Sunday, September 28, 2014

When it is cancer....

5 PM. My mom's voice was tear-stained, broken.

I sat down in my den, and tears began to fall.

Baby girl sat quietly on the couch.

There weren't any real details, yet. Just that the biopsy showed cancer.

CANCER.

Lord, why?

We had been through this almost 15 years ago with my dad. And then his heart ten years ago.

Not again.

Not my mom. She is one of the genuinely good people.

I hung up, wanting to see her, to touch her face.

Tears flowing and sat in front of baby girl.

Her beautiful face still, stoic.

And I remembered all my years of keeping my emotions in. Swallowing hard, afraid that I would be seen as weak. 25 years later the same type of little girl sat in front of me. Inside her heart breaking for her Nana.

"I know you aren't a hugger, but since no one else is here and your mom could use a hug, would you?"

We crumbled into one another, her strong arms around my neck.

That night my husband prayed over us; he asked the Lord to heal my mom, if that is His will.
My eyes opened, and I knew that wasn't a prayer I could pray. I wanted her healed, regardless. I couldn't truly ask for His will to be done unless it was the will I wanted.

So I borrowed a line from Corrie ten boom, "Lord, please listen to him because I can't pray that right now." And I didn't. I couldn't pray anything but make her well, make her well over and over again.

People have long said that the marriage bed is the most intimate of places, where two become one. Never more true than that night, not because of laughter or lovemaking but because long after the lights were out there were fresh tears and a wail from deep inside, flood gates I couldn't dam. And there in the dark of night, his arms found their way around me and my head to his chest. My hurt revealed, broken hearted. Knowing my husband would take the pain from me if he could.

All I could tell him was that my mom was the last person who believed there was good in me, when no one else did. What would I be without her?

                                                       ********************

Sometimes your community proves to be different from what you would have thought.

My old college buddy and his computer friends raised their glasses to my mom on their payday night out; my acupuncturist asked for her name, so she could call on it in prayer. My now friend, a college roommate's kid sister, stopping what she was doing to pray right then and overnighting me a bottle of sacred frankincense oil that I could take to my mom. A friend in South America, her own plate full with a foreign language, a foreign church, her own family, praying. My gorgeous, world-travelling neurologist friend (who by the way, just discovered she had cellulite. I told her that was only fair. If she was going to be a gorgeous, jet-setting doctor, she needed a flaw) Church members, friends, and family sending texts, messages of encouragement. Love notes from my mother-in-law. My brother-in-law offering an appointment with a specialist at his hospital. My beautiful friend with all the tattoos and the loving soul who asked how I was and told me it was OK to cry as long as I wanted, that it was my momma.

In those moments I knew what my mom's greatest gift is, that she always believes there is good in people and goes above-and-beyond to find it. Not in a na├»ve or Pollyanna way, but because she knows there is some part of everyone that Jesus loves. She would have seen it in all my friends long before I did. And she knows that Jesus commands us to love them too.

My mom does this with ease and grace.

And seeing my friends' hurt for me and lift my mom up in prayer reminded me that we all  try to do the same, to love one another, to pray without ceasing.

Just too often in the day-to-day we forget that there is Jesus in everyone of us.

And it can take tragedy to make us slow down and see it in each other, our friends, and ourselves if we look.

I got up from the bed only because the days continued. We were almost out of toilet paper; baby girl still had school. People needed to eat. And so we went about the business of life, without living at all for a few days.

And then.

And then Friday night I saw her; her face the same. Her spirit strong, if not a bit subdued.
My strong daddy, who only said this is so much harder than having cancer yourself.

And I hugged her neck and touched her face.  And told her and Dad I would be with them every step of the way.

So when it is cancer, it is a long road.

But not one we are facing alone.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed and wept and loved on us all.

Thank you.



Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thursday


Text to husband: "We are home. FINALLY. I'm lying on the bed having a hot flash. Baby girl crying. One comment away from being grounded. Sent her to bed. It is 4:30. Please bring home $5 pizza and garlic sauce."

Anyone else have these days?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hearing God.....


Sometimes you hear God sitting across from an old friend who is wearing bright lipstick and smoking on an e-cig. Sometimes.



I've always wanted a God of flashing neon signs; one whose will and direction are laid out in simple steps so there is no confusion as to which way to go. My husband reminds me Moses had this and still screwed up royally.

So maybe I would ignore neon signs too?

Trying to walk closer to God is hard sometimes; my mind wanders. The old me is familiar and comfortable in her stagnant state.

Growing in God requires hearing His voice, and I wasn't sure how to discern it. It was a perfect loophole.


Until God became obvious.


I was praying one night about a family issue, not earth-shattering but important. Clearly the words: ask her formed in my mind and then there was the Facebook photo of an old acquaintance in my head. I knew God was wrong. I barely knew her 15 years ago, and only saw the occasional glimpse of her life via social media.

ASK HER.

And there it was.

I composed a private Facebook message:

"Hey, great to see pictures of you and your family on here! Hope you are doing well. By the way I was praying on an issue, and the Lord mentioned I might ask you. Can I pick your brain?"

She responded. Asked me the issue, gave me her number.

Turns out what I was dealing with was something close to her heart; she offered some wise counsel and gave some great ideas and really helped.

I told her that it always amazed me that God knows what He is doing.


                                                                       And He does.


There was His voice. The pictures, the quiet words.

There went my loophole.



And then we moved: a new town, a new company for the husband, a new school for baby girl and 8 weeks in a hotel. 8 weeks!

But something wasn't right with my job search. I couldn't find one that I wanted, the one that wanted me. I've been wrestling with God and my work and my identity for years.

Did He really want me to not work at all? Not work outside the home? 

And then an old friend and I reconnected; she had a project near my new home that she could use some help with. Nothing much came of it; one of those sure-we-will-talk-about-it-one-day kind of thing.

Then I got the message, "Just found out spouses aren't covered on the new insurance plan. Calling corporate to find out."

I scrambled; I knew depending on someone else wasn't a good fit for me. I needed to provide.

I picked up the phone to text my friend with the opportunity. And I heard the words in my mind.

Leave it alone. I have this.

I heard it. Saw the letters in white in my mind.
And I picked up the phone and dialed anyway.


15 minutes after I agreed to go to work; my husband sent me a text:                 

                     "Info was wrong. All three of us have insurance."


Thankfully, God isn't the I-told-you-so kind.

I knew after day one of work that it was a mistake; I told my husband and my mom but thought it would get better, that I would ride it out.

But it never eased up, that gnawing feeling that I knew I was wrong.

I had not trusted God and tried to solve the problem on my own.

So I told my friend I needed to talk to her and told her I couldn't stay, and when she asked why I told her the truth. The whole truth; the God told me in a voice I heard truth.

And though our spiritual beliefs differ greatly. Her response was simply, "I understand and respect your decision."

And that was how it works. Doing what God leads us to do works out in the end.


But I still wondered why I was afraid to listen, to trust, why in those weeks back in my old shoes had so many bad habits popped back up?

Was I really changed?

I was picking up my last paycheck, casual in shorts, with the dog (fresh from the groomer's and wearing a neckerchief) on my lap. And she said, "What did you do with the old you? Do you ever let her out or feed her?"


And then sometimes you hear God sitting across from an old friend who is wearing bright lipstick and smoking on an e-cig.



Sometimes.




Friday, June 6, 2014

Why I like my family (or a closer look at the 3 of us, TMI, and overuse of words that you may not want to read)


Last night, I was lying in the bed, playing on the internet when my daughter needed some ointment. I told her it was on the top bathroom drawer and off she went.

“I’m going to call out what they are used for to make sure I get the right one.” She is 11 and smart enough that she purposely bombs the beginning-of-school-year reading tests so she can “read easy books all year.” She is also yelling this, though we are only 5 feet apart. The dog went beneath the covers at this point.

“Dry eyes. Minor cuts, scrapes, and burns (This was obviously the one she needed, which she knew.). Minor gum and mouth irritation. FUNGUS IN YOUR VAGINA.” She cackles. I wonder how long she waited for a cut, so she could need ointment, so she could “make sure she got the right one,” so she could yell FUNGUS IN YOUR VAGINA as loud as she could across the house. My husband laughed with her, and I muttered  “Fungus. In your vagina, really” enough times that I sounded slightly demented.

And it hit me. AGAIN. I am not raising a demure, soft-spoken daughter. I am not a demure, soft-spoken woman. And my husband thinks we are both wildly fantastic, though somewhat inappropriate. We are just normal God-fearing, Jesus-loving people: our own normal.

Everyday I’m faced with pictures of what a Christian wife and mother should look like, the activities we should do and not do as a family, how my husband should lead, that I should support every idea he has, even the bad ones. I fall short of most lists, some lists I never even make. And it worried me, a lot. I’ve struggled with my identity as a Christian woman (see entry: On Being Tattooed and Christian); I’ve felt like we should be the genteel ones who break out into praise and worship songs and never deviate from KLOVE on the radio.

And last night. Last night when my child was yelling out FUNGUS IN YOUR VAGINA, I knew that I really like my family. Just the way it is. And here is my list of reasons why.

1.       When my child is generally being difficult because she is 11; I tell her that she is acting like a butthole. It is my favorite word; it encompasses so much: snotty attitude, short temper, disobeying, being unappreciative. It is the only word I need, and while I use it frequently in correction, it has applied to every member of my family at one point or time.

2.       My husband and child laugh ridiculously when the other one burps or farts. (Please note that I am excluded from this. It is a well-known fact in our house that I have no bodily functions that might be deemed “gross” by others. It is true. Accept it.)  It is as if they have never heard it before; it will bring an amazed and wondrous look to their faces. More than once they have laughed so hard there were tears. Frequently, there are snorts.

3.       We all laugh so hard that we snort. ALL OF US. Then we laugh harder because someone snorted. We once fell in love, as a family, with another family we were having dinner with: the couple’s baby laughed until he snorted, then the couple laughed. Then we laughed. And then someone snorted. Repeat.

4.       We are all OK with being in the same place, but not being together. We are independent, and that is wonderful.

5.       There are also nights that we all end up on our bed at 6:15 and spend the rest of the night in close quarters. Sometimes, we interact. Sometimes, we don’t.

6.       My husband and child gang up on me. They make fun of the way my pinky is always raised when I am eating or drinking, the sound I make when I think food is really good. Just last week on our way back from Disney, I half opened my eyes to see my own reflection, asleep, inches from my face. I slapped away the iPhone, bolted up quick, locking the seat belt simultaneously choking me and ripping off my right breast, shouted, and then sat quietly praying I would not die from the heart that was beating 337 times a minute in my chest. I thought my husband was going to drive off the road. Baby girl was in the back, doubled over, snorting and unable to breathe, sputtering, “I was recording your snoring. (Please see above; no gross bodily functions, so this was obviously like trying to video Sasquatch.)” “You let her do that???” Before he could answer,  SHE says, “Let me? He told me to!” Buttholes, both of them. (See it works in any situation.)

7.       I like that we talk for the dog. Not just the occasional word. He has real conversations and a back story. He is somewhat neurotic, afraid that other dogs will make fun of him for wearing a t-shirt or sweater, worried that other dogs are out to get him because he is so handsome (and because his tweeter is so big; don’t fret he never mentions that in front of baby girl because she is his mother and that would be weird). When it is just my husband and me, the dog has a potty mouth and is obsessed with both losing his virginity and the fact that he only has one testicle and that it never descended. Did I mention he swears? Because it is funny. I once told someone this, and she said nothing about that was normal. I checked with my therapist; his response, “We do the same thing for Sugar. She’s a total tramp.”

8.       When we go out to eat someone told us that we either look like a social worker taking a client and her daughter out for a meal or a father and daughter taking out a homeless person. This was a friend; she also snorts when she laughs. But it is true. I haven’t dressed up since our wedding (see entry: On wearing the pants in the family); nothing excites me more than wearing one of my favorite (read: worn and possibly with holes) t-shirts. My husband looks like a slightly more casual version of Alex P. Keaton at all times. Baby girl usually tends toward homeless chic, but occasionally out come the Bath and Body Works lotions, soaps, and glitter along with strappy sandals and a really cool top. He is never embarrassed that I am underdressed for most every occasion. We let baby girl look show she wants as long as her body is covered. I am never concerned that he wears trousers and dress shoes to the tattoo parlor. I just have to tell them that he is not the state health inspector.

9.       As a family, we aren’t really mushy, but we are all each other’s people. We occasionally slap at each other as a sign of affection or thumb wrestle. More than once, baby girl will lie beside me and put her feet in my face and tell me to see how bad her feet stink. I tell my husband my favorite thing to do when I wake up in the middle of the night is to look at his hairy back. This is our love language. But if baby girl wakes up and husband is not home. She immediately asks where he is. She won’t randomly hug him or tell him that he is a great stepdad (She won’t randomly hug me or tell me I am great either.), but he is her people, and it is important that she know where her people are.

10.   My daughter is not my best friend. She is not my friend at all. I can’t tell you how many moms are saddened when they hear me say this. But my daughter has repeated my standard phrase since she was a preschooler, “My mom is not my friend or my playmate. She is my mom.”  I have some friends. Baby girl has some friends. She has ONE mother, and I don’t need to waste mothering time trying to befriend her.

11.   We don’t agree on a lot. Actually, we don’t agree on most things. We all think we are equally right, and that the other is wrong. And that makes for great discussion and lots of free thinking. Baby girl knows I supported Obama and that the husband supported Romney; she asked why and listened to each of our thoughts. I am vehemently pro-choice, and I tell people why a lot (see entry: From post-abortive women: How the pro-life movement can really help); he has his own thoughts. He has a strong view on health reform and consumer responsibility; I think health care should be a basic right. We have never changed the other’s opinion; we haven’t really tried. And the girl knows that you can love others who don’t think like you and that she can choose to think however she wants.

12.   We are diverse in our interests. How many families frequently watch documentaries on homebirth, an MIT lecture on black holes, WWII documentaries, the story if the female Pope, and NEVER miss professional wrestling on Monday nights? Yep. Though my husband did ask that I let everyone know that he and I both have Master’s degrees if I tell them we are professional wrestling fans.

13.   Finally, we are all sinners, saved by grace. Someone recently told me that he had a moral code, and it really upset him when people didn’t live up to his strict standards. I asked him how since we are all equally a sniveling, rotten mess, worthy of nothing but eternal damnation. He meant that he was basically a good, honest person, and that when people lied and weren’t honest it went against his moral code. Yeah, I didn’t try to convince him differently either. But this three member family of mine is nothing but a mess. We have flaws and bad habits and all kinds of things. But we all know that we are imperfect, that NO SIN is better or worse than any other sin, and that as people go we all suck the same to God. Fortunately, we are all also worth saving. And we really try to improve and grow. And God helps us. Every day we get a fresh start with Him and each other.

 

We will likely never be the family that the Duggars see in the mirror, but in truth we don’t see them the way they probably see themselves. So while I love to hear read about and see those families I thought were “ideal;” I will just enjoy them because they are normal too. Just like no one knows the inner hearts of my little band of misfits. But we are all equally wonderfully made and horribly sinful no matter our choice of dress, length of skirts, family size, or worship style.

And don’t get me wrong; my family is far from perfect. We all 4 (the dog gets an active vote) equally get on each other’s nerves. And there is a long list of why I don’t like my family and they probably don’t like me either. But I’m not sharing that or even adding to it anymore. I think we do too much of that: comparing, finding fault with ourselves, how we measure up.

So today, go right now, and sit down. MAKE A LIST OF WHY YOU LOVE THE PEOPLE YOU CHOSE to spend your life with. And let them see it. And then tell the world. Because Jesus said to Love Him and each other and that includes ourselves.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

On wearing the pants in the family....

I come from a long line of strong women.

My great-grandfather left everything to my great-grandmother in his will. Unless she killed him. He felt the need to put that on paper, along with the make, model and serial number of her pistol.

My grandmother was a single, working mom to seven children.

My mother was once bitten by a dog. She bit him back.

So it should come as no surprise that I came into the world fiercely stubborn and independent: a mini-feminist, even in kindergarten, as I complained that girls were underrepresented and miserable in the world of the Letter People. I was a tomboy in Chuck Taylors, playing ball in the neighborhood vacant lot by age nine. By seventeen I was a card carrying NOW member who wore t-shorts that read, "People call me a feminist when I do anything that might distinguish me from a doormat."

I'm not sure how, but my parents, in their more traditional gender roles, never discouraged me.
Nor did they ever take up drinking.

By my mid-thirties I had a career, a beautiful daughter, a full-time graduate school load, and a really neat guy that wanted me to be his wife.

But I didn't really want to marry my husband.

It wasn't him, but the wedding. The dress and the flowers and the people staring at us when we made a vow and shared a kiss, something sacred and private.

But he really wanted a wedding, so did his family, and some of mine.

Everyone else I could have told no, but HE, he really wanted it all.

So we planned it. Sort of. 

There were podium rentals, and music selections. A 19 page wedding contract with the Church.

On more than one occasion I defended our decision not to have a unity candle with the same emotion and defiance only seen in SEC rivalries.

And though I'm not positive, I've been told that our marriage might not be legal because I don't have a bridal portrait of me staring into a mirror. That and I abhor flower girls.

About three weeks before the wedding I found myself cross-legged in the middle of a bed in one my parents' guest rooms, telling all within ear shot that I didn't like anyone at all anymore unless I gave birth to her. Oh, and that I was not getting married.

He didn't ask if he could come in, just kneeled down next to the bed, and said. "We don't have to have a wedding. We can get on a plane and fly to Vegas today or drive to Alabama. We don't even have to get married at all. Just agree that we will spend every moment together. That is all I need."

And he meant it. No cake. No tuxes. No ceremony.  All I had to do was say the word and it wouldn't have to be. It was up to me.

After that, he sat everyone down and told them that I agreed to the wedding, provided NO ONE spoke to me about it, asked me any questions, or addressed me in any way. (I've since learned that I was not the only middle-aged, professional woman bride to have an absolute meltdown. Solidarity sisters. Weddings aren't for the weak.) Any question would go through him, and whatever I decided would be acceptable. Period.

There were tears and nods, hugs and forgiveness. It was, after all, people who loved us.
There would not be Christmas decorations, carols, or the freaking unity candle. But there was a dress and song and a ceremony.

And in the end, we were married.

We don't talk about weddings much; I'm secretly hoping that if baby girl ever marries, she'll elope. He wants to walk her down an aisle.

She says that it won't happen either way because she is NEVER getting married.

She is confident in this, so sure of herself. She doesn't need anyone, but her. After all, she comes from a line of strong women.

And the strong men who love them.






Sunday, January 26, 2014

Tween girls are not for the faint of heart

Raising tween girls is hard.

Hard.

Like grainy black and white photographs showing anguish and despair will memorialize it in the history books one day.

(Moms of teen girls, please don't tell me it gets harder. I don't have the intestinal fortitude to face it, yet. Moms of tween boys, I'm ignoring you. I am sure it is difficult, but I have to teach someone how to shave her legs, use a maxi pad, tweeze her eyebrows! I win; please tell me I win.)

Today was one of those days, not mine, but a friend's: her girl had shown out and suffered the consequences. My girl was the witness; the mom swearing my baby girl had no part in it; but even then....I was with my fellow mom.

The frustration. The fight. The fatigue.

Oh the fatigue.
Raising tween girls isn't for the weak. It is late nights, hours of hair straightening that end in a huff because "you (mom) can't do it right." Cheer competitions, volleyball practice, history projects. It is the Friday night when the sleepover friend cancels. And that is just two days.

Tween girls out-pace us; they have youth and hormones on their side fueling them at a frenzied pace. Us moms trailing behind. Grateful to just be able to sit down.

The frustration.

I knew baby girl's look, the "I-wonder-why-the Lord-made-you-so-stupid" look; I had seen it before. I had worn it before. We were taking selfies; it was supposed to be fun. Silly. It turned ugly quick, just as she clicked the picture. And I saw that look. Immortalized on my phone. I then saw my own face. The middle-aged version of her look, the "you-utter-one-more-word-and-you-will-get-to-ask-the-Lord-in-person" look staring back at me. I sent it to my mom. She laughed at me. I know she did.

Later, it is the creaking door after she's stormed off, peering out and then walking over to the couch and sprawling out, her feet in my lap. The I-don't-like-you-but-I-need-to-know-you-still-love-me test, so I rub her feet. The silence softer now.

The fight.

She is strong willed, that girl of mine. Quick witted.

(Everyone who knows me is smiling. The story of almost getting kicked out of kindergarten because I made such a fuss that there were only 5 girl letter people still makes the rounds.)

Strong willed. As my husband says, "An apple tree can only grow apples."

I have seen here work at a tumbling pass until she gets it. Tired, bruised, sweaty. Victorious.
She has long done her own projects: drawing her own reading fair illustrations, cutting her science fair pictures, a plan formed in her brain, flowing through her hands, wanting no help from anyone.

It is a National Geographic moment when we square off: the young lion jockeying around the alpha, wanting to take the throne.

But there is only one Queen Bee, and I am it. Even in defeat, her learning how to be a grown-up, that lesson best taught by those who love her.

I once asked my mom how old I was before she knew that we would both survive my growing up. She didn't miss a beat, "27."

Twenty-seven.

I almost panic in those moments because I am old and tired, and I long to lie on the couch watching SVU and reading blogs. I have told my husband that we won't make it though this parenting gig. Someone will discover our withered remains huddled together in a corner, like relics from Pompeii.
Occasionally I have thought we should put all the tweens on some abandoned Survivor island and let them go Lord of the Flies. A pick-up scheduled for the week after their 28th birthdays, just in case 27 isn't really that magical. My husband tells me this is probably illegal, and that I would be sad without my mini-me. And because he is wise, "Anyway, they would figure out how to get off the island and combined they would take over the world." So blog-reading and SVU will wait for today.


Yesterday, she told me she didn't eat breakfast, then asked me what I had. I told her that her stepdad and I had gone out for doughnuts while she was at practice. She shakes her head, "So this is what it has come to, Mother?"

And in that moment, my cub and I smile at each other. And twenty-seven seems a little too close.