Sunday, July 31, 2011

Surprises


I love it when a random thought leads to deep thinking.

Tonight's random thought was: I never expected to shampoo doll heads in my bathtub.  Then I thought: I never expected to shampoo doll heads and girl heads in my bathtub.  Then:  I never expected to shampoo doll heads and girl heads belonging to my daughters, as in plural, in my bathtub.

And it went on and on.  I realized, with a start, that most everything about my life, these days, has been a surprise.
  • I never thought I would become the mother of three children.
  • I never thought I would bring two of my three children into the world while in my 30's (34 and 36).
  • I never thought, at 37, I would spend time in prayer for a fourth child.
  • I never thought I would become someone who shops yard sales and thrift stores with enthusiam, purchasing things like doll heads that need shampooing.
  • I never thought I would buy, with very little exception, new items only on sale.  I shopped Target toy clearance (for Christmas), today, in a Mister Rogers t-shirt and striped pajama capris.  (The funny thing is: I'm not surprised by my choice of attire, and--if you really know me--you're not, either!)
  • I never thought the subject of any teaching I might do would be, not English, but Jesus: that I would grow so comfortable in my faith as to speak and write openly about it.
The list goes on and on.  But I think the thing that surprises me most is how deeply satisfied I feel.  I need to bust up some piles in my house and shed a few (ok, more than a few) pounds, and I want to try some new things, but I love my life.  I'm surprised, really, at just how much.

I wake up in the morning and recognize my husband and children as gifts, to me, from God.  Nothing much has turned out how I expected, but most everything has turned out better than I'd hoped.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Tuckered Out

Cade left for Boy Scout camp on Sunday, but, until tonight, I hadn't seen him since Friday, when I left for East Tennessee.  I handled this separation better than others, earlier in the summer.  The Lord and I have been tussling over my anxiety, so perhaps I'm making progress, but I can't say for certain because I've been very distracted, this past week, running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

Anyway, Cade had a great time at camp.  Earned six merit badges, he said, and I learned with pleasant surprise: he became a chaplain's aide this week.  He explained: his friend Sam wanted to become a chaplain's aide, and since (Hello, buddy system!) Cade had to accompany Sam everywhere, Cade was afforded the opportunity to become a chaplain's aide, also.  So yay for a boy who carries, in his heart, the desire to become a chaplain's aide, also for a son who chooses such a kid as his buddy for the week. 

It was hot as the dickens at camp, this evening, and it took about forever for the boys to get the show on the road.  But someone gave us Gatorade, and I had plenty of bug spray (because every insect known to man makes a beeline...har, har...for Clementine) and tons of stuff for the Wild Orange to do, color, etc.  So we survived.

The Boys Heading Our Way, from Afar

Bless her heart: she always has to take pictures of her brother...




Afterward, the five of us went to DQ for Dilly Bars. 


Cade could hardly wait to take a shower, but I had to bathe Charleigh before letting him in the bathroom, because she wasn't playing when it came to eating that Dilly Bar.

After Cade's shower, I bathed Clementine, put her to bed, made a sad attempt at putting Charleigh to bed, came downstairs with Charleigh and handed her to Jim, looked over at Cade, and saw...


Tuckered out.

I considered drawing a mustache on him, or painting his fingernails, or dipping his hand in water (because he couldn't do anything to the couch that hasn't already been done, yo).  But...then I figured he'd probably experienced plenty of that tomfoolery at Boy Scout camp and probably hadn't slept so well for nigh about a week.  So, I took off his glasses and put 'em on the mantle.  I covered him up with a quilt and--rather than heading up to bed--settled into Jim's chair to write this post.  And listen to Cade snore gently for just a little while.  

Because, really, there's hardly anything quite so lovely as having him so near. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Homecoming


On Sunday, while in East Tennessee, I visited the church of my youth.  I had one goal in mind: to hug James Watson.  James was one of several men who--twenty-six years ago, when we were new to the county--visited my family and invited us to church.  He's a retired coal-miner turned welder, and he's just a little older than my dad.  Like T.L. Lay, he took my brother and me to the river to swim when it was hot, and I'll never forget his driving all over tarnation to help me with my ninth-grade leaf collection.   He kept an eye out as I grew (both physically and spiritually), and--if you've ever watched Little House on the Prairie--you'll understand how much James means to me when I tell you I thought of him as my "Mr. Edwards." 


Anyway, I got my hug, and I was surprised at how much I got, besides, especially considering I didn't get any adult teaching (by Pastor Jeff, James' son) because--having been in church nursery all day on Saturday--my wascally wabbits were not about to let me out of their sight.  

But, Y'all.  George Byrd still plays the piano down in that holler, and there's just nothing quite like George Byrd playing the piano.  By ear and out of heart, not by notes in the pages of the 1951 maroon-red hymal.  He bangs around with beauty: makes that little church ring with gospelfied Wild West.  Half the congregation crowds into the choir loft, and everyone else taps toes from the pews.  The babies stand in their mothers' laps; raise their eyes and tip their chins; and sing along best they can, and no one cares.  Because kids learn to sing by sitting under music, in church.

People sing differently in this place: not necessarily according to notes in the hymnal, but by ear and out of heart, and in tune.  Four or five different parts and some of them made up entirely.  You can almost see music notes sliding down the aisle like for homerun and pinging off the window panes.  It's an amazing thing to hear the entire congregation sing "Happy Birthday, God Bless You" just perfectly: no missed notes. 

And, Brother...Sister, it's not about right or wrong; do you understand what I'm saying?  But there's beauty in altar prayer, where folks gather and hit their knees as standard practice: not because they've responded to an invitation (amazing in and of itself). 

There's beauty in praying aloud on one's knees in the altar, just like tens of other people.  The voices spiral around and circle your knelt-down figure, and it's like being in the eye of a gentle storm and very much like being a small, open-beaked bird in the midst of your small, open-beaked bird brothers and sisters.  You can't necessarily understand the words of any voice save your own: especially if you're concentrating on forming complete sentences for the Lord, who picks your voice out from the rest.  But the hunger of the voices has a hum of its own, and pulse, and your prayer keeps time and hammers its way up the walls and through the ceiling and roof.

It's a thing not everyone knows, and it's a thing I'd almost forgotten until I let myself rest in it.  As in, I was home.

I remembered the day of my Easter baptism, some twenty-five years ago, when I was about twelve.  I remembered how the ladies safety-pinned my skirt between my legs so it wouldn't float up in that cold, muddy pond.  I remembered rising up from the murky waters of my baptism and looking into younger versions of the same faces.

I remembered casting myself into that altar on so many occasions, and those gentle folks gathering around to touch my arms, my back and shoulders, the hem of my dress.  They would cry out to God on my behalf and--if they ran out of words--kneel quietly near me as I continued to pray.  And cry. 

I remember rising up from that altar feeling changed!  I remember exiting those double-doors knowing I'd been to church, knowing I'd been in the presence of the Lord

And I realized: not everyone has experienced church like that of my youth or understands that--right, wrong, or indifferent--there's a difference between teaching and preaching: also a distinction to be made between church and church-house.  Not everyone knows about raised hands and shouting and dancing in the pews; about no bulletin, no planned music, and anybody have a song on your heart, today?  Not everyone has seen that rapture painting, sung "Victory in Jesus" with near-tangible joy, turned the pages of a Church Hymnal

Church Hymnal, hardcover, maroon red   -

Having been away for so long, I saw it all with fresh eyes, and let me tell you: it felt like going back in time.  It felt as though someone I'd loved and lost was sitting at the edge of my bed, shaking gently my shoulder, and telling me to open my eyes to bright, sweet-smelling sunshine. 

Sometimes, I reckon, things stay the same more than they change.

(Thank You, Jesus.)

(Imagine this with gospelfied Wild-West, piano music, and you'll be there.  Sort of.)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

8 Days with Erin

Day #1
  • Erin's & Mira's arrival from Chicago
  • Homemade apple dumplin's

Day #2
  • Play date with Rachel & Zach
  • Mira's birthday celebration

Day #3
Road trip to East Tennessee


Day #4
  • 5th Annual Scott County Ladies' Retreat
  • Visit with my family in Scott County


Day #5
  • Church at Millbranch Baptist, with Stacey
  • Visit to Maryville College (the alma mater)
  • Visit with Jim's mom, in Knoxville

Day #6
  • Trip to Gatlinburg
  • On the road again, like Willie

Day #7
  • Dog tired
  • Photos at Sears

Day #8
  • Bear Creek Lake
  • I put my heart on a plane.

I'll see you in October, Erin.
The string feels taut.
But, as we both know, 
Robert Southey got it right when he wrote:
"No distance of place or lapse of time
can lessen the friendship of those who are
thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth."

 I love you.
 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Eat or Be Eaten

Science Museum of Virginia
with Cade, Clementine, Charleigh,
Christy, Noah, Abi,
(Very cool,
 'cept we call bull crap on fish evolving into humans, 
an impact fireball creating the Chesapeake Bay
 thirty-five million years ago, etc.) 

Cade and Clementine (Note that her feet got hot by day's end,
and that I was super smart to pack her some flip-flips.)

Clementine and Miss Joyce. (Cade had a Twilight Zone-ish moment with this exhibit,
which featured an episode of Twilight Zone that he had just watched, last night.)

Miss Joyce, Cade, Noah, and Abi

Noah and Cade: Fun with Mirrors

The science museum has an exhibit that clones children.
Just kidding.
But, seriously?  One Clementine is just perfect.  For reals.

Abi is one of a kind, too.

Abi, Cade, and Clementine

The Closest Christy Will Ever Come to "Working the Pole"
Abi, Clementine, and Miss Joyce
Pizza for lunch. And chocolate sticks for dessert.

Ultra comforting, eh?

Got Milk?

What a Fully Cooked Baby Looks Like
Charleigh: Not so much blinded with science as bored with it.


Rejection

Writing this post to link with Shanda for her first-ever "On Your Heart Tuesday."


Recently, I was talking with excitement about my upcoming, out-of-town visit to the home of loved ones.  Until one of the loved ones (the one with whom I was talking) advised that the other loved one in the home (although aware of my plans to visit) was making plans to be elsewhere during the entire course of my visit.

Ouch.


I was comfortable enough with the loved one to whom I was talking to express that I was not happy (which was an understatement), and I ended the conversation, abruptly.

The same loved one called me back, later, to tell me: the subject had been revisited in the home; the other loved one had seemed surprised that I wanted so badly to see them*; and they had decided to revise their plans to make themself available. 

And that was supposed to make me feel better?  Really?  Because, at the end of the day, my loved one's revised plans don't change the fact: there was a point in time during which they didn't care enough about seeing me to make it their first priority.  And now I feel all insecure and weird, like my loved one is making themself available out of guilt (because of my obvious upset), and not a desire to spend time with me. 

I cried off and on for hours, thinking about this and the many other times in my life when I've felt completely and utterly rejected.

But--after everyone else in my house retired for the night (which took forever, because Cade was watching some sort of Twilight Zone marathon, and it's summer!, and he always gets up way before I do, and it's almost never just the two of us, so I didn't make him go to bed)--I washed dishes and listened to the Holy Spirit.

I was reminded of times when I've said, to various friends: that's not a convenient time for you to stop by.  Or: I really can't come over, or meet you, at that time.  Or: sorry, but this other thing came up, and I want/need to change my plans. 

I remembered my sophomore year of high school, when I'd planned to go with a dear friend to his junior prom.  Until I got myself a boyfriend, who was also a junior.  (I still count the friend with whom I didn't go to prom among my best friends.  I have no relationship with my ex-boyfriend; I don't even know anything about his life, these days.  I think it's fair to say I chose the wrong date.)

I've felt rejected many times in my lifetime.  I've probably made others feel rejected, too.  Many times. 

Sad.  Because rejection hurts.

As I washed dishes, tonight, I remembered the prophet Isaiah's "suffering servant," whom I was taught, growing up, to understand to be none other than Jesus, the (at the point of Isaiah's writing) unborn Messiah:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:3-6, KJV, emphasis mine).

And I thought: Jesus understands just how I feel.  And--sadly, in part--Jesus understands because I reject Him very often.  I say to Him: Sorry, Jesus, this isn't a convenient time for me.  I don't have time to talk to You right now (even though I've found time to talk to at least ten people, today, of my own free will).  I don't have time to read Your Word right now (even though I've found time to read at least ten things on the Internet, today, of my own free will).

I'm not going to pretend like I'm completely over my hurt feelings from earlier.  But what I will say is that I'm working on it.  Also that I'm going to try to spend some extra time, this week, with Someone whom I've been guilty of rejecting, often...someone who never rejects me.

*pronouns used erroneously and deliberately so as to disguise the gender of the subject whilst avoiding the tedious usage of him/her, his/her, etc.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Remembering My Wedding Day

My Little Trout    Brandee
Morning of My Wedding

Brandee
Brandee

The Kiss    Brandee

Brandee

In celebrating four years of marriage as of yesterday (July 15th), I'm sharing memories of Jim's and my wedding day, published originally on myspace July 24, 2007.

***

On the morning of my wedding, my brother picked me up in his noisy Dodge Ram around 5:15.  We stopped at our Uncle Bernie's house, and UB climbed into the truck with us.  The three of us met Cory (my sister-in-law's brother) at Norris Lake, and we all dressed in waders, grabbed our fishing poles and salmon eggs, and walked into the water, where we stayed for several hours.  The men caught their limit, but I was less interested in catching fish than watching the others, watching the birds, and taking photos.

The thing about trout fishing is that--if you wait until you feel the tug of the fish under your finger--the fish has already eaten your salmon egg and swum away.  You must keep your eye on the line and raise your pole, quickly, the moment the line grows taut.  I caught one fish but fed at least fifty more!

At last the horn sounded, which meant we had fifteen minutes to get out of the lake before the release of the water.  I turned to walk toward shore and, for whatever reason, slipped and fell into the lake, which was only about 40 degrees.  I went completely under except for one ponytail and came up gasping.  I wasn't hurt, and the camera was in its bag and survived its submersion.  (Thank goodness!)

I changed into UB's flannel shirt, and the rest of my clothes dried while I slept in my parents' yard; they had taken Cade to church and accidentally locked me out of the house.  When they returned, I took a saddle from inside the house and went horseback riding.  It was about 4 o'clock before I started getting ready for the wedding.

The wedding itself was very simple and sweet.  Only the immediate families and my sister-in-law's family were in attendance.  (My sister-in-law's father was the officiating minister.)  Dad and Cade walked me, together, to Jimmy. Jimmy and I read vows we'd written and also repeated more traditional vows.  We ate and sang karaoke with the family after the ceremony.  At the end of the night, we retreated to an 1860's cabin in Norris.

My wedding day was very long and very beautiful, and I am so thankful to Jimmy's and my family for helping to make it what it was.  I am deeply excited, of course, to be married to the great love of my life!  I know I am blessed because I have bad dreams, sometimes, that my real life isn't real.  Then I awaken and find myself folded in Jimmy's arms like a velveteen rabbit.  He never, ever lets go.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Worst Thing, Pt. 5

Me & My Brother, Trout Fishing in Norris Lake 07/15/07
My Brother and Me, Trout Fishing by Norris Dam,
 on the Morning of My Wedding, 07/15/07
I have to say: it's a tremendous relief to feel my well, on this subject, going dry. 

It's difficult to know what to say to a grief-stricken someone, and just when you think you've gotten it figured out, you realize the very thing that works for most everyone is hurtful to a lone somebody.

Maybe "I'm so sorry for your pain" is as close to a safe bet as you're going to get.

But I recommend praying up, letting the Lord direct your words...or your absence of words, as the case may be.  I have a friend, Christy, who's gifted in grief ministry because she cries every, single time she looks into the crying eyes of someone she loves.  And, sometimes, crying alongside is the perfect thing.  No words necessary.

Whatever you do or say, don't expect thanks.  Because--after times of darkest grief--it can be difficult to remember which people Christ used to sustain, and how.  As I've already shared, I wrote down some of the good while I was in the pit, and I'm so glad, because I don't think I would remember much of it, now, also because--now, when I can see, and think, more clearly--the words I wrote during that time help me celebrate how lovingly God carried me. 

To depart just a little, have you ever heard an actor comment on being only as good as his last picture?  I've discovered: I have to be careful not to think the Lord only as good as how I view His performance in the current drama of my life.  I found it easy to judge the forgetful Israelites, who--despite having been delivered from slavery and having seen miracles--whine and wish to return to Egypt.  Until my humbling realization that I'd been behaving like an Israelite.

These days, I fight to see the big picture, and I wage war on fear, but--I'll be honest--fear is my Achilles' Heel.  I can very easily become paralyzed by fear: especially as pertaining to my son, who goes on vacation with his dad and/or his dad's family for a week at a time, several times a year.  I've not yet been able to get past Day #5 without turning into a crazy nutbar.  (I'll never be able to write about it better than I did, here.)  I know my fear stems, at least in part, from what's happened to my brother and other young people whom I've known to grow sickly, or die suddenly. 

Sometimes, when I talk about the fear I experience while Cade's away for a long stretch of time, people interpret my fear as stemming from an issue with my ex-husband, which annoys me because they don't know how hard he and I work at our relationship. 

Other times, mothers of children older than mine tell me they felt as I do, now, when their children were younger but that, as time's passed, they've grown in faith and fearlessness.  I can't figure out whether they're trying to encourage me that I'll experience less fear in the future, or demonstrate that my faith's lesser than theirs, but my first, inward response is always anger, and, every time, I find myself thinking something along the lines of: "You pathetic twit!  Are you sure you haven't gotten too confident that nothing terrible will happen to your child(ren)?  Because Job was a whole lot more righteous than you, and look at what happened to his kids." 

Then I pray.  I ask God's forgiveness for thinking such mean thoughts about someone who was probably only trying to be helpful, and I ask His continued protection over the other mother's child(ren).  Because, in truth, I don't want her to live with fear anything like mine.

Finally, a thing with which I struggle is praying "Thy will be done" regarding an issue close to my heart.  If God's will involves continued pain for my brother, I can't say, without hesitation, that I want His will.

I suspect that, as time passes, I will leave these particular struggles behind and take up new ones.

As for my brother's future, I hear things, sometimes, as--in fits of restlessness--I move in and out of dreams.  I see things, sometimes, in the little church where I've found acceptance, and love.  On one occasion I raced to the altar, threw myself there, and asked God to speak into my heart that what I'd seen was real.

And I felt God whisper, in His wordless way, "Yes," as His breath crossed the raw, wild-beating part of my heart where no one lives, save my babies...and my little brother: the baby I loved, very first.

(I'll keep you posted.)

The Worst Thing, Pt. 4

I promised to tie up loose ends, and I want to tell you, first of all, why I wrote the story of my brother's illness: especially since there isn't yet a happy ending.  He's probably wondering himself, somewhere.

I wrote the story because I want nothing more than to record, for my children, stories that reflect our family's heritage of faith.

The story of my brother's illness belongs among those stories, for sure.

Growing in faith...growing in Christ, Himself...sometimes feels like having the flu.  Or worse.  I don't know about you, but, at thirty-seven, I can already look back and see: my worst times have been the ones during which I've grown and learned, most.  My brother's illness--especially the points during which doctors were cutting him open and messing around near his spinal cord--has been my very worst thing.  In comparison, divorcing my son's father was like eating Gummi Bears at the Magic Kingdom.

Even so, I realize my worst thing could've been worse, yet, also that some you have worse, worst things.  To be honest, I sometimes worry that my worst thing is meant to prepare me for a worse, worst thing: a thing like that which some of you have experienced.

I found deciding how to best write the story of my brother's illness very difficult.  In the end, I chose to make it my story: the story of my brother's illness as pertaining to me.  To have any hope of sharing its effect on me, I had to write--to a certain extent--about my brother, and about his illness.  But I tried not to give you my brother's perspective, because--as close as we are (extremely)--I'm not him, and I don't think I could properly convey his perspective.  Also, you'll notice nary a mention of my parents, my sister-in-law Sarah, or my brother's younger son Boone.  (The only mention of my brother's older son CJ revolves around his making a decision for Christ during the time in question.)  Each of these and other people, besides, have been affected by my brother's illness, and I didn't leave them out in order to make it seem as though I'm the only one who's walked with my brother, and suffered.  I left them out because each of them has his or her own story.

I make this point because I've learned that grief brings out something strangely competitive in people, and not just the people who make up the cast of characters in a particular story.  In fact, I doubt that any of the above-mentioned people would be disappointed in my not writing them into my account of my brother's illness.  But I decided to write my story--and not attempt to write their stories--because my blog's one of few places where I can get away with sharing about my brother's illness as pertaining to me.

For years, I was tempted to hijack other people's stories, and I'm ashamed to say that, sometimes, I did.  I would hear about someone else's grief and feel the need to tell him or her: I know exactly how you feel!  Because listen to what happened to me!  And that's what I mean about being competitive.  Maybe it's not so much competition as a desire to share...or even help, but there's an element of taking another storyteller hostage that I don't like.  And, as I've indicated, I know about it best because, sadly, I've been the hijacker.

These days, it's rare that I share the story of my brother's illness with someone who's grief-stricken.  I've learned that "I know exactly how you feel!" is, very often, the wrong thing to say.  Firstly, no experience is identical to any other, and no one grieves (or feels, in general) exactly the same as anyone else.  Secondly, I well remember: those who brought me the most relief while I grieved, hardest, were Sharon (who just listened), and Kevin (who prayed out loud, for and with me, over the phone).  So I've learned that talking about my experience, and my pain, has turned out to be appropriate much less often than I expected, initially, even inside of situations similar to my brother's illness.

Perhaps I was confused because, a long time ago, I bought into the Jim-Wheeler notion that God never wastes a hurt, and I still believe that: I do.  But I've learned that the empathy born of the hurt becomes more useful than the details of the hurt.

I've also learned that not everyone goes through the "Seven Stages of Grief" in a straight line.  For me, there has been much looping back, sometimes all the way to denial.  Just last December, I got all bent out of shape because my brother hadn't visited me in all of 2010.  Then I drove to Tennessee over the holidays and realized, all over again, his discomfort, which isn't something with which anyone would want to jump into a truck and drive eight hours.   

I reckon it's near impossible to anticipate what a grieving person might do.  I heard tell of someone who suggested that God might be punishing my brother, and--at the point in time during which she said it--she was very fortunate that I (being half crazy with grief) was not present.  Because I may well have kicked her.  Or worse.  I still feel a prick of anger, some four years down the road, thinking about it. 

"God is doing this," in general, is a hard pill for this grieving person to swallow.  "God might be punishing" is even worse.  "There is a reason": no good.  Because, look: even in the off chance that one or all of those things are true, those words don't help me.  When I grieve, I need to believe and focus on the benign goodness of God.  And the Bible tells me that, in this life, I'm seeing through a glass darkly, so--even if there is a reason--I'm probably incapable of grasping it.  So...how frustrating!

P.S. My friend Terye, whose three-year-old son died suddenly, said the one thing she hopes to never hear, again, is: "He's in a better place."  Because, she said, she can't accept that there is any place better for her child than with his mother.

(To be continued...one more time, after all...)   

The Worst Thing, Pt. 3

I wasn't trying to write something chock-full of suspense.  More like I was trying not to cram too much into one post.  So I'll tell you how the story ends, sort of, and then I'll tie up my loose ends and try to get to all my points.

As I was telling you in Pt. 1, after his series of surgeries in late 2007, my brother started experiencing leg pain.  Actually, I think he may have experienced leg pain all along, but the stomach pain trumped the leg pain, and--after the stomach pain had been reduced (not so much eliminated)--the leg pain became the more prevalent, pressing pain.  In March 2008, the doctors determined that either the old cyst had refilled, or a new one had developed in the same region of my brother's spine.  He returned to Johns Hopkins, in June 2008, for another surgery.

Cut marks had already been drawn on my brother's back when Dr. Long looked at last-minute pictures of my brother's spine and saw that the cyst had inexplicably, suddenly, disappeared

Dr. Long sent my brother home.

Which sounds like a miracle.  At the time, it felt like enough of a miracle that--down in my pit--I scooched over to Jesus (who'd never once left my side) and allowed Him to comfort me.  See, I had come to understand--over the years of this particular ordeal--that every hurt is the dark side of a blessing...that I wouldn't be grieving if I didn't love my brother so much.  And I had been clutching my grief in an effort to prove to God, my brother, myself, everyone! my deep love for my brother. 

I hadn't allowed Jesus to comfort me because I hadn't given Him my pain.  I'd talked to Him about it, but only as I'd close-fisted clutched it; I hadn't handed it over.  I'd felt like handing over my pain would be synonymous with accepting the situation, and I'd 100% refused to accept a. damn. thing.  about it.  I'd been refusing to entertain the possibility of anything less, from God, than my brother's complete and instantaneous healing.

To a certain extent, I suppose you might say I'd even turned up my nose at angels.  

But.  At the point at which Dr. Long sent my brother packing, I was newly pregnant with Clementine and so exhausted in every sense of the word that I scooched over to Jesus, laid my head down in His lap, and gave it over.  Every bit.  Well, almost.

Uncut lines.  It sounds like a miracle.  But what it really meant was that my brother had to pack up his pain and drive back to Tennessee with no easy answer or resolution.  No promise--or even foreseeable possibility--of relief.  No end in sight. 

And nothing has changed a bit over the past three years.  I mean, he's living; he's surviving.  If you met him on the street, you wouldn't know.  But he's not thriving.

So there you go.  No happy ending.  My brother could use your prayers.

But, overall, I'm in a pretty good place.  I guess you might say I've come to see that the miracle happened at the front end...no...that the miracle happened before any of what I've recounted, here.  The miracle happened just after I asked Jesus Christ to live in my heart, and just after my brother asked the same. 

The miracle happened when He moved into those spaces, and when He moved into them for good.

And I didn't know...I mean, before all this, I had no way of understanding that He really wouldn't go...that He really wouldn't leave or forsake us...that He would stay with us no matter where or when: in the hospital bed, in the pit, in the hotel room.  That He would be there, awake, even when we closed our eyes because our bodies gave way to exhaustion, depression, or IV medication.

(To be continued, but only once more, I think...)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Worst Thing, Pt. 2

So I found myself in a pit, and I found Jesus there with me, from the start.  But--although He offered it, and although I knew He could supply it--I refused the comfort of Christ.  And He did not thrust it upon me.  He just sat beside me, in the dark, listening.  Waiting.

I knew He was there.

Meanwhile, God showed up outside of my pit.  For example, two years into my brother's ordeal, a prayerful, chiropractic friend expressed to my sister-in-law a desire to examine my brother's neck.  I forget exactly how it went but know the chiropractor pointed the way, somehow, to the Tarlov-cyst diagnosis because--since my brother's stomach (and not his back) had been hurting--no one had been looking at my brother's spine.

Thankfully, I recorded some of the good because--as I just indicated--I can't remember all of it.  I wasn't necessarily focusing on the good.  I was in a pit, and I refused to be satisfied by anything less than my brother's complete, instantaneous healing.  In my pit, I was a brat. 

Until Sharon reminded me, I couldn't even remember that--the first time she'd ever helped me--I'd been lamenting my brother's illness. 

But, in October 2007, I wrote about Cassandra (with whom I worked, at the time) and how--upon my getting ready to head to Johns Hopkins for the invasive compression of my brother's first cyst--she'd stood and hugged me with her entire being, saying, "Just believe. Believe. Believe."  I wrote about how--after Dr. Long's saying the surgery had been successful--I'd watched a woman in scrubs touch the outstretched, right foot on the statue of Christ in the hospital as she'd walked briskly past and how, just after that, my eyes had met a column in a city parking lot that said, simply, "Believe."

Statue at Johns Hopkins in My Photos by

Come Unto Me...    Brandee

Believe (Baltimore)    Brandee

Brother  Cade 10/07/07    Brandee

Later, in the same month, I wrote about Cade's making a decision for Christ.  And about CJ's (my brother's older son's) making a decision for Christ.

In November 2007, after the procedure to repair my brother's spinal-fluid leak, I wrote about waking up in a Baltimore, hotel room and seeing a very tall, shadowy figure in the doorway. I'd known it wasn't human and had felt like it was there for good, not harm, so I'd gone back to sleep.  When, the next day, I'd told my brother about having seen, possibly, an angel, he'd nodded and said, matter-of-factly: "Tall, wasn't it."

I wrote these good things, but what I remember best is the bad.  I remember that--after one of my brother's surgeries--he was permitted one visitor, and his father-in-law (the kind-hearted pastor who officiated Jim's and my wedding ceremony, Cade's and CJ's baptism, and my daughters' dedications) sent me, after which I stood over my brother and wept so hard that he looked up and asked quietly, out of dry lips set in a pale face, "I'm dying, aren't I?"

I remember my begging and weeping; my inner twisting; my tight clenching of teeth; my feeling as though my heart were in a vice; my sleeplessness and alternate, deep depressive sleepiness; and just my sheer, bottomless hurt that God...my Father, the Father of my brother...would permit it all to happen. 

(To be continued...)

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Worst Thing, Pt. 1

Not long ago, my friend Annie reminded me that--when we were in high school--I'd said something about having no fear because the worst thing that could happen would only cause me to die, and then I'd go to heaven to live with Jesus.

I laughed and told her I don't feel that way since becoming a mom.

And of course I knew nothing of fear when I was in high school and those I loved most were in perfect health, when--so far as I could tell--the world revolved around me.

Because the worst thing that can happen has nothing to do with me and everything to do with someone I love more than I love myself. 

(Ask me how I know...)

In 2005, my little brother began experiencing chronic abdominal pain.  After two years of performing tests and coming up empty-handed, doctors in Tennessee (where my brother lives) discovered a Tarlov cyst in the region of my brother's spine that houses the stomach nerves.  A specialist at Vanderbilt (Nashville) advised my brother that nothing could be done and that he should "learn to live with the pain," so my brother contacted Dr. Long at Johns Hopkins (Baltimore). Dr. Long had been at Johns Hopkins since 1973 and specialized in complex spinal and chronic-pain problems.  He reviewed my brother's records and, in October 2007, decided to aspirate the cyst and fill it with fibrin glue.  But that particular procedure failed because of the too-quick passage of spinal fluid through the cyst, and the more invasive surgery was scheduled.

After the second surgery, one of my brother's stitches broke, and he developed a spinal-fluid leak. The leak was the size of the doctor's pinkie and caused my brother to have a persistent and severe headache; he could stand for less than five minutes at a time. So he had a third surgery at Johns Hopkins: this time to correct the spinal-fluid leak.

A little less than six months later, my brother underwent more testing because of debilitating leg pain.  In March 2008, the doctors determined that either the old cyst had refilled, or a new one had developed in the same region of my brother's spine.  He returned to Johns Hopkins, in June 2008, for another surgery.

At this point I need to pause and say: I've been wrestling, for the last month or so, with this post in part because it frustrates me to summarize in this way.  I can pour facts...years!...into compact little paragraphs and give you the bare bones of what's happened.  But I'm telling you: the above doesn't scratch the surface of what's happened in my heart, because it explains neither the relationship nor my angst and hurt.   

So indulge me while I depart a little and say: when you remember waiting for your mother to come home with a brand-new someone, your very own someone for whom she's been preparing you by reading, every day, Golden Book The New Baby; when you remember exactly how you felt when you first saw him; when you remember living all your best, childhood memories with him; when you remember the many times you stood up for one another (sometimes with threats, and at least once with a rifle); when you remember begging him (on your knees!) not to sign up with the U.S. Navy, and his doing it anyway, and your crying and missing and praying and worrying for almost four years until he came home, safely, and your thinking: nothing bad can happen, now; when you remember crying into the telephone (on more than one occasion!) only to hear him say: "I'll be there as soon as I can," even though that meant an eight-hour drive; when you remember asking him to be the godfather of your child and any other you might have, in the future; and when you remember bearing a son and thinking, with surprise: this feels, in my heart, almost exactly like having a little brother...something terrible happens to you, inside, when he hurts.  Especially when it's more than just a little hurt, for just a little while.

What I'm trying to say is: when you can look at someone and see all the faces he's ever had (each beloved), including the jaundiced, baby face; the red, Kool-Aid-mustached face of, oh, at least eight years; the pudgy, middle-schooler face; the pimply, teenager face; the stern, "I'm a sailor" face; and the proud, new-dad face...and then you look at him...for years and years...and see rising up from his eyes a deep, dark, writhing pain...

You fall into a pit, and you jerk Jesus Christ into it with you, by the collar.  Or maybe He just jumps down, gracefully and willingly, with you.  It happens too quickly for you to know, for sure. 

All you know (because you're half-blind with fear and rage) is that--when you cast your wild eyes just to the right--He sits beside you, looking calmly in your direction.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Making Our Own Monsters



With very little exception, I believe that--when it comes to our children--we make our own monsters.  I'm reminded of this as I begin the difficult task of sleep training my ten-month-old baby.

Charleigh's never slept in a crib.  She has slept (a small amount) by my bedside, in her infant car seat, and very recently (a small amount) in a Pack N Play at the foot of my bed.  But, mostly, she's slept in my arms.

I could tell you that Charleigh suffered from acid reflux as a newborn and didn't sleep well flat on her back, also that, until recently, her sister occupied the crib, and those things would be true.  But truer, still, would be the fact that--regardless of circumstances--I sleep with my children, when they are babies.  Yes, yes, I do. 

And I. love. it.  I make no apologies for it, even to my husband, who jokes that we are on birth control called "Charleigh Evangeline."

My favorite thing, hands down, about being the mother of a tiny being is sleeping curled up next to him or her, and--should the Lord bless me with another baby--I will sleep with him or her, too.  It's what I do.  I nurse on demand, throughout naptime and nighttime, and I don't bother to rise from bed to do it...although I do keep the baby on the outside of the bed, so we sleep, very often, with our heads at the foot of the bed.

Clementine, a roller and thrasher, underwent sleep training at about nine months and has been sleeping on her own ever since.  Charleigh, though, sleeps perfectly still in my arms (just as her brother did), and I would continue to postpone her sleep training except I have to lie down with her for nap and--when I don't want to nap--feel stuck, because it's become dangerous to leave her, alone, in my bed.  She's more sleep-spoiled than either of her siblings were, and that's saying something, because Cade didn't sleep through the night until he was four years old.

But I'm not complaining, because I've done it, and I wouldn't undo it even if given the opportunity, and I'll fix it (although maybe not today, because Charleigh is sleeping with her head in my lap as I type this), and--if given the opportunity--I'll do it, and fix it!, just the same with another baby.

Understand: I'm not pretending my way is the way for anyone but me, but my way is the only way for me, and I'm glad to know it and feel confident in it.  And I guess, if hard pressed, I would tell you: God selected, for me, three beings who needed slept with for nigh about a year and breastfed for several months more.  Because some of my mothering feels awkward and even intimidating, but sleeping with and breastfeeding, for those lengths of time, feel exactly right.

Random Cuteness and Excellence


Charleigh (10 mos.)
  • Waves like a beauty-pageant contestent.
  • Drinks juice from a regular (hard-topped, no-handled) sippy cup.  Has never drunk from either a bottle or a soft-topped, handled sippy cup.  (Obviously, I think she's a genius.)
  • Crawls and pulls up.  Has been caught standing, a couple times, without support.
  • Says "Ma-ma," "Da-da," "Hi," "Hi, Da-da," and, "No."
  • Ate eggs and ice-cream for the first time over the holiday weekend.
  • Loves bathing and swimming.
  • Puts absolutely everything in her mouth.  Scary!
  • Is extremely flexible and has fallen asleep--no joke--with her foot on top of her head.  I'm thinking future in ballet?
  • Still sleeps in my arms.
  • Still has bright red hair.  And blueish eyes.
Funny Charleigh story: today, Jim took us for lunch at El Cerro Azul.  Charleigh had her own serving of rice.  I gave her a couple chunks of raw tomato (which I don't eat) from my plate.  As she was eating, her face turned red, she got a funny look on her face, and she started panting a little.  I didn't understand it because I knew she wasn't choking.  Later (after giving her more tomatoes), I realized they had been mixed with (and flavored by) jalapenos.  Poor Charleigh.




Clementine (2 yrs., 4 mos.)
  • Says, instead of soakin' wet, "soapin' wet."  Calls a chalkboard a "skateboard."  And a microphone a "microburst."  (You can tell there's been a lot of storm talk in these parts.)
  • Speaks mostly in sentences, now.
  • Has started, just this week, adding "so much" to her I love yous: something she picked up from one of my parents, over the weekend. :)
  • Insists upon putting on her own clothes and shoes.
  • May well have the gift of encouragement. ("Great job your coloring, Mommy!")
  • Loves to say, "Thank you!" and, "You're welcome!"  "Please" is a work in progress.
  • Is a big. daddy's. girl.
  • Sings most all the time.  Loves nursery rhymes.
  • Has a special, "yellow baby" (a baby doll dressed in yellow).
  • Loves to color and work puzzles.
  • Loves animals and babies, people in costumes, giant statues.
  • Has many imaginary, phone conversations.  Is, in general, a social force.
  • Sleeps beautifully in her "big-girl bed."
  • Is an easily-bored, busy bee.
  
 

Cade (11 yrs., 5 mos.)
  • Managed a straight-A average again, this year.  The A in social studies was by the skin of his teeth and as close to a B as possible.
  • Graduated with his Senior Brown Belt in karate on June 30th.  Black Belt testing is scheduled for May 2012.
  • Loves Boy Scouts.
  • Sings soprano (for now) in the church choir.
  • Will likely play clarinet next year?
  • Continues to read voraciously.
  • Loves video games, just like every other boy his age.
  • Got a fantastic haircut, at the hands of my brother, last week.
  • Best. big. brother. ever.
My Dad, Older Nephew, and Cade on a Big Hike
 


(Recording these things while giving thanks, to God, 
for the beautiful children with whom I have been blessed and entrusted.)