Thursday, December 31, 2009

of pieces and puzzles and quilts

it’s puzzling how important pieces can be.

this week, i delivered a bag of eliza’s clothes--and one bit of bedding, too--to my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law, two exceptional quilters who plan to turn those fabrics into a memory quilt for our family. i had anticipated the selecting of clothes being difficult, so i was not surprised by the flood of emotion with which sam and i were met upon reopening those nine boxes of clothes a year after we packed them away. i was pleased to think that i had completed the emotional work there at home, safely alone with sam, where grief seems right and good and safe and permissible. and so i expected that delivering our choices to our quilters extraordinaire would be far less emotional, as i had done the hard work already.

i was, to some extent, right in my assumption. but just when i think i understand all the pieces, the puzzle seems to change on me every time.

i sorted through the clothes with our quilters. this is the dress eliza wore to her first birthday party; this is what she was wearing when she died. this is the dress she wore in those family photos; this is what she was wearing when we put her in the funeral home’s van. sweet memories, shared without excess of emotion, matter-of-fact as i foolishly pride myself on being almost all the time. almost.

and then we had finished sorting the clothes, my mother-in-law meticulously noting details of significance in the stories behind the clothes, my aunt-in-law fingering the fabrics gently and sorting them by color and texture and thickness. and we were done, so they set to work bundling the clothes by category to be stored in a box from which they will work. and suddenly, i doubted i could part with those clothes. suddenly, those pieces that were just bits of fabric--fabric with memories attached, of course, but still just pieces of fabric--suddenly, the leaving of those clothes felt like tearing bits of fabric from my very soul, pieces of me physically painful to separate.

puzzling, how pieces can change.

it’s not a jigsaw puzzle, this thing called grief, i don’t think. a jigsaw puzzle in which one piece fits with another and with each piece added, the places for more pieces become clear. no, it’s not like a jigsaw puzzle. it’s something from luke’s stocking this year that seems a more fitting metaphor for all these pieces in this big puzzle: a rubik’s cube. a puzzle with many sides, all of which can be--originally were, in fact--completed, but in which rearranging one side has significant, far-reaching, and unpredictable results on several other sides. fix one bit of the puzzle, think you have one bit figured out, and you find out you’ve only made several other pieces of the puzzle that much more muddled, that much more difficult. you’ll likely have to undo some of what you worked so hard to accomplish on that one side.

and you may begin to wonder if there’s actually a solution to this puzzle. in fact, if you hadn’t seen it originally, fresh out of the packaging and still ordered on all sides, if you hadn’t once seen someone solve the puzzle--perhaps one of those speedy youtube videos or your babysitter back when you were a kid--you’d begin to believe it was impossible to complete a rubik's cube. a puzzle that can’t be solved. too many pieces out of place; too many bits that just can’t possibly get where they need to be.

but i’ve seen it done. i have. so i know those pieces will slowly slide into place. i know--when i’m honest with myself--that many of those pieces will slide into place accidentally, just like that rubik’s cube. or if not accidentally, then without my knowledge. oh look! those blue pieces are all in a row. how did that happen while i was so busy lining up the red ones? a puzzle indeed.

meanwhile, those pieces of eliza torn from my soul will be a quilt. warm and soft and comforting and all pieced together. in a pattern i won’t recognize, completing a beautiful, perfect, unique puzzle that i never imagined. because quilts are made of pieces torn apart and fit back together. which makes me wonder whether i should quit working so hard on completing puzzles and just take up quilting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


laundry chutes
real fisher price little people
delightfully too many presents
big black dogs (one too few this year)
all-you-can-eat treats
sugar cereal and bagels with lox for breakfast
cousins cousins cousins galore
basements with fun secrets
play slaves (aka certain aunties who will remain nameless)
munna munnas
never-quick-enough family photographs (on the porch! in the cold! in the snow! hurry up!)
fun steamy stall showers
babies in stockings
noogies (is that how you spell it? should be)
never-too-much muchering

that's what grandparents' houses are made of. (oh, and there's more, i just know it.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


i've got a photograph in my head. it's a photograph that never got taken and never will. (you may remember i have a thing about un-taken photographs). if i could paint it or sketch it, i would (but you may also know that i have not an artistic bone in my body, so i can't). the thing is, people don't bring cameras to their children's funerals.

there is a lot i don't remember about eliza's funeral. like the names of the hundreds of people i hugged at the end of the service. like who made all the food for the reception afterwards, the reception i never even saw. like how my minivan managed to get to the church, when we arrived in a limousine. like what time the service started. like how i managed to remain upright and composed-ish for all those hours.

but there's a lot that's burned in my memory, too. like this un-taken photograph.

sam, luke, and i arrived at the cemetery. i don't know who was there, though i remember being surprised at how many people were. the un-taken photograph is of that scene, as we arrived. it's something like this one of the cemetery, taken last week...

...only not much at all like that. first of all, there's no snow. the un-taken photograph is black and white and gray, but much less white without all the snow and much more gray because it's drizzling. second of all, there's the tent-thing that funeral homes set up for burials, with chairs filled with faceless people and more faceless people standing behind them underneath, turned sideways from us, facing the casket, which is there in the front of the tent-thing on the right of the photograph, starkly white. a few more faceless people are nearer in the foreground, greeting us as we get out of the limousine. and there's lots of black and white and gray and indistinguishability (is that a word? should be).

but there's one spot of color.

(you've seen photographs like that, right? like my silly blue bin one? where everything is black and white except one thing?) the night before the funeral, i gave eliza's purple coat to our dearest friends' (and eliza's godparents) daughter, who is the closest thing eliza had to a sister. it fit her perfectly, and she was, for a four-year-old, remarkably honored and pleased to have something of her god-sister's to wear. in the foreground of my un-taken photograph is this sweet four-year-old, her back to us, running in the grass in eliza's purple coat, dirty-blond-ish hair flying.

one bright spot of color.

the coat was intended to be a gift to this little girl, but her wearing it that day--and its impression on the un-taken photograph in my mind--was a gift to me. you see, i'm not sure i could have borne, nor could continue to bear, that un-taken photograph if not for that bright spot of color.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

among the many moments i miss in my day

"The Bath" by Laura Gilpin

I stand here bathing her
while she sleeps
in a far place beyond my reaching.

I bathe her
as I have been taught to do:
first the eyes, then the forehead,
the face, the neck.

And as I work
I talk to her--in case she hears me
(believing that hearing is the last to go).

I tell her--I don't know why
but I tell her the time, the day,
the season, what the weather is doing,

lifting each arm to wash and dry it,
laying it down again at her side,
then the chest, the abdomen, each leg.

She offers no resistance,
except that of gravity,
the earth pulling her
down while I lift,
as though something between us
is being weighed.

Then I turn her to wash her back
talking to her about what seems to matter
in this life--though I make no promises.

Only this morning
the promise of spring was in the air
and I tell her that.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

can't make this up, part 2

(remind me, please, if i ever doubt God's provision for me and His attention to the details of my life, of this series of "coincidences" in the past thirty-six hours.)

beginning at the beginning...

today was an intense day. there was no doubt it would be, though our plans for the day were somewhat fluid and not always clear. early this afternoon, everyone needed a break, and so we retired to our corners, as it were: luke to his room to read, sam to his grading and basketball-pick-up-game-planning, and i to my room to rest. but a nap wasn't in order, and i'm not in the middle of reading any book right now.

wait, wait. that's not the beginning.

earlier in the day, as we marked the hour (9:15) of eliza's death, sam asked me how i imagined eliza now. lots of people have asked that question this past year. as much as i appreciate the sentiment, images of eliza dancing or running or playing have never resonated with me. the only image of heaven that has ever gripped me, really, is that in c.s. lewis's great divorce. (have you read it? if not, please do. now. it'll only take you a couple of hours, and i promise it'll be so worth it. then come back and read the rest of this post!)

have you read it? okay, pressing on...

i read it almost ten years ago, so my memories of it are vague. in the book, the narrator has a vision of the afterlife and witnesses in it a series of conversations between those who have already gone to heaven and those who...hmmm...(if you've read it, you'll understand my hesitation here. and if you haven't read it, go do it! you promised you would)...those who haven't (for lack of a better way to describe them). but i didn't remember many details other than the beauty of lewis's vision of what could be. and i've latched onto that beauty from time to time over the past year.

so this afternoon, when i had an hour in which to rest and nothing in particular in mind to do with that hour, i pulled out the book. (there's something you should know about me: i never reread a book. there are way too many books to read in a lifetime to spend time rereading! i'm sure i can count on one hand the books i have reread. suffice it to say, it is entirely out of character for me to pull a book out to reread.) but i reread the first half of the book in that hour this afternoon, and i was struck afresh by its amazing images. amazing. i might even blog about a few of these things, i thought, as i marked a few pages.

and then we went on with our day. to the funeral home, to the cemetery, to friends' house for dinner. home for bedtime. exhausted, sam and i decided to forgo our box-sorting and let the day dwindle to its end. and i sat down to finish the book.

did i mention i remembered none of the details? had i remembered chapter eleven, i would no doubt have feared ever reading it again. certainly not today.

if i could retype the whole chapter here, i would, as summarizing it feels like a betrayal of its beauty. but i'll give it a try (trusting that you've already read it...right?). in this chapter, a woman on the brink, as it were, of choosing heaven or not-heaven, is talking with her brother who has gone before her to heaven. she is eager to see her son, who is also there, but whom she cannot see yet. her conversation with her brother reveals her deep love for her son and her eagerness to get to heaven to be with him.

wait, wait. back up a minute.

en route to the cemetery, after i had started the book but before i had gotten to this chapter, sam and i had a conversation about what we want to know and understand of eliza. while sam talked of wanting to know what she is now--what exactly is her spirit, and where is she, and what does she experience (that's a poor summary)--i stated unequivocally that i wanted her back. period. broken and sick and all. i just wanted her back.

back to the book.

so the woman wants to get to heaven to see her son, and her brother who has preceded her tells her why that won't work. she's going about it the wrong way. but you already know the argument (because you've read the book; you promised), so i won't even attempt to get into the details. her mother-love, which she describes as right and holy, can't supercede her love of God. in fact, her mother-love only is because of God. she can be with her son--and it's good and right that she loves her son--but that can't be her motivation. that can't be her starting point.

so as the narrator and his teacher (lewis and macdonald? the english major in me resists) listen in to this conversation, the narrator asks, "But am I to tell them at home that this man's sensuality [here referring to another conversation they have overheard] proved less of an obstacle than that poor woman's love for her son? For that was, at any rate, an excess of love."

"'Ye'll tell them no such thing,' he replied sternly. 'Excess of love, did ye say? There was no excess, there was defect. She loved her son too little, not too much. If she had loved him more there'd be no difficulty. I do not know how her affair will end. But it may well be that at this moment she's demanding to have him down with her in Hell. That kind is sometimes perfectly ready to plunge the soul they say they love in endless misery if only they can still in some fashion possess it. No, no. Ye must draw another lesson. Ye must ask, if the risen body even of an appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw [referring again to the other conversation], what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?'"

touché. and thank you, Lord.

really? i had no idea why i picked up this book today. what a gift. "what would the risen body of maternal love be?" what a gift.

(read the book. please.)

you can't make this stuff up

i put on a coat yesterday that i haven't worn in a while. as i walked to a school party with a friend who lost a daughter two years ago who was in many ways like eliza, i put my hands in my pockets. what i found there:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

still here, really

more to come, lots more, tomorrow or saturday-ish; check in here:

Monday, December 7, 2009

topping it all

we have a star on top of our tree. see?

oh, and an angel, too.

Friday, December 4, 2009

of an afternoon

oh, how i love linus. remember this part? best ever.
(and i have no idea, by the way, why it gets blurry after the first few frames. amateur videography, indeed. but after twenty-ish takes, this had to be good enough!)


i still can't go to sleep before 10pm.
eliza's last medication dose was at 10pm for most of her life. i'm afraid i'm programmed to stay up until 10pm--and no later--for the rest of mine.

i still am shocked at how dark and quiet our bedroom is at night.
no feeding pump whirring and glowing, no pulse oximeter beeping and lighting the whole room. "our" bedroom, that being eliza's, sam's and mine. luke always called it just eliza's.

i still forget that i can run errands, make playdate plans, stay out in the afternoons.
eliza was always in bed by 3 or 4pm to start her 18-hour feeding time. which meant luke and i never went anywhere in the afternoons. at all. thankfully, my neighbors have always been gracious to share forgotten dinner ingredients!

i still think of the passenger's side back door of the van as luke's door and the driver's side door as eliza's.
you know the little keychain clicker? the passenger's side back door button is bigger than the driver's side door. get it? bigger button for my bigger kid. that's the only way i could ever remember.

i still can't get used to the idea that our whole family can go out together all day on a weekend.
it was always "divide and conquer" around here: one of us out with busy luke, one of us home with sleepy, snuggly eliza.

i still notice when it's 2pm.
meds. always at 2pm. no matter where we were.

i still think friendly hospital parking garage attendants are a blessing and a gift.
just met one today, at my appointment at the hospital. i hate the hospital, and really hate the parking garage (i once upon a time wrote about my experience with parking garages over on eliza's blog. but i just went looking for that post to link it here, and i can't do it. can't read through it all now. maybe i'll find it again one of these days. or maybe you remember it.). but the stories i could tell about parking garage attendants...hugely generous, out-of-nowhere gifts, sweet words of comfort and kindness, prayers offered for our family...yes, parking garage attendants.

i still find miniature purple and pink hair ties in coat pockets and purses.
really. still.

i still am amazed at how quickly luke and i can get out the door to school in the morning.
suffice it to say, the routine has changed dramatically from the wake-up-and-bathe-eliza days. it was a long process, even as streamlined as i had managed to make it.

i still have closets full of medical supplies.
i gave away tons and tons of equipment and supplies in the weeks after eliza died. thousands of dollars worth. i thought i had gotten rid of it all. but i still find stashed-away stashes...still.

i still forget that any babysitter will do just fine.
which was certainly not the case with eliza. mercifully, we have several very generous doctor friends (and a few brave non-doctor-but-grown-up family members and friends) who would stay with her on the very rare occasion when we both needed to be out at the same time. suffice it to say, a teenager would not have been a good fit.

a nearly-whole year later. still.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

because i want to make sure i remember

this is what i love about six.

my big boy--all four feet one inch, fifty-two pounds of him--can climb the climbing structure at school--all the way to the top--without hesitation. gap-toothed, jeans-wearing, soccer-playing, two-wheeler-riding, own-shoe-tying, rough and tumble boy, he is. funny (funny!)--making up jokes that even make sense (sometimes). curious--about everything, really, but especially about math recently (multiplication, division? piece of cake. it's square roots that really interest him these days). consumer of books--yes, long chapter-ish ones like the lord of the rings, but also sweet picture books he'll still read over and over.

i love that he still loves those picture books. and he still loves being read to, even if he reads faster than dad does. and, thankfully, he can climb that climbing structure one-handed...because he still wanted nothing more than to take the class "pet," a lion named cuddles who had his turn to spend the weekend with our family last week, all the way to the top with him. and he definitely wanted dad to take a picture of him up there with cuddles.

that's what i love about six.

on waiting

i made an advent wreath last weekend. this ancient tradition has become a sweet tradition at our church, with members contributing all sorts of greens for the wreath-making and a very talented artist/church member/friend providing guidance on assembling the wreaths. this year, the explanation of the colors of the candles really struck me, however, in a way it never has before.

the first candle, which is purple, represents hope. the second, also purple, stands for peace. the third, the pink one, is for joy. the fourth, again purple, love. and the white candle in the center, not lit until christmas, is the Christ candle.

look at (okay, at least imagine) the calendar with me for a minute.

the first sunday of advent was this past weekend. the candle we lit stood for hope. i was, meanwhile, just a week removed (and not nearly physically recovered) from losing zeph. hope? hardly at the top of the list of what i was feeling this weekend.

this coming sunday will be the second sunday, and the candle we will light represents peace. if you were looking at my calendar with me right now, you would see very little of peace coming this weekend for my family. if we could pack another thing into one more hour, we might. but i don't think we can. 'tis the season of too-much-of-everything, after all. no quiet waiting this advent weekend for us. what i wouldn't do for some peace.

the third sunday is december 13. which is the day after december 12, the anniversary of eliza's death. the candle? joy. really? joy? we will likely attend a children's hospice memorial service that afternoon. joy? for me, the anticipation of that weekend holds dread first and foremost. a year gone by. joy?

as for the fourth candle, the sunday before christmas, and the fifth for christmas day...well, love and Christ, that's what this season is about. i'm looking forward--rushing might not be too strong a word--to getting to those candles, myself.

what i take away from these five candles this year, then, is a good reminder: i cannot look for hope, peace, or joy in this world. i will not find them here. my hope is not in people or places or things, those things that make up what is so apparently real to me. what is really real, the love of God in Christ that advent and christmas point to, is all about what we're anticipating and awaiting. hope, peace, and joy. i, for one, am grateful for the reminder of those things to come.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

advent devotional

every year, our church publishes an advent devotional, with writings and artwork created by members of our church for each day of advent. my contribution from last year--written long before eliza died, ironically--holds particular significance for me again this year; below is this year's piece. (someone asked me if i made up this story: nope, it's really true. a sweet, sweet memory.)

Santa is the king of Christmas.

Have you been in a store since Halloween? From orange and black, all pumpkiny and harvesty, straight to tinsel and lights and ho-ho-hos. Maybe retailers figure the harvest-themed Halloween stuff covered Thanksgiving, too. Meanwhile, Santa started making his appearance right around November 1. The king of Christmas, indeed.

Growing up, we always went to the family-friendly Mass in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. It was standard stuff: kids dressed up and reciting the same sweet lines every year, as angels and shepherds (“Glory to God in the highest!”) and innkeepers (“No room, no room! Go away, go away!”) and a donkey (“Clip clop, clip clop”) and some trees even (“Swish, swish“). And faithful Mary and Joseph, too (“My wife, Mary, is having a baby. It is hard for her to travel,” and, “Don’t worry, dear Joseph: God is watching over us”). Years and years after we had graduated from the ranks of the participants, my sister and I loved to go to this Mass and relive our glory days of filling those roles, remembering with too much pride having graduated last of all to the coveted role of narrator.

But the pageantry and cute little angels were never the highlight of the Christmas Eve Mass. I wish I could say the celebration of the Eucharist or the stirring homily was. But no. The highlight came after the children had sung and signed the first verse of “Silent Night,” when the sanctuary was darkened, lit only by candles and the white lights on the wreaths and trees. That’s when we would hear the faint jingle of bells and the door to the church opening. Silently, silently, Santa would enter the sanctuary and walk down the center aisle. He would reach the altar; genuflect and pray silently for a good, long moment; cross himself; and turn to leave. No candy canes, no ho-ho-hos, no reindeer or elves or presents. Just the worldly king of Christmas bowing to the King Himself.

“[A]t the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

I think some of the older people were bothered that Santa should sully the mass so. I know many of the littlest children took no notice of what exactly Santa was doing, filled as their heads were with visions of sugar plums and flying reindeer and bulging stockings. But this simple moment in the Mass brought tears to many more people’s eyes. For a moment—just a moment—Christmas and all its trappings were put right back in their place: the manger of the Christ child.

King of Christmas or no, this season and this day are about nothing but bowing the knee to the Prince of Peace. No matter how many gifts we get or don’t get, no matter whether they’re the right size or not, there’s only one Perfect Gift that we need: we’ve already got it, and it fits like nothing else could. It’s a little bit of the “already and not yet” so familiar from sermons and Bible studies and Christian books. The King has already come—Praise the Lord!—but we spend this season waiting. He has already been born, has already saved us, has already suffered and died, has already risen and ascended. Yet we wait in this too-busy season intended for silence and anticipate His coming again. In all of our busy-ness of shopping and decorating and baking and giving and receiving and ho-ho-hoing, may we not forget that it all bows the knee at the feet of the coming-and-already-come King.

Friday, November 27, 2009

seven quick bits...& just one more

where i've been, or why i've not been here:

  1. turkey (with gravy, of course)
  2. stuffing (mom's specialty)
  3. mashed potatoes (not a lump in sight)
  4. cranberry sauce (delightfully tart)
  5. asparagus (roasted: uh-huh)
  6. pumpkin tart with walnut streusel (pretty and so good)
  7. french silk mousse pie (oh, yes: with homemade whipped cream)

& just one more: leftovers (the best part).

sound familiar? (i'll be back after the food coma.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

what i know

the following thoughts are tangentially related...i think. though i'm not sure i'll make the connection. you can do that part, i trust.

luke knows nothing of our latest loss. mercifully, we had managed to restrain ourselves from sharing the news of zeph, so we were spared the need to try to explain something to him that he needn't try to understand. we can't even understand it. and for his six short years, he has had far too much to wrestle with already to add this to it.

it has struck me, then, that he has not even commented on the food that keeps arriving at our door, the flowers gracing table after table all over our house, the phone calls and cards. for a moment, anyhow, i wondered how such a perceptive sponge of a child, such an inquisitive little mind-like-a-steel-trap had not asked one question.

but then i thought about his life.

luke was two years old when eliza was born. if you've followed our family's story at all (who am i kidding? if you're reading this, you're likely implicated in it!), you'll know how well cared for we were throughout her life and in her death. in luke's entire memory, then, there has not been a time when folks have not been showing up to share life--and a meal or two...or two thousand--with us. for as long as he can remember, friends have been taking luke into their homes and loving on him when we couldn't, loved ones and strangers and anonymous dear ones have given our family gift upon gift, family and "family" near and far have been feeding and nurturing our bodies and souls with love and prayers and food.

the love and care of community, the body of Christ, is all he knows. what a gift--what a blessing!--that luke's life has been so filled with the love of so many people around him that he wouldn't even question this latest outpouring! it's nothing new to him, and that blows me away. i cannot begin to describe how it fills my heart to know how well he has known the love of the Father and of so many, many, many of His children so tangibly...and hasn't even noticed. he hasn't even noticed. what a gift. it's all he knows.

(no, that doesn't do it. that doesn't even scratch the surface of what this revelation means to me. i'll keep trying.)


we've been listening to billy jonas in the car recently. a lot. (do you have kids? if you haven't yet discovered billy jonas, you really should. i don't really do kid music, but if i have to do it, this stuff is good.) our trip to school this morning ended with his rendition of "lean on me." (okay, yes: of course i'd prefer the original. but still. it's a good song no matter who sings it.) it was another of those moments when i was glad luke sits in the backseat and so couldn't see the tears streaming down my face. i've leaned on a lot of people these past few years.

please swallow your pride if i have things you need to borrow. for no one can fill those of your needs that you won't let show.

i have a few things i need to borrow this week. i need to borrow some peace. and do you have any extra rest? (who am i kidding? forget that one...) assurance, yes; i could use a whole bunch of that. wisdom, if you've got some. endurance, patience, energy. motivation, if you have some to spare.


i am so grateful.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

just a thought

not many people knew i was pregnant. but a few dear friends did, terrible as i am (and sam, too, though he better than i) at keeping good news a secret. today i'm remembering the words of one sweet friend when she found out: "i can't wait to see who it is!"

today i'm remembering--treasuring and weeping over--those words.

Friday, November 20, 2009

a rose by any other name

it's what's in a name.

when i was pregnant with luke, sam and i discovered that we were not very compatible in the name-choosing department. and when i say "not very compatible," i mean we couldn't agree one bit. on any name.

it's a wonder our children ended up with names at all.

around twenty weeks, we found out that luke would be a boy, which was even more troublesome, as figuring out a boy name was proving much more difficult than figuring out a girl name (more on that to come, though). i liked traditional but simple names; my caveat was that i couldn't give a child a name that i had ever known anyone else to have. sam didn't care so much about the association thing, but the names' meanings were of particular importance to him. thus, caleb, which i really liked and which was not associated with anyone at all to me, was out, its meaning being "loyal like a dog." sam couldn't stand the dog part. sam, on the other hand, came up with lots of interesting ideas: jedediah, hezekiah, zerubbabel. interesting, but un-spellable...not to mention, well, atrocious, really. in my opinion. ahem. his favorite was zephaniah, which means "he whom God has hidden." so i agreed: the baby could be called zeph for as long as God kept him hidden; but once he was un-hidden, he needed a different name!

finally we agreed on luke, which comes from latin and means "light." whew. one down.

when i was pregnant with eliza, then, we stalled on the name-list creation until we found out she was a girl. she, too, was zeph in utero. but although we agonized over names for her, it really was a foregone conclusion. back when we were sixteen years old, silly teenagers having silly conversations, we once talked about what we would name our children (not our children together, of course, but each our own), and we both agreed that eliza was a good name for a girl. (perhaps that was the year we were reading pygmalion.) so all those years later, agonize though we did, it really was no contest: our little girl would be eliza, "consecrated to God." once she wasn't zeph anymore, of course.

fast forward a few more years. this week, the real zeph passed away. zeph, he or she whom God had been hiding in me for about eight weeks now, will not have the chance to come into a new name this side of Paradise. i was sweetly reminded today of the wise words of the ever-loving elephant horton, "A person's a person, no matter how small." indeed. zeph, our little person, you were and are loved. and deeply missed.

"The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with his singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

to stand and listen

we're making our way through The Child's Story Bible with luke, reading a little bit each night. what we read tonight (based on the book of 1Kings) may well be one of my favorite stories of all time and is a particularly good word for me tonight:

"Go out and stand upon the mountain before the Lord," came God's command. So Elijah went out upon the mountain. A terrible wind came up. It was so strong that it broke great pieces off the mountain, and cracked great rocks open. But the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind had gone down, there came a dreadful earthquake. The whole mountain shook and trembled. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there came a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. Elijah stood there and saw the terrible hurricane shrieking around the mountain, uprooting trees and breaking the great rocks; then the dreadful earthquake, making the solid mountain shake and tremble; and then the furious fire raging among the trees of the mountains. He understood something of the strength and power of God. God was much stronger than wicked Ahab and Jezebel, or all the wicked people of all the world.
After the wind and the earthquake and the fire, Elijah heard a still, small voice. He knew immediately that it was God speaking to him.

"go out and stand upon the mountain before the Lord." that's a terrifying command, backed up by terrifying demonstration after demonstration of power and destruction. but God's words for elijah are in the still, small voice. may i have the courage to hear and obey the command to go out and stand before Him and the tenacity and patience and confidence to listen for the whisper.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

a pisgah view of paradise

(does anyone know what author used that expression? i vaguely remember it from my college long ago).

(we weren't on mt. pisgah, though we were very near it and may well have been looking over the pisgah national forest.)

"Let me, I pray, cross over and see the fair land that is beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon." But the Lord was angry with me on your account, and would not listen to me; and the Lord said to me, "Enough! Speak to me no more of this matter. Go up to the top of Pisgah and lift up your eyes to the west and north and south and east, and see it with your eyes, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua and encourage him and strengthen him, for he shall go across at the head of this people, and he will give them as an inheritance the land which you will see" (deuteronomy 3:25-28).

Friday, November 6, 2009


i caught a whiff of london yesterday.

i was driving my usual route home from luke's school, the route i drive back and forth and back and forth and back and forth again weekly. i was passing through a nondescript intersection in a nondescript part of town, listening to the banter of six-year-old buddies in my backseat. the windows were open just a crack, as the inside of the car was too warm from having been parked in the sun, but the outdoor air was too November-chilly in a southern sort of chilly way.

and then i smelled it. london. unmistakable.

which is strange, really, because if you had asked me before yesterday what london smelled like, i would have laughed and said i had no idea. though i lived there for six months, i'm not really the type to notice details like smells. i might have thought for a moment about your question and answered "exhaust," which is true, in a way, of any major city. and perhaps that was what was wafting through my cracked windows in that nondescript intersection yesterday. or maybe it was the smell of chilly air mingled with warm; for though london is known for its rainy gray weather, the late winter and spring i spent there comprised more delightfully beautiful days than london-foggy grey. could it have something to do with the building that was being torn down in that nondescript intersection? perhaps it smelled like the old, old, ought-to-be-torn-down building in which i lived during my time away. a particular brand of cigarette being smoked by the driver alongside me at the traffic light, which might remind me of all the pub smoke i came to know as just part of the london air?

i'll never know, as it was just a whiff, and then it was gone.

people, places, times in our lives have odors, for better or worse. there's a particular brand of deodorant, in a particular scent, that i cannot use, as it was eliza's scent and it drives sam crazy. i knew sam had accidentally used my towel this morning as soon as i put it to my face and caught a whiff. luke's lunchbox has a smell, washed out or not, of apples-peanut butter-vanilla pudding-and something else. i know when a borrowed something-or-other piece of clothing has been washed by a friend, because although my laundry detergent smells neutral to me, my friends' laundry detergent has a decidedly them sort of smell. my mom's house smells just so, my grandmother's just another. a school has a scent, doesn't it? of what, i'm not quite sure, but your nose knows when you've walked into one. and doctors' offices and hospitals, too. i know the scent of hospital soap all too well.

i guess i do pay attention to smells, after all.

studies show that scent memory is incredibly powerful. there's a direct link between the part of the brain that processes smells and the part responsible for emotion and memory; and our sense of smell can have a great effect on our mood, even subconsciously.

which gets, i suppose, to why preachers love the verses, "For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life" (2 corinthians 2:15-16). they love to ask us to consider our scent; what do we smell like to those around us? good question. if you know me well enough, perhaps you thought from the get-go that i was headed for these verses.

but i'm not today. for today, i'm just remembering london.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

two sides to the story

in my first semester in college, i took two english courses: an introductory literature survey taught by the professor assigned to be my advisor (and who encouraged me, after that semester, to reconsider my english major for women's studies--if you know me, you'll know that i had a new advisor before long) and a shakespeare course with a professor from whom i not only took several more courses and for whom i was a t.a., but who became my honors thesis advisor several years later. i don't remember much about that course, to tell the truth, but i do remember one exam--the final, i think.

the professor told us in advance that we would be writing an in-class essay. he would give us a quotation from one of the plays we had read (and whether he gave us the context or not, i can't remember, but i don't think he did), and we would need to write an essay "about" that quotation. or something like that. though i can't remember the details, i do well remember the quotation.

if you've ever read any shakespeare, you probably have a few guesses, just as we wet-behind-the-ears freshmen (or should i say "first-years"?) did: "to be or not to be," perhaps, or "wherefore art thou, romeo?" or, "friends, romans, countrymen, lend me your ears." or maybe, if you're a bit more well read, you might come up with, "o, that this too too sullied (solid?) flesh would melt": a good choice, certainly, with the endless possibilities for essay blathering on the word choice question. maybe, "if music be the food of love, play on": countless ideas for thesis statements there.

(but, "'tis better to be brief than tedious," says a murderer in shakespeare's richard iii. i won't keep you in suspense.)

the gasp was audible, as i recall, when we sat down to the exam and read the quotation: "both, both." needless to say, none of us was prepared for that one. none of us even knew whence it came, much less what it meant or what we could write about it.

i have no idea what i wrote. nor do i have any memory of any of the (no doubt excellent) discussions in that class or of the other exams or papers. i vaguely remember the plays we read, mostly the ones that appeared in my honors thesis years later, and those very vaguely at best. the space in my brain once reserved for shakespeare lines was rather quickly refilled with lines from "the very hungry spider" and "where the wild things are" several years ago.

but i remember that exam (and the context of the quotation, too--prospero in the tempest), and this morning, that quotation returned to me in the midst of a completely unrelated discussion.

the context is this: prospero and his daughter, miranda, are discussing their island exile and miranda's few memories and many questions about their life before. prospero's response to her question of the value of that exile, be it curse or blessing, is this: "Both, both, my girl:/ By foul play, as thou say’st, were we heav’d thence;/But blessedly holp hither" (i.2.76-78). he goes on to explain that, though they were banished to the island under the worst of circumstances, their time there has turned out to be a blessing.

it occurred to me this morning that so many things are that way, both curse and blessing: things no smaller than questions of life and death and their merits. both, both. so many questions with two answers that seem incompatible and over which i like to lose sleep: faith vs. works, predestination vs. free will, submission vs. righteous indignation. both, both, we're told.

which just doesn't sit well with me. i'm a black-and-white kind of girl. death is either a blessing or a curse, not both. God either determines long before i'm born what my destiny is, or i determine it myself, not both. because, with my limited capacity to see beyond right now, i can't seem to see both sides.

would that i could, though. would that i could, like prospero, look at the truly wretched circumstances in my life and both despise them and be grateful for them. would that i could see beyond my very present circumstances and the past that got me here into the future--the no-doubt very far future, in some cases--in which they will be resolved.

both, both, indeed.

Monday, November 2, 2009


i was praying today with a friend who asked God to make a swap: Lord, please swap out anxiety for peace. when worry rears its ugly head, let me trade it in for your comfort.


another friend is plagued by a perpetually-breaking-down car. it's an old car, really pretty worthless but as it serves her family. she'll drive it into the ground, as they say, as it's useless as a trade-in: no car dealer wants a vehicle not worth the trouble to repair.


but here's the thing: anxiety is worthless. worry is worthless. yet God wants us--commands us, even--to trade those useless things in for priceless gifts: mercy, peace. it's the ultimate "cash for clunkers" deal: give me your junk; your polluting, unreliable, troublesome jalopies; your useless weight on your shoulders, and I'll give you peace, joy, mercy, rest. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (matthew 11:30). bring me your heavy burdens, and trade them in for my easy ones. if you're weary, bring your weariness to me, and i'll swap it for rest.

it's what Jesus did on the cross, really. isaiah 53:4-5 says, "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows [...] he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." He swapped His salvation and His righteousness for our sins, our decrepitude, and our punishment. He was forsaken by the Father so that we might never be. He took on our worse-than-uselessness to give us what we could never earn or even imagine.

and He promises in the book of revelation that in the end, He'll even swap out our old names for new, special, secretly chosen ones.

I will change your name.
you shall no longer be called
wounded, outcast,
lonely, or afraid.

I will change your name.
your new name shall be
confidence, joyfulness,
overcoming one,
faithfulness, friend of God,
one who seeks my face.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

of halloweens past

(you may remember this post, in which i mentioned my regret over not taking any pictures in the last six weeks of eliza's life. the anniversary of the start of those six weeks--and thus the anniversary of these last photos--is today.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

just one cotton pickin' minute

(please pardon this damn yankee while i expand my southern horizons...)

"the touch, the feel of cotton: the fabric of our lives," said the once-upon-a-time jingle. really? (tangent: i had a conversation with someone this weekend about the demise of the jingle. have the days of good jingles really gone the way of good sitcoms? sad. but perhaps a topic for another post, as this is not about jingles at all.)

i saw my first cotton plant today. well, i think it was my first. the first i remember, anyhow. did you know there's a hard seed inside that fluffy puff? it got me thinking, you i did some reading about cotton.

the cotton plant starts out with just leaves, then develops a beautiful flower. that flower has to wither and die in order to reveal the boll, a seed pod. that seed pod swells and swells until it bursts, revealing the soft puff of cotton that will become a t-shirt or sweater or blanket.

can our lives be described in this way? immature leaves, eagerly sprouting up and displaying showy flowers that wither and die as we mature. pods of potential, full of seeds just bursting to get out, which must wait and wait until just the right moment. something useful and comforting and soft, bearing inside it the residue of hard things, all at once the reminder of what came before the softness and the promise of future growth.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

even on day three of swine flu...

...he was still looking pretty handsome for his team photos, if you ask this mama.

(said sam today, as i cheered in the torrential rain on the sidelines: "you have become such a soccer mom, do you know that?" i explained to him that this is considered a derogatory term in many circles...but i'll take it in the complimentary spirit in which it was offered. go luke! i'll always be cheering for you...)

Friday, October 23, 2009

found while cleaning the kitchen

an excerpt from "a portrait," by christina rossetti
(sent to us by whom i can't remember)

They knelt in silent anguish by her bed,
And could not weep; but calmly there she lay.
All pain had left her; and the sun's last ray
Shone through upon her; warming into red
The shady curtains. In her heart she said:
'Heaven opens; I leave these and go away;
The Bridegroom calls,--shall the Bride seek to stay?'
Then low upon her breast she bowed her head.
O lily flower, O gem of priceless worth,
O dove with patient voice and patient eyes,
O fruitful vine amid a land of dearth,
O maid replete with loving purities,
Thou bowedst down thy head with friends on earth
To raise it with the saints in Paradise.

Monday, October 19, 2009

happiness and rejoicing

it’s terrible theology, really.
i’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.
since jesus christ came in and took away my sin,
i’m inright, outright, upright, downright happy all the time.
ever since i listened to my first toddler bible song cd with luke and heard those lyrics, i have been troubled by them. is this what we’re teaching our kids? if i believe in Jesus, i’ll be happy all the time? i’m sorry, but…what a lie.

don’t get me wrong: the christian life is full of joy. and the scriptures teach us--command us, even--to rejoice. paul exhorts the philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always; again i will say, rejoice” (phil 4:4), and the psalmist tells us to “be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, o righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (ps 32:11).

but rejoicing and happiness are two different things indeed.

merriam-webster's online dictionary (have i mentioned how i lament the loss of actual dictionaries along with actual thesauri and actual books, even? oh no, never a kindle...a topic for another post, maybe) defines "happiness" as "a state of well-being or contentment; a pleasurable or satisfying experience." meanwhile, the dictionary defines "rejoice" as "to feel great joy or delight."

there's a difference. no?

"happiness" is a noun. it is a thing that one has. that silly song promises that i will have happiness all the time if i have God. "rejoice," on the other hand, is a verb. it is something one does. as a verb, then, it is something i must choose to do. paul does not tell the philippians they have happiness. he tells them to rejoice. get busy doing something, not waiting for something to be given to you. the psalmist does not say you are happy. he says rejoice! shout for joy! do something!

in fact, the scriptures do not promise happiness but suffering. and in this suffering--get this--we are called to rejoice. it's all over the bible. "not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope" (romans 5:3). happiness does not produce perseverance; if our circumstances are all happy, what do we have to persevere for? i'll take character and hope over "a state of contentment" any day. "rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed" (1peter 4:13). rejoice in sufferings, so that i may be overjoyed. okay: i'll take "overjoyed" over "happy," thank you very much.

don't get me wrong: i love a happy occasion, a happy day, a happy moment. i'll take all the happy i can get. but i won't expect to be inright-outright-upright-downright happy all the time (inright isn't even a word, for crying out loud, and don't get me started on the non-words we waste time teaching kids) because that's not what scripture promises. i'll expect to be beyond happy--to be overjoyed--someday; and in the meantime, i will rejoice and persevere in hope and anticipation of that day. again, i say rejoice!

Friday, October 16, 2009

garden dedication

menorah park senior living community in syracuse, new york:

the terrace floor, home to forty-four residents suffering from dementia, who, thanks to my parents, now have a beautiful, secure, outdoor living space (decorated with many cardinals!)

some of what my dad planned to say:

The family is here today because of Eliza--our granddaughter and Luke's baby sister. Eliza was with us for just short of three years. She had a hard life, and we will never be sure just how much peace she ever experienced. When she died last December, Patricia [that's my mom] and I knew we had to do something in her name, but it would have to help others find peace and comfort.

And then [the Menorah Park CEO] came to our rescue. We had been thinking about sponsoring a garden somewhere at Menorah Park for families to have a place to be outside and to hopefully find some peace during what may be difficult times. She asked if we might consider rebuilding this space for Menorah Park residents and their families who, because of their particular illness, cannot walk the grounds freely and enjoy a sitting area. We think it is a perfect way to remember Eliza who struggled so mightily to find peace, while at the same time finding a way of giving our residents and their families an opportunity to also have some peace and comfort if only for the moment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

abiding (and apple picking)

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

--John 15:1-8

Thursday, October 8, 2009

of mini-hiatuses and gardens

still here, still thinking...just not much time for writing. but i've got a few things percolating...

in the meantime, we're heading to syracuse this weekend for the ribbon-cutting for a garden donated by my parents to a retirement home on the board of which my father serves. the garden will be dedicated in memory of eliza and in honor of luke. pictures to come next week for sure...

When spring came, the Nice Lady went out and bought a trellis for the seed.
A whole trellis for one tiny seed!
Then she took down the glass and ran a bit of water into it, so the seed could soak.
"This will make you soft and help you sprout faster," she said.
The Nice Lady went to her early spring garden and found just the right place for the trellis.
She put it deep into the ground by her brick wall. At the base, she made a tiny hole with her finger. Then she went inside and picked up the seed, which had grown soft from soaking.
She took it to the garden.
She put it in the hole.
She said, "Good-bye! See you this summer!"
Then she filled the small hole with dirt and patted it firmly with her hand.
Though being someplace soft felt nice for a change, it was dark in the hole. It was cold in the hole.
Don't worry, said the Earth. God has planned something beautiful for you. You will be a green vine with blossoms that scent the air with sweet perfume.
Though it had climbed all the way to the top of the trellis and started up the brick wall, it felt very disappointed. For it knew, at last, that the story about fragrant blossoms wasn't true at all.
Wait, said the Earth. God's timing for you is different.

--from The Trellis and the Seed, by Jan Karon

Friday, October 2, 2009


i realize now that it's kind of like the difference between barbie and playmobil. (ha! ready for this one? hang with me...)

i played with barbies a lot growing up. a lot. (even though my little sister liked to remove, switch, and even compact their heads, which is maybe another story for another time). now, i haven't seen a barbie in quite a while, so it's possible this is no longer true, but back in my day, barbies couldn't stand on their own. their very disproportionate, shaped-for-high-heels, itty bitty feet were useless, really (except, of course, for showing off those fabulous high heels). if barbie was going to stand--to steal a smooch from ken, perhaps, or to walk her little plastic poodle or to model her fantastic new dress--i had to make her stand.

barbie doesn't show up around here. i'm not sure if luke even knows she exists. but playmobil guys? they're everywhere. little policemen, little roman soldiers, little pirates (all with little bitty weapons left lying around everywhere) have overrun luke's room, my living room, my dining room. and they stand up all by themselves. before luke's fourth birthday, i never knew these guys existed. but even the playmobil novice can line up the soldiers or make the pirates walk the plank with no trouble at all. they're perfectly balanced with perfect little flat feet, and they stand up really easily.

the line that stuck in my head last night after choir rehearsal was this one: "I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand by My Hand." i fell asleep with those words ringing in my ears, thinking that although "how firm a foundation" is such a familiar hymn, i've never really heard those words before. they do not say that God will help me to stand; they say He will cause me to stand.

like barbie, with her silly little useless feet, i cannot stand (fancy shoes or no) unless i am caused to.

i decided, as i rehearsed this line over and over again, that i'm relieved to hear those words afresh. i am absolutely not responsible for holding myself up. in fact, i cannot. unlike playmobil guys, barbie is not going to stand on her own--even for a second--no matter how hard i work to get her legs positioned just right or her too-big top balanced over her too-little bottom.

but i'm standing. i am. and so i'm grateful. so i breathe a sigh of relief--it's not all my responsibility, after all!--that i'm caused to stand. i am made to stand by Him who made me, and not by my own strength, not one bit. i will lean into that Hand, then; I will rest in Him who causes me to stand.

(and i'm grateful, for sure, that here ends any comparison between myself and barbie.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

background noise?

"And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice" (1 Kings 11-12).

(yes, it's the king james version. because that's how i roll.)

i hate very few things more (perhaps that's an exaggeration, but it's genetic, don't you know) than discovering upon my arrival at the gym that my ipod battery is dead. i am nearly incapable of exercising without a heavy beat driving my steps.

last night, i plugged my headphones into the elliptical so i could listen to the news on the overhead television in an attempt to compensate for my ipod-less-ness. this solution, i hardly need tell you, did not do the trick. that was the longest two and a half miles i've run (walked? jogged? ellipticall-ed?) in a long time.

which got me thinking about soundtracks and the sounds--music and otherwise--that fill my head. i've often blogged about the soundtracks for my travels around town (like here and here and here). but i haven't really thought all that much about what i'm listening to all day. maybe the sermon in church this past weekend got me thinking, too; our pastor preached about shame and at one point mentioned how many times more difficult it is to speak words that build someone up than words that break them down. what is being spoken to, sung to me over the course of my day? and am i listening? what am i internalizing? there's a reason, after all, that i listen to different music when luke is in the car with me than when i'm alone: i'm careful what he hears, knowing what a sponge his little mind is. but beyond music with luke or otherwise, what am i absorbing?

in my office this morning, thanks to my chris rice channel on pandora (oh, how i love pandora), i heard these lyrics (sung by someone other than chris rice, though i don't know who):

what heights of love
what depths of peace
when fears are stilled
when strivings cease

when strivings cease: peace. why don't i hear that more often? does any of us hear that?

too often, our strivings are rewarded with progress and productivity (good american values, of course, and if you know me, you know i'm all about productivity), but even more so with encouragement and validation. if what earns us words of affirmation--words that build us up--is striving, then learn to strive we will. but what if learning to be quiet and still were rewarded? what if listening and patience were valued?

oh, right: they are.

i almost forgot the still small voice. as i fill my head--with conversation, music, reading, words, sounds, noise--i am reminded that there is One who values and rewards my stillness above all. my quiet listening. my patient seeking.

a friend encouraged me a few weeks ago to go for a walk alone every day. no friend, no ipod, no cell phone. just to be quiet, to listen and think and hear and pray and be. i haven't done it once. i've walked the company of friends, with music, and always with my phone. what is it that keeps me from that quiet walk alone? not enough time? sure. but i make plenty of space in my life for lots of other things, and with the perfect trail right behind my house and fantastic fall weather upon us, that's hardly an excuse. striving? there's so much i want to get done, so much that gives me a tangible reward or earns me affirmation and encouragement right here, right now. fear? if i'm quiet, and i listen, and i open my heart to the still small voice, what will i hear? what will i think? what will i say?

because if i don't keep up the background noise that i have chosen, i might hear something i don't expect. something that i didn't choose. and when i'm honest, i know that i am loathe to cede that control.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

why i love hallmark

(my new favorite card)

Friday, September 25, 2009

colorful thoughts

as i drove home from dropping luke off at school today, i passed a group of six people out for a morning walk. what was unusual about this group was that each one was wearing a single-colored shirt. no stripes, no logos, no patterns. the shirts were all different--one wore a tank top, one a t-shirt, one a long-sleeved shirt--and they were not some kind of team or group who planned what to wear for one reason or another. the colors were different, but all colors, bright or faded: no white or black or gray among them. it was like a walking rainbow.

is it strange that i noticed them, and even stranger that i suspect there's a reason i did?

maybe i have colors on my mind because i went to parent night last night at school. luke's teacher told us that they have been talking about colors this week, and she shared with us some books they have read about crayons and colors. or maybe it's because luke was supposed to wear his favorite color to school today, and when i asked him what it was so i could help him pick out his clothes, he said, "i don't know. you'll just have to choose my favorite color for me." (really, dear child? mr. independent?) maybe it's because i left the house this morning--in a rush, rush, rush, as seems to always be the case these days--in brown sweatpants, a gray t-shirt, and a black bandanna. (that's some variety for me, by the way, from my usual just-plain-black or brown.) colors aren't really my thing.

is it too much to share here that i haven't noticed many colors lately? probably so. i'll leave it at that, then--think of it what you will--and I'll just be grateful for the gift of that group of walkers this morning.

(in case you were curious, i refused to choose luke's favorite color for him. he chose green. but he told me later that, having thought about it, his favorite color was in fact pink, which he was embarrassed to admit. and anyhow, he doesn't own any pink clothing. so he went with his second favorite. and so it begins. sigh.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

parabolically speaking

she suggested we try to write a parable this week.

in my women’s bible study this semester, we’re studying Jesus’ parables. i’m itching to get started, to tell you the truth. an entire semester studying the amazing stories Jesus told sounds a little more exciting than laboring through the wrecked families and tragic heroes of genesis, as we did all last year. don’t get me wrong: i learned lots in that study, and i’m very grateful for having done it. but, well, i’m just a little more enthusiastic as we start this year. i love a good story, and this semester promises discussions of some life-long favorites.

so when our leader suggested in her introduction to the study that we try to write a parable, my interest was piqued. at least one pair of eyes rested on me, one pair that knows my sometime-closet-writer self. that thing i mentioned here about telling me i can’t do something? well, that’s pretty much what she did. of course, i don’t think i can write a parable worthy of any notice, but if i were to write a parable, what would it be about?

which got me thinking, as you might have guessed, about the Writer of all life and just what story He is trying to tell with mine. if a parable is a simple story that teaches a truth or a life-lesson, why can’t my life be one? if Jesus told parables to teach his disciples and contemporaries how to live, couldn’t the Author of my life be using my story to demonstrate some truth?

i’m sure now, having failed to figure out even how to start, that i cannot write a parable. but if i’m being “written” into one, what is the truth being taught? the soundtrack for my week has been “fear not,” a choral piece written by carl nygard that we’re singing in my ensemble in church on sunday. i didn’t really choose this soundtrack, as i have in past weeks, but as i’ve sung along with my cd in the car all week (rehearsing my new alto part), the words have started to sink in. “my love will surround you and hold you for you are precious to me, dear to me.” precious. like the lost coin, maybe, in the parable in luke 15. or like the lost sheep in that same place. or maybe the prodigal son. precious. if i’m the lost thing in the parable that is my life, do i really believe that i’m precious, that my finding could be cause for rejoicing? what would i be, and lost where, and found by whom, and celebrated how, in my parable?

Jesus’ parables aren’t true stories. He made them up, presumably, to demonstrate some principle or truth for His followers. is my life--my true story--created similarly to demonstrate something for those around me? to teach others not to fear, to trust, to understand what it means to be precious and dear? if God is using me as a parabolic lesson, am i a willing participant? am i filling the role for which i am intended?

i don’t suspect that, were they real, the characters in Jesus’ parables would ever have known their importance to the story. that’s the beauty of the parables: they related everyday experiences and assigned cosmic importance to them. would the victim rescued by the good samaritan have understood his fame, or would he just have been glad to have his life spared at the hands of a stranger-who-would-have-been-an-enemy ? i don’t expect that i’ll ever understand just exactly what God is up to in my life or what His purpose is for me. but i am determined not to fear His purpose, and i hope and trust that, even as i am surrounded by His love, i am being used for His good work. may it be unto me as He has said, or in this case, as He is writing.

Monday, September 21, 2009

relatively speaking

i'm cleaning off my hard drive. a recent s..l..o..w..i..n..g down of function around here has me living in fear of losing all of my un-backedup stuff. i have never backed up anything. none of my millions of photographs. none of my children's ministry work. none of my editing work. none of my writing. so i'm backing it all up today. ask me how much i'm enjoying sitting in front of the computer for hours on end when i could be outside on the just about the most perfect fall day i've ever seen. (on second thought, don't ask). but i live in fear of murphy's law, so back up i will.

anyhow, as i was sorting through all the pictures--which are very poorly organized, i might add, much like the rest of my life--i came across this picture, taken on september 12 last year.

i remembered posting it here once upon a time (did you recognize it, faithful few?), and went looking for the post. interestingly--but unrelatedly, i might add--i posted it on sam's and my anniversary this year. which is not when it was taken at all. but i didn't explain, in that post, when it was taken or why, because that post was about something entirely different. i promised i might explain it someday. well, as if you've been holding your breath, here is the long awaited explanation.

i spent much of eliza's life trying not to get too used to her being around. does that sound terrible? it's not exactly that i thought i'd jinx it if i got comfortable, but i just didn't want to find myself too unprepared for the inevitable. a morbid way to live your child's life, i know. i didn't admit this to myself very often, but i realized from time to time that it was true. like if i kept expecting it, the unexpected could never happen. i'm afraid that even in my most faithful moments, i can fall victim to magical thinking. can't we all? didn't you grow up wishing on birthday candles and eyelashes and coins tossed in fountains, after all? i remember thinking, when eliza was barely clinging to life in the hospital in her first few weeks, that i couldn't admit to God that my biggest fear was neither that she would die nor that she would live but that she'd end up somewhere in between for just a little while. it didn't help cure me of my magical thinking that, having admitted that, i got pretty much just what i feared most, as if God heard me and tried to give me the biggest challenge He could come up with, just because i told Him that was it.

all that is to say that it took me a long time to adjust to the idea that eliza might long outlive the doctors' predictions. but sometime around the spring of 2008, when eliza had already passed her second unexpected birthday, i began the very, very gradual shift from crisis mode to long-term mode. sam and i had conversations about how we could sustain the pace we had been keeping indefinitely, about the state and future of our family, about how to live life with eliza in some sort of "everyday" mode instead of moment to moment. to that end, i began the unbelievable process of looking for nursing help with eliza.

if you know me, you know a few things about me: 1) i don't like to admit i can't do something, 2) if you tell me i can't do something, i'll definitely do it, 3) i'm pretty sure i can do anything. (i credit my parents for both my stick-to-itiveness and my foolhardy confidence; thanks, guys.) so when people who saw my life with eliza told me things like, "you've got to get some help," and "you can't keep this up indefinitely," and "you can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself," they unknowingly drove me to further determination to do it all, and to do it better, too. with that background, then, you'll understand why it took me as long as it did to accept the idea that i might need a little help...which everybody else seemed to know long before i did.

that's a very long introduction to say that sometime in the late spring of 2008, i decided to get some help from a nurse aide. little did i know how long it would take to find one. first there was paperwork upon red tape upon paperwork for medicaid and insurance and nursing agencies. then finally in the fall, there were nurse aides...yikes! from one who smoked to one who helped herself to my computer and journal to one who never showed up to one who quit willy-nilly and had no contact information--yes, there were some doozies. i was ready to give up many times; how could i trust some unreliable stranger with my daughter's care when i barely trusted my own husband with her?!?

(insert deep breath here. sigh. but i'm getting ahead of myself.)

the first nurse aide, one of many who did not work out, made her first visit on september 12 of last year. i forced myself to leave the house, even just for an hour, which took all i had in me and much prayer. when i returned home, exhausted beyond belief from worry about whether eliza was okay without me (pride, pride, i know!), i was relieved to find out that everything was okay (i would later find out about the computer and journal, but as for eliza, all was very well). as i walked the nurse aide out and watched her drive off, i saw the rainbow in that photograph and ran for my camera.

in the story of noah's ark in the book of genesis, God uses a rainbow as a sign of His covenant, His promise that he will never again send a world-rending flood (genesis 9:13). in the book of revelation, God's throne is described as ringed by a rainbow (revelation 4:3). and in the book of ezekiel, God's glory is compared to the rainbow's appearance (ezekiel 1:28). i decided to take my rainbow that day as a sign of God's promise to care for eliza, as a covenant with me that she would indeed be okay in the hands of a nurse aide, as a confirmation and encouragement of my decision to hand over some control.

i had completely forgotten, until i sat at my computer today backing up files, that my rainbow appeared on september 12.

you see, september 12 this year hit me particularly hard. exactly nine months since eliza had died, i was struck afresh by the relativity of time. nine months. if you're a woman who has ever given birth to a child (or a man who has lived with such a woman!), you know how significant that amount of time is. nine months is an eternity. with both of my children, born a week and two weeks early respectively, i thought i would be pregnant forever. forever. i remember telling my mother a week before luke was born that i was convinced he was, in fact, not a child but a tumor with which i would have to live forever. nine months is so very, very long.

but here, nine months had passed as if in the blink of an eye. my daughter, who had taken nine months to be knit together in my womb, was gone nine months already. nine months is, in fact, no time at all.

which, as you might have anticipated, got me thinking about the nature of time. about the fact that what to us seems like an eternity is but a blink of true Eternity. paul simon sang, "a man walks down the street, he says, why am i short of attention? got a short little span of attention, and, oh, my nights are so long."

if you'll be my bodyguard, i can be your long-lost pal...i can call you betty, and betty when you call me, you can call me al...

ahem. sorry. i do love that song.

we have no idea what a "long time" is. i remember telling a friend shortly after eliza died that i was glad she was free and healed and couldn't wait to see her as such...but it felt like such a long time to wait. Lord willing, i still have a lifetime ahead of me, a lifetime that i can't imagine passing waiting to see eliza again. yet now this nine months has passed, and i've barely noticed. meanwhile, my first baby is losing teeth it seems he just got yesterday; as i sit in the carpool line at school, i realize it will be just another blink before he is driving himself. and time keeps on blinking by. but i can barely stand how long it is taking to back up these pictures--at my computer all day!--and i've barely scratched the surface.

we have no understanding whatsoever of time or its significance. someday, the book of revelation promises, "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (revelation 21:4). but we cry out with the psalmist, how long, oh Lord? ecclesiastes 3 not only promises that there is a time for everything but that God "has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what He has done from beginning to end" (ecclesiastes 3:11-12). past tense. He has done it already. eternity is already complete, and is in our hearts, and we can't understand it.

how long, indeed. we have no idea.

("somewhere over the rainbow," anyone?)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

of the end of summer weeks and priceless week-ends

there's been much ado about the end of summer around here lately. yes, my boys have been back at "real life" now for weeks, but we have managed to pretend like the summer wasn't quite extinguished yet these past few weekends.

(by the way, if you visit this blog for deep thoughts, profound insights, carefully-crafted writing, and the like--thanks; i'm blushing!--but this post is not for you. if, however, you visit for pictures of luke--which means you're likely related to me--read on.)

first, thanks to unceasingly generous friends who are owners of a fantastic beach condo in south carolina, we escaped for a couple of glorious days last weekend, just the three of us. it was lovely. here's luke on the patio, to give you a sense of how very much on the beach we were staying.

and here's luke...well, being luke and resisting yet another beach picture. oh, but he's so cute. i won't be deterred so easily.

then this past weekend, luke and i took off for unseasonably rainy, chilly hot-lanta for a too-quick family gathering. we spent six hours driving, just the two of us, on friday afternoon, through alternately torrential rain and monsoonish rain. this was...well...mostly not fun for either of us. we did the same on sunday morning, torrents and monsoons included. ask me why again? oh, i remember...

the georgia aquarium? priceless (okay, pricey, actually, for my very generous aunt, who treated us; but priceless for former jacques cousteau wannabes like me and wide-eyed people like luke. really, this might be the second coolest place i disney world, of course. and yes, it's fully full of real fish-and-all-things-that-swim and very few walking-around-stuffed ones...but i was too busy oohing and ahhing to take pictures of those).

gaffney, south carolina's james-and-the-giant-peach-esque water tower? priceless (especially when your five-year-old can appreciate it because he loves loves loves the book so much, which has not been ruined in his imagination by any silly movie version. and yes, i took this picture while i was driving. in a monsoon--thus the raindrops you see on the windshield.)

a good book and chicken nuggets? priceless (especially for the quiet they afford the lone driver, who was at this very moment navigating a torrent...and yes, taking a picture of the backseat while driving. don't ask. the book, by the way, was because of winn-dixie, by kate dicamillo, which he also loved.)

great-grandparents spending time with their eldest great-grandson? priceless (and so worth all it took to make it happen...even if only for a one-day visit!)