Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

A Somewhat Less Than Cheery Post

July 26, 2013
A little chipper I captured earlier this spring

A little chipper I captured earlier this spring

Well, I’m still here, more or less, for better or for worse.  I apologize for not commenting more on your blogs.  I think about you often, but the truth is, I haven’t felt well for a few months now, so I’ve saved my energy for the countless chores the summer season brings (gardening, mowing, weeding).   Commenting (and writing emails) has always been very hard for me anyway—it literally takes me hours—because in the same way that I find talking difficult (and I do), I find commenting so, as well.  It’s too much like talking.  I can write an essay more easily than I speak.

I assumed it was just my heart acting up again.  I’ve had arrhythmias in the past (and had catheter ablation surgery for it), so I worried that I’d have to have that again.  It finally got bad enough that I went to the doctor for the first time in nine years.  They did find heart irregularities (mostly related to sleep apnea) for which they gave me medicine, but they found something else, too.

They found breast cancer.  Invasive lobular carcinoma, in fact.  Unfortunately, lobular is a sneaky kind of cancer—it tends to not show up on mammograms.  Mine didn’t.  It showed on ultrasound just enough to do the biopsy. Next week, I’ll have a breast MRI (which is the most definitive imaging technique for invasive lobular carcinoma) to see if it’s also in the other breast (which loblular often tends to be).  This will help me decide what kind of treatment to have.  I have hard choices ahead.  Surgery is a certainty—either lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy, depending on what the MRI shows.

Initially (in fact, right up to this very moment ) I wasn’t going to share this on my blog.  I honestly felt I couldn’t bear to write about yet another crisis in our life.  After a while, you start to feel like a freak—like there must be something seriously wrong with someone who has such bad luck, and you feel something close to shame.  So you withdraw—at a time that you most need a loving hand to hold.  I’ve told very few people so far—mostly those I’ve known for years, whom I trust to love me no matter what.  I’m afraid I have no words of wisdom or inspiration right now.  I’m all spent.  Truthfully, I’m posting because I want to sincerely ask for your prayers.  Or if you aren’t the praying type, your very best thoughts.  I think I’ve never been in more need of it.

It’s funny that I say that because I’ve never felt more angry at God than I do now.  There, I’ve said it.  Might as well–He knows it anyway.  And I can’t seem to pray for myself.  I can pray—easily—for others (and I do).  But not for me.  Every time I try, I start crying and can’t stop.  But, despite my anger (which, in part, is born of faith—how could you be angry at someone you don’t believe exists?), I still believe in prayer.

And yes, yes, of course I know I should be thankful for all the good in my life.  Trust me—I am.  I’m human, so as humans, we’re subject to crazy, conflicting feelings.  “What the heck, God??” can co-exist with “Thank you, God.”   So along with my screaming “Why?” I whisper, “Thank you.”  Many times a day.  In fact, just now a mockingbird, still young and breast-speckled, landed in the shrub next to the window, looked in at me, and cocked his head.  He looked so comical, I laughed out loud.  And said, “Thank you.”

I don’t know when I’ll write again.  After the MRI, when they’ve gotten a better look under the hood, I expect things to start moving pretty fast.  So if you write me, and I don’t write you back, please don’t think I don’t appreciate it.  It’s just that now, I’m trying to stuff my addled head with enough information about breast cancer treatment to make an informed decision about my own care.  There’s a lot to read, and it’s hard reading.  Not only because it’s full of medical terminology that makes my head spin, but because the stories that so many brave ladies tell on the Breast Cancer Discussion Boards break my heart.

So, if you’ve read this far, I thank you for not turning away.  And I’m grateful for every single good thought and prayer for me you send into the firmament.  I can’t seem to bring myself to plead my cause with God, so I need you to do it for me. Please.  I’ll take all I can get—greedy supplicant that I am. And I thank you with all my heart.

Grateful Praise #2: The Star–My Christmas Story (and A Love Story, of Sorts)

January 31, 2013

The sun outshines it (2) (800x576)

It’s been almost three months since I last posted, and as is usual for that situation, I’ve made an already long time longer yet.  That’s because the more time there is between posts, the more I feel that I must write something brilliant to make up for my slothful ways which means, of course, that I become paralyzed because, well…nothing I write seems brilliant enough.

But who wants to hear yet again about my silly neuroses?  How about a Christmas story?

Yes, I know that Christmas was, like, over a month ago, and possibly no one wants to hear a Christmas story in almost-February, but that’s what I’m feeling thankful for right now, so I reckon a Christmas story is what you’re getting.  Even worse, I suppose, haha, it’s not even a fresh Christmas story.  It happened two years ago.  Nevertheless…

Longtime readers of my blog know that we’ve had a bit more than our share of hard times, so I won’t rehash those.  Suffice to say, it’s sometimes been a challenge for us to stay hopeful, though we have remained ever thankful for our many blessings.  So, two years ago a few weeks before Christmas, when Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe some good luck?”

“I’m afraid I’m fresh out of good luck, ma’am,” said Tom.  “But how about some elf magic in the workshop?”  (As most of you know, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man is a carpenter and handyman, and I have more than once been the lucky beneficiary of his handiwork.)

I thought for a second and said the first thing that popped into my head.  “Well, you know I’ve always wanted a star.”

We’d talked about it before.  Ever since we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, known as “Star City of the South” (because of the huge illuminated star that shines over the city from atop Mill Mountain) I’d been yearning for our own star.  But we’d had a lot on our plate since then, and there had been scant time for star building.

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man frowned.  I could tell he had something a little more modest in mind.

I was about to tell him it was okay—something else (maybe some shelves?) would be fine, when I thought No.  A star—a big glowing, shining, radiant star—was exactly what I needed.  What we needed.  Something to remind us that there is always hope, to help us remember to always keep our eyes steadfastly on the light.

Tom sighed. “Okay…sure.”  He’d seen that look in my eyes before. “A star it is. I’d better get started.”

It took him a lot longer than he thought it would.  Stars—at least the kind that perfectionistic carpenters that take great pride in their work make—are harder than you’d think to construct.  Thank goodness we had a couple of crackerjack mathematicians in our family to consult about angles and such (Thanks, Benjamin and Cameron!)

I stayed out of Tom’s workshop in the weeks it took him to make our star because I wanted to be surprised.  I actually had no idea what it would look like, although I did know that this was not going to be some quick cardboard cutout covered with tin foil.  All I had asked was, if possible, to make it so it’d still look pretty in the daytime.  And to make it at least big enough that our neighbors could see it.  You know, in case they needed a little hope to hold onto as well.

When he brought the star out, his smiling handsome face shining right in the middle of it, I cried. It was splendid.  It was beautiful.  It was absolutely perfect.

The stars of the show! (2) (590x800)

Star Man--My hero (2) (587x800)

We got it up just in time for Christmas that year.  And after Christmas was over, we couldn’t bear to take it down.  So now it stays up year round.

We illuminate it, of course, during the Christmas season.  After all, that’s what inspired it.  The bright, shining star that led the shepherds and Wise Men to the baby Jesus is a beacon of hope and faith and salvation to many.  But we turn it on at other times, too.  It shines to show friends, traveling in the dark, the way to our home, and it glows to welcome our children back to the fold.  We turn it on to celebrate happy times and we turn it on to give solace in sad.  But mostly, it’s to inspire hope.  To help us (and perhaps others) remember that even in the gloom, there’s always a light somewhere.  To remember always to keep our eyes fixed on that light.  To remember that God is there, even when we can’t feel His presence.

And, too, when I see it, I think of who made it for me.  Anyone who’s been through extended hardship and pain will tell you that it can bring you closer to those you love, but it can also push you apart.  To be honest, it’s been a little bit of both for Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and me.  I’m not ashamed to say that—to pretend otherwise would seem disingenuous.  Looking at the star and remembering his dear face right in the middle when I first saw it reminds me of the love that brought us together twenty-six years ago.  I know that that love is still there, even when obscured by weariness, by sadness, by pain.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of remembering and focusing on the good, on the light.  Sometimes, love (the lasting kind, that is) is a conscious and committed choice.

I say “sometimes” because, as someone who stayed longer then I should have with an abusive man, I am painfully aware that sometimes, the only healthy choice is to leave, when you can clearly see that there is no light left in your relationship.  My years with Tom have been hard in many ways, and there are cracks, but…oh!…there is so much light shining through those cracks!  And I believe that when you both choose to turn to the light and remember the good, to be generous and forgiving, love and hope can and usually will prevail—love over hate, light over darkness—shining even in the darkest night.

Bright and shining star (2) (800x600)

(12) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Benjamin Gets a Job!

July 13, 2012

Benjamin takes a big bite of a big cookie. (It was the birthday cookie I baked for him, and he ate every crumb.)

There is great rejoicing in the Blue Ridge Blue Collar household tonight.  We have even broken out the Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice for a toast.  Benjamin got a job!

I have mixed feelings, of course.  The job is in Charlotte, NC, which is a huge city with a very high crime rate.  A big change from his deep country roots.  But I’ve always prayed that Benjamin would land just where he is meant to be, and although I’d hoped it would be nearby, God had different plans.

God, it seems, often has a different road for us to take than the one we planned to travel.  And so it is with Benjamin.  But he’s excited about the new journey he’ll soon embark on, and so are we.  We are truly happy for him.  He’s come so, so far, and I think he’s now pretty well-equipped for traveling.

So, I am grateful for Benjamin’s new job.   I am grateful for your kind thoughts and prayers for him, dear friends.  I am grateful to know that God will be with him every step of the way.  And I’m grateful, beyond measure, for Benjamin.

Spring Comes to the Doublewide Ranch

March 28, 2012

“So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom,

In this world, or in the world to come:    

Sing, voice of Spring,

Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.”

From “The First Spring Day” by Christina Rossetti

Well, I was going to make this a sort of Wordless Wednesday post, but I think I really need to tell the story behind the photo above.  Benjamin and I were walking up the driveway when he started laughing.  He then said, “Thank you, Mommy.”

“For what?” I said, puzzled.

I noticed then that he was looking down.  Following his gaze, I saw it: a smiley-face anthill!

Now, I can well understand why he might have thought I did it, as I have certainly been a party in the past to a number of, shall we say…whimsical alterations.  I love nothing better than to make people laugh and will go to great lengths to amuse those I love, especially my children.  But I love my ant friends and would never stoop to defacing their lovely and careful construction for a laugh.

Benjamin and I were both amused and amazed, as neither of us has seen anything like it.  I, in fact, spent hours as a child watching ants—I have always been fascinated by them—-and I can say that a smiley-face anthill is a definite anomaly (or should I say ant-nomaly?). The funniest thing is that, to me, the little smiley face looks like he’s winking.

We’ll probably never know how it happened, but we like to think that it was Divine Humor at work again.  No one knows better than God how much we need a laugh these days and just how much we need to know HE is aware of our need.  Indeed, God does work in mysterious ways His wonders to perform, and He can certainly use anyone and anything to carry out those daily miracles—-even tiny and seemingly insignificant ants.

You Can’t Judge a Box By Its Cover

January 26, 2012

Beautiful Imperfection–A battered butterfly (missing its lower parts but still flying) that we encountered on a hike

So, I tried hard to write a funny post.  The last thing I wanted to do was write again about our troubles.  Alas, I couldn’t seem to muster the light-heartedness I needed to write it well.  Not that I’ve lost my sense of humor.  No indeed.  It’s fully intact, as any of my friends or family can tell you.  Along with my sense of wonder, thank God.

The incident in question WAS funny, though.  Even if it didn’t seem so at the time.   When I saw the article in the paper before Christmas about the Senior Santa shoebox project at Meals on Wheels, I really wanted to do it.  Only problem was, I had to wrap a shoebox.  More precisely, I had to actually cover the surface of a shoebox with pretty paper in a presentable manner that did not resemble the work of a demented chimpanzee.  

Sounds easy enough, but the truth is, I am gift-wrapping impaired.  Incredibly, even gift bags are a challenge to me because I can never seem to get the tissue looking right.  So covering a shoebox seemed about as daunting as sewing that dress I was required to make in eighth grade home ec . (Poor Miss Nettie Herring—I was surely the most challenging sewing student she ever had!) 

But Dorothy,of the Wrexham Knitting Group in Wrexham,NorthWales made it look so easy!  She nimbly wrapped the shoebox with the cool, calm efficiency of a brain surgeon.  In fact, I’m quite certain Dorothy, if she put her mind to it, could easily learn and perform brain surgery.  She certainly made me believe, after I’d watched her about ten times, that I, too, could wrap a shoebox.  Until, that is, I actually tried to do it.

No need to recount every detail of the sad struggle.  Let’s just say it took me two hours, a whole roll of gift wrap, and lots and lots of tape.  Along with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.  It was a grim business, I tell you.  Until the end, when I suddenly became aware that I was breathing hard as though I’d run a marathon and that I was literally dripping sweat in a sixty-five degree house.  Which was, of course, ridiculous, and I started laughing.  Sort of like a demented chimpanzee, haha. 

Amazingly, in the end, it didn’t look too bad.  And filling the shoebox was a lot more fun than wrapping it.  I do hope that the recipient of my humble offering was able to see the love in it rather than the ragged edges.  Which, now that I think of it, is the very thing we hope for in our relationships with people.  That they can see the beauty and spirit in us, despite our ragged and lopsided edges.   That they can see that we’re doing our best, even when that best is far short of perfect.  That they can look past our differences and instead see what we have in common.  And that we may do the same for them.

In Benjamin’s journey back to wholeness, he and I have had a lot of conversations about the importance of being your authentic self, even when people reject that self.  Indeed, my children will both tell you that the #1 Mommy maxim they heard from me throughout their lives is the importance of being true to yourself.  Hard for all of us, but especially hard for an autistic person like Benjamin.  As an autistic person navigates the world, they are constantly challenged to conform themselves to the world in ways that are often difficult and in ways that may not come naturally.  So their struggle to conform, yet maintain that inner core of authentic self, can be exhausting.  And often discouraging. 

Benjamin’s working hard to learn that balance.  And in helping him, I’ve often been reminded of my own need to remember the truths I know about myself, but sometimes lose sight of when I let the world pull and push me off balance.   That equilibrium is so easy to talk about, but so hard to achieve.  And that struggle for balance, as I tell Benjamin, is something we all have in common.  It’s something we all share–whether we’re autistic or not.  The important thing is to not lose sight of who you are or the sense of your own beauty. And to remember always who you are capable of becoming.

Wise As Serpents and Innocent As Doves

August 3, 2011

A few weeks back, not too far down the road from me, a huge plywood sign appeared in front of the little house that sits square in the middle of a sharp curve.  In large, uneven, paint-dripping letters, someone had scrawled, “GOD SAW YOU TAKE THAT BIKE.  GOD WILL MAKE YOU PAY.”

Now, I’m sure some folks snickered as they passed that sign or maybe smiled condescendingly, but not me.  In fact, every single time I passed that sign (and I passed it a lot because it was up for a long time), I breathed a prayer for my neighbor.  I think I understand his rage, his need to feel that even if the scales of justice are not balanced in this world, they just might tip his way in the next.  I remembered him well because soon after we moved here, I waved at him as he sat on his porch, and he was one of the few in this neighborhood that ever waved back.  But he doesn’t wave any more.

Years ago, when we lived in another trailer far out in the sticks, we had a burglary.  They cut the phone lines, damaged both our doors trying to get in, and pretty much cleaned out the few things we had of value (monetary value, that is).  Ariel and Benjamin were 6 and 7, and we picked glass shards out of Ariel’s stuffed animals for weeks, since the perpetrators ultimately broke the window above her bed to gain entry.  I discovered all this when I came home alone.  I quickly left and drove from neighbor to neighbor, looking for one who would let me use their phone.  At least half of them were home (I could hear them inside), but not ONE would come to the door.  Later, we had evidence that it was probably one of our own neighbors who broke in, but we could never interest the sheriff’s office in pursuing it.  After all, we were just poor trailer trash. 

So, I think I understand how my neighbor down the road feels. 

There are a number of admonishments in the words of Jesus that are a real challenge to our baser human tendencies (such as turning the other cheek when someone strikes you), but one of the most difficult to me are his instructions to his twelve disciples upon sending them forth to minister to the world.  He tells them (in Matthew 10:16), “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”  I’ve thought a lot about that lately as Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and I have faced a number of things that have made it hard not to slip into a dark state of disillusionment and cynicism.  Our struggle to get Worker’s Comp benefits without hiring a lawyer (ultimately unsuccessful), our realization that neither his employer nor the state Industrial Commission seem to be there to help us, and even looking at the bill for his recent hospital stay and the ridiculousness of the charges ($3.33 for a single 81mg aspirin!) are just a few things that make us feel disheartened about the state of the human race.  Not to mention the goings-on in Washington, D.C.

Sure, the “wise as serpents” part isn’t all that hard.  Wariness comes easy now.  We are very much like watchful serpents these days, gazing warily through our narrowed eyes, watching for those that might tread upon us, and hoping we can strike before they do.  But if you live constantly on guard, suspicious of everyone, your vision will become narrow and jaundiced.  And a jaundiced eye never sees clearly. Neither is it possible in this world for a reasonably intelligent adult to be completely “innocent as a dove.”  If you don’t  feel a little cynical these days, you’re not thinking.  I always love watching the mourning doves in our birdbath, but, clearly they’re not the sharpest members of the avian community. When a hawk comes around, all the other birds clear out.  Not the doves.  I worry about them.

So, to be both “wise as serpents” and “innocent as doves” is one of the many spiritual challenges that I fail at daily.  But I keep trying, keep struggling against complete cynicism and bitterness, keep holding fast to faith.  Because cynicism may come from facing certain facts, but it doesn’t come from facing truth.  Because the real truth is—there is always hope.  And the real truth is, there’s still a lot of goodness in this world.  Lord knows, I’ve seen that, too.  In friends who stick with me (thank you!), even when I’m sad and a little bitter.  In my immediate family, who loves me as I am.  God is there, whether in the hearts of my beloved or in the mockingbird that sings at night. 

So I struggle against darkness—both in the world and in my own head.  Cynicism may be an intelligent response to this old world, but there’s nothing particularly wise about it.  In darkness, we lose our vision, and it’s easy to conclude that there’s no way out.  Real wisdom, I think, sees things as they are, but believes they can be better and looks for ways to make them so.  It seeks a way out of the darkness.  I’m no theologian, but I believe that may be what Jesus meant.  To be wary and discerning, but always open to goodness.

So may we see things as they are but keep a vision for how they can be.  May we know real truth when we see it. And may we keep our wary, weary eyes fixed always on the light.

Showers of Blessings (We Are Still Looking Up)

January 13, 2011

(Mr. Gnome dreams of spring)

When I was young and would count the days ‘til something exciting (like Christmas or summer vacation or my birthday, which is, by the way, this week) occurred, I’d say to Mama, “I wish it was next week already!”

She’d always look at me with a wistful smile and say, “Oh honey, don’t wish your life away. Life is precious.”

I think of that often, especially since Mama died much too soon of ALS. In her last days, she often reminded us of how precious life is. And I thought of it in the waning days of 2010, when I found myself counting the days until I could bid farewell to 2010, a year that was truly awful, on both a national and personal level.

We did have a White Christmas, though I wasn’t dreaming of it. It was a  lovely snow—the kind that covers everything, transforming even the ugliest surfaces with its pure white magic. It was as if the Universe was trying to wipe the memories of all the awfulness of the year from my mind and to remind me to always look for beauty and to never forget that, even in the ugliest of situations, there is usually hope for transformation.

Thankfully, though, the snow was gone and the skies clear a week ago last Monday as Tom, Ariel, Benjamin, and I made our way in the darkness across our yard to wait for the Quadrantid meteor shower. We huddled together in the biting cold, our necks craned and our eyes on the northern skies.

As we waited, we reminisced about all the times as a family that we’d watched meteors streaking towards earth and told stories we’d heard from others about their meteor experiences. I told of one story I’d been told by someone we all knew. He’s one of those people who seem to live a charmed life, where blessings and good fortune seems to be an everyday thing (as illustrated by my story). He and his wife, after a perfect evening of celebrating their anniversary (and many happy and prosperous years), stepped out on their deck to look at the clear evening sky. He turned to his wife and said, “Wouldn’t it be the perfect end to the evening to see a falling star?”

Yep, you guessed it. At that very moment, a bright meteor streaked across the sky. Now, I was truly happy for them when I heard the story, but a small petulant voice in my head said, “Why always them, God? Why not me, too?” I always imagine God rolling his eyes when he hears that whiny voice in my head. It’s got to be really annoying. :-)

So that night, as we searched the dark skies for Quadrantid meteors, I turned to Tom and said, “Go ahead—say it. Say, ‘Wouldn’t it be the perfect end to our evening to see a falling star?’” So Tom laughed and said it, and we all looked up eagerly, laughing…but hoping, too. Alas, we didn’t see a single meteor that night, though the stars were bright and beautiful.

So, the next morning, at 5:45AM, as Tom and I were standing on the porch (I get up with him to make his lunch and see him off to work every day), I mentioned that there was still the possibility of Quadrantid meteors, though the peak was the night before. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we saw one right now?” We both looked towards the northeast, which was beginning to brighten slightly with the rising sun. Nothing. I sighed and kissed Tom goodbye, watching him make his way across the yard to his truck. Then I turned back towards the mountains, stars, and Venus visible in the East.

At that very moment, a meteor flashed directly across my line of sight—a brilliant, bright streak hurtling towards earth. It only lasted a split second, but I gasped, my mouth agape, and shouted, “Oh God!”

I laughed out loud then, imagining God answering and saying, “Yes? You called?”

I looked up and said, “Thank you,” knowing He was listening. He always is, even when I don’t sense it, just as meteors fall even when I’m not looking.

Sure, I know it could have been just a coincidence. Sometimes things like that are. But I don’t think this was. I think God knew just how badly I needed to see that, how much my puny faith needed that boost. It’s been a hard year, and sometimes we’ve just barely been able to dog paddle to keep our heads above water as wave after wave has washed over us. But, thank God, we are still paddling. We are still breathing, still looking upward, seeking always signs, wonders, and miracles. It’d be such a shame to miss a single one.

Because sometimes they happen when you don’t expect them, in the twinkling of an eye, when you’ve almost given up hope. Sometimes, God reveals Himself in surprising and even whimsical ways. For that, I am so grateful.

Summer at the Doublewide Ranch: An Update

September 29, 2010

(Why, yes…that IS a pink flamingo in the background!)

I’m finding it hard to write these days.  Even emails…and the comments I leave on your blogs.  You’d be surprised how long it takes for me to write those comments, as ordinary and dull as they sometimes are.   I’m not sure why I’m struggling so, but whatever the reason, I did want to give you a small glimpse of our lives this summer here at the Doublewide Ranch–in pictures.  If a picture really is worth a thousand words, then here are 10,478 of them. :-)

(Notice there are TWO monarchs here.  Monarchs in love?)

(I love that morning glories will claim anything they can reach.)

(Cosmos and the cosmos)

I also thought some of you might want to know how Ariel and Benjamin are doing.  Ariel is feeling much better, though she does feel quite tired in the evenings.  But who wouldn’t with full-time school, part-time work, and lots of trips back and forth from Chapel Hill to Raleigh where her fiance works and lives? Benjamin’s broken back seems to be healing well, especially considering he walks miles a day all over campus, lugging books and laptops and such.   Thank God the young are fast healers.   Physically, at least.

But the heart’s a little trickier.  If only a broken heart were as simple as a broken back and you could rest in the assurance that that broken heart will knit itself back together in a few months time, with a little extra care.  But, of course, nothing’s simple when it comes to the spirit.

Benjamin is feeling sad.  I wasn’t going to mention this, but it occurred to me that not mentioning it implies that I think there’s shame in being depressed.  But there’s not.  And I don’t.  It’s been a tough year for my boy, and…well…life has never been easy for him.  Sometimes, the world is not kind to those who are different.  Really, it’s hard for any of us to be completely “ourselves”  because we are so often burdened by other’s expectations of us. But it’s especially hard when you’re autistic, as Benjamin is,  and you’re constantly expected to adapt yourself to a world you don’t completely understand. 

Benjamin is the bravest and strongest person I know, but he’s struggling these days.  And there’s no shame in that.  And there’s no shame in my being honest, either, even if reading this makes some uncomfortable.  I simply cannot manage a pretense of happiness right now.  

So I’m asking for your very special prayers for a very special child of God–my beloved son, Benjamin.   May he know how much he is loved–by his family, by his many friends, by my readers who have come to know him through my posts.  But even more, may he know how much he is loved by his Creator, his Heavenly Father, who sent him to us so that he might shine his unique and lovely light in our lives and in this world. 

And Benjamin’s light  is a beautiful, blessed, and holy light indeed.  May he always see and know that, too.

A Blog Post, Post-Blog

July 9, 2010

(I take heart from this little heart on my petunias.)

After two months, most of you may have given up on my posting (after all, I DID say “So long”), so I’m not sure how many will read this. And maybe that’s just as well. I’m feeling a bit sober these days (as you can see in my response to my blogging friend ClairZ here.)  But I’ve always tried to write true and honest on my blog, so here’s the truth of my life right now, for anyone who might be interested. 

We’d appreciate your prayers. To those already praying: Thank you. (And apologies, in advance, to anyone offended by the use of the word “sh*t” in my post.  It’s a direct quote from an old friend.):

I should have known what 2010 would be like when it started off (on New Year’s Day!) with Benjamin having an emergency appendectomy.  But, being my usual optimistic self, I thought, “Hey…maybe we’re getting our bad luck out of the way early this year!”

Silly me.

I’m hoping that someday, we’ll look back at 2010 and remember the good things. How Ariel won awards for her fiction writing. How Benjamin won Most Outstanding Junior Award in his field of study. How Tom still has a job, despite cutbacks by his employer. How Ariel got engaged. How Benjamin was selected for an internship this summer out of many, many applicants.

But right now, I feel like one of the things I’ll remember most is the oil spill in the Gulf and all those awful images of animals covered in oil, the grief of the people who live there…and the grief of our entire nation. And an overwhelming feeling that some of those in power in our country have lost their moral compass.

On a more personal level, I think I may remember 2010 as The Year of the Middle-of-the-Night Phone Calls. You know, the kind that startle you awake at two in the morning. The kind that make you hesitate before you answer— to clear the fog of sleep from your mind and because you so dread the possibilities. You may remember the post I wrote in April about the middle-of-the-night call from Ariel. Well, it happened again. This time, it was Benjamin.

Long story short: There was a climbing wall. Benjamin fell from it. That’s what the voice on the hospital phone said (calling from West Virginia where Benjamin’s internship is). Fractured vertebra—the doctors seemed to think there’d be surgery involved. No, the voice said. There doesn’t seem to be paralysis. But he’s in a lot of pain.

Nine-hour drive to West Virginia. For Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, that is. I couldn’t travel because, of all things, I’d injured my own back earlier in the week. Turned out, thank God, that Benjamin wouldn’t need surgery after all. But he’s still in pain. And he’s still in West Virginia. And I’m still in North Carolina, so all I can do is talk to him on the phone and pray and remember the days when I could make things better by rocking him or making him soup or holding his head while he threw up.

Benjamin always loved being rocked. Maybe it was his autism, maybe not…but, no matter what the source of his distress, rocking always made it better. Sometimes I think it soothed me as much as it did him. It certainly did one day last week, when I was a sorry, sorry sight, sitting in my Mama’s rocker sobbing, rocking back and forth, and talking to Mama (who’s been gone from this earth for twenty-five years).

I should mention that Ariel, too, has also been very ill, and until last week, we didn’t know what was wrong. Turns out it was mono combined with several infections. We think that after three Urgent Care visits (and some antibiotics that must be gold-plated for what they cost), she’s going to be okay. But to have both of them suffering at the same time and to feel so powerless to stop it…it’s hard. As a friend of mine used to say: “Girl, you’ve just had too much sh*t and not near enough sugar!”

I’ve talked about my Christian faith before on this blog, so it’s no secret that my faith sustains me and gives me comfort. But faith does not protect you from pain and suffering. We Christians are subject to all the same infirmities of the flesh and spirit as anyone else. Here’s what you would have seen had you been at my house one day last week:

It was a particularly bad day in a particularly bad week. I won’t go into details, but I spent most of that day on the phone talking to Benjamin or Ariel or hospital billing people or insurance people and trying to find a doctor who would even talk to me. The day ended with me pacing and crying and pacing and crying with a half-gallon of Blue Bell Butter Crunch Ice Cream (or what was left of it) in one hand and a spoon in the other. Yes indeed, it was a sad spectacle as I blubbered into the ice cream carton, ice cream dribbling down my chin. When the ice cream was gone, I cried and paced some more, until I finally collapsed in my Mama’s old rocking chair.

That rocker has so many memories for me. No, I wasn’t rocked in it as a baby. In fact, Mama got the rocker when I was a teenager, just before she was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). One of my favorite memories is seeing her in that chair watching the birds outside her bedroom window. When she sat in that chair, she looked almost normal and healthy.  We enjoyed that little pretense because we could escape for a while from the world of crutches and wheelchairs and bedpans and Hoyer lifts. That rocking chair is one of my most treasured possessions. So it’s not so surprising that I ended up sitting there last week, sobbing and telling Mama my troubles.

I wish I could tell you that Mama appeared to me bathed in heavenly light, speaking words of comfort. That’s what I really wanted, to tell the truth. Okay, what I really wanted was to have my Mama hold me and rock me and stroke my hair and tell me that it was all going to be okay.  I guess maybe a lot of us have felt that before.  The yearning for love and comfort is deep—I don’t think it ever goes away, even when we’re grown and our mamas aren’t there anymore.

But what I did feel as I rocked and wept was a settling of my spirit. A peace. And a certain knowing—that God heard me and that He was watching over my boy. When Saint Paul asked God to take away his infirmity, God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Perhaps you’re thinking, “Well, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Girl, if God’s grace is sufficient, why are you such a mess?” Well, like all mortals, Christians are subject to sorrow, to pain, and to great suffering and doubts.  And, for sure, one of the greatest sorrows is to see your children suffer.  Your pain is proportional to your love.  That’s a lot of pain.  Sometimes, we do seek solace in ice cream or rocking chairs or our Mamas (even after they’ve passed away). We’re only human.  But we can rest in  the knowledge that God has a greater purpose in our suffering, even if we can’t see it. We are blessed to have the confidence that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. And, always, we have the assurance of the sweet and everlasting grace of our Lord.  It’s pure truth in a world that’s false.  It’s a certainty in uncertain times. And I rest in it.

Even in hard times.  Especially in hard times.  Even when we’ve had too much sh*t and not near enough sugar.

Peace

April 22, 2010

When I was mowing last week, I happened to look down into the inside of one of our tulip blossoms and saw a honey bee lying on her side at the bottom.

She was clearly dead, but there was something peaceful and poignant in the way her little body curled around the base of the stamen. I wondered how she had happened to die there while in service to the queen and to her hive (and to all of us, I suppose, who eat honey). I like to imagine that she was an old bee who had already toiled for weeks, building honeycomb nurseries and foraging for pollen and nectar. Maybe she grew tired in the warm spring sun and lay down in the velvety petal softness to rest, her body dusted with golden pollen and her stomach full of nectar. But there, her old weary body gave out at last. A pretty sweet way for a honey bee to go. I couldn’t say exactly why, but the sight of that little honeybee moved me.

Yesterday, I was weeding in our back flowerbed when I grew tired and stopped for a moment. There was a faint cool breeze caressing my arms, but the afternoon sun warmed me down to my winter-weary bones. The heat of the sun was warming the lilac blossoms, too, and the breeze was blowing their sweet aroma my way. I breathed in deeply and closed my eyes. I could hear the sound of the Rufous-sided Towhee telling me to “Drink your TEA!” and our resident mockingbird singing frenetically through his impressive repertoire, sounding almost demented in his frenzy. He always makes me smile, especially when I hear him singing in the dark of night.

It was then I remembered the honeybee with her gold-dusted body curled so sweetly in the bottom of the tulip. As silly as it may sound, I sat there in the sun, my eyes closed, and imagined myself lying in the bottom of that soft, light-filled tulip blossom, drowsing in the warmth of the spring sun. I wasn’t filled with nectar as the honey bee must have been, but I felt a certain peace suffuse my spirit.

Last weekend, we were startled awake at 3:30 in the morning by the ringing of the phone. Like most people, I was filled with dread at the sound. Phone calls in the middle of the night are never good. It was Ariel. She had awakened in the night in her dorm room with the worst pain she’d ever had. “Should I go to the emergency room?” she said. Bless her—I know she was thinking of what it would cost us.

“Yes, yes…go!” I said. It’s awful being 250 miles away when your child is in pain. But Ariel’s good friend and roommate, Catherine, went with her and stayed with her the whole time. We fretted at home, worrying that it was appendicitis.  We couldn’t believe it was happening to us for the second time in four months.

But this time, according to the emergency room doctor (who Catherine said looked like Dr. McDreamy on Grey’s Anatomy), it was kidney stones. Nothing to do but wait for them to pass.

You can’t protect your children from pain—physical or otherwise. Obviously, that’s something you learn early on as a parent. But it’s always so hard to be reminded of it. And reminded of how little we can control in this old world. The world spins on and we stumble through it, mostly doing the best we can. So much hate out there, but so much love, too. So much cruelty, but so much kindness. So many people heedless of the harm they inflict on this lovely earth, but so many working to heal and save it. And dawn follows night and spring follows winter, and, always, mothers worry for their children.

But I wasn’t thinking of any of that as I dreamed yesterday in the golden sun. For once, I was not mired in the past or fretting about the future. I was thinking only of fragrant lilacs, cheery towhees, exuberant mockingbirds, velvet-soft petals, and the warm spring sun on my face and arms. And of weary old honeybees, dusted with gold, who find rest and peace at last in the shelter of a soft, spring flower.


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