Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Worry, worry,worry...

The English language is confusing, hodge-podge, messy--a strange and beautiful thing, which is why I love it so (and stand in awe of those who learn it as their second language). One of the things I love is how sometimes a word can mean two completely different things. Take the word "worry". Here is a word I like (there are several, in fact, but let's stay on point and talk about this one right now). We worry about our bills, our kids, the economy--we lie awake in bed at night and fret, stew, ponder, nibble our nails, worry. And then, a dog worrys a bone--keeps at it, snuffling it, messing with it, relentlessly gnawing on it.

Lately worry has been worrying me. Relentlessly. Like a pit bull with a t-bone.

There's Rosie, who has worried me since the day she was born. You have expectations of a child when they're born, whether you want to or not. Especially of the same-sex child. I had visions of Rosie and I cuddled on the couch, doing girl things, an island of estrogen in a sea of testosterone.

Rosie, though, came out screaming and hasn't much let up since. She has severe reflux that burns her esophagus and causes projectile vomiting and severe pain if she's not on daily medication. She got the dreaded RSV at Christmas and when the doctors were checking her for that, they discovered a strange rhythm in her heart and sent us to a cardiologist. Turns out, Rosie has a minor heart condition as well--a partial fusing of one of the valves of her heart. Then, just this week, we went in for her 6-month checkup and found another problem: the muscles of her torso are far weaker than they should be, and we've been referred to a physical therapist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Weak muscles, or low muscle tone, can mean lots of things--some minor, some major. I know this, because I looked it up on the Internet. If you are a new parent, let me give you some advice: NEVER look up vague diagnoses of childhood illnesses on the Internet. Invariably the vague diagnoses always seems to be a symptom to the big three: cancer, Down's Syndrome, or autism. No matter what your child's symptom, someone will claim it is a symptom of one of these three things. Or all of them. And you will start to worry your head off over the huge "IFs" floating around, horrible possibilities you never even thought to consider until someone put it in your head to worry about it.

Worry, worry, worry.

Then there's my husband--an architect. A good architect, but an architect. And architects are part of the construction industry, an industry in massive free-fall in this dreadful economic climate. The sky seems to be raining pink slips around us, and you wonder: what's next? What's coming? It's not like employers are screaming for the talents of stay-at-home moms with MFA degrees. More "IF's", more nail-nibbling, more lying awake, staring at the ceiling.

Jesus says in Matthew 6 (The Message):

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

I read this, I believe it. At least sometimes I believe it. When I'm not worried, when it isn't my kids, or my security at risk. When it's something small and easy to lose, I can be as saintly and worry-free as Jesus himself. But when it's something that matters, something that would hurt to lose, something that affects my comfort, my peace, the things I have decided I need to be happy in this world, I get worried. And it gnaws at me with very sharp teeth--and why do I think this is preferable to trusting God to keep His promises?

There is an old Indian fable that speaks of a group of blind intellectuals coming together to examine an elephant. Each of the men touches one specific part of the elephant and then decides that the sum of what they have touched is, in fact, the whole. I think that is what I become in times like these, a blind intellectual--or maybe I am like Chicken Little, screaming that the sky is falling when an acorn lands on my head.

What is required is a change in perspective--a step back, an awareness that what I perceive may not be the whole story. The bigger question is, what is God-reality, God-initiative, God-perspective? Is my attention focused on what God is doing right now, or on the "IFs" that right now are merely "ifs", and not truths? Do I really dare to believe in a God that keeps promises, a God that loves me, a God that is vast enough to create galaxies yet professes an awareness of when a tiny bird falls from its nest?

Here is where real belief, real Christianity is formed and tested. The question is, do I believe what I say I believe?

What is God doing right now? Today, I will try and place my attention there, within that question. And, as Rilke suggested, I will try to love that question, to savor it and head down the path it leads me. Anything has to be better than lying here, flayed to the marrow by worry.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Not Drowning, But Waving...

Um...where to begin? I can't believe I haven't posted in close to a year. It's because I keep getting pregnant. I get remarkably anti-social when pregnant, sort of a gestating, grunting wildebeest or something (now, how's that for a lovely image??)

But I am no longer pregnant, having given birth to Rosalie Grace, the most beautiful girl in the world. And unless God has some really frightening surprise in store, this is my last pregnancy--I am done with the whole baby-making thing, so maybe I will once again become something other than gestating wildebeest/sleep-deprived mommy of tiny children.

And on that note...

First, an update in the Saga of Gracie the Dog: we found her a good home with a nice family and a big fenced yard. This was a good thing, because I was this close to throttling her, and I'm only half-joking. She had to be the most in-your-face life lesson I have ever received. The culmination of her visit was her last Sunday morning with us when she decided to try and jump on our kitchen counter and sent a 2-quart bottle of red grape juice in a death spiral through my kitchen. This was after devoting her weeks with us to digging exploratory holes all over my backyard--I mean holes, people. I think I saw magma from the earth's crust bubbling up from one or two of them. But Gracie is now happy with a family who do not seem to mind walking her overgrown self through the puddles in the pouring rain at 6AM on Sunday mornings. Hallelujah and amen to that.

But then, does anyone really welcome grief into their lives, in any form? It's never really a welcome guest, is it?

I had a list of prayer requests last year that I wrote down and kept in my journal. I think I was starting to need some tactile proof that my prayers were not bouncing off the ceiling, and I was merely talking to myself. Some were answered with "yes", some with a definite "no", some I'm still waiting for an answer to come. I asked for more life, less death in our lives for a change, and was blessed with little Rosie, who also answered my (rather selfish) request for a little girl. That was a big request, and it seems we are finally starting to thaw from the numbingly frozen world of grief where we have lived for so long. The world looks permanently different, though, and I am trying to remind myself, daily, to slow down and savor the moment in my hand, because it is achingly fragile and nowhere near as permanent as I would like to believe.

I remember when Sammy was first born, only weeks old, he got RSV (as some of you might remember from earlier posts). I wrote then that the only prayer I could pray was a paraphrase of a line from one of Stevie Smith's poems--"Lord, I am not waving, but drowning!"

I did not think God heard me, but here I am today, almost 2 years later, and I am not drowned.

Words are coming back to me, slowly, randomly--I've been a stranger from them for so long I wonder sometimes what they mean and I get afraid to let them live anywhere but in my head.

My children are with me, and my husband, and all the chaos and messy, loud love and guilt and pain and joy that families bring with them.

The blank page beckons, and I write: I am not drowning, Lord, but waving.

Be patient--it's a new prayer for me.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Problem of Gracie

Okay, I'm a little slow these days, but not stupid. I may be so caught up in the chaos of mommyness that I miss the thousands of nuances that proclaim God in the ordinary.

But I am not so stupid or busy that I missed the blinking neon sign that is Gracie. I just don't know what I'm supposed to do with this nippy, barky, jumpy mess of a blinking neon sign.

Huh? You're saying, what is this woman talking about?

Okay, here's the deal.

On Friday, October 19th I received a book of poems in the mail--Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds. One of the poems jumped out at me almost as soon as I opened the book, the poem by Denise Levertov I put on my blog about grief. I'll post it again so you can immediately get the glaring obviousness of what I'm about to point out:

Talking to Grief

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on
your own water dish.
You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house as your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

And 2 days later, walking along the Silver Comet Trail, Gracie makes her dramatic leap into our lives. A homeless dog. Into our lives. Just before winter.

I am NOT a dog person. I am a cat person. Cats are cuddly and self-contained and purr when you pet them and do not need endless bouts of walking/playing/housetraining/etc. like dogs do. Cats require a soft place to sleep, a litter box, and daily food and water. Other than that, they're good. Low maintenance. Dogs, on the other hand, are like kids--one constant need.

We have been trying and trying to find Gracie a home, but nothing comes of it. I am not a big believer in coincidence, since I am such a believer in God. So here it is, smacking me in the face: a house full of the ghosts of those we have so recently lost (Moon's mom and dad, 2 pregnancies we lost, my grandfather and grandmother), a poem about grief, and a dog named Gracie.

Okay, God, I get it. There's a message here. A story. Now--what is it, exactly?

Any chance I could learn it quickly and Gracie could find another place to live? Because this dog is seriously getting on my nerves. She is inconvenient, and smelly, and makes messes in my house at the most inconvenient times. She will not be ignored, or put off. She needs to be fed, walked, petted, watched. She insists we get up at the crack of dawn and take her for walks, and that she be the last thing we tend to before bed.

With 2 children under 4, I have no time for Gracie. But I have to make time, whether I want to or not. She will whine, whimper, wake the house up with her caterwauling if we don't. She'll make big smelly messes on my floor, and--as she has proved in the past--has no problem stripping the wallpaper from my walls and chewing on the walls if ignored.

And yes, I have been feeling my losses gnawing at the walls of my heart, too, and I have been angered that I feel it after spending so much time in the pit of despair this year, watching Mary die. I am sick of living with the pain of loss. I want it buried, deep, so it cannot rise again. But it comes, and I hear it calling for me, demanding my attention, nipping at my ankles. I get the glaring symbolism. I just don't want to.

And thus, the problem of Gracie. The problem of grief. Once they have entered your home, neither will be ignored.

Grace, according to my handy-dandy American Heritage dictionary, is "1. Seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form or proportion. 2. A characteristic or quality pleasing for its charm or refinement. 3. A sense of fitness or propriety. 4. A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill. 5. A favor rendered by one who does not need to do so. 5. Mercy; clemency. 6. Divine love and protection bestowed freely on people {and dogs}." Grace, then, is a packed word.

We picked the name Gracie because we figured Someone had to be looking out for this poor creature if she sustained no injuries from her perilous journey down the ravine where we found her. She definitely is not an example of "effortless beauty or charm" with her clumsy, bowlegged gait and goofy antics. Definitely not refined, no sense of propriety whatsoever. But she is brimming with goodwill, and perhaps she is a favor, even if I don't usually see her that way. A gift from God, a reminder that there comes a time when grief requires us to invite it in, need and all, and take care of it, nurture it, give it a proper home. The writer of Ecclesiastes said "for everything there is a season...a time to weep, and a time to laugh/a time to mourn and a time to dance." Maybe God knew Moon and I were so caught up in the craziness of parenting small children and living in this suburban rat race that we needed a seriously blantant visual aid.

In her book Amazing Grace, Kathleen Norris writes in her chapter on grace that God

loves to look at us, and loves it when we will look back at him. Even when we try to run away from our troubles...God will find us, and bless us, even when we feel most alone, unsure if we'll survive the night. God will find a way to let us know that he is with us in this place, wherever we are.

The problem with grace is it, like the hope that lives at the bottom of Pandora's Box, requires darkness in order for it to come to light, and we humans hate that dark night of the soul. But should I curse the light simply because it shines best in the darkness, or view it as a blessing, a gift in the darkness?

I still don't know if we'll wind up keeping Gracie forever, or if this is just our season of Gracie. I can't even tell you that at the end of all this musing and moralizing I've come to some grand revelation, although I think I've garnered some comfort. What I can say is only this: I see it, God. I got the message. I'm listening. Not always happy with what I'm hearing, but I am listening. And I hope that is enough...

...oh, and if it's at all possible, could you get your blessing housetrained and sleeping through the night ASAP? I'd really appreciate it.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Story of Grace

It's been quite a weekend.

I learned how to make a mean lemon drop martini and found a little Grace. The story of the martini you can find on my other blog, The Suburban Roadshow. The story of Grace is a little longer, and a little more spectacular, so let's get to that first.

On Sunday, Moon and I like to take road trips when the weather's nice, and yesterday was gorgeous. We dropped Sam off with his great-aunt and his great-grandmother, and Max, Moon and I hit the open road (well, as open as it gets on the congested highways and byways of the metro Atlanta area).

We drove to Rockmart, GA, described on its website as "located in the heart of the Coosa Valley area of Northwest Georgia". We went there because it's on the Silver Comet Trail, a wonderful place to breathe a little fresh air and forget the congestion and traffic of day-to-day life in the suburbs. Below are some pix I snapped as we started down the bridge that led to the trail:

So, things were moving along swimmingly until we got about a mile or so down the path and heard the most ungodly noises. At first, I thought it might be kids hiding in the brush and trying to scare people as they walked by, the sounds were that odd. But it would have been impossible to hide along the path there, because along one side was a 10-foot high chain link fence with the old railway track passing beside it, with rusted-out trucks and abandoned-looking buildings sprouting up from the flat, yellow grasses around them. On the other side, the side closest to us, was a 30-40-foot drop down a sheer rock face to a rock-strewn creek bed.

We stopped to see if we could determine the origin of the sounds, and finally zeroed in on a tiny outcropping of rock about 40 feet below us.

The sounds were animal, but so strange we weren't sure if it was a dog, a coyote, or even a bear cub. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was in serious distress, and possibly in pain. We called the Rockmart police (how did out-of-towners find out things like the number for the local police before the advent of the BlackBerry?) and they promised to send an officer out to see what could be done. A family on bicycles rode by and stopped to see what the commotion was. They, too, quickly decided there was no safe way for anyone other than an experienced rock climber to make it down the sheer face of the cliff to the animal--and even if they did, what if it was wild, or so hurt it was impossible to move? They shrugged their shoulders apologetically and rode off. We kept waiting for the police to arrive. Max amused himself by standing on guard to alert us if the police were coming, and posing for pictures.

As we waited, we finally saw a little movement, and realized it was a dog down there, a cinnamon colored dog, and she was definitely in distress.

The police finally arrived after about a half an hour, a lone policeman riding a 4-wheeler. He quickly assessed the situation and told us there was no way he was risking his life for a dog, and animal control would probably say the same thing. There was nothing to be done. He was sorry.

This was about the point that Moon, who isn't the most patient or conforming of men in the first place, started to get a bit annoyed. He walked down the path a little way and found a place where the drop wasn't quite so steep, about a 100 yards down from where the dog was. He came back to where we were standing, and silently handed me his keys and BlackBerry.

"I'm going down," he said, and headed off.

The policeman waited with us, radioing dispatch and the animal control that Moon had gone down.

"Well," I said, "you won't go down for the dog, but if there's a human down there maybe you will, right?"

(Have I mentioned at this point I was a bit grumpy with the whole waiting and who-cares-about-a-dog attitude I was getting? I, too, an not the most patient of people.)

We waited, and the quiet was very loud. I was lying in the dirt on the edge of bank, craning for a glimpse of Moon and praying silently that he wouldn't break his fool neck and that the dog was okay. Finally, after what seemed like forever (but really was only about 10 minutes) I heard Moon call out right beneath me, "I made it".

I tossed him down my jacket to wrap his hand in in case the dog tried to bite him when he went in to get her. He caught it, carefully crossed the stream bed, and reached in to pull out...

...a little Chow mix puppy, terrified but seemingly intact.

He walked back upstream with her, back up the cliff carrying her in his arms, and I have to say it was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed in my life. I would have married him again right then and there if he'd asked me. How many times in this modern day and age do you actually get to witness a physical act of courage like that? It was quite thrilling.

We walked back to the main road with her, and filled out a police report there by the side of the road. "No one wants her," the police guy told us, "so you can take her if you want."

So she rode back to Marietta cuddled in my lap, and we took her to the animal ER to make sure there were no broken bones or injuries

At the ER, we were told she was a 10-week-old Chow mix who was in relatively perfect health with only some fleas, ticks, and mud to show for her ordeal. They treated her for the fleas and ticks and we took her home. "Oh, by the way," they told us as were were leaving, "she's going to be HUGE."

Oh, goody.

But by then end of the night, I'd gone to Target and spent a fortune on doggie paraphernalia, and named her Grace.

Today, Gracie is curled up asleep in the house, and getting used to her new home. I am not a dog person by any means, but how many dogs drop into your life as dramatically as Gracie did? I can't help but think it was all for a reason. And I'll be the first to tell you we all need a little Grace in our lives. So far, she is a sweet, gentle little thing

So world, meet Gracie, the newest Moon family addition.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ode to Joy 1: Sam discovers leaves

And one of Max on the same day, digging in the sand for the buried treasure he knows is there--how great a metaphor for prayer is that??!

It reminded me of a poem I wrote once when Max first discovered flowers--


My infant son squats
beside a starflower.
His blue-eyed stare
taking in each delicate detail--
white petals and yellow stamens dancing
with hands raised, singing
"holy holy"
in the stiff March wind.

He pulls hard on a fragile stem,
an innocent cruelty,
the blossom drops
wet, limp
curling like a whispered
cupped within his sweaty fist.

He reaches up and I bend
thinking only of inhaling crushed
petals, but he pushes the flower
whole into my mouth.
I taste green and sweat, lemon
and mud, bittersweet spring alive on my tongue.

Building a mystery...

I've just spent the past half-hour Googling my high school classmates, and couldn't find a thing--not a tidbit on anyone. I know it's part and parcel of growing up in an itsy-bitsy small town, but c'mon--I'm starting to wonder about my own existence here! There's absolutely nothing, although I have a pretty rich memory of it all. Maybe it's a mythology I created in my own mind? Did I actually graduate from Cumberland Christian School, or is it all some nutball fantasy I've created for lack of anything better to do? (Trust me, there are times as a mom of very young children that making up fantasies of more interesting lives than one's own are all that get you through the day.)

I'm just feeling nostalgic tonight, but for what, and whom? Now I'm not so sure. In our info-saturated times it seems everything and everyone is on the Internet, but somehow Cumberland County, NJ is still off the grid. We always were about 15 years behind the times. But we had a great diner--the Presidential. It's gone now. It was one of those tired old diners with great breakfast specials available at midnight, with jukeboxes at every table, fluorescent lights making everyone and everything they shone on look slightly gray. Hot, salty, greasy scrambled eggs, chewy, gnarly bacon, endless cups of weak tea drowning in oily half and half...Heaven. I smoked back then. Badly. I was a terrible smoker, always smoked like a rookie and never actually enjoyed the experience enough to get addicted. I smoked really frou-frou girly cigarettes, too--Capris, I think they were called.

(Remind me to excise this bit of my history before my boys are old enough to read my blog. If they ever ask you about it, tell them their Mommy never smoked and it's a very nasty habit that will kill you. Thanks.)

Several years ago I wrote to the current pastor of the crazy church I grew up in. He was a new pastor, a couple pastors removed from the pastor who led the church while I was there--the one who wound up in prison. (Looooooooooooong story--look for the tell-all memoir I'll write somewhere between now and my grandchildren graduating college.) I was researching the whole scandal that erupted around that pastor (okay, brief synopsis: Crazy-evil fundamentalist loonies run a tiny independent church and school like a Jonesboro cult. Rampant child abuse of every imaginable description abounds. After oh, ten to twelve years of getting away with it and ruining a bunch of kids' lives, the pastor is finally busted and goes to a minimum-security prison for 6 months. His wifey, who at the least aided and abetted the whole nightmare, gets off scott-free. ) Anyways...

...researching the scandal. I sent the new pastor an email asking for info about the whole thing, because like so many parts of my history there were few primary resources to back me up--I was writing my history from the rather faulty resources of memory and emotion. He wrote me back a little note telling me God wanted me to just forget the whole thing.

mmmmhmmmm. sure. right. oooookaaaay....

So here I am, trying to find some information, some signposts that root me to the history that plays so often in my mind. And my history refuses to be Googled. If you don't exist on the Internet, do you exist in this day and age? Where I grew up, forgetfulness is somehow next to Godliness, and the past gets obliterated in the slow, plodding reality of the present.

So I blog tonight, in the absence of any other tangible signpost, to remind myself I was, once, a hick girl from NJ who grew up in the backwoods edging the Pine Barrens. Grew up in a crazy church, went to a crazy church school, had a half-assed education full of as much fire and brimstone as reading and writing, and went to sleep every night to the nightsounds of the pine trees and crickets, the moon shining like a neon sign through my bedroom window. Had up to 17 cats and dogs for pets, picked teacups full of wild strawberries and blackberries from my front yard, and graduated from the only Christian high school in the county in 1987. You won't find any documents to back up my story, but it's the only story I've got, so I keep writing it down, again and again, hoping someday my retelling of my memories of that history will be enough for me to believe it real.

I'm in a weird mood.

A poem from Denise Levertov that dropped into my mailbox earlier today, and had walked around the house with me ever since:

Talking to Grief

Ah, grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on
your own water dish.
You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house as your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

On a slightly happier note, my son has been talking to me a lot about God. Today he asked me if Jesus did magic. (Try answering that question in a theologically proper manner without confusing the heck out of your 4-year-old. Can't be done.) I think the final answer I came up with was "um, well...sorta..." and then tried to distract him with a chocolate chip cookie. In my fumbling for answers to his questions, I said:

"you sure are asking me a lot of questions about God today."
"yup," he said, "that's because God is my friend."
"Well great, hon," I enthused, "I'm so glad to hear that, because God is a good friend of mine, too."
Max just looked at me in a very superior way.
"Yes--well, he's a better friend to me".

Friday, June 08, 2007

New! Improved! The Blogger Returns from the Dead!

Howdy, all...

I'd apologize for not posting for oh, about a month and a half, but that seems to be how I start all my posts so let's just forget all the sniveling excuses, the mea culpas and all that, and move into something more interesting.

The Robin Family Saga

First of all, you'll remember I mentioned in my last post about the owl we heard the night Mary died. Well, immediately after her memorial service we discovered that a robin had built her nest in the holly tree next to our front door and directly in front of the room where Mary stayed when she was with us.

We noticed 4 bright blue eggs in the nest--although we lost one to a blue jay who dropped it onto our back patio.

Then, we had three transparent, fragile little alien-looking blobs, all mouths and peachy naked skin, gaping at us. We named them Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.


Soon, they were chirping constantly, glaring at us when we walked out the front door, and turning us into even more neurotic parents then we already are: my husband could be found loudly shooing a stray cat away from the foot of their tree at 6 in the morning, and then calling me during the day to check on "the babies". And I was out taking pictures of them like a besotted fool, so I was no better.

Finally, after a couple of weeks, they left us. We are officially empty nesters.

I thought when it happened we'd have less poopy diapers to change, but no such luck--the unpotty-trained 3-year-old and the 6-month-old are still around, keeping us busy.


Speaking of 3-year-olds, Max has been thrilling my heart lately by showing a decided musical preference for the Ramones. He walks around the house singing "ba ba ba ba, ba ba ba ba ba, I wanna be todayyyyyyyy..." which is his version of "I Wanna Be Sedated". He even lines up his brother's stacking cups and accompanies himself on drums, using pencils for drumsticks.

He's also a fan of the Enkindels, Katrina and the Waves, techno music and the Imagination Movers, in no particular order. His preference is anything over 120 beats per minute, and LOUD. That's my boy. (proud sigh)

"And now for something COMPLETELY different..."

After one our many day trips into rural Georgia with "the fam", I've decided it's time to create a couple of new blogs linked to this one, because I got some stuff to say and it's all going to get discombobulated if I don't separate the words into their own nice, tidy compartments. I'm an organizer, you see, and a former cook (not hoity-toity enough to be a chef, sorry), and the first rule of restaurant cooking is keep your work space clean, or you're going to get screwed. (See Anthony Bourdain's books for facts to back this up.)

So, I'm going to make a space for food, and the wanderings we take to get to said food. First entries will feature our recent trips to Colonel Poole's BBQ in Ellijay, GA and Canoe in Vinings, GA. Both very different places, both exceptionally yummy in their own way. Stay tuned for that.

Then, to honor the mother in me, I'm starting a wee, itty-bitty blog for moms like me, specifically those in the East Cobb, GA area but there will be stuff more nationally related, too, where moms can go to find who's doing what as far as kids' activities (especially if it's free!), trends and idea in parenting, reviews of good gadgets to make mom's life easier and where to buy them, etc., etc., etc. Lots and lots and lots of links, I promise!

Meanwhile, this spot will remain my space for all the unwieldy little bits and pieces that won't fit anywhere else; namely philosophical and theological ramblings on suburbia, the environment, God, the Devil, and everyone in between. I keep it broad so I don't feel too claustrophobic.

Stay tuned. I'm back and gettin' busy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Through a Veil, Darkly...

3AM. First time I've had a chance to write in a while. It's been a hell of a month--I mean that literally.

Rich Mullins, a singer/songwriter who died too soon, has a song where he mentions that even though we all want to go to Heaven, to stand there and stare death in the face "takes some grace". For the past month, that's what I've been doing.

I've mentioned in past posts a family member who was very sick. It was my mother-in-law, and the sickness was breast cancer that had metastasized to her lung. Since Christmas, we noticed her deterioration was more pronounced, though she continued to work full-time and there was little change in her crisp, cool, intimidating self. Then a month ago we went to run some errands for her and picked up some prescriptions. The prescriptions were for drugs so strong we knew she was far, far sicker than she had been letting on. Over the next week or so, we began taking care of her.

The past month our care increased daily as her condition worsened daily, and in the last week hourly. Cancer is one of those diseases that is so evil because it takes someone away in increments, in inches, in ounces until suddenly they collapse in on themselves, and the devastation is complete. It robs one of dignity and sound mind and strength, it takes all of the things we consider good about out humanity. It is a thief of the worst kind. I have seen those inspirational "What Cancer Cannot Take" posters and I think if someone tried to hand me something like that today I would break it over their head. The words are so empty when you are staring into the yawning, black maw of the disease.

Anyway, there is too much that is ugly and raw and bloody and private about that right now for me to write about in any clear manner. It is why I haven't written here in so long--any words that came to me were too painful to be written.

So let me say this: Mary passed away on Friday, April 13th. Hours before she passed, Moon and I woke to the lonely mourning of an owl outside our window, an owl I have never heard before or since in our wildlife-deprived, overly-developed neighborhood. The past few days have been filled with people coming in and out of our house, the funeral home, and later today Mary's church, telling us their version of Mary; giving us bits of stories we might have never heard. Reminding us her life mattered--which it did, and does, and will.

Standing in the presence of death does take grace, a grace I do not have within myself. Caregiving, the sort of hardcore caregiving Mary required toward the end of her life, required a grace I did not have. It required God, belief in God. It sounds crazy, but each time I have stood there before death--too often in the past year and a half--it reaffirmed my belief in God, my hope in God. For one thing, death seems to thin the veil between this life and the next. There is a verse in the New Testament sying something to the effect of "but now we see darkly, as through a veil..." and I remembered that as I stood by Mary's hospice bed. She would say things, see things, that seemed as if she were peeking around the edges of that veil, seeing the enormity of the things we could not see with our earthbound, lifebound eyes. When death stops for you, and you are riding in that carriage squeezed between death and immortality...I don't know. It's as if I hear a whisper in my ear, lower than low, like a thrumming in my blood that there is more, that there is more to this life, that this is but a temporary stopping point.

I do not feel the aching loss, the sense of drowning in grief I felt when death first started visiting me a few years ago. The more it visits, the less afraid I am of its return. I can't say I welcome it, and I certainly want it far, far away from my doors for a long time to come: Temporary or no, I love this life. I love my family, my children and my husband. I love the feel of life throbbing in my veins. But it no longer seems the bringer of evil it once was. (Cancer, on the other hand, is a demon straight from Hell. Don't let anyone tell you differently.) Death simply is a part of life. It is part of this life process. And God is there, even in death--maybe especially in death.

Anyway, it's way too late for me to be up writing, and I'm running on too much caffeine and not enough food, so I'm not writing the words I really want to say. It's the curse of the writer, to think in random passing the deep, profound truths that escape you immediately upon finding any way to record such thoughts.

Here is what I know: in this life, the questions matter. Mystery matters. And the day when I saw my baby son propped up against Mary in her hospital bed, watched Sam wriggle and kick against her wasted body, watched her smile down on him and saw him look at her in that new glaze of wonder and awe with which he looks at everything, I knew I was seeing the best of life and the worst of death in that moment. And I knew, I know, that life wins. Life wins.

To you, Mary, and the legacy you left behind. I am forever grateful for it, and everything you life and death taught me. See you beyond the veil.