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Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Reluctant Gardener

I'm not a gardener.  This is one of the many things that make me something of a black sheep in my family.  My mother is blessed with a green thumb.  One of my sisters is a pro with tomatoes and any number of vegetable and herb gardens.  The other sister... I swear, as she walks along, little green shoots spring up from the earth from the path upon which she has passed.  And they aren't weeds.  Those ladies can grow a garden.

I, on the other hand, can kill a cactus.  Or a chia pet.  These two things are proven facts.  Honestly, I think I could kill Astroturf.  When I moved into our house, I was gifted a thriving, beautiful garden in our backyard and an impeccable lawn out front.  It terrified me.  For the past two years, I have watered but done precious little else.  No planting, no weeding, no pruning.  I gave the plants a drink, dollar weed and trumpet vine alike, and hoped for the best.

Bad things have happened.  The front lawn has strange dead patches.  I have no idea how that happened.  The back yard has thriving vines and a beautiful rose bush, but a fair crop of Johnson grass and various other weeds as well.  This fall I decided enough was enough.  I was going to conquer my fear and become a gardener.

Because it was fear, more than laziness, that kept me from donning a pair of nubbly gloves and attacking Mother Nature.  I have always been terrified of making mistakes.  And when you are new to something, it is virtually guaranteed that you are going to screw up.  I was afraid I would pull up the crape myrtles mistaking them for a weed or a "trash tree."  Afraid that in my ignorance I would kill all the good and nurture all the bad.

This fall, however, I decided to be brave.  I looked at my front lawn, wished it was pretty, and realized it wasn't going to get there without me.  Collaborating with my husband, we planted some winter rye and I dug up some weeds.  It improved.  I was inspired.  We went to a nursery where I purchased several flats of winter-friendly bedding plants.  Some shriveled up and died.  But others made it.  And looked pretty.  Nothing like the arboretum-esque gardens I drool over in magazines and that my family can replicate, but nice.  Intentional.  Like somebody loved that little flower bed.

So now that spring is waning and summer quickly approaching, I turned my attention to the wild, overgrown garden that surrounds our pool.  Most of it is the vines that were planted there intentionally and look gorgeous.  But they are intermingled with undesirables: baby trees far too close to the fence line, unsightly knee-high weeds, fantastically healthy dandelions.  With a deep breath, I grabbed the clippers and went for it.  With my limited horticultural knowledge I was fairly sure I would destroy something nice.

And I did.  While my children splashed happily in the pool, I stared with no small amount of dismay at an area of Virgina Creeper that was drooping dangerously.  By this evening, I have had to admit... that part's dead.  In my zeal to clear the debris, I over-pruned and destroyed.

But I'm not going to despair.  I'm going to take the advice I give my own children:  you have to fail sometimes if you are ever going to learn.  It's a tough pill to swallow and, no, my kids do not believe me on this one yet.  It doesn't make it any less right.  My garden still looks intentional, like somebody loves it.  It's just somebody who got a little clipper happy.

The Virginia Creeper is going to be fine, I think.  It is still thick and healthy further down the fence and it should do its job and creep along, covering up my mistake by summer's end.  In the meantime, I moved my husband's gas grill in front of the bald spot so it looks like maybe I meant to do that for fire safety reasons or something.  Maybe I'll hang a bird feeder.  It'll be alright.  And the important thing is, I'm trying.  I'm not letting it fall to the slow decay of neglect out of fear that I might be less than perfect.  I'm failing and I'm learning and remembering that, really, that's what life is all about.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Don't Feel Like Dancing

Wednesday was one of those errand running kind of days.  Before one of these days it is always best if I can take several deep breaths, imbibe a half gallon or so of coffee, practice Zen meditation, and spend an hour in prayer.  Because my errand days involve a rambunctious three year old and four year old.  Getting in and out of the car, negotiating parking lots, and practicing our "store manners" is an exhausting and patience-trying practice.  I have done it often enough now that I know it is best not to panic, not to be in a hurry, and to at least drink a cup of coffee and read a quick devotional before we head out the door.

On Wednesday, my two darlings were in particularly high spirits.  I bribed them with frozen yogurt to get through the first half of our day and they managed to keep it together enough to earn their reward.  While at the yogurt shop, I got a phone call from my husband (who has been working all kinds of overtime) with what I'm sure seemed to be a reasonable request:  would I stop by the bank and get a cashier's check so he could drop off his truck payment the next day?  I took a deep breath, trying  not to envision the possible disasters of standing in line at the bank lobby along with the two giggling balls of energy currently slurping up their sugary treats across the table from me, and did the right thing.  I put on my most cheerful tone and said, "Ok!"

Outside of the bank, I gave a pep talk.  "Okay guys," I said, "this is the bank.  So we need to have our best manners.  That means no running, no climbing, no jumping around and no screaming."  There was a moment of silence.  Then Baby Boy asked me in his most outraged tone of voice, "No dancing?"  I laughed and, oddly enough, relaxed.  "You can dance," I said.  "Just dance slowly."  So while I talked to the teller (by an act of God there was no line) and took care of my business, my lovely, crazy children stood behind me and did a slow, quiet boogie to a soundtrack only they could hear.

I love how God uses my children to get my attention and realign my priorities.  And sometimes re-realign them.  I'm glad He keeps me laughing and grateful.  I hope I'm never so stressed out or irritable that I would actually tell one of my babies that they couldn't dance.  They can always dance and I hope that they always want to.  I hope that they are downright infected by that kind of joy for their entire lifetimes.  And I'm so grateful that they pass it along to me.

One of my favorite songs is "I Don't Feel Like Dancing" by the Scissor Sisters (it's written by Elton John which is one of the reasons it is so fabulous; sorry, music geek moment).  It's peppy and fun.  It is very nearly impossible to be in a bad mood when you listen to this retro-disco gem and, ironically, equally difficult not to dance.  Even the most stoic of individuals would be hard pressed not to get a little bootie shake going while listening.

So to tie my kids cuteness and Elton John's fabulousness to scripture (not an easy trick), I was thinking about all of this in the context of Philippians 4:4.  One of my favorite verses (written by the apostle Paul which is one of the reasons it is so fabulous), it says simply, "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!"  It seems like too much to ask.  Too much when there are errands to run, bills to pay, children to raise, others to grieve for.  But I think if we let Christ set the soundtrack to our lives, we can't help but move to the beat.  If we let Him be the conductor, we will find ourselves dancing even when we don't feel like it.  We won't be able to help ourselves.  The idea of not dancing, of not rejoicing, will seem ridiculous and oppressive.  Sometimes we will leap and shout and laugh out loud.  Sometimes our dance will be slow, quiet, and set to music that no one else seems to hear.  But we should be, we can be, always dancing, always rejoicing.  Even in line at the bank.           

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

Mother's Day was never really a big deal in our house.  While my mom appreciated any cards and gifts we came home with from school, she made it clear as we got older that a simple "Happy Mother's Day" or a phone call home were really sufficient.  I grew up considering it a Hallmark holiday, nothing to make a big to-do about, and I carried that feeling along as I became a mother myself.  A nice word or card from my husband, step-daughters, and other family and friends was nice but I didn't need anything dramatic.

So it is odd to me that Mother's Day has turned out to be tricky in the years since Eddie made me an "official" mother.  Don't get me wrong; step-mothers are definitely mothers.  I love my "wicked" step-daughters very, very much and would throw myself in front of a bus for them.  But I'm not their mommy; someone else has that privilege and that fact is and will always be totally fine with me.  In fact, it shouldn't be any other way.  And there is something indescribably wonderful about the moment when YOU are the mommy.  The great and powerful Wizard of Mom.

Eddie's labor was crazy and in retrospect a little funny.  Scary, painful and topsy-turvy in almost every way, when the time came for me to push him into this world I was way more focused on getting the whole ordeal over with than on the reality that I was about to meet, face-to-face, the little man responsible for all the wiggles, thumps and heartburn I'd been experiencing in the previous months.  Immediately after he was born, I experienced a rush of endorphins unlike any other, and had to be reminded by my doula, between my giggles, to sit up enough to catch a glimpse of him before he was whisked away to be surrounded by a crowd of doctors and nurses preparing him for his surgery and trip to NICU.  I remember smiling at him, those bird-like, dark brown eyes that shone with righteous anger and indignation at being so rudely brought from his warm, womb-world into the bright florescent glare of "reality."  A few moments later, as he was being rolled away in his little incubator to surgery, the ob/gyn called out, "Don't forget to show him to mom."

They paused beside my bed and I got a really good look at him.  He was swaddled up to his nose and wearing a tiny hat, but looking at that fussy inch and a half of exposed face, something happened in my heart.  It opened up, gained a dimension, broke in two and doubled in size all in one instant.  I wasn't able to hold him or even kiss him, but I reached through the circle "window" and touched his forehead.  I made the sign of the cross there and said the only words that came to my mind.  Nothing profound.  With more emotion than I knew how to deal with pouring through me, I whispered, "Hi, baby!"

I would get two Mother's Days with Eddie but I don't remember anything about either of them.  They came and went like any other day back then I would guess, with desperate hope and gratitude that my baby boy was alive.  I didn't prepare for the coming of my first Mother's Day without him because it had never been a significant celebration so I was surprised when I cried inconsolably the day before.  I found on the day itself that I was pregnant with Baby Girl, so I blamed hormones for the tears.

I've got no excuse this Mother's Day.  No pregnancy hormones to blame.  And, still, unexpectedly, it was a rough one.  One where my longing for the one I had lost threatened to overtake the gratitude I have for his life and the life of the two who are still with me.  I put on a good face, went to church, worshipped and cried, but dried my tears in time to talk to friends and go to lunch afterward.  I enjoyed a warm, sunny afternoon watching Baby Boy run crazy through a local splash-park while Baby Girl clung to my skirts and avoided the water at all costs.  But when we came home, I needed to lay down, exhausted by a day of simply carrying on.

I dreamed of Eddie, lying in a hospital bed, the size he was at around eighteen months.  He was sleeping, his central line and sterile dressing visible on his bare chest, the thin flannel of a hospital blanket covering him to the waist.  I was explaining to a nurse that he was going to need TPN (his intravenous nutrition) and she was going to make sure they got the orders for it soon.  He looked good, as he had on his best days when his skin was plump and healthy, his color a nice bronze but not yellow.  The nurse was pleased at his liver numbers.  It was a good "day in the life."  I kissed his hairline, those beautiful, soft little curls, while he slept and waited for... something.  I don't know what it was.

When I woke up I felt peaceful.  Blessed to have been able to visit him, if only in a dream.  To have been able to kiss him and remember with startling clarity what life was like back then.  Hope triumphing over anxiety; peace in the midst of turmoil.  Beyond my bedroom door I could hear my children laughing, big loud raucous giggles and I smiled.  But I didn't want to go out there yet.  I wasn't ready to leave the warm, womb-world of my bed and face the harsh florescent light of reality without my Eddie.  The one who changed my heart.  Who made me "mommy."  So I lay there for a little while and thanked God for him.  For holding me in the palm of His hand and giving me comfort.  I closed my eyes, feeling close to God and close to Eddie, and breathed for a little while.  Then I got up.  Because life was waiting for me beyond that door.  Hope was waiting.  Joy was waiting.  And two beautiful, smiling faces whose first words upon seeing me walking down the hall toward them was an excited and exuberant, "Mommy!"

Monday, May 7, 2012


I finished my first half marathon yesterday.  If you follow the blog, you know this is something I was training for, something I really wanted to do.  On February 29th in my post "Seasons," I jokingly prayed at the end of it that God help me run the White Rock half marathon in under three hours.  It was my goal and at the time seemed extremely ambitious to me.

I didn't run the White Rock half marathon yesterday.  That one is in December.  No, I ran the Heels and Hills half marathon and I finished in two hours, fifty three minutes, and fifty seconds.  In other words, I accomplished my goal of running a half marathon in under three months ahead of schedule.

I am not posting this to brag or to show everybody what a super athletic person I am.  Um, actually, I'm not.  I never participated in athletics in high school.  My phys ed credits in college included bowling and ballroom dance.  I ran a bit here and there during those years but never further than a 5k (3.1 miles).  I started running in earnest during law school but was more interested in preserving my ability to lift a twelve ounce longneck and stay thin than in any kind of physical conditioning or competition.  The triathlon I finished in 2004 was the only medal-worthy race I had ever competed in and it was immediately followed by a long, long, long break from any kind of physical fitness at all.

I'm posting this accomplishment because I want to tell everyone, including anyone who might just be stopping by from cyberspace, to look at what GOD can do.  (Subtitle:  Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.)  I prayed to be physically fit and God gave me a burning desire to get off my rotunda and get moving.  He put people in my life with the same desires, similar goals, and they inspired me to set bigger, better, crazier goals for myself.  He gave me focus and He gave me ability.  And He saved me from myself.

Because I have issues.  Really big, nasty ones.  And one of these is an ability to get an oversized ego in lightning  quick time.  If I do anything praise-worthy, my first reaction tends to be, "Look what I can do."  It's a character defect that I hope one day will be removed from me entirely by the grace of God, but in the meantime maturity and sobriety have at least bought me awareness.  I am aware that I have this tendency and that it is a problem.  So, anytime I feel the "me" in all of this rearing her ugly head I respond by praying one of the most difficult but also one of the most frequent prayers I pray.  "God, please keep me humble."

A word to the wise:  Don't pray this prayer unless you really, really mean it.  Humility is a quality of Christ-like living and the gateway to gratitude and all other good things, but it is a lesson learned through ego-shattering humiliation and the appearance of defeat.  Every time I pray for humility, I cringe a little inwardly and hope He's gentle with me.  And normally He is, but He also answers the prayer and does what needs to be done to keep me humble.

I'm not going to list all the ways that He has done me this difficult favor during my months of training because many of them are embarrassing and I frankly don't want to share them.  On the lesser side of things, there have been times I set out to do eight miles that I could hardly manage one.  Times when I remembered the wheezy, injury prone, weak hipped, non-athlete that I have always been with sudden and alarming clarity.  In the week leading up to this race, I faced more physical difficulties than I had in any week since I have begun running again.  On the Saturday before the race I was a wreck.  I felt like I had a cold, was nauseated, my hip and knee were killing me and I could not get any rest.  I knew I couldn't run 13.1 miles the next day, but I wasn't panicked about that.  Because I knew through Christ, I could.

I knew God wanted me to run this race.  I don't know all the reasons why.  I know I've been blessed by it and I hope others will be somehow.  But, as with all God things, I don't need to know why.  I just knew He did.  And if He wants you to do something, you can do it, no matter what.  So I got ready Saturday night with all the excitement and anticipation of a race day ahead, ignoring the pain in my leg and my throat.  I went to bed Saturday night, prayed that everything would stop hurting by morning, and got some rest, aside from the "Christmas morning" moments of waking up to look at the clock in anticipation.

Sunday morning I woke up feeling fine.  Energized.  Ready to go.  My friends surprised me with a running shirt commemorating my first half and a 13.1 charm for my laces, as well as Team Abby shirts for themselves.  We ran, we laughed, I dry-heaved and kept moving.  It was hot, humid, hard, humbling and fantastic.  At the thirteen mile mark, we sprinted for the finish.  Within yards of the finish line, it felt like my legs were going to give way and I was going to do a face plant.  I heard my husband's voice yell, "Go, Abby!" and looked over to see my beautiful family and friends watching and cheering for me.  Face planting was no longer an option and I pushed and prayed and thanked God that I was really, truly doing this thing.  I finished strong... and humble.

Because I didn't run a half marathon by myself.  God gave me the strength and desire to train for it.  He spared me from injury.  But He went above and beyond that.  I didn't earn those friends who ran with me and carried me through; God gave them to me.  I didn't create an amazing family in my own power; God sent me my husband and He blessed us with these children.  He used all of them and this race to show to me less about what I can do than what He can.  He wants me to dream big so that He can do even bigger.  So that He can push me through 13.1 miles two months after I began training for 3.1 miles.  Because His plans for me are so much greater than any plan I might have for myself and His means to accomplish anything are infinite.   And that is a wonderful, painless lesson in humility.