Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Best Christmas Gift

We found Grandma in the dining room and wheeled her back, a little, from the others. So many others. One woman--and seems like every adult home has one--spoke and laughed in a strange voice, manlier than a man's. Another spoke on auto-repeat. A third joined us back under the Christmas tree and stood over us, swaying. She nodded toward Grandma and said: "She's not an individual, yet," also something about its being a long Friday. It was Tuesday, but she never stopped smiling. I could've talked to her all day.

Grandma didn't know us, and when I told her I was Sherry's daughter, it didn't seem to register. She was happy to see us, though, and hold the baby; I could hardly wait to lie him in her arms. "How... How... How...," she said, and I knew the question for which she was grasping but forced myself to wait her out. Finally, she asked: "What's the age of the child?"

"Five weeks," I told her.

"He's really cute," she said. "I had them. Boys and girls." Later, in her room, she looked at Clementine and said: "Pretty hair. I used to have hair like that." And she did; I've seen pictures of her long curls. Those were the only two things she said, while we were together, that proved she remembered something of who she used to be.

When I hugged and kissed her goodbye, I wondered if it were for the last time, and it might've hurt me. Except I'd wondered the same thing so many times before and, suddenly, all I could see was an opened gift: how she's 94, and I'm 38, and how--even if she doesn't remember it--we've had so much time. How she's held and loved, now, all of my babies.

"Goodbye, Grandma B.," my two-year-old volunteered. "I love you, Grandma B."

And Grandma smiled and said to the wee, red-headed stranger: "I love you, too."  


**A special thank you to my friend Sharon Pleasants, who, with all the love in her heart, gave me two (more) days of her life. I couldn't have made the trip without her. Thanks, also, to Uncle Ronnie and Aunt Carolyn, who welcomed my crazy tribe in and gave us beds...and pancakes.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just Be Nice

We'd planned, yesterday, to leave for Kroger after Jim's return from work, but--given the events of the day--I didn't feel up to entering the cold, the dark, or the public with our three, younger children. I know you understand, that I'm not the only one who's just wanted to hole up at home.

Jim and I went out today, though, because we'd lined up a sitter and bought movie tickets weeks ago. Baby Chip slept through our entire cinematic experience, and I have to admit: I slept through part of it, myself.

Thankfully, I didn't sleep through Galadriel's and Gandalf the Grey's exchange because--of all the words people have had to say in the last couple of days--Gandalf's were the ones I wanted. He said:

I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love.

I'm with Gandalf; how about you?

Back in the day when I taught argument and rhetoric, my students and I shared ideas regarding what we could do about the prevalence of violence in our society. We talked about gun control, mental health, violence on tv and in the movies, violence in video games, prayer in schools, etc. Most of these ideas had some--if not a great deal--of merit. But my favorite idea was, and is, in line with Gandalf's thinking: just be nice.

If we went out of our way to be nice--especially to those who feel angry, hurt, and/or rejected--who can guess how profound the impact on our society?

Let's be really nice, right now. Let's think carefully about what's coming out of our mouths and fingertips. Let's not--in our efforts to understand, prevent further tragedy, and even provide comfort!--be insensitive. There's a time to speak, scripture says, and a time to keep silence (Ecclesiastes 3:7); let's err on the side of keeping silence...or say safe things like: I love you. I'm here for you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sing a Song

We'd closed the door on hours' worth of bathing/dressing/ironing/diaper-changing explosion, and it seemed as though (Miracle of miracles!) we might arrive clean and on time, but--as our headlights cut through the darkness--the baby wailed even over his sisters' arguing.

The twelve-year-old in the passenger seat turned his face toward me and said: "Sing a song, Mama, and cheer us up," so I did; I opened my mouth and sang. The little ones behind me quieted, and my young man wiggled his fingers at me.

"See," he said, grinning. "You're magic."

And I am not and have never been magic. Nor long-suffering. Nor organized and scheduled. I fight for happiness, patience. I beat back the piles, never really conquering them, just making dents here and there.

What I am--that is, what I try to be--is wholly myself. I try to live up only to my own standards. That means I choose other things, often, over cleaning. I sleep as much as possible and almost always with my baby. I make time to write out the most important things so my children will know them, someday, also so I won't forget them. I might nurse like crazy, but I don't aspire to diaper in cloth or blend peas for the toothless. I doubt that homeschooling will ever be for me; my young man made it through both fifth and sixth grades without my even knowing he had study cards for SOLs.

All of it is very personal; I don't know another mom who thinks exactly as I or places the exact same emphasis on the exact same things as I. That's ok: good, even.

I'm just trying to live in such a way that I carry a song in my heart, to sing on demand.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Here are the two best prayers I know: 'Help me, help me, help me' and 'Thank you, thank you, thank you.' -Anne Lamott

He hath made every thing beautiful in his time (Ecclesiastes 3:11a, KJV). 

Object to Be Destroyed by Man Ray

How to pass the time between now and healing?
Little to do but wait out the suffering,
trust I've worn a path to the Throne, praying:
"Make the feathers of Your wings his covering,"
or even just by gasping: "Father. Help."

I'm still so far from understanding why.

I can tell you, though: I've been changed,
listening to the words of faith, even gratitude
he's spoken into these long, slow years of pain,
watching him carry my chestnut-haired honey
high on his shoulders, knowing well the cost of love.

 **Linking with the communities of The Mag and Imperfect Prose.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Road Rage

I was supposed to see my doctor at noon, yesterday. I bathed and dressed the girls and put shoes on their feet. I got myself ready, too, and changed and fed Baby Chip. I buckled him into his infant carrier by the front door and went to the hook where I knew I'd hung my keys.

My keys were neither on the hook nor in any of the places I could think to look for them. To add further to my frustration, I knew Jim had already left work to meet me, and--since he doesn't carry a cell phone--I couldn't call him.

It was exactly the sort of situation apt to drive me ape. I'm a terribly impatient person: do you know this about me? I've been known to yell and even--when especially provoked--throw things.

Guess what?! I have two toddlers who yell and throw things. Perhaps (since my older son has never really yelled or thrown things, also since my daughters exhibit additional bad behaviors that I don't) this has little or nothing to do with me; still, I feel convicted over my lack of control. So, yesterday, I forced myself to remain calm.

Here's an interesting truth: I exhausted myself, working so hard at remaining calm. When Jim got home, I took Baby Chip and went to bed.

Fast forward many hours (keys found, girls in bed--after a long battle--for the night). I decided to play a video game. Now, I'm not a gamer. But Jim bought me L.A Noire for Christmas, and I was excited to try it out.

Oh my word: what a terrible decision! I was supposed to be a police officer, but I couldn't drive the patrol car at all. I'm not even kidding! I kept weaving all over the road...backing into buildings...hitting other cars. My partner kept swearing over my inability to drive! Finally, I looked at Jim and said (with as much calmness as I could muster): "This isn't fun for me. I can't even deal, right now."

What I wanted from my husband was a hug. Maybe even a badge, pinned to my shirt, that said: "I KEPT MY COOL IN HELL." Instead, I got his frustration over my frustration. I continued to refrain from yelling and throwing things.

And I stopped driving that car. Obviously, I wasn't meant to drive anything with wheels, yesterday.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

His First Three Weeks

I wrote my 400th post two posts ago, and I hit my two-year, blogging anniversary two weeks ago; I just haven't made time to say these (and many other) things, until now. And it really hasn't been a matter of finding time, just of making time.

He brought with him a deep hush: a peace unlike any I've ever experienced, before. He's my easiest baby, so far (by far), but the peace is bigger than he. I've been just sort of soaking it all in: getting reacquainted with a body that can drink a glass of milk, eat a piece of pie, and load the dishwasher without feeling like its legs might go out from under it, like it might hit its head on the way down.

Too, I've been getting reacquainted with my better, more patient self. Maybe it sounds strange, but everything's so much easier, now. It's as though I were trudging through knee-high mud with inappropriate shoes and a backpack full of rocks, and I've arrived on the other side.

At the ripe, old age of two weeks and two days, he caught his sisters' cold. I was so afraid he'd choke that I sat up straight as a poker all night, holding him. My incision still hasn't healed completely, and I have a clogged duct in my left breast. But any and all discomfort has seemed minimal since I've handed off my burden, rediscovered the bones of my feet.

I'd expected a period of high adjustment, but I see more clearly than ever: we were all waiting for him. At last, we're all here, and the blessing--the miracle!--of that isn't lost on me.

Jim (down over a hundred pounds, now, since surgery) has given me lots of space and time to do my thing, which is to say: I've spent long hours nursing, snuggling, and sleeping with our baby. I whisper secrets to that boy in the shadows, and he looks deep into my eyes and smiles. Say what you will: at three weeks, he already knows.

**To see Becky's gorgeous, hospital photos of Baby Chip, please click here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Squall

Andrew Wyeth's The Squall, 1986

I think of Holly Petraeus and wonder if she--if anyone--expects
a squall: one that rocks the boat or one that exits the throat,
and I doubt it. We try not to worry about what might never happen:
to think on whatsoever things are true and honest, pure and lovely.
No one wants to carry binoculars and a raincoat, just in case,
so we're caught unprepared by those things that bend and break us.

The man I love leans against our hutch and asks why I'm crying.
I shake my head and talk about Holly: about 38 years, 2 children,
and, still, no guarantees. "I'm not a general," he offers quietly,
but he misses the point, because it's less about being a general
than about being general: human, common, usual, sinful.
I've hung my coat (hat, hopes) on this man alone. I study him,

think: don't bring down (or out) a squall. Make things safe for me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Tug

Image used w/ permission of Dot Samuel of Psalms of Samuel in Watercolor.
(To see more of her beautiful work, click here.)

They counted to three and, working together, swung me from bed to table. Strange to witness their strain when I felt nearly weightless; I am a pendulum, I thought, tugged by time. I am floating; I have become a boat on water, or perhaps I am the water itself. On command, I spread my arms wide, and I won't lie: I thought of Christ crucified and wondered--as my doctor flayed me open like a fish--if I were about to die.

I felt no pain in the slicing: only a great tug, and my doctor lifted out the baby I could not touch. Later (after they'd swung me back to bed), someone handed that child to me. He latched with ferocity onto my breast and tugged out everything I had, and for the first time I believed the whispers I'd heard for years: a baby boy, and neither of you will die in getting him here.

**Please click here to continue reading about Baby Chip's arrival and what I'm taking from it. A big thank you to Emily Wierenga for the opportunity to share, today, with the Imperfect Prose community: one place where I always feel like I belong.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Joy and Woe Are Woven Fine

"Mind if I smoke?" he asks, settling onto the bench beside me. I love the smell of a freshly-lit cigarette and tell him no before considering: I'm extremely pregnant, and the wind is whipping. I'm a little cool, anyway, and it crosses my mind to wait inside, but I want neither to give up my seat nor to come across as rude.

"What are you waiting for?" he asks.

"My husband. And a baby; we're having a baby tomorrow."

"Your first?"


He says his mother didn't live long enough to have more than one, that she died when he was six, and when I ask if his dad raised him, he says: "No. They put him in the ground same day as my mother."

"Car accident?" I ask.

"No," he says, but he offers no more, and I realize I don't want to know. He talks about having a daughter (he guesses she's his) whom he hasn't seen since he asked her why she came around only for money, and he talks about having a girlfriend. He's here, in fact, because the girlfriend is in the hospital. "She wants to get married," he says, "but I'm not gonna do that. Too old to have kids: what's the point?"

I shrug. "Maybe it's about her integrity before the Lord," I offer.

He raises an eyebrow. "That is a possibility," he concedes. "She's a church lady."

"Are you a church man?"

"Not anymore," he says. "Got hurt. Gave it up." I start to respond but hesitate. "Go ahead," he encourages. "I want to hear what you have to say."

I feel tested and squirm, a little, on the bench. "I was just going to say: every stitch of peace I have is in the Lord." Everything I haven't said forms that old, familiar lump in my throat, and--when I look up at him--I'm crying.

So is he.

"I know the Father," he says. "I know Him well. He has given me wisdom. I can see the world in a grain of sand."

I consider the purple of his irises, the dark cheeks wet with his tears, the white hair springing from his temples. I believe him. We reach for one another, and strangers (73 and 38, male and female, black and white) collide and embrace on a bench just past the doors of a hospital.

Later, I realize I never smelled the cigarette he smoked beside me, on a windy day, in its entirety.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit (John 3:8, KJV).

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2, KJV).

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Broken Places

Induction #4, and everything was going along swimmingly (water broken, epidural in) until my nurse checked to see if I'd progressed from 5 cm dilation, as I am wont to do quickly. "I feel something," she said, "and it's not a head."

The two nurses who checked behind her agreed. Gathered closely together, the three of them clucked aloud: "Ear? Fingers? Toes?"

They called in my doctor, who checked with his hand, then with an ultrasound machine, before saying: "Baby's turned since your last ultrasound, and the presenting part is a foot. You'll need a c-section, and right away."

I'd never in my life had surgery of any kind, before, aside from the extraction of my wisdom teeth. I could write a separate post about my c-section experience, and perhaps I will. But I understand that--in this country, at least--30% of babies enter the world via c-section. What has seemed so uncommon, to me, is not uncommon, in general.

Still, I want to acknowledge: I've just experienced, in a very personal way, things I'd never seen or smelled off the farm. Also that I have a whole new respect for women who sign up for one c-section, let alone more than one.

Tonight will be my fourth spent in a delivery bed in which I didn't deliver. I've been discharged, but--except for when he's breastfeeding (every two hours)--Baby Chip needs to lie under a blue lamp. Tonight will be Jim's fourth on a sofa just to the left of the delivery bed; he looked up, just now, and said: "I feel like Snoopy on the roof of a doghouse." (Better to be on the roof of a doghouse, I say, than in the doghouse.)

We're beyond ready to go home and enjoy the family we've made in a hurry. Four pregnancies (one miscarriage) in just over four years, and we've pushed ourselves in other ways, too. I've written much of it out, but not all of it; some things just can't be blogged. Hemingway wrote, in A Farewell to Arms: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places." But often, I think, we shouldn't blame the world; we break ourselves. Owning our decisions becomes the important thing.

I stood in front of a bathroom mirror, this morning, and studied my bloody, deeply bruised, crooked, dripping, sagging, stapled-back-together body, and--for the second time in my life--I had this conscious thought: my body and my soul look the same. It's a relief, actually, to reach that place: to know that anyone (in this case, my beloved) who sees me will see me as I actually am.

My husband looked at me with tears in his eyes, the other day, and said: "Thank you for the boy. I didn't know how very much I wanted him until now."

To which I replied: "It's ok. I knew."

And I would do it--all of it--again and just the same way.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Few Words of Gratitude

We would give anything for what we have. -Tony Hoagland

Many, Lord my God,
    are the wonders you have done,
    the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
    were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
    they would be too many to declare
(Psalm 40:5, NIV).

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Teen (and Other) Angst

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. 
If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better. -Anne Lamott

I'm thinking that the person getting ready to push a 9+ pound baby out of her nethers should, hands down, be the craziest-acting one in the house. Having said that, I'm about to give birth to my fourth 9+ pound baby, and, in my experience and opinion, the other people in the house always act far crazier. This hardly seems fair to the one in so much physical discomfort that she's counting down the hours for an epidural.

The 12.75 year-old, in particular, seems to have lost his ever-loving mind. Picture me as I am, just now, wearing Cat in the Hat pajama pants and sitting in Jim's scungy, blue chair, pondering. I had a high-school band instructor, once, whose habit it was to--with his forefinger--cover the very centers of his chin and lips whilst touching the underside of his nose and saying: "Hmmm," and--if I had facial hair--I could be him, Robert Cobb, in this moment.


What to write, say, do...and not...about my "talented and gifted" student whose grades don't reflect as much, suddenly? His voice is changing; he breaks and loses things with alarming frequency; he thinks he can rock Ringo Starr hair and, deep into fall, plaid shorts.

I'm at a complete loss, and with the others in the house, too, and who am I to try and raise up another someone? But I guess it's too late to worry about that, now, and I really need to go vacuum some log walls; they're very dusty except in those spots where the little ones have been climbing them.

Friday's the big day; wish us luck!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

After the Fall

I gasp, sometimes, from the hard kicks of the baby within and find, especially in the middle of the night: my hips don't want to bear our weight to the bathroom. I crank a little dial and stab dutifully into my inner thigh but often feel lightheaded or weak, nonetheless, for reasons barely (or un) detectable in my blood.

I study a spiderweb dangling from a door frame and consider: if a creature of industry exists in this house, she ignores webs, dust, fingerprints, spots. Or does she simply busy herself in some other corner, making something from nothing?

My neighbor hisses that I should get over myself because she, too, has suffered, and some things (and people) aren't meant to be, and some are, and everything works out in the end; there's no good reason not to pick up the phone.

She's right; I don't know of a mother (or any woman, for that matter) who hasn't suffered. We're each of us left holding an apple with bites taken out of it, and don't so many men--even if they don't want to admit it--gloat, disregard, disrespect, undermine?

We women should forge bonds of love, and that's where both my neighbor and I are wrong.

Admittedly, I tire of trying to make something pleasant of that which threatens to rot: foxes and lamps from brightly colored leaves, pies from apples, lanterns from pumpkins, intimacy from brokenness.

Trust me on this: what a strange time to bring new life into the world; everything around me is so very busy dying.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Then I Became a Mother

On Saturday, my friend Robin Kramer began celebrating the release of her book Then I Became a Mother. Having just finished reading it, I celebrate along with her.

Kramer, the mother of three young children, writes honestly about the challenges of early parenthood and offers nine key strategies for navigating and enjoying what is--for every new mother--a confusing, overwhelming time. Kramer doesn't address the detailed, physical aspects of mothering in a how-to manner; rather, she turns her attention to the emotional upheaval that accompanies all little people of families.

If you're at all familiar with Kramer's blog Pink Dryer Lint, you'll treasure this opportunity to travel beyond delightful snippets and into pages written in her same voice: that of a writing instructor, woman of faith, and devoted mother. Experienced mothers will smile and nod while reading, finding much with which to relate, while new mothers will receive Kramer's heartfelt words as those of a wise friend speaking into the chaos.

Robin Kramer shared with me that her prayer is to "encourage and uplift moms," and--because I recognize her book as a means of meeting her objective--I recommend, with pleasure, Then I Became a Mother. It's available for purchase here, through Amazon. Please consider buying a copy not only for yourself but also for someone (else) just beginning the journey of motherhood.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I've hardly been able to bring myself to blog: just seems like every little thing wears me out, and I've had some big things on my plate.

Like, you know, growing a baby who weighs, already, more than seven pounds; looking for the right renter for my bitty house; trying to keep the spark in my man's eye; parenting three kids whom I think may very well be conspiring against me; preparing and teaching Sunday school lessons; purging the log cabin of all unnecessities; and celebrating the season according to my (ridiculously high) standards.

Today, the kids and I met my aunt in Staunton to pick up a wooden dresser for Baby Chip. It's the coolest thing; it has a changing table on top and tons of drawer space. Plus, it's been used by four kids over 20+ years, which is exactly how I like my stuff.

So I'm moving slow, but I'm still moving. On Friday, the doctor said Baby Chip has turned and "headed for the light." I've never gone into labor that hasn't been induced, but Jim says a halloween baby would be very fitting (since I might be the halloween-lovingest Christian ever). My doctor will induce labor on November 6th at the very latest.

Looking forward to getting this pumpkin out from under my shirt: that's for sure.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Book Review: Lessons Learned

Sydney Logan and I go way back (way, way back), although I've never called her by that name. Lessons Learned is her debut novel, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on it. Honestly, I found it thrilling to read a novel written by someone I know and love: to soak in the written thoughts of someone I trust.

Even outside of and beyond my friendship with the author, the novel didn't disappoint; in fact, I appreciated many things about it. I felt like it moved along at a comfortable, consistent pace. I loved Logan's depiction of small-town America. I particularly enjoyed the "rolling" incident, also the snark in Sarah as she contemplated the Sycamore Falls sign and remembered Shellie's accident in high school.

But, above all, I valued the way Logan raised questions like: how should we respond to those who embrace different belief systems than the ones we hold dear? What if--because of these people's close proximity, or for safety and other reasons--turning blind eyes isn't a viable option? How do we best honor God in these situations? Is anything ever really black or white, cut and dry? How do we determine when to fight and when to walk away? Can anyone ever really go home again? And how, and at what point, does someone determine that a particular job or town isn't a good fit for him or her?

I look forward to reading whatever Sydney Logan produces, next. I would encourage her to write more humor, also to allow herself even more freedom in exploring the topics that weigh heavily upon her; I found the romantic aspects of Lessons Learned less gripping than its darker and deeper themes. This author possesses the ability to challenge her readers, and I, for one, am ready for her to make me uncomfortable.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Boy

"That little feller reminds me of me, when I was his age," he says, and I know he's talking--at least in part--about the weight, but he adds: "I remember Mom cutting my hair from under a bowl she'd stuck on my head."

I've thought many times, over the years: I would've loved Jimmy as a little boy; I know I would've.

He was 23 (almost or freshly) when I met him but still very much a boy: no pot to piss in. He borrowed money from one of buddies to buy me two roses. He had a box of sidewalk chalk, a box of Snow White Valentines like what little girls swap with their friends, pumpkin-carving skills. He gave me the up-n-down in class and didn't care a bit to bellow his love for me across the commons.

I played him hard, and finally he took off for Disney World. He didn't come back to me for a dozen years; I'm not even kidding you.

When he came back, at last, he came back a man.

Lately, though (as he loses weight rapidly), I've seen glimpses of the boy again. Overall, I can't say I've been terribly amused: probably because I can't even locate my inner girl at the moment. She might be lost in a pile of dirty laundry, or she might be trapped behind this guy:

Not sure, but I find: I don't really want Jim out of my sight. I leaned across the bar, last night, and told him: "I'm always afraid you won't come back. Or that you won't want to."

I listened from bed, this morning, to his doling out vitamins and juice to the girls (who sound, afar, just like Minnie Mouse). He climbed the stairs, crawled in beside, and said: "They're watching cartoons, but you've only got about ten minutes before they get into some craziness."

I laughed, assured him I was awake before pulling him close and breathing him (fresh from the shower) in. I asked him to stay, but he had a meeting, so I listened to his goodbyes with the girls, also to the squeak and click of the door.

And I wonder if he understands how much of me he takes with him, when he goes, how he is the axis upon which I (big and round as a library globe) spin.

**My thanks to Amber Haines for the prompt. Pleased to share with her and her community.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Why I Believe in the Power of Prayer

I started taking insulin injections on Wednesday and felt better immediately. I can do this, I thought: it'll be smooth sailing from here on out.

But when I woke up on Thursday, my throat felt like a sidewalk-scraped knee. Jim had been feeling badly for a couple days and was diagnosed, that same day, with bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection. "Go to the doctor," he encouraged, but I didn't see the point: I try to avoid medication (beyond Tylenol and, obviously, insulin) while pregnant.

I fell asleep praying I wouldn't get worse, but--for each of the next three mornings--I woke up feeling worse than I had the day before.

For days, my daughters ate candy corn for breakfast. They curled around my legs and tummy on the couch, and we watched an endless stream of cartoons. I hacked up a lung and cried for my mom, who lives eight hours away and couldn't come to my rescue.

Today is Day 6 of my crud. I can breathe (and smell) through my nose. I can function as the mother of little girls; we resumed "homeschool preschool" yesterday. They just had cereal as a side dish to their candy corn. I played board games with my son, last night; I got him to the bus on time, this morning.

I still sound terrible. I still feel as though I've been kicked about the ribs by an ornery old mule.

But this is what I really wanted to tell you: while I was dying on the sofa, my husband was cleaning and painting my recently- and suddenly-vacated bitty house. With diagnosed bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection. I was over there last night, and--considering the smoke, dog-pee-stained carpet, half-painted wall (as in, someone painted around a gigantic piece of furniture?), non-working light fixture, black and clogged (completely washable?) air filter, and broken toilet our former renters left behind--I wanted to cry for the beauty and freshness of it all.

And you wouldn't know, if you didn't know, the miracle in this: the power of prayer in this. Because, traditionally, my man has been the one hit hardest by any and all sickness in our household. I can't even count the times I've watched him crash and burn. But he's down 85 pounds since surgery (135 since the beginning of summer), and he's a new man.

He took us to the Amelia County Fair for his birthday; for hours, we walked around in the dark, and who knows how pitted with holes that cool ground? He bagged up clothes for Good Will and, twice, shopped in his closet; he came downstairs, this morning, proudly modeling a new size. He looks like he did on our wedding day. He's just so well, even when he's sick.

And that, my friends, is the power of prayer. Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

To My Unborn Child

Dear James Reo Galyon III, "Baby Chip":

I never in a million years imagined I'd raise four children, and neither did anyone who's ever known me. Some dreams, though, carry so much weight that they can't be shaken. I dreamed your name; I dreamed your face; and--even though I don't completely understand it--I've known for years: I won't have peace until you're here.

I've been waiting for you.

I asked your daddy, the other night, what he hopes for you, and he answered: he just wants you to be healthy. I started listing, in my mind, a slew of secret hopes for you (that you will be the calm, quiet type; that you will be a wise leader, sought for counsel; that you will play football, etc.), but then I thought: ultimately, so long as you love the Lord, I really just want you to be who you should be.

I really just want you to be here.

I want you to feel that every day. I want you to know: I believed enough that you were meant to be here that I pressed in, hard, for the day you would complete our family. I welcomed four pregnancies  in less than four years, waiting for you, and I allowed nothing--sickness, loss, depression, or (most significantly) fear--to overwhelm my dreams of you.

Your papaw calls you Big Medicine. He believes your purpose is--at least in part--to inspire your daddy's health. I can't say, but I do know: I've wanted desperately to give your daddy a son and a namesake. I can hardly wait to see you, learn you, and feel (at last) that we are all here. Just six weeks more.

I love you so much.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Stairs

I never imagined how fine the needles: finer than pine; finer than silver loops topping vintage Christmas ornaments; finer, even, than threads of silk hanging, unraveling, from those balls.

I can't do it, I thought, when she said: "Prick your finger fours times a day."

I can't do it, I thought, when he said: "Give yourself a shot every morning." Crying, I picked up my beloved's cell and dialed "Brother," wanting mine, getting his. But that was almost four years ago, and, as it turns out, I can do all things; my body has produced two healthy girls since that time.

I prick my fingers over and over with fine needles and cross my fingers for insulin because my body's become a grinding food processor. I eat a cheeseburger, no bun, for breakfast and feel the lurch, the protesting engine, of my body. I yawn on the couch. I sit on a stool to wash dishes. I sing from a chair in the choir loft, the others standing around me like golf tees on a Cracker Barrel Peg Puzzle.

I broke my tailbone, once, falling down stairs. The doctor prescribed pain meds (How does one take pain meds while mothering a toddler and driving two hours, each way, for grad school?) and time. I befriended a donut pillow.

Interesting, those pains in the ass that cannot be seen.

I am ready to put a needle in the hand of my beloved and bend over.

David Salle's Flying Down, 2006

**My thanks to Tess Kincaid and Amber Haines for the prompts that inspired this post. I am pleased to share with them and their communities.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Necklace

Fifteen years ago, in Dallas, I approached a well-respected tattoo artist about a wedding ring of ink. He shrugged, said he didn't tattoo fingers because of their constant exposure to the elements. He went on to say: most people don't get the touch-ups finger tattoos require, and their faded ink reflects poorly upon the artists.

I'm sure I could've found someone to tattoo my finger but didn't pursue it further, and thank goodness, because the marriage ended. My ex-husband's band felt heavy in every sense; I wore it infrequently while we were married, and (no surprise) never, after. It brought a pretty penny when I sold it, a few years ago, for gold.

These days, I wear my wedding ring like I wear my flip-flops, which is to say: I slip it off when I'm in the house. This means nothing except that I prefer bare fingers for washing dishes and children, for preparing food, for sleeping.

As a matter of respect, I try to remember to slide that ring back on before leaving the house, but I wear jewelry best, it seems, when I can forget it's there. I prefer necklaces, and--over the course of my lifetime--there have been a long line of them.

I think of the one my mom gave me from my infant brother: candy-looking hearts on a chain, from Avon.

My dad presented a slightly older me with a gold heart, an opal heart nestled inside it. "I keep your heart inside my heart," he said. After I'd grown, he replaced that necklace with the heart of white gold I wore on my (second) wedding day.

While my beloved and I honeymooned on St. John, he bought me a silver book on a chain. The pages inside, engraved by Kathy Bransfield, bear the last stanza of William Ernest Henley's "Invictus."  We hear the tapping of those silver pages and return to a hotel room by the Caribbean Sea.

I have two necklaces that celebrate my children on earth, and the one I wear, typing this, memorializes my child in heaven. 

I write in necklace places and feel lighter: like I'm wearing a necklace and not a millstone. I scatter and scratch and spill and vomit words on pages and know: I will not drown, today. I have said everything I need to say.

**Sharing with Amber, Emily, and their communities.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dear Me: A Letter to My Teenage Self

Dear Brandee,

You'll turn 16 in a few, short weeks. Don't do that thing you're on the brink of doing. What a big bunch of hype for a whole lot of totally not worth it.

I get you perfectly, some twenty-two years down the road, and you're putting a truckload of unnecessary pressure on yourself. You know that--by the time Mom was your age--she'd been dating Dad for something like three years. She married him at 17. You're feeling frantic and even a little old. It would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Sixteen is not old. Take it from me: 33 is a pretty good age to marry, and your body will be capable of growing a baby even at 38. I know, I know: Mom is 37 right now, and the thought of her, pregnant, is unfathomable. But she's more of a hottie and a spring chicken than you realize.

Stop thinking about Mom and her timeline. Stop it. Stop it! I understand why you're doing it (She's amazing!), but stop it. You'll never be her: never, ever. (Do let her teach you to sew, though, and cook...and can food.) You're what happened when two people collided: two! You're at least 50% Carl Shafer and, at the end of the day, wholly yourself. Concern yourself with becoming who you are. Allow your life to unfold in its own way, in its own time.

Because here's the thing: you have perfect instincts. You're headed for the right college. Also, the boys in your life worth loving are the very same ones with whom you never consider intimacy. You tell Mom: you love them too much to risk losing them. You're wiser than you know; you'll love them, still, over two decades from now, and you'll know how to find them. Don't try to date the one because--even though the two of you never cross any lines--that unnecessary history will complicate things down the road.

Your memories with your three boy friends will become some of the ones you'll cherish most. Make more of them. Go to your junior prom with Matthew. Spend even more time riding with Jason. Spend even more time swimming with Mark.

Enjoy more fully your family, your girlfriends (especially Carlena, Sonia, Annie), your church youth group, your high school band. You're getting ready to leave Scott County for good; make the most of what time you have left. Spend more time listening to what James Watson and T.L. Lay have to say. Love on Stacey even harder. Go ahead and track down Hoyle Hutson and tell him you're sorry for acting out in his sixth-grade science class because--by the time you actually feel sorry (having tried and failed to teach a bunch of heathens)--he'll be in the ground.

Or don't change a dad-burned thing.

I'm not going to lie to you: you can save yourself a whole heap of trouble, here. But--even if you don't--it'll all be ok enough, in the end. The Lord will go with you wherever you go, and you'll fall in love with Him one way or the other: even though you'll find Him different than how they teach Him in the little, white church. He lives in your heart, and He's more faithful than you can possibly fathom.

I love you.
Your 38-year-old Self

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Cup

When someone drinks from a cup, she drinks from something other than glass because--if she drinks from glass--she'll either call that container by the name of its substance, or she'll call it a mug: not, generally, a cup. I prefer to drink from glass: especially wine, also sweet tea and most anything with fizz to it.

A glass seems cleaner, somehow, than a cup. Cups (especially plastic ones) trap odors and stains. Ice doesn't taste so good, out of a cup, as it does from a glass. Perhaps nothing does.

Cups haven't that charming ring when tapped with silverware; they're insufficient for toasts.

Cups melt, sometimes, but they don't tend to break. Cups are safe and--let's face it--childish. Undignified. They're sold in spill-proof varieties. They house Kool-Aid, medicine, pee.

Aside from a few juice glasses and mugs, in this log cabin, we drink from only cups: plastic cups. My husband prefers Big Gulp cups from 7-Eleven. Cade, my 12-year-old, seems to like the tall, skinny black cups with fading owls on them. They belonged to my grandma and remind me of the days when she had her own house, cupboards, cups. The girls drink from sippy cups: Sesame Street, Mickey Mouse, Tinkerbell, various princesses.

I'm indifferent. I drink from whatever cup is clean. I prefer to drink from glass (Were you paying attention?) but suspect that this season of cups is meant to draw me closer to Jesus.

Jesus is a cup man. There are those who would try to capture Him in glass; trap Him in glass; make Him as transparent/dangerous/cutting/fancy-schmancy as glass, but He's a cup man. Scripture bears it out.

"Suffer the little children to come unto me," Jesus says, and I'll tell you the truth: I don't think He minds if the children come carrying sippy cups. Nor do I think He minds if their mommies come running behind with little cups of medicine. Jesus loves little people with sugar highs, Kool-Aid mustaches, medicine breath. He loves, too, the mommies behind them.

Jesus takes the cup; gives thanks; tells His followers to drink His blood out of it. It's shed for the remission of sins, He says.

Jesus loves the kids, the sinners, ordinary (wo)men. He loves us here, in this log cabin, drinking from cups. He's right here. He's a cup man.

**Sharing with Amber, Emily, and their communities.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Random Updates

So, I tanked the one-hour glucose test, but--thanks to a mix-up with the lab--it took my doctor's office two weeks or so to figure it out. They ordered the three-hour test two days before we were supposed to drive down to Tennessee, and I couldn't figure out how to to squeeze it in before we left. I saw my doctor upon our return, and he suggested that--given the results of the one-hour test and the fact that I had gestational diabetes with Clementine--I skip the three-hour test and return to my diabetes doctor. So as not, you know, to waste more time. took the office of my diabetes doctor two weeks to schedule me in, and that was just for a consultation with their dietician. She gave me a brand new meter, today, and told me to check my sugar four times a day, starting tomorrow, and return in two weeks.

So, basically, if I need insulin (as I did with Clementine), it will be available for about six weeks before baby time. Chip may well be my first baby to bust up out of the nine-pound range. I guess it stands to reason that the person most concerned is the one with her nether regions in question.

In other news, the girls and I have been rocking the chore chart, and, this week, I've started "preschool" with them here at home.

Also, I got so sick and tired of punishing Miss Charleigh Evangeline (who was thoroughly unphased by both spankings and time outs) that I told Clementine: if she bites you, bite her back. I realize this doesn't exactly align with biblical principles, but it seems to be working, and I'm happy enough in not seeing fresh bite marks on my older daughter. Oddly, I don't think it's working because Charleigh has a new understanding of how much it hurts to be bitten (I wonder, sometimes, if Charleigh has a congenital insensitivity to pain!), but because Charleigh knows Clementine will do something other than cry.

I really do have my hands full. Clementine's grown up a lot just in the last couple of months, but Sister has hopped up on the crazy train. I do think I could potty train her fairly easily, but one thing at a time, right?

Jim's doing great: down 50 pounds since surgery and 100 pounds since the beginning of summer. He took the girls out for dinner and ice cream Friday evening, also for shopping on Saturday, and those just aren't things he would've done a few, short months ago.

Cade's settling into Junior High. Last year, he tried out to play bass clarinet--an instrument provided by the school--and was chosen. He seems to be enjoying that challenge. The two of us went out to dinner Friday night and had an amazing, two-hour conversation.

Charleigh's moved into a toddler bed, and she's talking in complete sentences. Clementine's writing most of her (capital) letters. Chip's kicking me to death. Yesterday, the girls and I went to the zoo, where I managed to push the double stroller (with both girls in it) up a hill that seemed big as Mt. Everest. That is all.