Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dating My Husband

She stopped me in what was supposed to be a quick-by-necessity dash through the Christian bookstore. What was I doing now? Were the children plopped in front of the Veggie Tales screen really all mine? Did I stay home with them?

As the conversation lulled, I could have made a break for it--the children were minutes away from remembering it was past their lunchtime. But I couldn't just leave without asking. My heart really needed to know.

How was her granddaughter, the one who shares my name, the one whose birthday I think of two days after my own each year?

Her lilting voice instantly dropped to the hushed tone of something that should not be said, and she held up three fingers. "She's on her third."

A vise clenched my chest--I didn't know.

Only one year older than my 34 years...and just one in a multitude of past friends who have given in to the belief that their marriage can't be fixed, that "till death do us part" really was just a suggestion.

It breaks my heart, brings tears to my eyes--for those friends, for their former spouses, for their children.


A few hours after the bookstore conversation, I stand in front of the mirror, taking a little more time than usual to touch up my make up, try on and take off two or three blouses until I find one that looks special.

Most Friday evenings see me driving back into town while everyone else is struggling to leave. I'm usually pretty tired and could easily drop the children off at my inlaws' house, turn around, and go take a nap, watch a movie, or catch up on some work.

Instead, I go have a dinner with my husband.

"Have fun on your date with daddy," Wyatt yells as I head out the door. Like a watchful parent, he adds, "Be careful! You know it'll be dark soon!"

Just a couple hours each week for us--to laugh, to catch up, to hold hands across the kindle the flame.


Today, my husband works on the red barn, ripping off the rotten front boards and adding new ones. And I? I cling a little more closely to his side, handing him nails, standing on a board he's trying to hold down and cut with the skill saw, finding dropped screws, and moving the rotten boards out of the way.

It's not that he needs my help, nor that I don't have work of my own I need to do indoors.

It's merely that I need to feel him close today, need to express my thankfulness for his love.

These small everyday intimate moments we choose to spend together, they are the breathing in and out of prayers for our family to be a living example of what Christ's eternal covenant is all about.

Photo: Side by side shoes as Doug and I work together.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wanting to Be Shallow

I want to hide them, camouflage these white tubes protruding atop the barren winter field. Yet with a septic tank lying just beneath, I must be careful what I put there.

A year ago, my aunt had a tree who kept feeling its way through the soil, far across the yard until it found a constant source of water in her tank. Once there, its roots continuously circled and grew around and inside until the tree had to be cut down.

Yes, I know the problems that roots can cause, stopping up an entire household.

This past week, I went to my parents' home and dug up an assortment of iris and narcissus bulbs, the start of a shallow flower bed to hide those white tubes.

With a more-than-a-little-misty rain falling on Monday, I shallowly inserted twenty or so bulbs in the sandy soil. Their skinny green tops doubled over, not really hiding anything at this point.

My mother shoved the concrete bird bath over there last week. And today saw me clumsily operating a post hole digger, creating a 26" deep hole in the ground for the eight foot post that held up the bird feeder my daddy put together with deck screws and scrap wood...just like the one my brother made for him a few years ago. It doesn't look like much--the molded concrete, the green shoots, the wooden pole.

But bulbs that only sink their roots a few inches in the ground and "yard art" that helps sustain the birds in the winter and summer--that's what's required here.

This concept of shallow roots has bothered me since I started thinking about this project--it goes against everything I am.

I don't know how to do that, put down anything that doesn't sink way down deep past the topsoil and into the dark depths of the earth.

That's why change is so difficult--even if it's change for the better.

Last week, I witnessed my oldest exhibiting a trait that I have struggled with since childhood--and it scared me, the knowledge that it was already taking root in him simply because he saw it in me every day.

Then and there, I ripped up some pretty deep roots in my own life and begged God to help me start again for my children's sakes.

It's been almost two weeks now, and with the Spirit's help, I have been mostly victorious so far. Each day is a struggle, wanting to sink that taproot once again to what comes easily to me.

For now, though, I'm trying to keep those roots as shallow as those bulbs I planted in the new earth, daily praying for God's help and giving myself time to mature in this new way of living before going deeper.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Growing More Beautiful

Last year, the "Mrs. Dorhauer" rose was finally beautiful. Vines, thick and hearty, climbed over and under themselves, only stopping to scatter the occasional large clusters of single roses among the web of green.

I was proud...something belonging to my husband's grandmother, and I had kept it to share with my children.

Not that I really did anything to be proud of. The extent of my contribution didn't involve much more than digging up the struggling shoot and transplanting it to its new home. Sure, I poured on a few buckets of water when its leaves crinkled threateningly in the hot summer afternoons, but mostly, I ignored it.

Still, when anyone spoke of its massive beauty, my chest swelled with pride.

When we moved this past summer, the rose had to stay behind until the cold winter days would give it a chance of surviving its own move.

I knew I would need to prune it significantly and that it would take a few years to get to its former glorious state, but when I went to dig it up today, I was completely dismayed at what I found.

Between my husband and father-in-law's less-than-motherly attempt to detach it from the red barn when they moved it here and the new renters who really don't like roses by their new fire pit, there wasn't much left.

The main center stalk had been cut almost to the ground with one thin vine shooting forth as evidence that it still lived.
Foot pounding spade into the earth, I circled round until I had freed the plant from its home. Then, I began digging a few feet away where roots had traveled underground to produce a dozen or more healthy new plants.Back at the house, I made holes in the red Louisiana clay, planting each small vine and considering how much I'd lost.

And in that instant, the plant wasn't just a plant. It was my lost children, Doug's lost career.

I couldn't help but thinking how many times have I produced something beautiful only to have someone or something come along and take it away? Destroy it?

This starting over--I know how difficult it can be. It requires much energy put to new growth. And it will never be exactly the same as it once was.

Even so, I chide myself, remembering that I didn't create what was beautiful. I had no real right to it beyond the moment it was granted me as a blessed gift from above.

It's hard, a truth I have to make peace with more often than I'd like. But in the struggling is faith that God will re-make us...hopefully, more beautiful than before.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Learning to Be Still

"No," she murmurs, resting her head in defiance against the barn. The word comes out as an almost whisper, an emotion that cannot help but be expressed but that she knows shouldn't be spoken aloud to her mommy.

Her face may appear to be facing straight forward, but I know she's watching me out of the corner of her eye, waiting to see if I'll respond, how I'll respond.

Like all my children, Amelia has an independent streak. "I do it MY self" is a phrase I hear often in this season of my life.

Yet, unlike the boys, she has always had a difficult time with sitting still, always bouncing from one activity to another.
Recently, she has started sitting for longer periods of time, giving me hope that one day, something will captivate her attention enough to keep her glued to her seat for more than five minutes at a time.

Like Amelia, I have had to learn to balance "doing" with being still.

By junior high, all I wanted to do was be still and read books. My mother blew that out of the water by limiting me to one book per week, but still, I preferred the solitude of the ink-filled page to a flurry of activities.

Now, as the mother of a busy household, I have the opposite problem, Amelia's problem.

Even in my Christian life, somewhere along the way, I equated loving Christ with activity, doing, results...not being still.

Don't get me wrong--activity, the "doing" for Christ is good. But the doing without the stillness is like building a house on the sand--one small hurricane, and it reveals what's not holding it up.

Over the past five years, I've sought the stillness.

Last week, my ladies' Bible study group began its twenty-first Bible study since Spring 2006.

In six weeks, we will finish Book 10 in Kay Arthur's Kings and Prophets series. Years ago, my mother stated she wasn't sure she'd live to complete the series.

After mixing these ten studies with various ones by other writers, here we are, years later, and much richer than we ever dreamed possible.

When I look at the list of Scripture that we've studied, I find it hard to believe we have seen that much of God in five years' worth of Wednesday mornings.

It's a miracle that God has given us the perseverance to keep going, to consistently stay in the word, to hold each other accountable.

In a group where almost every member has the wisdom of 60+ years,

I have learned with them how to be still with the Word,
how to be still with my God...
and how to listen for His voice,
seek His understanding,
breathe in His heart
that beats through the words
and makes alive my mind, heart and soul.

You can see it in our eyes, bright with excitement at God's revelations. You can hear that catch in our voices as we speak of our time in the Word from the previous week.

It's hard to explain the passion for this kind of stillness that rises up in me each time I start a study. It's like gulping down water on a cloudless summer day...

Never, never enough.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Be Patient With My Learning Curve

The kitchen timer rang, its shrill sound heard loud and clear over the twins' shrieks. For a split second, everyone stopped mid-run. Then, in her outside voice, Amelia yelled, "Jingle Bells!" and we ran to the potty.

Thus began a week of intensive on-the-potty-every-35-minutes-whether-you-need-to-go-or-not training. It was a week of verbal encouragement ("I'm proud of you!"), treats, and round-the-clock attention to the vanishing blue star on the front of the pull-up.

But by Thursday evening, my twenty-eight-month-old twins still weren't going to the potty unless the timer went off. They were still having accidents (though fewer). And they still didn't care if their underwear was wet.

I was more than a little outdone. Four days. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday.


It seemed I had learned more from the potty training experience than the twins had, and what I learned wasn't very flattering to me.

In a week where I lost a good bit of sleep over my own steep learning curve in tackling gum paste flowers for a birthday cake, I found myself increasingly frustrated with their "I don't care" two-year-old attitude.

With every lost hour of sleep, I lost a double portion of patience.

By Thursday evening, I was thrilled, knowing the next day, my mother would babysit the potty-training-failure-children while I went to give a computer training to a group of last-minute-trainees who had skipped the prior two trainings, trying to avoid the inevitable.

Thursday evening, though, I had promised to help a group of five women learn to crochet.

But I was tired. I was frustrated. And I knew if I went, I would need to stay up into the wee hours of Friday morning to finish the cake and try (once again) to craft a huge gum paste flower that was larger than any of my cutters could make and that nobody on the web could show me how to do!

I didn't want to go.

But by now, you know me well enough to know I went anyway. And with five women who wanted to learn, it was such a pleasant teaching experience.

When one of the women would make a mistake and I would need to re-teach a stitch, I heard myself speaking calmly, quietly, and in an understanding tone, none of which had I been using earlier that day with the twins.

Later that night as I attacked round two of gum paste flower-making, I felt so defeated. I'd spent several days getting so frustrated with my own flesh and blood; yet, I could treat complete strangers with kindness and patience.No wonder my children were doomed to failure. The learning curve was high, and I was expecting perfection now.

When I came home Friday afternoon, my mother told me the twins had taken themselves to the potty several times on their own. And they had been dry all day!!!

Today? The same--dry all day and taking themselves to the potty several times without my prompting. Progress after all.

"I'm so proud of you, mommy!" Amelia squealed this evening as she launched herself off the potty and into my arms. "Yes," I grinned," I'm so proud of you, Amelia."

Lord, as you are so patient with me, please grant me the ability to be patient with my own children. Fill me with your patience...because my own just isn't enough for even a few minutes.

Top Pic: Among other things this week, I learned to crochet with "fun fur." What an experience in being able to stitch without being able to see the holes! Yikes!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Guest Post: The Faith of Ronald Reagan

My husband loves to read--and write--about anything political. So, since my week has been jammed with giving a computer training, making a Sweet Sixteen cake for my best friend's daughter, and helping teach five women to crochet, well, I was glad for him to read and review Brown's new book. Without further ado...

Ronald Reagan’s name had hardly pierced my six-year-old consciousness until the afternoon of March 30, 1981, when John Hinckley, Jr. took aim and fired upon the President and his entourage. In my small parochial schoolhouse the news spread quickly, with teachers running outside to tune their car radios into news stations for information. In that moment, viewing the passion, fervor, and intensity of my teachers, parents, and older students, I began to realize Ronald Reagan was more than a faceless name at the end of my class’s listing of U.S. Presidents.

In the hours and days which followed, my family prayed a multiplicity of prayers for the President’s recovery, and along the way I discovered literally everyone in my small circle of influence believed Ronald Reagan was a leader appointed by a higher power to a higher calling.

According to Mary Beth Brown's new book The Faith of Ronald Raegan, President Reagan felt much the same way: “God, for some reason, had seen fit to give me his blessing and allow me to live a while longer" (p. 15). Later, Ms. Brown confirms President Reagan wrote in his diary: “Whatever happens now, I owe my life to God and will try to serve him in every way I can.” Others have written, “Reagan believed that God had spared his life so that he might go on to fulfill a greater purpose” (Kengor).*

In many ways, Brown’s book about Ronald Reagan’s faith begins from the premise that Ronald Reagan was a man of faith, spirituality, conviction, and principle, and the book then sets about to “prove” this contention through discussing various stages of Reagan’s life and certain members of his family.

The book certainly has a historical component to the extent it recounts events and circumstances of the Reagan presidency. The book also has a spiritual component in which Brown discusses the meaning of angels and various other theological ideas. Unfortunately, I believe the book fails to effectively “connect” Ronald Reagan to the author’s original premise in any meaningful way.

I believe Brown’s tome reads like one of dozens of papers and pieces I have crafted in graduate school, analyzing an author and his/her works as compared to a particular philosopher or school of criticism. In those papers (and in Brown’s book), the main impetus was to retell the life, story, and facts in a way which supported my own hypotheses. The result, both for me and for Brown, is a final document which communicates the original hypothet but fails to impart the whole story, the whole truth.

Brown’s choice selection of Reagan’s quotes from which a faith inference could be made is not placed alongside other quotes from which one could learn of Ronald Regan’s decided humanity. Rather, Brown presents a one-sided rendition of Ronald Reagan’s life and times—a view which is taken through the “lens” of Reagan’s unending devotion to his faith. Noticeably absent is any real-world perspective which would show how Reagan, though obviously a man of great faith, nevertheless had doubts and fears. Amazingly, Nancy Reagan’s own consultation with an astrologer is not a topic of discussion in the book.** This omission, I believe, speaks volumes regarding the manner in which Ms. Brown has penned this small book.

In the end, I would not recommend the book for an accurate and complete rendition of history. Reagan’s own An American Life amply covers that aspect. I would not recommend the book as a bastion of spiritual thought and learning. In the midst of recounting the events surrounding Reagan’s assassination attempt, Brown stops to give a nearly page-long abstract discourse on the importance of angels (p. 9). Although the section is certainly accurate and authoritative (citing the Bible and Billy Graham), it simply seems to be out of place.

Perhaps my displeasure in reading the book is summed up thusly: I brought a fair knowledge of Ronald Reagan’s life and history with me to the book; however, I hoped to learn some salient points or facts which were theretofore not commonly known. Unfortunately, Mary Beth Brown assembles an odd selection of quotes and facts to support her hypothesis, and she aligns these “pieces” of “proof” into a logically inconsistent and relatively useless book.

At the end of the day, I have no doubt Reagan was a man of devout faith, conviction, and values. I also believe an authoritative book will one day address President Reagan’s faith in a manner worthy of true scholarship and learning. Until then, I will place Ms. Mary Beth Brown’s attempt on my shelf and wait.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review, nor did I do so. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

*Kengor, Paul (2004). "Reagan's Catholic Connections." Catholic Exchange.

**Kurtz, Howard (2007-05-02). "Ronald Reagan, In His Own Words". The Washington Post.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Art of the Thank You

Four years old and never written a thank-you card before. Pathetic, isn't it?

I could excuse it as he couldn't write his letters the first few years. I could say the words would have expressed my gratitude instead of his. And I definitely could shrug it off as just one of a zillion things that has slipped through the cracks since I've had children.

Whatever the reason, this past Christmas morning when Wyatt decided one present wasn't enough and voiced his heart with the words "I'm not thankful," I became painfully aware that thankfulness doesn't come naturally.

The children and I spend our days exchanging thank you's and you're welcome's as a regular part of conversation.

But polite words don't always reflect an attitude of thankfulness.

That must be cultivated.

To that end, Wyatt and I have spent many an afternoon at a kitchen table covered with envelopes and cards. Polar bears, mallard ducks, and a black wolf adorned the front of freebie cards I'd stuffed in my stationery drawer over the years. Not exactly the type card I would send out, but they were fabulous as far as he was concerned.

In each card, he would write the name of the person he wished to thank, then pass it to me. I would remind him what that person gave him and then write exactly the words he wanted to say.

Many times, I had to suppress a snicker. Other times, I had to prompt him for other ideas concerning why he liked the gift. I loved one where he had me write. "Thank you for ____. This is Wyatt."

Afterwards, I passed the card back to him for his signature.

By the end of the stack, I could tell he was beginning to learn the art of saying thank you.

Yes, I'm sure the cards will end up in the garbage dump or a recycling bin. But, hopefully, the gratitude will continue to live on and blossom in the heart of the thankful.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Praying Against a Death Sentence

He stood, hand on shovel as I ran the garden rake across the ground, snagging on the long Alicia Bermuda runners that crisscross this old hay field turned backyard.

"I've never known one to live after it dry rooted."

He paused, thinking. "But you never know. How long ago did you dig it up?"

Thirty minutes.

As my daddy and I watered the tree in, watching air bubbles rise to the surface and foam atop the newly turned earth, I hoped thirty minutes wasn't too long.

I hadn't intended to dry root the spindly four foot magnolia tree. In fact, I had done everything to keep it from doing just that, spade piercing the earth in a complete 12 inch circle around its roots before putting shovel underneath like a lever to break the taproot.

One telltale pop, and when I lifted, all the soil fell away, loosened by last week's 2" rainfall.

So much for needing the white farm bucket.


Yesterday afternoon, my parents and I spent a few hours putting down roots. The plan was to plant the four roses that had come in the mail last weekend. But that required a plan for the flowerbeds out front.

Not really knowing what we were doing, my mother and I dragged water hoses out front, drawing bright yellow lines atop the cold ground with their flexible curves.

After planting the roses within the yellow barriers, we began selecting stones from a pallet full of large sandstone rocks. One by one, my parents, father-in-law, all three children (you knew they would want to play with rocks, too), and I set them on the ground. We had exactly enough (praise God) stones to follow the outline across the front of the house and around the north end in front of the lily bed we planted right before Christmas.

Although my husband thought me absolutely nuts several years ago, he now understands why I had him go ask for these free leftover stones after a subdivision completed its fantastic waterfall stone-wall entrance and had no more need of them. Once the stones were in place, we placed around the yard another volunteer cedar and maple tree, one unhappy-in-the-greenhouse chestnutt rose bush, and a Confederate Rose "twig".

Work done, my parents loaded up in their van to go home.

"I hope they'll grow," my mother said. "You should pray for them."Thinking of the death sentence my daddy had pronounced on the magnolia just a few hours before, I thought, "why not?"

I'd never prayed for plants to grow before, but really? Why not? What did I have to lose? And didn't the Bible say to pray about everything?

As the twins napped, Wyatt and I walked around the yard, laying our hands on each tree and rose, saying a prayer for the newly planted life.

Wyatt touched the stiff branches of the cedar. "God. Please help this tree to grow. Help it grow big and strong. Please God. Amen." If it grows, if the roses grow, if the magnolia grows--it won't be anything I did, that's for sure.

It will all be because of the Giver of Life. He will be the one who receives the whole glory.

(This musing about life in a winter-slumbering yard is my feeble attempt to join in with others at Seedlings in the Stone. L.L. Barkat has been inviting us to write from where we are about sense of place.)
On In Around button

Monday, January 3, 2011

An Incomplete Christmas Story

One Christmas during college, I played the part of Stella, the star polisher, in a children's musical. Wearing a cotton candy pink sweatsuit and a wreath of glittery gold stars in my hair, I flitted around stage with a huge wool feather duster, polishing and encouraging the stars as they waited to learn who would be THE star to shine over baby Jesus' birth.

So, when I saw Anthony DeStefano's newest children's book, Little Star, I definitely wanted it for my kids.

The story is cute--a tiny, ignored star thinks he'll be passed over in the search for the star who can shine the brightest at the king's birth. But when Jesus is born in a not-too-kingly fashion, the other stars think the baby can't possibly be a king. Only the tiny star understands; he shines brightly enough so that his beam warms baby Jesus. However, by burning so brightly, when dawn comes the following morning, the tiny star has burned himself out.

The lessons are wonderful-God using even the tiniest and poorest individuals, sacrificing yourself completely for Jesus, and believing God even when the world doesn't and looks for a different kind of Savior.

With that said, there is a HUGE flaw in the book that makes me not even want to read it to my children--the star dies the morning after Jesus' birth to be remembered each year at the top of our Christmas trees.

Uh, shepherds? Wise men anyone?

Even if it's not Scripturally accurate, I would be fine if the author had the wise men following the star to the stable. But, all the star does is warm baby Jesus.

I can just see my children saying, "But if the star died, then how did the wise men find baby Jesus?" Children who know the real Christmas story will dismiss this book as just "wrong" and miss the underlying messages.

My advice to the publisher? Add a page with the wise men. Then, republish. That's the only way it's going to make it into the must-read book list at my house each Christmas.

**WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers provides me no compensation for my review, good or bad. They merely send me a complementary copy of the publication.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Paying My Debt

I’ve heard of it happening to other people.

But to me? Never.

Last night while the world celebrated New Year’s Eve, our family didn’t. With my brother and his wife leaving at 5 pm New Year’s Eve, we decided to celebrate the night before so we could be together as a family while “ringing in” our own version of a new year—and celebrate we did.
Although our neighbors probably thought we had misread the calendar, we put on about a 45 minute fireworks show that had Wyatt saying how “brave” he was to be outdoors enjoying the boom booms…and that had the twins making a bee line for the front door (the same action Wyatt took last year) about 5 minutes into the festivities.

Earlier, we'd consumed the best BBQ shrimp swimming in a marinade that tempted you to slop up just a bit more with that sweet olive-oil-crusted french bread. Then, there was the "usual" sparkling grape juice, smoked oysters, and enough appetizer foods to count as a second entree.

With that memory less than 24 hours old, my husband and I wanted to have some quiet time, a normal meal, and a shift back into the routines that make the world go round. But, with our usual babysitters out of pocket, we decided a not-so-routine date night was better than none at all.

We chose La Carreta, a fabulous, low-budget establishment typically loud enough to drown out the noise of any screaming child. To our surprise, this time there were (maybe) half a dozen families in the restaurant.

Once the children were seated, though, I was oblivious to anyone else around us until the end of our meal. If you’ve ever tried to help two “I no need help” two-year-olds while encouraging an “I don’t like that” four-year-old to eat, then you know how a parent’s attention is totally consumed.

No, Amelia—you can’t just lick the queso off the chip and hand it back to mommy for re-dipping.

No, Wyatt, you can’t have more chips. Eat your quesadilla. Pull the shrimp out if you’re done eating the cheese and bread part.

No, Emerson, you don’t have to use your fork. But please don’t shove the entire piece of broccoli in your mouth at one time.

No, Amelia—it’s not ketchup! It’s salsa, and it’s hot!...Well I TOLD you it was hot! Have some water.

Amazingly, we finished the meal with all my sanity intact. Nobody had screamed, thrown a tantrum, overturned a plate. I hadn't yelled at anybody, threatened to drag someone to the bathroom for a talking to, or made stern faces sure to earn me a few more wrinkles.

Most of the food was in three full tummies rather than the floor. And I actually even had time to eat my tacos and drink my beverage (that’s a miracle in itself) before everyone decided (at once, of course), “I need pee pee potty.”

We paraded with great flourish to the bathroom. When I returned, Doug stood up, grinned, and said, “Somebody paid for our meal.”

I grinned in return. “Really!? Who?”

An unknown patron--what a blessing.

It’s not so much the money (my tacos cost $2.50). Instead, it was the willingness of a stranger to pay our debt.

And I wanted to ask "why me?" What did we do to deserve this? Why pick us over the other couples in the restaurant? Did this person go there tonight planning to be such a benefactor? Or did it just strike his fancy when he saw us?

Did we look that pitiful trying to feed three hungry little birds? Did I look too haggard because I forgot to put on makeup today?

What did he see in us?

Did he watch us bow our heads as Wyatt said the prayer? Did he see the love we have for each other as a family?

Maybe it was something, maybe nothing.

And now as I write this, I wonder—was he still there, watching our excited response when we learned our debt had been paid?

I'll never know the truth, but I like to think there was a little bit of Jesus shown to us tonight. And my prayer is that this person knows what it's like to have his debt completely wiped clean by our Savior.