Monthly Archives: February 2014

Wooed

I’ve been a bit under the weather this week, and my thinking energy keeps getting all used up before I can work on posts without falling asleep on the keyboard.  But I was reading through my old blog a bit and came across a nice Spring one from last year.  Refreshing.

 (This was originally published here).

Cool, wet breeze wafts through the cracked window, swaying the curtains.  The lightness of lilac sweetness and Spring mud floats in on it.  My husband breathes deep beside me.  The children’s room is quiet, enrobed in overcast morning coziness.  I hear a creak as the wind checks the house’s solid walls.  Satisfied, it moves on.  The home is at peace.

I shift my bulging tummy and try to settle it against a pillow.  It kicks back at me.  The clock stands sentinel.  A few minutes after 5.  It’s Saturday.  Homeschool is over for the year (as much as homeschool can ever be, at least.)  No one need rush this morning.  White sheets are so soft.  They fit around my lumpy edges.  I am warm.  Breathing slowly.  Languid.

But why am I awake?  Had there been a noise that brought me back to consciousness?  I hear only pattering rain and a faint tick from the downstairs clock.  I heave my body over awkwardly.  The boys’ room door is still.  Did someone call me?  Long minutes pass.  My eyes close as I wait.  No voice.  Nothing audible.  But there is a sense.  I am being called.

Maybe it’s just the coffee pot.  I stir and sigh.  Maybe.  But it’s more than that.  Nothing tangible.  Nothing loud enough for my ears to detect.  But deeper than I can hear.  I am being called.

A line from an old Nora Jones song echoes in my brain.  It seems to come from far off.  “Come away with me…”  I heave me legs over the bedside.  The floor is cold.  “Come away with me… I’ll never stop… loving you.”  The stair sighs under my weight.  I hold my breath so I’ll be lighter.  Hope the children don’t hear my heartbeat quicken.  But nothing stirs.

Downstairs.  The clock ticks loudly now.  The refrigerator hums faithfully as I cross the kitchen threshold.  I click on the coffee pot.  The spicy warm smell of brown liquid quickens my mind, anticipating the caffeine.  Both hands clutch the familiar mug as I pad on bare feet to the sofa by the window.  Pink azaleas outside it have mostly passed.  Rain has made everything so green.  I lumber onto the cushions and settle with my Bible.  I am awake now.  Still I can almost but not quite hear.  I am being called.

“Daughter.  Child.”  It’s not the voice of children.  It’s older; more familiar even than my own offspring’s tremulous calls.  “You have come.”  I pull a small blanket over my feet.  Warmth spreads through me in welcome.  Is it from the coffee?

The pages of the big Book swish lightly.  I’m heading to Samuel.  To the book written by a prophet of God.  So long ago.  He was called.  He thought it was Eli, the aging man in the next room.  His mentor.  Samuel was young.  His ears were sharp, his body quick to react.  He jumped up from his bed and responded.  But it wasn’t Eli calling him.

It was God.

I scan the page to find where I left off yesterday.  The chapter I recognize; probably one of the first Bible stories I ever heard.  One of the first I told to my children.  One of the favorites.  Good guy verses bad guy.  Classic.  I’m tempted to gloss over to avoid repetition.  But no.  Soon I’m immersed again in the drama.  David.  Young, sunburned, indomitable, vivacious David.  Goliath.  Brazen, defiant, bullish, impatient Goliath.  Humble and untested stared up at contemptuous and seasoned.  They had no comic books to base their hopes on.  I try not to make a movie of it in my head.  This was real.  Everyone expected David to die.

His big brothers groaned.  If they lived till tomorrow, how would they ever tell their father they had allowed his youngest to battle that foul-mouthed behemoth?  His blood would be on their hands.  Where was God to save them from this reckless, impetuous, poor little brat?

His king sulked.  Tall and muscular, leader, accomplished warrior, he knew he should have accepted the Philistine challenge himself.  But shadows made him jump these days.  The men whispered together when he forbid his own brave son to battle the giant.  There must be some large but foolish brute within his army who could at least put out a decent fight before they met their doom, and he himself could flee to some cave before they were all made slaves or roadkill.  This musician boy was not what he had in mind.  How embarrassing.  Where was God to reject him and allow his kingship to be represented by a measly shepherd kid?

His countrymen trembled.  As if they hadn’t been on edge for a month, hearing the taunts and jeers from the giant echoed across the valley from the entire enemy army.  Men had been deserting daily, slipping away in the night when they could bear no more.  Endless waiting under the scorching sun as the sordid enemy beat down their morale.  This day, they hardly made pretense of secrecy or shame.  Increasing numbers of shadows darted over the hills behind the encampment.  This boy represented their proud military?!?  He had neither armor nor sword.  Where was God to stand by and let this injustice continue?

God was waiting.  Waiting for someone to answer His call.

“Son,” David heard in the recesses of his mind as he stooped to grab a handful of stones.  “You have come.”

I didn’t plan to fight giants today.

I changed diapers, and scrambled eggs, and wiped questionable-smelling mud off of boots.

I read library books, dashed through puddles with a two year old balanced on my 6-month-pregnant belly, ate leftover peanut butter bread.

I sopped up spilled milk, wiped tears, searched for marbles lost.

I chased three week old chickens so my disabled son could hold them.

I ate a nasty cheeseburger.

I buckled.

I unbuckled.

I went to the grocery store on a rainy Memorial Day weekend with four hungry kids right before supper.

I consoled a child who tried to clobber the friendly groundhog with a plastic hockey stick and couldn’t decide if he was more upset that he didn’t kill him for supper or might have hurt him and left him to suffer.

I told another child he couldn’t wear all five of his favorite pairs of underwear to bed.

I made another child eat his broccoli even after he spit the first chewed bite out.

I made another child cry when I removed the bowl of rice he was deliberately spooning into the recesses behind his booster chair.

I killed a spider.

I brought my husband a surprise coffee at work (and a lot of kids who wanted him to buy them stuff.)

I protected children from the scary automatic flush toilets in a public restroom.

I chased a train in the rain (in the van) just to watch it go over the bridge.

I said yes.

I said no.

I said just be quiet I can’t hear myself think.

I said I love you.

I kissed a hurt toe.

I kissed a hurt forehead.

I removed scotch tape from a stuffed animal.

I did dishes.

I vacuumed.

I tucked and re-tucked in.

I blogged.

I survived.

 

And, somehow, though I didn’t expect it, the giants are dead.

 

 

He called.  I answered.  I’m so glad I did.

He didn’t bring her roses

He sat down at the table where she was eating lunch.  She assumed he knew one of her friends sitting with them.  He didn’t.  But it was the beginning.

They were married in a quiet ceremony in a little church.  It was the cold afternoon after Valentine’s Day; the break from college classes was their honeymoon.  Her dress was homemade.  His tux was blue.

That was forty years ago.  Today.

It’s a beautiful love story, but not the kind that ends up in books.  She wasn’t a damsel in distress.  He didn’t pretend to be a knight in shining armor.  He just went to work, every day, and came home when he was done.  She kept the home and bore his children.  I am one of them, so I know their happily ever after isn’t built on Cinderella magic or promises of castles in the clouds.

But then, marriage isn’t dependent on fairy tales. In fact, I rather think Hollywood doesn’t know the beauty of romance beyond the honeymoon.  They don’t see the husband working 50 hours a week in a dead end job. They don’t see him come home and eat a cold dinner and play with his kids and fix a broken toilet and pay a few bills and fall into bed next to his wife with cold feet and messy hormones only to get up with the merciless alarm and repeat it – for years.  They don’t see the beauty.

They think eternity can somehow be counted on one hand.  They think age is only a good thing in wine and wood.  They don’t think happily ever after ever happens without a fancy diamond ring and a lot of promises made with bouquets of roses.

Her ring – the prongs bent as she worked around the house and the stone fell out.  (She found it, much later, as she scrubbed a carpet where someone had been sick.  Diamond in the rough.)

He held her hand when she birthed their children.  She held his as he was wheeled into surgery for cancer.

She sat up late with their children over homework projects.  He got up early to start the cold stove before shoveling the driveway to get to work.

He took a job far away so she could stay home with the children.

She drove them to ballet and soccer and piano lessons and play dates.  He drove a truck around the country and sent her the paycheck.

He spent hours learning computer code at the office.  She spent hours explaining long division to each child in turn.

He ate leftovers.  She always made him a plate.

He grumbled over politics and poured out his frustration at injustices when they talked in the evening over dishes.  She fretted over her children’s health and homework as they bent together over rows of seedlings in the spring.

She pinched pennies.  He took her on vacation, with all the kids and too much luggage, all piled in the minivan.

He taught the children to shift and steer and be gentle with the clutch.  She spent hours in the passenger seat as they practiced, knuckles gripping white, but silent.

She watched as he walked their daughter down the aisle and gave her away.  He smiled soft and happy as he watched her hold her first grandson.

He doesn’t buy her roses.  She doesn’t want them.  Flowers in a vase die.  He buys her seeds, he plows the field and helps water it.  Every year, they watch their gardens bloom.  Seeds planted – they grow.  Nurtured – they flourish.  Invested in – they multiply.

There isn’t a picture of their wedding day on the walls of their house.  But I guess you don’t need a picture of the first day that Rome started to be built…

The fairy tales don’t tell you what the “after” part of happily ever looks like.

But I know.

“After” is where the story really happens.

Scan 3

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad.

Remarkable

Two things happened to me last week.  I got a hair cut.  And I got older.

I didn’t really plan either.  The birthday kind of sneaked up on me this year.  The hair cut was simply because it was my husband’s day off and he kicked me out of the house without children as a birthday present and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

“I haven’t had a cut since I had the baby,” I admitted as the stylist drew her comb through the strands.  “Oh,” she chatted amicably, “Your first?”  “No.” I smiled slightly. “My fifth… My fifth boy.”  The dozen eyes in the cozy salon glanced up.  “No way!” the man who seemed to own the place enunciated his surprise.  “You look about 12!”

“I’m nearly three times that.”  I returned, feeling the math equation might be a bit much for such a place, but such a blunt outburst earned me the right.  “Well, minus four…”

They all recovered and offered customary commendations before returning to breathy discussions of weather and winter boot fashions.  I lapsed into quiet thoughtfulness as the odd sensation of sitting still enrobed me under the bulky black salon cape.  I don’t eschew birthdays.  Not yet, anyway.  I think God encourages us to keep them.

“Set up signposts, make landmarks” the Lord commanded in Jeremiah 31:21.  It is right to mark a place, a time, a thought.  It is good to go back, to remember.  To return.  Birthdays are useful for that.

A year ago at this time, I was pregnant with my fifth child.  I remember.

Three years ago, it was the first week I could bring my fourth new son home from the hospital after his first back and brain surgeries as a mewling infant.  Memories engraved.

Five years ago, I only had two children and thought people were crazy to have more because I missed sleeping though the night.  How times change.

Ten years ago, my young husband and I had just returned to college after spending our Christmas at a castle in the Alps.  Didn’t know how great we had it.

Thirteen years ago, we were newly married and living in our first apartment in the Midwest.  Everything we owned fit in our car.  Those days of small things.

Fourteen years ago, I spent my eighteenth birthday alone flying over the Atlantic to go to college in a different country where I didn’t know the language or any other person.  A defining moment.

Twenty years ago, I spent the day ice skating on the neighbor’s pond, breath hanging in frozen clouds around my head, dreaming of future and naive to my blissful childhood freedom.

Twenty seven years ago, I ran though my house dressed in a pink ballet tutu and sparkles and had a pink cake and remember blowing out the five candles and thinking, “this is the best day of my life!”

And it was.

They all were.

Each day piggy backed on top of the last.  Lessons learned.  Hard and good, growing times accumulated.  Some days were forgotten, some discipline didn’t stick, some history repeated itself.

But some days are worth marking.  It is good to remember.

Once upon a time, God routed the enemy before the Israelites in a glorious battle, back in the old days of documented history.  Samuel their leader marked the victory with a stone.  “Ebenezer”, he named it.  “Stone of help”.

It was just a rock.  Nothing unique.  But whenever men passed by this one on the road, it would help.  It helped them remember.  And then they would think back to that time God had won that impossible fight.  His arm had been strong on their behalf.  For a moment, they would pause.  They would stare off into the distance, hearing in memory the sounds of the fight on that hill.  They again felt the terror, knowing their hopeless situation.  And then they felt the swell of exhilaration at the miraculous salvation that had been their grace that day.  They bowed, briefly.  Thanks to their God.  The God of their help.  That little rock on the hill – it pointed them to the cornerstone of their salvation.  The real Ebenezer.

And then they turned, walked on.  They didn’t dwell there in the past, wishing for younger days, craving the adrenalin rush of battle.  It wasn’t a place to stay.  It was a landmark to point them in the right direction.  This way.  This way is right.  Thank your God, and journey on, knowing He who fights for you goes with you.  To the next landmark.  The next Ebenezer.

My year has been marked.  I went home with more product in my hair than I’d worn in the entire twelve months previous.  The house wasn’t clean.  There was still homeschooling to do.  And laundry.  The baby was hungry.  My son still had tubes and nurses and scars to attend to.  And they had made me a birthday cake.  They helped me blow out the candles.  Twice.  And I smiled as the baby fidgeted on my lap and the brothers squabbled over frosting.

At least my Ebenezer this year was chocolate.

It is good to remember.

A marked tree - in the Alps of Austria
A marked tree – in the Alps of Austria

Chicken Little

Home.  We are home.  Keep your pancake away from your brother’s surgical head incisions.  Maple syrup is not an appropriate dressing!  I said it.  Oh yes I did.

Welcome back to life.

Here, when breakfast falls on the floor (or gets thrown), there are no housekeepers waiting in the halls to heroically swoop in with a mop at the press of a call button.  But at least the breakfast doesn’t taste like cardboard.

Here, we don’t get tested for fatigue or hair loss because it’s clearly the result of indefatigable offspring who cause the hair to be pulled.  But at least we know the cause.

Here, there is no waiting for doctors or tests or procedures.  Here is breathless.  Busy.  But at least we don’t have to wait.

Here is my kitchen.  There is no cafeteria or room service.  In the hospital, I snacked on pre-sliced mangos and peanut butter energy balls.  Here, if I don’t make it, seven people don’t eat.  But at least we eat (or not) together.

Here, if there is fever or crying or pain in the night, there is no nurse to ease it.  But at least I get to hold my own babies when they need me.

Here I administer hugs and hard medicine, discipline and consequence.  But at least I do it while loving them with all my heart.

Here, I buy the diapers.  Here, I answer the questions.  Here, life falls heavy on my shoulders.  Here, I largely feel as if I am running crazy in circles under a falling down sky.  And I want to panic and maybe just a little bit run back to the sterile stern walls of the hospital where life is black and white and not fifty shades of gray and chartreuse and orange crayons and purple bruised knees and pink eye and chocolate milk spots on the walls…

But at least I am home.  All the crazy that is my normal can resume in its colorful glory.  It is good to be here.

Welcome back to life.

ready to leave the hospital
leaving the hospital

On Thursday, Ben’s IV in his neck looked bad when the visiting nurse came to change the dressing over it.  He has a Picc line, a sort of longer-term IV tube that they allowed us to come home with.  This way, he can still get a good dose of antibiotics for a full 21 days without having to sit in a hospital bed for it.  But this port for the anti-infection medicine looked a bit infected.  Ironically.

So, yesterday, we were supposed to get a new one.  This is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.  It’s not brain surgery; it’s just a headache.  But it still collides with little things like homeschooling and breakfast (he can’t eat before the procedure, try explaining that to a three year old) and laundry and paying bills and nursing the baby and maintaining some semblance of a schedule and roasting a chicken for supper and scrubbing chocolate milk off the baseboards.  And Friday I spent hours playing phone tag with doctor’s secretaries to figure out who should look at it – just look at it – because I have never seen a Picc line up close before this.  And why do they all ask me if it looks right because I have never seen one before since thankfully this is my first rodeo and I am a novice in this ring but I am on this wild ride and I’m not planning to let go so help me find the stirrup, cowboy… er, doctor.  And they did.  And they didn’t like its look either.  So they took it out.

But we didn’t get a new Picc line yesterday because we have to make sure an infection didn’t creep into his bloodstream while it was open to the wild world.  Instead they drew a lot of blood and injected him with antibiotics.  So we wait to see.  And we get to wait at home rather than in that sterile world of beeping monitors and the stress that gives you pimples.

It is good to be here.

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We came home from the doctor’s yesterday evening, Ben and I.  He winced slightly as I picked him up out of the car seat, but didn’t complain.  He was preoccupied, peering intently past my shoulder at the sky.  “Where is it?” He craned his neck gingerly.  “Where’s the plane?”

I hadn’t noticed the sound yet, but any self-respecting three year old boy wouldn’t let it pass without mentioning.  Of course, we searched the heavens together.

The sky wasn’t falling.  When I looked up into the cold clear January air, it was still there.  The first star twinkled in the East even as the Sun settled in glorious color behind us.  “The sky’s too big; I can’t see the plane!”  My three year old fussed.

“Yes,” I murmured in agreement.  “The sky is very big.”

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man, that You are mindful of Him, and the son of man, that You visit him?  Psalm 8:3-4

I stood in awe.  I stood in my frustration and the maybe just a little bit freaking out overwhelmingness of my normal.  I stood under the big sky and felt my insignificance.  I stood there, aware that God has great plans and big hands to hold all that is significant.  And I felt small.

And I felt His heart beating with mine.

After all, the God of the heavens watched His Son bleed too.  He, so big and powerful He could make the sun and hold it in the sky, He also held His Son as his life blood poured out. His Son looked up at His Father with trusting, hurting eyes, and asked if there was any other way.  And His Father looked down at Him with all the love that there is, literally, and said no.  There was no other way.

He loved us, little and insignificant of all His glorious creation.  He loved us, dirty and thankless and more like pond scum than like heavenly stars.  He loved us far beyond our own capacity to love Him back.

He is big.  He is glorious.  He is awesome.  But He knows what it’s like to watch your son be hurt.  He knows that in order to bring life, His son had to suffer.  He knows what it’s like to walk through the messy chaos of humanity, step by humble, muddy step.  He knows what it’s like to be dead and buried.  And then be brought back.

Welcome back to life.

Under that big, solid sky, I breathed in slowly, humbled by the immense place of unity I’ve been given.  He walked under these same heavens Himself.  He’s not sending me on an untrodden path.  He’s been here before me.  Big though they are, I’m walking in His shoes.

It is good to be here.

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