Monday, March 25, 2013

Lessons from Joel | Post 24

My mom had the idea, and I'm in the throes of it.  Because I loved it.   A "Wall of Men" in our Little Guy's room.  My two grandpas - Dirt and Papa.  Caleb's two grandpas - Paps and Pop.  Our fathers, Alan and Terry.  And our brothers: Daniel, Elijah, Tim, Micah, Kevin, Andrew, Joshua, Dude, Jeremiah, Josiah and Joel.   One of my projects during this month in Oklahoma was to gather and scan all the individual portraits of the men in Caleb's family.  His mom pulled out album after album for me.  I chose my favorite, she scanned, and we'd repeat.
Today I chose Joel's picture.  I flipped through his album - my first time since having my own little man in me.  The pictures of him singing like he's in a choir (songbook and all) with big rainboots on make me laugh out loud.  And his scrunch-nose faces.  Page after page of that scrunch.  His album is happy - full of farm life, birthdays, holidays, animals, family and big big cheeks.  I chose my favorite picture: one where he's wearing a yellow tie, doing his scrunch face.  I adore it.  The pages are obviously coming to an end… and he's still only three.  I know there aren't more years of pages to add.  I know the album is going to end with a thud.  There aren't hospital pictures.  Or chemo and bloated and sleeping in a white metal bed pictures.  There are some pictures of cute twins in cowboy get-up, making faces in a window sill on a red barn.  And then: there is a letter, on the front side of the final page.

A mom writes to her boy and tells him how sad she is to finish this book.  Reading "finish" makes my eyes sting.  She's sad to finish this book, because she's finishing it without him.  She goes on to list the things that come to mind in that moment - the things she misses the most.  They were awfully beautiful and dreadful to read, especially while Little Guy butt-butted my belly-button as I took it in.  "I miss your little voice."  She told a story in her letter about how Joel would ask her to "help me, mommy?" in his final few weeks.  Everything was so hard and painful for him.  She wrote to him how much she loved to help him, and how she'd hold his hands and lift and carry him.  When he was particularly uncomfortable he'd ask "Help me carefully?"  

The yellow-tied, rain-booted-choir-boy, bald-baby, scrunch face from a few pages ago.  I couldn't help but cry.  Oh Joel.  "Help me carefully."  What sound and sweet words, little brother.  I flipped that last page and there were sticker letters spelling out a part of a common verse: "The Lord gives and…"  That was all.  The Lord gives and.  "Takes away" didn't need to be said.  The hard white back of the photo-album, with the "Creative Memories" logo made it clear.  The Lord gives and… the end.  We know what else He does.  But He gave.  Flip back two pages, and look at what He gave.  And He gives still.  He gives promise.  And Himself.  And album-making.  And time passing.  And grandsons.  And sunshine.

And He gives help, carefully.  

I've unavoidably meditated on Joel's brilliant phrase for the last few hours.  "Careful" is nearly implied in the definition of help: "Make it easier for someone to do something by offering aid; to make more pleasant or bearable; to give assistance or support to."  If the "help" isn't actually easing the load, making the situation better, really full of care and ability to know "what makes this situation better?" than it's not much help at all.  It's more problem.  

Careless, flippant, off-handed, rushed "help" is actually harm.  Check the thesaurus.  Harm.  Obstruction.  Hinderance.  "Help the weak," the Bible tells us so.  And who among us would be confused at the concept when "weak" is a blonde, limp, beautiful, distorted-by-disease child asking with his mouth for food or for the potty or for more blankets?  A heavy, tear-filled, eager heart can only carefully help.  Maybe even fearfully - so concerned about the welfare of the little guy, I know I'd edge far more on the side of moving too slow, taking more time, and checking with him too often.  I'd hate to bring more hurt to him.  

But I think carefully helping the other kinds of weak are a sad blind-spot in the church.   Full of good intention ("Hey! I'm helping! Serving, even!") and maybe even deep, well-studied doctrine, many are aware of truths and promises and help's about God.  Who He is.  What He says.  What He commands.  Militantly, sometimes, church-folk can stomp into the newly burned ashes of a destroyed heart-town and say "Ah-ha!  We know what fixes this!"  Quickly, the broken is gone and the new-and-improved homes and shops are re-built, the roads are paved, the ashes are swept away.  They took care of that!  This was me.  A true (very true - and not even misapplied scripture) was my handy-dandy construction crew.  It's simple, I "helped."  Get rid of this, create this - here, I'll even do it for you - and wa-la!  All better now!

I spent a lot of my life doing a lot of very, very good building.  And a lot of very, very bad helping.  I didn't slowly come up to someone in front of their charred home and sit with them, weeping.  I didn't ask.  I just did.  I didn't offer to go through the rubble and mess and see what could be restored and saved.  I didn't offer to leave the grieving alone, and give them plenty of time to search and mourn themselves (if they wanted.)  I didn't unlock my heart and engage my brain and try to imagine and understand just what this may be like.  I didn't listen to stories as much as I offered my two-cents Jesus-girl solution to the "problems" in the stories.  I don't think I helped carefully.

And when it was me.  When my life was the one on fire.  When my memories and feelings were the ones black and impossible-to-breath-through.  When my heart needed an ear, not a mouth.  When I was weak and silently begging for help.  It changed me.  And the pat-on-my-back, "you're actually being kind of annoying and clingy… and not trusting God… but I won't say it, I'll just casually throw out this excuse about why I can't really take the time to understand you," Bible BandAid, "God won't give you more than you can handle! Grin!," brief "help" was so hurtful.  It made me feel so much worse.  It wasn't considerate, caring or careful.  And now I knew what it was like to be on that side of it.

I wanted (and treasure) the Hosea 11 help.  "I took them up by their arms… I led them with cords of kindness, with bands of love.  I became the one who eased the burdens on their jaw.  I bent down, and fed them."  I learned of Mark 14 help. "Leave her alone.  Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me."  I learned about me and Jesus.  I learned about a mother's head rub and silence, letting me cry and duke it out with my Father.  I learned about friends who announced that they were coming to get you and take you grocery shopping with them!  That's that!  I learned about the people who didn't compare and share their heart-hurts with me while I was just trying to work through my own stings.  They just simply were there - with their whole hearts and minds.  These things "were hidden from the wise and understanding, and have been revealed to little children," like Joel.  "Come to me! All! All who are weary and heavy of heart!  I will give you rest.  I am gentle, and lowly in heart.  My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."  And My help is careful.  

I'm figuring out what it means to help well.  To really be a burden-easer.  To not just dive into the pool with my wisdom-whistle and understanding-inner-tube.  I'm learning that impractical, irrational, crying, dirty people don't just do beautiful things for the Lord, but they are beautiful things to Him.  I'd smack your face and say very rude things to you if you thought Joel was anything but cherished, wonderful and beautiful.  Even though he was sick and weak.

I'm learning I needed a smack, because the heart-sick, and spiritually-crushed, and emotionally-weak are cherished, wonderful and beautiful.  They didn't needed Jesus to sit them down with a sermon and practical take-home point.  He knew that.  They needed Him.  And that's exactly what He gave. The Lord gives and.

And there is a little scrunch-face with Him right now.  Thank you for helping me.  You're changing the way I help other people - I can't thank you enough.  I can't wait to hang your face on your nephew's wall.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Letters to Baby | Post 23 | Week 28

Dear Boy,

The last letter I wrote you on the blog was a long and hard one.  But a couple of weeks later, you stopped making me sick, you started showing off yourself to the world inside your growing-globe and you would do the greatest swim-flip-turns that almost tickled me.  And I could feel you.

I went from probably the closest thing to despair I've experienced - nothing prepared me for how hard two months of non-stop, intense nauseation would be.  I not only thought "I can't do this ever again.  I'm not having any more children."  I also told dad and grandma... and maybe a few others.  

But then.

Second trimester came.  And first of all, that came with relief and health and NO MORE NAUSEA.  But mostly, second trimester came with all sorts of signs of you.  Just like nothing could have prepped me for the pain of the first few months, nothing adequately prepped me for the bliss of the next few months.

I want 32 children now.  Maybe more. (wink face)

I catch myself thinking to and convincing myself that no one has ever felt this way, or experienced these things.  I must be the only one.  I just.  Can't imagine.  That.  I don't know.  A sensation so great could have been lived out before.  We're probably setting Love Records, little guy!  I know it!  But then I see a mom in a grocery store, focused on buying the cheapest Cheerios.  And her boy tries to reach out and grab a set of plastic straws hanging from the rack.  And she gasps and throws her pad of paper and pen.  Her shriek makes the whole aisle turn and the boy cry.  "Don't do that, Max! You're going to fall!"  She wraps him up and apologizes for startling home and just holds him in the aisle, kissing his cheeks.  "I just don't want you to get hurt.  And CAN'T stand in carts."  The pen rolls under the rack of colorful boxes.  She pushes her cart away, probably forgetting that she never grabbed Cheerios.
I see the older mama at the Guthrie Library with her probably Kindergarten age daughter.  I don't know who is more excited about Amelia Bedelia.  The girl has her special library tote and is so proud to reach up on the counter and slide her newly stamped books into it.  Mama is just happy.  They hold hands walking out to the car.
 I see my own mom, after chemo, asking who can take her to her middle boy's play-off game.  It's all the way in DC.  At 6:00 pm.  The traffic is going to stink.  Dad has a work meeting he can't miss, the other kids have plans they can change... but to go sit in traffic while it's dark to watch a game they'll probably lose?  No one is jumping at the offer.  Mom gets the keys to take herself.  She is not missing this game.  Her baby is playing, and she is going to be there.  My sisters and I eventually take her, and she's the loudest, cutest, fire-cracker-iest fan in the stands.  They win, and my brother scans for her face in the stands, and beelines to her to hug her after the game.
I know I'm not the first woman to be the factory and the home to another human.  I know I'm not the first wife to just lose it when her husband goes bananas over feeling all the different kinds of baby movements - "That was a HUGE one!" "Whoa, is he, like, doing boxing practice in there?" "I think he just gave me a high-five!" I know I'm not the first one to stand, undressed, in a mirror and just stare for whoknowshowlong at my midsection, tracing its new, funny shape.  I know I'm not the first fiercely protective, or blissfully in-love mother.  I know millions - maybe billions - have experienced these things before.

But you know what?  I'm the first to experience them with you, cool kid.
And that certainly makes it different.
Though motherhood has happened over and over, you've never happened before.
This is the first time.

And I don't want to ever forget the firstness and the one-time-ness of everything about you.  

Thank you for making my every-minute sweet, for giving me brand new reasons to love your father more, and thank you, even, for the swollen ankles, heartburn, leg cramps and muscle pain - it means you here, and I'm so glad.

See you soon, camper.

Love, mom.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

"Liberty Tree Tavern" | Post 22

"no one's gonna love like I do,
someone should have warned you."
Since my creative-cute-make-the-internet-jealous-and-not-nearly-as-great-as-me-ideas (only partially joking) for the husband + the house have been on strike this winter (I blame pregnancy, dreary un-inspiring coldness and coaching... but we all know this just happens in life.  Sometimes you're on your A-game, and sometimes you're not.  These days, I'm not.) I have to document our "One Year of Being Engaged Iversary" dinner!

Right before he presented me with a ring and a request at DisneyWorld, we ate dinner at my favorite Liberty Tree Tavern.   That dinner was the one where I talked all day about "THE GREEN BEANS!" but Caleb was too distracted to remember, the one where I cried and the waiter had to awkwardly stop pouring water mid-pour because I was so hysterical, the one where I caught Caleb up in the bathroom hallway talking to Lydia about photographing the impending proposal (but didn't think anything of it...?).  It was a good dinner.  I tried to re-create the menu to the best of my ability.   Caleb said my roast was better (Martha's version + one package of ranch seasoning), but their potatoes won.  Game on, potatoes.
The night we got engaged I ate three platefuls (not servings) of green beans, and asked for my own gravy boat.  I would eat their beans + gravy on a daily basis if possible.  
With some classical "Main Street" Disney music playing from the laptop, and a chocolate cake bought from Safeway waiting in the fridge, we dined like we were kids again.  (Full disclosure:  Caleb told me he'd be home at 6:00.  I cook a real-meal so rarely that it never really matters when he gets home, but he's always home when he says he'll be.  I didn't tell him about our dinner plans in the Magic Kingdom, and at 5:30 I got a text saying he wouldn't be home until 7:30.  Shoot.  I turned the oven and stove off, blew out the candles and waited until 7:00 to get things going again.  At 7:00 I turned everything back on... and he walked in the door.  My first response was "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE!" Good to see you, too, sweet wife.  

I covered his eyes and made him sit on the stairs for half an hour hahah.  My sisters brought him his outfit - the same J. Crew button-up and khaki shorts he was wearing last year, and I rummaged through my closet to find my floral dress and blue cardigan and neon yellow purse. He changed, but still had sawdust in his hair from work.  

It was cheesy.  And us.  And it's always great fun to see his teary excited/blessed eyes.
After dinner he rubbed my back until I fell asleep and then he stayed up for two more hours drawing architecture plans for our roof while "The Mentalist" kept him company.  

Just an evening I want to remember. It was one of my favorites as a married person.