Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Eyes of the Lord


Lord, to look into your eyes.
Eyes that see truth and preserve knowledge.
Eyes that have remained open.

Eyes that have seen all my ways.


But hold, none-the-less, grace. 
  Lovingkindness.  Favour.

To know I have done what You see as right.
That You see me as faithful and glorious.
(Or at least clean, forgiven.)

To know You, as You have known me.
To walk not by faith, but by sight.

To learn the answers to all my questions.
Or to decide
 the love
in Your eyes
is all
 I'll ever need
to know.

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Career

Photo by Rachel Huff
Charleigh (almost 10 mos.), Cade (almost 11.5), Clementine (28 mos.)

I received a letter, a real letter!, from a dear friend the other day.  She's 93.  She's not my grandmother, but she is the grandmother of three of my first cousins, and we all call her Gran.  At the end of her letter, Gran asked: "Whatever happened to your career?"

I realized with a start: I haven't been in the classroom for three years.  I've been working hard as a stay-at-home mom, but the time has flown, which proves I've been having fun. 

I'm growing and learning, just like my children.

We spent our Monday with friends, at the lake.  Rachel took the above photo.  I cried when I saw it.  I don't have the words to say why, exactly, but I'm so very thankful to God for every precious moment I have at home (or out and about) with my children.  My cup overflows. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Many Happy Returns

He comes through the door brown as a berry, with hats made out of balloons, for his sisters, and a shark-tooth necklace.  I grab him up and breathe in the boy smell of his hair until he pulls away, announcing: "Mom!  I have something for you, too!" and digs around in his backpack before presenting me, proudly, with a bag of Dr.-Pepper jelly beans.

He doesn't know his homecoming is enough gift.

Without complaint, he plays Candy Land with his sister (who introduced herself, a few days ago, as: "Clementine. Oh my darlin' Clementine"). 

We haven't a fattened calf, but we eat fish sticks, popcorn shrimp, and smiley-face french fries, and, for dessert, we twist up and salt thick pretzels that we eat hot out the oven.  He helps me tuck in the Wild Orange, who settles without complaint and offers him both cheeks for the kissing, and he and I play Guitar Hero.

Someday I will feel as confident and easy in his departing as in his arriving, but, for now, "hello" feels particularly sweet.  I breathe properly for the first time in over a week as he crowds me on the couch and laughs his infectious laugh.

I can scarcely rip my eyes away from him, and I thank God over and over for sending him home, and I pray: no matter how grand his adventures, please help me make this a place of many happy returns.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What It's Really Like

Earlier, I was unloading the dishwasher when I accidentally tapped the bottom of a glass with the edge of a metal, pancake turner.  It made a great sound: like a bell, with long-lasting reverberation.  I stood there for the longest time, tapping the glass gently with the pancake turner, when I looked up and met Jim's concerned gaze.

"You have lost your ever-loving mind," he said.

"Doesn't it make the greatest sound, though?" I asked.

"Uh, it wasn't bad the first three times," he said, then, "I should start my own blog and write about what it's really like to live with my wife."

(Jim would agree: I really need Cade to come home.)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Praying Over

It's Heritage of Faith Friday, and I haven't the fortitude to write the story I'm working up to write, so, instead, I'm going to write about one milestone in my journey toward a life of prayer.

***

Among many lessons Aunt Anita (Shafer) taught me, I hold closest something her son (my cousin) Greg shared at her memorial service.  I almost wrote, just now, that I've no idea how he spoke (let alone so eloquently) that day, but of course that wouldn't be true: he did it through Christ.  And I'm so grateful, because he tossed a smooth stone in my direction that day, for sure.

Greg said--one day, when he was a boy--he was horsing around, and he crept to his mother's bedroom door and peered through the crack to see what she might be doing that she hadn't yet scolded him.  He said he saw her kneeling by her bed, praying, and that the image came flooding back when--on one of her last days in a battle with brain cancer--he caught her, again: pouring out her heart to Jesus.

Something in my heart cracked open as I listened to Greg, and I have sought, ever since, to live out my prayer life in front of my children, just like Aunt Anita.  Because if I really believe in the power of prayer, and I do, why wouldn't I want my children to watch my turning toward God in that way?

Just over a week ago, I tucked Cade in for what I knew would be the last time for nine nights.  My heart felt like a rock in my chest, and I told Cade I wanted to pray over him.  He said, "Okay, Mom," and he stirred a little, under the covers, and closed his eyes.

I can't remember what I prayed, exactly, but I prayed aloud, and for a long time.  After the "amen," Cade opened his eyes, and I knew by the way he looked at me that my ceasing to pray had awakened him.   

And remembering the relaxation in his lanky body; the sleepy gaze out of his great, gray eyes; and his sheepish grin as he said, "Sorry, Mom.  I think I fell asleep, a little," has carried me this last week.  Because I know our house has become a place where prayer is commonplace: a thing under which to snuggle, and sleep.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Peace, Pt. 2

 

 




As you can see from the photos, a box turtle came calling, this afternoon.  Brave, he was, and friendly; he didn't tuck into his shell even when Baby Charleigh picked him up and gave him a little shake.

I started thinking, again, about the things that shake me.  Also about the temptation to self-medicate when I am being shaken.  I want to slap a layer of something over my pain; I want to bury my pain under a little alcohol, nicotine, sugar.

But Jesus coaxes: Don't bury what hurts you.  Name it.  I'm asking you to show Me what I already see and explain to Me what I already understand.  I'm asking you to lay it, bare, in front of Me.  So I can give you My peace.

And I tell Jesus: it hurts me to have been six days without my son.  I want him back.  I want to hold him.

Jesus says: Peel back a layer.  We both know that's not all.

I say: I'm afraid.  I'm afraid he won't come back.  Sometimes they don't come back!  Uncle Allen didn't come back.  Cody didn't come back.  Just last week, Gene didn't come back! 

Jesus says: The spirit of fear doesn't come from Me.  I've told you before: I love Cade more than you do!  He invited Me into his heart, and I live there; don't you trust My plan for his life? 

I say: no.  I don't. 

Jesus says: There it is.  You've named what hurts you: mistrust.  You want to clutch Cade, cover him up, claim him.  But he belongs moreso to Me than to you because, remember, I live in the very center of his heart.  You need to learn to love him differently.  So I can give you My peace.

I cry out to Jesus: I can't.  I'm in pain.  I can't do it.

And Jesus whispers:  Your pain is not from Me; your fear is not from Me; and your desire to coat and cover all of it, along with Cade, is not from Me.

To Have Without Holding - Marge Piercy

Learning to love differently is hard,
love with the hands wide open, love
with the doors banging on their hinges,
the cupboard unlocked, the wind
roaring and whimpering in the rooms
rustling the sheets and snapping the blinds
that thwack like rubber bands
in an open palm.

It hurts to love wide open
stretching the muscles that feel
as if they are made of wet plaster,
then of blunt knives, then
of sharp knives.

It hurts to thwart the reflexes
of grab, of clutch; to love and let
go again and again. It pesters to remember
the lover who is not in the bed,
to hold back what is owed to the work
that gutters like a candle in a cave
without air, to love consciously,
conscientiously, concretely, constructively.

I can’t do it, you say it’s killing
me, but you thrive, you glow
on the street like a neon raspberry,
You float and sail, a helium balloon
bright bachelor’s button blue and bobbing
on the cold and hot winds of our breath,
as we make and unmake in passionate
diastole and systole the rhythm
of our unbound bonding, to have
and not to hold, to love
with minimized malice, hunger
and anger moment by moment balanced.


Cade's and My Nephew CJ's Baptism - 12/27/07

Mindy Smith - "Come to Jesus" - (brilliant)

My God-sent Visitor

Peace, Pt. 1

Amazing Photo (of Clementine) by Anjie Henley

On days like today, I feel like a fraud because I can't quite get to the point of peace.

Friends tell me, often, that I've a calming presence, and twelve days ago, I wrote this comment on the blog of a friend in my real-life community:

Everything has two sides, like a coin. Every hurt is the dark side of a blessing. So, for example, if we grieve when someone dies, a relationship ends, we argue with someone, etc., we do so only because we first experienced love. The grief is proportionate to the love. This is not an excuse to dwell in grief; rather, it's an opportunity to allow the grief to flow through us while focusing on the love...the blessings...the reasons to give thanks. These things cannot be taken from us even if the person or relationship is gone.

When I wrote it, I meant it, having discovered it a few years ago, at the white-hot center of pain.  And I still believe it; I do.  But of course I find it easier to preach than to practice.

We didn't attend church this past Sunday; on Friday, I'd dropped Cade off at his dad's (knowing they'd leave for vacation the next day, and I wouldn't see Cade for over a week), and the rest of us had driven four hours north for the saddest of occasions.  On Saturday, we'd stopped to see my grandma before heading home.  The visit had gone wonderfully, but I'll be honest: it always takes my heart several days to recover from a visit with my grandma.  I didn't feel like I had it in me, Sunday morning, to get to church.  I made smoothies, quiche.

But the Sunday before last, Pastor David preached on peace, and, at one point, he read this verse, which has been playing over and over in my head: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27, KJV).

I'm not going to lie: I struggle when Cade's gone.  It's not that I don't know he's in good hands, and I've been conditioned to do pretty well for about half a week.  But about the time Night #4 rolls around, I start to get weepy and weird, and--by the time the week's over (because a week has always been my absolute limit)--I'm a nutbar.

This is Night #6 of 8.  I'm barely hanging on.  I don't feel like I can think, or write, properly.  I'm desperate to have my boy back.

And then: does this happen to you?  Most everytime I have a bad feeling, I feel guilty for having the bad feeling, so I have guilt to deal with on top of whatever the inital yuck.  In this case, my heart is troubled in missing Cade, but chances are excellent that he'll be right here on Saturday, and I have loved ones whose little boys are in heaven, and who am I to complain?  But the guilt doesn't make the misses go away; instead, it makes me feel even worse.

I baked a blackberry-apple pie, yesterday.  It was fantastic.  It was so fantastic I've already eaten the entire pie (minus the single slice Jim ate).  And that's the peace the world giveth.  That's the peace Satan offers. 

I am experiencing emotional pain.  My heart aches for my cousin; I think of her every-other second.  I want her son back.  I want my son back.  I want my grandma back.  And I want my cat (who went to live with a friend, today) back.

And so I want a cigarette.  And a beer.  And an entire pie in a day's time.  None of it is good for me, and any partaking will make me feel worse, ultimately.

I need the Lord's peace.  I know I need it. 

More, later.  Linking this mess with Michelle and Emily.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

For Father's Day

I am, 100%, my daddy's girl.

Mom has accused me, many times, of being just like my dad, but we all know my extroversion and sensitivity had to come from somewhere, and--if I were guessing--I'd credit her.  (My *cough* parachuting-hypnotist parent.) 

Still, I've definitely got some Carl Shafer going on, and I've got the sense that I'm exactly what happens when my parents collide (and raise up, with care), and I'm glad for it.  I can tell you, honestly: I've never wished to be anyone else.  I've wished to be better, but never other.

I've thought for days what I might write to pay tribute to my dad on Father's Day and find it impossible to pour so much love into a blog post. 

But I can share with you this: my dad permitted my first-grade teacher to give me a bunny, and he bought me a real pony and, later, a real horse.  He rode big chunks of the C&O Canal with me, on horseback.  He took me swimming in the Conococheague and rose up from the water of that tributary looking like a pirate, one eye closed.  He took me crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay; raccoon hunting in northern Pennsylvania and east Tennessee; fishing in various waters; camping in various parks.  There was an entire, father-daughter weekend camp, once, when I was a Brownie. 

My dad made the characters in the blue Bible Story book come to life and "elves" move the train around the Christmas tree backwards at my command.  He rug-burnt his nose, once, when his "all fours" got tangled up, playing bear (or horse) with me on his back.  He helped make many pinatas (including, once, a pink, Christmas pig) and a rocket ship for my raw-egg "astronaut."  Also homemade potato candy and chips, homemade ice cream, scrambled eggs red with tomato juice.

He removed, painlessly, my splinters.  He played games of all sorts with me: Pick Up Sticks, Stratego, Spades, Clue, Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit.  He made my mom's baby-blue Volkswagen Beetle hop hills on the way to Hollowell Brethren.  He drove the youth bus for Millbranch Missionary Baptist. 

He drove over an hour, once, just to change my truck battery; eight hours, once, to retrieve my friends and me after I flipped a car and landed upside-down in a swamp near Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and another eight hours, once, just to get in the car and accompany me to Wolf Trap, where we watched The Wizard of Oz, to the National Symphony and Orchestra's playing the score.

I could write each thing as its own story.  Maybe, over time, I will, and all the other things, too.

But no matter what or when, the point is this:
my dad loves me, and--even in the bad times--I've always known.
       
Happy Father's Day, Dad.
I'm glad God picked you for mine.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Within a Painting, Within the Heart

Written in 2008 and submitted to a Guideposts competition.  It wasn't chosen, so I published it on facebook June 20, 2010.  Linking it, today, with my friend Anne.

Photobucket

My dad, an intense and philosophical man of few words, told me once of a place where he goes, in his mind, when he needs to center himself. He, an avid hunter, imagines himself inside a painting that hung in his childhood home: a painting of a hunter, deer slung over his shoulder, walking in the moonlight toward a cabin that is lit from within. Dad explained that he values the anticipation of rest and warmth, and the satisfaction of a successful hunt.

I listened to his words and, behind them, the longing that leans against resignation. “Dad,” I asked, “where is the painting, now?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said with a sigh. “The painting didn’t belong to Mother and Dad. It belonged to Mother’s cousin, and it was returned to him at some point. I asked him about it at the last family reunion, and he doesn’t have it anymore.”

“Who painted it?” I asked.

Again, he answered, “I don’t know.”

I could sense that Dad was done talking for the time being, but I felt the flutter of angel wings in my heart. “God,” I prayed in my mind, “Please help me find the painting for my dad.” I'd longed to connect with Dad for years, but we live far away from one another, and Dad’s hearing loss makes phone conversations—which he'd disliked even when he could hear well—even more difficult.

I started searching online for the painting. I didn’t know, of course, the name of the artist, so I used search terms like “deer,” “hunter,” “moonlight,” and “cabin”: nothing. At ***, where I teach composition, I often create scavenger hunts through which I challenge my students to find, online, the answers to difficult questions. For several quarters, I incorporated into their scavenger hunts a question about the painting, but my students, too, found nothing.

Then, a couple of years into my search, I meandered into an antique mall on a lunch break. It's a large building, but I hadn’t wandered far into it before my eyes met what I thought sure was the painting, hanging on the wall in an ornate, golden frame. I felt a rush in my head and, in my heart, wings beating. I hurried to the counter and informed the cashier of my interest in a painting in the adjoining room. She walked with me to the painting while I stammered that I thought sure it was something for which my dad had been looking for a very long time. She glanced at the price tag and said, “This item can’t be returned. Maybe you should call your dad before you buy it.”

“No,” I said. “I want it to be a surprise. I’ll take the chance.”

That Thanksgiving, my dad and brother hunted deer in northern Pennsylvania, but my mom and sister-in-law spent the holiday with me. My mom’s parents had been close family friends with my dad’s parents, and my mom had spent a significant amount of time in my dad’s childhood home, so I was excited for her to see the painting. She studied it, shook her head, and murmured, quietly, “This isn’t what I remember.” Then, seeing the disappointment on my face, she exclaimed, “But your dad’s going to love it, and it’s going to mean so much to him that you bought it!”

At Christmastime, I wrapped the painting in a quilt and took it with me to my parents’ house in East Tennessee. The time finally came to exchange gifts, and I told Dad, “I know this isn’t the right one, but I tried to find it for you.” As I helped him remove the quilt, I watched his expression change from one of confusion to one of disbelief.

Studying the painting, Dad asked, “How in the world did you ever find it?” The painting was, after all, an exact replica of the one that hung in Dad’s childhood home! He remains amazed that I could recognize this thing of his heart—a thing I had never seen—through his spoken words.

I know God led me to the painting. My presentation of it caused a shift in my relationship with Dad; I don’t know that, until that moment, he believed that I care about what matters to him. But, shortly after that Christmas, he asked me for the first time to hunt with him, and we have found other opportunities to connect, as well. Every time I see the painting hanging in my parents’ home, I am reminded: my Heavenly Father honors the desires of His children’s hearts, values earthly relationships, and performs—in intricate, wondrous ways—everyday miracles.

Photo Taken a Decade or So Ago, by Harriet Stone

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Cattle Are Lowing

To everything there is a season. Ecclesiastes 3:1a

My Cousin and Her Family

I begged to stop at her family's dairy farm, when I was a girl, which got me into some amount of trouble, as it seems there have always been inexplicable and weird tensions on that side of my family.

But--when I was, on rare occasions, able to get to that farm--magical times: whispering about boys and V.C. Andrews books in the silvery light of her bedroom.  She and her whiny, little sister (whom we tried endlessly to ditch) had the biggest bathroom ever, also a swimming pool made out of the bottom part of a silo, its water fantastically deep, and cold.  The food cooked by their mother, my dad's sister, seemed to melt brilliantly in the mouth.  I laughed so hard in their farmhouse, once, I sprayed soda out of my nose.

Even when I slept over (and we talked and laughed into wee hours), my cousin had to get up early and help milk; I would awaken in a pool of sunlight and white cotton and find her gone.  But--for all her hard work--she laughed all the time, and I thought her lucky to have three siblings, baby cows, a million cats, long rows of corn in which to play hide-and-go-seek!

We would shake our heads, furrow our brows, tut-tut over the brokenness in our family and swear: we will never fight, and--when we are old enough to make our own decisions--we will never be apart!  And we have made good in spirit, but I feel as though I have fought various distances, my entire life, to be near her on the dairy farm where she lives and works, to this day.

Something like twenty-one years ago (when she was eighteen), she married a Paul-Bunyan-looking farmer.  I knew--when she sang to him at their wedding--she would love him forever, and I knew for the way she looked at him--a decade or so later, at her little sister's wedding--I had been right.  Forever.  Two daughters, a son, the farm, the whole world, everything.

I saw her last in April when, over spring break, we gathered in the living room of her farmhouse with her daughters, her older sister, her mom, my college friend, and my children.  Her husband and son stood in the doorway to talk with us, and my son left, briefly, with hers to see the calves on a four wheeler.  She gave me a family picture that day, so, coincidentally, her boy is the third of only three in my wallet (my son and older nephew being the other two).

I was supposed to see her in Virginia Beach this week.  But, three days ago, I got a text message from her that said: "Gene [my son] was in a 4wheeler accident [on the farm] and is now being airlifted to hopkins.  We are driving there now from va beach, so im sorry we willnt be able to meet up at the beach."  And her son has since gone to be with the Lord.

I'm not trying to make this my tragedy; honestly, I hardly knew her son.  But I can see him, now, standing in the doorway with his quiet smile.  He was less than two years older than my son and only months younger than my older nephew.  And I love his mother and her all-grown-up (and no longer whiny) little sister, and I feel this from fearful mother and aunt angles, also from the angle of a sister who has walked and prayed the hallways of Johns Hopkins (just as Gene's sisters) for my own, beloved little brother.

I beg your prayers for my cousin, her husband, her daughters, and everyone who loves (present tense, because love doesn't end) Gene and his family.  I will be with them, soon, in body as well as in spirit (because no distance is too great), and we will lay that gentle farm boy to rest.  Please pray for his mother's smile, and for our entire family to be swallowed up by Big Jesus Love.

Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask thee to stay
close by me forever
and love me, I pray!
Bless all the dear children
in thy tender care,
and take us to heaven
to live with thee there.

The cattle are lowing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

I have a button!

I made a Smooth Stones button! 
I think it works, but I'm going to paste it below and test it.


If you're a button grabber, feel free to grab mine. 
The code is in the sidebar.

If you already have a button or know how to make one, the rest of what I'm about to write won't interest you.  If you don't have a button and would like to make one, I want to preface the rest by saying: I am technologically challenged, and if I can make a button, so can you!

I started by taking a photograph of Cade's and Clementine's hands, this evening, and editing it at picnik.com.  The key was to crop my photo into a perfect square.  After I was completely done editing it to my liking, I resized it to 150x150 before saving it to my computer.  I got this far mostly by following Step 1 of the directions here

At this point, I switched tutorials and started following the directions here, starting with Step 2, and I had no trouble, whatsoever.

Yay!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Carlena and the Gift of Entertainment

2006, Our Last Time Together
I met Carlena because her mom saw my brother Buck and me freezing our hind ends off at the end of our driveway and hollered for us to come in and wait for the school bus.  It was such a cold morning in East Tennessee (and/or their trailer was so poorly insulated) that--when Buck and I walked through the front door--we saw Carlena and her brother Bill huddled in front of the (standard, electric or gas, cooking) stove with the oven door open.

Carlena's family had moved down from Ft. Wayne, Indiana (and across the road from my family) because her dad was looking to make a fresh start and had some family in the area.  Carlena was a junior and two years ahead of me in high school, but--once we started talking (and laughing!)--seems like we never stopped, and we were close to inseparable: this, despite the fact we really had very little in common, especially as pertaining to our family lives.

I loved being with Carlena and everyone in her family.  Theirs was a raucous home environment compared to mine.  I thought her parents fun and funny.  No one ever turned off the tv or forbade pop or junk food in that house.  I know, now, that Carlena's parents were about a decade ahead in partying like it was 1999, but, honestly, they took great care in hiding that from me.  I just assumed they were born really happy people, and no wonder, considering both my naivete and the fact that Carlena's sister Kimmie was--hands down--the sunniest baby I have ever known.

I found Carlena, who was slightly older and wiser than I, and significantly more blunt than I, fascinating...hilarious.  Mostly (being teenaged girls), we talked and laughed, but I think it also worth mentioning that she introduced me to the art of collage.  We would sit on one of our beds or bedroom floors with catalogs, magazines, construction paper, scissors, and glue and create for hours.  And to this day (more than two decades later), I love to create in just this way.

Two years went by, Carlena graduated from high school, and she and her family moved back to Ft. Wayne.  One would expect Carlena's and my story to end there, but, during my last two years of high school and my four years at Maryville College (in East Tennessee), we wrote faithfully to one another.

I decided to spend the summer between my junior and senior years of college on the couch of Carlena's apartment in Ft. Wayne.  I waited tables at Chili's and chipped in on her rent, and we had an incredible summer, so I returned to Ft. Wayne after graduating from college, and, together, we rented a two-bedroom apartment.  A few months into our rooming together, things took a serious nosedive, and--while it's pointless to rehash the details--our situation was the pickle to which I referred in the beginning of this post

I might be bitter to this day except (even while recognizing the logically fallacious nature of what I'm about to write) I can't imagine how I would've ever gotten my Cade had it not been for the Carlena disaster.

One would expect Carlena's and my story to end there, and, in fact, it almost did; we didn't talk for something like four years.  And then, one day, I decided I missed her more than I cared about what had happened between us, and I called her up.

Since 1996, when we "broke up," including over the past decade-plus since we made up, I've seen Carlena twice, and we hardly ever talk on the phone, anymore.  We keep up with one another via facebook, and I know she reads this blog.  She asked me, one day, why I continue to count her among my best friends.  I told her I'd write about it, someday, so here goes:

Carlena, you shoulda been in the movies, Girl.  You never fail to entertain!  It might be good, bad, or even ugly, but it's always something, and it's never nothing.  I have no idea what you might say or do, next, and I hunger for the thrill of your conversation and company.  No one else has ever made me laugh so hard.  (You, with your bedroom wall covered in wads of chewed-up gum.  When you were 35.)  And I know--if you were here--you'd fry up some potatoes; we'd play a game of Scrabble; I'd cave and light a cigarette; and we'd stay up all night and disturb everyone's sleep with our talking and laughing.   

For the record, you're the only girlfriend to whom I've ever returned after such drama.  You're worth the risk.  Totally.  We have Big History, and you'll always have my heart. 

You're a star in a very important constellation.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ugly

The LORD seeth not as man seeth;
for man looketh on the outward appearance,
but the LORD looketh on the heart. I Samuel 16:7b


I conversed on a difficult subject, this week, and--while it was not my first time, ever--it was my first time with someone whose face looks remarkably like mine, which made it strange.  And slightly painful. 

I've been trying for days to figure out how to protect my young one and still share in this forum, and, ultimately, I feel led to take a leap of faith.  (Whether my words will help someone else, someone else's response will help me, or both, I can't say.)

I want to preface the rest by sharing: I am not in any way trying to discourage anyone from making wise food choices, exercising, or otherwise caring for his or her physical being.

However,

I do believe that clever Satan loves to distract and very often does so in making us overly concerned with outward appearance.  Also that young people can be particularly susceptible to the distraction of "looks."

These were the thoughts I offered to my young one, a few evenings ago:

  • You are God's fearfully- and wonderfully-made creation.  He formed you in the womb.  He has numbered the hairs on your head.   
  • You have no physical or mental challenges, and you have never suffered stares for your appearance.  Can you thank God for this?
  • For the record, I think you are handsome.
  • Consider our loved ones who look differently from most everyone else.  They're beautiful to you, aren't they?, because they love you, and you love them...for who they are, not for how they look.
  • The pressure you feel to have a girlfriend is pressure you're placing, unnecessarily, upon yourself.  You are not on anyone else's timetable.  You have plenty of time, but if knowing that doesn't help:
  • Pray for God to send the right girlfriend, at the right time.  In the meantime,
  • Consider how you might strengthen your inner person, in Christ, because
  • The right person will be concerned more with your inner person than your outer.
  • Know that--if I died tomorrow--I would want you to remember me for trying to live for (and teach you about) Jesus moreso than for being pretty.
  • Outer beauty fades with time.  Inner beauty grows with time.
  • God looks at the heart.  When people look at themselves and others with God's eyes, they look at the heart, too, and not at the rest.
  • If you ever feel truly depressed about the way you look, or like you might hurt yourself, please tell me right away. 

Do you have any thoughts to share on this sensitive subject?

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Departing, and Parting Ways, Pt. 4



Jim and I were ex boyfriend and girlfriend for thirteen years, and we ended up married with children.  We agree: that's enough ex action to last the rest of our lives.  Neither of us communicates with exes, unless you count my Bible-camp boyfriend from middle school, whom I've never kissed but to whom I still send Christmas cards (when I get around to sending Christmas cards).

Or my ex-husband, who is also my son's dad.

One just can't be a stickler about no exes when she shares a child with one.  And I must say: my ex-husband and I share our hind ends off.  We parted ways seven years ago (when Cade was four), and nearly every week has been three nights and Saturdays him, four nights and Sundays me.  The week has never been split down the middle, either, because I feel like I can say "goodbye" okay, but, afterward, I prefer to say "hello" as soon as possible.  The boy is a human ping-pong ball, but he has little memory of anything else.  He has clothes at both houses and carries nothing with him but his school stuff and, occasionally, his karate uniform. 

Now, my ex-husband and I do not agree on everything because--hello--we claimed irreconcilable differences and divorced!  But we disagree about very little, especially where Cade is concerned.  And it's all about Cade.

My ex-husband, our spouses, and I have busted hiney butt for friendly, even friends, and--while we have not vacationed together--Cade could testify:

  • His mom attended his stepmom's bridal shower.
  • His stepmom (and her mom) attended one of his mom's baby showers.
  • His mom sang a solo in his dad's and stepmom's wedding.
  • His stepdad and his mom's parents attended his dad's and stepmom's wedding.
  • His dad and stepmom helped his mom and stepdad move.
  • His parents and stepparents attended the same church for awhile and, occasionally, sat together.
  • His dad and stepmom were in the room minutes after Clementine's birth.
  • His dad has hunted with his mom's dad and brother since the divorce.
  • His mom has borrowed his dad's hunting clothes since the divorce.
  • His mom has taken him to Southern Indiana to visit his dad's family since the divorce.
  • His mom and stepmom have, together, delivered cookies to his class.
  • His parents and stepparents have gathered for numerous events (starring him) and holidays.

And I could keep going.

I can't say I recommend all of the above, or even that I would do it all again.  Because--let's get real--some of it was over-the-top hard, and some of it just made me feel weird (even if only because of the way other people eyed me up).  But what I would never change is the heartfelt, sincere intent...of four adults who love, desperately, one child...behind all of it.

It hasn't always been easy to figure out exactly how to go about it, or exactly where to draw the line.  I mean, in all fairness, it's not like there are so many great examples of how to do divorce (or joint-custodial relationships) well.

But I think...no, I know...moving forward, the more my ex-husband, our spouses, and I can keep Jesus in the center, the better off we'll be.  In recent months, I've had the opportunity to pray with both my ex-husband and his wife on several occasions, and it's been odd, but in a great way.

The best such experience was at the culmination of a long "family" meeting (i.e., "come to Jesus" meeting) with Cade a few weeks ago, when my ex-husband, our spouses, Cade, and I joined hands and prayed together.  That's Big Jesus Love.  I give Him all the glory for making something someone beautiful out of a big, fat mess.

Our Cade deserves it.  And--if he doesn't look back and say he grew up experiencing the kind of forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love that comes only from God--it won't be for lack of trying.

(This was taken a few years ago; I was pregnant with Clementine.)
Photobucket

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Extreme Photo Happiness

Yes, I know;
this photo is extremely blurry:


But I had to share it, anyway,
because it cracks me UP!
It is soooo my kids.
And it's a little this, too:


Right?


Winning

Charleigh, Cade, & Clementine: Today

I wish for you a day like mine: where your man and your boy wake up early and slide out so quietly you hear next to nothing, where your girls sleep on and on.  You curl in your dimly lit room with your younger girl, nursing and dozing inside log walls under a ceiling fan and a thin, fleece blanket. 

After at last the three of you rise, you swim with friends.  They're so young, your girls: twenty-seven months and nine months, so sweet in their itsy-bitsy-teenie-weenie bikinis and flotation devices, with their pink sun hats and sparkling eyes, splashing hands, and wide, white-toothed smiles.  Your older girl eats pizza and cupcakes and freezer pops, and your younger girl nurses poolside, and you feel happier in June heat than you've ever felt, before.

Photo by Rachel Huff
Photo by Rachel Huff
Photo by Rachel Huff
Photo by Rachel Huff
Photo by Rachel Huff
Photo by Rachel Huff

The three of you make it to the bus stop just in time for your boy, and he is pleasant and agreeable, even when you pull out your camera.  You manage to get one decent shot, and your older two watch iCarly while the youngest jumps in the Johnny Jump Up and you make a big ol' spinach salad and grill up some lemon-pepper chicken to eat on top of it.  Later, you wash it all down with milk: over ice, the way your daddy drinks it, and your shoulders burn from too much sun, but the milk slides down cold.

Your man comes home from work, and you greet him on the porch.  You know for the way he looks at you that you will have as many babies as you like.

You head to choir practice with your boy, where the two of you (not counting Mrs. Carol, the organist) make up 50%.  Your boy sings soprano with perfect pitch, and his voice fills your ear as a bell.  Later, the two of you play a game of backgammon, and he beats you, and you remember Bob and smile.

And, really, you guess you've been smiling all day, and--if your heart were any fuller--it would explode.  And you want nothing more, and you wish for nothing else, and you wouldn't buy a lottery ticket even if you knew you would win, because you've already won it all.  You have everything you've ever wanted, and then some, and you wouldn't change a thing.

 

Monday, June 6, 2011

On Departing, and Parting Ways, Pt. 3


Pastor David preached, this morning, about forgiveness.  He spoke of Christ's incredible example of forgiveness (Luke 23:24), and he shared the story of the servant forgiven of his debt by the king, only to assault a fellowservant and demand repayment of a smaller debt (Matthew 18: 23-35).  Pastor David talked about the impact of unforgiveness (specifically the damage it can do inside the church and to a Christian's testimony/witness) as well as the impact of forgiveness.

Forgiveness has never been particularly easy for me, and, really, I've suffered small offenses compared to so many others.  I've struggled with friends' rejection moreso than anything else, I guess, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to share some things I've learned on the subject.
  • I've always hated the philosophy behind: "Friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime," but it's true.  I would prefer that all my friends be lifetime friends, but, unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.  Knowing as much makes it easier to let go; to feel thankful for another's presence for a particular reason or during a particular season; and to focus on my lifetime friends instead of someone who has taken leave (and my ensuing sense of rejection).
  • Sometimes it's not about me.  Friendship takes work, and sometimes the other person doesn't have the time or energy to pour into the relationship.  I think it's worth asking the question and believing the answer.  Recently, I went to a long-time friend whom I was missing, and she explained: her child drains her of energy to the point that--at the end of the day--she wants alone time.  She assured me that--if I ever reach out and express that I need her--she will make herself available, but wanting her probably isn't enough, right now.  I believe her and have made peace with missing her.  I wasn't always in that place.  I remember a friend with a sick child confessing, once, that she had no time left for our friendship, and, somehow (in my immaturity), I couldn't accept her answer.  I loved her and wanted so desperately to spend time with her, and I remember crying into the phone: "But I could go with you to the grocery store!"  After the friendship failed, I carried a grudge for years.  Her pleasantries--when she saw me out and about--ran all over me until, finally, I e-mailed her and learned:
  • Sometimes the other person has no idea I'm hurting.  If I can find a way to talk about my pain, the other person may express regret, sorrow, or a desire for forgiveness...or at least a desire for me to feel better about things.  I don't know about you, but I find it hardest to forgive someone who hasn't asked for my forgiveness.  The person I reference above hadn't hurt me on purpose, and the problem was mine, not hers.  But--when she learned of my pain--she was willing and able to help me move past it.
  • The person who appears to hurt me isn't really who's hurting me.  Sometimes, there's another person pulling the strings.  (I think of a former boss who wronged me, once, in an effort to smooth things over with his boss.)  Regardless, Satan is always involved.  I don't imply that the one who hurts me is being controlled by Satan but know that Satan delights in my pain (even that which is self-inflicted and misguided): "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12). 
  • According to the Bible, if I as a Christian have been offended by another believer, it's my responsibility to initiate a conversation.  "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (Matthew 18:15). 
  • Finally, I am nowhere near the point of offering someone my shirt after (s)he steals my coat (let alone my other cheek when (s)he strikes me in the face), but Jesus makes the point that it's easy to be nice to nice people.  Christians set themselves apart when they are nice to mean people (Luke 6).  Again, I'll admit: I don't know that I'm anywhere near a Jesus place on this point.  I'm not into fighting but tend, absolutely, to avoid the meanies.  (And very often the annoying, as well!)  I trust that God will continue to grow me in this respect.

What about you? 
Do you have any words of wisdom to share on the subject of forgiveness?


Friday, June 3, 2011

On Departing, and Parting Ways, Pt. 2

It is never too late to become what you might have been. -George Eliot

Photobucket Photo

I asked Christ into my heart when I was eight, but--somewhere in my mid teens--I stopped talking to Him very much, except sometimes in crisis mode, and not always then.  Not when I found myself in a real pickle at 22, states away from home, and moved in with a sweetheart of a man in my apartment complex.  3 days after going out with him for the first time. 

Then (having been taught straight out the KJV for over a decade) I felt all convicted and weird about living with someone outside of marriage, so I married him.  I loved him, and I still do (in the exact same way I love my cousins), but--in almost seven years of marriage--we had precious few, happy days.  Even the happy days weren't, like, woo-hoo-life-is-awesome happy days: unless you count the day our son slid into the world. 

Our son slid out; I slid further and further down the rabbit hole.

(Before I proceed, I want to make a point of saying: my ex-husband has never been anything but the same sweetheart of a man I met when I was 22.  We were just--from the outset!--a bad match.)

I held on for the longest time, but I reached, finally, some kind of breaking point in early 2004, and I remember praying this exact prayer to God:

I can't do it, anymore, God.  Even if Your son Jesus Christ descends right this moment and says I have to stay, I'll tell Him: no, I can't.  So I'm begging You to help me find a way out. 

Now, you can say what you like about God as pertaining to marriage and divorce.  I know what His Word says on the topics; I do.  And I'm not trying to encourage anyone to enter marriage or divorce lightly; in fact, I intend for my words to have the opposite effect.  Because both marriage and divorce can bring almost unimaginable pain.

The facts remain:

Within two weeks of my praying a desperate prayer, two things happened: 1) I was offered (seemingly out the blue!) a full-time position at work, and 2) my sister-cousin Andrea called, and we had a conversation that went something like this:

Andrea (who lived in L.A. at the time): "Brandee Renee, I'm thinking of moving.  And I'm thinking of moving closer to family.  And I'm thinking...what do you think of my moving near you?"

Me: "That would be great!  Because I'm thinking of moving, too."

Andrea: "Oh!  Well, in that case, I'll buy a house big enough for all of us."

Not long after (and everything about the moment has been etched, permanently, into my brain), my ex-husband and I were standing in our kitchen, when I looked at him and asked: "Aren't you tired?  Because I'm so tired.  I just feel like we beat our heads against the wall, daily."

He looked at me, nodded, and agreed: "I'm really tired." 

I shared with him my thoughts about moving out, and--almost instantly, like magic--the tension between us began to evaporate.

Soon after, Andrea and her daughter Brandi drove across the country and moved into the house with my ex-husband, our son, and me, where we all lived happily, together, for several months until everyone moved out (and back in, together) except my ex-husband and....sort of?...our son (who has bounced like a ping-pong ball between two houses for seven years, now).

So I feel like I have this message, and I haven't hammered it out, entirely, but it has to do with how, sometimes, with God alongside, reverse can work as a direction.  Backwards can be ok.  A done can be undone.  And--in the interest of full disclosure--I just want to throw it out there: in the wild, blossoming center of my honest heart, I hold out hope that Thomas Wolfe was wrong and that, sometimes, you can go home again.  (And by home, I mean my home town, where my parents live.)

I'll let you know. 

In the meantime, I can't wait to share with you the part of my story about parenting one child out of two houses.  With big, Jesus love.

Drawing Near


I hear her calling and slip out of my bed and into her bedroom, where she scrambles from her little bed to greet me.  She says: "I want to snuggle with you, Mommy," and she takes my hand.

Downstairs, I give her a cup of milk, and we climb into her daddy's chair.  She leans against me and says: "My best friend, Mommy."

Then she climbs into my lap, tucks her head under my chin, and sings, quietly, her version of the Barney song: "You love me, you love me, a happy family, a big hug and a kiss for me!" and she looks back, for a smooch.

And I think: oh, Clementine, you wise little teacher.  As glad as my heart feels for these moments alone with you, how glad does my Heavenly Father's heart feel, for moments alone, with me?


But it is good for me to draw near to God:
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
that I may declare all thy works.
Psalm 73:28

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Before and After

Just because, sometimes,

bald is beautiful,


and hair is hilarious.



Pumping

Thinking of Grandad Shafer as Father's Day approaches, the weather warms, and my older children's shorts reveal legs scabby from bug bites, poison ivy, scrapes, and falls.  I wrote this poem about 15 years ago and know I would write it differently, today, but--everytime I try to change it--I end up liking the changed version less than this, the original.

                          Pumping

When I commune with his spirit, I remember a
July evening in my grandfather's kept yard --
My brother and I with slender backs
Hunched in anticipation, watching one
Another anxiously out of eye corners, and
Suddenly we are off, pushing and straining
Toward a distant tree, and we never know
Who might win -- he the lighter, or I the
Longer, and the grandfather claps and
Calls my brother's name, then mine, as a
Constant cheer, and I know he loves to see
Scabby brown legs pumping more than he
Loves his own life, so when I drink in his
Remembrance, it is of this easiness and
Warmth only, as every other thing is someone
Else's truth, and belongs not at all to my heart

My Brother & Me at Grandad's House

Grandad Shafer

Clementine and the One Bear

Goldilocks was very tired by this time, so she went upstairs to the bedroom. 
She lay down in the first bed, but it was too hard.
Then she lay in the second bed, but it was too soft.
Then she lay down in the third bed and it was just right. 
Goldilocks fell asleep.


A golden-headed child, we have not.  We do, however, have a child with locks.  That child slept in her new, toddler bed for the first time, last night.

When I tucked her in, I warned: "MeMe, if you get out of bed, even one time, you'll have to sleep in your crib."

"Ok, Mommy," she said. 

She slept through the night and woke her sister and me up at 10 AM, singing from her little bed.  Sister and I went into her room, and Clementine and I had this exchange:

"MeMe!  You stayed in your bed all night!"

"Mmm-hmm."

"Do you like your little bed?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"MeMe!  Great job!  You're a big girl!"

"Thanks!"  (And she beamed.)

Oh, but that all transitions were so easy...



I'm happy I managed to capture the one bear, for you.
Too bad she's upside-down.
She's eyeless, anyway. (I had to remove her eyes, for safety.)
She was my bear; Aunt Joyce made her from a coat. :)