Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eating Bon Bons and Other Such Nonsense

I wasn't quite thirty weeks into my pregnancy when I found myself in the back of an ambulance deftly maneuvering through rush hour traffic.  The twins moving beneath my hand gave me comfort that everything was okay for the moment.  Still. I was still terrified.

Twenty nine weeks was too early.

What followed was a weekend of in-hospital, around-the-clock observation; scary words like "placenta previa" and "placental abruption" being thrown out and then retracted; and those horrid fetal monitors strapped around my belly as they constantly struggled to find two separate heartbeats who simply wanted to be left in peace.

In the end, the entire panel of doctors who passed through the revolving door of my hospital room simply shrugged, none having an answer as to what had happened.  What everyone agreed upon, though, was that I was now on total bed rest until a planned section at 36 weeks.

At the time, my only son wasn't quite eighteen months old and a bundle of nonstop, all-boy energy.  We quickly settled into a routine wherein my mother would come up each morning before Wyatt awoke to entertain him until his naptime.  Then, my mother in law would come take him to her house until husband made it in from work. 

The logistics were taken care of, and life plodded forward seamlessly without my help.

During those first few days as I looked up at the Strawberry Shortcake calendar pinned to the closet door beside my bed, I could not imagine how I was going to manage the monotony of staying in bed for six whole weeks plus a handful of days.  So, I did what I do best--I made a list of projects I could do in bed, a list of movies I wanted to watch, and I continued to teach online so I'd be completely caught up with papers no matter when the babies came.  My time was as full as it could be in that circumstance.

The main problem was that I couldn't imagine my mother and husband serving me for that long.  I was the whiz bang wife and mother who could do whatever she put her mind to--take an axe to those saplings, can a wheelbarrow load of pears, and make curtains all in one day?  Sure.  I could do that.

Yet, suddenly, I was helpless if I wanted these two babies to be born healthy.  My mother took over the laundry, cleaning, and childcare while my husband took over the shopping, cooking, and taking Wyatt to church.  I lay on my side, hugged my expanding belly, and just waited.

One of the hardest parts was watching others fill my shoes.  Husband would dress my son and take him to church without me for all those weeks of Sundays and Wednesdays.  Sometimes when they left, I'd sleep.  Other times, I'd cry at the silence and loneliness that comes with being on bed rest, stuck in the back of the house away from life, itself.

I remember the sadness of hearing my little boy's laugh outside the bedroom window but being unable to run and play with him.  Grand-mama stepped into my shoes to go on nature walks, sing songs in the back swing, read the same books over and over, and play games with him. 

Over the past week and a half, I've relived this season in my mind while I've had the honor of joining with others to help a friend recently sidelined by a difficult delivery that just so happened to occur the week she and her husband closed on their house.

Although she and I are different in so many ways, she reminds me so much of myself, a go-getter mom who doesn't know the meaning of "can't."  As you might expect, watching others fill her shoes has been one of the most difficult things for her to do.

Like me, this isn't what she planned either.  Instead, she and her husband tried for months to finalize the sale of their old house and purchase of the new one, but delay after delay plagued them.  When all seemed to be on permanent standby, suddenly, the closing /  move in date was scheduled for one week before the baby's birth, but again, that marker was moved forward until there was no time left for her to do it by herself.

God had worked out the timing perfectly to where she needed the help of her friends and family, so many of whom stepped up to help this woman who usually needed no help.

I have been so blessed to be able to clean, paint, remove nails, and cook a meal for her...all things she could do herself had God not placed her firmly on her bottom at this specific time.

As I held her newborn son this afternoon, I couldn't help but think back to when my mother and husband were doing everything for me.  Sometimes, I think this is what God has to do for those of us who can do so much.  Since we can, we usually won't ask for help, even if it would make things easier.  So, He arranges life's circumstances to put us in positions where we have no choice but to accept help from others.

In that way, we are blessed by being able to see how much others truly love us in their giving of themselves.  And in the process, they are blessed, too, by being able to show their love for us by being His hands and feet.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Thumbs Down to The Greeting Card Company

I tried to buy husband a Valentines card last week before the mad last-minute rush.

Starting with the top row, I opened and closed each glitter, metal-embossed, three dimensional, and laser cut creation.  With my twins temporarily turned to stone by the Medussa-like effect brought on by another VeggieTales video in the kids department of Lifeway, I had all the time in the world.

I could have easily found a card for my children, my brother, and even my parents.  But after reading row after row of poetry-filled pages, it slowly dawned on me that I was going to leave empty handed when it came to finding a card for my husband.  Each card's words were beautiful, inspired, and heart warming.  But, at their core, they felt false.  Just when I'd think I had found one I could give husband without hesitation, there would be a phrase that made me crinkle my nose, shake my head, and slide it carefully back into its slot.  I didn't believe those words in my heart.

By the time I exited the store, I wasn't just disappointed in the card selection but in my marriage in general.

Was I supposed to be able to say all those things about my husband?  Worse, should a happily married woman actually believe those things about her husband?  And if she didn't, what did that say about her marriage?

Over the next few days, I gloomily puzzled over this dilemma until I realized the problem wasn't my marriage.  It was the pedestal these cards thrust any spouse upon.  It was the use of words like best and always--terms that just weren't true.

No, I didn't think my husband was the best father or best husband.  Great?  Sure.  Devoted?  Yes.  Best?  No.  Then again, when I examined myself, I realized I couldn't label myself a best mother or wife either.  Great? Some days. Devoted? Yes. Best? Certainly not. I could easily provide a laundry list of ways I could improve.

In the end, I decided to forego any card and bought some purple/gold yarn in the color of his favorite sports team to make him a hat--something persona yet practical.  Unfortunately, Valentines Day is over, and the hat is still a puddle of yarn on the sofa, three patterns having failed to either fit his big head or not make him look like Bigfoot in tights.  But, my gift of time was still appreciated for what it was--an expression of love.

My husband's gift, though, was unusually perfect, especially since he is not big on romance.  The poor man tries and occasionally succeeds, but it just doesn't come naturally to this only child farm boy.  The running joke in our family is that his idea of a marriage proposal was to have me type up case briefs as he dictated aloud for a few hours; then he bent down on one knee and popped the question.  Yeah.  Not so romantic. 

Even though he had no idea the problem I'd had with cards the previous week, his gift remedied the problem of the store bought Valentine.

In an unromantic Wal-mart bag was a simple, brown frame with the words "I love you today because..." along with a promise he would write on it at least once a week over the next year. It's an idea I'm sure he found online, but still, it rings such truth of our relationship and of marriage in general.

All I could think was, "Yes.  This is what those cards were missing."  With their sweeping, all-encompassing statements, they missed the day to day-ness of love, which changes sometimes hourly.  They spoke of feelings I don't always feel as a wife.

This simple frame which now hangs by my back door is such a healthier perspective from which to view one's marriage--as one day at a time, as real.

I love you today because you called the credit card company and fixed their clerical error when I didn't understand what they were talking about, much less how to insist that they fix it.

I love you today because you brought home extra packets of Chick Fil A sauce, because you watched an entire movie with me that you'd probably have never watched on your own, and because you picked up a gallon of milk so I didn't have to leave the farm.

I love you today because you didn't complain about the laundry not being folded after five days, because you turned off my morning alarm when you awoke early so I could sleep in, and because you offered to rub my aching feet even though you were exhausted, yourself. 

Yeah.  I can't see any of those making it onto a greeting card.  But they are the small acts of kindness that make my heart overflow with love for my husband today, tomorrow, and the next day.

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Cord of Three Strands

Beneath the Christmas tree this past December sat three matching creme-colored James Avery bags.  Each contained a single, tangerine-orange box topped with a lighter dreamsicle shade of fluffy, orange tissue.

Tucked within the boxes were the secret treasures my mother and I had been not-so-patiently waiting to share with my sister-in-love, Liza.  You see, all three contained identical, multi-corded strands of caramel and walnut leather, each ending in a simple, silver anchor.

While the jewelry's rustic appeal was lovely in its simplicity, the bracelets were not purchased to be things of beauty.  Instead, they were to be objects of purpose, to serve as a visible reminder to constantly pray for my brother Johnathan, who would soon deploy overseas with his military unit.

The silver anchor charm was an obvious choice.  Johnathan is in the Navy will be living on a ten-story city of steel and rivets that floats atop the vast oceans.  Yet, more than that, the charm reminds us that as his family, we are his anchor back home.  In order to be that anchor, though, we must anchor ourselves in Christ and in prayer.  Otherwise, we could be just a dead weight dragging him down.  Our purpose as those "left behind" is important, even if sometimes we think it isn't.

The braided leather cord also serves to remind us of how important it is for all of his friends and family to pray for him while he is gone.  Ecclesiastes 4:12 says,  "A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart."

As I look at that rough, woven band on my wrist, I imagine Johnathan's wife, his mother, and me (his sister) serving as those three strands, the women in his life weaving a rope of prayer around him as he embarks on his tour to another part of our globe. 

This morning after I brushed my teeth and changed out of my pink, candy cane pajamas, I reached for that bracelet, knowing that today was the day he shipped out.  Just like my mother and sister-in-love, I, too, wrapped the woven, leather cords around my wrist and anchored the two ends together into a circle.

For the next ten or so months until my brother returns to American soil, I will do the same thing each day, not because the bracelet is imbued with any particular power on its own but because I don't want a day to go by without me praying for my brother.  In the mist of the chaos that is raising children, I need that visible reminder to stop and pray, over and over, as often as I see that anchor, to just pray.  Lest I forget.

So, for the next year, if you see me dressed to the nine's in black velvet, heels, and diamond earrings but then let your gaze drop to this rough, unmatching accessory on my wrist, know that it's on purpose and for a purpose.  

And when you see it, can you remember with me?  speak over me a word of encouragement, or simply lift up a silent prayer with me for Johnathan, Liza, and all his family--for God's hand of protection and peace on us all....until we are all together again.