Thursday, April 25, 2013

To Blog through a Breakthrough

Jim photo IMG_1026.jpg

While we were in East Tennessee for spring break, Jim stopped at a Little Caesars to pick up some pizza. When he walked back to the minivan, he had a man with him, and--although I'd never met the man before, based upon the look on Jim's face--I had a pretty good idea who he was.

As it turns out, I was right; the man was Jim's beloved Coach V. from high school. Having heard Jim talk about Coach V. so many times and with such great affection, I hugged him right away, and hard.  He got to meet the children; it was a nice, little moment. Three minutes of a moment (quick), but, you know, beautiful.

I've thought about it so many times since and have known from the get-go: it was a God thing. I mean, consider with me: we were out of town...out of state! We almost never buy pizza, anymore; Jim hasn't eaten it since his gastric bypass and didn't eat it that day. And I'm telling you: Jim isn't like me. He isn't a person of and for many people. In fact, I'd never seen him shine out with love like that for anyone else but me. What were the chances that he would randomly run into Coach V. at a pizza place in Knoxville? C'mon. Total God thing.

Today, I was washing dishes and thinking about it, again: how I felt a prick of jealousy, that day, at the look of sheer love on Jim's face. He used to look at me like that, and I mean all the time. I haven't seen that look for awhile. I don't even think I knew how much I've missed it until we ran into Coach V.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I mean, the Lord just spoke into my heart plainly as ever He has: That moment wasn't for Jim, Brandee. It was for you.

And then it was like fifteen light bulbs went off in my head all at once, and for the first time I really heard a question that Jim has asked me over and over again: "Why are you nicer to everyone else than you are to me?"

We've gone around and around about it. I've told him: no one else gets on my nerves like he does (true). I've told him: no one else has hurt me like he has (true). I've told him: I'm not raising little children with anyone else (true). I've told him: I need more help (true). I've told him: I need a break (true). I've told him: I'm tired and overwhelmed and frustrated and struggling (true, true, true, true). I've told him: he doesn't always speak kindly to me, either (true). I've told him: he doesn't understand my world (true) and therefore can't fully appreciate what I do (true).

But what I haven't told him (at least in that sincere, bent-toward-improvement way) is: I'm sorry.* Because I wasn't. In my mind, my behavior was justified based upon the stress, ills, or pain of the day. I'd convinced myself that if circumstances were different, I would be happier and kinder to Jim: the person I'd tried to make responsible for changing my circumstances or relieving my burden.

I think it's so hard to accept one's onus in a situation. It hurts, and beyond that, I think it's human nature to avoid or overlook one's onus completely: to not see it even when it's in black and white, to not hear it even when it's spelled out. It took our encountering the one person in the world who could "light Jim up"--and then a month or so to think about that encounter--in order for me to understand how Jim must feel over and over...every time he hears me speak to someone (anyone) more kindly than I do to him.

*I blogged to the point of the asterisk before calling Jim at work and bawling through a sincere apology. I'm publishing, anyway, because I'm hopeful that--in being wide-open, as always, in my struggles and weaknesses--I can help someone else. If you've been helped, please share this post with others.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Keys, Pt. 3

Oh, I found my keys, the fact of which is nowise the point of the story. I found them on top of Cade's dresser, between two piles of clean clothes. Cade had unlocked the door after the Blue Ridge Pig, because I was in the middle of a crisis involving Charleigh's randomly peeing herself for the fourth day in a row. I realize: I haven't explained why Cade put my keys on top of his dresser, but I have better things to do than try to explain (or determine, for that matter) why a thirteen-year-old boy does much of anything.

I have been trying to determine why this thing happened, and I have no idea why or even who. (Was God messing with me? If so, why? Was God allowing the enemy to mess with me? If so, why? Were both God and the enemy completely uninvolved; was it just a human thing? If so, where was God?)

Maybe I'll never know. "Why?" is such a pitiful little, rarely-answered question.

"What am I supposed to be learning?" is better; I can rarely answer it, either, but I can usually come up with something.

In this case, I can come up with a few things. Firstly (and I hesitate to write this for fear of further testing), I might not be able to control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond to it. You're probably reading this, thinking DUH, but I'm a hot-tempered mama; for me, that's huge.

I turned pretty quickly to the Word, this time, which led of course to learning of a concrete nature. I got into a study of keys and started examining parallels between Eliakim son of Hilkiah, Peter, and Christ: so interesting. And I'm still working out what I think will be an especially valuable lesson on prophecy.

And then there's this: I need Him. I can't do anything without Him. I can't even do His own work without Him. I need Him. 

The chaotic moments I describe for you? They're my norm. Seriously. My days tend to be more like that than otherwise. I'm a deeply unorganized, unstructured person with a short fuse. I've got a man who thinks differently than I and may well be even more passionate than I. I've got joint custody of a deeply unorganized (apple doesn't fall far from the tree) thirteen-year-old. I spend nearly every moment with a busy, destructive, sassy four-year-old; a rowdy, defiant (tease of a daredevil) two-year-old; and a clingy five-month-old. We live in a log cabin just old enough that all major systems are starting to go. It's crazy town.

I need Him. I need Him. I need Him. I need Him. I need Him, times infinity. I wouldn't want to do it without Him. I need Him.

The Keys, Pt. 2

Picture me looking through the shoe bucket, the camera bag, for my keys. I'm looking under the table, the couch cushions, Cade's bed. I'm searching pockets and diaper bags and my little girls' purses. I'm digging through the clothes I bagged up for my neighbor.

I'm moving from house to minivan to house to minivan; the kids are buckled and waiting in the minivan.

I'm calling my husband at work and my thirteen-year-old at his other house: "Did you happen to see...?" I'm forcing myself to remain calm and kind. I'm texting my girlfriend with the new baby: "I can't find my keys. I'll drive over as soon as Jim gets home, if not before. Please pray."

Can you see me leaning against the counter, talking aloud to God? "What am I supposed to be learning?" I ask Him. "And why am I supposed to be learning it?" I feel so defeated, so hurt. I'm trying to feed people, for crying out loud.

((I recall other humbling experiences in delivering food: running over a free-standing basketball goal, dropping off the wrong (half-eaten) box of brownies.))

Jim pulls in at the same time as half our small group. He helps me transfer (most of) my stuff from the minivan to his truck. I take his keys and Baby Chip but leave the girls with their dad. I forget the baby gift. I shake my head as I drive east, passing my friends' road by accident. I turn around, shaking my head some more.

But when I take Baby Aubrie in my arms, she looks straight at me, and I remember again the miracle: how the doctor recommended a D & C because the pregnancy didn't appear to be viable. But she's here, praise the Lord, and she's beautiful, praise the Lord, and doctors don't know everything, praise the Lord. "I'll love you all my life," I gush tearfully to Baby Aubrie,"because I prayed so hard for you to get here."

Next stop: Cade's other family's, and I set down the food (barely warm, now) and tell my ex-husband, his wife, and our young man about all the events of the day. We laugh and laugh.

A few minutes later, I'm barreling down our driveway when here comes Uncle Rob from small group. We wind down our windows. "Where are you going?" I ask.

"Look, I hate to tell you," he says, "but Baby Hurley just struck at your house," and he proceeds to tell me how his son just projectile vomited. If I thought we were good friends before (having scrubbed my toilet in front of him), I'll be pleased to know, he says, smiling: we're even closer, now, because he just cleaned my entire bathroom.

"You know what this is, right, Uncle Rob?" I ask him.

"The devil?" he guesses.

"Spiritual warfare," I tell him, and back at the house, I enter the tail-end of a deep discussion over God's Word. I have wet spots on (and crushed up Cheez-Its in) my carpet, and the kids run amok until the end, but the newest member of our group bends over, hugs me, and says: "I'm so glad to be in small group with you guys."

Later, I stare toward the ceiling and pray. What does it all mean, Lord? I ask. Speak to my heart! And where are my keys? Show me! Give me a little something! Just a little something!


From small group, last night.

(To Be Continued...)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Keys, Pt. 1

As I mentioned, here: Jim lost his keys. We'd just returned from spring break (having used my vehicle and keys for a week) when he realized they were missing. We still haven't found them.

After five days of searching, we had the truck towed to a local dealership to have a replacement key made. Almost unbelievably, someone there found a "hide key"--that we hadn't hidden--on the outside of the truck. So, for all its inconvenience, the situation cost us nothing. We have Allstate; even the towing was free.
Yesterday, I realized: my keys were missing. The timing felt very unfortunate because, in my minivan, I had my three, little children; a hot meal and gift for friends who'd just welcomed a baby; a hot meal for Cade's other family; my children's outgrown clothing to share with friends; and all the essential personal items (including camera) for my travels...except my keys.

I was already rattled at the moment of my unfortunate discovery because--minutes earlier, as I'd buckled Charleigh into her car seat--I'd heard a strange, little sound and looked down to behold Clementine at my hip and with a rock, scratching paint off the side of my minivan as though she were working a nickel across a scratch-off ticket.

(Earlier in the day, I'd discovered her in a corner with a pair of scissors, cutting a Thomas the Tank coloring book into tiny slivers.)

But it had been a good day none-the-less: a productive day during which I'd made sense of the downstairs in preparation for small (large) group Bible study, and I reminded myself of this as I re-entered the house to look for my keys. The house is picked up!, I encouraged myself in my kindest, inner Mister Rogers voice; surely my keys will be easily found.

(To Be Continued...)

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Blue Ridge Pig

Of all the things Jim does for me, I think my very favorite might be his getting up with the girls every morning. I can stay up all night long or get up every hour with a baby, and I've learned to do both happily enough and without complaint. But I'm not by nature a morning person, and--baby or no, if I've ever gotten up with the sun on the "right side of the bed"--I sure don't remember it.

On weekdays, I get up very shortly after Jim and the girls because he has to leave for work, and Sundays aren't much better because--even if we skip Sunday school--it takes a long time to get six people ready and out the door for church. So I dearly love my long, Saturday mornings, curled up with Baby Chip in the shadowy hush of my bed. 

This morning, Sunday morning, I indulged and slept late a second morning in a row. I was so worn down and out that, no lie, extra sleep felt holy. Totally.

After I got up, Jim and Cade worked a big chunk of the day outside, after which I asked Jim to take us all for a drive. He asked where I might like to go, and I told him I knew where to get the best barbeque in all of Virginia, matter of fact, if he were willing to drive a mere hour and a half to get it.

And look, here's more proof positive that I married the right person: Jim didn't blink. Cade grumbled a little, but only because he wanted to play a video game, not because he's unaccustomed to my road-trip shenanigans.

Fast-forward a couple hours.

"Oh my, Brandee. Are you sure?" Jim asked. (We had passed several more respectable-looking establishments on the way.)

"Oh, yes," I told him.

And I guess this is something I want you to know about me: when we all get to heaven, if you can't find me?, look for me off to the side somewhere, on a picnic bench under a bare light bulb surrounded by business cards. There may well be dust, even a cobweb.

I'll be eating off a styrofoam plate. I'll be licking vinegar-based barbeque sauce from my fingers and chair dancing, just a little, to Paul McCartney's singing "Band on the Run."

If I'm particularly blessed, I'll be in the company of Jesus and these people:


And I won't give a care if the moon is rising above a Blue Ridge Pig (or anything else) on a school night.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

One Foot in Front of the Other

From the situations in Boston and Texas to the Gosnell trial, I haven't much known what to say, this week, and I've pretty much decided that's ok, because so many others are talking. I've avoided their words, for the most part, and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

I'm learning: I don't handle hot topics well, especially when they're at their hottest. I wish I did, in a way, because I think people long for someone to make sense of what causes them pain. In the past, I've allowed others to speak into my disappointment and hurt over the hot topics and walked away feeling even heavier. I've engaged in too many arguments with them, even just within the confines of my own head.

I'm learning, too: it's ok not to have answers. It's ok not to engage. It's ok not to pursue anything but a healthy something that makes me feel better. For all these reasons, I can't recommend any more highly this post from JoAnn Hallum. I had the sense, while I was reading, that she was rubbing my shoulder. Maybe even my tender, banged-up and bruised heart. I love her so.

You know, I look back over my week, and I experienced real beauty. God answered some of my prayers; my loved ones helped celebrate my birthday. But I've had easier weeks, lighter weeks.

Charleigh and I have been going at it head-to-head, and if I'm honest, she's often getting the better of me. Also, Jim and I have found ourselves at an impasse on a few issues and are working with a counselor: mostly because we're absolutely crazy about each other and want our "ever after" to go as happily as possible. But still.

My ex-husband called awhile ago to tell me his wife's back in the hospital and ask me to pick up Cade. We talked for a long time; he brainstormed with me about Charleigh and listened when I shared: my new counselor works two doors down from the one I saw nine or ten years ago, before my first marriage ended. I feel heavy and sad, I told him, walking past that other door, even being in that same building.

I told him: I feel sometimes like I'm making progress as a human, like I'm really growing in the Lord, and then, suddenly, I'm just not sure: seems like I might be as sorry and weak as I've ever been. He proceeded to affirm who I am, today, and the marriage I have, today. He encouraged me in every respect. It was a strange and beautiful moment.

I don't even know what I want to say, here. Part of me would like to be at a writers' conference, but here I am on the sofa, breastfeeding and blogging. I try to look beyond this day and feel instantly overwhelmed. I knew with more certainty what the rest of my life would look like, when I was ten, than I do at almost forty. Often, I don't know how to share my heart with my husband, let alone people I've never met in person. I don't know how to make my home a pretty and peaceful place, let alone the country, the world.

But when I look to Jesus, He says:

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes (from the end of Matthew 6, MSG).

So I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I just keep trying to make sense of this moment, with the people just in front of me. I just keep going. I just keep trying.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thoughts on My 39th Birthday

What I wanted to tell you, at last, about spring break is this: we celebrated my thirty-ninth birthday. We also celebrated my brother's thirty-sixth.

There had been moments when I just wasn't sure we would make it. So much had happened among us: even just since I'd celebrated my thirty-eighth birthday, and my brother his thirty-fifth.

In the 365 days between my birthdays, Jim had undergone gastric-bypass surgery (and I'd acknowledged, signature on the line, risks up to and including death); my older nephew's elbow and fingers had been pinned back together after a serious ATV accident; my brother had gone paralyzed and, subsequently, undergone surgeries to insert a nerve stimulator in his back; and I'd undergone an emergency c-section to get Baby Chip, whom I'd been terrified over since (one month after a miscarriage) getting pregnant.

For the first time on this birthday, my thirty-ninth, we're all safely in the world. Everyone in my immediate family--including both the one into which I was born and the one my man and I have created--is here. We're a perfect dozen: the cookie-baker in me just loves that!

In the past 39 years, I've fought with my family. I've fought for them and wrestled with the Lord over them...just enough to know: for this and every birthday, they're all I want. They're the very best of what I have.

There were never any guarantees, and there still aren't. Every day we have is a gift. To know, feel, and really rejoice in it is another.

Mom and Clementine

My Dad, My Brother, and Chip

My Brother's Wife Sarah (and the godmother of all my children) with Chip

My Nephew CJ (AKA Evel Knievel)

Dad and Charleigh

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Spring Break in Chattanooga, Pt. 2

Market Street (or John Ross) Bridge behind the Tennessee Aquarium

On our second day in Chattanooga, we visited the Tennessee Aquarium, which includes an "Ocean Journey" building and a second, "River Journey" building. No sooner did we embark upon our Ocean Journey than I realized: my camera card was full! I'd brought two extras on the trip, but they weren't on my person. Thankfully, neither good images nor good opportunities were lost; I just needed to take a moment and delete a bunch of junk from the card in my camera.

Here are some photos from our Ocean Journey:

Hyacinth Macaws

I think this is a Zebra Longwing.

Mocker Swallowtail, I think.

Mira with a Tawny Owl Butterfly

Clementine with the Tawny Owl

Japanese Sea Nettles, I think.

Cade and West Coast Sea Nettles


Charleigh, demonstrating why she was scared of the real shark.

I have to include the following photo, too, that Erin took. I love it dearly because--and you'll know just what I mean--it's the perfect refection of who Cade is right now (adorable and funny and through-and-through teen):

Photo Credit: Erin Snyder

I love this one of Cade, too. Just before I took it, I overheard him say to his baby brother: "I waited so long for you!" (Talk about a mama's heart melting!)

And here are my favorite photos from our River Journey:

North American River Otter


I'll be honest: as far as I'm concerned, an aquarium is an aquarium. The Tennessee Aquarium is a really nice one, though. Charleigh was completely done by the time we finished touring it, so we opted not to adventure further with our friends. I felt completely jealous for what we missed when, later, I looked at Erin's photos. But maybe next time. Or maybe, next time, Jim and I will leave the children with Nana and Papaw (and Aunt Sarah and Uncle Buck, Uncle Bernie and Aunt Renee, Rob and Sherry, or as many East Tennessee folks as it takes!) and have an adult adventure!

I have one more spring break post to share with you, and it might just be my very favorite.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring Break in Chattanooga, Pt. 1

Erin and Dave had spoken highly of Sugar's Ribs, so we all ate dinner there the night we went to Rock City. Ordering overwhelmed me, so I made Jim do it. I can't tell you what I ate, but I had no complaints. I drank a beer. After Rock City, I needed one.

The kids ate and went outside to pet the goats. Yeah, you read that right. They have goats at Sugar's Ribs. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Chattanooga is a (happily) weird place.

That night, we stayed at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel (i.e., The Terminal Station). It's a really cool place but not what I expected, which was more along the lines of Richmond's Byrd Theatre. (I realize that statement will mean nothing to most of you, but the Byrd was built in 1928 and is more "Gatsby" than the hotel.) Here are some photos from the Choo Choo:

Charleigh and Jim in the Pool

There were several things to do at the hotel, but our experience was pretty much limited to the pool and our room, which goes to our one complaint: we had bought a Groupon to stay at the hotel, and--when Jim called--he was advised to book a standard room, given the size of our family, as opposed to a Victorian Train Car.

When we visited Erin's and Dave's train car, it was obvious: we had been ill-advised. Their room appeared to be just as large as ours (albeit differently shaped), and their bathroom was definitely larger than ours. My theory is that the hotel books the exceedingly less cool, standard rooms whenever they can. If our friends hadn't been staying in a train car, we would probably still be none the wiser. If you go to the Choo Choo, request a train car.

One End of Erin's and Dave's Victorian Train Car

Next post: the Tennessee Aquarium.