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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Glimpsing Abundance

I started this new year with great intentions to faithfully post to this blog at least six days a week.  I'm a little discouraged to see that I have failed already (significantly so) but am going to be diligent in beginning again.  There are some days when I truly just feel that I have nothing to say, at least nothing interesting.  Then there are other days in which I have something to say but just don't really feel ready to say it.

This post is one of the latter posts, a few days in the making.  Because, more than anything, this blog is my tribute to Eddie, my touchstone in remembering the beautiful lessons his life taught me, my way of keeping his memory fresh and sharing him with others, especially those who didn't get to know him in life.  So I felt that I should post my dream about him Thursday night.  Every time I sat down to do so, however, I felt my throat tighten and my heart break a little and I stopped.  I put it off.  But I really don't think I'm going to have it in me to write about anything else until I get this out there into the cyber-sphere so I'm gutting it up and getting through it.

It wasn't a bad dream at all.  In it, Eddie was standing on a chair in front of our kitchen table, frustrated with some project he was undertaking on the table's surface.  He looked just as he had in the last months of his life:  a gorgeous little man-toddler, hardly larger than the average twelve month old but with a maturity of expression befitting an adult.  The fact that he was standing should have clued me in that this was a dream, since he was never able to stand on his own, but it was overshadowed by his terrific frown, which was definitely true to life.  In my dream I was laughing at the intensity of it and he was not pleased with my giggling.  I scooted next to him in the chair and hugged him, snuggling my head into the curve of his back and closing my eyes, loving every grumpy inch of my curmudgeonly son.

I then remember holding him, cradling him in my arms as if to rock him to sleep.  I was smiling at him and bent to kiss the curls that lined his high forehead.  Someone was there with a camera, taking our picture.

An unremarkable dream, really.  That's it.  No big revelations, no visions, no lessons.  Except for the fact that he was standing, those moments could have been snatched from any number of the days that we shared together.  But we don't share days together anymore, at least not in the way we used to.  I feel his presence with me, some days more than others; I talk to him in my heart.  But I don't get to see that hilariously frightening frown or kiss those beautiful curls, so these dreams are precious to me.  I wouldn't trade them for the world.  They give me little glimpses of the person I miss most, that I will always miss most, but that doesn't keep them from being painful.  I woke up Friday morning feeling as if my chest had been hollowed out with an ice cream scoop.

These are the mornings when I have to breathe a little deeper.  A little more deliberately.  When I have to get on my knees (figuratively) before I even get out of bed.  I give praise to the God who is going to get me through this day, through this life, without my first born son.  Because the answer to the comment I get more than any other, "I don't know how you do it," is, honestly, really, I don't.  I wake up some mornings and can't imagine surviving the day.  I don't know how to get out of bed and have something that resembles a decent day.  I don't know how to do it, but I know someone who does and I trust Him.  So far He hasn't let me down.

So I prayed and I got out of bed.  I prayed a little more and made coffee.  And by the time my husband and bounding preschoolers were up and about, I was able to give them all a genuine smile.  We played music and watched cartoons.  I drank a hot cup of coffee and could appreciate its taste, its rich aroma, its magical reviving power.  We decided on the day's adventure, a trip to see the "Dinosaurs Alive!" exhibit at a local nature park.  On the way we stopped and ate donuts.  I didn't have a decent day; I had a great one.

One of my go-to Bible verses is John 10:10 which reads, "The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.  I have come so that may have life and have it in abundance."  The latter part of that verse was printed on the memorial cards from Eddie's funeral and I know it probably seemed a strange choice to some.  After all, 22 months of life does not seem "abundant" by the world's standards and in many ways, no, it wasn't enough.  But abundance is not about quantity but quality.  It's not about money or material possessions.  It's not even about bountiful amounts of food, though those are always nice.  Abundance, Christ's abundance, is about starting the day lost in loss, crippled by the pain of the past, but finding God's hands ever open, doling out much more than sufficiency.  Pouring out joy overflowing, "pressed down, shaken together, and running over."  Were it not for Eddie, I might have missed what an abundant life looked like.  Through his short little life, my eyes were opened to who God was, what He could do, and what He offers, freely, daily, and without reservation.  Love divine, all loves excelling.

So, yes, it hurts to close my eyes and see those images from my dream, not to mention all of those from my memory.  I yearn to hold my little boy again and the promise of our heavenly reunion seems too remote, too far away, to ease the longing.  But God is with me in these moments, covering me with His comfort and waiting for me to go to Him for help.  To ask Him to get me through, to which He responds by lifting me up, above and beyond any height to which I could have aspired.  I ask to be able to cope; He gives me the ability to flourish.  I ask not to cry; He calls me to laugh.  I ask for life to be tolerable; He makes it phenomenal.  So through grateful tears tonight, I find myself whispering, simply, "Abundance."  Much more than enough.  The best I could hope for and better.          


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Art and Other Messes

One of my favorite things to do with my kids is art.  I don't really know how else to put it, though the phrase "do art" doesn't really make me happy.  I guess I could say "create art" or "make art" but that implies an activeness on my part that is very much absent when we have our little art sessions.  Not because I don't want to participate.  Sometimes I have to restrain myself from becoming more actively involved.  Instead I try to provide interesting materials and mediums and let them do the creating.  This process is always different, always interesting, and always extremely, extremely messy.

Today's art lesson, such as it was, was no different.  It started with an idea I saw on Pinterest that I liked and thought would work well for my twos class at preschool.  My kids are testers for all art and sensory projects, even though they are a bit older than my demographic.  For one thing, they prepare me in advance for the fact that, whatever the thing looks like on Pinterest, the result is probably not going to be the same if toddlers or preschoolers are given free reign.  For another, they always have a whole lot of fun and that makes me happy.

So today's project, initially, was relief painting with tape.  I masking-taped the first letters of their names on a piece of paper and had them paint the paper around it.  Tomorrow, when everything is dry, I'll take the tape off and see if it looks cool or if I should relegate it to the "fun at home, not so much for school" list.  My kids had a blast splashing paint on the page and rubbing it over the taped letters.  After they were done with that I provided more paper so that they could paint at will.  Baby Girl covered a page with green and began drawing designs.  Baby Boy did what he almost always does... mixing colors together until everything is a really strange purply-grey-brown blob.

Here is where my restraint comes in.  He loves to mix colors and he loves to use a lot of paint while experimenting.  Like, a lot of paint.  He would go through gallons if it was available to him and he would take all of the lovely bright hues and, by process of experimentation, produce gallons of purply-grey-brown.  With all of it.  I grew up in a household where mixing play-doh colors was punishable by death.  Okay, not really, but you get the point.  Watching him swirl and swirl and swirl until we go way past pretty is hard for me.

But I am a woman of strong resolve and I am resolved to let my children be free.  To let them explore their world within safe parameters and to suspend judgement when possible.  As I bit my tongue to prevent myself from saying something to the effect of "that's really probably enough," I repeated to myself the mantra, "He's exploring the medium.  He's exploring the medium."  And he was.  Baby Boy was learning and doing so in a way that made him spontaneously erupt in a fit of joyful giggles.  I was immediately glad I had not "corrected" him and had let him create in the way he wanted to create.

Once the paintings were all done and the little Picassos deposited in the bathtub, I cleaned up the mess and then took a look at the drying masterpieces.  They are beautiful.  There is no doubt whose is whose; Baby Girl's deliberate swirls and twirls are a totally different style than her big brother's excessive Jackson Pollack-esque works.  But one of his in particular is pretty fantastic.  It is purply-grey-red with a big swipe of red (squeezed straight from the bottle) down the center and another of yellow in the corner and it's... beautiful.  I would take a picture of it to post but I'm a terrible photographer and would not do it justice.  Not that I'm about to show it to a gallery or anything.  It's just interesting to me that the moment that my "grown up" brain was shouting in alarm, "Too much paint!!", my child was creating something really striking and... well... beautiful.

Pablo Picasso said, "All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up."  I don't pretend to have the answer to that problem, but I'm going to do my best to protect my little artists' hearts and spirits, to let them be them and not have to be anything else.  It's not always my first inclination.  Baby Girl loves to take pieces of construction paper and a pair of safety scissors and cut the paper into tiny little slivers and squares, triangles and squiggly spirals.  My "grown up" brain screams "Messy!" (and it is) and "Wasteful!" (which, really, it isn't) but I've never complained.  Consequently, the girl has mad scissor skills that were remarked upon by her preschool teachers.  I breathe and decide I'm doing something right.

At the risk of making this blog post too quote-heavy...  As I was looking at Baby Boy's artwork, I was reminded of a quote from Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions (which is nothing short of brilliant if you've never read it) which says, in part, "Let others bring order to chaos.  I would bring chaos to order."  Not that I'm an anarchist or anything, but I do believe this world is chaotic.  There is nothing we can do about it and probably nothing we should do about it.  The chaos is a big part of why it is so beautiful.  The less we try to control it, the happier we will be.  

God tells us the kingdom belongs to children and children don't follow the rules.  They don't try to impose order when chaos will do.  These perfect little artists don't know well enough to have "grown up" brains yet and it suits them just fine.  So I'm going to continue to tell my brain to hush when it's being a spoil sport and let my children inspire me.  Let's get messy.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Celebrate

As I prepare for the arrival of another bundle of joy, it occurs to me that I now am in need of a new pseudonym for one of the boys.  For so long it has been Baby Boy and Baby Girl with no need to disguise the "real" identity of Eddie since he is, after all, deceased.  But there is a little guy on the way who needs his own name.  Or, perhaps, big brother needs a change in his.  Not only is he no longer the baby-est boy, but he turned the ripe old age of five in December, taking him solidly out of the baby category (at least by his own estimation).

Yesterday marked the one month anniversary of this momentous occasion, a whopping five years in the making.  It's been a really big deal.  I mean, birthdays are a really big deal in our family anyway.  Part of this stems from my husband's Mexican heritage, a culture who loves to celebrate and can stretch a birthday party into a month's long event if they so choose, complete with live music, bounce houses and feasts that feed a crowd of hundreds.  I'm really only exaggerating a little.  It's awesome and I love it.  Added on to this cultural penchant for larger than life celebrations, however, is the fact that we only got to celebrate one birthday for Eddie.  I was in the process of planning his second birthday extravaganza when he left us.  Luckily, we had celebrated every week while he was in NICU.  I will never forget that Eddie was born on a Tuesday, because every single Tuesday was a big, big deal for those first three months.  After he was home, I calmed down just a little and it went to monthly celebrations.  Not always the big thing with cake and presents, but an acknowledgement, an excited "You are seven months old today!" when he woke up that morning.

With Eddie, every day was something of a celebration.  Even on the hard days, there was an underlying gratitude that he was there, present, drawing air even if only through the aid of machinery.  I found a random journal entry, scrawled in the pages of a Mead notebook between old meal plans and to do lists.  I was sitting at our kitchen table in a duplex in Bastrop, Eddie napping a few meters away in his crib in our bedroom.  I was grateful and writing about it.  Midway through the entry, I noted that I heard him stir, no cry or call of "Mama," just a simple rustling of body against sheet, the kind of noise that would be easily missed by many parents, those not hyper-sensitively attuned to every single sound (we, the parents of critically ill children, whom God blesses with our own bizarre brand of spider-sense).  I wrote how that tiny little sound shouted joy to me, screaming, "He is alive!"  For as long as he stirred, he lived and as long as he lived, I had hope.

In those days, I could not look ahead to a future where Eddie no longer slept in his crib, no longer awoke with a small stirring followed by the sing-song "MA-ma" which was music to my ears.  The times when my mind would wander toward the possibility of  different days I would feel a tearing in my heart, a pain so acute and sudden, that I would shy away, take a deep breath, and focus on the present moment.  He was there now, I would tell myself, and that is enough.  Life beyond Eddie seemed something I could never bear, never survive.  I imagined that if and when the time came I would just heavily medicate and drift away to la-la land, living a sort of half-life until I got to follow him home.

God had other plans for my life and He gave us Baby Boy, already five months in my womb and completely dependent on me by the time his big brother died.  From those first kicks and wiggles, I had someone else that I loved much more than myself, someone who wasn't going to let me escape into oblivion.  Even as my first tears fell after the breath left Eddie's body, they fell onto my full, round belly and I knew I would go on.  That somehow I was going to survive this; we were, my new Baby Boy and I.  I didn't have any other choice.

What I didn't know was how much better we were going to do than merely survive.  How we were going to thrive.  The laughter and joy we were going to share; the indescribable hope.  I love this picture, one of the first pictures of Baby Boy and me, taken the day after he was born.




There is so much in my expression.  If you didn't know, you would only see the face of a happy, if a little tired, new mother, never guessing that this was also the face of a mother who had lost her child a mere four months before.

Do not make the mistake of thinking I replaced one child with another.  That is impossible and mental.  I grieved for Eddie; I still do.  The tearing, ripping, unbearable pain of loss came in waves in those first years and still comes, crashing and impossible, but I have the strength and fortitude to sit with it, to allow God to draw me near to Him and comfort me.  I breathe through them like a woman in labor until they abate.  I can do this only through God's strength, not my own, but I choose to seek that strength because my children give me a reason to.  A purpose, a direction, and I thank God for that.

"I'm a grown up now," announces Baby Boy with confidence.  "Because I'm five."  I look at him and smile because in so many ways he is, compared to the tiny little bundle born five years and one months ago.  Yet I'm grateful that there is still so much of the baby there too, in no hurry for him or his sister to grow up.  Not just yet.  So perhaps I'll let him keep his moniker for now and we'll wait and see what we'll call the new one when he arrives.  My big Baby Boy crawls into my lap, gives me a kiss, and tells me he loves me so much... can we play Mickey Mouse Clubhouse now?  I laugh and tell him we can.  So it is with a heart full of love, hope and gratitude for this present moment that I sign off, wishing you all a joyful day full of moment to moment blessings.           

Friday, January 4, 2013

Anchors Aweigh

Instead of making my usual list of New Year's resolutions for 2013 (which would have read something like: eat more vegetables, lose baby weight... once I have the baby of course, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah), I'm trying something new this year.  In my search for new and interesting teaching methods for my kids, I ran across a blog called Fairy Dust Teaching and caught onto her recommendations for a mindful beginning to the new year.  I'm only two days in to a five day series, but geeking for the next installment.  I love it when I try something and it really, really works.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The first day's exercise was a reflection on 2012.  Workbook pages that made you reflect on what worked, what didn't, what you accomplished and what fell flat.  It was eye opening and encouraging, showing me where I had excelled in 2012 (physical fitness) and where I had fallen flat (sadly, service to others and creativity).  Instead of using this as an opportunity to beat myself up for not serving meals to the homeless or building a house in El Salvador or something, I reviewed it in non-judgment.  My focus had been on getting back in shape for 2012 and I'd done that, quickly and impressively, if I do say so myself.  So what could I accomplish this year if I shifted that focus to where it needed to be for 2013?  The idea stirred an excitement in me that threatened to overcome the perpetual heartburn of my pregnancy and it was with a sense of anticipation that I put the day's reflection to bed and looked toward the next.

The second day brought a challenge to choose one word to define the year to come.  One word, to provide clarity and focus for what I wanted 2013 to be for me.  Looking at a list of words, so many of them looked good to me.  Create.  Adventure.  Learn.  Live.  Be.  Imagine.  Choosing one was going to be torture.  I just knew that when I found that one word, though, I would know it.  That there would be a click and that would be it.  Going throughout the day to day tasks of a busy homemaker, part of my mind kept wrestling with it, turning the concept over and over like the clothes in my front-loading washing machine.  Then it came to me like a flash.  From Disney Jr. of all places.  I turned on the TV in order to make lunch (if you are a better mom than me and don't use your TV in this manner, hats off to you and all that) and at my kids excited cheers that Jake and the Neverland Pirates was on, I found it.  It resonated like a tuning fork, bringing all those words together into one:  Neverland.  I want this year to be Neverland.

I rushed to write it down in my New Year's workbook.  Neverland.  It was beautiful.  It was creativity and child-like joy, possibility, imagination and endless adventure.

Now, do I know how to instantly transform my home, heart and surroundings to fit the Neverland theme?  Not remotely.  Do I even know what, precisely, that would look like?  Ummm....  No.  But I do know about the power of intention.  I do know that when you plant that seed, that when you voice a desire of your heart, even one as nebulous and undefined as J.M. Barrie's imaginary island, you create a ripple, you throw a stone into the stillness, and things come to you.  You knock and God answers.

I watched the movie Finding Neverland many years ago, which is an adaptation of the story surrounding Barrie's creation of Peter Pan.  I remember crying, not only because of the content of the plot but because it made me realize that being a "grown up" was not necessarily compulsory.  That we could keep a child's heart, if we devoted ourselves to its preservation.  That the world could be full of wonder and discovery every day of our lives, not just those days in which we glimpse the Grand Canyon but also those that we glimpse little more than meatloaf and ketchup stains.  

So it is with a deep breath of salty sea air (produced by my Scentsy burner) and a swig of hearty brew (to wit:  decaf Constant Comment tea), that I embark boldly on this adventure of 2013, my wee first mateys by my side and even a stowaway in my belly (due to arrive in April).  I look forward to seeing what it brings me.  What pirate attacks, what treasures to be found, what dreams to be discovered and realized, as we set sail through stars and sky for Neverland.