Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Crooked Path

Cade, Age 4, with His First Belt

I've been emotional all week: contemplative, withdrawn, overwhelmed. Cade will test for his Black Belt on Saturday, and I spent some time naming my mood "anxiety," which made no sense because the boy is not only capable, but also (and more importantly) confident.

I wondered if I were dreading interacting with ex family members, but--while that can be a little awkward--it's never been terrible. I tried to blame my hormones and my pregnancy, in general.

Only during Cade's and my haircuts, this afternoon, did I figure myself out. (Isn't it interesting how very difficult it can be to arrive at the source of one's upset and unrest?)

I looked down at the floor and realized: I couldn't distinguish my hair from Cade's. "His hair's just like mine, isn't it? Same color and texture," I said to our stylist Brooke.

"Yep," she laughed. "Same mind of its own, too."

Cade, studying himself in the mirror, said: "I have everything the same as Mom, I think. Except I have my dad's nose."

I joked around with him, telling him thank goodness it's a fine-looking nose, also that neither his dad nor I was about to claim those ears, and it hit me like a ton of bricks: Cade started karate just as his dad and I were separating, eight years ago.

I was so worried about our little man, and it was obvious: so was everyone else. "What about Cade?" people would ask.

"Well, he'll be with me four nights a week and Sundays, and he'll be with his dad three nights a week and Saturdays," I'd explain.

"That might work for now," they'd say, shaking their heads, "but it'll never work once he starts school." I was so afraid they were right, and the years gaped and yawned ahead. I couldn't see far enough down their throats to surmise what might happen beyond this hour, this day, this week.

All I knew to do was pray. I prayed for forgiveness, comfort, discernment, guidance, help. I got better at it, over time. I invited Jesus into my divorce in ways I'd never invited Him into my marriage. And I put one foot in front of the other.

He has made my crooked path straight.

More importantly, He has made things well with my son. Cade's flourishing can be measured in many ways, not the least of which is this impending Black Belt test.

My sad, little brain struggles in keeping up with what my heart has been beating out all week: the Lord can redeem, and He does. He has. He will. Anything else is a lie of the enemy, and I refuse to allow it spoken into my life.

He has made my crooked path straight.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Up-side to Nightmares

The other night, I dreamed that Jim was courting me, again. I was overcome with love for him (as I am in real life, of course) and could hardly wait to marry him. Problem was, he'd been married to his current wife for ten years, and they had three children together. He loved his wife and children, he insisted, and would never leave them. If I were willing to accept them (as they were willing to accept me), we could make it work.

This is what I get for watching Sister Wives. But anyway.

In my dream, I was as conflicted and distraught as I've ever been, in real life. I could stand neither the thought of being away from Jim nor the idea of sharing him with his wife and family.

Imagine my relief when I woke up and realized I'd been dreaming! When I told Jim about my dream, he laughed and said: "I can't even keep up with the wife I have! You don't have anything to worry about!"

Even so, I've been stuck to him like glue for days, now. I feel renewed in my excitement that he's my husband: that it's a permanent deal, that I don't have to share him with anyone other than our rotten  little kids.

The whole situation reminds me of one just after Clementine's birth. For reasons I'll never understand, Jim's co-worker had felt the need to tell Jim: after watching a baby exit his wife's body, he never again wanted to engage in intimate behavior with her. (Supposedly, his repulsion--and nothing else--led to their divorce.) For another set of reasons I'll never understand, Jim had felt the need to share this conversation with me.

Thus, my next dream (in the hospital, as the mother of our newborn daughter) involved Jim's telling me: having seen me birth a baby, he didn't want me, anymore. When I woke up and realized I'd been dreaming, I got up and tried to insert my sore and swollen body into the single bed in which he was sleeping, near me.

I was stuck to him like glue for months, afterward.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

On Judging Others

Linking with Magpie Tales, today, and I want to make a point of thanking Tess Kincaid for providing Alex Stoddard's image, below, as this week's prompt. I needed to write the words the image inspired, and my heart feels much lighter, now.

On Judging Others

I can't for the life of me understand
your fascination with my plight, here:
as if you've never been bound, yourself,
as if you've never been slowly drowning.
We both know I'm in over my head, but
I hear what you're saying loud and clear,
and you're wrong; I didn't put myself here.
We're all of few days and full of trouble,
my trouble's just more apparent than yours.
You gawk and talk because I'm exposed,
but you're hiding beneath filthy-rag clothes.
I know I need help from a Higher Being;
I'm just not convinced you know Him,
else you'd be loving me, praying for me:
not judging, condemning, and cursing me.
I have no desire to "rise up" and join you.
Please: just leave me in peace, to drown.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Creep Factor

Before Alzheimer's, my grandma would meet someone for the first time and, inevitably, look to a third party in the room and (while gesturing toward the person whom she'd just met) say: "Now, doesn't (s)he just remind you so much of ___?" If I were the third party, I'll be honest: I almost never saw it...oftentimes because the person my grandma had just met didn't look like the other as I knew him or her. My grandma was remembering a younger version and could more easily see a resemblance.

Have I told you I'm turning into my grandma? I think it must be stranger for my mom, even, than for me, but I'm not gonna lie: it's pretty strange for me...especially because I didn't see a lot of it coming.

But anyway.

Last evening, I was sitting in the church fellowship hall, and durn if I didn't look up and see a boy I used to know and love like a brother. It took my breath until I remembered that my boy (whom I haven't seen, probably, since he outgrew his teens) is at least thirty-five.

Now, as I get older, most everyone reminds me of someone else, but never anything like this. I could hardly look away. From every angle, this boy looked identical to the one I knew. Finally, I couldn't take it, anymore. I retrieved my cell phone from the van, sidled up to this young man, and asked if I could take his photo.

He was so sweet about it, and to be so near him didn't change a thing; in fact, it only messed with my head more. Even from less than a foot away, he looked exactly like the boy I knew.

I felt desperate to prove it. The boy I knew was one of my brother's best friends, so I planned to send the photo to my brother. Unfortunately, my phone died just as I went to use its camera, so I walked away and left the young man alone...

...when what I really wanted to do was throw my arms around him; squeeze him just as tightly as I could; and beg him to choose his friends wisely, exercise caution around guns, and avoid every sort of illegal substance. What I really wanted to do was cry and pray over him.

Thank goodness, I managed to control my creep factor just a little. (She insists, knowing she fell asleep praying for a boy who looks identical to one she used to know and love like a brother.)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

About Me

Well, I reckon this is sure to be a post that receives all of five hits. I've been putting off this madness since the beginning; the "About Me" section on my blog has two whole sentences in it! The thing is, I love reading other bloggers' About Me sections, so (as narcissistic and weird as it feels), I'm going to try to complete mine.

I was born in Hagerstown, Maryland in 1974 and lived on a small farm in Greencastle, Pennsylvania until--when I was eleven years old--my family moved to a small farm in East Tennessee. I spent as much time as possible on horseback before graduating from high school in 1992.

I've always enjoyed reading, writing, and singing, and I played flute and piccolo in high school.

I'm extremely close to the family into which I was born, and I consider "daughter" and "sister" vital parts of my identity.

I studied English at Maryville College and--upon graduating in 1996 with a B.A.--moved to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where I met my ex-husband later in the same year. I followed him to Dallas, Texas; Harrisonburg, Virginia (where our son Cade was born, in 2000); and Richmond, Virginia, where I live, today.

I earned an M.A. in English from James Madison University in 2002. In 2004, my ex-husband and I separated, and we've both since remarried. There are few things of which I'm more proud than my husband's and my relationship with my ex-husband and his wife. Together, the four of us are raising an amazing young man!

My husband Jim and I dated at Maryville College in 1994 but--until 2007--hadn't seen one another since our graduation in 1996. Three months after reconnecting, we married in my parents' front yard. Clementine joined our family in 2009 and Charleigh in 2010. We suffered a miscarriage in January 2012 but are expecting a child in November 2012.

I've worked in many different places and have probably spent more time waiting tables than anything else. My favorite position (other than my current one, as stay-at-home mom) was that of an English instructor to adult students in a technical school. These days, I'm hanging out with my kids, blogging, and teaching a women's Sunday school class. I'm also writing the redemption story of a married couple whom I know and love.

I blog primarily for my children but hope I'm shining the light of Jesus for others, along the way. I asked Christ into my heart when I was eight years old but am sad to think of all the dark places into which I've carried (or dragged) Him. My path hasn't been straight, but I haven't walked it alone for thirty years, and I'm so thankful to have been neither left nor forsaken by my Lord.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Growing Children

The baby hadn't gotten her nap out, and she cried nearly the whole time. She wanted to run in the road. She wanted to jump in the stream. What she did not want to do was garden. I didn't blame her; the sun was blazing overhead. I tried to slip her sweater off her shoulders, which angered her even more.

Can you see it? Look carefully.

Never mind; I know you can't. At this point, I can't even prove it unless I pull in eye witnesses.

When my children look back at my photos, they will remember only this: we gardened on a beautiful day, once, with our papaw.

So I submit to you: sometimes the truth--especially the whole truth--doesn't matter. Children are unpredictable. Very often, they're also a pain in the hiney butt. I wonder, sometimes, why I seem to be collecting them.

Then I remember a millisecond of panic at the lake, last summer, when I counted and came up one short. They were all there, but they weren't, so I whispered: "Just one more, Lord, please."

I don't have children because they're cute and fun; sometimes they are, but sometimes they're really not. I have children because I feel called to grow them.

Whatever I do or don't, at any given moment, my children are as apt to disappoint as to delight. Still, I can't help but believe: what matters, most, is that my family is complete and together. And I think that will matter most even if I forget the stories behind the pictures...even if, God forbid, I forget the very people in them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Party in the Sanctuary

Easter weekend, ten of us packed into Jim's mom's trailer in Knoxville. We hadn't been together, all of us, since Charleigh had been born. We ate Krystal burgers; pizza; sausage gravy over biscuits; and bunny cake. We played Uno. We dyed and hunted eggs, prepared Easter baskets for Cade and the four girls. I dressed Char in a white bunny costume, Easter morning, and chased her out to the family, who burst into laughter.

But our best moments, I thought, were in church. In less than five years, Jim's mom's gained two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren. It meant everything to her: all ten of us dressed in Sunday best, filling two pews.

I'd never visited her church before, but I understood it: especially its burgandy Church Hymnal and action-packed altar. We shook hands with everyone at least twice. We sang "Everybody Will Be Happy Over There" and "Where the Soul of Man Never Dies," and--as part of an effort to keep our children hemmed in and quiet--we stuffed them with all manner of snacks.

Even so, Charleigh broke loose, once, and ran up the aisle calling: "Mamaw!" to Jim's mom, who was mid-song, behind the pulpit. But no one much cared because--in a church that doesn't offer nursery--people expect kids to party, a little, in the sanctuary.

Later, when Jim's mom returned to the front to sing, she grabbed Clementine's hand and took her along.

I'm telling you: all of it was beautiful, and I like to imagine Jim's dad looking down on our party of ten, especially the wiggly, wily, wiry littles (all bows and curls and sticky fingers) in those plush pews.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Way I Am

I guess all people hold certain music so dear that, over time, it becomes a fundamental part of who they are: to the point that--when they feel in danger of losing themselves--they reach for the music that grounds them and carries them home to themselves.

I can find something to appreciate about most any kind of music, and I especially like songs from my 1951 Church Hymnal; Billy Joel; and the 80's pop scene. But, by far, my favorite kind of music is 70's and 80's country, and--of all the amazing country artists from those years--Merle Haggard has my heart.

Merle sings the music that reminds me who I am.

Last week, Jim said: "I'd like to celebrate your birthday next Thursday. Will you let me surprise you? And can we stay out all night?" As it turned out, my parents were available to watch the kids, so off Jim and I went, and my birthday surprise was Merle Haggard.

The venue was smallish, and our excellent seats were in wheelchair row (smack-dab in the middle). It was primarily a silver-haired crowd, which didn't bother me a bit. I love older people, and--so long as they're not after me, personally--the more crotchety, the better. The guy sitting next to me looked exactly like Jeff Dunham's Walter.

So the opening act (bless his heart) really wasn't much, and the crowd did a whole lot of grumbling and a little bit of yelling. Still, no one threw anything, and--given their ages and experiences with the U.S. Armed Forces--I decided they'd put up with enough b.s. in their lifetimes and forgave them right away. I leaned over and whispered into Jim's ear: "I'm not going to become more patient as I get older, am I?" Jim, solemn and wide-eyed, just shook his head.

Finally, Merle appeared, and he looked fabulous. He played the hound dog out of his guitar and fiddle, and he sang as well as he ever has. He was just wholly himself, and I knew he meant and felt every word he offered.

I cried the whole way through "If We Make It Through December."

Merle didn't sing my favorite song, but we can all listen to it here, and I'll keep on singing it to my crying babies in the middle of the night. I love you, Merle.

I love you, too, Jim. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hope in My Rope

Easter weekend five years ago, I laid eyes on Jimmy Galyon for the first time in the eleven years since we'd graduated from Maryville College. It had been almost thirteen years since we'd dated. Sunday morning, as I pressed wrinkles from our daughters' white, cotton dresses, I thought on Easter weekend five years ago.

I thought: funny how all it takes, sometimes, is opening the right door. I guess I'd known that all along, having watched Ed McMahon present sweepstakes many-a-time, on tv. Still, I'm unlucky enough as to choose, regularly, a Cracker Jacks box with no prize. I just didn't figure I'd be one to ever open the right door.

(Note: "The Rose" is playing in my head as I type this: "When the night has been too lonely / And the road has been too long / And you think that love is only / For the lucky and the strong...")

But then, one day, I did: I opened the right door. One might suppose that such an experience would make me more confident regarding outcomes, but--I'll be honest--it hasn't much helped. Instead of feeling like a lucky person, I feel like an unlucky person who opened the right door on one highly-unlikely, once-in-a-lifetime occasion.

So I remind myself what the preachers say about how there's no such thing as luck. I remind myself: nothing is impossible with God. I pray and tell Him I feel like I'm at the end of my rope, and He knows better than anyone: I'm one of little upper-body strength and ought not be on a rope at all, ever. I ask Him to give me a little hope in my rope. And He does. He always does.

Linking with Emily for the relaunch of Imperfect Prose.
You can read the other offerings by clicking the image below.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How Things Hatch

Bottom line: I didn't feel as joyful as I'd expected, watching the flicker of my kidney-bean baby's heartbeat, on ultrasound. I didn't feel as excited to share the news as I'd expected, either.

I wanted to slink, alone, into a dark room; bury my face in a pillow; bawl my eyes out with relief; and sleep for hours. Or days.

Old hurts and failures cast shadows over beauty, sometimes. If you don't understand, reading this, you're blessed. If you do understand and have friends, as I do, who grab you up and say, "I know just how you feel," you're blessed.

I'm blessed.  

All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us (2 Cor 1:3-4, MSG).

I want to write honestly about today. I don't want you to think for even one second that I'm not thankful for my good (no, great) ultrasound or that I don't want (more than anything!) my baby. But the ultrasound, today, didn't erase from my mind the ultrasound in mid-December, and I think--once you've come to understand just how easily things can go wrong--it's hard to celebrate in that old, perfectly optimistic way.

Maybe, in the end, that's why we have children: they remind us of what it is to be carefree. They don't worry about what will become of the egg, what's hidden inside the yolk sac, or how things will hatch.

Monday, April 2, 2012

It Doesn't Hurt at All

The fields, having been sprayed, turn brilliant colors before turning brown. The plants die so something better can be planted.

The Lord breathes lovingly about how dying doesn't have to be ugly. His wordless words fall ajumble on my heart, but I know He's saying I can glow in the sun (the Son) if I die to myself. He's correcting me: the cook and clean for your family, He says, is as beautiful as the play with your family. You're missing out, He says. Count it all joy.

He shows me, again, lunch with my friend: reminds me how I went to cheer her but had it all backwards. I see her fold me in her arms at the goodbye, and--right there in front of the restaurant--I hear her pray blessings over me, my baby, my ultrasound. She holds me tight until after the amen. "I love you," she says. From her car, she smiles and waves before driving away. She takes part of my burden with her; it's tucked in her mustard-colored purse.

Dying to yourself is like that, the Lord says. You expect it to hurt, but it doesn't. It doesn't hurt at all.