgrimage."  Do you know what he wrote just a little after, in the same paragraph?  He wrote: "It is pleasing, in the silence of solitude, that there is one at least, however distant, of whose benevolence there is little doubt, and whom there is yet hope of seeing again."  Don't be confused: Johnson wasn't referring to a false friend.  

So take a deep breath, close your eyes, and think.  Inevitably, God will bring someone to your mind.  Maybe someone about whom you've heard lovely things, but whom you've never met.  Maybe a deserving person in need.  Maybe someone kind and good with whom you used to spend time, before you got caught up in bird hell.  Call that person up.  Bake her a cake.  Improve your pilgrimage, my child. 
    

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Christy and the Gift of Curiosity


To be honest, I struggled in titling this because my friend Christy has brought so many gifts to my door, heart, and life over the past eight years or so that titling limits me. 

I met Christy in the second half of 2002, about a year after my ex-husband Jason, my son Cade, and I moved to Powhatan.  We were attending a cookout in the pavilion of Red Lane Baptist Church, and Christy gushed over Cade's Chuck Taylors.  Christy's son Noah was about three years old; Cade hadn't yet celebrated his third birthday.  I loved talking to Christy and said something like: "Let's be best friends," or, "We're going to be best friends."

I have been stuck to her like a tick on a dog ever since.

Christy and I have flat torn up the road.  We have made at least three trips to East Tennessee.  We have (in no particular order) gone to the Smithsonian, several aquariums, Wolftrap (to see Annie, on the lawn, in the pouring rain), the pumpkin patch, Bible study, fall festivals, the apple orchard, antique and shopping malls, Bear Creek Lake, the Green Valley Book Fair, the zoo, movie theaters, Kings Dominion, and I could go on and on.  We have baked Christmas cookies together for at least seven years.  We have taken our kids trick-or-treating and Easter-egg hunting.  There was a period of time during which I worked Tuesday through Saturday, and Christy and I spent nearly every Monday together. 

Christy knows me.  I mean, she really knows me.  She has seen me angry, despondent, and afraid. She has seen me in physical pain.  She has endured my bossiness, rudeness, and unfortunate tendency to pass judgment.  She witnessed what was, possibly, my worst parenting moment ever.  She has been my friend through two marriages, one divorce and two break-ups, one changing-locks situation, three moves and four houses, two childbirths, three churches, one graduation and three jobs.  She knows my parents; brother, sister-in-law, and nephews; sister-cousin and niece-cousin; and she has met most of my other friends...even the ones who live far away.  She has seen me naked.  She has prayed for me, cried with me, fed me, and advised me.  She knows nearly every story I have that is worth telling.  She knows my history so well that--when I told her I was driving to South Boston to see Jim Galyon for the first time in eleven years--she asked: "Wait a minute.  Isn't that the guy who took you on your best date ever?  The one who pushed you into a tree and kissed you?" 

As I was trying to figure out how to pour eight years into a blog post, I asked myself what in the world has fueled Christy's loyalty to me.  She has been mature, responsible, and settled over the course of our entire relationship; I feel like I am just starting to figure things out.  I haven't always been a good friend to her, let alone a good person around her.  I don't mean to downplay her very evident love for me, but--when I closed my eyes and pictured her big, almond-shaped baby blues--I laughed and thought: maybe she has just always wanted to see how things will turn out!  (My mother says I have been a lot of things, but I have never been boring.)


Curiouser and curiouser!

In fact, Christy is infused with curiosity.  I refer not to rubber-necking, holy-cow-look-at-that-nasty-train-wreck curiosity (although I would've been good for that, too, at times) but, instead, to a sense of curiosity over how God will work things out, with the kind of faith Paul demonstrated when he wrote: "There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears" (Philippians 1:6, MSG).
 
Curiosity sparks Christy's love for adventure, as well as her appreciation for challenge.  She loves to push the boundaries of what she can do through Christ who strengthens her.  I call her up and ask, "What are you doing today?"

"Oh," she answers, "pouring concrete.  Refinishing a piece of furniture.  Homeschooling my kids and purging my house of all clutter, but--in half an hour--I'm going to paint backdrops for Vacation Bible School.  And then I'm going to build a chicken tractor." 

I say, "Whaaat?!  Wow, you sound really busy."

"Why?" she asks.  "Do you need something?"

"Well," I tell her, "I need to come up with a baby-shower cake with a train on top."

"Oh, that's no problem," she reassures me, gently.  "I can help you with that just as soon as I drop off the kids, tomorrow."

"Your kids?" I ask, confused.

"Oh, no.  Not my kids," she replies, "the four kids who've been staying here all week because their parents are on a mission trip in Zimbabwe."  (Christy nearly always has extra kids because--when all the parents of Red Lane Baptist Church ask their kids where they'd like to stay for the day--they want to go to Christy's house, thank you very much, and, Mommy and Daddy, can you delay picking me up by a few hours or a few days?)

So Christy gets her workhorse on until, finally, her husband Alan puts his foot down, at which point she pouts, but only until she realizes she's completely and utterly exhausted and has been so very busy that she hasn't sent the Christmas cards she addressed and stamped.  Three years ago.

Christy's a wonder, and it comes to me: one of the most wonderful things about her is that she brings out in me (and so many others) a child who calls out: "Hey Christy, watch this!" because I know she will be just curious enough to turn her light-colored, luminous eyes toward me and--no matter how crazy my activity--look upon me with love.  If I succeed, I want her to see it, and--if not--I choose her as my compassionate witness.  Either way, we can talk about what happened over chocolate cake.  And here's my special message especially for her:


Ok. Maybe I don't love you quite that much, Christy.  But I do love you beyond my ability to express it, and I appreciate your patience and servant's heart.  Thank you for doing life with me.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

David and the Gift of Dependability


I seem to be on a roll in writing about my PCC friends, so I've decided to write, next, about my friend David Samuel.  David and I are different in many ways, one of which is that I don't think I've ever known him to show up late.  If you know me, you know timeliness is something with which I really struggle, so--if David could bring this out in me--everyone I know would thank him, but especially Carter and Karen, with whom Cade and I sing in the Fine Creek Baptist Church choir on Sunday mornings. 

David and I met when we attended a PCC class, taught by Kevin Salyer and Jim Wheeler, on finding our SHAPE (an acronym for spiritual gifts, heart, activities, personality, and experiences).  The class was held in the library of Pocahontas Elementary School, and--when I walked in--I saw David sitting all by himself at a children's-sized, round table.  Being the extrovert I am, I assumed he was sad and sorry to be alone and needed not only a companion for the moment but a friend for life, so I joined him at his little table and basically took captive his space and time: not only on that day, but on days to come.

I invited David to come pick me up and take me with him to this conference at Atlee Community Church, because, you know, I didn't want him to be lonely on the long drive.  Shortly thereafter, I invited him to fix a door on my bitty house which--due to an unfortunate set of circumstances--had been banged, knocked, or ripped half off its hinges.  I came home from work just a couple days later to find the door fixed, and--in order to thank him--I invited David over for dinner and a movie with Cade and me. (Because what could be a better thank-you than two happy voices talking to him, non-stop?)  And dinner with David became a weekly thing for what seemed like forever but was, in reality, probably only a few months.  Cade and I went to David's house a time or two, but mostly David ate with Cade and me in the bitty house.  Cade always piled on top of David to watch a movie in the chair, while I stretched out on the couch.  Then, inevitably, Cade would go to bed, and David and I would move to the concrete stoop in front of the door David had fixed, where we would sit side-by-side and talk while I chain smoked into the dark.

Times with David are always happy times, but the period of time during which I came to be friends with David was not, overall, a happy time.  I was a single mom in a bitty house in the middle of the woods on one of the last four, unpaved roads in Powhatan, and--although not a person prone to fear--I did not feel entirely safe, always.  Before I became close friends with David, my only close friends in Powhatan had been Christy and Alan.  They lived less than a mile away on the same gravel road, but they have always gone to bed with the chickens, and they don't always answer their phones.  So, honestly and all melodrama aside, I felt much more comfortable and secure in my house after I came to know David, who carries his cell phone everywhere, keeps odd hours, and knows every fireman and policeman in the county.

I don't see David very often anymore because life has become busier and more complicated: I married Jim (whom David loves) and had two more children; David married Dorothy (whom I love); each of us moved into a different house; and I no longer attend PCC on Sundays (although I still serve, proudly, on its Care Team).  David did come to meet both my babies just after they were born, and I joked with him that I was having babies only because I knew he would visit me in the hospital.  When David visited me after Charleigh's birth, he had gone twenty-four hours or so without sleep and was dead on his feet, but he came, anyway, because he knew how much it would mean to me.  He's just dependable like that.

Despite our limited interaction, I continue to count David among my closest friends for several reasons.  First of all, to this very day, he is the friend I would call if I needed help in the middle of the night.  I have never called David in the middle of the night, but I would, because I know he would answer, and I know--if necessary--he would sound the alarms and send countless firemen, policemen, and men of the church to my doorstep.  Clementine has actually called David twice from my cell phone (a happy phenomenon, since--to my knowledge--she's never called anyone else, also because David's name doesn't come first, alphabetically, in my list of contacts), and both times, David has checked in right away to make sure I am ok.

The second reason I count David among my closest friends is that (and you can test me on this) if anyone were to ask me, on any given day, ever, whom I would like to run into at the post office or in Target, my answer would be: David Samuel.  Hands down.  No hesitation.  Every single time.  Which kind of bleeds into the third reason I count David among my closest friends: he always looks happy to see me!  When I say that, I mean he has this way of smiling with his whole heart, through his face, sometimes while shaking his head as if to say: you are so silly.  And, truly, I can just imagine Jesus looking at me the same exact way, like: Girl, you try too hard to fill empty chairs and pauses in conversation, and I saw you chain smoking at the bitty house back in the day, but I really, really like you, anyhow.

I don't mean to put words in David's mouth; I've done that too many times, already, over the years.  But if any of my friends knows I love him, it's David, because I light up like a Christmas tree every time I see him.  It's not about the length of the exchange, the topic of conversation, or even whether or not we have a conversation.  I just feel glad for having seen his face.  Oftentimes my eyes well up, and that's probably the part he doesn't get, but my best translation of the wordless language in my heart goes something like this:

Thank you for being my friend when I felt heartbroken, lonely, and sad.  Thank you for letting me sit beside you when you probably could have used some alone time, and thank you for letting me talk your ear off when you probably could have used some quiet time.  Thank you for making me feel like I could sleep in peace--alone in my bitty house in the middle of the woods on an unpaved road--because you were on call.  You will never understand what an important gift that was, but it was everything at the time, and I will never forget it.   

Linda and Mike and the Gift of Family

Linda & Mike with Their Grandchildren, Plus Cade & Clementine

Back in the beginning of the PCC Care Team as I know it, we experimented with a team system, and Linda Boggs was one of nine or ten people on my team.  She was unable to attend a team luncheon in Jim's and my log cabin, but--after many e-mail exchanges--I wanted very much to meet her in person and invited her and her husband Mike over for dinner.  Jim and I fell in love with Linda and Mike right away, and I'm laughing because I tried to title this "Linda and the Gift of Family," which sounds better, but it's impossible to write about Linda without writing about Mike.  And, as I think about it, that statement is very much a testament to their marriage and how they operate: you don't get one without the other, and, in fact, you really don't get both of them without being pulled into their whole, warm and wonderful family, which goes to my very point.

If you've ever met Linda Boggs, you know she's a petite, blond force of nature, and I could easily incorporate words like "velocity" and "momentum" into a description of her, because she talks and moves ninety miles a minute.  She loves to throw a party, and I've never known another hostess like her, because she can easily connect with fifty-two people in one hour while simultaneously reheating food and tidying her kitchen.  I'm convinced she owns a bottomless iced-tea jug and an endless roll of toilet paper, among other things, because I've never heard anyone ask for anything at the Boggs' house, and I've been there enough to meet many of their siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews, and to know Linda's and Mike's sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren quite well. 

Linda doesn't tend to entertain sadness, and--when things go wrong for her or anyone she knows--she prays and keeps right on truckin'.  I believe her to be one of the most faithful and powerful prayer warriors I know and have many times thought (and sometimes said aloud): it will be ok, because Linda is praying.  She's great at drive-by encouragement, too, and will often say just the right thing to get me through a rough patch.  One time, she looked at me, laughed, and said: "Brandee, all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and yours is as big as a state-fair pumpkin, so everything will be ok."  I carried those words with me for the better part of a year (all the while knowing Linda was praying for me), and one morning I woke up to find she had been right: in the end, everything worked out just fine.

I think it also worth mentioning that Sharon (about whom I blogged recently) and Linda have been close friends for a very long time.  I learned this after connecting separately (and significantly) with each of them and was amazed that--out of a huge church--I'd managed to give my heart to best friends.  I still think, often, about their friendship and am glad two such deserving women have one another.

Mike moves and speaks at a slower pace than Linda but is quite the talker, himself, and he particularly loves to tell a story.  He is the twinkly-eyed earth; she is the animated, laughing sun around whom he revolves.  Sometimes--in the course of a conversation--they get in one another's way, but they are crazy in love, and they work seamlessly as a team.  They had their own, special method for raising boys (involving Jesus, a swimming pool, and a basketball goal), and they have their own, special method for keeping hamburgers warm in their buns. 

They're the bomb.

I am a better spouse and parent just for watching Linda and Mike.  And here's my very favorite thing about them: they invite me to watch them very often.  They found the place in my heart that aches in missing my family, and they decided to do something about it.  They have stopped by on Christmas Eve; come over for dinner; met both of the girls shortly after birth (Charleigh while still in the hospital); attended Clementine's first birthday party; included Jim, the children, and me in their family's Easter, fall, and many other celebrations; and the list goes on and on.  One warm, summer evening, I watched Linda's and Mike's grown sons play baseball with Cade in the yard, and I thought: if I were with my relatives, it would be just the same as this.

What an amazing thing it is to hear someone say to you, in essence: here is what I have borne, supported, raised, taught, and loved.  Here is my family: the best, most beautiful thing I have.  I will gladly share them with you.  There is room for you at our table, and in our hearts.  Family--even when (and perhaps especially when) it is not the one into which you were born--is a rare and precious gift, indeed.