Friday, February 28, 2014

Unblogged Happiness: February Edition

February included its share of heartache, for sure, but when I look back through my (previously unblogged) photos, I see so much beauty. I hope you see it, too.

Feb 1 - 3: Time at my parents' in East Tennessee just after Mom's foot surgery.

Dad took the girls to Sunday school and church. So precious.

Feb 9: Grandma's 96th birthday party (and a beautiful snow) in Maryland.

Just particularly like this photo of Clementine and her "Uncle Barry."

Jim, behind the wheel, enjoyed this drive much less than I.

 Feb 13: Back in Tennessee. Fun in the snow, with Papaw.

Had to include this photo because my slip of a Charleigh in snow pants cracks me up every time.

Snow Angels

They were saying: "Happy Valentine's Day, Daddy!"

I took this through the stained glass of my parents' front door.

Feb 16: The beautiful drive home.

Feb 22: The opportunity to meet and photograph! the newest member of our small group.

For Clementine at Five

"I haven't been able to shake it all day," I told your dad. "I was minutes from walking down the aisle, wearing a white, wedding dress with pink trim, and I couldn't decide whom to marry. Neither man was a good choice," I said. (Neither man was your dad.)

"Huh," your dad said. "Sorry about that. I don't get why you're calling it a nightmare, though. It doesn't sound scary."

But it disturbed me. Disturbs me. And I feel like I'm supposed to write this out for you, my just-turned-five Wild Orange: like you're the one who will need it most.

I wouldn't go back in time, Baby. Even if given the opportunity to erase some hurts, I wouldn't go back...even to either of my beginnings with your dad. I'd be too afraid of the butterfly effect: too afraid that, somehow, things would shift so that one of you (my babies) wouldn't make it through to me just exactly as you are.

Folks assume wrongly that--if I have a wild card of a child--it must be your red-headed sister, but no. She bounces (with an umph) off the dot of my exclamation point, but you come bearing gifts in the form of mystery surprise. Five years in, I can't quite anticipate what you might say or do. I don't feel, to this day, like I have a good handle on how to please you.

We go 'round and 'round, but I see how your heart hides trembling behind those words you cook up according to whim and serve with a side of exasperation. You set up shop on the corner of Boss and Sass but rarely strike. If something's been gotten into or shredded into itty bits, you're most likely to blame, but--when I need to grab something from the minivan or change my clothes--you can be counted upon to watch Chip like a hawk. You love to sort silverware, fold washcloths, and sweep the kitchen floor. You're our tiny dancer, and when you sing, it's on key and with vibrato.

I think you're perfect just the way you are. (I wouldn't change you nary a bit.)

You were wearing a hint of make-up and unfamiliar clothes, one day, in preparation for group photos. In the split second before I recognized you as mine, I thought: what a pretty little girl. You are, and--another day, as you slept (long, lean, sweet-smelling, and sun-kissed) in my arms--I felt compelled to pray over your body: that anyone who ever holds you will love you as much as I. We mothers tuck moments like these in our hearts, and one of the dearest in mine is this: one day, when I was particularly frustrated with you, I heard the Lord speak to me as clearly as ever He has.

"There are so many who would give anything to have a little girl like that," He said.

I felt so small and sorry for my impatience, just then, and with tears in my eyes responded: "Yes, Father. And I am one of them."

I've never forgotten, Clementine, and I'm so thankful you're mine: just the way you are. I've never loved anyone better or more, and I'm so glad we've made it safely to five.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Clementine's Circus Birthday Party

Hard to believe, but our Wild Orange turns five, this week. Yesterday, we celebrated her birthday with a circus-themed party, the idea for which was born (as are so many things, in these parts) of thrift; Jim and I--just after Christmas, on a rare date--came across several bins of Ringling Bros. - Barnum and Bailey party items on clearance at Michael's. Clementine wasn't sure about the circus theme until her daddy promised a unicorn pinata (as opposed to, say, a clown pinata), but she ended up having a ball.

I gave Clementine full control over the guest list, so this party felt more like a party of her friends than a party of our family friends, if that makes sense. I experienced some anxiety about it, but--when I counted up the children she named and their siblings--I thought there were plenty enough for an in-house party.

As a significant aside (or two), I experienced anxiety last month after I'd suggested Cade invite six friends (all of whom I love) for a birthday sleepover but he decided he wanted to celebrate with exactly two of them. The evening of Cade's sleepover, the little girls wanted to be all up in the boys' business (of course), and I had to remind them: it's Cade's birthday. Fast-forward two weeks, and--when I asked Clementine whom she wanted to invite to her birthday party--she said first and without hesitation: "Sam." Cade's best friend.

And here's the great news: Samwise loves her and all of us, and--just like every other person Clementine invited--he showed up for her circus party. She hugged him hard and then turned on her big brother like an old, wet hen. "This is my birthday," she said, wagging her finger, "and Sam is here for my party. So you need to leave him alone." She soon forgot, in the happy chaos, to pay attention to the big boys, but here's a truth that cracks my mama heart open a little: Cade and Sam never left the party. They were right there the whole time, and Clementine!, when the others left, they assembled your Barbie pool.

Sam and Cade

Switching gears (*sniff*), the haul from Michael's included a ton of photo props:

I love the look on Clementine's face, below; her nose had just fallen off! The balloon backdrop is a plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Tree, and behind the kids (to the left) is a circus tent Jim bought off Amazon.

Cade and I made a "pin the nose on the clown" game:

Our menu included hotdogs and/or animal-shaped chicken nuggets on animal paper plates (from the Dollar Tree) and red-and-white paper food trays (from Sam's Club). We also provided popcorn (in red-and-white bags from the Dollar Tree), pretzels, animal crackers, baby carrots (in a weak attempt to be healthful - ha!), and lemonade. 

Hooray for a warm-enough, February day for pinata fun in our backyard party shack. Jim bought the pinata off Amazon. All the Amazon purchases were covered entirely by Rewards Card points; we use this credit card for all big purchases and pay the balance every month.

Clementine received many cool gifts, but I have to say that this one has probably been most popular:

The Gift-giver, Showing How It Works

The Birthday Girl

Jim worked tirelessly in pulling things together for the party, but I had to put my foot down when he suggested taking over cake duty. I did allow him to stack my three 9x13, tie-dyed layers and touch up the icing. Oh, and he'd purchased the cake toppers off Amazon. What a great dad! I love that he wants to make childhood magical for our kids and feel closest to him when we're pressing, together, into this common passion.

Jim had put together lots of party-favor options--treat boxes (Amazon) stuffed with items from the Dollar Tree; cotton candy (clearance Valentine's Day from the Dollar Tree); and bags of animal crackers (Dollar Tree) and circus peanuts (Big Lots) tied to helium balloons--for the guests to take home. He'd found the helium balloon tank at Target for about $22, which is more than we would've paid if my brother had brought helium from his business but less than if we'd shopped Party City, where the same tank is about $40.

Daddy's Girl

What a great day, and five feels like such a big number for our Wild Orange! I'll have more to say about that, though, in my next post.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Choosing Love, Pt. 2

I stood at the top of the hill in the East Tennessee churchyard of my youth, Valentine's Day, and watched the others ascend through the melting snow. God bless and please don't fall, I prayed. They didn't, but one of the pallbearers moaned under his burden at the crest of the hill, and a couple other men rushed in to help. Together, they settled the casket safely into the device stand and, panting, clapped one another on the back.

A preacher read Psalm 23 and Jason's brother "A Cowboy's Prayer." James Watson bear-hugged me at the casket just before I patted it with a kiss and returned to my parents' house, to vacuum. That evening, Mom and I baked the same heart-shaped sugar cookies she had baked for my elementary-school classes.

So I spent Valentine's Day away from Jim, who was snowed into our log cabin in Virginia, and Cade, who was snowed into his dad's house. I recognized love throughout my trip, though: heard it traveling the telephone line; spoken from the mouths of preachers; spilling over my little children, who settled in Mom's lap for story after story. I saw it in my dad's and daughters' shared enjoyment of the snow and in my babies' flat-out ministry to my mother-in-law. I heard it in her laughter and saw it in her tears.

For days, I said to everyone who would listen: "I loved him," and the only responses were "Yes," "I know," and "He loved you, too." My other two boy friends from high school e-mailed condolences. I know you were close, each said. Thinking of you. (The balm of affirmation.)

I bade my own hands and feet to show love in service while I was in East Tennessee; they did their best.

And maybe I've never felt so threadbare as I did, returning Sunday evening to the log cabin in Virginia, but Jim had made the space clean and bright, picked up Cade from his dad's, cooked dinner, and filled the dining-room table with Valentine's presents for the children and me. Later, in bed, I wept into the warm fur of his chest while he stroked my hair and spoke love over me.

"My trip brought it back," I told Cade the next day, "how real this time of your life is. You love certain people deeply, and you'll love them forever." He looked into the pain of my tired eyes and nodded. Later, when I asked him to sit close for a tv show, he didn't hesitate; he slid in my direction and rested his shaggy, fourteen-year-old head against my shoulder.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Choosing Love, Pt. 1

I wish I could tell you I didn't hesitate, but truth is: it was a hard call. It takes about seven hours to get to my parents' with shortcuts, without stops, and I'd already made the trip twice this year, once less than two weeks before. Days before, I'd traveled to and from Maryland (3+ hours each way) for Grandma's 96th birthday party.

Jason Hatfield and I hadn't been particularly close since I'd left Scott County, I reasoned, and he isn't there, anymore. We'd visited before he died, and he knew (knows still, in heaven) I love him. I'd met his daughter only once, his wife never. I told myself I could visit his mom, his grave, later. If I went, I'd have to take the little kids and leave Jim and Cade behind, and a snowstorm was coming.

I waffled for days, but in the end, I knew I needed to go. It had been one of the closest friendships of my life, defining my middle- and high-school years, and I felt like my going or staying came down to a fundamental question: Who do I want to be? And I want to be someone who chooses love over fear. I want to be someone who loves extravagantly. I want to be someone who loves to the very end.

The little kids and I left at dinnertime, Tuesday. I found the highway eerily quiet with flashing signs alongside: state of emergency. I didn't see a drop of precipitation, though, and the four of us snuggled together under the covers of my parents' extra bed just after 2 a.m., Wednesday.

The snow started falling Wednesday afternoon. For the third time this season, Dad and I drove out looking for elk. "I'll have my elk, today, Jason Hatfield," I muttered, moving Chip's carseat from one vehicle to the other, and--although Dad and I hadn't been successful to that point--I knew we'd see elk that day, and we did: at least ten of them, specks filling the bottom of a snowy valley.

Four of the elk at maximum zoom. (There were many more to the left of the frame. )

The next evening, my brother's family came over to help my mom (who's still in a wheelchair from her recent foot surgery) with the kids, and Dad dropped me off at the funeral home. I'd forgotten how different funerals are in East Tennessee: how they're preached...and really preached, to include an invitation. I pried my heart and mind open to receive, and it was like forcing a contracting or cramping body to relax and accept pain when, really, all it wants to do is draw into itself and cry.

The first preacher shared Romans 8:38-39: some of my very favorite scriptures. The second preached out of 2 Samuel 12 (18-24, roughly) but also made a fleeting reference to Ziklag, one of the stories in the Bible most significant to me. The overall message was precious: get up; take care of yourself; encourage yourself in the Lord; if you are His, nothing can separate you from His love; be like David and after His heart.

I have more thoughts to share, especially related to Valentine's Day, but I'll save them for the next post. Thank you for the prayers you prayed; I did feel at points as though they were holding me up.