Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Our Christmas Miracle

In the fall of 1992, I was a freshman at Maryville College and on work-study in the library. My friend Akiko was standing just on the other side of the circulation desk, talking with me, when a security guard approached and said I needed to call home. I hurried with dread to the payphone in the lobby, Akiko on my heels, and learned that my (paternal) grandma had died. I've never forgotten the comfort of my friend: how she walked with me to my dorm room, stayed with me as I packed. I've always believed that God sent her to the library to be with me.

I remembered this at the restaurant, last night, when I was hurrying to leave work and looked up to see Andrea and Vanderhoop just inside the front door. Am I dying? I thought, then: Whatever is happening, God has sent them. I've been here before.

My sister-cousin Andrea is a nurse. When I told her I was leaving work and why (more bleeding than after childbirth or miscarriage), she insisted not only that I go to the ER but also that I allow her to drive me. Jim and the four children had been at the zoo for the live nativity and headed toward the hospital. "Go ahead and check in," he said. "I'll bring the insurance card."

As I left with a nurse for triage, Andrea asked: "How do you want this to go?"

"I want you to take the children home," I told her. "I want Jim to stay with me."

And even as the words left my mouth, I realized: I already have my Christmas miracle.

I've been praying for a different one; Jim had a fourth interview, last week, and whatever the company decided, they decided, yesterday. They told him they would turn yesterday's decision over to HR and contact the candidate of choice early next week. I can't tell you how many times I've thought: Wouldn't it be nice if they called, this week, to say he has the job? 

I've been longing for my parents and brother's family in East Tennessee; I haven't been home for an entire year, and I guess I've never been apart from my mom at Christmastime. I haven't been able to bring myself to ship her a package. She hasn't been able to bring herself to put up a tree. Wouldn't it be nice, I've thought, to know Jim has that job...to just pack up and go home?

Our situation has not yet been resolved; yet, already I can say:

I would not go back.

I would not go back to where we were before Jim lost his job. We were with our third marriage counselor, and while he is incredible!, progress was painfully slow. Jim was so frustrated that he walked out of our last session. He lost his job right after; then, we didn't have the option to return to our (slow) miracle worker. We didn't have the $300/month to spare.

Trust me when I say: after Jim lost his job, things got much worse before they got better. But this situation has been like a jump-start, or defibrillation, to our marriage. I believe we will make it, now. I believe we will be okay. And I'm going to be okay: I was discharged from the hospital with a doctor's note for work and strict instructions to visit my OB/GYN, today. My body is changing. (There's a pill for me.)

My heart is changing, too, and Jim's. We are changing. God is at work, here. There has already been a Christmas miracle.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

When Santa Sat in My Section

Jim's concerns were broader than mine when it became necessary for me to start working nights; I fretted only in anticipation of missing Cade (who attends school during the day) and certain nighttime events, especially holiday ones. I prayed about these concerns and tried my best to trust that whatever was meant to work out, would.

Halloween rolled around, first, and I love halloween. One year when Cade was small, I taught a composition class three times in order to accommodate all the students in a class I'd cancelled: a class I'd been scheduled to teach on halloween night. It was worth it, too, to take Cade trick-or-treating.

I tried to get halloween off, this year, but got scheduled to work. Rachel suggested that we trick-or-treat with her family (and many others from our small group) at Bethpage Camp-Resort the Saturday before halloween, and upon hire at the restaurant, I had requested that night off...but only because I'd been paid generously to take some family photos. To further complicate matters, I was hoping to catch Cade's band performance (which I hadn't yet seen) at the Fall Classic.

In the end (and I can still scarcely believe it all worked out), the family asked to be photographed in the morning as opposed to the oft-requested afternoon; Jim, the little kids, and I enjoyed Bethpage to the fullest; and I made it to the late (10 pm) band performance.

I worked halloween night joyfully and met a customer for whom I pray often. He's an older gentleman and was alone on a slow night, so I did a rare thing: I sat down with him. He told me his wife had just died.

Next, Thanksgiving. Travel was impossible given that I had to work the days before and after, but the restaurant was closed, Thanksgiving day, and Cade and I spent hours hiking together.

After all this, I wish I could tell you I had no trepidation about Christmas, but I wondered about Christmas eve; I did. The restaurant is closed on Christmas day, but Cade spends Christmas day with his dad, Christmas eve with me. This is how we all prefer it; Cade's other family has a big meal on Christmas day, while this family attends candlelight service on Christmas eve. Amazingly, management granted not only my request to have Christmas eve off, but also lunch, today, to attend Jesus's birthday party at church.

Friday night, I walked into my section at work only to realize that Santa and Mrs. Claus were seated in one of my booths. When I introduced myself, Santa said: "I already know your name. And furthermore, I know you've been a very good girl this year." I burst into tears right there at the table.

Later, I said to a friend: "I was way too emotionally disregulated to serve Santa Claus!"

He shook his head, laughed, and said: "You were the perfect person! No one else would've cared as much as you. You got the full effect of what he was trying to do. I think it's awesome!" And, yes. Awesome. Because there's something no one--neither Santa nor my friend--knew.

My recent prayers have included my asking God to help me trust Him with my little-girl self, and I received Santa's visit as a response, from God, to that prayer. It was as if God were saying: I hear you (all of you, including the little-girl you), and I care about you, and I care very much about your Christmas. I couldn't wonder if God had sent Santa for my children because my children weren't present. I was alone. But I am never alone.

The further I journey, the more fully I believe that a relationship with God is just that: a relationship. It requires faith on my part (and sometimes, the suspension of disbelief). It requires my seeking with expectancy. I could chalk everything I've just shared and more! up to coincidence, luck, serendipity, fortune, or---I don't know--an alien spark? But I find it so much more thrilling to believe I am blessed...that God is using all things to my good: even (especially?) the hard things. Because if that's true, I have nothing to fear and everything to anticipate with joy. Bad is good if He is with me, and He is. His very name tells it. He is Immanuel.

The front of the card Santa left me.

The back of the card Santa left me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Most Outrageous Story I Have to Tell

I was driving my best friend and her daughter to the airport, this summer, when her daughter (almost six, at the time) asked when she'd first met us. I answered that my daughter Clementine and I had flown to Chicago to meet her when she was three months old and Clementine nine months old. I proceeded to explain: the plan had always been for me to attend her birth, but life got in the way. Maybe one of my daughters will allow me to attend a birth one day, I said, I sure hope so.

The very next day, my friend Sharon called and asked if I'd like to ride with her to the hospital; one of her grandchildren was about to be born. I'd never met either Sharon's son or her daughter-in-law but love my time with Sharon and agreed to go. I imagined I'd be doing some waiting and packed a novel, also--with a fleeting thought of newborn photos--my camera.

At the hospital, Sharon's son came out to greet us. He and Sharon left me to enter the room where the mother was laboring. Within just a few minutes, though, Sharon returned to invite me into the room with my camera. One day after I'd said aloud, in my minivan, that I'd hoped to attend a birth.

This is the most outrageous story I have to tell: that I found myself photographing the birth of a baby one day after expressing, aloud, my desire to attend the birth of a baby. I hadn't discussed this desire with Sharon. There had been no plan for me to meet her son and daughter-in-law that day or in that way, but there I was--in that most sacred space, chillbumps running up and down my arms--watching a baby enter the world.

This is an example of why I believe in God.

I believe in God because I couldn't make up a story like that if I tried. I've had permission to blog about this experience for almost four months and have spent the entire time trying to wrap my head around it. The most logical explanation I can offer is that my Heavenly Father wishes to delight me. And He did. He does.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


I'm not going to pretend I know how to speak into your pain. I trust that you have it. Maybe your body hurts. Your heart almost certainly does, even if just in one corner, because you miss or long for someone. Perhaps that someone is yourself: someone you used to be, or someone you hope to become. It seems likely to me that things are imperfect in your world, but even if I'm wrong, things are imperfect in the world. We both know that.

Life is painful in this broken place, and I don't have the answers. I don't have even one answer related to one source of my own, personal pain. But in the event that someone may find this helpful, I want to offer: I have started practicing relinquishment. I read an article about it--a reprint by Catherine Marshall--in a recent Guideposts. Then I read it again. And again. I rarely reread like that, but the premise intrigued me and still does.

"Gradually," Marshall writes in the Guideposts article, "I saw that a demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer. I understood that the reason for this is that God absolutely refuses to violate our free will; that, therefore, unless self-will is voluntarily given up, even God cannot move to answer prayer." She goes on to explain that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, becomes our example; He doesn't want to die but--with His own free will, regarding His very life--submits to the will of His Father. 

To relinquish something, or someone, to God is to accept that I am not in control and that I may not see or experience the outcome I think I desire. It is to trust, however, that God is in control; that He knows best; and that He will work all things to my good. It is to remember that He is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness, that I tend to grow more in hard times than in easy ones. (Click here to read an example of Marshall's Relinquishment Prayer.) 

When I look (and read) back, I see clearly that I've tended to relinquish things and people to God only out of utter exhaustion. (See, for example, this post related to my brother's illness, or this post related to my miscarriage.) This, what I'm trying to do now, involves letting go earlier, before I spend all of my emotional energy. 

I almost always pray on my drive to work, and I've been challenging myself with the question: what can I turn over, today? I've offered to God (among other things/people) the spiritual condition of my children, my marriage, my husband, my husband's joblessness, my job situation, my creativity, and various sources of my pain. And I've experienced some manner of peace. I've experienced Immanuel (God with us: me!) in ways that I find personally irrefutable. In seeking Him, I've found Him, and isn't He good for never hiding from us? Isn't He good for working even in our details?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Chip Turns 3

Dear Super Chip,

Happy third birthday. Over and over again, your sisters have been a sharp intake of my breath, but you have been my exhale. You are my everything-makes-sense and everything-is-okay-in-the-world. You are fairly predictable and almost always content.

You are my full circle. You are home to me. You remind me of my grandma, my mom, my brother, your brother Cade. You remind me of myself. (Finally, I have a child who pretend plays like I did. Fisher-Price Little People: hooray!)

You are my fellow night owl, and when I walk in the door from the restaurant, you always greet me with: "Mama! You came back! You always come back! I love you!" You still sleep best in my arms, and that's (mostly) okay. Thank you for waiting for me. I waited for you for so long. We belong to one another; I feel that every day, and

I love you. I loved your "Blue Birthday" party. I love your red sword. I love your laugh, your kisses. I love every one of your sweet teeth. I love it that you think we should trick-or-treat every night; I think so, too. I love it that, in the dark, no other story works for you but "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." I love it that you're nice to pretty much everyone but Cade's girlfriend. (I understand why you pull her hair. She's a nice girl, but her hair is straight out of "The Goose Girl"; Conrad would've tried to pull it, too.)

You're my very favorite super hero. I believe in every single one of your powers. You hold my heart in your hands.


Friday, November 6, 2015

What I'm Learning about Jesus

I don't have time to blog; I really don't. I have seven photo sessions to edit, and I'm off to take more photos in three hours.

I'm behind with my Bible study and struggling to keep up with homeschooling. I don't have time to blog,

and yet. I'm thinking of my friend from the restaurant: the one who advised me to slow my pace when I'm in the weeds. I'm thinking of his saying that, if I slow down, I'll remember everything I need to remember, and one thing I need to remember comes out of my Bible study.

This Bible study. There have been moments that I've felt as though God were speaking directly to me. And He was. He does that. His Word is so relevant to our daily lives. When I don't have time to read the Bible, when I don't want to read the Bible, I need to read it, most. I don't know why I have to learn this lesson over and over.

The Bible study is on Isaiah and took me, recently, into the fourth chapter of Luke. Jesus had entered His hometown of Nazereth after spending forty days in the wilderness. He had eaten nothing for those forty days and had resisted the aggressive temptation of the devil. Scripture says the devil departed from Jesus for a season. Jesus entered Galilee in the power of the Spirit. In Nazereth, He stood up to read in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He read this from the book of Isaiah (Chapter 61):

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).
Before Jesus closed the book, gave it to the minister, and sat down, He said: "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears" (Luke 4:21b).
Up until that moment in my Bible study, if someone had asked me what Jesus's purpose was, or is, I would've said He died to save us from our sins. Maybe, if pressed, I would've referred to Him as the Creator. And I wouldn't have been wrong, but I wouldn't have been entirely right, either, because I wouldn't have presented these verses. I wouldn't have offered that Jesus's purpose was, in part, to heal the brokenhearted. I wouldn't have suggested that His purpose was to give sight or release captives.

I knew He does those things, but it's different--isn't it?--to say someone does something and to say his or her purpose is to do something. It would be one thing, for example, for someone to say of me: she bakes a good cookie, another for her to say that I was put here on earth to bake cookies.

More than seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Isaiah prophesied that Jesus was coming to heal broken hearts, free captives, and so many other things, besides. Jesus didn't just do those things; He came to do those things. I'm having a hard time articulating why I find this distinction so meaningful for the same reasons I've found blogging so challenging, recently: there are things I can't write in this space.

But. My heart hurts. I am grieving. I have blind spots. I am in a prison (or two) of my own making. And it matters to me that not only can Jesus help me, but my life is in the hands of the One who was sent to address these specific concerns.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Weeds

My head is swimming with all the things I want to tell you and can't. What I want to tell you and can is that I'd forgotten so many things in the twelve years or so since I'd waited tables. I'd forgotten, for one thing, about being in the weeds: those moments when you've been "triple sat" (gotten three tables all at once) and it feels like you're stuck in place, spinning your wheels.

It doesn't help that I'm still learning the locations of all the menu items on the computers. The more frazzled I get, the more mistakes I make. It's nothing for me to push the wrong button three times in a row. Another server was standing behind me, last week, watching. "Chill out," he said. "Damn." Then: "Calm down. Shit."

This is the way most all of them talk. I'd forgotten about that. They mean no harm, mosttimes, and this particular server has been especially helpful. He came up to me later and said: "A guy at another restaurant told me, once, that the best thing to do when you're in the weeds is to slow your pace. Just slow down, and you'll remember all the things you need to do and know in which order you need to do them. Just slow down. It works."

I'm going to try and keep this in mind. The truth is that it had been a long time since I'd been busy in that way. The closest I'd come in years and years was getting all the children out the door for church, Sunday mornings. Trust me: it's not the same.

It's good to be physically active: to remember the strength of my arms, back, and legs; to fall weary into bed at night; to sleep so deeply that, if I have dreams, I don't remember upon waking. The children slip into my arms without my knowing; I never know whom I will be holding when I open my eyes.

It's good to be seen, even by strangers, as someone apart from those with whom I live. It's good to miss my family, sometimes, and it's especially good to appreciate my time with them. It's good to feed cash into the ATM at the end of the night.

I don't know how long this particular season will last, but interestingly, I'm experiencing less anxiety than I had for a while, including before Jim lost his job. I have the sense that God wanted to wake me up, to help me recognize how blessed I was to stay home with the children, to remind me that I can function when apart from them. I'm thankful for my job, also for work as a photographer. I'm thankful for those friends who've been friends during this time. I'm thankful for my Bible study on Isaiah and for the ways in which God keeps leading me into Romans. I'm praying and asking Him to fill my needs and voids, to help me put one foot in front of the other, to lead me not into temptation,

to lead me safely through the weeds.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Book Review: Every Little Thing

It was a beautiful, exciting thing to read the nonfiction words of a real-life friend, someone in whom I believe wholeheartedly. I didn't need to read Every Little Thing to stand behind it; I know the heart of the author. I have rifled through her kitchen cabinets and slept--after she turned down my bed with her own hands, praying for my rest--on her pull-out sofa.

I could tell you a lot of things (all of them gorgeous) about Deidra Riggs, but my favorite thing about her is this: she really just wants to leave you further along than she found you. She's too wise to think she can carry you or fix you, and in fact, she seems to have a healthy detachment from how your story will end. If you spend a moment with her, you'll inevitably feel it: she's fully present and thinking about how she can illuminate your path with the one moment she has. She'd like to see you take your next step. For now, one step (in Christ) is plenty enough.

I found Every Little Thing to be a beautiful reflection of and from the heart of my friend. If you're feeling short or shy of a calling from God, or if you think you know how God is calling you but feel inadequate, fearful, or overwhelmed, this book is for you...not because it includes a detailed plan, but because it will help you take your next step. For now, one is enough.

Every Little Thing will help you believe that you are loved, that God has created you to love Him and other people. If you're willing, He can and will do amazing things through you...and "amazing" has little to no relationship to size. I do recommend this book, but more than that, I recommend this writer. If you're unfamiliar with Deidra Riggs' blog Jumping Tandem, you're missing out. She's hosting important conversations there, and she's doing it with almost unimaginable kindness and grace.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Grandparents' Day

We HAVE to have a prayer life! But go ahead and sleep in though. Hell has come for your family, for your marriage, but by all means--get yourself 45 minutes extra of sleep. -Beth Moore, via Lelia Chealey

Today is my first Grandparents' Day without a grandparent on earth. I was in a terrible mood, already, when I figured out it was Grandparents' Day.

One of my childhood friends passed away, yesterday, after a long battle with brain cancer, and she wasn't the first friend I'd lost to death, this month.

My husband got caught up in "workforce reduction" at the end of July and lost his job. He's made a full-time job of looking for a job ever since but hasn't nailed down a position. We're not in desperate straits, quite yet, but it won't be long. In Kroger, yesterday, I thought he and I might throw down over a box of pudding. (The one the girls wanted--the one upon which I insisted--was eleven cents more expensive than the store brand.)

I could tell you stories about other situations with which I'm struggling, too, but I won't; suffice it to say: I've known less confusing, happier days. Fonzie and the Cunninghams have left the building. And I haven't stopped praying or reading the Bible (I started a study on Isaiah this week, in fact.), but I have copped a bit of an attitude with God, here and there. I slept through church, this morning. Then, after reading about Grandparents' Day, I slapped the spoons one by one into the silverware holder, asking God in my mind: Where. Are. You?

I miss my grandma. She passed away in May. She was 97 and had been suffering from Alzheimer's, among other atrocities. She had earned her reward; still, I miss her. When I lost her, I had already been losing her for a long time; still, I miss her. I miss our conversations. I miss her letters.

I was thinking these things when I came across some unopened mail at the end of our counter. I found a package from Joanne Norton, her book inside, also a letter from my cousin Ginny. I don't think Ginny's written to me since I was in elementary school, but my grandma was her aunt. I sat down on the couch to open the envelope and unfold and read the letter. What a happy thing, I thought, to get "real mail" from Joanne and Ginny on Grandparents' Day. A Sunday.

But there's more. As I was opening a door I rarely open in my house, an envelope on top of a book shelf caught my eye: could it be? And yes, it was: a thank-you note from my aunt related to my grandma's services. I had opened it on the counter back in May and read exactly one line of it before one of the kids called me away. When I returned to read the rest, it was gone: just gone! I'd searched high and low for that note for almost four months. I'd actually gone through garbage, looking for it! I'd been feeling so awkward about it; how does one respond to a note she hasn't read? I hadn't wanted to write to my aunt and say: "I got your thank-you note but never actually read it. What did it say?"

I don't think it's a coincidence that the note turned up (for the second time) on a day on which I was feeling particularly discouraged, Grandparents' Day, a Sunday.

I looked at the clock. It was 4:30. I had twenty minutes to get ready for the evening service at my former church. Cade, the girls, and I made it on time.

Still clinging.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Thoughts on Abortion and Planned Parenthood

I haven't written much about abortion; if you run a search for the word on my blog, you'll find this to be true. I don't know why my hesitation but suspect it comes down to these considerations:

  • Despite carelessness, at times, I've never experienced unwanted pregnancy and therefore can't completely comprehend what it's like, let alone the various circumstances that might cause a woman to want to terminate pregnancy. I have the sense of "There but by the grace of God, go I."
  • I have experienced pregnancy. Five times, in fact. And while pregnancy was worth it, I suffered a great deal in getting my children here. I was very, very sick: nauseous, fatigued, faint. I was twice diagnosed with gestational diabetes and put on insulin shots. My fourth pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and I experienced depression and anxiety throughout my fifth. Pregnancy was, for me, a labor of love. I can't imagine enduring it without joyful expectancy for a baby.
  • Some of my loved ones have experienced abortion and have suffered for it both physically and emotionally. I feel nothing but compassion toward them. I read something recently (wish I could remember where but can't) about how abortion isn't a choice that pleases anyone. It's the choice of a person who feels she has no good options.
  • I know I don't have the appropriate arguments or responses for all the well-thought-out debate points of the pro-choice minded. I just don't. More than one million abortions are conducted every year in the United States, alone; if all unwanted babies were born, where would they go? I don't know that my husband and I are in the position or mindset to foster or adopt...or even open our home to a pregnant woman. Unwanted pregnancy is a complicated issue, to be sure.

Maybe I wouldn't be writing about abortion, now, if it weren't for the recent Planned Parenthood videos. I've watched some of them and read summaries of others, and one thing that stands out to me is the conversation around and treatment of fetuses/babies (particularly at 16-22 weeks of gestation) among Planned Parenthood employees when, in contrast, other fetuses/babies of the same gestational age are being documented and grieved. Recently, I came across an essay on photographer Liz Cook's blog: images of Hudson Barrett Williams, born/miscarried at 16 weeks of gestation, along with tender words about the experience from Cook and Hudson's parents.

How is it possible, I wonder, that the value (or type of value) placed upon a fetus/baby lies only in a person's perception of it? One woman wants what she carries in her womb; therefore, she assigns the highest of meanings to it. She does everything in her power to deliver it safely into the world. If she miscarries, she will grieve it and may have it photographed. If, in her womb, it dies at the hands of someone else, charges may be brought against that individual. Another woman doesn't want what she carries in her womb, so she has it aborted. Upon her consent, someone may assign value to it outside the realm of all emotion.

Emotion. I'm even now in the process of learning not to trust my emotions completely. I'm learning that there is truth outside of emotion, and I believe there is a consistent truth about fetuses/babies. I do not believe the truth changes depending upon the perception of those who carry them, let alone the perception of others.

Perhaps even among Christians we disagree, but when I read the words of David, I believe the Lord created David, also that--if the Lord created David--His hand was/is in creating everyone else, too.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body (Psalm 139:13-16a, NIV).

There are so many things I don't understand, and in fact, more than anything, I would like to understand how and why (if?) babies are assigned. Why is it that so many women experience unwanted pregnancies while so many others experience infertility and miscarriage? I don't ask the question with a shred of animosity in my heart: just sadness. I don't have all (any of?) the answers but--even in confusion and with compassion--can't slide to the left on this issue. I believe life begins at conception, that it is sacred, and that it should not be ended deliberately. I am pro-life.

Based upon the video footage, I would agree with those who maintain that Planned Parenthood has broken the law by 1) receiving more than reasonable payments for human fetal tissue...although this will be difficult to prove because of the subjectivity of the term "reasonable," 2) changing abortion procedures for the purposes of obtaining tissue, and 3) killing partially-delivered fetuses. I'm well aware that Planned Parenthood provides services other than abortion, also that they perform many/mostly legal abortions, but they should be held in some way accountable for breaking the law, and measures should be put in place to prohibit their breaking it in the future.

Meanwhile, I am hoping the Senate will pass 20-Week Abortion Ban later this month.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Charleigh Turns 5

Charleigh Evangeline,

I can scarce believe you are five; then again, you've been five for the longest: so articulate, so deep, so mathematical.

I love you for the hesitancy of your smile and the abruptness of your laugh: how the corners of your mouth ease up like the morning sun, while your laughter isn't, then is, like a lightbulb snatched bright by a string.

I love the sashay in your walk. I love the power with which you pounce and tumble, earning bruises from ill-execution but rarely crying. I neither love nor understand how, in your continual gymnastics, your heel tends to make accidental contact with my face. But I will always remember how, of my four children, you're the one to make my very teeth rattle.

I love how you wear us down with argument. I love how you throw a punch like a boxer. If you ever go down, it will be fighting, and may you be a soldier of the cross, Baby Girl.

I love the clammy, firm grip of your hand when it holds mine: how your fingers don't lie cool, velvety, and unfurled against my palm. I love how your voice will likely never ring out clear and bright as a bell and most likely never on key, but arise always from a place lower than the heart, snagging a bit in your throat.

I love how you are confident, and un, by turns. I love how so many of your weaknesses are mine because I am years ahead of you in learning to overcome them. I can teach you; I can help.

You will be great. You already are. I'm so glad you're my little girl.



Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Thoughts on Kim Davis

I'm deeply perturbed by the Kim Davis situation. I've been trying not to blog about it. I've been hoping that Rachel Held Evans would blog about it. I've been checking to see if Jen Hatmaker has blogged about it. Tonight, I thought: Sarah Bessey! Maybe she's blogged about it! But none of these thinkers I respect have blogged about it, to date, and given me the easy way out that's called the "facebook share." And to those of you in my very real life who will be deeply embarrassed by the way I think, I'm sorry(ish), but I'm going to have to blog about Kim Davis.

I respect Kim Davis's religious beliefs; I do, and understand them. As I've written before, I grew up Independent Fundamental Missionary Baptist, and I'm a member of a Southern Baptist church, today: not because I agree with everything my fellow members think (or say, or Lord help, post on facebook), but because I'm generally able to focus on the beliefs we hold in common. We have more in common than not.

I respect and understand Kim Davis's not wanting her name on the marriage certificates of same-sex couples. And given both her religious beliefs and her job responsibilities, I think she should resign. In fact, I will go so far as to say I think the Christian thing for her to do is resign.

Not everyone is this country is a Christian, and since we have freedom of and from religion, (s)he shouldn't be expected to conduct himself or herself as one. Furthermore, not all Christians hold the same religious beliefs; differing belief systems are permissible within the confines of the law. Honestly? I think God prefers freedom of and from religion...else He would've withheld free will and made us automatic followers. Jesus spoke in parables not so that everyone would understand, but so that some people wouldn't. This concept makes us uncomfortable, but it can't be denied, as it's written out in Jesus's own words.

And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given (Matthew 13:10-11, KJV).

What would Jesus say to Kim Davis? Well, I think He would express His love to her; I do. I think He would tell her to trust Him: to give up her 80K/year position in order to follow her conscience. I think He would remind her that God feeds the birds, arrays the lilies, and clothes the grass of the field (Matthew 6). I think He would promise to provide for her. Perhaps He would point to these words of Paul the Apostle:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (Romans 13:1-2, KJV).

The law is the law. If one works as an officer of the law she should be willing to fulfill her responsibilities under the law. If she cannot in good conscience do that, she should resign.

Kim Davis is concerned about her name and how it's being used. I'm concerned, in this situation, about God's name and how it's being used. Because truthfully, every time Kim Davis infringes upon the legal rights of unsaved people in the name of God, they are sure to become less interested in ever coming to know Him. And it just seems kinder to befuddle someone with the parabolic words of Jesus than the praise and worship of a defiant Kentuckian. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Celebrating Jay

Best I could, I celebrated the life of a friend, today. My mood (as you can see in the photo above) wasn't particularly celebratory, but neither was anyone else's. It was a sober occasion.

I met my friend in the blogosphere about a year ago upon googling something related to Richmond and photography. (I forget what, exactly.) This guy, he knew something about everything, and he knew a lot about photography. I've had a lot of questions over the course of the last year, and he was incredibly generous with his knowledge.

He was incredibly generous, in general. At every turn, he gave more than he took. He would meet me for dinner, answer questions until my mind couldn't hold any more answers, and pay the bill. Whatever questions I asked between dinners, he answered thoroughly, thoughtfully, immediately. And he seemed excited to be a go-to person for me, also genuinely excited by my growth as a photographer.

He was constantly affirming, constantly encouraging...so much so that I was a bit baffled. I wondered on more than one occasion: what's in it for this guy? Why is he being so...nice to me?

He read and commented on my blog faithfully and said often that my family reminded me of his, growing up. (He was one of four children.) I was 15-16 years younger than he, but he also remarked more than once that I reminded him of his mother. He missed her so much, he said. He loved me, he said, for bringing her back to him in certain ways.

Still, I wondered. It takes awhile for me to trust (really trust) someone. Years and years. A decade, maybe. And long before I had the chance to figure out my friend, he took his own life. He warned us it might happen, then told us why it did.

I attended a celebration of my friend's life, today, because I believe (really believe) in being a friend in death. I'm not going to guess or judge, I told myself; I'm just going. I have no idea what to expect, and I won't know a soul, but he was my friend. Whatever the situation that precipitated his suicide, he was my friend! He was never anything! but kind to me and, come to think of it, my entire family. (He helped move my older daughter's piano.)

And here's something I've said before: often, if people do things for others, expecting nothing in return and from a perfect place in their hearts, the Lord, in His great mercy, will reveal that they have done those things for themselves. Based upon the remembrances shared, today, I think my friend possessed an intimate understanding of this concept. He was the ultimate volunteer, they said. He showed up early and stayed late. We'll have a hard time replacing him, they said, and it may be impossible. Nothing made him happier than helping others.

And person after person said: he changed my life by believing in me.

Best I could, I celebrated the life of a friend, today. I wanted to be a friend until the bitter end. Then a tall man with a small Bible walked to the front of the room and reminded me: perseverance of the saints. (Google it.) This is not the end.

And thank goodness, because my friend was just as kind as he seemed.

Rest in peace, Jay. I will dearly miss your encouragement.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Last Days of Summer

Summer's been winding down, these last few weeks, and I'm sad to see it go. I don't remember being a summer person before the little kids, but--when she's contending with the buck wild energies of more than one small person--a mama learns quickly that calm, shallow waters are a godsend. Children entertain themselves in the water. Children wear themselves out in the water and sleep like rocks. The right sort of water belongs to summer. (Don't leave me, Summer!)

We went to Jellystone to celebrate Charleigh's birthday again, this year, but this time we went a bit early so as not to conflict with band camp. Also, this time (for the first time), we camped at the Luray location as opposed to the Natural Bridge one.

We went no frills (as in no bathroom or kitchen in our cabin), but I think I enjoyed myself more than ever. Our friends the Huffs were at the campground, too, and we appreciated our time with them. Jim's and my little kids all fell asleep easily at bedtime, so Jim and I were able to play spades with the big kids (Cade and our friend Sam) every night. The girls, having taken swimming lessons earlier in the summer, were able to enjoy the pool so much more than last year.

To my surprise, both girls were tall enough to ride the 30' tall, 400' long water slide. After we learned we had to go down one at a time, I didn't think there was any way in the world the girls would do it, but they did! We had a strategy: I went down first and caught Charleigh; Sam came down and caught Clementine; and Cade came down last to make sure none of us was stuck on the slide somewhere. Then right back up the kids went, Sam catching both girls, this time, before Cade came down last.

Then Jim's brother Terry, his wife Jill, and their little Adalynn Grace came to visit for a couple days. I don't think we ever left the house: we just sort of vegged, watched the entire season of Alone, and hung out in the back yard. It was so good, though. Jim and I have been in the middle of a bit of a (job-related) crap storm, so it was comforting to be with family. I took exactly one photo (of my battle-weary baby) while Terry, Jill, and Adalynn were here, but I'm going to cheat and post some previously unblogged photos of us, all from the last year.

Finally, just this week, the little kids and I spent a couple days with my sister-cousin Andrea. She had bought a book--Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky--to read to the kids and had invited us to experience Old Towne Petersburg, also Pocahontas Island: the first predominately free black settlement in Virginia, which includes two surviving houses linked to the Underground Railroad.

This turned out to be a rich experience for my little kids, who were introduced to the concept of slavery for the first time. Clementine had a blister between her toes, so we drove around as opposed to walking. I didn't take field-trip photos from Andrea's Jeep, but here are some other photos from our time in Petersburg.

My Great-Niece Haven Mae

Josie (Andrea's Boyfriend "Uncle" Barry's Daughter) Playing Volleyball

The chaos that was Uncle Barry's playing with the kids. Miracle that everyone survived. You think I'm kidding.

Andrea's Reading to the Kids

What a great summer! Cade and the girls start back to school, Tuesday; my goal is to, before then, write Charleigh's birthday post and share a bit about the past year of homeschooling. We'll see.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Erin's and Mira's Visit

I've been sitting on these photos for a few weeks, editing only a few at a time and (except for photographing the birth of a baby: eeeeee!!!) using my camera hardly at all, since.

Erin and Mira came to visit. It had been almost two years since we'd seen them. I've blogged about Erin many times before, but she was my roommate at Maryville College (freshman and senior years). We graduated in '96, and of the past nineteen years, we've spent only a year or so living in the same state; yet, honestly, she's my most "everyday" friend. She's one of less than a handful of people to whom I talk on the phone (How did I turn into my dad the phone hater?), and when we get together, we're already caught up.

I tried to be faithful with my camera while Erin and Mira were here, but believe it or not, there are whole adventures missing (most notably our day at Holliday Lake with friends, the morning the kids spent splashing in water at Red Lane Baptist, and our afternoon in downtown Ellicott City).

The day the kids and I picked Erin and Mira up from the airport, we decided to spend some time in Richmond before coming back to the house. We ate at Bottoms Up Pizza and hit the Canal Walk from there. I've spent less time in Richmond, these past fourteen years, than one might guess and had Browns Island and Belle Isle mixed up in my head; thus, we didn't make it to the latter, but the walk was (mostly) great. Lots to see.

I loved that Cade was with us. He's growing up, can stay home alone (obviously), and has his own ideas about what he does and doesn't want to do. Sometimes, when he turns down my adventures, I feel like he's taken a pin to my bubble, like the air's seeping out, a bit.

We spent another day in Richmond while Erin and Mira were here, too, but I didn't take many photos because, well...four very small children in very fancy museums. The photos I did take are mostly terrible because, again...four very small children in very fancy museums. What in the h-e-double matchsticks were we thinking (haha)?!?! I did get this photo of Cade in front of an Art Door. The story behind these doors is pretty cool.

Chiles Peach Orchard and the culminating pie. A friend from grad school (Where are you, Sarah? I miss you!) gave me the crust recipe a million years ago, and while the crust isn't as sweet as I prefer, it really is "no fail."

Breton Pie Crust

Mix 1/2 c. boiling water and 1 c. Crisco til creamy mess. Add 1 egg, 1.5 Tbsp. vinegar, 2 Tbsp. to 1/4 c. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. baking powder. Whisk together and add 3 c. flour. Mix to form a ball. Refrigerate for an hour. Makes 4 crusts.

Downtown Charlottesville.

Glen Echo Park in Maryland: such a beautiful place and worthy of more exploration in the future, for sure. Its Dentzel Carousel was installed in 1921.

Clemyjontri Park in McLean, Virginia. The carousel isn't at all comparable to the one at Glen Echo, but the playground is two acres of fun. The sun was directly overhead while we were there, and there's very little shade; we didn't linger on the playground long. The girls talked us into walking this poot of a trail before we left, though, and I'm so glad; some of my very favorite photos came from then/there.

The National Harbor. So swanky (everything=totally overpriced). Beautiful, though.

Clark's Eliok Farm (Enchanted Forest). This is one of my favorite places on earth. Poor Erin Quigley (my other college roommate...sophomore and junior years): this was her third year to accompany us, and at this point, she's onto me. She knows it's more about me than the kids. But Mira needed to experience it! And Chip really connected what he saw to the stories, this time!

Coming soon!

Downtown Annapolis.

In and around Erin Quigley's Neighborhood. This first photo is so precious to me. I wish I were in it. This was the first time both Erins and I had been together since I was pregnant with Cade. He's 15.5. I'd seen each of them many times (and they'd seen one another, once, without me), but we hadn't, the three of us, been together for 15.5 years. It was so good.

If you put women and girls together (same house, same vehicle) 24/7 for days (and especially for better than a week), those women and girls are going to start getting on one another's nerves. That's just the way things are. Erin and Mira were definitely ready to fly home to Florida by the time I drove them to BWI, and Erin Quigley was almost certainly ready for peace and quiet in her house in Annapolis. I was ready to go home and veg on my couch for a minute.

And yet.

At the moment of goodbye, I bawled like a baby. I've cried every time I've tried to talk about it, since, too. Who knows when we'll be together again?

But maybe if we lived near one another, we wouldn't value it the way we do. Maybe we would take it for granted. Maybe we wouldn't try so hard to make every moment count. So I'm thankful for it, just the way it is.