Thursday, March 29, 2012

Anne and the Gift of Mentoring

Rachel doesn't remember who said it, either, but--a few years ago--we were in small group at her house when someone started talking about mentoring relationships. This person encouraged anyone who wanted a mentor to pray for one and wait for God to reveal that person. She stressed: the relationship should never feel forced, always organic. She suggested, basically, that the right mentor would just sort of show up, and both parties would feel it.

I have two women in my community who mentor me to a certain degree, and, oddly enough, they're very close friends: a fact I didn't know when I fell in love with each of them, separately. So I've never really prayed for a mentor. I don't know whether or not Rachel has, either, but--just over a year ago--she lost a mentor to cancer.

I almost didn't include this part for fear of overwriting the post, but I know in my spirit: it's an important part of the story. I loved Rachel's mentor, too, and few times in my life have I felt as burdened as I did during his last days. It's hard to explain, but it was almost as though two loved ones were slipping away because I grieved not only for myself, but also--on a completely different (but equally intense) level--for Rachel.

Rachel and I joke that we take turns going through difficult times, and, praise God, it's more than halfway true. But--just over a year ago--we were both low, and I felt like I had nothing to offer my friend. I happened to be reading a blog, and the smiling face of the blogger captured my eye. I remember thinking: I'll bet she would pray for Rachel and me. I felt prompted in my spirit to e-mail this person I didn't know, and I did. I dumped the truck on her, through e-mail.

She responded by e-mailing a prayer so beautiful that it makes me cry to this day: especially because, now, I'm far enough down the pike to see all the ways in which God has answered it.

And, since that time, my blogger friend Anne has proceeded to fill a void in my life that I hadn't even recognized. A homeschooling mother...a mother of seven!, she's offered so much through the wisdom of her blogged words, alone. She hosts "Pages in Our Heritage of Faith," a weekly link-up through which she encourages bloggers to record the ways in which God shows up in the lives of their families. I started blogging for my children, and Anne motivates me in writing out my faith for them.

Anne has carved out time for me through e-mail, and she's poured her prayers over me, on the phone. Her children know my name and my brother's name, and they pray for us. Before I spoke, last year, at my first retreat, I e-mailed Anne my outline. When I took a pregnancy test last month, and Jim asked me to share the positive result with only one person, I reached out to Anne.

Now, let me tell you something about Anne. She won't much let a person brag on her without saying: "It's all God." And it is. It is God. But Anne allows God to speak, through her, into my life.

That's a powerful, praiseworthy thing. I'm so thankful for God's gift of a mentor!

You can visit Anne's blog by clicking the button below. Also and by the way, this post is the newest of many I've written about my closest friends and the specific gifts they bring to my life. You can read the others by clicking the tiny label, below, that says "Gift Project."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

How to Shut Up Your Mother

Wednesday afternoons and evenings have turned plumb crazy-making for my boy. The girls and I get him off the big, yellow bus and head east for one of his five, weekly karate classes. We get home; I try to pull dinner together; and Cade and I head out, again, this time for choir practice at church. After choir practice, he retreats to his room to practice his clarinet because--having taken two karate classes on Monday and participated in Boy Scouts on Tuesday--Wednesday affords his first real opportunity of the school week.

I try to take advantage, every Wednesday, of Cade's and my time in the minivan, but I couldn't get much out of him, this afternoon. He'd whipped out his Kindle as soon as he'd settled in the passenger seat, and I couldn't seem to engage him in conversation. I could tell: he was ignoring as many of my words as possible. He answered my questions with yesses and noes, looking mildly annoyed.

Finally, I could take it no more. "Why won't you talk to me, Cade?" I whined. "Don't you love me anymore? Have I become just a chauffeur to you? What are you reading, anyway?"

"The Grapes of Wrath," he said.

And that's when I stopped talking. Because I decided, instantly: I'm willing to share my sixth-grader with Steinbeck.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Sharing My Heart

I'd just finished telling Jim that I didn't feel the need to weigh in, regarding Trayvon Martin, when I saw a couple posts on facebook that got me all in a tizzy. The posts were comparing the amount of media attention regarding Trayvon Martin's death to (the lesser) amount of media attention regarding the deaths of a white couple who'd been mutilated by black men.

I was reminded of some posts I read after Whitney Houston's death.

Hang in there with me.

After Whitney Houston died, I saw many posts on facebook comparing the amount of media attention regarding Whitney Houston's death to (the lesser) amount of media attention regarding the deaths of soldiers and starving children.

That bothered me, too.

I don't understand the need to begrudge anyone his or her grief, ever. Yes, some deaths receive more attention than others, and that will never change. I think everyone would do well to focus on navigating his or her own grief, also to (unless attempting to comfort) leave others alone to navigate their own grief. Why the need to compare one person's death to another person's death? Why the need to compare one person's grief to another person's grief?

Now, in light of some of the "new information" circulating today, I know some of you are asking: what if the grief is manipulated? What if the media unfairly generates grief by portraying a young man as an innocent when, in fact, ___.

Here's my response: manipulation--when it occurs--is more than unfortunate.

But the bigger issue, here, is that a young man is dead. Does alleged crime or sin on his behalf make his death less tragic? Because I would argue: crime or sin (and let me be crystal clear: I'm not making a judgment call about Trayvon Martin) makes someone's death more tragic.

When I read questionable things about someone, I tend to think: there but for the grace of God go I. I tend to think: I hope that person knows/knew Christ as his or her Savior. I tend to think: that person is/was loved by people who are even now in a state of high grief, wondering if they could've somehow held on a little tighter, for a little longer.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Boobies on Venus, Scratches on Jesus

I asked Jim if he'd like to participate--along with a group from our church--in a tour of religious art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. He declined. I would've taken Cade, but he was camping (in the rain) with the Scouts. So I decided to try Clementine.

I'll admit: I got a little thrill at the mere thought of it, because one never knows what might happen when embarking on an outing with the Wild Orange. On the way to the museum, I explained: she'd need to be quiet like a ninja and listen to the person talking. "Will it be like school?" she asked.

"Sorta," I told her, "except better. Because, in school, you have to sit still. But--at the museum--you get to walk around and look at things."

"What kinds of things?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," I said. "That's why we're going: to find out."

An art museum, as it turns out, fascinates for whole new reasons when one looks through the eyes of a barely-three-year-old sidekick. Sometimes, when the guide focused on particular pieces for long periods of time, Clementine and I walked quietly around the rooms. She pointed out many mamas and babies, looking fondly from paintings and statues to the baby doll tucked under her arm.

She noticed, also, that a lot of people in paintings have exposed breasts. She was particularly interested in the breasts of Venus, who lounged in bed beneath Cupid and his bouquet of flowers. "Mom," she whispered loudly in my ear, "What's wrong with her boobies?"

"Nothing, Honey," I whispered back. "She's just not wearing any clothes."

At one point, Clementine and I came upon a painting of the crucified Christ. "Mom," she whispered sadly, "He has so many scratches."

I explained quietly about the crown of thorns and pointed out the wounds in His hand and side. "Some people weren't very nice to Jesus," I told her. Wide-eyed, she nodded, and I thought: what a way to give a three-year-old perspective, as Easter approaches.

And Clementine did have Easter on the brain, as it turns out. As the guide spoke about the Imperial Pelican Easter Egg, Clementine--who'd been quiet throughout the entire tour and could hold her tongue no longer--called out: "Well, I'm going to do Tinkerbell eggs at Easter. With stickers."

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: Being Elmo

Jim and I were looking on Netflix, this evening, for something to watch, and we came across Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey. "Is that the guy who 'plays Elmo?'" I asked Jim, squinting at the screen. He opened the film so we could check it out. Within minutes, both of us were completely enthralled.

Listen, I can't think of a person in the world (including a non-kid person or an Elmo hater) who wouldn't enjoy this documentary narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. It's about the birth and tenacity of a dream. It's about becoming. And it's beautiful.

From a young age, Kevin Clash glued himself to the tv, trying to figure out how Jim Henson made puppets that appeared seamless. Clash started making puppets, himself, at the age of 10. As a teenager, he performed on local (Baltimore) tv, shrugging off the derision of classmates who didn't understand why he was "playing with dolls." On his senior trip to New York City, he struck out, alone, to meet Muppet designer Kermit Love.

Love took Clash under his wing, teaching him tricks of the trade and introducing him to Henson. After a few years on regular shows (including Captain Kangaroo), Clash worked with Henson on Labyrinth. Eventually, Clash made his way to Sesame Street.

I appreciated, especially, hearing how Clash's parents supported his dreams; how Clash developed Elmo's character from that of a caveman to the one we know today; and how Clash reaches out to both fledgling puppeteers and critically-ill children.

Beautiful film. I can't think you would, in a million years, come away disappointed. I look forward to  watching Being Elmo again: next time, with my twelve-year-old dreamer.

Book Review: Same Kind of Different As Me

When I saw Same Kind of Different As Me in a local thrift shop, I remembered: someone I love had blogged about it in such a way that made me want to read it. In that moment, I couldn't remember who'd blogged about it, but I figured out, later: it had been Anne Conder of I Live in an Antbed.

I bought and read the book. I give it five stars. If you haven't read it, you're truly missing out. It's the nonfiction account of fancy schmancy Ron Hall who--until he falls back in love with his homeless-people-loving wife--is totally happy with getting his weekly dose of Jesus at church on Sundays. In Ron's efforts to please his wife, he gets involved at a gospel mission and develops a relationship with intimidating former sharecropper Denver Moore, who's been living on the streets. In Same Kind of Different As Me, both men share their heart-warming (and, at times, heart-wrenching) testimonies.

This book includes some of my very favorite themes: redemption; God's working all things to our good; inner (vs. outer) beauty; true wisdom (vs. "book learning"); receiving and responding to God's callings; the life-changing effects of trust; and the commitment of true friends.

I have to say, though, my very favorite element of the book is Hall's and Moore's willingness to step out on a limb and talk about things like prophecy; instructive dreams from the Lord; visitations from the dead; all-night prayer vigils; the tangible power of shared prayer; and other, "uncomfortable" spiritual matters. They rocked these topics, and--thanks to personal experience--I bought every word and took it to the bank.

You can read more about the book from my friend Anne's gorgeous perspective, here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Relationship with Food, Pt. 2

After the miscarriage, Jim and I decided to just kind of "go with the flow" for awhile: if we happened to get pregnant, fine; if not, we'd start actively trying in the fall. I wanted to get some weight off in hopes of avoiding gestational diabetes with the next pregnancy, but just the thought of dieting made me want to lay my head down and cry.

I've always felt so deprived when dieting. I know; I'm ridiculous. But, always, in the back of my head, I've asked: when will it be appropriate for me to eat a piece of chocolate-on-chocolate cake as big as my head? I've remembered over and over: the answer's "never," and that's just ticked me off beyond your wildest imaginings.

I wrote more about it here, but I started the Daniel Fast because I looked at it as an opportunity to reset my eating habits, to start from scratch. I wondered if dieting has frustrated me because I've worked so hard to appease my sweet tooth (by limiting my portions of sugary foods, also by consuming mass quantities of sugar substitutes) and found, instead, that my sweet tooth grows until it's about to jut out of my mouth. I wondered what would happen if--for 21 days--I gave up not only sugar and sweeteners, but also dairy, meat, eggs, leavened and white breads, pasta, white flour: everything, basically, except fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and water.

Here's what happened. (You may receive some of this as TMI.)
  • I expected the water-only thing to drive me crazy. Surprisingly, it may have been the easiest part of the fast, for me. I flavored it, generally, with True Lemon or True Lime (each packet of which consists only of a powdered fruit slice). In all fairness, I did end up drinking very small quantities of 1% milk because I found out I was pregnant after I started the fast. I plan to continue drinking only water and small quantities of 1% milk.
  • I also expected the no-sugar/sweetener thing to drive me crazy. I had a killer headache the first day, and I believe it was a sugar-detox headache. After that, nothing. I really didn't even think about sugar, which proves to me that 1) sugar poisons me, 2) I can live without sugar, and 3) I'm better off to avoid sweet stuff altogether than to torture myself with sweeteners and small quantities of sugar; moving forward, that's my plan. Honey only.
  • I got very hungry at mealtimes, but I didn't have to stay hungry. I just had to fix myself something Daniel-Fast friendly to eat. I discovered that tofu satisfied my hunger like none of the other appropriate foods but tried to limit my consumption of it to 3x/week.
  • Within days of being on the Daniel Fast, the stiffness in my fingers went away. I don't even know what the stiffness in my fingers was, but it's gone.
  • Within days of being on the Daniel Fast, my eyes felt less dry, like they were moving more freely around in my head. Also? I had a great deal more energy. (I'm feeling very tired, again, as of the last few days, but I think it's because the pregnancy's kicking in.) I'm pretty sure I was dehydrated. 
  • Within days of being on the Daniel Fast, I started--*cringe* I'm just going to say it!--having bowel movements once or twice a day instead of once or twice a week, which has been my body's pattern my entire life.
  • I feel much more confident in the kitchen, now, when it comes to preparing healthy foods. I've experimented with soup, tofu-based smoothies, stir-fries, pizza (Yes: believe it or not, there's a way!), homemade hummus and salsa, homemade tortilla chips, and baked oatmeal. I will absolutely continue preparing these foods for my family.
  • The hardest things, for me, were 1) eating out (I pretty much had to go the salad route!), and 2) no sandwiches. I guess I'd never realized how much I count on sandwiches.

So, it's too soon to say if the Daniel Fast has been a life-changing experience for me. I feel like it could be life-changing. I've absolutely stripped my diet down to the point that lunch meat and cheese on whole wheat sounds like an indulgence. Scrambled eggs and healthy cereal sound like indulgences. Wheat pasta sounds like an indulgence. Fish and shrimp sound like indulgences. (I allowed myself small quantities of chicken after finding out I was pregnant.) The hamburger I plan to eat tomorrow sounds like a HUGE indulgence!

Realistically, if I'm able to limit myself to eating red meat and white bread once a week, otherwise incorporating only healthy foods back into my diet, my life and health will change forever. Over the last 21 days, I've prayed consistently for this kind of strength.

Any prayers you offer up on my behalf will be dearly appreciated. I don't want to suffer with gestational diabetes during this pregnancy, and I'll be honest with you: I'm a little afraid. It was a terrible disease to navigate when I had only an eight- or nine-year-old son. I don't know how I would manage, now, with the little girls in addition to Cade. Furthermore, I don't think my husband will mind my saying: he struggles with his weight, too, and my choices in terms of what foods I prepare and bring into the home impact him tremendously.

For me, it had to be cold turkey on sugar and sweeteners...just like it had to be cold turkey on cigarettes. If there's any hope for me, it will come in this form: cold turkey, and with the help of Christ.

If you're interested in reading more about the Daniel Fast, you might check out this website, which was my primary resource for recipes. I loved every one I tried and have since ordered her [Kristen Feola's] cookbook. I found help at this website, too.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Relationship with Food, Pt. 1

I'm nineteen days in, which means I've only two left to go. I've never done anything like this before. The only fast in which I'd ever participated before this Daniel Fast was a 24-hour fast from everything but water. To be honest, I've never even counted calories for longer than two months at a time.

My commitment to this fast has required me to take a long, hard look at my relationship with food. I've been overweight my entire adult life, my (non-pregnant) weight ranging anywhere from the 150s to 205 lbs., my pants size 11 to 16. Exercise (particularly waiting tables) and breastfeeding have taken me to the lower end of my weight range moreso than healthy eating habits.

Honestly? For the most part, I've been perfectly comfortable in my own skin. I'm known for saying (and meaning) things like: "I look in the mirror and see extra weight, and I tell myself: those Peanut Butter M&M's were totally worth it!" And--if I'm to be completely honest with you--my extra weight has made me feel mostly a Morgan mare I used to ride.

Things started to shift a little, though, during my pregnancy with Clementine. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and--although it wasn't technically a severe case--I've never in my life felt so sick. The nausea was bad. The dizziness was worse. For months, I cooked and washed dishes while sitting on a stool. I passed out in a Dollar Tree, one day, while shopping for Cade's school supplies.

Interestingly, after Clementine was born (weighing 9 lbs 7 oz), it became evident that--even though the scale hadn't said as much--I'd lost weight in carrying her. (Thanks, I'm sure, to a healthier diet.) I was back in my old jeans two weeks after she was born. In two weeks more, I was wearing clothes I hadn't worn for years. Because I was breastfeeding, my weight stayed down until nine months after Clementine was born, when I got pregnant with Charleigh. I didn't suffer from gestational diabetes during that pregnancy.

Still, in the last couple of years, I've felt less physically reliable. I experience dramatic sugar highs and lows. I've been lethargic more often than not. Also, I've the sense that sugar (especially chocolate) is calling me. I used to smoke, and my cravings for sugar are at least as intense as my cravings for nicotine used to be.

And then there was the miscarriage. Now, don't misunderstand: I've no reason to believe my miscarriage had anything to do with my weight or my eating habits; however, for the first time, I realized my body's capability for failure. My body had always done what I'd asked it to do. Even with the gestational diabetes, I'd gotten myself a beautiful, healthy baby girl.

(To be continued...)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Parenting Cade

I've been a little worried about him. He's lost weight he didn't need to lose, and--sometimes, when I'm driving him somewhere--he falls asleep in the passenger seat.

It's called Black Belt Training. It involves five karate classes per week, also miles of running and hours of studying at home. These things, of course, in addition to band...Boy Scouts...Sunday church choir practice.

It's too much, but it's been eight long years coming, and it's almost over. He passed his pretest today. He'll test before a panel of thirty judges on April 28th.

In the meantime, I've said "no" to everything I can. The two of us have even stopped, temporarily, staying for prayer on Wednesday evenings. I miss it like nobody's business but know he needs to rest with me nearby.

I don't know how to help him, sometimes, beyond pouring (as best I can) attention into him. We played Scrabble with Jim, tonight, and--when the game ended--I said to Cade: "I'll share my new box of crayons with you, if you'll color with me."

It touches my heart how he never turns me down: how, even after all this time, he wants me more than tv, Xbox, even books. I noticed, tonight: he's turning into a little man; he talks most freely when he's looking away. Tonight, he filled my ears while giving an ostrich lime and turquoise plumes.

And--when he finished--he said: "I love you, Mom."

Book Review: Oil in Our Lamps

I'm blessed to attend Fine Creek Baptist Church with Billy Brown. He's a deacon, and he participates in most everything that goes on at the church; still, he's a quiet, unassuming sort. I might not really know him today, but I began participating in prayer meeting, and prayer is Billy's deal. It's his thing.

Awhile back, I heard some talk about Billy's family publishing the journals of his great-great-grandmother, and I asked Billy if I could have a read; thus, he passed to me a textbook-sized book (534 pages!) called Oil In Our Lamps: The Journals of Mary Davis Brown from the Beersheba Presbyterian Church Community of York, SC, 1854-1901.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to read this book. It's not an easy read; the journal entries have been typed just as Mary (who had a third-grade education) penned them. The bigger issue for me, though, is in keeping up with who's who; Mary mentions many people (calling them, often, by different names), and most of them share their first names with others.

But--as we all know--most worthwhile things don't come easily. Mary writes both wisdom and big faith. I feel inspired by the desperate way in which she clings to God in the face of fire and flood; flu, cancer, Diptheria, Meningitis, Pertussis, and insanity; suicide, hanging, infant mortality, death by choking, and death from various illnesses; the loss of her parents, husband, four children, and more than two dozen grandchildren; political unrest and immediate family members at war; family members relocating to different states; and discord in the church.

I feel inspired, too, in witnessing the legacy of Mary's faith as it plays out in her great-great-grandson: a deacon and prayer warrior, my friend Billy Brown. I believe God continues to answer the prayers Mary penned for her family, prayers like: "I pray that we will meet an unbroken family in theire Heavenly Farthers house, in the manshion that Christ has gone to prepare fore all them that love and serve him in spirit and in truth" (149).

If Mark Batterson challenges me, Mary Davis Brown drives home the point: think long. Pray and write not only for today but for one hundred years (and beyond!) from now. I want to be deliberate in considering my great-great-grandchildren...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Everybody's Fine

Funny story. A couple years ago, my dad and I decided to sneak out for a movie date. I'd seen a trailer for Everybody's Fine, which--in case you've never seen it--is about the relationships between a father (Robert De Niro) and his grown children. It seemed light and relatable...especially since De Niro looks so much like the men in my family.

Well, come to find out, nobody in that movie is fine. Dad and I were so depressed on the drive home that I think the only words we exchanged were: "Well. I feel like poking myself in the eye with a stick, now."

And: "Yeah."

Be cautious in trusting the word "fine," People. Now, you can rely more heavily on it in terms of appeal (i.e.: "That's man's fine as frog hair!") than in terms of general well-being. If you ask someone how (s)he's doing, and (s)he says: "Fine," be wary.

Unless that someone is me.

Because I'm telling you: everybody's fine, here. It feels like a miracle. I'm so excited about it and thankful for it. We're none of us in crisis mode. I can hardly force myself to type a word with so much spring in the air. Old Man Winter is a mere speck in my rear-view mirror. I'm headed to the lake. 

I think I might just pitch me a tent there, this year.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Brer Brandee

Image: Uzengia Aleksander Nedic

My adversary comes to steal, kill, and destroy. "Drown me! Roast me! Hang Me!" I cry,
"But please don't throw me into the briar patch." That enemy roars, and I tumble backward
like a weed in the cloud of dust he raises, but just 'til I get the wherewithal to run through
the briars, brambles, and bushes where the clever rabbits go. He's walked away for now,
but he'll sure enough be back, and my sometimes darkness (born and bred in the briar patch)
longs to stay hidden low. But I've been called out. I've been called to walk as a child of light.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

If God Be for Us

I got a call from my doctor's office this afternoon, and it's a go. My numbers look good and four-weeks-pregnantish. They'll schedule my first ultrasound based upon the results of a third blood test (to be performed next week).

My due date's November 13th. Anyone else see the irony God wink?

Thank you all so much for praying. Tuesday was a little sketchy for me, but honestly: I've experienced so much peace the last two days, even before the phone call. I woke up smiling this morning, and trust me: that never happens.

Although we've never prevented pregnancy, we're surprised to have gotten pregnant again so quickly after the miscarriage. We're thankful. Jim will be 41 in September; I'll be 38 in April; and we know this baby will bring with him or her a sense of completion.

I don't understand, yet, why the winter had to be so long and hard. I don't know why the messed up Christmas, the miscarriage, my brother's illness. (There are other things, too, about which I can't write freely.) What I do know is: I invited the Lord into each of those situations, and He not only entered, but He entered profoundly.

I have experienced reconciliation. I have experienced healing in every respect. I have experienced my brother's physical healing, and I'm talking about the blind seeing and the lame walking. Literally. I have experienced victory over things that held me in bondage: resentment, pride, the Internet, sugar.

And listen: I know some of you are thinking it's easy for me to say these things because I've gotten my miracles. You're absolutely right; it's easy for me to say. But I'm so fresh out the pit I've yet to throw my yoga pants in the washing machine.

Here's what the enemy doesn't want me to ask you: 
 (I know he doesn't want me to ask you because he's whispering in my ear: 
"Half the people who read will be offended, and the rest will laugh at you!")
How serious are you about getting your miracle?

I don't know what getting serious looks like for you, but, for me, it meant praying even when I didn't want to; when I wasn't sure anyone was listening; when I didn't know what to pray; and when the words I had to pray were mostly angry, disappointed, and hurt. It meant reading the Bible even when I didn't want to and expecting the Lord to reveal His truths to me. It meant being wide open in front of every brother or sister in Christ whom I thought might go to God on my behalf. It meant casting myself into an altar. It meant praying scripture and claiming its promises. It meant being willing to admit I'd been wrong and ask for forgiveness. It meant being willing to submit myself to the Lord by fasting from my computer and certain foods.

And, most importantly, it meant saying to my Heavenly Father: if You deny me after I've gotten this serious, I will know it's in my best interest, and I will have peace. I will love and trust You no matter what.

The enemy wants you to feel helpless, 
but if God be for us, who can be against us?
Whether or not there's a miracle with your name on it, 
maybe it's time for you to get serious. 
If you're ready, I want to stand in the gap. 
Send me an e-mail: normalgirl (at) hotmail (dot) com. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Book Review: Still Alice

A few years ago, my girl Christy bought me a copy of Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I knew about the novel's protagonist Alice having Alzheimer's disease and put off reading the book for the same reason Christy bought it for me: my grandma has Alzheimer's disease, and I don't always handle it well.

I picked up Still Alice the other night, though, and devoured it in one sitting. Great read. The Harvard-educated Genova has a doctorate in neuroscience and weaves a thoroughly believable tale. It's genius, really: she writes from a third-person point of view (and I guess, realistically: the first-person POV of an Alzheimer's patient would require writing the same sentence over and over) but manages to focus almost entirely on Alice's perspective as the disease steals her mind.

Having witnessed the progression of Alzheimer's disease, I'll say: Genova writes its stages spot on, and--for that reason, also her incorporation of scientific facts and research--I consider this book an educational tool. I will say that (in order to keep the ball rolling) she took Alice down fairly quickly, and those of us who have loved ones with the disease know: it doesn't always (if ever) work that way. The slow progression of the disease (while, in many cases, the body continues to function well) can easily be its most challenging aspect.

My only other criticism of the novel is purely personal: the most tragic thing about Alice's diagnosis--because of who Alice is, a professor of psychology at Harvard--is the loss of her abilities to work: not the devastation of her family. She and her husband retain, clearly, a high degree of admiration and respect for one another, but the stale quality of their marriage precedes Alice's diagnosis. Their three children are grown, and, for the most part, Genova doesn't show us their pain, although Alice's historically troubled relationship with the youngest child yields the two most touching scenes in the novel.

Here We Go Again

Aunt Anita smiles and says: "Let's go see some Christmas lights. I'll ride with you." We climb into my red, 4x4 Ford F-150 and drive onto gravel and into dusk. I struggle in keeping my truck on the road; it keeps veering left, then right. Aunt Anita doesn't look at the road; I feel her gazing lovingly at my profile. "You're driving really well," she says.

"I don't feel like I'm driving well at all!" I tell her.

"You're driving really well," she repeats. "You're doing a great job."

I told Jim about my dream Saturday morning, and, Sunday morning, Rev. Hutton read from I Samuel 30. I knew his choice of scripture wasn't random: that it was for me, from the Lord. Rev. Hutton doesn't know about my history with the story of David and Ziklag: how--during a Beth Moore study a few years ago--God used its words of restoration to heal a broken place in my heart. No one knows.

I took a pregnancy test Sunday evening. I don't know why. I'm a test taker, and, probably, I had David in the back of my mind, not to mention Aunt Anita. (I tend to dream my loved ones in heaven only when I'm pregnant.) I was definitely thinking: if I'm pregnant, I need to know, because I've stopped consuming dairy and meat products.

I tested positive for pregnancy.

The doctor, today, said: "I don't think leftover hCG is triggering the urine tests. I think--based upon your history--this is a new event. It's too early for an ultrasound. I'll order blood tests for today and Thursday to make sure your hCG level is rising as it should, and we'll go from there."

So I'm waiting. Again. Please pray. My doctor says I don't have to modify my Daniel Fast diet until we know for sure.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Wild Orange Photography

Clementine decided to help herself to my camera, today. This is a big no-no, of course, but the photos she took made me laugh, and--lucky for Clementine--that laugh felt like much-needed medicine.

Clementine took twenty photos. I thought I'd share my favorites.

Photo 1

Two funny things about this photo. 1) Neither girl is allowed to touch the "big broom," so Clementine caught Charleigh red-handed. 2) The light coming through the window: can't you almost hear angels singing the hallelujah chorus because someone is finally going to sweep the floor?

Photo 2

I cut and painted Clementine's toenails the other night. She's still so excited over the result. 

Does the above photo seem to be influenced by a certain blogger and photographer who loves to take pictures of her feet? Can you name that individual? Going once, going twice...

Photos 4, 5, & 6

Here we have a box of cereal that Charleigh took off the dining room table and tried desperately to open.

Photo 8

Not bad. Decent shot of Charleigh. Great shot of our log ceiling and the paper chain I've forgotten to take down every day since Christmas.

Photo 9

Charleigh trying to figure out how to get past the gate and upstairs, I think.

Photo 10

Photos 11 & 12

Charleigh in Clementine's Hello Kitty hat (too big for Clementine, also).

Photo 14

Quite proud of this one: clean and folded laundry.

Photo 15

Photo 16

Clementine wishes that I convey: Wild Orange Photography is pleased to meet your graduation- or wedding-photography needs. Enthusiastic photographer with a unique eye. Payment accepted in the forms of cookies, crayons, and Play Doh.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Charleigh Turned 18 Months

Our red-headed ninja turned 18 months old at the end of February. It's so strange to look at her and think: when she was born, Clementine was 18 months old. As my earliest blog posts reflect, I struggled in parenting Clementine at Charleigh's current age. It makes me feel sad to think that--in my exhaustion--I may have failed to enjoy Clementine enough, when she was 18 months old.

Charleigh, at 18 months, delights me completely and utterly. Her love language is (and has always been) physical touch, and she requires extensive cuddling. She's my leg climber and lap hogger. It's a shame she hasn't a reverse beep, because she cracks me up in facing away and backing up until she's close enough to plop into my lap. When Jim kisses me, she scowls and yells: "Mine!"

She has an incredible vocabulary. "Elephant," she says. "Giraffe."

Today, Jim bought the girls ice cream cones, and--after Charleigh's dripped on me--I licked my hand. "Ugh!" I exclaimed. "I'm not supposed to have ice cream! Y'all are the devil!"

"Devil Mommy," Charleigh said, from behind me, flashing her Cheshire Cat grin. Of course, Jim found that hilarious.

Charleigh leans over the sink and spits out toothpaste like an old pro. She dances in a ring, with her arms extended. She eats everything with passion. She's easy peasy. I'm just crazy about her.

With Grandma B.

With My Mom

Talking to Mamaw (Jim's Mom)

With Cade

Lovin' on the Snowman

With My Dad

With Clementine

Saturday, March 3, 2012

On Lent. And the Daniel Fast.

I desire to draw nearer the cross: to experience Christ's sacrifice more profoundly so as to experience, more profoundly, the miracle of His resurrection. It should be such a source of joy: Christ's resurrection, but it's challenging, isn't it? to live in joy, sometimes. It's been a long, hard (albeit mild) winter, here, and I want to burst forth into spring, leaving all my disappointments and hurts behind.

So I'm participating in Lent. I've given up my computer during the girls' awake hours, and it's been harder than I'd like to admit. Just this morning, I opened my laptop and played around for a few minutes before looking at Jim, exclaiming: "Oh my goodness! I'm not supposed to be on the computer, right now! Why didn't you say something?" and hurriedly shutting that business down.

Because I've been in the blogosphere less, I've been up in actual books more, and--as I shared with you the other day--I just finished Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker. Batterson writes about fasting as a way to circle something in prayer, also about how he's used the Daniel Fast, in particular, to commune more closely with the Lord.

I'm truly not easily influenced (Just ask my mom, who's been participating in fasts for years!), but I felt an immediate pull to try the Daniel Fast for a couple reasons. First of all, my weight's as out of control as it's been for a long time. Now, before you get your feathers all ruffled, let me explain: I know one shouldn't fast in order to lose weight; however, since the Daniel Fast is a 21-day fast, and since it takes 21 days to change a habit, I'm looking at this as an opportunity to reset my body and change my eating habits permanently with God's help: the only way these things will ever happen.

After the 21 days, I'll reintroduce lean meats and small amounts of dairy. Hopefully not so much giant bowls of ice cream and slices of cake.

In The Circle Maker, Batterson encourages his readers to write down life goals, which is the second reason I'm fasting: I feel led to write down my life goals, and I want them inspired, approved, and blessed by the Lord.

I'd intended to start my Daniel Fast March 1, but--when I told Jim--he got this crazy look on his face and confessed: he'd secretly arranged for Mrs. Darlene to babysit that evening so he could take me to The Melting Pot. So I started my Daniel Fast just yesterday. Not to discourage anyone, but I suffered with a terrible headache all day. At one point, I sent a text message to a friend who participated in a caffeine/food detox at the beginning of the year, asking how many days of headaches. ("Three," she answered.)

Thankfully, I feel great, today. I'm eating plenty of the approved foods and forcing myself to drink lots of water.

Anyway, I'm writing about my Lenten and fasting habits not for recognition, but for accountability. I want to be well in body and spirit, and I appreciate any and all prayers you might offer up for me over the next few weeks.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Clementine Turned 3

Oh My Darlin',

No one's ever been the shock to my system that you've been. Sometimes I wonder if you know--in any given situation--what I expect...and do the opposite so as to keep me in a state of pettifoggery.

You turn even the mundane into a wild ride, and I love you for your readiness to adventure. Together, we scoff at the homebodies with whom we live; you and I, we just want to rock 'n' roll. Especially, we want to roll.

I love how you place your hands one on either side of my face, how the half moons of your eyes shrink into crescents when you smile at me. I love the social force in you and the hints of loyalty I recognize, already, in your warm heart.

I love your imagination and quick wit. I love how you make me--all of us--laugh.

On bad days I wonder if you and I will ever get it right: if you'll want me in the room with you while you labor with your very own baby. For this reason, I'm always secretly relieved when--at tuck-in time--I'm still the only person you want to "squeeze your feet."

Here's to Terrific Threes. Mama loves you so very much: you wild thing, you.

With My Dad

With Her "Birthday Tree"

With "Char"

For My Man, Pt. 2

Dear Jimmy,

I know you love me when I can't sleep: when I flop side-to-side like a hooked Bluegill on the bank, shaking the bed with too much weight on my body and in my heart. I ask: "Do you want me to go?"

I know you love me because you always say: "No."

I lie beside you in the dark, praying prayers like playing scales: up and down, with speed. My mind races, and I cry beside you in the dark, fighting to put what's restless to rest.

I know you love me because you run your hand over my back and ask: "What can I do to make it better?" If it takes talking through to light, you'll do it.

All I ever wanted was for someone to talk to me in the dark...until you took to praying over me, in the dark. You pray into my hair and I know (really, really know): you love me.

Thank you.

Your Wife

Pleased to hold my marriage up to the light with Amber and friends.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What I Learned from Bartending and Waiting Tables

My friend Gabriela and me. Late 90's. Met her waiting tables. Love her to this day.

I've felt challenged by a couple posts I've read, lately, to write down everything I learned from tending bar and waiting tables. It's been a long time, now, since I've done either, but I'm proud to have done both because, honestly? I carry these lessons with me every day, and each of them makes me a stronger force for the Kingdom of God. As you read what I've written, below, I challenge you to consider how these lessons might be applied to a Christian Walk.

  • Everyone prefers his or her cup at least half-full.
  • People are hungry for more than food and thirsty for more than whatever you can pour in their glasses.
  • The people in front of you deserve your perfect attention. They've been put there for a reason. But realize:
  • Perfect attention isn't constant attention; it's pleasant attention. It's attention with a genuine smile.
  • It doesn't matter what you did before or what you do after: if you dump all you carry on someone, it's over. Best not to expect otherwise.
  • Some people will run you just to run you, for reasons you'll never understand. No matter how hard or fast you run, those same people will almost certainly fail to give back. Don't allow them to run you to the point that you neglect the others you're serving: people who will give back, if you serve them well.
  • Every now and then, you'll be utterly confused and stunned by the ingratitude of others. Don't chase them down; let them go because--no matter what you do or say--it's not likely they'll turn around and throw you a bone of any sort.
  • Don't let one bad experience ruin all your other experiences.
  • It's much less important for you to deliver the main course than for the the main course to be delivered on time. Be thankful if someone else delivers it hot; you still have the opportunity to make sure it goes down well.
  • You can't do it all. If you make a point of helping others when they need it, someone will be there to help you when you need it.
  • People with "lesser jobs" matter. Greeters, bussers, dishwashers, etc. matter. Don't look down your nose.
  • Honesty matters. If you've messed up, best to say so. Everyone will feel better about the situation.
  • Consolidate your resources.
  • While you're getting something for someone, ask yourself: how can I serve a second person, right now? Or a third? How can I make this effort pay off for more than one person? In other words:
  • View all your tables as the one, big table it is. It's all you, Honey.
  • Wear slip resistant shoes and watch your footing. If you fall and seriously injure yourself, you might not be able to work at all.
  • People will take you more seriously if you know what the hound dog you're talking about, also if you've bothered to look and smell your best self.
  • There's no shame in taking notes. It's impressive to be able to remember an order...until you can't, or don't. 
  • Every now and then, you'll find yourself in the weeds at the same time as everyone around you. It won't be pretty, but you'll all survive. (Or, as my great-grandma used to say: "This too shall pass.") Tell yourself that
  • Sometimes other people will sink your ship and sink it fast. Respond with kindness and respect, but don't pretend like you haven't noticed. Truth in love: it's always the way to go. I refuse to stop speaking my mind; God gave it to me for a reason!

If you've tended bar or waited tables, do you have any thoughts to contribute?