Butt Dad. But God.

My family has a favorite movie that we watch every holiday season.  It’s about a dad who becomes a snowman after he dies to help his son deal with losing him. It’s called Jack Frost and if you haven’t seen it–it’s worth a watch. Especially now while we are all stuck in our houses. My favorite scene in the movie is when the dad (pre-snowman transition) is talking to his son.  He tells his son something or the other and the boy answers, “But Dad!” To which the dad answers, “Did you just call me Butt Dad?” At this point, everyone watching the scene in our cozy, holiday festooned living room will laugh quietly to themselves and says, “Butt dad.” Then my husband will sometimes add, “It gets me every time.”  It’s one of the things that makes each Christmas our Christmas.  Someday, I hope to hear my little grandson say it.  “Butt Dad.” I can’t wait.

You are probably wondering why I am telling you all of this.  I mean we’re all bored, but is that a reason to rehash lines from a  movie made decades ago? Well, if you have been following my blog for very long, then you know my brain tends to get stuck on certain things. Weird things.  And, this week, it has been stuck on that. That cheesy line.

“Butt Dad.”

I have been turning it around and around trying to figure out why it keeps popping up now.  Yesterday, I finally figured it out.  Or, God figured it out for me.

I was listening to a newscaster give never ending horrible news from behind a clear plastic desk in a studio somewhere.  He was talking about how bad things are.  How bad they are going to be.  How the economy is tanking and nurses are crying and loved ones are slipping away with nothing but a FaceTime goodbye and a medical pronouncement from a doctor loved ones haven’t even met.  That’s important.  The part where you meet the doctor who later tells you you’re going to lose your loved one.  A handshake.  Noticing a spot on his tie.  It all makes it more bearable.  I can’t imagine doing it without it.  Just a voice on a phone.  It’s almost more than I can bear.

It was a lot for the newscaster too.  He was very downcast. He looked pale and without any hope and I, sitting on my couch, felt the same.  My soul was broken.  I wanted more to do.  Stay home?  I’m doing that.  Skipping Easter with my kids and grandkid.  Done. Donate money.  Got it. Clean my groceries before I bring them in the house? Weird, but on that too.  I am doing everything they are asking of us.  Everything.  And, still, I want more to do.  Can someone please give me an American sized to-do list?  I want to affect change in this mess.  I want to save us.  I want to save the doctors and nurses. The old people who are alone and scared. The guy picking up my trash and bagging my groceries. My favorite restaurant.  I want to do all of this, but I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’m not powerful enough. I am a peon with a peon to-do list.

But God,

Thankfully, blessedly, wonderfully He is much more up to the task.  He can do anything.  Everything.  He can get us all through this.  He can break our hearts for those who are suffering. He can call our attention to people who need a little extra help.  A little extra time. A little extra money.  He can grant super-natural wisdom to doctors trying to find a cure and super-natural patience to parents homeschooling. He can help us celebrate Easter this year in a glorious way that is stripped of tradition and rich with meaning.  He can do it all and never break a sweat.

So, the next time you find yourself in front of a television with a newscaster rolling out a list of truly horrible line items that he or she wants you to take note of.  I want you to stop and remember what is being asked of most of us. Not much really.  Small, tiny things in the overall measure of what is happening.   Stay home.  Be kind.  Open your wallet.  Be present.  A peon to-do list.

But God?

He’s doing big things.  God-sized things. Things that will make us marvel later.  The unbelievable timing.  The providence. The amount of dedication and love shown. The compassion and charity given.  How was any of this possible?  How did it all happen? How did a country–a world even– full of peons pull it off?  How was it even possible?  It wasn’t.

But, God…

Why moms do the dishes before they leave.

Several weeks ago, I was at my daughter’s house.  I went because she and her husband are teachers and my grandson was sick.  Again.  For the millionth time.  And, like lots of young couples with toddlers, they were out of sick leave.  So, I loaded up my car with the presents I had been picking up for my little guy along the way and a few fun things for his mom and dad and got ready to make the nine hour drive to where they live.  My husband was headed the opposite direction.  To Mississippi and Louisiana for work.  We kissed goodbye and went on our way.  The trip was uneventful.  Nine hours of James Michener’s Poland and wind and trucks. And, finally, I was there.  Their little white house with the green shutters and three of the people I love most in the world.  I was glad to be there.

For the first three days, I sat and rocked my sick little grand baby and let him watch every version of Hickory Dickory Dock that exists on the internet.  French. German. Disco -style.  We watched them all.  Repeatedly.  I would have done anything to make that little guy feel better.  He was feverish and croupy and miserable.  And, I was glad to be there. Glad I could take some of the pressure off of his mom and dad and let them get a week of work in without a dreaded phone call to their boss to say they would be out for the whole week. Glad to just “mom” them all for a minute.  The plan was for me to stay for two weeks and then for them to come back home with me for spring break.  We were excited about the thought of a whole week together with Pa-paw.  There would be trips to the park and dinners out and fun.  It would be family time and a way to keep my grandson out of day care for three weeks to get good and well before school started back.

During that entire two weeks, I was also watching the news.  The Covid-19 situation was ramping up.  Everyday was news about its’ spread and the tragedy that was starting to unfold.  Phone calls would go out to my husband every night.  This is scary.  I don’t think the kids should come back to Houston.  Maybe, I should come home early?  Surely this isn’t going to get as bad as they think? But it was and it did.  Finally, I made the decision to leave early.  I have Lupus and I have to give it just enough deference to keep myself healthy enough for emergency nine hour trips and grandsons who need me.  Other than that, I flip it the bird everyday. That last sentence made me smile. It’s really how I feel about the whole subject.

So, I broke the news to my kids.  I was leaving and they weren’t.  We were going to have to save our spring break for another time.  Maybe Easter. Maybe a glorious Easter by the lake–like last year.  We could hope.

Nobody was happy.  Well, maybe my son–in-law wasn’t as sad as my daughter.  Either way, I got up that last morning and saw them all off to work. I hugged my little guy’s warm little self and told him how much I loved him.  I hugged my son-in-law and admonished him to take care of everyone and I squeezed my daughter until she pulled away–much as she has been her whole life.  I waved from their front door, smiled and blew a million kisses while they backed out and until they were gone.

And then I cried.

I cried for the entire hour it took for me to pick up their house.  I unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher and swept the floors.  I made the beds and picked up Everett’s toys.  I scrubbed the counters with bleach and straightened the chairs around the dining tables. It wasn’t that it was that messy–it was just that it was the last way I could “mom” them before I left.  Before I got in my car and drove away–finally acknowledging that a pandemic had come to America.  That the future was uncertain.  That there was no way to know how life was going to change.  When they came in that day, I wanted them to know a mom had been there.  Someone whose job it is to make things better.  Make the house smell good.  Sweep away dust and crumbs and mess.  Someone you can lean on.

Finally, everything was done.  I left them a little mad money where they would find it the next morning when they made coffee and a note that said “I love you so much!” and then it was time to go.  I drove the nine hours home with Poland and wind and trucks and then I was there.  With my sweet guy.  Hugging in the garage.  So glad to be together and safe.

Since then, it’s been our own little house and each other and the news.  We are self-quarantined and I have spent most of the time watching the coverage.  My heart has been shattered watching the news from Italy.  I’ve prayed for all of the truckers I saw on those two trips and resolved to do so from now on.  I’ve made all of the mixes I bought at the craft shows last Fall and I’ve watched too much dumb television.

And, through it all, I’ve wished I could make it go away.  I don’t want my friends to be scared or for doctors and nurses to be overwhelmed with what is being asked of them. I don’t want the nice man I met in the ESL class I taught to lose his restaurant.  I want everyone to be ok.  Unfortunately, I can’t fix any of it.  I can’t make any of this go away.  All I can do is the same thing I did in my daughter’s kitchen that morning while I bawled.

I can try to make things a little better.

I can mom.

So, I’ll put a teddy bear in my window for the neighborhood kids to find on their bear hunt.  I’ll call people I’m worried about.  I’ll reach for my husband’s hand while we watch TV and make him his favorites for dinner. I will make sure the underwear and socks get washed and I will remember to laugh.  I will watch for opportunities to be a helper in the world and, more than anything else,  I will pray.

Pray that the Good Lord is gearing up to mom us all.  To sweep away the mess and restore order.  To straighten what has been knocked over and to allow us to come home one day and find our little corner of the world has been put to rights.  That maybe He has a beautiful Easter planned for us.  And, that if that is not the case, that it will be ok anyway. That, throughout this chaos, we will feel gathered up and protected and restored. That we will continually find little gifts hidden in our lives straight from Him to say I love you so much.  A little mad money for the future.

The future when we have come through this.  When stores are open and I can go buy a pizza and joke with my waiter.  A future when I am, once again, in my church with my hands raised praising God for his blessings.  A future when Easter baskets are being planned for.  A future when my kids ring my doorbell and come through that door in a rush of luggage, and noise and excited dogs.  A future where I am squeezing my daughter until she pulls away.  When that day comes, my house will be ready.  There will be something that smells good cooking and maybe a puzzle ready for the kids.  There will be clean underwear and socks and toys placed in my grandson’s cabinet.  I will be there too.  In the middle of it all.  Making a grocery list and ready to mom.  And, I will be glad to be there.

I love you world.  There is a lady in Houston praying for all of you and ready to mom if you need me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re not my Today.

It was a two-story, unfinished, disheveled and much loved house on a quiet street in a little Texas town.  That was the first place I remember starting my mornings with The Today Show.  Waiting my turn in the bathroom or shoveling corn flakes in my mouth at our old red table I would watch whatever Jane Pauley and Bryant Gumble were talking about.  Some of it I understood.  Some of it I didn’t.  But, I understood it was all about us.  Us meaning Americans.  And, I liked the feeling.  I liked the way Jane’s eyes crinkled at the corners and I liked Bryant Gumbel’s grin.  They were a part of the routine of my day. Alarm clocks, my parent’s voices in the kitchen, jeans not dry in the dryer and The Today Show.

So, when I went off to college I took The Today Show with me.  Then it became Katie Couric with her bright smile and, still, Bryant Gumble with his dry humor that woke me up for my 8:00 A.M. class.  Many mornings I would get dressed with the stress of being late and that theme song playing in the background.  I started to understand a little more what they were talking about and mostly didn’t care.  There were cute boys to smile at in my Psychology class and I was too young to believe anything really bad could happen.  At least I didn’t believe it until the Gulf War started.  Then, it was a group of us gathered around a TV in someone’s apartment trying to figure out what it all meant.  Ramen noodles and worry and The Today Show.  That’s how I remember those days.  I felt my immortality for the first time.  And, not only mine, but those of the young people around me.  All of a sudden, life changed.  A little of our carefree spirit was gone and The Today Show changed for me too.  I started to watch it like an adult.  I needed them to give me information I could use.  Information that could frame the way I viewed my world.  And, they did.  I was a faithful viewer.  I watched and kept watching.

I was still watching in 2001 when 9/11 happened. That morning.  Who can forget it?  It was a sunny New Mexico day and I had my windows open to the morning light.  I was curling my little daughter’s hair.  Springy, blonde curls that were so fine I burned my fingers each time to hold them onto the curling iron.  It was my own children’s corn flake and homework morning and The Today Show was on.  Katie Couric was still there with her warm smile and now Matt Laurer was there too.  We liked him then.  He was a good thing to wake up to every morning and, when I needed them, they both got me through that horror.  That feeling of watching those planes hit and fellow Americans die.  I didn’t sleep in my own bed for weeks, because I was afraid I might miss some news I needed.  Some little bit of information that I could use to protect my family.  And, through it all, our television was tuned to NBC.  They were Americans just like us.  Their grief was ours and we were all on the same team.  Lots of other things were broken in the world, but not that.  Not that morning staple that had been with me my whole life.  That was something I could count on.  America’s morning show.  As American as apple pie and baseball.  And, even though I knew I liked President Bush and some people didn’t, I still felt like there was a place for me in The Today Show’s audience.  We might disagree, but we were all Americans.  The same except for our differences and that didn’t really matter.  Because being American superseded that.  Or at least I thought it did.  I truly believed I mattered as a viewer to The Today Show.

I thought that for a really long time.  Until I didn’t.  One day, I don’t even know when, I faced the painful reality that I was not a viewer that The Today Show cared about.  I guess it must have been in my mid-thirties when I realized that my concerns weren’t being represented in the news pieces wedged between the light interviews with celebrities and recipes for whole-wheat pancakes.  For instance, the issue of abortion.  This was an issue fundamentally important to me and I never saw a story that represented the way I felt about it.  Instead, with deliberately chosen words and stories, there was always a hand in the middle of my back pushing me toward the conclusion they had reached.  There was only one right way to feel about the issue and it was theirs.  I would watch in the mornings as I drank a cold cup of coffee and waited for my teen-ager to find her books or favorite pair of shoes and feel a frustration building in my gut. Eventually, I accepted that I was never going to be represented in their reporting.  I had no choice but to conclude that my half of America was irrelevant to them.  This puzzled me, because my journalism professor had made me, a young aspiring writer, rewrite news stories over and over until she couldn’t discern my point of view.  It was hard to keep myself out of my words, but I understood that it was the difference between news reporting and writing fiction.  Ultimately, I decided news was not what I was meant to do.  I have too many feelings to keep them out of my writing.  My feelings are my words.  But, for those that chose the other path, I really wanted them to adhere to that standard.  I really wanted The Today Show to tell the story of the half of America that supports abortion and then I wanted them to tell mine.  They never did.  Not about that issue and not about many, many others.  But, I kept watching.  I’m loyal.  The same lady has cut my hair for years.  I always shop at the same grocery store.  I am that person. I kept hoping that, maybe, someday their journalism teacher would call them all on the carpet and tell them their feelings were showing up in what was supposed to be news.  Your chocolate is in my peanut butter.  That type of thing.  But, it didn’t happen.

Now, I am in my 50s and I still tune in every morning.  I keep hoping to see some fragment of how I feel reflected fairly in their reporting.  I’m beginning to think I should just go join all those folks looking for the Loch Ness Monster.  I would probably fit right in.   Apparently, I am doomed to be an eternal optimist.

I will say that I don’t always watch the whole show anymore.  I catch the first fifteen minutes and sometimes I tune back in to see Steals and Deals–I like a good bargain. Or, I’ll watch the cooking segments.  I love it when you can tell they hate the food, but they have to smile and say “Yum” anyway! It always makes me laugh but, for my news, I am forced to go elsewhere.  I’ve created a weird conglomeration of different sources to try and get an accurate representation of issues.  It’s exhausting, but I do it.  I want to be an informed American, but I don’t want to be an ignored one.

Actually, that’s their fault too.  They’ve done so many stories on how everyone matters.  Find your truth! Live your best life! Lean in! Continuing to watch them would be failing to validate my own feelings. That can’t be healthy right?  As it is, after watching, I sometimes feel like I need to go watch “He’s just not that into you.”

Maybe, this blog post, is me coming to terms with this obvious breakup with my old friend. It’s not me.  It’s them.  I am not a viewer they want.  Guess it’s time to take the hint.  Does anyone know if they show re-runs of Captain Kangaroo anywhere?  I loved that part where they gave away the bike. If only it included a cooking segment I would be set.

A dirty mop.

Some years ago, my husband and I were driving down a manicured street in our city.  There were mansions on one side and a golf course on the other.  It was the type of street where someone driving by might just assume things are as they should be.  Pretty. Neat. Normal.  But, out my window on the passenger side, I saw a mop.  A dirty mop with a broken handle. It was half in and half out of the road with it’s dingy white head of tangled fibers soaking up whatever was running through the gutter.  It was so out of place.  Completely incongruent with the surroundings.  And, I have to admit,  I can’t stop thinking about that mop.

Seriously.  I find myself, at random times, obsessing about it.  Why was it there?  Did it come from one of the houses?  Did an angry rich housewife lose her temper with that bedraggled mop and just pitch it out her front door?  Did it fall out of the back of a pickup on its’ way to a cleaning job?  Did someone throw it there to keep from having to deal with it? Like– I’m tired of you mop.  I don’t want to wait until next trash day so land where you land.  I don’t know.  I don’t even really know why I care.  It’s not like people don’t litter everyday in my city, but that mop bothers me.  It sort of haunts me.  Honestly, I have spent an unhealthy amount of time trying to puzzle it out.  There was something about that ugly, broken, dirty mop in the middle of those beautiful surroundings that my psyche just couldn’t assimilate.

So, all these years later, I am writing about it.  I think I am writing about it because I don’t like things I can’t assimilate.  Things that, no matter which way I turn them, just don’t make sense. I think I am starting to feel this way about my country too.  Things just don’t make sense to me anymore.  How can we be such a good country with so many wonderful people and keep doing really bad things?  Where are the wonderful people on the days those really bad things get decided on?  Where was Bob, the guy who greets everyone at my grocery store with a smile and a hug, on the day that our country decided abortion was an ok thing to do?  I really want to know that.  How can I live in a country where both things exist?  To me, they should be mutually exclusive. But they’re not.  We have 4th of July picnics with little kids riding in parades with streamers woven into their bike wheels and at the same time our Congress won’t even allow a measure to make it to vote that would protect babies that survive an abortion and are laying there on the operating table alive.  Future little parade riders. Red bikes with blue and white streamers fluttering in a morning breeze.  It’s true.  And, my brain can’t assimilate that information.  It gets stuck on it.  I keep going back to it over and over trying to understand.  If I was a cartoon character there would be smoke billowing up and I would be making repetitive motions–you would know I was fixing to blow up from the effort of trying to make it all make sense.  I just can’t.  Which country are we?  Are we a country populated with people who spend days glued to the TV when a little girl is stuck in a well?  Or are we a country who chooses not to protect the most innocent among us?  Are Americans those people who show up in droves to help after a national crisis?  I’ve seen those folks in my own beloved Houston. Citizens who send messages on public boards telling people where to find hidden keys if they need a boat or trailer in the middle of the crisis.  “Take it if you can use it,” they say.  “I just want to help.”  Is that who America is?  Or are we a country who consistently elects people who vote against S.130. The Born- Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act?

How can we be both?

We are either an America that is humane.  That protects the most innocent.  That operates under a basic moral code or we are the friend from that famous scene in the Twilight Zone movie.  Do you remember it?  Two guys are driving in a car enjoying each other’s company until one of them says, “Do you want to see something really scary?” and rips his face off to uncover that he is a monster.  That scene terrified me as a kid.  Nightmares for weeks.  Side-eye for everyone.

I’m feeling that way again.  I’m cruising through life with my fellow Americans.  I like them.  We have the windows down and are enjoying the breeze.  I’m smiling and laughing.  These are my people.  Then, some of those Americans vote against a bill that would protect a baby who makes it out of an abortion alive.  And other Americans applaud for them and, folks, I am freaked completely out. How can this be? How do I square this with my country?  Are the faces only friendly until the mask is ripped off?

I don’t know.  I keep going back to it over and over trying to understand it and I just don’t.  It’s another dirty mop stuck in my brain that I can’t make sense of.  Something that makes me doubt all of my perceptions about us.  And, by us, I mean Americans.  Those folks that cheered for Chilean miners stuck in a cave for 69 days.  Those people that believe that every man has a right to pursue happiness. To pursue life.  To make it to their own bike parade on the 4th?  Isn’t that who we are?  And, not just as individuals, but as a country?  As a unit.

Who are we America?

I don’t know anymore.  Side-eye for everyone. Nightmares commencing. But, I still hug Bob when I go to the grocery store. I like him.  I refuse to believe that sweet man with the  smiley face and American flag on his vest would vote for S.130. We all do what we have to to survive these days.

Am I right?

 

Choose this. Not that.

I have a cardboard box of pictures. It’s huge and the corners have been taped and it’s always on the verge of falling apart completely. In it is a history of my life as a mom and wife.   And, of course, my husband is in most of the pictures.  The picture of me pregnant in front of my grandma’s house?  He’s there. We have our arms wrapped around each other and are standing in front of his old truck.  Our daughter’s graduation from kindergarten– with her white blonde hair and bright red cheeks? There he is smiling like a goofball with his arm wrapped around her little shoulders.  Our son’s 16th birthday–the one with the enormous chocolate chip cookie and all of his friends?  My husband is in that picture too–wearing an old blue plaid shirt I loved. Christmas pictures.  Easter pictures with new grass and kids carrying heavy baskets full of eggs and chocolate.  There’s even one of him with the top of his head spray painted like a pumpkin.  He has a huge smile in that one because he thought it was so funny to embarrass the kids.  I can pull those pictures down from the top of the closet and we can look at them together and he will understand my smiles and my tears.  He, more than anyone,  understands why there are no pictures of my dad after 2005. Why that year includes a lot of pictures of my mom at our house.  For Christmas, for her birthday, for whenever she needed to be.  He understands the picture of the sapling planted in front of a school with a small plaque you can’t read in the picture.  If something ever happens to me he’ll know to keep it and to talk about it.  He also knows why there are no pictures of my mom at our daughter’s wedding ten years later.  With all of the other pictures of her in the box being a grandma to our kids you would expect her to be there between our tall boy and beautiful girl, but she isn’t.  It’s a hole he understands.  Just like I understand the smile on his face in the picture of the day he got his first Harley.  It was about way more than a motorcycle.  I also understand who the little lady is in the picture with both of our kids against the backdrop of Palm trees.  She looks ornery but happy. Feisty and opinionated and crazy about us all.  I shook her hand that day and I have laid in bed with him many nights talking about how much he misses her.  That picture means as much to me as it does to him.  We are each other’s context clue. The keepers of our mutual history. I can’t imagine not being an us.

But lately, the couples in our life have been going their separate ways at an alarming rate.  One minute we are exchanging Walgreens printed Christmas cards of our kids, who are far too old for the tradition, and the next there’s a change of address card in the mail. Our friends aren’t an “us” anymore.  One of them–or both of them–has decided to look for something…..better?  Different? New?  I don’t know.  All I know is I can’t stop thinking about all of those pictures.  All of that family history.  All of those inside jokes that nobody will get anymore.  And, it makes me really sad.  Sad for the one leaving and the one being left.  I’m thinking of an old box of pictures held together with tape, but I’m sure they are thinking of a million things.  Where will their kids go for holidays?  Will their weddings be awkward?  Who takes them to college?  If they get sick who will be the first call from the hospital?  And how about the un-coupled couple?  It took a long time to build the level of trust I have with my husband.  I get up on a Saturday morning and make-up is the last thing on my mind.  If, God forbid, something should happen to me he will take care of my family the best he can.  He will make sure our daughter and son get the things he knows they should have.  How would a new person do that?  New people don’t know those things.  They’re new.  I also can’t imagine a new person being willing to sit across a doctor’s desk with you while you get the news that is coming at all of us as we get older.  I know this because I already got some of that news.  So has my husband.  And, if someone had taken a picture, we would have both been in it.  Hands clasped, shoulders together and ready to face it as a team.

The older I get the more I realize that the things God tell us not to do are things we really don’t want to do anyway.  Maybe we think we do for a minute.  Maybe because we feel the clock ticking or years rushing by and we want to reach out and claim a little youth.  Stick a flag in the sand that says it’s not over yet.  Instead of being Bob and June–we decide we want to be Bob and Mary.  We want to learn new names and new addresses and to not miss June’s dressing at Thanksgiving.  The question is, do we really want to?  What do we gain?  Soon Mary will be the old, new person and then what?  Who gets the pictures?  Who do the kids call?  Who stops to put flowers on your mom’s grave when you aren’t in the car? Will Bob’s new Mary or even June’s new Bill be willing to nurse a new relationship through illness and sorrow and the mundane passing of days?  It’s certainly a bigger risk to assume that of a new partner than of the one who has been by your side for decades.  The one who wrapped their arm through yours and shoved cake in your mouth while you both made a statement to friends and families, dressed up in their Sunday best, that you two were in it to win it.  A couple.  The beginning of a family.  A future card board box full of snapshots of love and commitment and fun.

Maybe that box holds the answer. If you are the one leaving take a minute to sit with those pictures. Notice that your son has your wife’s eyes and remember the moment you first realized that. Maybe that first time you held him in the hospital?  Or, if you are a wife leaving,  maybe take a minute to concentrate on the picture of that cabinet your husband built you to hold your Grandma’s china.  Remember that?  How cute he looked with the pencil stuck behind his ear and so serious?  Let the pictures talk to you.  You’ll hear the echoes of a hundred holidays and a million trips to the grocery store.  You’ll hear baby cries and toddler squeals.  A teenager’s door slamming and phones ringing in the middle of the night.  You’ll hear your history.  The time you spent to built a family.  And, gradually, a choice will present itself.  A moment of excitement and something new–or a solid foundation.  A promise kept or a promise broken?  A legacy transferred or one broken?

Trust me–you are not the only one to ever feel like this.  We all have. All of us who have been married decades anyway.  It’s hard.  Life is yelling at us that we better do it now.  Grab that brass ring.  Choose different.  Get out.  But, what if we don’t listen?  What if, instead of pulling up stakes, we try again?  Go out for pancakes, on a trip, to a counselor.  What if we fight for what we have worked so hard for? What if we dig our heels in and refuse to let it go?  What if we fight for a box of pictures that is only priceless to the two people who, through the years, created the moments that were worth photographing?  Who made children together?  Who learned how the other liked their coffee?  Who ordered funeral sprays together and ugly-cried on the way home together too.  What if we choose this and not that?

I can’t help but think it would end up being ok. To keep your marriage vows.  To get to know your spouse again.  That goofy girl you fell in love with is still there or the first guy that made you feel safe–he’s there too.  And, a year from now, when I get your Christmas card in the mail I will be so happy.  I will rip it open to see if you have aged more than me.  To see if you’re grandparents yet.  I will love seeing that you’ve been on a cruise or that you’re still holding hands or that you took dance lessons.  You will confirm what I believe about my own decades old marriage–that it is worth it.  All of it. It is sweet and familiar and wonderful to have spent thousands of days with someone that I chose and that chose me back.  I can’t think of anything better than that.  No way is new Mary or semi-exciting Bill better than that.  Choose your partner.  Choose your person.  Choose your history.  Choose your box of pictures.

It will be hard work, but there are people to help. Other couples.  Show up at their house on a Saturday morning.  They will be there.  Teeth unbrushed, wearing sweats, probably arguing over what to do that day, but so ready to help.

We all have to fight for each other.  Our 50th wedding anniversary parties are at stake.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I want my glass dish of butter mints and my grandkids circling around. I want that picture of me and my husband in the church basement–both of us old and wearing glasses and holding hands. I want my kids there middle-aged and deep into their own promises to their own people.  With their own boxes of pictures.

I know we can do this.  We all deserve a slide show of the best pictures from the last fifty years.  Moments where ungrateful children say dumb things like, “Mom, you were so pretty.” or “Wow Dad, you were a hottie.”  Moments whee we look back on the landscape of our marriages and know that we chose this.  We chose to get up every morning and to fall in love all over again with a person who sometimes wasn’t even likable.  But, they were our  person and that meant something.  Actually, it meant everything.

So, if I’m on your Christmas card list and you’re thinking of an address change card call me first.  Show up at my house.  Text me.  DM me.  I don’t care.  Just let me be there for you.  I’m pulling for you.  I want you to stay married.  I was probably at your powder blue wedding with the plastic champagne glasses.  Chances are, I still have your matchbook in my hope chest. I’m invested.

And, if you are the person who got left through no choice of your own, you should call me too.  I’m a good listener and I can procure large amounts of chocolate or a paper shredder or just a spot by the pool to figure out what to do next.  I can’t imagine what you’re feeling and I promise not to say anything dumb– like I never liked your ex anyway.  Because, honestly, I did.  I loved him or her and I probably always will.  But, for the next little bit, I’m going to be really, really pissed at them.  And that’s not a choice. It’s just the way I feel right now.

 

Drop your button.

My dad was a storyteller.  A tall, barrel-chested man with a soft voice and a slow smile. My favorite stories he told were about being a Marine.  He would paint a picture of his time at Camp Lejeune, in the swampy heat of a North Carolina summer, and I could see it all right in front of me. The barracks, his friends, the drill instructors–it was all so vivid.  Some of his stories about boot camp we heard more than once through the years. The story about the toothpick was one of those.

When dad first arrived at boot camp he found a toothpick on the ground. I guess he must have had a pretty good idea of how his own psyche worked, because he picked it up and took it back to his bunk with him and hollowed out a little place in the wall where he could hide it. Then, during those long months when his drill instructor was screaming in his face, or waking him in the middle of the night for hours-long workouts, or making him clean latrines he would keep his mind focused on that little wooden toothpick and it carried him through.  He told us no matter what they were doing to him he knew he had something they couldn’t take. A secret they didn’t know about.

Yeah, that would definitely work for me too.  Probably, as the drill sergeant was screaming at me I would have a slight smile on my face that would infuriate him.  Probably, I would clean bathrooms a lot. Probably, it’s a good thing I never went into the Marines as I intended.

Fast forward to many years later when I was reading a book from my church library.  I came across a story about a POW that was held captive for many years.  He was beaten and starved and kept in isolation.  But, somewhere along the way, he found a button.  Just a button.  But, he kept it hidden in different places and it helped him.  When he was going through far worse things than my father endured, he would concentrate on the button. It was something he had that they couldn’t take. It was his.  The only thing that really was. And, it brought him great comfort.

I got excited at this point.  I couldn’t believe the same thing that had worked for my dad was working for this poor man. I kept reading hoping to get to the moment when the man was released and he could throw the button into his captor’s faces and walk away triumphantly.  Silly, immature me.

One of the things the captors did to torture the POW was to move him continuously so that he could never get his bearings. The way they did this was to strap him upside down underneath a truck and transport him for hours with mud and grit splashing continually into his face. Never a stop and never a break. Finally, on one of these trips,  the man cried out to God pleading for deliverance–asking what else could be required of him.  What more could he possibly give?  And, the answer came back clearly, God wanted him to drop his button in the mud. To leave it behind.

I don’t know how you reacted when you just read that sentence, but it made me angry. When I first read it, I threw the book on the floor and paced my living room.  I just didn’t think it was necessary to make this poor man give up his button.  What could it possibly hurt for him to draw comfort from a button given everything he was experiencing?  Why  on earth would God even ask that of him?  Frankly, I thought it was a terrible, inhumane thing to ask.

It took me a long while before I could return to the story and when I did the prisoner did it.  He dropped his button.  Opened his hand and let it go. Watched it splash into the mud and then disappear as he left it behind and traveled further down that dirty, unpaved path with nothing but the Lord. To this day, every time I think about it, I get the chills. Who is this God we love? Why would he ask for that man’s button?

I have chewed on those questions for years and I’m still figuring out the answers.

I can tell you I have been asked to drop some buttons of my own through the years. Things I thought I absolutely needed to live. My folks for instance.  I sure couldn’t have imagined a life without them. But, here it is. Holidays and birthdays and new babies keep coming and neither of them are here to see it.  Also, some really dear friends.  Friends that were  here on Tuesday and then weren’t on Wednesday–that kind of thing.  Thought that would knock me down for good, but it didn’t.  Neither did finding out I had Lupus or watching my daughter move away or selling a house I loved.  None of it has been the end of me.  I am still traveling down this road with mud splashing in my face.  Hurt and broken but alive.  And, still looking for God at every turn.  Hoping for him really.

By the way, the story in my book ended well.  The POW was eventually released. If I could remember the name of the book that spoke about him I would happily tell you. I have spent hours looking for it on the internet to no avail.  Probably, I can’t find it because I would become obsessed with the man and his story instead of God’s. That seems to be the way I roll.  Clutching those buttons with both hands and wishing I was smart enough to let them go. Drawn to this big, huge God that knows what’s best for me even when I don’t. A God that I adore and yearn for even when He confuses and shocks me.   A God that truly is everything to me even as the world and my attachments try to convince me otherwise.

Maybe, a God who is so good He won’t let me be satisfied with a button when I could have him?

Ugh. I don’t know.

Honestly, this whole blog is making my brain hurt.  And I want a cookie. And I don’t think I’m ever going to have all of the answers.  Welcome to my life as a Christian.

 

Harvey.

Because, once again, our body is hurting.

yellowlamplight

My whole body is feeling the pain of Harvey.  I wish I was just talking about my hip I hurt mudding out a house or my head that is killing me from all of the wet, moldy life- piles in front of every house.  But, no, I am talking about my body of people that I love.  They are all feeling the pains of this super storm that shook us all up and then dropped us like so many pick-up sticks. Lives are now scattered and jumbled and tangled.  Everyone is trying to find a way to pick through the mess that is left in a way that gets us all past this.

There is my friend who recently found herself single through no choice of her own.  She spent an entire night by herself in her house trying to keep drains clear and water out of her house.  And…

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To my friend I won’t name.

Not to be trite, but I see you. I see you even though you don’t want to be seen. All the good things you do that nobody ever hears about.  The jackets bought, the lunch dates scheduled, the babies rocked.  I don’t see them because you talk about them or post about them or, heaven forbid, brag about them.  I see them because, sometimes, they just catch up with you on a day that I am there.

Someone stops by the table where we are eating messy hamburgers with toasted buns– working diligently to keep the juices under control.  The person will stop and speak to you and you will put your hand up to cover your mouth full of food and smile warmly at them.  Ask them how they are doing.  Found a job yet?  How’s the baby?  Did y’all make it back from your trip ok?  Then, just before the person walks away they will say quietly, “Thank you.  We wouldn’t have made it without you.” You will duck your head quickly and put your hand out to touch their arm.  Smile and send them on their way.  We will continue fighting the battle of our hamburgers and one or the other of us will take a long pull of our Dr.Pepper.  Anything to keep from having a conversation about what just happened.  But, I will grin– happy to have you as my friend and happy to be eating lunch with you even though I have lost the battle with the juices and they are running down my arm.

Sometimes, I won’t be there on that day, but I will hear about it another way.  My phone will ring.  A mutual acquaintance calling and I will answer wondering what’s up.  An excited voice will ring back, “You won’t believe what she did for us! It was just so nice and it made our whole day.” I will answer with a laugh in my voice. “She’s a keeper that’s for sure.” Then I will hang up the phone and sit down to say a quick prayer for you and to wonder.

Wonder how many kind things you have done on the sly.  How many needs you have met without any expectation of thanks or recognition.  How many groups you’ve led or rides you’ve given or hospital visits you’ve made.  It’s one of the things I’m looking forward to in heaven. That day when we all settle in with popcorn and watch the movie of your kindness.  I really can’t wait.  What a joy that will be!  I’ll clap and cheer and probably get popcorn everywhere.

I will do this because you are a guidepost.  I don’t know if you know that, but you are.  When I feel the urge to do something nice, I always think of you.  How would you handle it?  What would you do for this person in need or hurting?  How would you show Christ to them?  Some answer always come back. Sometimes, I am smart enough to follow through and sometimes I am not. (I don’t think it’s a secret that you are nicer than me!)

But, always, your example is there.  Floating in front of me.  Do nice things and keep your mouth closed about it.  Do them because they reflect your heart.  Because love is always a good choice.  Because you are on the path to becoming more like Christ and loving people quietly is a good way to make some progress on that journey.

I have been a part of so many Bible studies.  Mark this.  Color that yellow. Memorize this.  And, I have learned from all of them.  But, I have learned the most about what it means to be a Christian by watching friends like you.  Friends that love people.  Naturally and honestly and with their cars and kitchens and spare change.

So, I have this little hope.  I hope that someday one of my own good things catches up with me while we are eating lunch somewhere.  Maybe, a salad for a switch, and I will have lettuce stuck in my teeth as someone stops by to tell me thank you.  I will reach out and touch their arm and when they leave you will be grinning at me and taking a long draw of your Dr. Pepper.  My face will flush because I won’t know how to handle it gracefully, but you won’t say a word and neither will I.  Because, you have taught me that to talk about the good things we do is to cheapen them. Instead, let them swirl and journey until they find their way back to a lunch table with a blue checked tablecloth and mismatched salt and pepper shakers.  Then, they will land safely and do the job they’re meant to do.  To encourage someone further back on the path to keep trying.  To follow. To understand that there are good people doing good things for absolutely no glory. No glory except to follow our Christ and to share His love with the world.

That’s why I want that day to happen.  I want you to know that you have made a difference in my life. That you have been a teacher in addition to being a friend. The way you live out your faith has changed mine and I will be forever grateful for that. I am so, so proud to call you a friend, but don’t worry I won’t name you.  However, I might pick up the lunch tab next time.  Chinese sound good?

Computer thingys.

My little grandson is sick.  My little grandson is sick and I had to leave him and come home.  Things are tough in my world.

To leave him on a good day is hard, but to leave him on a day when his little voice is raspy and his little body is hurting is almost more than this grandma heart can handle.  It’s strep and he will get over it.  Lots of little kids do.  But, those little kids don’t have my daughter’s eyes and her goofy smile.  They don’t have my husband’s birthmark or my mother’s temper.  This little man is so many parts the people I adore that I really have a hard time being rational when it comes to anything concerning him.

Really.  A very hard time.

So, on the morning I had to leave him, I got up the second I heard him cry. I met his mama in the hallway and waved her back to her temporary bed on the couch and I went into his room. Then, I tried everything I knew to make him happy.  No matter that it was 4 a.m.  No matter that there was no coffee in the house.  No matter that the only thing that quieted him was a Barney video.  I thought I had served my time in the world of people who have to watch Barney and was finally free twenty years ago. Alas, that was just life playing a cruel joke on me and I am once again drowning in I love you, you love me…like I mentioned…things are tough.

But, I persevered.  It’s my little grandson.  I would do anything for him.  Even tolerate Barney.  Thankfully, after thirty minutes of school yard songs and children dressed in sweaters looped over their necks and pink socks, my little guy started to calm down and get sleepy.  I was thrilled.  This meant rest for him and it meant I could leave knowing he was peaceful.

So, I sat in his rocker.  I arranged his favorite white blanket under his cheek the way he likes it.  I adjusted his chubby legs so they didn’t dangle and I pulled his blue, bull-dog pjs down over his little tummy.  I was creating the perfect scenario where he would feel how much I love him and go to sleep and have illness-smashing rest.  This was going to happen.

As the final touch, I asked Echo to play Amazing Grace by Alan Jackson.  Usually, I sing it to him as I rock him, but that morning I had too many tears clogging up my voice so I asked Mr. Jackson to fill in.

Now, I am going to tell you this next part only to prove my earlier claim that I struggle to be rational when it comes to this little grandson.  I sat there looking into his blue eyes, feeling my own eyes filling with tears again (I did mention I was minutes away from leaving him!) and feeling the weight of the goodbye hanging between us.  Knowing that it was going to be weeks or even months before I saw this little person again.  Knowing that he would change drastically in that time and knowing that he holds a lot of what makes me really happy within his sweet little self.  It was a very large moment full of love and emotion and sorrow.  And, in the middle of all of that, Echo answered me with absolutely no deference to what was happening.  She was as cheerful as if I had just arrived for the visit.  As if I had weeks to spend with him.  It made me angry.  I’m not kidding.  I felt a flash of irritation for the dumb little disk on his dresser that follows our commands and plays him music.

“You are a stupid machine.” I said, with what I’m sure was an inappropriate amount of derision, and then I glared at her. At it. At whatever it is.

All of this really happened.  I am not attempting to be humorous.  In fact, I am still angry.  I thought about it the whole nine hours home in my truck and, every time I did, I felt another little flash of irritation. It truly upsets me that so much of our life and relationships are shared by a tangle of wires and numbers and computer thingys that will never understand the emotion held in a single life moment.  That when you are holding your sick little grandson and rocking him to sleep and waiting for his eyes to flutter shut– it is one of the best and worst moments that has ever unfolded.  Best because he’s there in your arms.  The weight of him.  The way his breath slows as he fights sleep.  The worst because you know as soon as he loses the battle and goes to sleep you will have to lay him carefully in his crib, turn on his ceiling fan and closet light and get in a car and leave him.  Leave him. Your sick grandson.  Drive away.   Take yourself somewhere he isn’t.

A moment like that deserves proper pathos and not a stupid cheerful computer voice.  All of these machines just don’t get it and yet we welcome them into our humanity.  Our most treasured moments.  And then, they don’t even behave properly.

Sigh.  I should have just sang Amazing Grace myself.  No slight to Mr. Jackson– who does it so well.  Maybe, if I had, my little guy would already be feeling better.  And, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing this for all of you and glaring at my own Echo who wasn’t even there that morning and is as innocent as a computer thingy can be.

And you thought I was kidding when I said I can’t be rational when it comes to this grandson of mine.

As I’m sure I mentioned, things are tough.

For Brad.

Algae slimed fish bowl,

drawers empty of clothes,

you with your nose running and

a hot hole in your seven-year-old soul.

I tried.

Me, with my twenty-five-year old mind

and not an apron to my name.

I vacuumed dead flies from the windowsills and

scheduled skating rinks for birthdays.

We edged around each other like

gentle boxers afraid to punch,

but still needing the purse.

It all hurt, but I tried.

Late nights listening for gravel crunching,

measuring your face’s twitching for trouble.

Loving, but without a real claim or permission.

Victory comes in the form of your

lanky body lazing on my couch.

Your voice speaking everyday things to my ear.

We are still a we.

Look what we made;

we made family.