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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Control

I sometimes refer to myself as a reformed control freak.  I think a better term would be "recovering" control freak.  Just like alcoholism, I think once a control freak, always a control freak.  No matter how much we learn, how many books we read, how much praying we do, some part of our brain will always revert to control freakism if we don't ride herd on it.

I started realizing how little control I really had just before I sobered up.  My life had spiraled completely out of control and there was very little I could do about any of it.  So I kind of gave up.  An amazing thing happened.  God took care of me.  He provided me with a place to sleep, food to eat, friends to support me, and anything else I could ask for.  I wasn't aiming very high.  Sometimes it was Ramen noodles for days on end.  But I had no idea where anything was going to come from and, miraculously, it all came to me.

This was the time when I was squatting in a hundred year old barn-turned-cabin in downtown Bastrop.  It was a tough time, but also a really happy one.  One of the first times in my life that I felt really in touch with God and truly free.  Bastrop, if you've never been, is beautiful and rustic once you get downtown and, though I didn't have money for gas, I could walk just about anywhere.  I remember walking down to the river one evening, laying down to look up at the stars, and being so happy I sang a little song to myself.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  But I was living with a kind of child-like simplicity that was indescribably freeing.  I think of these as my "cabin days."

Once I got into a recovery program I started learning nifty little phrases like "Let Go and Let God."  Maybe a little corny but definitely useful.  And I was doing a fairly good job at doing just that.  Then along came Eddie  and any remaining illusions of control flew out the window.

During Eddie's life, I learned how to maintain a control-free lifestyle.  After his death, I enjoyed a short grace period of remaining blissfully out of control.  Then slowly, surely, fungus-like, my need to control started creeping back over me.  I had healthy babies now and I could control certain aspects of their lives, right?  Through "helpful suggestions" (a.k.a nagging) I could somewhat control my husbands choices...right?  It was stealthy and I did not notice it for a long time, but, undeniably, the control freak was back.

I started noticing sometime over the past year.  I started longing for those cabin days, began believing that just because I have more responsibilities now doesn't necessarily mean I can't have the same mind-set as I had back then.  It was harder to get there though.  I couldn't just snap my fingers and go back to really, truly believing that I didn't have to worry about anything at all.  That God would provide for my family and protect us even if I just laid back and let the tide carry me for a little while.

I began praying that God would take me back to the cabin (mentally not physically).  That I live in blissful dependence on him, whether in plenty or in want.  Have I mentioned that God answers prayers?  My husband got laid off.  (Remember:  you never know how He is going to answer them.)  Oddly, I was immediately excited.  I knew from experience that as soon as everything falls apart, as soon as God shakes your snowglobe, that He then starts showing up in big ways, doing amazing things, and changing your head and your heart.  So I was almost giddy that we were jobless.

There were definitely times during this two month layoff that I lost my serenity for a little while.  They were, however, short-lived.  And God did show up.  He showed up in friends arriving with grocery bags full of food.  In cash donations, both anonymous and handed to us with loving smiles.  In me getting a job offer out of the blue.  In tanks of gas lasting longer than they've ever lasted before and items going on sale just as we needed them.  And, finally, a couple of weeks ago, in my husband getting a call to go back to work.  We survived.

Aside from praying and humbly letting people know the truth about our situation, I didn't do anything to get any of this.  I didn't rush off trying to fix the situation in my own strength; I let go and let God. I relaxed and felt joy.  There even might have been a few moments of public singing.  In my opinion, we would all do a little better if we were all just a little more like Buddy the Elf.

So although I'm still a work in progress, I am living a life of very little control again and it feels really good.  If I don't have my cell phone with me at all times, it's really okay.  If I run out of laundry detergent, my clothes can be dirty a little while longer.  Today my children mixed up their Play-Doh colors and, after a deep breath, I didn't have to correct them.  Life is good...and God is even better.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wisdom and Waves

If I've learned nothing else through my faith journey, I've learned this:  God answers prayers.  Sometimes dramatically, always consistently, He hears our prayers and answers them in wonderful, practical ways.  There was a time in there that I had gotten out of the habit of asking for things.  Not like "Please God, let me win the lottery" kinds of prayers.  God knows I'm better off NOT winning the lottery and therefore I don't even bother asking.  Rather practical, everyday prayers that most likely to fit into His plan and His will for my life.  Things like favor, blessings, energy, peace, joy, happiness and wisdom.

Let me pause for a moment on that last one.  Did you know that God will always give you wisdom if you ask for it?  Not nine times out of ten, ten times out of ten.  How do I know this?  Because it is in the Bible.  James 1:5 tells us:  "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."  It doesn't get clearer than that.  I spend so much useless time fretting over what I should do in any given situation.  How I should handle Baby Girl's latest meltdown?  Should I accept or decline an invitation or opportunity?  The list could go on and on.  Until recently, though, I had forgotten that, no matter what the circumstance or decision, I could give myself a time out, ask God for wisdom, and patiently wait for an answer.

This has never failed me.  NEVER.  The problem is when I doubt the answer and do it my own way anyway. Or when I fail to hit that pause button and act on impulse or emotion without waiting for that Holy Spirit nudging or that still small voice.  Then I get myself in trouble.  The book of James speaks to this too.  It says, "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind."  Isn't that a great image for what we are like when we stress and don't trust?  We say to ourselves, "I should do this...but if I do this, then this will probably happen and then I won't get this other thing.  So, maybe I should do that.  But if I do that..."

Sound familiar?  It's pretty much been the modus operandi for me on any given day with any given set of circumstances for the majority of my life.  But we don't have to live like that.  God says we don't and I believe Him.

I hate it when James 1:6 is taken out of context, though.  Here we are talking about praying for wisdom.  For God to impart His wisdom to our hearts, to tell us the direction in which we should go or the words we should say.  Nowhere in the Bible does it say that we can make God do everything our way.  He always, always, always answers our prayers, but we have to accept that sometimes the answer is no.  It does not mean we shouldn't ask, just that we should be prepared for the answer.  This is a fine point but an important one.  We attended a church briefly where the general belief was that if Eddie continued to be sick, if we did not receive a radical, bodily healing, that it was from a lack of faith on our part.  It was from being a wave "tossed by the wind."

I believed with every fiber of my being that God could heal Eddie of every illness, every affliction...everything. That God could give him a full and happy adult life.  And God could have, but that was not His will.  My prayer, always, was for the healing, but it was with thanksgiving for the time I had already been given with my son and surrender to the ultimate will of God.  So when Eddie died (really the ultimate healing), I was bereft, but not destroyed.  My faith remained unshakeable, because I know my God.  And He is nothing but love.  So I could accept and go on with my life.

There is nothing wrong with asking.  Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, right before He knew He was going to be tortured, humiliated, and hung on a cross to die, prayed and asked God the Father to change the plan. He asked that there be another way.  That the cup would pass from Him.  But He added "thy will be done."  He accepted the will of God and that the horrible path ahead of Him was also the perfect path, the one that led to victory, not only for Him, but for every single one of us.

So tonight I'm praying for wisdom.  For God to sort through the desires of my heart and whisper to me which of them are within the scope of His will for my life and which of them I need to put aside.  Then I'm going to ask and I'm going to receive.  I'm going to knock and doors are going to be opened for me.  I'm seeking and I can't wait to see what I'm going to find.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Captain Jack

I like Renaissance festivals.  I went to Scarborough Faire for the first time in eighth grade.  It was a field trip and while many of my compatriots were more interested in the "wenches" with their rather immodest attire (I hung out with almost all guys back then) I was into the drama of it all.  I soooo wanted to don a bustier myself and start calling people "m'lord" and "m'lday."  I envied the players, even the ones wearing velvet in hundred degree weather.  They got to perform...all.day.long.

As I got older I did manage to get in on the fun.  My sisters and I invested in some awesome costumes and, while we sometimes still went in jeans and tanks, we often were belly dancers or ladies in waiting.  It was so much fun.  To pretend for a day that you belonged to a different era.  To be someone other than yourself and get a break from reality, if only for an afternoon.  To play.

In May of 2007, I took my little man Ed to Scarborough Faire.  It was a colossally good day.  Although I didn't deck him out in full Ren Faire garb for practical reasons, I knew my little drama king would be all kinds of irritated if everyone got to play dress-up but him.  So we had a Captain Jack Sparrow costume that was leagues too big but luckily Eddie's head was a couple sizes later than your average toddler's and the scarf/wig could be modified to fit.  The results were hilarious and Eddie was more than happy to entertain.  We scored him a canopied Dragon Wagon and proceeded to have one of the best days ever.





  
Looking at these pictures, it is still hard for me to believe he only had a few months left to live.  And although I had been to Scarborough dozens of times before he was born, I have not made it back.  Next year, I am planning on taking Baby Boy and Baby Girl.  They will have too much fun being a pirate and a princess not to indulge them and I think I'm up for it.  I might even let Baby Boy don the Captain Jack hat, but I doubt it.  There are some things that should not be repeated, that were so good and so perfect that they should be allowed to stand as they are.  Kind of like smashing a glass into the fireplace after celebrating a big moment, I think the Captain Jack headdress is retired.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Needle in a Haystack

It's been an exhausting day.  I woke up in good spirits, ate a healthy breakfast, and enjoyed my cup of joe.  Scarcely had the caffeine hit however, when I received a fateful call from my better half.  This is his first week back to work after a two month layoff (hip, hip, hooray!).  He called to let me know that the office needed his social security card and could I please find it?  There was a long, pregnant pause.  I promised I'd start looking.

Now, I know some of you are blissfully organized people.  God bless your sweet little type-A hearts.  I, on the other hand, am not.  My closet is full of bags of stuff.  Tax returns, pay stubs, grocery receipts, gift cards all living in harmony in tote bags.  There is no rhyme or reason.  Just...stuff.  Occasionally you run across a folder or two, evidence of an ill-fated attempt at organization at some point in my distant past, but there is no guarantee that its contents are uniform.  Might be children's artwork...and an insurance claim.  Seriously, it's a mess.

So when Phillip asked me to find his social security card, it was not with confidence that I checked the three places I deemed it most likely to be.  Fail.  Three hours later, after scouring through every single bag, every bin, every junk drawer and every stack of random paper on every dresser...epic fail.  And in the meantime my children had been responsible for entertaining themselves so the rest of the house was a disaster of toys, books, and fruit snacks.  I begrudgingly admitted defeat.

Now, one moral to the story is:  be careful what you pray for.  I recently felt an alien desire to become an organized person.  After all, if God can make me a morning person, He can do anything.  I think it has a lot to do with starting back to work in the fall.  Even though it is only part-time, I want to have an executable plan of attack as I take on the two year olds at Mother's Day Out, not scrambling to try to find what I did with my coloring sheets, order forms, activity plans, etc.  So when I did an inventory of my intentions and desires last week, I listed among them:  a clean, organized home.

My home is not dirty.  The dishes are always done, the floors swept, the bathrooms presentable.  No, it's clutter that gets me down.  I am a borderline hoarder and since I always think I'll get to things later, I just set them to the side.  When the piles start getting embarrassingly high, I transfer them to a tote bag.  I transfer those to my closet.  It gets to where you should not open the closet door without a hard hat.  So now that I have emptied all of the contents of my hidden clutter into my bedroom, I have a choice.  I can get organized or live in chaos.  Since that would undoubtedly be bad for my Feng Shui and I'm doing so well with stress management right now, I'm biting the bullet.  I've already moved an entire kitchen trashbag worth of stuff to the recycling bin.  I'm feeling pretty liberated, but also a little tired.

I found all kinds of interesting stuff.  I found a Christmas newsletter from a family I don't remember meeting.  I found pay-stubs and other "important" paperwork dating back to 2007.  I found Eddie's toothbrush.  Then I realized why I had let my clutter problem get out of hand.  Because every time I get motivated and start going through the closet or those boxes of junk in the garage, I hit something that stops my heart for a beat.  Something as small as a toothbrush or a bill from home health.  A "Certificate of Bravery" from the hospital.  A sock.  And usually that is the end of it.  I stuff it all back in the bag or the box, cram it back into its space, have a good cry, and decide to deal with it later.

Sometimes we don't even realize the stuff in our hearts that needs to be cleaned out.  We put it in a closet, shove it to the back, close the door and get on with our lives.  God sees those things though and He wants to heal them.  He wants me to be organized, not because cleanliness is next to godliness, which is not Scripture, by the way.  Instead because He knows having all that junk piled up, even hidden from view, stresses me out.  In the same way, He doesn't want me to shove Eddie's toothbrush back into the bin from which it came, throw it back up on the closet shelf, and distract myself until I forget about it.  No, He wants me to take a moment to heal.  To offer myself up to God as a living sacrifice, to lift up my heartache and accept Him as my Healer.  So I took a moment, held the toothbrush, and cried.  I remembered Eddie sitting with his feet in the sink, the water running over his tiny toes, while I brushed his teeth.  He loved to brush his teeth.  That's why I still had the toothbrush.  Because when it came time to throw it away after he had died, I couldn't.  It's weird the things that you just can't part with.  I did today though.  I thought of him, I told him I loved him, and I let go of the toothbrush.

I'm on my way to getting organized.  I'm cleaning the junk out of my closest, out of my garage, and out of my heart.  I'm going to find the needles in the haystack.  Maybe not the social security cards, which is no big deal, really.  We'll just order new ones.  But instead I'm going to ferret out the painful, hidden places where I haven't let God come in.  I don't know what or where they are, but He does.  It's going to hurt.  I'm expecting a few pin-pricks, a few drops of blood.  But I'm strong and courageous and God is with me.  So wish me luck.  I'm going back in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Oh, Happy Day!

I woke up happy this morning.  If you have been following my blog, you know that is this something of a coup.  I opened my eyes at 6:00, before either of my kids had stirred, and though I did continue to relax and enjoy my bed for another 30 minutes or so, I got up cheerfully and somewhat energetically.  I made a pot of some of the fantastic coffee we picked up at the Rockwall Farmer's Market last Saturday.  (If you live in my neighborhood and are a coffee person, check out the FreshLife folks over there...fresh,organic, fair trade goodness.)  Holy cow!  I'm a morning person!  I'm telling you, our God is a God of miracles.

So far it seems the greatest thing about being a morning person is that you get some "me" time.  I can't remember the last time I didn't do my morning devotional to the accompaniment of the "Yo, Gabba, Gabba" or "Dora the Explorer" theme songs.  Mornings are normally my kids TV time so that Mommy can drink her coffee, read her Bible, and thereby not pinch their heads off.  I was able to eat my breakfast mindfully, savoring the food and the quiet.  I watered the plants in my backyard and it was under 100 degrees outside.  It was very nearly, almost pleasant out there.

Of course, they got up, but, almost like they sensed the change in the air, they didn't ask for the TV to be turned on.  They started the morning reading books with my grandmother and now then running around the house playing Spiderman and Batgirl.  They seemed really happy too.

I love old-fashioned Christian music.  Our lullabies growing up were old hymns like "Victory in Jesus" and "Love Lifted Me."  Being a preacher's kid, we had hymnals around the house and I spent my childhood going through them and belting out the ones I knew or playing them on my recorder.  (Wow.  That must have been annoying...)  Anyway, one of the best recordings of any good ol' gospel song is "Oh Happy Day" by The Edwin Hawkins Singers.  It was featured in the movie "Secretariat" and, yes, it made me cry.  There is also a contemporary Christian song called simply "Happy Day" by Fee and, while I used to dislike contemporary Christian music, it's growing on me and this song, among others, are now on iPod's Top 25 Most Played list.

The truth, and the basic idea of either song, is that really every day is a happy day because we are forgiven.  Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are reconciled to God and can enjoy not only an eternity in heaven but also peace, hope, and joy here on earth.  Faced with that reality, it seems like it would be hard to be unhappy.  But we are, aren't we?  It's not normal to wake up like Cinderella in her tower, singing a song of praise along with the little birdies despite her desperate life circumstances.  In general, we accept it as fact that we are going to wake up on most mornings sleepy and already a little stressed at best.  On more mornings than I can count, I have awakened downright miserable, the simple act of getting out of bed seeming to be more than I can bear.  I accepted that as my "normal."

I don't think that this is God's normal.  I think it is His will for us all to wake up as I did this morning, happy and excited to face a new day full of glory and possibilities.  Why wouldn't we?  If we lived in conscious awareness of the truth we would.  The truth is that we are unconditionally loved, that we are completely forgiven of every bad thing we have ever done, will do or even just thought about doing.  The truth is that we don't have to stress; we have a companion and a guide  to lead us through our everyday lives (every day) if we will just listen, trust our hearts for His wisdom, and obey.  It should be weird to wake up sad and grumpy.  I know some of you just scoffed, but that is because we all accept the lie that it is normal and possibly mandatory to be stressed out and incomplete.  If we are believers in Christ, however, we are made complete in Him.  Any yearning in our hearts can be satisfied by God if we will seek Him.  Our needs will be met, our prayers answered.  That is really good news and it is the Truth.  So I'm going to cling to these truths, I am going to claim them and to meditate on them, every hour of every day.  And, I guarantee you, I'm going to have a happy day.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Balancing Act

I am a bit of an extremist.  I don't know if it goes hand in hand with the whole addictive personality thing or if it's just the way God wired me, but I tend to have an all or nothing approach to life.  I'm either not exercising at all (like now) or running five miles a day.  My fridge is either full of highly processed, fatty, sugary fare or it's a super-food fest...everything in sight is green or orange, organic or whole-grain.  I used to be something of a fashionista and now we're all lucky if I've shaved my legs.  Sad but true.

At the time I am writing this, I am in the midst of a pendulum swing.  It's going in a good direction.  I've been eating better lately.  I went to the Farmer's Market for the first time in a long time last Saturday.  I went to a talk on nutrition hosted by my kids' pediatrician and got motivated about veggies.  I am reading "French Women Don't Get Fat" by Mireille Guiliano and am getting a little hyped up about finally shedding the last of my baby weight.  It's an excellent, extremely readable and entertaining non-diet diet book for those of you interested in something along those lines.  I am starting to feel the desire to get moving again in an exercise-y kind of way and determining that running around after my preschoolers just isn't going to cut it.

All of that being said, I am going to shoot for balance this time.  Not only is is apparently the French way (and I am nothing if not a Francophile) but I'm pretty sure it's the right way too.  I have already virtually cut refined sugar out of my diet (hooray!) so the piece of pie I indulged in at a friend's house last weekend seemed like what it was:  a tasty and indulgent treat.  I refuse to have a fridge full of aspartame (y'all know that stuff is poison, right?) but I don't need any Kool-Aid in there either.  I'm going to give myself permission to buy good food.  Really good food.

Because I have been lazy lately.  I've been using poverty as an excuse.  I read an article the other day that said the Southern poor are top-ranking when it comes to obesity.  I thought, "Well, duh!"  Fattening food is cheap.  If you are unemployed and trying to feed a family, it seems to make a lot more sense to get the chicken nuggets that are breaded with trans-fat and unidentifiable preservative stuff.  They cost about $6 for a month's worth and they will, indeed, last that long (f not until next summer).  The good for you, all natural, breaded chicken nuggets that are able to list all of their ingredients in plain English are sitting right next to their fattening friends in the freezer case.  They, however, cost $6 for one meal's worth.  When you are poor, and I have spent the majority of my married life living barely above or just below that line, you don't think you have a choice.

Despite which people judge you if you buy the good stuff.  Once when we were on food stamps I stopped at Whole Foods to grab myself lunch.  I bought a chef-prepared salad.  It was around five dollars and some change.  When I whipped out my Lone Star card, the man behind me in line gave a spontaneous lecture on how food stamps should not be accepted in "stores like this."  Seriously?  So if you have hit a rough patch,  experience a lay off, etc you should not even be allowed to shop in places that offer a variety of healthy, organic food.  No health for you!  Get your poor butt to WalMart where you belong!  And while I think most people would not feel comfortable actually voicing their opinions as he did, I imagine the majority of those in line felt the same way.  Conversely, if I had been "where I belonged" buying a nice preservative and sodium stocked Hormel microwaveable meal, also five dollars and some change, nobody would have said a word.  In our country, health is for the privileged.  Let the masses eat (Little Debbie) cake!

It has occurred to me that despite the fact that there is some truth to all of this, it is also an excuse.  Because I don't really need to buy frozen chicken nuggets of either variety.  I could buy some chicken breasts, eggs, and bread crumbs and make my own.  Per unit it is probably the same price as the cheap nuggets and nutritionally it is probably better than the expensive ones.  It know it's going to taste better.  And, seriously, it's not that labor intensive.  My kids aren't asking for a souffle for lunch... and they wouldn't eat one even if I made it.  Lately for breakfast I have been scrambling myself some eggs with spinach, mushrooms, and feta cheese.  None of those are expensive ingredients and, I've got to tell you, it beats the heck out of Honey Nut Cheerios.

So I'm on a mission and I invite any of you to join me.  I'm going to be a foodie on a budget.  I'm going to start cooking.  Really cooking.  Real food.  And while I may not be able to afford all the grass-fed, organic stuff I can eat, I can afford fresh green beans and artisanal bread.  If I don't buy a Marie Callender's pie, I can afford Greek yogurt.  I'm going to take my own motherly advice and "make good choices."  I'm going to be both healthy and happy.  C'est magnifique!

Monday, July 18, 2011

How Eddie Died (The Sweet Escape)

Okay, so I know those of you who follow the blog regularly and don't know the story have probably been curious about this particular topic.  I am feeling brave this evening, the kids are napping, and I have had a Chai tea and an L-Theanine.  So here it goes...

In May of 2007, Phillip and I decided we could no longer afford the duplex we were living in so we moved out to a trailer his mother and dad own in Red Rock, Tx.  Red Rock is about thirty miles southeast of Austin and a mile north of the Middle of Frickin' Nowhere.  It was where Phillip lived when we met and I swore to myself I would never, never, never live there.  But, there we were.

The day we moved in, I set one foot outside of the car and a butterfly landed on it.  He sat there for a moment, slowly opening and closing his wings, and, I don't know why, but suddenly I knew.  With a deep-down, uncanny certainty that this was to be Eddie's last stop.  The site where he would shed the chrysalis of this life and fly away from me to the arms of the Lord.  I didn't share this knowledge with his dad.  Oogie-boogie stuff makes Phillip a little nervous for one thing and for another I did not want to rob him of any hope and joy for the coming time we had with our little man, however long it would be.

As the summer progressed, Eddie's liver disease worsened.  The TPN (intravenous nutrition) was necessary to sustain him, but it was killing his liver.  Soon his liver stopped being able to process it altogether.  Although he was getting enough calories pumped through him to be downright chubby, he was steadily losing weight.  His eyes and skin were growing more and more yellow.  The food he was eating was helping a little with the liver and nutrition stuff, but not nearly enough.  Still, these were happy days.  He was a normal twenty month old in every other way:  learning new words, learning to use crayons rather than eat them, dancing and playing.

Let me digress a moment to explain what I mean by "dancing."  He was mobility-impaired...all of the abdominal surgeries and issues had kept him from ever crawling much less walking.  But like his parents, Eddie loved music and he would wave his little hands and clap.  In our bathroom there was a vanity along one wall and a huge mirror above it.  One of his favorite songs in those days was Gwen Stefani's "The Sweet Escape."  It has a really catchy little "woo hoo, wee hoo" at the beginning and throughout and Eddie really got into it.   I would hold him up on that vanity, supporting his little hips, and he would sway back and forth and wave his "jazz hands," laughing and smiling at himself in the mirror.  It is one of my favorite memories.

In the first week of August, Eddie began to have fevers.  It had all the earmarks of a central line infection.  We faced a decision.  His last line replacement surgery had resulted in Eddie wanting to quit altogether.  The point of his central line was to deliver the TPN.  The TPN wasn't really working anymore, except to accelerate his liver disease.  Either Eddie could make it on the nutrition he ate alone or he couldn't.  The inevitable moment had come.  We scheduled a surgery to have his central line removed.

When we were admitted and Eddie had to put on a hospital anklet, he screamed like it had burned him.  It made me feel glad that this was, really, the last time he would have to be in a hospital.  His surgery was quick and easy and we were able to take him home immediately.  Everyone was so loving and supportive of our decision.  Our hospice doctor made sure we had oxygen support and pain medications and we went home.

Phillip and I were still praying for the radical miracle.  I still had faith for it, but, just as with the sinking certainty I had felt with the butterfly encounter when we arrived at our house, I felt that God's answer this time was "no."  For a couple of days, it seemed like things were going well.  Eddie was eating and interacting normally.  But things changed on Thursday night and by Friday morning it was pretty clear that the end was near.

That morning I still prayed for miraculous, radical healing.  Desperately, fervently, I prayed.  As the day progressed, though, and Eddie continued to decline, my prayer changed.  I gave God two options.  He could, as I had begged Him, radically heal my twenty-two month old son.  This option came with lots of promises.  Eddie and I would be on every television program telling our story and giving praise to God.  This was Option A and the desperate desire of my heart.  If that wasn’t God’s will, however, I helpfully supplied Option B.  If He was going to take my son home, He needed to go ahead and do it.  Now.  Not this slow, steady decline.  It was far too painful, both to Eddie and to me.  So, now God had it.  My acceptable two options:  a Lazarus-style miracle or instant death.

God wasn’t listening to me.  Eddie lost his sight, his eyes becoming soft and dry.  He stopped eating and drinking.  The hospice nurse came to check on him.  I asked her how long this could last.  Death was a funny thing, she said.  She could leave and immediately have to come back to declare him dead or this could last for days.  The word “days” resounded in my heart like a shotgun blast.  I could sit here at our bedside and be forced to watch, helplessly, as my child wasted away for days.

By this time, I had run out of words to pray.  In my desperation, I still reached out in faith.  I remembered that when Pope John Paul II prayed, he simply came into the presence of God and said one word:  “Yes.”  This became my prayer as well.  The nurse left around eleven p.m. and as I sat next to my tiny toddler, my heart breaking, I internally prostrated myself before God with that word on my lips.  “Yes.”  Your will be done, even in this.  Immediately, my agony was accompanied by a quiet peace.  The pain did not leave me but I knew that Christ was sitting right there with me as we endured this together.

At two-thirty Saturday morning on August 11th, 2007, I took a moment to be alone with God.  I washed the few dishes in the sink, talking to God.   “Thank you for Option C," I said.  "I don’t understand it.  I don’t like it.  But I know you love me and you love Eddie even more than I do.  So whatever this is, it’s for our good.  So, thank you and I love you.”

I walked back into the bedroom, looked at Eddie, and knew that he was gone.  In those few moments, his spirit had gone home.  I wanted the first words I said to be words of faith.  God’s peace enveloped me and enabled me, even with a shattered heart, to say, “Naked came I out of the womb and naked go I thither.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.  Thanks be to God.”

There is no moment like the moment your child dies.  Nothing more heartbreaking, nothing more surreal.  But God was with me.  He was listening to every single one of my prayers.  The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35.  It states simply:  "Jesus wept."  Even though He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead (and He knew it), when he encountered Mary's grief, He cried with her.  I think He did this so that we would know that at these moments, He weeps with us as well.  We are never alone in our grief.  Not in the moment that my son left this earth and not while I sit here, weeping, and write about it.  The Lords sustains me...and weeps with me.

Phillip and I called hospice.  We lovingly and reverently washed our baby's body and changed his clothes.  We placed him in his crib and covered him with a blanket.  It was impossible, but we did it.  We loved him and we honored him, both in life and in death.  When our hospice nurse arrived, her eyes were tear-stained but she smiled and said, "Our boy is free and he is flying."

She didn't even know about the butterfly on my foot back in May or that I had spent most of the day rocking Eddie and singing "I'll Fly Away."  She did know the truth, though.  That as hard as it was for all of us, Eddie was free.  He was running into the arms of the Lord.  Running!  Like a normal nearly two year old.  His stomach didn't hurt anymore.  He would never shed another tear.  He was perfect, whole, and home.

It was nearly dawn by the time all of the administrative stuff had been taken care of.  The van from the funeral home pulled away from our house just as the sun was breaking over the horizon.  It was a beautiful morning and a cool breeze was blowing.  Phillip and I sat down in the lawn chairs in our front yard and watched the sunrise.  We didn't say anything.  Really, when you've just been through what we had been through, there isn't a lot to say.  A butterfly landed on my arm, opened its wings a couple of times, and flew away.  There was so much ahead of us:  phone calls, funeral preparations, a new baby, and a lifetime of coping with grief and the loss of our first-born son.  But in that moment, I just watched that little butterfly fly away and felt peace in the assurance that my little boy was with his Savior.  That Eddie had found his own sweet escape, from all the pain, all the struggling, all the sickness.  That he was happy, laughing and joyfully showing Jesus how well he could dance.  

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Superheroes

Superheroes are big in our house right now.  Baby Boy is usually Superman, although Iron Man and Spiderman make their way into the mix.  He likes to stand on furniture with hands on his hips and a very serious look on his face.  About six months ago when he got his first caped pair of Superman pajamas I found him on top of his toddler bed, fists raised, eyes squeezed tight, waiting for blast off.  He tried two or three times before slumping his shoulders and declaring, "Not working!"  If a boy could have taken off through sheer will-power alone, Baby Boy would have done it.  Now he is content to make a swishing kind of noise while he runs around wildly.  He really is almost faster than a speeding bullet when he's at full steam.

Baby Girl is, as she says, "Superman TOOOO!"  Sometimes her brother is willing to share one of his official capes but I also fashioned her one using a pink and teal polyester fabric scrap and she seems happy with that.  She trails after her brother like a shiny little Girl Wonder shadow.  She also walks around with her eyes closed a lot saying she's "a superhero."  I'm thinking it's the Invisible Woman from the Fantastic Four.  I'm positive it is going to cause a concussion at some point but, Love and Logic parent that I am, I am doing nothing to discourage her.  Maybe she's sharpening her other senses in the process.  Anyway, she's happy, unless you indicate that you can actually see her, which can cause some frustration.

Although I have always been a Marvel fan myself, you have to be careful these days about which cartoons you let your kids watch.  Not so much because of the violence.  They always were violent.  I know and understand the arguments against cartoon violence, agree that there is definitely some desensitizing going on, but it's just not one of my areas of concern.  I grew up shooting my sisters with a fake Uzi and turned out a pacifist.  No, what bothers me is that all of a sudden they involve teenagers talking ugly to each other, calling each other "geeks" and "nerds."  Saying "shut up" and "stupid."  Those are bad words in our house and I would like to keep it that way.  Since when are we worried about who Peter Parker is going to take to the prom?  My kids don't care about that; they want to see Spidey jump off a building.  And, frankly, I do too.  The new Speed Racer cartoon is the same and, although we didn't watch long as a result of all the strange "teenaged social hierarchy" subtext, I didn't see hide nor hair of a monkey.  What is this world coming to?

Anyway, I digress.  I am loving this stage in my children's play development.  Their bodies and their imaginations are both off and running and it's fun too watch.  Beyond that, though, I find it inspiring.  Because Baby Boy isn't really just running (and running and running) around the house, he's leaping tall building in a single bound.  Baby Girl isn't just about to run blindly into the front doorknob, she's invisible.  It seems silly or unrealistic to some grumpy grown-ups.  Not to me.  I think "their world" is so much better than "our world."  And theirs is so much closer to God's world.  That is why He said the kingdom of heaven belongs to children.  They dream big and believe anything is possible.  And it is.  Luke 1:37 says so.  "Nothing is impossible with God."  Nothing.

I didn't tell Baby Boy that he couldn't fly.  I watched him figure the physics lesson out all on his own.  After his initial disappointment, I didn't feel the need to reinforce it.  Also, what do I know?  Maybe he can.  Maybe when he's older and bigger he'll invent some kind of anti-gravity jet-pack thing that he can control with his mind.  Far be it from me to tell him what he can and can't do.  What is and isn't possible.  Because whatever I would say would probably be wrong.  I have no idea what that kid can do.  Anything is possible.

So much of the time we live in this awful, limited little world of our own creation.  I'm not sure when it happens, but at some point we stop donning a cape, closing our eyes and expecting to fly, literally then figuratively.  We run into a few door jambs and decide we're not invisible; we're just bruised.  I'm not going to do that anymore.  I'm going to learn from my children that there is a better world to live in, everyday.  I'm going to have fun and dream big and wait to see all the impossible things that God and I are going to do.  I'm going to stop being an imagination couch potato and start being a superhero.  Starting today:  I am Iron Mom.      

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Gender Bender

I always have fancied myself something of a feminist.  I come by it honestly; I was raised by one.  She raised us to be fiercely independant, emphasizing self-reliance and education.  She planted the seed that my sisters and I could be anything we wanted to be:  have any career, explore any field, take on the world.  She is a strong, empowered woman and she raised three of us in her image.  I'm very grateful to my mom and often a little in awe of her.

Another nice thing about my mom is that in the panoply of "things I could be if I wanted to be," homemaker was among them.  She might not have been as cool with it if I had launched into my current career choice fresh out of high school or even mid-college, but she is not one of those who think I have somehow squandered my education or demeaned myself by choosing to raise my kids.  In fact, she is very supportive and I'm grateful for that as well.

Being a feminist homemaker is harder than it sounds though.  Or maybe it's not since it sounds like an oxymoron.  The child rearing part is not a problem.  I like taking the responsibility for teaching my kids and hopefully molding them into delightful, enlightened, maybe a little non-conforming members of society.  It's the whole "making a home" thing.  It invokes images of June Cleaver and Betty Draper (season one Betty, I mean).  It involves a vacuum cleaner.  Whenever I am preparing dinner from one of my antique Betty Crocker cookbooks I look at the pictures and shudder a little at the happy stick-figures in flouncy skirts holding out steaming casserole dishes to their seated husbands.  Seated!  It strikes a primordial chord deep within me that threatens to incite rebellion.

As I hope you all have guessed from reading this blog, my goal in life is to be closer to God.  To live in His will.  And so, in recent years, I have tried to read up on some Christian marriage and family books in the hopes that they will offer me a solution to the feminisit housewife dichotomy.  After all, I have read a lot of Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, etc, etc.  It's only right to approach these things from a balanced perspective. 

I'm struggling.  I did a Bible study on the book "The New Eve" by Robert Lewis.  It has some good stuff in there and I really enjoyed the time with ladies I studied with.  I got to hear some perspectives that were very different from my own.  I learned; I grew.  All of that being said, I cannot say I liked the book.  Because when it comes down to it, the idea of teaching my daughter that her purpose in life is to find a husband and start popping out babies makes me vomit.  And while that is not 100% of what Lewis is saying...it's in there.

So now I'm reading "The Power of the Praying Wife" by Stormie Omartian.  At least I'm trying to.  It's slow going.  Not because it's poorly written...it's not.  Not because the chapters are long...they're actually very short.  But rather because as I'm reading happily along I run into something about staying attractive for our husbands or anticipating their needs and the bile rises in the back of my throat.  I have a sudden and almost overwhelming urge to grow out my underarm hair and burn my bra.

My husband, by the way, is innocent in all of this.  He does not expect me at the door wearing a dress involving a petticoat and holding a piping hot lasagna.  In fact, that would totally freak him out.  He insists he knew what he was getting when he married me.  But it hasn't been all music and roses in our marriage and, like a good recovering alcoholic, I'm trying to figure out my side of the street in all this and do the next right thing.  Like a good Christian, I'm trying to figure out God's will for my life and what being a Christian wife looks like.

Like everything else, there is no easy answer.  Phillip and I are never going to be Ozzie and Harriet, if only for the fact that I never iron...anything.  There has to be a balance, though, between needing him, as Steinem would say, "like a fish needs a bicycle" and joyfully picking up his dirty socks in a Stepford-wife, possibly lithium-induced, trance.  So it's back to the drawing board (aka the library) for me.  Because I know there is hope for us, we the Christian feminists.  Hear us roar.              

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Power of the Words

I'm doing a Bible study right now called "Me, Myself, and Lies" by Jennifer Rothschild.  It's about the self-talk we have, the things we say to ourselves that aren't God's truths and that break us down rather than build us up.  It sparked a conversation among some of the ladies about sayings in our families about the things we speak, not to ourselves, but out loud.  Like if you say your kid is a holy terror and your mother says:  "Don't speak that over her!"  Or if you say that you are getting sick, it's:  "Don't confess it!"  In our family, we talk about not "claiming" things.  It's all the same thing.  It seems like bad luck to speak evil, or even just potentially uncomfortable, "truths" over your life.

I know some people think this is a form of superstition, but I disagree.  Our words definitely have power.  In a Toltec wisdom book I once read the author talked about our words being spells and that we are always weaving magic.  The only question is whether it is good or bad magic.  The Bible puts it like this:  "Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it shall eat its fruits."  That is some serious stuff.

So I have a little litany of things I say to my kids on a regular basis.  When we are snuggling, I often ask them, "Do you know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made?  That you are Mommy's blessing?  That Jesus loves you?  That you are the best ever you?"  There are some variations but you get the general picture.  One day I was saying these things to Baby Girl and she nodded sagely and declared, "I'm Baby Girl."  It was thrilling.  It made my day that she would define herself according to the perfect creation she is in Christ.

It is a practice I started with Eddie.  I already was convinced by the time of his birth that the words you spoke over your children had power.  Dramatic, tangible power either for good or for evil.   And the words spoken over him were, in general, horrific.  Sickness, struggle, hopelessness, death.  To combat it we made a rule early on that if visitor could not be positive when they came into his room, if they had to cry or scream or carry on, if they could not speak love and hope to him that, sadly, they just could not come in the room.  Anyone.   Family, friend, pastor, whatever.  It was a "love only" zone.

Of course, we could not help what was spoken over him by the medical staff.  Some of it, admittedly, was necessary conversation.  But I tried to counteract it.  After rounds or after an update about his condition, I would tell Eddie he was beautiful.  That he was perfect.  That God had created him and that he was strong.  He was my warrior, mi vida, y mi corazon.  I would rock him and ask him:  "Do you know how God made you?  Daddy had so much love in his heart for Mommy that, if he didn't get rid of some of it, his heart was going to explode.  And Mommy had soooo much love in her heart for Daddy that, if she didn't get rid of some of it, her heart was going to explode.  So Daddy took half the love in his heart and Mommy took half the love in hers and God put it together and made Eddie.  So don't ever forget, my baby, you are made of love.  From the top of your head to the tips of your toes and everything in between."  I would touch the top of his head, the tips of his toes, and lightly tickle him from head to toe while I said the last part.  Even under dire circumstances, it almost never failed to get a smile.

Obviously our words are not magic charms.  I could speak health to Eddie's liver all day long (and there are some days I tried) and in the end it would still fail him.  But they are powerful and we need to choose them carefully.  There will be attacks on my children's self-esteem that I cannot control, but I'm hoping to have filled them with enough knowledge of their perfection in Christ that they survive virtually unscathed.  Not that I think my kids are perfect; they make bad choices sometimes, I know.  And I'm not perfect either.  I tend to call Baby Girl a "toot" but she at this point wears the label with pride.  I overheard Baby Boy tell his little sister the other day in a voice that sounded oddly like my own:  "I've had it with you today!"  So I know I may be weaving a little black magic into their lives.  But I'm trying really, really hard not to.  Because I know that while my words couldn't heal Eddie, they made his life better.  They mattered.  In his last hours of life, when he began to grow anxious as his vision faded and who knows what else he experienced, I said to him:  "Do you know how God made you?"  He relaxed immediately, sinking into my arms, knowing who and where he was and, I think, where he was going.

So I'm going to keep speaking God's truth over my children until they are sick of hearing it.  I'm going to tell them that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.  That Jesus loves them.  That God made them exactly the way that they are and that they are perfect creations in Him.  And, while I'm at it, I may go back into their room and say, "You are getting sleepy...sleeeepy....SLLLEEEEEEPPPPYYY!"  It's worth a try, right?    

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lovingkindness in the Morning

I'm not a morning person.  I like to sleep and I need a lot of it.  Upon waking, I really need coffee before I speak.  Since most of the other people in my family are early risers, I used to look on this as a failing on my part, but I've changed my outlook in recent years.  I have accepted that this is who I am, that my seratonin levels may need a bit more of a boost than your average bear, and that I am never going to miraculously become a morning person.

My husband, on the other hand, needs very little sleep and gets up talking.  Like, a mile a minute.  Happily, cheerfully, and loudly.  The first time we spent the night together he had to get up at four in the morning and drive me back to my place so he could be at his family's BBQ restaurant by five to start up briskets.  So he woke me up, loaded me into the car, and started chatting.  Judging by my expression and complete lack of response, he started getting worried.  Started imagining I was mad at him, trying to figure out why, apologizing, and asking lots of questions.  Finally, I spoke, uttering one word and one word only:  "Coffee!"  Through the magic of 24 hour service stations and the caffeinated beverages they provide, our relationship survived.

Once we were married, however, I realized I was going to have to give up the comfort of my morning grumpiness.  I now had two young stepdaughters and they got up early.  Every morning.  Because to me, back then, 7 a.m. was early.  (Excuse me a giggle-snort in rememberance.)  I didn't know how good I had it but I did know that it was not good parenting to bite one's new stepdauthers' heads off every morning.  So I learned to hold my tongue, fake a smile, and nod a lot before I got the first cup of joe on board.

Then along came Eddie, the Sleepless.  They warn you about the restless nights of having a new baby.  But nobody can really prepare you.  And my new baby did not grow out of it.  He was gassy and uncomfortable and AWAKE almost all of his life.  I learned to be a champ at getting up early.  But in the wee hours of the morning, from about 2:30 to 4, I still am a total wimp.  I've tried to rally, but that is just how it is.  Again, although I have no medical proof, I'm thinking there is something hinky with my seratonin.  I'm really very nearly suicidal if you wake me up at 3 a.m.

God does send us perfect partners if we will wait for them.  There have been times when I have seriously questioned my discernment when it comes to God's choice for my spouse; we have our issues.  But then I remember that he got up at 3 a.m. with the babies, ALL the babies, without so much as a grumble 99.9% of the time and I say a little prayer of thanks.  This morning that is fresh on my mind as Baby Girl had a very restless night.  I stayed up with her until nearly 4, then felt the "just shoot me" tiredness creeping in.  I started to just buckle in and stay the distance, but then remembered I'm not alone in this thing.  So I woke up Phillip.  He got up without complaint and with a smile for his youngest.  I went to bed.

Baby Boy woke up at 6:45.  I'm tired but I have a cup of coffee on one side and my Bible on the other.  I'm meditating on Psalm 90 this morning which says in verses 14-16:  "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.  May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children."  Other translations use the word "lovingkindness" in lieu of "unfailing love." 

I like that word:  lovingkindness.  It's all over the Psalms and often used in conjunction with the morning.  I like to think maybe King David wasn't a morning person either; that he needed to seek God's lovingkindness first thing in the morning because, like me, he had little on his own.  But he knew what he had to do about it:  just pray.  And what a prayer!  That we be so satisfied by God's love that we sing for joy and are glad, even for the not-so-good years.

It is my prayer this morning and it is effective!  I am running on about three hours sleep and one cup of coffee but I'm not just functional, I'm elated.  I'm singing for joy for all the things God has done in my life, whether they seemed like a blessing or an affliction, the years of trouble as well as the years of plenty.  I see His splendor.  God is good, all the time, and it is my prayer that you too hear His lovingkindness this morning, that you declare it, and that you are more than satisfied.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Art of Preschool

I recently scored my dream job.  I didn't know it was my dream job, but I'm next to certain that it is.  Starting in the fall, I am going to be teaching preschool.  Just two days a week to  two year olds.  I am as excited as a kid at Christmas. 

Because God has found a way to combine two of my great loves.  Kids and crafts.  I love, love, love crafts.  Not the kind of crafts that some of my friends love, the kind that you can post pictures of and people want to buy.  I love looking at other people's frilly tutus, fancy scrapbooking templates, and other potentially profitable craft items, but that's not the stuff I like to make.  No, I'm talking about the paper plate, construction paper, and pinto bean variety of craft.  Macaroni necklaces, an octopus made out of yarn, and anything involving a pipe cleaner?  I'm THERE!

I have not had much opportunity to indulge in this passion lately.  I stopped making little things just for the fun of it when I was in my teens (yes, my teens; I'm telling you I LOVE this stuff).  Occasionally I would have a friend with a crafty kid and I would get to play.  I volunteered briefly as an arts and crafts teacher for Heart House Dallas.  I had high hopes when I married a guy with a 6 year old and 3 year old daughter (my darlings:  Step 1 and Step 2; now 13 and nearly 10).  They were never that into it though.  They were (and are) much more into sports and, although Step 2 goes crazy with some paper and markers, her interest in macaroni art was limited.  Eddie hardly ever wanted to so much as lift a crayon.  For the most part, Baby Boy thinks finger paint is icky and would rather play Angry Birds on my phone.  What can I say?  It's a hard knock life.

Baby Girl has been my last hope for a kid who shares my passion for paste and feathers.  And I think I may have lucked out.  She was willing to do some fall leaf art and, like her older sister, is never too far from her paper and crayons.  I recently introduced fingerpaint and, though most of it ends up in her hair, it's a hit nonetheless.  Score!

And then, out of nowhere, I hit the mother of all job offers.  I volunteered at VBS with the director of our church's preschool program.  A few weeks later, she emailed me to let me know that they had a job opening and would I be interested?  Would I?!?  I would pay for that job!

Now, I realize there are many people who don't feel this way.  I hear a lot about the terrible twos and how people are so ready for their kids to grow out of the toddler/preschool stage.  I feel completely differently.  My kids are growing up way too fast.  I love these days.  Today I read books about zoo animals and talking vegetables over and over again.  I watched Diego and the Wonder Pets.  I danced both the hokey-pokey and the chicken dance.  I wiped tears, noses and bottoms and picked Play-Doh out of my carpet.  It has taken me nearly an hour to write this very short, simple blog because I keep having to do most the aforementioned things over again.  And it has been a great day.  A fantastic day.  One of the best days ever.  And, God willing, I get to do it all over again tomorrow. 

I'm not looking forward to my kids being "big kids," even less to them actually being all grown up.  But that is one of the reasons I am so thrilled to be teaching preschool.  Because maybe I never have to lose the joy of these days, even as I gain the joys of the older years.  Maybe I get be covered in fingerpaint and peanut butter for many, many years to come.  That makes me happy.  Because I DO like to talk to tomatoes, squash can make me smile, and, let's face it:  the chicken dance rocks.

 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Breathing Treatment Polka

It's been a challenging day.  I woke up on the wrong side of the bed to begin with and it took a considerable amount of coffee and my morning devotional before I felt like a civil human being.  The babies did not seem to notice, something of which I am proud as it speaks to my self-control, not my natural temperament.  Baby Boy had a chronic case of the giggles all morning long.  Unfortunately, he also had a pronounced wheeze in his chest. He has been coughing for the past few days but I put it down to hay fever since he's otherwise well.  But this morning, his lungs were making noises I couldn't ignore.

My pediatrician had an opening at 9:30, so we hurriedly piled into the car and it was back to Frisco.  The doctor listened to his lungs.  He was definitely wheezing.  My reaction was mixed.  For one thing, it's always nice when you go to the doctor and they actually hear or see the thing you are concerned about.  You stop feeling crazy.  But, for another, I hate for anything to be wrong with my kids.  Since there was a complete lack of any other symptoms, they are guessing food allergy.  I'm guessing dairy.  Baby Boy was really allergic to dairy for his first year and a half.  I thought he had grown out of it but, then again, maybe not.  So the solution was not a bad one.  Some breathing treatments to clear up the present problem and cutting dairy from his diet.  Then if it recurs, we'll go from there.

Breathing treatments are nothing new in my house.  I have asthma.  Eddie had a few respiratory illnesses that required albuterol.  Baby Girl has had breathing issues since she was a mere peanut.  But, so far, Baby Boy was a stranger to the nebulizer and, quite frankly, I liked it that way.

Despite my initial sour mood and the unexpected trip to the doctor's office, I was holding up pretty well.  Baby Boy was a champ, no tears or fussing involved, and afterwards he requested "Books" as his treat.  This means a trip to Half Price Books, which is also a treat for me.  They picked out a children's book apiece (okay, I let him get two) and I found a set of CDs called "Polka Til You Drop" for three bucks.  If that's not a mood changer, I don't know what is!  Okay, okay, keep the comments to yourselves...

The time came, however, when it was time to give the breathing treatment.  My experience administering these has been highly unpleasant.  Baby Girl and Eddie have many similarities in their personalities, one being an ability to scream bloody murder, hold their breaths, and make any medical procedure extremely unpleasant for everyone involved.  No matter how cute the little "duck mask" is or what video I put on, it's going to get ugly.  Baby Boy isn't like that.  He is much more likely to be very sad and cry.  I wasn't looking forward to either reaction.

I got neither:  no screaming and no tears.  I told him what we were going to do, using the duck mask as a selling point.  He didn't really want to, but when I insisted, he agreed.  He was so unbelievably sweet about the whole thing.  He has the sweetest heart.  I could tell it made him nervous, but he trusted me.  He tried to take the breathing mask off, but when I told him that he had to breathe in all the medicine first, he simply said, "Okay, Mommy."  For some reason, this just broke my heart.

I am fiercely protective of my children.  There were times when Eddie was in the hospital undergoing some stressful or painful procedure that I had to restrain myself from physically harming those administering it.  There were times when I was less than civil to hospital personnel.  Okay, once I made a resident cry.  I know it's nothing to be proud of, but I know also that Eddie always knew I was his champion.  Whenever my tone would rise into what Phillip calls my "lawyer voice," Eddie would clap his little hands together with glee like, "you tell 'em, Mom!"  He trusted me even though he knew from experience that I couldn't protect him from everything.

I can't protect Baby Boy and Baby Girl from everything either.  I know this, but it bothers me nonetheless.  Because they trust me to make it all better and to make it all okay.  Overachiever that I am, I want to be able to rise to that call.  I am proud that my kids trust me, that Baby Boy was willing to do something he didn't want to do because I told him it would make things better.  I just pray that God gives me the judgment to make the right calls, to be worthy of that trust.  There is no task greater than being a parent, but none more overwhelming either.  God is helping me through it, one baby step at a time.  He allows me to wake up on the wrong side of the bed but have a right attitude.  He enables me to do what I have to do for my kids even when it's hard.  I'm not going to look ahead.  Though I know there will be harder challenges to face than the detour we had today, I know better than to dwell on that fact.  I'm going to enjoy the rollicking sound of them having "quiet time" in their room right now, fix myself a cup of coffee, and crank up the polka tunes.            

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Following the Leader

I am not a dancer.  I mean, put on some lively music or take me to the club and I can shake what my mama gave me, but when it comes to the "5, 6, 7, 8..." kind of dancing I am terrible.  Part of this stems from the fact that I don't know my left from my right and the rest from my complete lack of coordination.  I'm not putting myself down; I'm cool with it.  I think by the time you reach your thirties it is important to have a firm grasp on your abilities and limitations.

Despite this handicap, I took ballroom dancing in college.  I needed another P.E. credit and it sounded like more fun and less sweat than, say, volleyball.  I had a friend take it with me and am pleased to say that we made an A.  It was a hard earned A; we practiced lots and lots.  While my partner was more coordinated than me, he not exactly a professional either.  At one point during the class, the instructor took his place to show us how to do a certain move.  Suddenly, I was amazed at how well I could dance.  Our professor was a slender guy, a few inches shorter than me, but he took command of the dance with a confidence and strength that was amazing.  I couldn't help but follow and, for a brief moment, I was a great dancer.  It was effortless.

Any great dancer will tell you that it is all about timing.  You can have all the passion in the world, but if you lack rhythm and timing, you should not audition for "So You Think You Can Dance."  Life is the same way.  We talk about being "in the right place at the right time."  We know if we leave ten minutes later than usual we are going to hit traffic and be thirty minutes late.  Timing is everything.

I am a naturally impatient person.  I used to say a little mantra to myself when I was stuck in traffic, in a slow line at the grocery store, etc.  I'd murmur, "God's timing, God's timing, God's timing."  It was in a clenched-teeth, under the breath sort of way, though and not very effective.  I was always in a hurry, always running behind, and it was always someone else's fault.

I'm not like that anymore.  I often joke that I asked God to teach me patience and, in response, He gave me Eddie.  It is hard to be in a hurry when you've got a kid in tow that is likely to throw up on you at any moment.  Slows you down and lightens you up.  It was an incredible freedom.

The other day I ran to Wal-Mart to pick up a brick of cream cheese.  I needed it for a recipe I was preparing that evening to take to a party just a few hours away.  In my mind, I was thinking of my time limits.  How long it was going to take me to prepare the cake, get the kids and myself ready, and get to the party on time.  I was in a hurry.  I hustled to the dairy section, picked up my cream cheese and headed for the check-out line, pausing only to pick up an "impulse buy" T-shirt on the way out.  I picked the shortest express lane.  I noticed that the lady ahead of me had quite a bit more than 20 items, but the line was still the shortest by far, only two deep.  Then there was some sort of problem with the person at the front; her card didn't work, she called her bank, etc.  The woman ahead of me looked at my brick of cream cheese and at her not-so-express cartload and gave a nervous smile.

In the old days, I would have been really ticked off.  I would have been throwing my hands up in disbelief at the card issues going on up front and how long it was taking for them to be resolved.  I would have thought she needed to cancel her transaction, step to the side, and then get back in line to do the whole thing over again.  I would have been thinking of how rude it was for the other lady to be in the express lane.  That she should let me with my few items go ahead of her.  Couldn't she tell I was in a hurry?

I'm not like that anymore, praise the Lord.  I smiled genuinely at the women ahead of me.  I've been there, both the lady with the rejected credit card and the one with thirty items in my cart, and I know it is awkward, embarrassing, and that a little grace is appreciated.  I struck up a lively conversation with the woman with an overfilled cart.  She apologized for misjudging the amount of her groceries.  I told her it was no problem.  I was in no hurry.  And it was true.  Because it really is all God's timing.  It took me an extra twenty minutes or so beyond what I had "scheduled," but I still made my dessert and got to the party.  A little late, but I got there.  God's timing.

I know it is a cliche, but it's a good one:  Life is a dance.  When I try to learn the steps and do it in my own power, I have two left feet.  I get hot and bothered, make bad situations worse, and exhibit anger and a lack of grace to those people who are "in my way."  Who knows what blessing we miss out on when we act this way, because we are stepping all over other people's feet.  We have a leader in this dance, a strong, confident, powerful leader.  His timing is perfect.  He is perfectly in sync with the rhythm of the world He created.  When we relax and follow Him, we become great dancers.  It is effortless.

I can't prove that my delay at Wal-Mart was a blessing.  I can't know if we missed out on a bad traffic situation or timed it just right so the kids wouldn't be cranky getting ready.  I know I made those ladies' days a little better, though.  That if I had been ugly and impatient, they would have left embarrassed and defensive, harboring bad feelings toward me in their hearts.  I didn't step on anyone's feet and that is in itself a blessing.  Just a little thing, but part of the rhythm of life nonetheless.  I trust the Lord of Dance with both the little steps and the big flourishes and praise Him that I can relax and follow the Leader.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

In a Heartbeat

When I found out I was pregnant with Baby Girl, I was initially less than thrilled.  Let me give you a quick chronology of my childbearing years.  Eddie was born in September 2005.  I found out I was pregnant with Baby Boy in May 2007.  Eddie died in August 2007.  Baby Boy was born December 2007.  Then on Mother's Day, 2008, after nursing my five-month-old baby, I walked into the kitchen where my darling husband was cooking me a special pancake breakfast.  I immediately had to run to the bathroom and throw up.  It was a bad moment.  Although I've been known to throw up for odd reasons, the smell of pancakes hardly triggers one's gag reflex, unless...

Phillip thought I was crazy and assured me I wasn't pregnant.  After breakfast he ran to the store to pick up a test so I could take it and "enjoy the rest of my day."  I took it and was welcomed by a big, bright blue + sign.  Happy Mother's Day!  I spent the lion's share of next three days sitting on the bathroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably and declaring, "I can't have a baby.  I have a baby."

I knew I was being an ingrate.  Knew plenty of friends who struggled with infertility and would kill for my "problem."  I prayed for God to change my heart about my pregnancy.  I suffered worse morning sickness than I had with either of my other babies.  I was really tired.  But as I have found any time I approach God with "change me" prayers, my prayers were answered swiftly and dramatically.  I went to my mid-wife for my initial check-up and she couldn't find a heartbeat.

It is amazing how fast our hearts and prayers can change.  How we can go from "Dear God, I really don't want this baby" to "Oh God, please let everything be okay with my baby" in a heartbeat...or in a lack thereof.  My midwife, April, had stood with me through Eddie's sickness, through his death, and through the joy of Baby Boy's birth.  She had more compassion than you can imagine.  She assured me that this could just be because it was very early in the pregnancy but also helped me get an appointment with my neonatologist in just a couple hours.  I remember calling my husband at work and meeting him at a library in East Austin, the awful, dull pain of WAITING all too fresh in our minds and hearts from life with Eddie.

Sometimes God speaks to me during these times.  An actual, blessed, still, small voice in my soul.  Sometimes He speaks through sensations, through an overwhelming feeling of peace or reassurance, a deep knowing.  And sometimes He stands silent and lets me learn.  On this hot May afternoon He taught me about gratitude.  About trusting that His way is so much better than my way.  Nothing happens by mistake, least of all the  conception of a new life.  I had spent nearly a week grumbling, crying and missing the blessing.  And God could take that blessing away as swiftly as He had given it if He chose to.

The gratitude I felt, later, as I watched the tiny beating heart on the screen in front of me was mind-blowing.  I tear up every time I think of it.  The baby was okay, just little.  I was only about seven weeks along.  I didn't cry anymore.  I broke out the maternity clothes and the prenatal vitamins and got ready to have another baby.

Baby Girl came on December 26, 2008.  She is one of the most amazing blessings I have ever received.  I am grateful for her and Baby Boy every single day.  They are best friends; I can't imagine one without the other.  Sometimes I stare at them and wonder what I ever did or ever would do without them.  They are my heart and my life, mi vida y mi corazon, and I tell them that all the time.

Sometimes God's blessings come in ways we weren't expecting.  An unplanned pregnancy.  The loss of one job and the offer of another which is not the kind of thing we had in mind.  Losing a house; moving to a new neighborhood.  The loss of a relationship.  They seem like tragedies to us and we grumble, complain, and cry.   We only like change if it is change that we pre-approved or planned for.  God doesn't care about our plans though; He cares about our spirits, our souls, and our hearts.  And, quite frankly, more often than not, our plans stink.  The time we spend mourning the loss of our own stuff could just as easily be spent praising Him and looking ahead in joyful anticipation to where His path is leading.

My prayer is that God continue to change my heart.  That I learn to trust God that His plan is best...right off the bat.  That I learn to set aside my own fears and expectations and just train my eyes on Jesus.  Because He is God from whom all blessings flow, big, small, and in-between, and the One who keeps all of our hearts beating.