Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Strongest of Cords

A little boy and his cat--February 2008.
Same boy, same cat--November 2009
Some mothers may fall in love with their babies at first sight. But I didn't. Three short years ago tonight, it was impossible for me to imagine how large a piece of my heart I was about to give away.

In the delivery room, I remember thinking my firstborn son, Wyatt, was beautiful. I remember swelling with happiness as the nurses lay his swollen, pink-faced, swaddled body in my arms for the first time. I remember feeling an irrational first-time mother's possessiveness when someone else held him along with an equally irrational desire to protect him against everyone and everything.

Later, I also remember thinking I might break him, he was so tiny...and that if he didn't stop crying for hours on end and start sleeping for more than two hours at a time, I might have a breakdown.

Those first few days and weeks, my heart did not long to be near him. Love, in the truest dictionary sense, just wasn't an emotion I felt for this squalling figure who demanded everything but was satisfied with nothing.

And yet, my love for him grew each time I held him, each trial we overcame, each milestone we passed--together...from his first words to the paragraphs he rattles off today. From the leaky diapers to the success of being potty trained. From crying each time I left him anywhere to bouncing into a familiar place and saying, "Bye mommy."

Like a tiny morning glory's seed sprouts in the moonlight and its wiry tendrils creep ever so slowly, winding around the fencepost. The plant grows too slow for the naked eye to observe until the entire fence row is seemingly overnight entangled in forever cords of green and brightly colored blossoms that burst open wide with the dawn of each new day.

What once was a single, delicate tendril, easily broken, is now a mass of strong vines unable to easily be separated from the fence.

That is my love for Wyatt.

I don't remember when I started loving him. I just know I do.

Thank you God for three years of being able to love this little boy. On this his third birthday, my prayer is for many more years of love and laughter to come and for him to learn to love my Jesus as I do.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Thought I Knew What "G" Meant

Everywhere I've turned lately, I have heard wonderful things about Disney's new movie, The Princess and the Frog. It has the first African-American princess and is set in New Orleans, which as a Louisiana resident, was a huge selling point.

Since my almost three-year-old had never before gone to the movies, I thought this would be a fun introduction to the world of the big screen.

Boy was I ever wrong.

As usual, we left for the 10 am showing with no extra time to spare...not a great idea in Christmas traffic. Also as usual, Wyatt gave me another backseat lesson on how to drive. Today's lesson concerned what to do with traffic signals.

At one intersection, I was slowing to obey the reduced speed limit when Wyatt suddenly yelled like a cheerleader encouraging a wide receiver, "Green light! Go! Go! Go!" Then, the light ahead turned red. "Stop mommy! Red light means stop!"

(There aren't enough exclamation points for this child's decibel level in enclosed spaces.)

Despite my pathetic driving skills, we made it, got our tickets, and marched to the very top row as the previews were showing.

Wyatt didn't like the fact that the theater was in the dark, something I hadn't even thought to prepare him for. But as long as he was in my lap or my arm was around him, he was fine.

His mommy, on the other hand, was not fine with the movie's content.

The movie was rated G (I made certain of that beforehand) which means "
nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters that, in the view of the Rating Board, would offend parents whose younger children view the motion picture".

But this Christian mother of a young child was offended.

What the movie reviews don't dwell on is the Satanic evil promoted throughout--the magic of voodoo--and I consider that offensive. Sure, I expected voodoo to be mentioned since it's associated with New Orleans, but I had no idea voodoo would be one of THE central themes of the story.

For example, the main evil character, referred to as the Shadowman, is a evil voodoo magician who turns the Prince into a frog by twice getting the Prince's blood into a voodoo talisman. He makes deals with the black voodoo spirits (his "friends on the other side") and then sends these terrifying-looking black shadowy spirits to hunt down the Prince and the future princess, Tiana. If I were a kid, those shadows would have given me nightmares. And even the fairy godmother-type character, Mama Odie, is connected with voodoo as a white/good priestess.

Oh how dumb, dumb, dumb I feel for not reading more about this movie before we went.
I'm careful about what I allow him to watch on TV. PBS and our DVD collection are the only things he's allowed to watch without first going through the mommy/TiVo commercial censor.

Thankfully, it all seems to have gone totally over Wyatt's head. As we walked from the darkness into the bright sun , all he cared about was lunch, and he hasn't mentioned the movie since.

His innocence shone through when I asked if he'd like to have a roast beef sandwich at Arby's. He misheard me and the entire ride there kept saying "I have a Darby sandwich at Darby's" (Darby is Winnie the Pooh's friend).

It's so hard to keep that innocence. I don't want to let it go any sooner than I have to.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For Better, For Worse

Nine years ago tonight, we had successfully said our vows, signed the paperwork in front of witnesses, cut the cake, hugged everyone in the receiving line, and taken more pictures than we ever had before. My family laughingly gave this photo the caption, "Doug dragging Jennifer down the aisle."

And he kinda was. After finishing the actual ceremony, which he considered the last marital hoop to reach the finish line, he was ready for the honeymoon suite.

What he didn't know was that the honeymoon suite was an omen of our life to come. The fireplace electric heater was broken. The hotel's staff came in two times to fix it (not quite romantic), but they failed miserably. So, we spent a very frigid night trying to sleep in a ginormous ice-box. Since neither of us sleeps well when cold, we woke up sleepy and grumpy the first day of married life. And by the end of our honeymoon a week later, we both were bedridden with a bad case of the flu.

And there went the honeymoon phase of our marriage.

I'm glad we didn't know what the "for better or worst" vow would mean for the next 9 years.

But through the worst--the loss of two babies, the loss of a job and a career, the almost loss of a limb in the chainsaw accident, the problematic births of all three of our children--through all the worst, we've grown closer. I mean, anybody who helps bathe you when you're wounded and scarred, who shops and cooks for you--those acts of kindness are the ones that make you appreciate each other.

And today it was funny to watch what our anniversary has turned into.

Pre-children, Doug would've sent me a huge arrangement of roses that I'd have to watch with vigilance because the cats like to eat rose leaves. Now? For the first time--no cut roses. Instead, a gift certificate to Jackson & Perkins so I can buy roses to grow at our long-awaited "new house." My heart just melted at this symbolic gift of life and permanence.

Pre-children, we would have dressed up and gone to Melting Pot and spent two, quiet, romantic hours in peace. Now? My shirt had kid snot wiped on it, and somebody's footprint was stamped on my jeans. Instead of dinner, it was a crowded luncheon at La Madelaine's with three children + my mother added to the noisiest table in the room. Three baby birds needing to eat everything on our plates and imitating a monkey's call when our hands didn't work fast enough. One big bird had a squalling meltdown when he discovered we were all "sharing" the one piece of chocolate sacher torte. And then that same bird picked up the plate and licked every last drop of chocolate sauce off. (Yes--it was that good).

My grandmother asked me the other day if I were wearing a new ring. I looked down at it. It did look a lot shinier than normal, but not because it spends most of its life on a shelf.

"No," I said. "Same old wedding ring. I've just been washing sippy cups a lot each day so it stays shinier."

Just like my marriage--more work I put into it, the shinier it gets. Now, it does make it easier to see the defects. But it also makes it easier to see the beauty of the whole.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nothing Like the Picture on the Box

When my almost 3-year-old isn't disparaging my driving skills, he uses the time he's strapped in the van's back seat to pepper me with out-of-the-blue statements that leave me wondering what book he has secretly stowed back there to spark such a wild imagination.

This week's hit-the-brake moment was Wyatt's declaration that he wanted to make a gingerbread house.

I'm sure my mother made more than one gingerbread house during my childhood, but in my mind, I remember only one such creation that sat on the hallway table. I can envision its rock hard royal icing, cardboard base, and candies that looked good enough to eat but were off limits. I also remember it taking her forever to decorate.

This memory was enough for me to know a house was not something I really wanted to undertake until all three of my children were old enough to actually remember and appreciate my labors.

This Grinch of a mommy said "no." The next day when we visited my parents, his very first words were, "Ma-ma! I want to make a gingerbread house!"

A $10 donation to Wilton and Wal-mart later by those same grandparents, and his house was more than just a pipe dream.

The everything-in-a-box kit pictured a snow-covered house with beautifully drawn straight lines making a criss-cross pattern on the roof, perfectly spaced icicles dangling from the eaves, identically-sized windows, and full evergreen trees crafted from shredded gum drops.

By the time we finished, ours looked nothing like the box.

For starters, this house wasn't up to code. It came pre-built with a slight lean. Then came Wyatt's concept of decorating--every last piece of candy that came with the kit had to go on the house. My attempt at straight lines and uniformly-sized windows also failed because Wyatt kept bumping my arm or turning the house. And I'm still scratching my head over how Wilton's decorators got their gum drop trees to look like pine feathered limbs versus my mini cubes stuck together.

Nothing like the box.But it made a little boy happy. And I must admit it was fun.

And yet it made me think about the Christmas story, how the reality of the nativity is nothing like what's pictured on our cards, ornaments, and framed art.

You've seen the pictures--sweet, beautiful Mary without a crease in her brow as she watches over her never-crying baby sleeping in a manger lined with perfectly spaced, clean straw. Surrounding her is a pristine stable full of perfectly-groomed animals as spotlessly-clothed, well-manicured shepherds kneel quietly before Jesus.

Yeah right. Let's face it--childbirth is a messy, sweaty, exhausting ordeal. If Mary's labor was anything like mine, she looked pretty haggard. And if Joseph stuck around through the entire ordeal, I'm guessing he didn't look too hot either.

And then there's the stable. Ever been in one? They stink. They're dirty. And if this stable was actually a cave as modern scholars have suggested, it was damp, too. Damp + animal poop = really stinky.

The manger? Imagine a feed trough, a crude, wooden box coated with years of caked-on slobbery cow spit and slimy pig snot.

Finally, consider the shepherds--in reality, these were extremely low-class people, not exactly accepted in polite society. They may not have had a bath in weeks, and I'm thinking Mary probably raised more than one protective new-mother eyebrow at several strange, drunk-sounding men bursting into the stable telling a wild story of angels.

Not the sanitized nativity picture we see this time of year.

But the reality of Christ's birth just makes it that much more amazing that He would leave heaven for someone like me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

God Shops Wal-Mart's Clearance Aisles Too

A few weeks ago, Jennifer @ Getting Down with Jesus published a post about starting a Prayer Shawl Ministry . I love this woman more than should be possible since we've never actually met. Her heart note resounds a perfect C in Christ, so when I read her words, I listen for God to speak to me.

Two weeks later, the prayer shawl ministry was still in the forefront of my mind as something God was prompting me to do, but the online pattern looked a bit more intense, meaning "too many places for me to screw up!" since I have little time to crochet without the the three children demanding my attention.

If it's not a pattern I can easily do while both twins cry about something and my other 3-year-old son sings in a not-so-inside voice...well, then it just won't get done.

So, I did what many daughters do--I went and asked my mother if she could simplify the pattern for me, and she did.

A day later,I opened my closet and unveiled part of my "stash" of yarn, and her mouth just dropped open. "You know what this means, don't you? You know why God gave you this yarn?" As I handed her a few skeins, I answered. "Yes, I do."

Three or four years ago, Wal-mart put on clearance for $1 or $2.50 a skein (reg. $4.50 each) all their homespun Lion Brand yarns. Beautiful teals and eggplant purples, waterfall blues and quartz beige/browns--I didn't know what I'd ever do with that much yarn, but I felt compelled to buy it all. With my husband's eyes rolling heavenward at what would his nutty wife possibly want next, he agreed, and I brought 3 huge boxes to our home where I promptly tucked them away in closets...for years.

But I've been so excited lately about this yarn. It's proof that God has been at work in my life in different areas I hadn't even thought would be an area where God would work! He is the one who prompted my heart all those years ago to buy the yarn. But it took this many years to conform my heart and spirit into a humble attitude of service where I would be willing to spend my personal time making this gift for someone not in my family. It took this long for me to not just hear another's need, but to feel it, to grieve over it.

God has given me a heart transplant, replacing a stoic one with a heart so tender, I can't wear mascara anymore unless it's waterproof. He's given me a heart for this ministry. In one week's time, the ministry has taken off. I am a few rows from finishing a prayer shawl for a lady whose husband will pass away soon from liver disease. And I'm halfway through another one for a good friend who's having a rough time with her insecure job situation. My mother, as well, has finished one prayer shawl for a woman whose husband just lost his job. And she's now making one for her mother in law who is nearly always in pain because of her physical condition. All of these shawls came from "THAT" yarn.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least to find out that God stocks Wal-Mart's clearance aisle with other surprises that can be used for His kingdom work, if we're paying attention.

Thank you God for being patient with me. Thank you for not just finding somebody else for the ministry. Your patience, your waiting--they humble me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"THE Talk"

"How do you tell your children about this? Don't you just dread that talk?" she asked.

I flinched at the questions. "No," I replied quickly, only to hear my heart whispering, "and yes, too."

A week ago, a simple white envelope in the mailbox gave my husband and me an evening where we paused in sadness, lowering our shoulders in defeat yet again. Because of one woman's lie to protect herself almost five years ago, my husband permanently lost his Louisiana law license earlier this year. And now, the other state where he practiced law, Mississippi, has done the same.

There went Plan B for his career and our family's future. But this time, there were no tears, no feeling of brokenness inside. Most days, we accept that God has caused this to happen for our eternal good. Most days, this catastrophic event is just something else to tuck away in our hearts as we move forward in a renewed life full of God's grace and blessings.

But my mother was right--he and I will need to sit the children down one day all too soon and tell them their daddy's story, a story any child can relate to of someone not telling the truth because she didn't want to get in trouble.

Since the Internet makes history permanently visible for public consumption, I don't want them relying on a google search for a definition of their father's character.

Google doesn't even tell a tenth of who he is.

It doesn't show a man who refused to lie when offered the deal to sell out somebody else in order to save himself and his family from this shame.

It doesn't tell of a man so generous with his money and time that the thought of him trying to defraud anybody is laughable.

It doesn't show the long days and nights he works to support his family only to come home and put in more hours playing with his children, changing diapers, and helping out with supper.

It doesn't tell of the humble spirit, the many hours he spends in God's word, the heart that loves Jesus.

No, Google doesn't show any of that.

And that's what I'll tell my children...when they're ready.

(Photo: My man, home from work and arms already full before the tie comes off.)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An I.Q. of Zero

Newsflash! I am now officially the dumbest mommy in the world...or at least that's what my almost three-year-old would have me believe.

It's amazing that I've spent 30+ years without questioning my ability to function in the world, only to learn I've been wrong, wrong, wrong the entire time.

For starters, I have no idea what the weather is really like outside. It doesn't matter if I've consulted the local meteorologist's report or if I've merely watched with my own eyes the dark clouds barrel closer towards us. Whatever--I'm wrong.

If I say, "It's too cold to go outside," Wyatt says, "It not too cold outside!" If I say it's nice weather, he says, "No. It hot out here." If I hear thunder in the distance and say it's going to rain, he retorts, "It no rain." And even when the rain is pouring like a waterfall off our roof, he has to actually look out the window and see it before he believes me...and sometimes not even then.

Next, I don't know how to feed my child a decent meal. I'm not talking about his holding the party line with the phrase "I no love broccoli" each time I put broccoli on my plate. No. The food I put on his plate is always wrong. It's too hot, too cold, too yucky, too "slip-per-y" to stay his fork. But put tomatoes, croutons, pasta, carrot sticks or anything else on my plate, and even if the same exact thing is on his plate, too, it's suddenly better. My plate, my spoon, my fork, my glass--somehow, they make the meal palatable.

And finally, I don't know how to drive. I haven't had a wreck that was my fault since my first year of college, and yet with Wyatt in the backseat, I'm a car racing maniac ready to plow into someone around the next curve. With each bump in the pavement, he screams, "Be more careful, mommy!" If I hit the brake a little harder than usual, he frantically asks, "What happened? Are you ok, mommy?" With each curve taken over 5 mph, he yells, "You turnin' me over like a tow truck!" And even when I'm not driving the speed limit, he's yelling, "Woah! Slow down! You going to get a ticket!"

And these stories don't even mention my awful taste in music ("I no like that!"), my poor taste in clothes ("But I no need to wear pants!"), my radical views about nap-taking for mommy's sanity ("But I not sleepy!"), my dangerous views about invisible scratches not being a big deal ("I need a band-aid!") , or my ridiculous ideas about saying "I'm sorry" even if it was an accident (Silence).

Who knew I couldn't read a weather map, couldn't cook, couldn't commandeer a van with power steering...couldn't be a good mother?

Whatever happened to that bedtime story where young children idolize their parents and think their parents are perfect?

I'm not sure who made up that lie, but they never met my Wyatt.

Photo: Wyatt at the twins' 1st b-day, after eating ice cream and expressing his view that cutlery is just for table decoration.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Removing Blood Stains

The cozy sanctuary of this morning's Bible study was interrupted by my father opening the door. His serious eyes searched for mine as he beckoned me to come.

"It's Amelia. She's hurt herself."

A mommy's heart sinks at those words.

Then I learned the facts: the twins had sneakily gone cabinet shopping while Oma took a quick phone call. Butter-fingered Emerson then let an unopened jar of jelly drop two feet onto Amelia's hand. And now her finger was cut, bleeding, and swelling.

In seconds, I had gone from the quiet serenity of understanding God's word with my ladies to the anxiousness of not knowing how serious my daughter's condition was.

The adrenaline of a mother called into action surged through me. Hazard lights flashing, I drove as fast as I thought wouldn't get me killed on empty back country roads. Visions of stitches and surgery roared through my head as I spun into the gravel drive, seat belt off before the van was even in park.

And there she sat on the rug with Oma--not crying, not even caring that she was bleeding on everything. Her shoes, her outfit, her cheek--smeared with blood.

So much blood from such a small finger--steadily painting everything it touched with deep crimson drops.

At the pediatrician's office, the lady doctor smashed the finger again, making it bleed all the more. Her instructions: watch for increased swelling and come back in tomorrow to drill a hole in the nail if it is worse.

In the meantime, no band aids because she might swallow them and choke. Just let it bleed and keep it clean with antibacterial soap and ointment. Easy instructions from someone not having to clean up the bloody mess.

Two pair of shoes, two outfits, bedclothes and blanket, my shirt, Emerson's clothes, the linoleum tile, the stuffed rocking dog--and that's just to name a few on my list to clean. At one point this afternoon after Amelia tripped and caught herself with her hurt hand, I held her crying form as blood dripped down my neck.

I've washed my hands until they're dry and begging for a drink of lotion. But they still have that metallic smell.

As I stood at the washer to scrub the blood stains out of my shirt this evening, my mind went back to Mary. I know we remember Jesus' birth this time of year, but the events of today have reminded me of the cross, of the sacrificial blood Jesus shed.

Scripture tells us Mary stood beneath that cross. As the blood streamed down my Savior's body and gravity brought the drops to the foot of the cross, it's likely her clothes were stained with that precious blood. In her poverty, she probably just couldn't throw those clothes away.

It's not found in Scripture, but I still wonder if she stood, like me, scrubbing the life blood of her child from her garments.

My mother's heart pains with that thought. And it wonders.