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 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.