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Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Gentle Ache

So last night I was snuggling with my husband on the couch, having a nice evening, watching "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon" (starring Basil Rathbone, my personal favorite Sherlock) and suddenly I was blindsided by grief.  The movie had ended and I glanced up at the picture of Eddie that hangs on my living room wall, the one with him smiling so big his eyes disappear, and I missed him so much I couldn't move.  It was like I had forgotten to remember that he was gone, if that makes any sense, and suddenly the loss was so keen it was unbearable.

I did what I always do when that happens.  Nothing.  I just sat there and concentrated on breathing, one breath at a time.  Phillip noticed something was wrong and I told him I just missed my baby.  He nodded, saying nothing.  There really is nothing to say.  We sat there companionably, painfully, breathing together and then we went to bed.

I know people may find it odd that we didn't "talk about it."  It is not that we don't talk about Eddie.  We talk about him all the time, revisiting funny stories and favorite memories.  We even talk about the dark times too, the hospital stays, the fear.  Not often, but we do.  But when it comes down to missing him, words don't help.  There is no breakthrough to be had, no conversation that will bring about an "a-ha" moment so that we never have to feel that ripping, raw yearning again.  Sometimes when I begin to talk about how I feel, to describe the emotions behind it all, I get wild with grief.  Really, quite crazy with it.  And while my loving, supportive husband will hold me through all of that it takes a toll on him.  He kind of goes away mentally for a little while and it sometimes takes me weeks to talk him back.  It's not really worth it.

So we went to sleep.  Baby Boy joined us sometime in the wee hours and so when I awoke at 6:30 it was next to a warm little snuggle bug.  I lay awake, listening to the soft sound of rain against the bedroom window.  I kissed the top of his head (and, yes, if you read the last blog post, took a good big sniff) and decided today was a beautiful day.  Even though my heart was still aching and it seemed nearly impossible to get out of that warm, comfy bed, I knew I could and would keep going.  And so I did.  Slowly, but surely, one breath at a time, I got through my morning routine, getting myself and my little ones ready for a day at preschool.  I kept moving and, by the time my work day began, my heart was still, my mind at peace.

These aren't the easy days.  These are the ones that threaten everything:  my peace, my sobriety, my sanity.  But God walks me right through them.  I'm tired tonight, but it is a good kind of tired.  The kind after you've run a good race and, while your muscles ache, it's a good kind of ache.  The ache of endurance, of accomplishment, of strength.  My grief has softened and melded into something I can talk about, something I can type about.

I will never stop missing Eddie.  I would never want to.  I'm grateful to be sad tonight.  Not angry, not raging, not crazy, just sad.  Just quietly honoring the memory of my baby by missing him and letting myself ache.  I'm probably going to eat some chocolate, but I'm not going to go running to the nearest bar.  And that feels good.  That feels like God, right here with me, holding me up and cradling me in the palm of His hand.      

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Perfume of Hope

I sniff my kids a lot.  I'm hoping some of you parents out there relate and I'm not just a freak.  When they were in diapers, of course, there is the mandatory booty sniff to see if they need to be changed before nap/car seat/etc or, in the case of multiples or Irish twins like mine, I like to call it the "who stinks?" sniff.  But I'm not talking about diaper issues.  I just, usually, like how my kids smell.

I have always been an olfactory person.  I used to like the smell of the back of my dachshund's ear or the pad of his foot and, yes, it irritates your dog when you smell his feet.  Once I had a kid to torture with my bloodhound-like tendencies, Eddie found it no less irritating when I'd plant my schonz behind his ear and take a good long sniff, but I couldn't help myself.  He just smelled delicious.

Last Friday night my kids were having a hard time sleeping.  I hosted a Pampered Chef party at our home and many of their little friends came along with their mommies.  So they had a late play date and were having a hard time winding down afterward.  That was therefore how I found myself squeezed into a twin bed sandwiched between two squirmy wormies watching "Dora's Pirate Adventure" rather than on the couch with my husband watching "True Grit" as planned.  Choosing not to be irritated, I took the opportunity to give those little heads lots of kisses and spend some quality time with my nose buried in their hair, breathing them in in turns.

Baby Boy is virtually odorless, which I am sure will change in time.  When he is sixteen and fresh in from football practice, I am fairly certain I will not be wanting to get close enough for a good whiff.  For now, though, he just has this crisp, clean "drying linen in spring sunshine" kind of smell.  It's lovely.  Baby Girl is earthier, like freshly turned soil and growing grass.  No less lovely.  I wish I could bottle them up and use them as aromatherapy.

Eddie smelled like brine.  Like salty sea air.  I couldn't get enough of it, in part because I did not know how long I would have to enjoy it.  As he sat in my lap, I would kiss the back of his precious little neck and give a prayer of thanksgiving for that precious sand and sea smell that was uniquely his.  It was better than any perfume, better than any essential oil.  It was essential Eddie and it was beautiful.

After he died, his scent lingered.  After the funeral van had taken his empty little body away, I sat in a chair in his room, next to his crib and just breathed.  Filling my lungs, again and again, with that sacred scent of one who I had loved more than life and who had so recently left me, wishing I could somehow hang on to it.  Somehow make it last forever, that a part of him at least would never fade.

Of course, it did.  Not right away, but slowly, over time, all vestiges of his wonderful, unique Eddie smell faded away.  The little red shirt from the laundry basket, the one I didn't wash for over a year after he was gone, even lost all trace of him save a stain or two.  I packed it away with the other things that represent him but by no means contain him.  I pull it out from time to time and smell it, hoping for a trace, but none remains.

I don't know how those who don't know Christ do it.  My heart aches for them.  I don't know how they go on, day to day, breathing this empty air, when the one they loved so much is gone.  Because time and earth are cruel.  They leave nothing behind.  If I did not know Christ, all of Eddie would be gone from me, nothing left behind but the things he used to wear, the toys he used to play with, empty shells and worthless representations of one who was once so loved, so alive, so vital.  Life without hope must be so... hopeless.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, "Brothers we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope."  I do not grieve like the rest of men.  I miss my baby, miss every soft brown curl of hair, every smile and tear, breathing his wonderful sea salt smell, kissing the ends of his long, elegant fingers.  When I close my eyes, I can see, hear, smell and feel him as if I held him yesterday but I know my arms are empty.  That is the truth and it would be a hard, cruel truth but for Christ.  But for the One one upon whose feet I pour out the perfume of my life, its fragrance a bittersweet blend of pain and joy, the sandalwood of loss, the bergamot of yearning, but always, always the rose-sweet smell of adoration.

For I will be reunited with my Eddie.  I will hold him in these arms again and breathe him in.  He is not gone.  His spirit, the essence of him, that which was the most vital, the most pure, is more alive than ever and ever with me.  He is safe and happy in the care of the One who created him, who loved him enough to make him unique down to every last detail, who gave him that lovely salty smell and knew the number of hairs on his head.  I look forward to an eternity with him and I think eternity smells sweet.

So I am going to enjoy my life here on earth.  I'm going to breathe in my lovely little air and earth children every chance I get while looking forward to the day when I will be reunited with their saltwater brother.  Because life is a rich, fine wine and has a beautiful bouquet, the bitter notes only serving to enrich the sweet.  I'm going to take a good long sniff and then drink it up, savoring every moment, every nuance of the cup that I've been given.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Just Another Everyday Miracle

So God performed a miracle Sunday night.  I should not be surprised; I look forward to the day I am not.  It's actually a little odd that I was surprised considering the fact that if I listed every single miracle God has performed in my life the list would be extensive indeed.

I'm not talking about blessings.  If I started writing blessings it would fill a book.  Sometimes people use the terms rather interchangeably and I'm cool with that.  I consider my children miracles and blessings.  But non-believers are having children all the time, completely oblivious to God's hand in their child's creation.  How they do that is a mystery to me.  I mean, not the having children part.  I am aware of how all of that works although I think a few people doubted me on that score when I managed to have two children in less than thirteen months.  I mean the witnessing of creation, of the birth of a brand new human being, its transformation from zygote to fetus to person in a mere nine months, and still having doubts about the presence of our Creator.

I'm talking about things that are inexplicable but for the power of God.  Of people who have cancer suddenly being cancer free.  Of babies hearts that were still beginning to beat.  Seas parting, water to wine.  That sort of thing.  God is still moving in these ways all the time and He showed me that throughout Eddie's life in so many ways that this blog has yet to contain them.

Since Eddie I have been living in something of a miracle-free zone, too raw with grief and loss to seek the miraculous in my day to day life.  I would happily discuss the miracles of my past but when present circumstances hit hard I felt more of a spirit of surrender than of petition and power.  Luckily, God wasn't paying any attention to my zone and doled out lots of blessings and even a few miracles during that time.  He has been calling me in past months, however.  He has been telling me that my rest is over and that it is time again to ask, to expect, to believe.

When Baby Boy woke up Sunday morning, he wasn't exactly himself.  No manifested illness yet, just unusually cranky and sensitive.  Falling back on mother's intuition, I decided to stay home from church.  By mid-afternoon, he had a stuffy nose and fever.  I prayed for him, but not in a way that expected radical results.  Just a quick prayer for his healing, his comfort, and wisdom for his care.  We snuggled and watched movies.  He drank lots of juice and managed to eat a little.  Nothing scary.  Just a sick kid.

That evening he had a low grade fever as he fell asleep.  As is customary with that sort of thing, he woke up around midnight, very hot and crying.  Baby Boy doesn't do sick well.  He once had me preparing for a trip to the ER before I realized he just had gas.  He's a tough guy when it comes to injury; he dislocated his thumb at preschool and kept on trucking.  But when it comes to sick, he's a bit of a wiener.  So I was bunkered in for a long night of crying, moaning, and other such carrying on.  Not that I wasn't sympathetic; I hate it when my babies are sick and he was getting nothing but TLC.  There was just another part of me that really wanted to go back to bed.

I started thinking about Eddie.  About the long, restless nights when his body raged with infection and I could do nothing but hold him, murmur words of comfort and pray.  I thought about the relief I always felt when his fevers would break, the kind that makes your knees go weak and your body quiver.  I thanked God that this was not like that.  That this was just a normal fever, an immune-builder for an otherwise healthy kid.

But then I looked at my little man's pained face and his tear-streaked cheeks and my heart just broke.  I prayed.  I put my hand on his head and prayed for God to take his fever and whatever was causing it away from him.  That he be immediately and completely healed.  Nothing happened.  I felt a familiar disappointment creep in.  One of those faithless, "seriously?" moments coming fast upon me.  I felt like a failure.  Because if the folks over at Bethel church in California can re-grow somebody's bones, make the lame walk and the blind see, why can't I fix a stinking flu?

God brought to my mind then something I'd read in Bill Johnson's book.  He said he wasn't batting a thousand.  That sometimes he prayed and it seemed like nothing happened.  But he kept praying.  He didn't let what might look like an unanswered prayer for one person keep him from praying for the next.  I thought about persistence and the parable of the persistent widow.  It's in Luke 18:1-8 and basically encourages us to bug God about the things on our hearts.

So I prayed again, not focusing this time on my son's tears but rather on God's truth.  The truth is that no one in Redding, California is healing anybody; God is through them.  And if He can use them, He can use me.  So I stood on that truth, claiming my own power through the Holy Spirit and asking again that He heal Baby Boy's flu.  I asked my husband to pray for him and he laid hands on him as well.  We agreed in prayer for his healing.

At first, it seemed like nothing was going to happen but I was okay with that.  I didn't feel anymore like I hadn't prayed right or enough.  I had acknowledged that God had the power to heal Baby Boy through me and my husband and asked Him with thanksgiving to do so.  I think that is all anybody can do and after that it either is God's will to grant your petition or not.  But I kept my hand on my little boy, not praying any words but just staying in that blessed God-space with him.  And, suddenly, I felt something.  An ache in my whole body, like a low-level electrical current.  It was uncomfortable and I almost withdrew from it, but I heard God's voice asking me if I wanted this or not.  So I stayed there and let the power of the Holy Spirit course through me and into my son.

He quieted.  I kissed his forehead and he was fever free.  No sweating or shaking as usually accompanies a fever breaking.  Just one moment he was burning up and the next he was cool as a cucumber.  Twenty seconds later he saw a lightning flash outside and was out of bed, running from window to window to try and see another.  He was hyper and happy, exclaiming, "Mommy, you get up with me?  Daddy, you get up with me?"  You would have never known he had been ill.

It's Tuesday now and Baby Boy has had no more signs of illness whatsoever.  I was so happy because it meant we didn't have to miss Crazy Hat, Sock and Tie Day at school (it's the little things, you know?).  I am happy because I've made another breakthrough, another baby step closer to a more complete knowledge and fellowship with the One who is Love.  Who is Healer.  Who is Helper.  Who is God.  I know Baby Boy would have gotten over whatever it was in time.  A trip to the doctor, a few missed days of preschool.  These things aren't a big deal.  But what God is showing me is that it doesn't have to be a big deal to call Him in on it.  That He is just as ready and able to heal a hang nail as He is to restore an amputated limb.

God spoke to me once shortly after Eddie died and told me I was free to carry my own burdens but it was like insisting on carrying my own groceries when the strongest man in the world was offering to lend me a hand.  It's a good illustration (imagine that) and helps me with my worries, but I had never applied it in this context before.  It encourages me to not except the expected anymore but to bring everything -- every piddling everyday thing -- to God with thanksgiving and to expect the miraculous to happen.  Sometimes it won't, but what does that matter?  I'm going to keep going, boldly and loudly, immune to embarrassment and full of childlike anticipation of when I will see the next flash of miraculous lightning.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Divine

We went to mass this past Sunday.  Not church, where we have been going for the past two years or so, but mass at an honest to goodness Catholic church.  We spent the weekend with my stepdaughters in Austin and the hotel we booked (Hotel Allandale -- highly recommend) was right across the street from a gigantic, beautiful cathedral.  I knew instantly where I wanted to be Sunday morning.

You see I love cathedrals.  I love stained glass and high ceilings, altars, alcoves and naves.  I don't mind the odd gargoyle or two.  There is something about walking into this kind of sanctuary that invokes awe and I need awe.  I don't need to think for a moment that God and I stand on equal footing.  That He is either as small as me or I am as big as He.  That kind of thinking is dangerous and possibly lethal in effect.  Awe is impossible without humility and I need to be humble at all costs.

I just read an article in which the author describes a Hindu temple he visited in Bali.  Its deity is ensconced behind ten walls and how far one can travel into the temple is dependent on one's devotion.  For example, non-Hindus cannot pass further than the first few rooms.  Only those who have pledged their lives in complete devotion to this particular god are permitted into the inner sanctum.

I think it is perfectly obvious if you've been reading this blog that I am not a Hindu.  I believe there is nothing in that tenth room except a statue.  But the oblates of that temple believe it houses a god and they do not treat that belief casually.  They aren't sitting in the inner sanctum popping their gum and whispering to their neighbor.  They are worshipping with reverence and awe because that is what should be inspired when one is in the presence of the divine.

There is a real God and He is no less deserving of awe than that Hindu statue.  He is the God of the Old Testament, upon whose face no one was permitted to look for fear of death.  He appeared in clouds and burning bushes because mere human beings are not worthy to see Him.  When Moses was granted the rare privilege of being present as God passed by, he came away from the encounter glowing with a radiance so bright that it frightened those at the camp.

I feel like a lot of Christians feel uncomfortable with this kind of a God.  They think Christ's coming somehow made God friendlier or more accessible to us lowly mortals.  I don't believe that.  I believe Christ was God made man, both fully God and fully man.  I believe that the Holy Spirit lives within us.  Through that Spirit I believe we are able to more clearly know the will of God, to hear His voice.  But I believe the nature of God the Father has never changed.  He was, is and will always be bigger, better and more awesome than I can even begin to imagine.  I think if He revealed Himself fully, showed me His face, that I would drop dead from lethal awesomeness.

I need to be reminded of that sometimes.  I don't need to be comforted; I need to be humbled.  I don't need to be comfortable; I need to experience the divine.  And standing in St. Louis Catholic church Sunday morning, smelling the incense and looking at the grandeur of the cathedral, I felt so small, so insignificant, and so blessed.  That the God of the universe even allows me to stand in His presence is an honor beyond imagining.  I should be prostrate on the floor before Him, yet He lifts up my head.

I don't know where your awe-inspiring place is.  I know many of you aren't Catholic and wouldn't want to be.   But whatever reminds you, be it a church or a beautiful beach, that God is really, really big, I encourage you to go there.  Often.  Because we need awe and splendor in our lives.  It pulls us up out of this mediocre life and lifts us up toward the divine even while we are bowing our heads.  I want to approach God with worship and adoration, not casually and certainly not with a spirit of entitlement.  He loves us enough to offer us entry into the inner sanctum, into His tenth room, everywhere and every day.  And though I won't see His face when I enter in, I will experience Him, I will be in the presence of the divine and that is a privilege not to be taken for granted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolved

I used to make New Year's resolutions.  Lots and lots of New Year's resolutions.  It was not unusual for me to start the new year with a list of "to do" or "not to do"s that was a legal-sized page long.  In my semi-adult years, the resolve to decrease drinking or quit altogether was usually #1 on the list... and usually the first one broken.  Eating better and working out more were always somewhere in there as well as promises to read my daily devotional without fail. 

The other twenty or so varied over the years.  From the extremely specific, as in my attempts to solve my perpetual bed head issues ("I resolve to wash my hair in the morning rather than the evenings"), to the impossibly vague ("I resolve to be a better person in [insert year here]"), I was a resolution junkie.  I'd usually rediscover the list sometime in the spring, while nursing a hangover and a bad case of bed head, crumple it up and throw it away in a fit of self-deprecating despair.  I was the queen of good intentions and we all know which road is paved with those.

So I finally scaled down and started just having one resolution.  One year I remember it was "I resolve to stop worrying."  It was a good idea in theory.  I would catch myself worrying, however, and proceed to worry about the fact that I was worrying.  It was a distinctly neurotic year.

I'm not sure in which year I stopped making resolutions.  I don't remember making any in 2004, but, then again, I don't remember much about 2004 at all.  2005 was earmarked with sobriety and I think that probably took all the resolve that I had in me.  After that, "one day at a time" took over and, really, every day has been a new year of sorts for me since then.  A new chance, a fresh start every morning.  I haven't made a specific resolution since, just lots of prayers with a few intentions thrown in. 

Looking back, though, I'm pleased that I'm living out a lot of those old resolutions.  I have healthy eating habits (for the most part) and I'm active and getting fit.  I haven't had a drink in over six years.  I still tend to sleep on wet hair, but I'm not really worried about that.  In fact, I'm not really worried about anything most of the time and that's a great place to be.  

It's not that my resolve suddenly got stronger or my will power greater.  It's not that some outside force suddenly gave me the motivation that I needed to be the person I wanted to be when I would make those laundry lists of self-improvements.  It's that I took my focus off all of that and started seeking God.  In Matthew 6:33 Jesus says, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."  It's right after He said that you don't have to worry about anything, not what you'll eat or what you'll wear, nothing at all.  So when I started seeking, He started giving.  He took away my desire for alcohol.  He gave me an appetite for good, healthy food and provided the means to acquire it.  He has planted the desire in my heart to run and jump and be active.  It's awesome.  When He said "all these things," He meant it.  He can and will take care of everything if you just bring your heart to Him.

Though I love myself, who I am in Christ, there is certainly room for improvement.  When I say I eat healthy food, I am of course not mentioning the bowl of caramel popcorn I just inhaled at 11:30 this morning.  My housekeeping skills leave much to be desired and I am hopelessly disorganized.  When I open my closet door I instinctively take a step back in case something falls out of it.  I fail to show grace when I should and say a lot of things that I shouldn't.  I am a mess, just like any other human being.  But I'm resolved.  My resolution, not only for 2012, but for every single day for the rest of my life, is always going to be the same.  I'm going to seek God.  I'm going to bring my faults and failings, lay them at the foot of the cross, and trust that He can take care of it all.  That He loves me, just as I am, and that His mercy endures in 2012 and beyond.  Happy New Year!