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.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Grandma Shafer gave birth to my one phobia by telling how she fell asleep on a couch in the basement and woke up to find a mouse entangled in her Aqua Netted hair.

Sometimes, it's not big things what take me down but a whole host of little things. Mouse things. Spying the gray cat ripping the head off a mouse just to the left of the sidewalk. Discovering enough mouse poop and shredded Food Lion bags under the kitchen sink that I call for the Shop-Vac.

It's the mysterious, stubborn stench in about one square foot of our living-room carpet.

It's a wet cough in the youngest and many, many wet days.

It's peanut-butter smeared across windows I Windexed, finally, just a week ago.

It's breaking up more than ten girl fights in one day; it's, over and over, attending to deep bite marks on (in?) one girl while spanking another and putting her in time-out.

It's toddler defiance and the sort of twelve-year-old absentmindedness that has one forgetting which bus to ride, to which parent's house, on the first day of school...causing a moment of panic in the mama who watches, by the roadside, the yellow bus whoosh by without even the slightest pause.

It's the longing for a marriage free of mundanity (because I've had that marriage, and it ended just over eight years ago) and the fear that accompanies a few days of mere coexistence...especially while he, freshly adventurous, loses weight rapidly and I transform into an exhausted, sick, swollen, version of myself.

It's wanting to take the little ones to the zoo but throwing up violently all morning, causing my beloved to be late for work. It's having--even after a breakfast of nothing but eggs and water--no legs with which to stand in the house for long periods of time, let alone walk the zoo.

It's my fellow Christians' endless politicking on facebook.

It's Grandma B.'s moving from assisted living into a nursing home and close friends' parents' dying suddenly while another close friend plays a waiting game with which I couldn't have empathized prior to January.

It's the weight of that same, old unanswered prayer.

And I know you know what I mean, even though your circumstances have been your own. Weariness. I feel guilty for feeling it and guiltier for writing it because--even as I snivel--I know: I am blessed beyond measure. Also, there are so many with greater problems, some of them in my own circle of family and friends.

I start crying and can't stop. "Do you even know why you're crying?" my beloved asks, and it's easier to shake my head than to explain: everything feels wrong, and nothing feels right. "You need help," he says, and I know I do, too, but not the kind of help he thinks. I cry and pray myself to sleep, and the next morning?

I start hearing voices in my head.

I hear the voices of the Millbranch choir. I hear George Byrd's voice, and Gary Byrd's. I hear Trish Washam's. I hear Cheryl Hutchinson's and Nadine Jeffers's, and they're singing a hymn I love but haven't heard for many, many years:

Come unto Me, I will give you rest;
Take My yoke upon you, hear Me and be blest;
I am meek and lowly, come and trust My might;
Come, My yoke is easy, and My burden’s light.
And sometimes, I think, all we can do is fight to get there, whatever that means: putting one heavy foot in front of the other, crawling on hands and knees, dragging ourselves through hot, steaming piles of crap-ola. Because the lyrics, the verses (Matthew 11:28-30), say: "Come unto me," not: "Sit on your hind ends and wait." There's a little more work to do, yet. Just a little more work. Just a little more to do.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Joy of a Boy

"You're never going to believe what happened," Cade said, over the phone. "All of a sudden, there was this loud crash, and--come to find out--the rod in Dad's closet had fallen down."

"Had he been swinging on it?" I asked Cade.


"Had Tabitha [Cade's stepmom] been swinging on it?"

"No," Cade said. "We were all sitting together, downstairs, when it fell."

A little while later, Jim, the girls, and I picked up Cade. "What's your dad doing?" I asked. "Trying to fix the rod in his closet?"

"No," Cade said, "it came completely out of the wall."

"Was your dad swinging on it, when it fell?" Clementine asked.

"No," Cade said.

"Well, was Tabitha swinging on it?" Clementine asked. We all cracked up.

Sometimes, to be joyful is to open my eyes (and ears). I'm thankful to have my boy back after his spending a week in East Tennessee, with my parents. I'm thankful for Cade's dad Jason, who not only attended Cade's seventh-grade orientation, alone, to pick up Cade's schedule, but also did a fair amount of driving to pick up Cade from my mom.

"I've been around a lot of kids in my lifetime," my Mom remarked, "but I've never been around a kid  as easy to please as Cade." She went on to tell how she'd taken him to the fair and offered to buy him tickets for the rides; he wanted to ride only one.

I overheard Cade turning down new tennis shoes from Jim, and Jason said Cade turned down new clothes from Tab. He did ask me for some new underwear, offering quietly that he doesn't care for the style of his cousin's hand-me-downs; he likes well enough the hand-me-down pants and shirts. So I bought him some new underwear, also some school supplies (mostly from the Dollar Tree). We sharpened his old #2 pencils and rounded up lots of other things he already had: a hole punch, colored pencils, black pens, highlighters, glue sticks, scissors, a hand-held pencil sharpener, a pocket dictionary. He thanked me for my help (I think--after last year--he was just glad to have everything on the list. I laughed until I cried, tonight, reading about last year.); packed his own lunch; set his alarm; and crawled into bed.

"Goodnight, Blueberry," he said, referring to the absurdly round tummy under my blue tank top. (Jim had cracked himself up, earlier, with some sort of Willy Wonka, juicer reference.)  I love how Cade  slides his twelve-year-old hand across my belly every so often. I just love having him near. He reminds me that kids grow out of biting and hair-pulling, that they don't always dump their plates on purpose; fight going to bed; or pull all of the Clorox wipes out of the container, just because.

Today, Cade said, "Mom, I read The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I read it in one night."

"I haven't read it, yet," I said. "Did it make you cry?"

"No," he said. "I think it was supposed to, but it didn't."

"So who are the five people you're going to meet in heaven?" I asked.

"I don't think heaven is going to be anything like in the book," he said. "But it was still interesting."

I'm crazy about my big kid.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Overdosing on the Church

I've discovered: if I'm not careful, I can overdose on the church. It's scary to think it and scarier to admit it, but I'm learning: as long as I don't speak in anger, the Lord uses me best when I speak my scary truths.

Most everyone I know and read--especially on facebook and in the blogosphere--claims to be a Christian. So many of them clamor on about different things, thinking their religious actions and affiliations, even their political views, make them stand out as the real deal. I rarely find myself confused about where I stand on any given issue, just annoyed. I asked myself why the annoyance until I determined: people have agendas. They aren't just blathering on; they're trying, all the time, to convince others--me!--to climb up on their bandwagons.

I wish I were referring to Christians' earnest efforts to win souls, but their words add up to something much darker and more complex. In fact, their cumulative, persuasive efforts form a shouting match in my brain. I feel like my very own Jesus is being crammed down my very own throat, and from several angles all at once.

I start to wonder if there's something wrong with me because I don't appreciate so-and-so's eight scripture "status updates" per hour. What if my efforts in the name of the Lord, I wonder, aren't enough? What if I'm not focused enough? What if I'm not righteous enough?

Then I start feeling judged for behaving or thinking differently than other Christians.

When that happens, it becomes critical that I put on the brakes. I'm overdosing on the church. God may well be calling so-and-so to the foreign mission field, the haunts of the homeless, the abortion clinic, the drive-thru on Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. He may well be calling such-and-such to stand on a street corner or march in a small-town parade and howl for souls. It's not really my business until it's my business, and, right now, it isn't. I need to concern myself with those things the Lord has called me to do.

I'm a small fish in a big sea, and that's alright. Maybe my ministry will grow as my faith grows, or as I become kinder, wiser. In the meantime, know this: I really, really love Jesus, and He loves me. We have a relationship, and it's like any other in that it has its ups and downs. I've learned: inside and in spite of my relationship with the Lord, nothing--nothing!--is safe or guaranteed beyond my very soul. It hurts, sometimes, when things don't go the way I'd like. I grieve; I rage; I break into countless pieces, in countless ways. But over and over again, I find: when I lift my head and wipe my wild eyes, He--having never left--is with me, still.

Sometimes I overdose on the church, but I can never quite get enough of Jesus.