Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Refiner's Fire

My mother and I stole a few minutes yesterday for ourselves. With no "don't touch or eat that" children in tow, we stepped into a local antique store just to browse. To my surprise, in the first booth, I saw the same decorative blue and white heart-shaped plate that adorns my wall.

Only this one didn't have a story to tell.

In my dining room hangs a tableau of eight blue and white lacy-edged plates, each a different shape and size. Then, on an adjacent wall, all by itself hangs a single heart-shaped plate.
After its journey, it seemed to have earned a special place in my home.

During the great move to our new home a few months ago, we emptied box after box in rapid succession as I sought to make this house a home. The back porch became a convenient home for the empty boxes. In a few days, it was packed with different-sized boxes thrown atop each other, some stacked atop each other, towering high like angular skyscrapers. To the artist, it looked like a cubist, Picasso-esque vision of what a city skyline might look like.

In a few days, my mother decided it was time to reclaim the porch. The good boxes were folded down and put in the attic. But the great majority of them, we carted to a make-shift burn pile. Sweating against the towering flames alight in mid-day, mid-summer Louisiana heat, she and I fed each box to that fire for over an hour and then left it to burn itself out.

The next day, it started raining and didn't let up for a few weeks. The remaining boxes started piling up on the porch until one dry day, I walked out to burn this smaller second set of boxes. To my surprise, there in the black ash lay the heart plate, stark white in contrast to the charred pieces around it. We had missed it during the unpacking.

Amazingly, the plate was still perfect other than one small chip on its right side and an almost imperceptible crack ran across its face, easily remedied by a little fabric tape concealed against its back.How many fires has this household gone through? How many impurities burned away? How many chips and cracks from the burnings; yet, no one ever notices?

But how much more beautiful now than before.

"This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The LORD is our God.' " (Zech. 13:9).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

For the Fragile

Tomorrow marks two years since the end of six weeks of bed rest, since my body's organs began shutting down and my blood pressure skyrocketed, since the emergency delivery of my perfect 36-week old twins.

Two years--and I still have difficulty remembering.

It's not that the remembering is difficult because of an imperfect memory. It's that my memory works all too well.

Recalling the smell of fear in everyone's voices as they spoke as if I were deaf and dumb. Watching the frantic rush of a dozen or so doctors and nurses as they prepared to deliver the twins. Noticing my doctor's furrowed brow and clenched jaw of concern as he read my charts two days post-delivery. Feeling guilty because my healthy babies were taken away to the nursery for the first 48 hours when I wasn't well enough to care for them.

The infamous "they" say you forget pain...which is why women choose to have more babies after baby #1. But now, two years later, I still haven't forgotten.

I haven't forgotten sitting in that hospital bed, holding my husband's hand, and realizing I may not see my thirty-first birthday. As my numbers continued to increase, I remember crying, telling my husband what to do if I didn't make it, what I wanted him to tell my children.

Even now, it's so fresh, so real.

My brush with death, the thought in the back of my mind that if not for God's hand intervening, my children would now be motherless--it does something to a person.

It did something to me.

Last Wednesday night, I learned that a little girl born three days after my twins' birth is facing the possibility of a leukemia diagnosis. Her grandmother and aunt actually visited me in the hospital as they awaited the birth of baby Grace.

Since then, as I made my twins' birthday cake, as I prepared for their happy party, as I looked through the pictures--I have thought of Grace. I've never met her, but she consumes my thoughts and breaks my heart as I pray for her, thinking it could easily be my darlings.

This life--it's as fragile as the eggs my son collects from Oma's chicken coop.

Even though I am frazzled at the end of most days, even though I'm more than a little ready for the silence of bedtime an hour before it gets here, I am thankful for each day I am given...maybe even a little more thankful than before.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Failed Attempt at Separate but Equal

There's a boat in my bathtub, a lime green washcloth hanging where my purple one should be...and my favorite tennis shoes are in the trash.

All courtesy of motherhood.

I had this oh so crazy notion that once we moved into our new home with more than one bathroom that I would finally have a room of my own. More than that, I thought I would have a throne of my own and a tub of my own.

No more pee on the seat. No more kids' toys falling on me when I bumped them off their side-of-the-tub perches. No more gritty sand residue when I settled in for a soak.

To encourage my three children to love their bathroom, I decided to make it as equally fabulous as mine. I decorated it with a favorite animal--monkeys just like Curious George. Everywhere they look, huge, happy-faced monkeys with long, curling tails mischievously peek out from behind the mirror, hang from the ceiling, or swing from a leafy vine.

But for some reason, my oldest son decided he didn't want to take a "bath." No, instead, he wanted to take a shower with daddy. Such a cute request, daddy caved in at the thought.

And so now, there is a boat in my tub, a washcloth on my bath hook, and small, extremely wet footprints on the bathroom rug.

It seems I can't separate "me" from my "Mommy me".

This concept was hammered home this past Wednesday morning when I went to put on my tennis shoes. Six months ago, they fit. But when I needed them to ford the thunderstorm's rising waters? My toes pushed against the ends.

Blame it on carrying around three children. Or blame it on a heavy, taxing move to our new home. Either way, my sudden possibly-falling-arches-foot-growth is proof positive that every part of my life will literally affect every part of my life.

I really should know better by now--trying to keep separate the various facets of my identity: church life in one room, motherhood in another, Bible study in the bedroom, school work down the hall.

It never works. And it never really will.

I quietly close each door when I exit, but before I'm out of sight, it's already back open, with every room freely spilling its contents into the hall until everything is impossibly mixed together.

In a way, I guess that's actually a good thing, for if each of you dipped into my life and pulled out a scoop-full, each jumbled mess would always reveal the same me--mom, wife, writer, teacher, sister, daughter...devoted servant of God.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Withered on the Vine

In "life before children," my husband would bring me roses to celebrate each monthly "anniversary."

A sucker for flowers, I tried everything to be able to enjoy them for as long as I could. Alas, no matter what I did, I was only prolonging the inevitable.

Tap or bottled water. Plant food or not. Carefully cutting 1" off the stems or just shoving them in a vase: they would still wither and die.

As part of their dying process, most roses open wide in full-blossom, then drop their petals. Gravity presses down, and one by one, they relinquish their connection and fall, breaking free from the source that birthed and nourished them.

Presently, a potted rose on my front porch defies what I've learned about roses.

Several weeks ago, a blossom opened--crimson red and filling the immediate air around it with that sweet aroma unique to old roses.

Knowing how my children love flowers, too, I expected to find evidence of a snatch-and-grab any day.

Yes, I have witnessed several grubby hands (and snotty noses) snatch and grab and smell. And yes, each day, my oblivious children crash their riding toys into the rose's pot.

I've watched the vine shake violently with each car accident, repeatedly smashing the fully-opened rose into the concrete beneath it. Yet, despite their best (or worst) efforts, here I am weeks later and each petal has stayed firmly attached to its source.

This particular blossom has now been on the vine so long that it has started to show signs of age--once smooth, youthful petals are drying up into shriveled, crunchy shells of their former selves...all while still attached to the vine.

Such a compelling image...

No matter how many times life crashes into me or grabs me a little too roughly, I want to stay firmly attached to the One who created and sustains me.

I want to wither on the vine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Unable to Expect the Unexpected

There are so many situations where a little advance notice would have helped my reaction. I could have chosen my words carefully or prepared my heart to deal with the emotions it was asked to experience. And I certainly wouldn't be frozen mid-movement while my heart tightens within my chest.

But that's not possible when raising children.

My four-year-old, Wyatt, always seems to come up with thoughts or questions that make me wonder what's really going on in that head of his. Mostly, his unexpectedness is appreciated, making life have flavor, mystery, and the delightful joy of childhood's inquisitiveness. Yet, sometimes...

Friday evening, I was delivering him to Oma and Opa's house for "date night." For the life of me, I can't remember his words before or my words after. Me, the woman who can replay entire conversations in my mind from ten years ago is left remembering only seven of his words.

"I wish I had an older brother."

It's been a long time since he and I talked about my two miscarriages. He's been told that God chose to take those babies home to heaven before he was born, but it's not something we've discussed recently.

Fall is not the time of year I think about these losses. But Wyatt's longing for the baby who was but wasn't kept returning to my mind, making me mourn again not for myself but for him.

In passing, I relayed Wyatt's words to my husband, not letting on the weight these seven simple words brought to my heart. No one knew they kept coming back to my mind at random times of the day.

But God.

How many times in my life have I said those words? How many times have they brought joy, relief, comfort, understanding long before I even asked for it?

At Wednesday morning Bible study, my mother shared a book she had found while flipping through an 80 page CBD Christian book catalog. Of all the 1000+ books advertised within, I firmly believe God pointed her to a book entitled Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. Not knowing Wyatt's words only days before, she read aloud the book's description:

"Is there life after death? Just ask 4-year-old Colton, who emerged from life-threatening surgery with astounding details about heaven! Colton's detailed account includes floating away looking down on his dad praying in the hospital, seeing God's throne, and meeting relatives--including his sister who died in a miscarriage (and whom his parents had never mentioned)" (my italics).

This may not be the kind of "stuff" you believe in. But I believe there are no coincidences in life. There are only God-incidences.

But. God.

Photo: An unexpected gift this morning from Wyatt--drooping morning glories laid atop my Bible.

Monday, October 11, 2010

When I Think I'm Weak

Since the twins' birth, most of my days wrangling children are filled with reminders of my personal weakness and total lack of ability to do most anything right.

Cheerios? Amelia dumped her bowl onto the floor four times this morning. And I let her eat them anyway.

Laundry? Three loads later, and I have failed to get the dirt pile stains out of the khaki-colored shorts daddy dressed Wyatt in on Saturday.

Supper? Eaten in three shifts versus my vision of family togetherness because daddy was stuck in eternal traffic and I broke down to let a feverish Wyatt watch the long-awaited Finding Nemo.

I'm weak. I'm holding my head in my hands many times before breakfast is even finished.

But because I already know I'm weak, I tend to believe God doesn't need to remind me of that fact. Why can't He can just check off that box on my learning chart?

I. Get. It.

But not fully enough.

So, He makes me weaker, sending an early fall cold to invade our household. Last week, despite my intentions, I posted to this blog only once as I filled the roles of both patient and nurse. First me, then Amelia, then their daddy, and now Wyatt. Fever, headache, aching limbs, and three tiny Old Faithful noses that balk at being wiped or blown.

Somewhere, in the midst of my increased weakness, God spoke, reminding me of someone else who was weak, someone else who was suffering on an entirely different level...and whose suffering wouldn't pass in a week or two like mine would.

He reminded me of the ministry He gave me about a year ago--crocheting prayer shawls. Three skeins of Williamsburg blue, a size N crochet hook, and me working in my weakness, hoping and praying to bring some comfort to this woman through my hands and my prayers.

I planned to finish the shawl up to deliver on Saturday, but God had other things in mind. His "now" meant "now." To make sure I understood, He caused the phone lines and the Internet to quit working for the next 24 hours.

Posting to this blog? Not in His will for last Thursday. Instead, I sat and finished the shawl, chaining loops of prayer and tying knots of hope on both ends for an earlier Friday delivery.

Just yarn and knots. Just one weak woman submitting in that weakness to a strong, compelling voice in her soul.

And in that stillness, I remember once again where my strength comes from.

Photo: A blossom from my night blooming cereus. Beautiful only in darkness, it wilts with the first rays of morning sun.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Handling the Truth

Earlier this month, I adventurously dared take the time to try on a few blouses from the clearance rack. The result was a wailing chorus from the stroller of strapped-in discontent, loud enough for half the store to hear.

Then came Wyatt with his Joan Rivers impersonation. As soon as I slipped the cobalt and emerald green blouse over my head, he said, "Mommy! You look Awwwwwful!"

Thankfully, the twins' escalating disapproval covered what was probably several ladies snickering in the other dressing rooms.

The truth.

It's a daily problem in this season of my life, teaching my almost four-year-old Wyatt to always tell the truth, that lies make mommy and Jesus said. I should have guessed my child would pick the dressing room as his chance to practice what I've been preaching. The rest of the time, he's been reluctant to be so blatantly honest.

For instance, Wyatt has now matured to the point where he understands the true value of siblings--they are great scape goats! In better news, though, he has yet to master the art of the lie. Wyatt has so many tells, it's not hard to identify a lie from the God's honest truth.

Sometimes, he'll blame a crime on Emerson, not realizing Emerson has been reading books with me the entire time the supposed incident happened.

Then one day, he ran halfway across the house to find me. "Mommy, mommy! Amelia's doing something naughty! You have to come punish her!"

This is not an unusual scenario. And generally, the twins are being more than a little naughty. This time, the red crayon scribbles on the kitchen tile floor were a testament to extreme naughtiness.

Squatting down by Amelia's chair, I began to fuss at her only to see her eyes glaze over with a blank stare. It was obvious she had no idea what I was talking about.

And that's when I noticed the crayon in question was by Wyatt's chair, not hers.

After a little prodding and reminders about the consequences of lying, he confessed.

It's a battle, not just with him, but with my own mind and soul. I try to tell him that the truth is always better than a lie. But in the back of my mind, I hear Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men with Jack Nicholson yelling, "You can't handle the truth!"

And if I'm honest with myself, I don't always want to hear the truth. Sometimes, I'd prefer a little white lie so I can go on without any worry, fear, or need to make changes.

It's not that I want to be lied to. I just don't want to be bothered with a truth that's different from the one I have already created in my mind.

My husband and a certain re-purposed hall table can attest to this fact.

And so can my heavenly Father.

Interesting, isn't it--an almost thirty year difference in age, but Wyatt and I are both the same, learning to embrace the honest, complete truth.