He + me

I’ve been staring at old pictures of myself lately, trying to figure out where that girl went…that girl who is me and yet if I met her today I would marvel at what different people we are. What parts of her do I miss? What parts am I glad to leave behind?

 

 

I see her at her wedding with her beloved’s arms wrapped around her and she looks completely blissful, but I know that deep inside her there is a vicious green serpent of possessiveness and insecurity that wreaked no small bit of havoc with their relationship until it was slaughtered a couple of years thereafter. But I envy the near-hysterical excitement and promise of the future that I see in her eyes (and his) as they start out.

 

I see her with a baby in her arms and she looks like the picture of motherhood, but I know that there are many tears yet to be shed over her inabilities to cope and many days of guilt that will leave an indelible mark upon her soul. But I envy the chance she has to start fresh, and I wish so much that I could help her understand that the things that seem monumentally important to her are so very…very…not.

 

I see her standing with her growing family, and with friends and parents and siblings, and she looks silly, or serene, or preoccupied, and I know her struggles and her victories and her every dream and wish and hope…so many still unrealized, and I think after 38 years I understand that many of them always will be.

 

Are we more like trees than we think, with layers and layers of our old selves inside of us, each one building upon the last with an ever-thickening bark wrapping its way around us with every passing year? Sometimes I think I feel the knocking of a past incarnation wanting to come out and talk. What would we say to each other?

 

Me (now): hey, what’s up?

 

Me (then): oh, just wanted to see how things turn out.

 

Me (now): that’s not allowed, you know.

 

Me (then): can’t you just give me a hint?

 

Me (now): nope. but will you please stop pursing your lips? there’s this wrinkle starting that you won’t notice until it’s too late…

 

There’s even a picture of me from two months ago, on vacation, that gives me pause. I am not that person anymore either; I’ve been changed in a fundamental way that grew another ring around my core in record time. Can I see the beauty in the growing, no matter how it came about? Can I value the storm for the way it makes me dig in deeper with my roots? Can I lift my hands to God in praise for both the rain and the sun, and trust Him to be the ultimate Arborist?

 

I can. I can because years ago He etched His name and mine on the surface of this sapling and drew a heart around it. No matter how the wind may blow, it remains.

 

Perfecktion

When I used to daydream about becoming a mother, I wasn’t completely naive. I knew there was more to it than the highly-romantic Similac commercials made it out to be. After all, I had a mother myself, and although she made the job look like just about the Best Thing Going, I knew it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I knew it could be trying. I knew it could even be, at times, A Challenge.

 

When I got pregnant with my first child, I read articles that made motherhood sound like the ultimate self-help experience. Once you had children, the experts promised, you would hold yourself to a higher standard. You would want to model for your children the very best example, and therefore you would draw upon untapped levels of motherly goodness that you didn’t even know you had.

 

I have since learned the truth.

 

Motherhood is a Formal Enquiry, not “a challenge”. It is an Interrogation. Motherhood grabs you by the neck, slings you into a hard metal chair, angles a white hot light in your face and demands an accounting. It cross-examines you until you are no longer sure of who you are and can give no reasonable explanation for just what, exactly, you thought you were doing.

 

Did you think you were patient? What about the time you had to explain the concept of fractions to your fifth-grader for the eight-hundred and twenty-third time in three days? Thought you were pretty smart? Wait until you try to BS your way out of a moral dilemma and your teen calls your bluff. Think you’re Determined? Pit yourself against a 3 year old who decides overnight that elastic is Very, Very Bad In Every Way, But Most Especially On Pants. Were you strong? Resourceful? Brave? Think again.

 

It is the single most humbling experience possible to be confronted every day in every way with one’s inadequacies, but that, in a nutshell, has been my experience with parenthood. I cannot be what my children need. I cannot keep them from pain (I’ve been known to inflict it), shield them from mistakes (awfully busy with the fallout from my own), or cushion the blows of The Real World.

 

But then, maybe that’s because I’m not supposed to. Maybe that’s not even in the actual job description, but is an addendum stapled on to the back of the original agreement by a society that thinks guilt gives you brownie points. Maybe the point of the whole “Be Fruitful and Multiply” thing is not to achieve fulfillment, but to drive us deeper into the arms of the One who fills us fully. If we could be everything our children need, what need would they have of Him?

 

I’ll never be a perfect parent. I think that’s because I’m not supposed to be. God, in His infinite wisdom, set me up for a fall the minute I gazed into the eyes of my firstborn. So instead of trying to be perfect, I think I’ll try being a perfect example of dependence upon Him.

 

Hypocrisy

My favorite lecture (#2,381) is the one that goes something like this:

 

“No one can make you mad*. You decide to be mad*. It happens in your heart; no one can reach into your heart and make you feel anything, it is a choice that you make.”

 

*insert any other emotion (sad, grumpy, happy, etc) that fits the occasion.

However, I have to say…here are some things that make…yes…they MAKE…me happy:

 

melting snow

signs of spring

IKEA

this mug

this mug

Can I get a witness?

Sometimes I wish I was normal. I hear tales of people who are steady, reliable, calm, rational, unflappable, and disciplined. This is my personal definition of normal, and I confess, I am not it. I wonder what sort of upbringing a person has to have in order to turn out normally?

 

 

I imagine having normal parents helps, parents who don’t zip themselves up in sleeping bags and then stand, slowly unzipping them while singing the “I’m a Chiquita banana” song as a form of bedtime entertainment. Parents who raise their children on wholesome television and forbid things like Monty Python as utterly subversive would probably be a prerequisite. Having parents who are not given to sudden outbursts of Bee Bop A Loo Bah, Be My Baby, or think shingling a garage roof on Christmas Eve at 10pm with your children is A Good Idea would likely be beneficial in the pursuit of normalcy.

 

But I’m not here to point fingers. I’m just wondering…what is it like? What is it like to say you’re going to do something…and then do it? What is it like to plan a day and not be interrupted by a Hairbrained Scheme? What is it like converse without quoting from various movies, or breaking into song? What is it like to have a “lively debate” rather than a “hysterical argument”? What is it like to feel normal amounts of joy and sorrow instead of quantities of either that are so copious they cannot be contained within your earthly body and so must explode out like so much molten lava, melting everything around you and causing innocent bystanders to flee in terror?

 

Bi-Polar is the trendy thing to be these days. I sometimes wonder if I have a touch of it, but I don’t think I’m nearly that fashionable. How handy a manic episode would be, though, now and then! I have heard that musicians with the malady have composed symphonies in a weekend, artists do their best work, and writers finish books in a matter of days. Come to think of it, I think mania used to be called “The Muse”. I wonder if she cares that they changed her name and institutionalized her?

 

Maybe what I’m really wondering is, is there even such a thing as normal? Even the most rational person I know probably has some pretty freaky stuff floating around in their personality at times, they just have the good sense to suppress it. I mean, I read that 1 out of 4 people have a mental illness, so if “normal” is whatever is the “norm”, then the definition is going to get kinda tricky here pretty soon. Good thing I already know where I stand.

 

Deliverance

“Wind the graveclothes, bind them fast
If you need more, recall your past.
There’s lots of ways that you can die
Give up, lay down, refuse to try.

Here, pass the cloth, I’ll help you out
I’ll make the knots secure and stout.
Around the head, the eyes, the ears
I’ll block out all except your fears.
Come on with me, I’ll show you where
your life can end without a care.
No need to fight, a few steps more

I can already see the door.

Too bad He did not come in haste
He must think you’re an awful waste.
He isn’t coming, He’s done with you
Here is the entrance, just step through.

Lay on the slab, now fold your hands
It’s dark, I know, but that’s the plan.
You aren’t cut out for life, it’s true
It’s simply much too hard for you.”

 

And on and on and on and on
until my strength was almost gone
the lies came fast with urgent glee
and I….I cried….and I agreed.

 

Entombed, I lay all on my own
Against the entrance rolled a stone.
The time had passed, He had not come
Like Lazarus, my life was done.

 

Then cutting through my thick despair
a Voice I love beyond compare
echoed within the walls around
Oh, how my heart leapt at the sound!

 

“Come out, come out,
I am not done
Unwind the bindings,
See the sun!

 


“Come out to Me,
I love you, friend,
You’re not forgotten;
It’s not the end!

 

 

“The days feel like eternity,
I know, dear one, but trust in Me.
My heart is grieved, I also cry,
I do not sleep, I cannot lie!
 
 
 
“I have a plan, I’m never late,
though sometimes you will have to wait,
for I will make My glory known
’til strongholds lie all overthrown.”

 

 

And I came out, into the Light
the rags of death still holding tight
Until He spoke to friends I know
“Unloose the cloths, and let her go”

 

And now I stand as one set free–
He spoke the words of life to me.
Do you lie wrapped in graveclothes too?
He’s at the door, He weeps for you.

 

Wait on the Lord, He’s on His way,
Hold on, hang tight, press in and pray;
He hears your every need and care
He knows what’s best, and He’ll be there.
 
 
 
 

 

Moments of Mortality

Today we said goodbye, amidst many tears, to our beloved bunny of 5 years, Jack. He was the sweetest thing ever, bought for my daughter on Easter Day, March 31st, 2002, which just happened to be her birthday as well. She and I cried together as we contemplated the image of Jack and the baby-who-left-too-soon snuggling together on Heaven’s meadow. If that thought is too smarmy for you, I don’t want to know, so keep it to yourself.

 

 

On the form we filled out in the vet’s office where we said our farewells, there was a space that said “do you feel like your pet is: [check here] a member of the family (or) [check here] just a pet”. One seemed like a little too much, but the other was definitely a little too…little.

 

In honor of his life, I decided to post here a little something I wrote many years ago for a magazine that is now defunct. And if you want to see how really cute Jack was, here’s a link to his webpage: http://www.beautifulheritage.com/jack.html

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The children are having a funeral…again. I am asked to say a few words in behalf of the deceased, so I follow the somber-faced, shovel-burdened troop out to the west end of the back yard, where the grave has been prepared. As the body is carefully set into its final resting place by loving hands, I begin my eulogy:

 

“Fiona was a good gerbil…”

 

The speech ends with a brief prayer, and the children are satisfied. They lay a few flowers upon the grave, and the oldest places a rough cross, hastily fashioned out of sticks, over the tiny mound of earth. A few sighs are heard, a few tears are shed, and they disperse to find more light-hearted occupations. Standing alone in the autumn sunshine, I take stock. Here, in this grass-less corner, lie three guinea pigs, two gerbils, a snake, a toad, and a baby bird. The latter three were all found DOD (dead on discovery) while playing outside, but were none the less carefully and dutifully interred.

 

We are not the first to use this corner as a cemetary. During recent excavations, the entire skeleton of a cat was unearthed, to the mixed horror and delight of all involved. It’s discovery was mysterious and comforting, and debates ensued as to how old it was, and how long it had been there. The burial was not careless, though time had left very little clue to tell any story about the owners. Were they children, too? Was there a parent speaking words of remembrance over the lifeless form? Did they cry? The consensus was Yes; Yes, of Course. They felt a kinship with these bereft pet-owners-gone-before, and somehow the presence of the cat lent credence to their own tears, for it is nice to know you are not alone in grief.

 

In the ebb and flow of a busy household, these moments are fleeting, but the ripples caused by them spread out in ever-widening circles. The four year old, laying in bed that night, asks me Do Animals Go to Heaven?, and the five year old chimes in with When Will I Die? and Are You Going to Die, Mommy? Suddenly the entire bedroom is abuzz with questions, and a lively discussion about the nature of Heaven, of God, and of the meaning of Forever ensues. My children have never attended a funeral apart from the backyard, and yet they know that people, like pets, die. These backyard burials are the first lessons in finality, the first encounters with the eternal, and they leave their mark.

 

I am tired at the end of the day, and yet…I take care to linger. The days too busy, it seems, to answer the important questions, and so it is here, in bed, when the lights are turned out, that the answers must come, if I have them at all. I try to explain what I know to be true, to put into words the Hope that we hold if we hold onto Jesus. I give them my theory that if Jesus comes back upon a white horse, then mightn’t there be animals in Heaven? I tred carefully upon the truth that I do not know the future, even as much as one minute from now, and yet I do not think that I will be going to Heaven anytime very soon. They discuss how wonderful a place Heaven must be, and one expresses a wish that she could go this very minute. I do not mention that I pray fervently that she remains with me a while longer, but agree that it will indeed be wonderful to be there together someday.

 

The discussion ends, kisses and hugs are distributed, and soon sleep descends upon my small philosophers. I leave the room weary, and yet my spirit is light, for I know the conversation did not go unnoticed. Angels, I am certain, smiled more than once as they listened, and One much greater than they was also very near, supplying me with the words to say. It is His words, falling upon the receptive soil of a tender heart, that will carry my children through the funerals of childhood and far beyond.

 

A challenge

Question o’ the day: where have all the good words gone? What has happened to the adjectives that used to make our language so rich and tasty? Has our culture effectively wiped out all but curse words as a way to enrich our conversation?

 

I ask, because I care.

 

Reading anything by Jane Austen feels like a 7 course meal for my brain. I find myself daydreaming about the days when people spoke and thought in sentences like this one:

 

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

Priceless. Here’s today’s translation:

 

“She thought he was a blowhard asshole.”

 

Doesn’t do nearly so much for me.

 

I dream of a time when things were odious instead of “gross”, a person who was “nice” was affable, and instead of becoming “pissed off”, one became vexed. In those days, if someone was condescending to you, it made your day, charity was not a disgrace but a blessing, and every woman longed to be handsome.

 

Alas, we cannot return to those days. But we can fight against the tide of lackluster description and unimaginative interjections by choosing to enrich our own vocabulary. We can arm ourselves with brilliant words and lob them at banal conversation like grenades of enlightenment. We can be guerrillas in the fight against vapid vocabulary! WHO WILL JOIN ME?!

 

Okay then. Here are a few words that I expect you to wield vigorously and frequently in the days to come. Feel free to add to the list and share with the group. 

 

Pulchritudinous [puhl-kri-TOOD-n-uh s]: characterized by or having great physical beauty and appeal. “Why does that pulchritudinous guy have to be my cousin?” (this word is a favorite of my eldest daughter and she would be extremely vexed if I did not include )

 

Swoonworthy [SWOON-wer-thee]: worthy of swooning over. “The new scrapbook paper at Hobby Lobby is positively swoonworthy.” (I kid you not, I thought that I had invented this word, but I did a google search and found that it is already being bandied about! Huzzah!)

 

ennui [ahn-WEE]: A feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest. “I suffer from ennui when I hear most conversation these days.” (My brother used this word in a high school poetry assignment and I have viewed him as a Truly Great Writer ever since)

 

Wally [WAH-lee]: cheap or flimsy. “That particleboard desk is just so wally.” (This one I really did make up, as a substitute for the old term “mickey mouse” as describing something inexpensive. Have you been in the Disney Store lately?)

 

You have your orders. Now get that camo on and get out there!