Tuesday, December 30, 2008
But, sometimes, I appreciate it even more when someone says: “Oh my God, how I hurt for you.” “Your precious baby......” “Your sweet Katherine.....” “I know how hard this must be for you....”
And I appreciate it still more when someone just hugs me with tears in their eyes, and says, “I love you so much. I haven’t stopped praying for you and your girl since this happened. I will continue to pray for all of you every day until she’s well.”
(Just FYI.........for future reference...)
But of course there’s absolutely no way anyone could know this unless they’ve been through it themselves.
No one else could possibly know.
I wouldn’t even have a clue.
But it really is okay.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Possessing all Kingdoms and crowns,
He gladly laid them down
At the Father’s feet, to give up his seat
At God’s right hand.
Willingly leaving his sovereign land,
He took a place most lowly:
Disguising what was holy.
He chose to pose a humble child,
Weak and helpless; yet he smiled
When at first he looked around
And smelled the mess and heard the sounds
Of simple earth and simple beasts
And simple, foolish us.
(He never even made a fuss.)
How circumstances change so fast!
Those first will, by the end, be last.
The wise, the rich, the proud, the strong-
In storming heaven’s doors, proved wrong.
And if I want to enter in,
I must become a child, like him.
The poem was written a few days before one of our good old-fashioned stress-laden insanity-producing Christmases of the past. Probably about three or four years ago. In a frantic last-ditch effort to tack a little Jesus on to the pagan parade of materialistic magic, I decided that instead of giving my friends one more knick-knack they didn’t need, book they wouldn’t have time to read, or high-caloric health hazard to eat, I would give that money to worthy causes in their honor. I chose two ministries which are close to my heart, having worked a little in each. One is in Russia, the other local and inner-city, but each involves children.
Being me, I decided that a notice about the donation wasn’t, by itself, sufficient as a gift-substitute. I had to spruce it up a bit before licking the envelope. I sat down on the bed with a legal pad, and the poem wrote itself in less than 10 minutes. Again, I’m not thinking this is Shakespeare or Donne. But the likelihood of me doing that without a “helper” is slim to none.
‘My’ words so often come back to haunt me.
Our ‘circumstances changed’ in the blink of an eye.
‘And in a moment...’
...life changed forever. Yours could, too, someday.
From the top to the bottom; from the front of the line to the back of the bus; from the heights to the depths. From a position of strength...to a position of weakness. From take-charge independence to child-like dependency.
(Which is where you finally learn to receive.)
There is someone who wants to give.
My reading yesterday: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of man came not be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28)
The Creator of the Universe condensed Himself into the form of a poor Jewish baby in a cow trough...so that I could understand how to receive...
...like a helpless little child.
God bless us, everyone.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I’ll condense it down to one thing:
It can be easy to feel hopeless in December. The chill of winter is more than just a matter of body temperature. It can seep into hearts as well. Leaden skies and shorter, darker days...holiday stress...not enough rest...impossible expectations...meaningless activity...reminders of loss...
...another year down the drain, with so many unmet goals...
...the cavernous gap between what is and what should be....
It is all overwhelming.
I think it’s the perfect time to pick up a warm little memorial stone from among the coals and hold it next to my heart.
This past October, I flew from California to Arizona to meet my husband for a family-inclusive business meeting. Shortly before take-off, an attractive, jet-setty-looking couple rushed aboard the plane. He was tall and handsome, with the air of an English aristocrat. She was younger...tiny, tan, sexy, and Euro-chic. Unfortunately, but typically, the airline had split them up. She stayed in the front of the plane as he loped down the aisle to the empty seat next to mine. I thought (briefly) about being polite and offering to switch places so they could sit together, but the flight attendant was already giving the safety shpiel. Instead, I just gave him a fairly civil half-smile/nod and immediately went back to my important reading material. (I believe it was either “Us” or “OK.”) I have mentioned before that I am not exactly a friendly flier.
IPod earphones in place, I stayed in my own cozy little cocoon for the entire flight, unaware that God had placed another unlikely angel next to me.
As is always the case, everyone on board bolted up the second the plane landed...and just stood there. For a good, long while. My upbringing finally got the better of me, and I made an attempt at polite conversation with my neighbor. Something to the effect of, “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?” When he answered, “Both,” I took a stab and said the name of my husband’s firm with a question mark at the end. Yes, he smiled, he was from the company’s office in Switzerland.
Immediately, we’re like family. That firm is adept at building a sense of international community. Unchauvinistically, he asks where my office is based. I explain that my husband works out of the company’s office in Athens, Georgia, thinking, “You really don’t want to ask me why I’m flying out of LA..” Of course it is the next logical question in the parlay of civilities. I want to simply tell him that it’s a long story, but decide that would be rude. I say something about being on the West Coast indefinitely because of a sick child, knowing that I will likely get one of the usual responses, “Oh, I hope it’s nothing serious” or “I hope he/she will be well soon.” The ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the story unavoidably comes out.
He gives me a very intense look when I finish. “Tell her never to give up hope. NEVER,” he asserts passionately in his upper-crust Australian accent.
I stare at him, surprised at such compassion from a stranger.
Of course there’s a story:
His sister had such a devastatingly severe stroke in her late 20’s that the doctors told the family she’d remain a vegetable. Everyone was in agreement that it would be most merciful to turn off the machines. Except for the mother.
But Bruno’s sister went on to make such a complete and miraculous recovery that she was able to give birth to three more children after that. There actually was a story in the real Reader’s Digest about it!
I’m sure the other passengers on that plane had no idea why the delay at the arrival gate was necessary. I suppose I should feel a little guilty about it. If I’d been friendlier in the first place, God’s message could have been delivered in the air, and they probably could have rushed right off.
Because I’m so hard-headed, God pounded his message into me for the duration of the company trip. Although there were about a thousand attendees, my husband and I ran into Bruno and his girlfriend every time we turned around. We bumped into each other on the dance floor, in the elevator, by the bar, at the pool. Bruno is one of that rare breed of my husband’s height (6’6”), so it was hard for us to miss each other in the crowd. We became friends. We had dinners, drinks, and laughs. And with every encounter, we received a dose of encouragement about Katherine’s situation. The similarities in the two cases were surely not coincidental. The message was loud and clear. Hope. Hope some more. Never stop hoping. Impossible things happen. (...a future and a hope...)
At breakfast one morning, Bruno’s girlfriend and I looked up to discover that we were spooning fruit out of opposite sides of the fruit tray on the buffet table. The men were already in a meeting, so we had breakfast together and lingered over coffee until they cleaned the table out from under us. In her charming Spanish accent, my new young friend opened up about the tragedy of her mother’s recent death to cancer. But it was not a story devoid of faith or victory. She said one thing that I won’t forget: “Hope is the last thing you lose.”
Think about it.
In this time of winter blues, I’ve had my moments of that old hollow, lifeless feeling. I’ve gotten run-down and exhausted, and drifted down into the dark, gray place of faded, stale hope. I’ve even caught the Stones’ “Paint It Black” running through my head a couple of times. (And I want to kill whoever invented Daylight Savings Time. As the winter solstice approaches, it gets dark here around 4:30. The moon’s out by 3:00 p.m.!) I know I have to fight it, but it’s especially hard to cling to hope when you’re feeling crummy....and it seems that nothing’s changing or ever will. I have to remind myself of the signs received along the way, reexamine the evidence, and break it down to basics.
The word “hope” has become synonymous with wishful thinking. (i.e. “I hope it snows at Christmas.” “Hope Santa’s good to you!”) I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of wishes that don’t come true. That’s probably a good thing.
In reality, “to hope” is a much stronger verb:
intransitive verb1: to cherish a desire with anticipation
synonyms see expect
In my (supposedly) daily reading yesterday, this verse jumped out at me:
...And His name will be the hope of all the world. (Matt. 12:21)
It reminded me that I am not just wishing that the 'Fates will allow' things to get better. Or that improved karma's coming my way. Or that medical developments will accelerate at such a rapid rate that everything broken about Katherine will be imminently repaired. I am not fantasizing of better days to come with my fingers crossed...knocking on wood....holding a rabbit’s foot...rolling the roulette wheel...consulting a horoscope...chanting chakras...channeling positive energy.
When I read that verse, the Stones were replaced in my head by an old hymn. I grew up in a church which was founded in the 1820’s, and whose current structure was completed in the 1860’s or so. The original windows are probably 25 feet tall. I remember the rich notes of that hymn pouring out of the wonderful old golden organ pipes until those windows vibrated. The congregation sang:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand...”
I was clueless at the time...probably hungover from a high school Saturday night out in the college town where I grew up. But I get it now. In my long life, I’ve put my hope in lots of things that have sunk me right down into the miry clay frequently mentioned by the psalmists. I’ve put my hope in people and man-made structures and systems and institutions...in religion...in relationships... in myself...intellectualism...wealth...medicine...
appearances... being good,doing good... in luck and fate and in happy endings and fairy tales...
But there has only been one place I have ever placed my hope and not been disappointed...
...and His name will be the hope of all the world.
Oh, if only all those cutsie Santa signs emblazoned with “We Believe” represented a true belief in the Living Hope, instead of just a wishful, sweet, old myth...
Maybe there wouldn’t be such a letdown December 26.
“Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23)
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:2-5)
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Friday, December 5, 2008
Hours of wholesome entertainment for the whole family! Forget Wii, trash your Nintendo, just rush out to your nearest retail establishment and buy the little box with the big bang of fun! (Batteries and baby not included.)
Seriously. I could watch this thing for hours. Of course there’s no TV in the miniscule “guest room” of the Casa Colina cottage. After I put James down for the night, or for one of his two (alleged) naps of the day, I come in here and sit on my little twin bed to check and make sure he’s settling down nicely. Forty five minutes later, he’s still rolling, and and I’m still watching.
Few people know of the Secret Lives of Babies.
See, they have this secret language that only they can understand. Babies are actually bilingual, but must feign an ignorance of English in order to escape the consequences of disobedience. (“What does ‘NO’ mean, Mimi?”) They pretend not to be able to walk very well, but in reality they are accomplished acrobats and trapeze artists. James is a one-man circus.
He pretends to be all sleepy and cute, sucking his passie while simultaneously rubbing his blankie and his big, brown, innocent eyes. He lies down without a fuss and rolls over on his stomach, presumably off to NiteNite Land. I close the door and listen. All’s quiet on the Front.
I go wash the dishes or whatever. By the time I return to my seat in front of the mini-tube, the show’s already begun.
James has a very busy agenda. First, he has to lecture all the stuffed animals in Babyese. He talks up a blue streak. He makes impassioned speeches, becoming extremely animated and, evidently, so funny that he can’t resist laughing at his own jokes. Then he practices his English on them. He has to tell Monkey, his favorite, “no no” repeatedly. Then he gives him a giant hug and a head crunch, which ends in a move similar to the one we’ve been instructed to use in extinguishing a fire: “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Next he practices his new favorite word. Unfortunately, my attempt at instilling proper manners has backfired. Now he says “Thank you” alright; it’s just that he thinks it means “Give me some more!” All through every meal now it’s “Dadu! Dadu!” For impact, he sometimes puts the emphasis on the second syllable: “Thank YOU!!!”
After thoroughly thanking his audience, he picks up the tempo. He grabs his blankie, sniffs it, and says, “Ummmmmmmm!” like a seasoned gourmand. He picks Doggy up and bites his nose. Then he pulls Bunny’s ears. To make up for it, he croons strange and exotic melodies to comfort them.
Then the Circus acts begin. He somersaults across the bed! He spins in circles! He does 360’s on his head, butt in the air. He does yoga moves like a yogi...and then has a little toe snack as long as they’re up there. The bed magically becomes a trampoline, then a jail cell which he tries to escape with Houdini-like intensity. Finally, it is a floundering ship. I think he’s yelling, “Man Overboard!!!” as he hurls his animal friends to safety on solid ground, but I haven’t cracked the language code yet. Then he gives himself an enthusiastic round of applause.
In the final act, James plays the tragedian. He stands up and shakes the bars of his cage one last time, then does dramatic flops on top of his animal friends. He hugs them tightly, as if he might never see them again. Then he plays dead. Just when I’m convinced he’s finally asleep, he stands up and does one last dive. He scoots around until he’s facing the camera. He stares straight into the lense, looking at me looking at him. He knows Big Brother is watching. He puts his hands behind his head, elbows out, one foot resting on the other knee....the picture of nonchalance. He looks exactly like Huck Finn lying on the riverbank, chewing on a straw. He gives me a last triumphant glance, then positions himself in the one corner of the bed that’s out of camera’s range.
I hear heavy breathing.
I had a strange thought the other day.
With all of our peregrinations and perambulations...
...machinations and rationalizations...
...titillations and vacillations...
God’s just sitting there at the monitor, shaking his head.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
Leslie Phillips God is Watching You
When your life's about to start - God is watching you
When you have a shattered heart - God is watching you
When you're a slave and when you're freed - God is watching you
When what you call love's really need - God is watching you
God is watching you
God is watching you
When you wake up in the night - God is watching you
When you're dancing in the light - God is watching you
When you don't need to use force- God is watching you
When you don't ever feel remorse - God is watching you
When you're a hero to us all- God is watching you
When you take that fated fall - God is watching you
When you hide your head in the sand - God is watching you
When you find a brand new land - God is watching you
When out of fear you judge your friend - God is watching you
When you let a stranger in - God is watching you
When you always have to win - God is watching you
When love requires that you give in - God is watching you
When you play the cards you're dealt - God is watching you
When you won't reveal yourself - God is watching you
When you believe enough to die - God is watching you
When you say your last goodbye -
(by T Bone Burnett and Leslie Phillips, The Turning)
Thursday, November 27, 2008
It has long been one of my favorite holidays. Christmas is ridiculous these days. It makes my head hurt. But the capitalists have never quite figured out how to capitalize on quaint little pious people with funny hats, collars, and shoe buckles. I guess the whole concept of “giving thanks” is somewhat alien to Madison Avenue anyway. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.
I’m trying to teach James to say “please” and “thank you.” Of course it is usually during a feeding time. As he is twisting, bouncing, pointing, and grunting for MORE, even with a full mouth, I slowly refill the spoon and tell him to say, “Please, Mimi.” Then, once I plop the bite in his mouth, I say “Thank you.” (Actually, I say it the way a baby would...“tank-tu”...sorry, Purists.) He is completely clueless. What do these words have to do with the Divine Right of Kings (and other small tyrants) to be FED? That is our first perceived need, and we demand that it be met right there on the delivery table. HOW DARE YOU NOT FEED ME IMMEDIATELY??? I DIDN’T ASK TO BE BORN, BUT SINCE I’M HERE, YOU’D BETTER SNAP TO IT!
We carry much of that “entitlement attitude” into adulthood. Especially in this country. We have our inalienable rights! We want what we want, and we deserve to get it! At a very young age, a child learns all about “me” and “mine.”
Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful for that which we consider a right, not a privilege. Human beings being as we are, I think it’s (unfortunately) necessary for us to live through some loss in order to develop a truly thankful heart.
Like it says in the song, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone...”
Being home, the New Reality seems like a dream.
When I arrived, my sweet husband had the house completely decked out with all of our old Thanksgiving stuff. Fresh flowers are everywhere, aromatic fall candles glow, a cozy fire burns in the family room. Even though everything about our lives has changed, it seems the same here. The halls are lined with pictures; every chest of drawers is covered with them. A relative refers to the stairwell descending to the basement as our “Wall of Fame.” All of my girls’ corny Olan Mills school pics are there, vying for space with high school and college honors. There is Katherine beaming beatifically at age 4. Awkward at 10. Aglow with life at 16, holding flowers. Gorgeous at 20, wearing crowns. Smiling, smiling, smiling, smiling...
There was so much to smile about.
Who knew that a smile could become such a rare and desperately-sought-after treasure?
I’m not going to beat myself up about having been so disgustingly unappreciative of the wonderfully good times of the past.
I can still conjure them up in my mind and savor them like a delicious meal. I can sneak back and take a peek into my grandmother’s fragrant house packed with 50 people for Thanksgiving lunch. Every surface laden with decadent dishes...uncles arguing over football in the den...kids playing football in the backyard...the women laboring over one last preparation for the feast...and the children, dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians, getting ready to sing for us. Katherine, as the first great-grand, was always the director of the motley little choir. “Come, ye thankful people come...” they sang, as feathers bobbed and collars slipped.
The irony is that when the blessings are bountiful, we tend to take them for granted. But through the telescope of change and loss, we are enabled to see them as the gold they always were. Then, finally, comes a rich, warm flood of gratitude. Since God exists outside of time and space, I like to think that retro-thanks pleases him as much as timely thanks.
I am more aware than ever that nothing here lasts.
Now the joys are sweeter than before. The peace is deeper. The gratitude is greater. I have never had so many reasons to be thankful. What could possibly be greater than the gift of a life?
But there are still reasons to be sad. That happy, smiling little girl of mine will not be eating her third piece of chocolate pecan pie today. Her Thanksgiving feast will be delivered via a tube in her abdomen. She will not be running around the house making the party happen. She will be sitting in a chair struggling to communicate, while the party flows around her.
I wish God would fix her today. But even if He doesn’t, I am going to thank and praise Him anyway. And in doing that, I will be offering Him a feast on Thanksgiving Day. I believe that the thanksgiving offered out of our places of sorrow is especially sweet to Him. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:14-16)
I will choose to praise Him in the storm.
On this day of thanksgiving, may you know how very deeply you are loved.
It is my prayer that each of us will be enabled to receive the gift of a truly thankful heart.......even before the next earthly loss comes.
Because it will.
God bless us, everyone.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe." (Hebrews 12:28)
“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:14-16)
Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.
All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
(Martin Rinckart, 1663)
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Sorry, but don’t expect consistency in that department here.
Sometimes the best thing you can do is just show up.
When every fiber of your being is screaming, “NO, NO, NO!”........ you still make an appearance.
And that is enough.
The grace is sufficient.
A beautiful, old, battered friend of mine once told me, “Kim, you just do the next right thing.”
No matter what.
Do the next right thing.
Don’t look down, or you’ll drown.
Do it even if no one’s watching:
That is all.
Friday, November 21, 2008
6:30- Loud crying...Granny gets up
6:32- Change diaper
6:35- Watch Baby Einstein (aka “Baby Crack”)
7:00- Fry egg with screaming baby on hip
7:05- Feed baby egg, oatmeal, and cheerios
7:30- Wrestle baby to ground and dress him
8:00- Help his mom finish getting ready
8:45- Wave byebye
9:00- Play with toys, read books, watch more Baby Crack
10:00- Put baby down for morning nap
10:05- Collapse on sofa, check email
10:25- Straighten house up
11:00- Shower, dress
11:50- Baby cries
12:00 p.m.- Fix baby’s lunch: grilled cheese, banana, string cheese, peach, milk
12:10- Wash breakfast dishes
12:15- Daddy and Mommy back from rehab
12:30- Eat lunch
1:00- Go to “grocery store” recommended by son-in-law
2:00- Go to real grocery store to find missing items
3:00- Unload groceries
3:30- Prepare to take quick nap
3:35- Baby wakes up from 2nd nap
3:40- Play with baby while everyone else takes a nap
3:45- Try to convince baby to play nightnight; play horsie instead
4:30- Resort to more Baby Crack
5:00- Change 6-wipe stinky diaper
5:15- Bathe baby
6:30- Feed baby supper
7:15- Baby goes nightnight
7:30- Fix grownup’s supper
8:15- Eat supper
8:30- Watch tube
9:30- Wash dishes
10:00- Baby wakes up and cries
10:10- Pat baby back to sleep
11:00- Get ready for bed
11:05- Read for 5 minutes
11:10- Go to sleep
12:30 a.m.- Baby screaming
12:35- Change massive diarrhea diaper
12:40- Still screaming
12:45- Walk around living room and 'ticka ticka'* on couch
*(Arnoldese for "tickle," as in a back)
12:50- Fall asleep with baby on couch
1:30- Sneak baby back to bed
1:32- Go back to bed
4:00- Baby screaming
4:05- Stumble around with baby
4:10- Get in bed with baby and 'ticka ticka'
6:30- Wake up with baby’s finger in eye
6:31- Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
6:32- Kiss baby all over his beautiful snotty face
7:00 a.m.- Fry egg with screaming baby on hip...
Friday, November 14, 2008
I have something to confess...
I absolutely adore “Bridget Jones' Diary.”
Yes, I know it’s raunchy and silly. I know it contains gratuitous sex and foul language.
Still, it remains one of my all-time favorite tragi-comedies.
One of my kids got this the other night. She and her sister were watching it on the tube in LA, while I was back in Athens doing fun things like voting, getting a flu shot (hear that, Mother?), and a mammogram. That particular daughter and I had exchanged some ‘difficult’ words the night before I left LA, so I was elated to receive the following text (verbatim) from her:
“we’re watchin Bridget jones.....It’s true....I LOVE YOU just as you are. what would i do without you? xoxoxo.”
(Oh, the charming complexities of the mother/daughter relationship!)
But back to Bridget: She is the archetypal Everywoman. (And –man, actually.)
She’s a mess. Bridget sets self-improvement goals which she can’t keep. She makes vows and breaks them. Her daily fare is a foot sandwich, chagrin on the side. Her psyche teeters torturously between delusions of grandeur and abysmally low self-esteem. But even though her best is never quite good enough, she keeps trying. She ‘gets knocked down, but she gets up again.’
She is the secular embodiment of Romans 7. In some ways, I’m a lot like Bridget.
All she really wants in the whole wide world is what we all long for: to be loved just for who we are, warts and all. She wants someone who thinks she’s worth it...someone who believes in her potential whether or not she ever comes close to reaching it. Bridget wants a man willing to fight for her. She wants someone who just wants her, thick or thin. (Pun intended.)
Being a lit-freak, I appreciate author Helen Fielding’s clever transposition of some of the early 19th Century characters (or types) from Pride and Prejudice into 20th Century London. Quite a cultural contrast...yet ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ as the French say.
Just as Elizabeth Bennett is shocked to find true love where she least expects it, so Bridget is obliged to lay aside the prejudice of an initial bad impression and the pride which might force her to cling to it. Faced with a “You can be right, or you can be happy” dilemma, she wisely chooses happiness. (At least for a while.)
The pivotal exchange of dialogue between Bridget and the 20th Century Mr. Darcy:
Mark Darcy: I like you, very much.
Bridget: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and... ah, the verbal diarrhea.
Mark Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.
JUST AS YOU ARE.
And that, my friends, is the bottom line of the Good News.
We are loved just as we are. More than we can possibly imagine.
(...because that kind of love is a rare gift among human beings.)
In the past 6 months, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this kind of love lived out to the extreme.
A cherubic young man with a boy’s face can’t contain his grin. The sparklingly beautiful bride beams. Handel’s Chorus majestically pours from the church organ, rattling the tall windows of the elegant antebellum structure.
Flash to the reception. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A too-good-to-be-true Hollywood set day. The November Georgia sky is a brilliant Carolina blue. Heaven’s weather. Delicious breeze. Gorgeous flowers everywhere. Clink of glasses. Tempting aromas. Family. Friends from around the globe. Mellow music outside, rockin’ vibes inside. Uncontainable electric joy ricochets off the columns and floats up into the pale sapphire sky like an escaped balloon.
Laughing and waving wildly, Barbie and Ken are whisked away in a limo to their assured happily-ever-aftering.
The DVD ends.
The mothers of the bride and groom exchange quick glances.
I get up off the sofa and go into the bathroom.
The contrast is so breathtakingly extreme.
I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
But this is not what the boy in the DVD signed up for.
The girl he fell head-over-heels in love with was not the kind of girl who needed a man to hold her up. A young man would consider himself lucky if he could even catch up with her. The girl in the DVD was the kind of girl who inspired songs. The lyrics to a particularly catchy one written in her honor (/at her expense) by a college band included the line, “Hold on, Katherine, you’re movin’ way too fast...” That girl was a mover and shaker. She made things happen.
That beautiful young bride was a force of nature. Heads turned when she entered a room. People listened when she spoke...which was in a loud, clear, articulate voice. She was a passionate, motivating speaker. She was a compassionate, empathizing friend. She was the aroma that drew people in, the glue that kept them together.
She seemed to be uniquely blessed. She won awards she didn’t seek, accolades she never expected. She was a “winner.” She provoked intense loyalty in some, envy in others...as those who run outside the pack always do. She was a klutz who won beauty queen titles, a prude who was adored by the frat boys who chose her as their sweetheart. She was loved and respected by professors and given prestigious responsibilities. She was a bright and rising star, with potential reaching to the skies. She had everything the world considers of value...brains, beauty, talent, popularity, ambition...the whole package. And in spite of all that, she was even a nice person.
So she headed to California to pursue her dreams, which seemed easily within her reach.
The young man said, “Whither thou goest, I shall go...”
Little did he know where that would lead them.
They had to cut her wedding ring off in the emergency room.
Last week, for her fourth anniversary, her husband gave her another one. This one is even more beautiful than the original. It is an “eternity” ring....a circle of diamonds set in white gold. The fiery furnace of adversity has unveiled the true gold of eternal, selfless, unconditional love. The diamonds sparkle as a reminder of the secret treasures they’ve found hidden in the darkness. The circle, of course, represents love without end.
The wife is now very altered from how she appeared in the wedding DVD of four years ago. I know that there must be times when her husband misses her as she used to be...the sound of her clear, strong voice...her laugh...her infectious energy...her zest for life...her efficiency at solving problems, her ability to make everything okay. But the love he evidences now seems deeper, stronger, richer than before. There is an amazing gentleness as he takes care of her basic needs. There is actually even joy...as he fills her feeding tube, bandages her damaged eye, wipes her nose, helps her with a shower on onto the toilet....as he cooks and cleans and does the laundry and changes diapers....as he plans 1-year-old birthday parties and fields phone calls and emails and fills out grocery bags full of insurance forms.
I have been greatly moved in witnessing the mature love that has grown out of this seeming tragedy. The boy has become a man of whom I am very proud, and for whom I am extremely grateful. At an age when many of their peers are still ‘not over’ college, the love that Katherine and Jay bear for each other has ripened to a degree that many marriages never attain.
Shortly after Katherine’s surgery, a friend sent me back a present I had given her years ago. At the time, my friend was going through a very dark period and feeling unlovable. She was acting out of her pain. I gave her a silver locket with a line from a Shakespearean sonnet engraved on it to assure her that I still loved her no matter what. Now I have this locket hanging from the lamp next to my bed in LA. It is a wonderful reminder for me. The quote was taken from Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Oh yes, there have been impediments...and alterations...and terrible tempests in the lives of this young couple.
The love of which Shakespeare writes is a love that remains constant no matter what “alterations” occur in the beloved or in the relationship. But as appealing as this romanticized ideal of courtly love is, I don’t believe it is really possible to love that way unless we have first received and accepted an even greater love ourselves.
In The Four Loves, Lewis introduces the concept of “need-love.” I think the majority of what passes for love in this world falls into that category. ("I love you because you meet my needs in some way"... "I love you because of the way you make me feel"... "I love you because of what you do for me")
But in coming to a more mature and complete understanding of how totally, unconditionally, and sacrificially we are loved by our Creator (and always have been), we are set free from the bondage of our needs. Only then are we are free to love with abandon, and in doing so, we set others free from our expectations. Human beings simply cannot meet each other's deepest needs.
When we allow ourselves to be filled to the brim with the love of God, that inexhaustible love flows out of us in a steady stream. My son-in-law knows that kind of love. That love gets up at midnight to walk his wife to the bathroom or change a stinky diaper. (The baby's, not hers!) That love finds her more beautiful with a crossed eye and a shaking hand than he did on the day he looked into her gorgeous aqua blues and put a ring on her finger. (Plus, he's still just flat out crazy about her, as she is of him.)
I thank God that my 26-year-old son-in-law is so "rooted and established in love, that he has received the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that he may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19) And from that place of fullness, he is able to live out Christ's call to love my daughter selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
If Bridget had just known Jesus, it might have lasted.....forever.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25)
Friday, November 7, 2008
After talking for a while, our friends began praying for each of us, moving around the room to place healing hands on us one at a time. When they prayed for me, it was comforting, but I didn’t experience any major ‘bells and whistles.’ Then I sensed them moving around the room towards Katherine. I started getting chills. We heard the prayer momentarily cease as they whispered to each other something like, “Wow, did you get that?” accompanied by sounds of murmured wonderment.
When the prayer was over, our pastor said to Katherine, “I feel that God is singling you out for some special purpose...that you have a 'divine destiny.'" His wife corroborated, saying that she was startled by how strongly that impression had been made upon her as well.
We were slightly weirded out. With my active imagination, it was a pleasant fantasy to picture Katherine giving God the glory from the Academy Awards stage one day. At least it was a little distraction from the chronic pain that pursued me. Unfortunately, the prayer seemed to have had little efficacy for me. But later that evening, my husband, who is not in the least prone to exaggeration, reported a remarkable improvement in some of his physical symptoms. I try to keep an open mind about this kind of thing. “Well, good,” I thought/prayed, “at least he deserves some answered prayer.”
That night was a strange one. We had a terrific winter storm, and the power went out. We stumbled around the house by candlelight, trying to pick through the piles of stuff we’d been going through before the lights turned off. Katherine was scheduled to leave the house at 5:00 a.m. to catch a flight back to California, and her sisters and I had emptied our closets for her to pick through our hand-me-downs. It was chaos in the dark.
We finally gave up in the wee hours, and all crowded into the master bedroom for what little warmth the gas fireplace might provide. Unable to find my pain meds in the dark, and not able to use my heating pad because of the power outage, I ‘slept’ in the bed with my mother while the rest of the family crowded together in sleeping bags. I fitfully dozed off and on for a few hours, assuming that the pain would be so severe in the morning that I would be unable to move.
The next morning, I stumbled into the shower, still half asleep, and began washing my hair. Suddenly, I became aware that I was using both hands. I had not been able to lift my right arm above my head without severe pain for almost a year prior to that. Several health-care professionals had told me that it was likely that I’d never have another pain-free day, but we would learn how to “manage” it.
I was miraculously pain-free for the rest of the day. Although the battle was not completely over at that time, my pain level remained greatly diminished for months afterwards. (So much for bells and whistles.)
I began taking those spiritually-intuited words about Katherine more seriously, wondering if they actually might prove to be prophetic in some way.
What could God possibly have in store for her?
Obviously, it was nothing we could imagine.
...And so we continue to await the unfolding of His plan, remembering that “His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts...”
The Waiting Room is not a new place for me...I’ve signed my name in here a few times before. So while I wait to be called back to the examining room, I thumb through the stack of old stories on the table to assuage my apprehension.
I start with the Big Daddy, Abraham. He always makes me feel a little better. (The whole Ishmael thing... pimping his wife not once, but twice...laughing at the angel...!!) According to my calculations, it was 25 years between the Promise and its fulfillment. Twenty five years of believing, doubting, trying, failing, trying again. And just when it seemed completely impossible, The Blessing came.
Then I look at Joseph. Oh, the arrogance of youth! We’re just so cocky until we get the stuffing knocked out of us a few times. I cringe at the remembrance of what a know-it-all I was in my teens and twenties. Maybe young Joseph was just impulsive and lacking in some social skills. Nobody likes a braggart. But it wasn’t all his fault that he was spoiled; parents should never have favorites. He had plenty of time to think about his own mistakes, however, in the 20+ years he awaited the fulfillment of his dream. Years of betrayal, imprisonment, false accusations, broken promises. His character was purged through the fires of burning disappointment until he was a man big enough to forgive the unforgiveable...a man worthy of being a prototype of the One who “blessed those who cursed him.”
Moses: From the decadent palaces of Egypt to the obscurity of the boondocks. Feeling like a pauper instead of a prince, he languished for 40 years of exile in Midian before reluctantly receiving the Call for liberation.
And then there’s Saul. I used to be under the impression that after his moment of enlightenment, when the scales fell off his eyes, he took off running to spread the News. But no. In “The Conversion of Saul,” Robert Deffinbaugh writes, “There may well have been a long time between Saul’s conversion and his arrival at Jerusalem.” In Galatians, Paul (formerlyknownas Saul) tells us that he did not go directly to Jerusalem to connect with his new brothers, as would be expected. Instead, he went away to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. It was over three years before went to Jerusalem and finally met Peter. First he went into the desert. Then he revisited the place where his life had been turned upside down. As driven and Type A as he was, Saul had to wait humbly until he had learned what he needed to learn. I’m sure he was chomping at the bit as the wild horses of his fiery, impulsive nature were being tamed. Snorting and pawing at the starting line, he learned the hard lessons of obedience and submission. And the even harder one of surrendering his will and plans.
Later, after much character growth, he would write, “...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:3-8)
At just the right time, God’s plan and purposes for Katherine will unfold.
As they will for all of us who wait.
This is what the Lord says:
“At just the right time, I will respond to you.
On the day of salvation I will help you...
Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel
and assign it to its own people again.
I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’
They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures
and on hills that were previously bare.
They will neither hunger nor thirst.
The searing sun will not reach them anymore.
For the Lord in his mercy will lead them;
he will lead them beside cool waters.
And I will make my mountains into level paths for them.
The highways will be raised above the valleys.
See, my people will return from far away...”
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness to mean...
(II Peter 3:9)
Friday, October 31, 2008
I eat all day long. I am hypoglycemic, so if I don’t eat something every three or four hours, I get shaky and mean. You don’t want to get near me around 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon if I haven’t had access to a snack.
I imagine that, for most who are reading this, hunger is what happens when you’re on a self-imposed diet or if you’re on the freeway too long without a McDonald’s stop.
A lot of my new neighbors in Westwood are really hungry. Hungry, as in they have no idea where the next meal is coming from unless it's out of a dumpster. Being LA’s college town, the community probably won’t let them starve. But it gets old...and sad...sometimes, passing out dollar bills every time you have to run to the drug store. (We actually WALK to ‘run’ errands here...like living in Europe.)
Yes, I know all the reasons why we’re not supposed to do that. I know there are shelters and soup kitchens. All I can tell you is that if they have to ask, they need it more than I do. I remember a story about CSL being challenged by one of his colleagues on the topic one time. His response was something like, “Yes, I know he’ll probably just spend it on drink. But if I keep it, I might just spend it on drink!” We’re all really beggars on one level or another.
What do we actually own?
My mother was the type that would stop and help hitchhikers out in the 60’s. (No, come to think of it, she wasn’t the ‘type’ at all. But she did it.) Sometimes she would give them a ride. My father always called the State Patrol and the emergency room when she was late coming back from Atlanta. It never deterred her in the least. If someone were hungry, she made sure they were fed.
The worst trip of Katherine’s life was when we took her to New York for her 12th birthday. We thought she’d love it, as besotted with “The Theater” as she was. But all the fabulous plays in the world couldn’t make up for the grief she felt over the hungry, homeless people. She was in tears walking down the sidewalks of The City. Brooks finally got a stack of dollar bills and we let her hand them out all day long. The inequity of poverty overwhelmed her. (And no, it doesn’t matter to any of us if it’s their own damn fault they’re on the streets. Call us suckers. They are still worthy of compassion.)
Although Katherine loved going on a mission trip to Malawi with her father-in-law’s church, the relentless NEED saddened her. She told me, “We’d work all day long, as efficiently as we could, but we never got to the end of the line.” Being forced to turn some away was devastating to her. How desperately she wanted to ease their pain, satisfy their hunger, help to heal their sicknesses.
It is sadly ironic that Katherine has to suffer such gnawing hunger herself now.
Eating is one of our family’s greatest passions. My two oldest children were born ravenous. They nursed all day (and night) long. When they were James’ age, they would scream when the breakfast oatmeal ran out. Katherine averaged 3 bowls per morning. I was in a major health-food phase at the time, so the Arnold girls weren’t allowed to have white sugar, processed food, any of the bad stuff. It backfired. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.
Much later, countless friends and neighbors laughingly told me about having to make special grocery store runs when the Arnold girls were coming over. They were particularly notorious for cleaning out cookie drawers and candy bowls. No one could believe how much those cute little girls could pack down. I have to confess that I set a bad example for them. I was a low birth weight baby and a skinny (hyperactive) child who was wildly applauded for eating. I also inherited a very high metabolism. (At least until things ‘change’d.....get it, ladies?) As an adult, I have achieved a certain level of fame for how much I can eat. The girls, wanting to be just like Mommy, thought it was great fun to eat a lot. I am 5’3” and fairly lazy. My husband is 6’6” and a very self-disciplined runner. Our girls and I have always eaten more (and much worse) than he does...which was fine for them until the vertical growth stopped. They don’t thank me so much anymore.
Anyway, I think it’s interesting to note how many celebrations and ceremonies are centered around food. Every Southern family get-together is a moveable feast. My mother’s mother was a wonderful old-fashioned cook, who always had something on the stove ‘just in case’ someone happened to stop by. She had six grown children who frequently did, along with their spouses, children, friends, pets, and strays. We celebrated almost every holiday at her big, old, white house on a hill in Gainesville, Georgia...sometimes as many as 50 of us for Thanksgiving dinner. Nenie would cook at least 10 dishes for every occasion, but then everyone else would bring two or three to add to the banquet. Just writing about it conjures up intoxicating smells which are starting to make me salivate.
I’ll be back after I run to the kitchen......
Food is an instrument of love. I’ve written before (and I will write again some day) of the flow of fabulous food that showered down on us while we were at UCLA. I learned many lessons from it. Literally hundreds of people went to great trouble to keep us well-fed. Mothers of small children took hours out of their busy days to provide us with wonderful meals. They would struggle in, pushing a stroller with one hand while carrying heavy bags of food and holding a toddler’s hand with the other. This was after a long search for a parking space, followed by a long hike to the hospital and a long trek down miles of hall looking for us. It was a great sacrifice of love.
By the time Katherine got down to Acute Rehab from ICU, she was fully aware of this food offering. Her sense of smell (atypically) remained intact, and she was tormented by the aromas drifting down the halls. As she grew more aware of her situation, she, strangely, became hungrier and thirstier by the day, even though she was receiving adequate caloric intake from the nasty beigey-gray substance given through a feeding tube in her stomach. I have since read that an acute sense of hunger can be one physiological/psychological side effect of a brain injury.
At first, Katherine could not tolerate the sight of a drink or any food in her room, so we discreetly wolfed (no pun intended) down the generous meals in the privacy of the staff kitchen or lunchroom. But she would get lonely even for those brief periods. Knowing how I have to eat or get loopy, she started encouraging me to eat in the room with her. I would sit just feet away from her, but with the curtain drawn between us so she didn’t have to watch. Eventually we did away with that. As she wistfully glanced at me choking down my sandwich, I would assure her that it wasn’t very good (even if it was delicious) and that she wasn’t missing anything. But of course that is exactly what she was doing...missing one of the old loves of her life.
To this day, Katherine’s nagging hunger remains. It haunts her day and night.
She told me that if she could only do one again, she would pick eating over walking.
Still, Katherine chooses to join us for most meals now. She is a “people person” above all else. She exercises self-discipline of the most stringent type by calmly sitting there while we satiate ourselves. It’s got to be terrific torture. She is learning volumes about the practice of the spiritual disciplines. On a daily basis, she chooses to be a part of the fellowship breaking bread together, in spite of the personal sacrifice. But sometimes she is very quiet.
It hurts me as a mother. From the time we first hooked up on the delivery table, feeding my child has been the most instinctual of job descriptions. So I’ve often wondered about the purpose of this imposed fast. I believe it might be in the category of “sharing in the sufferings.” Once, I reminded her of Christ’s fast during the temptation. “Yes, but that was only 40 days,” she countered. Jay said, “Well, Katherine, I guess you’ve got Jesus beat.” Of course no sacrilege was intended...that was in the “might as well laugh” category. (We did.) Still, the mysteries remain....
I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger these days. One of Webster’s definitions for the infinitive “To hunger” is: Have a craving, appetite, or great desire for.
Dear God, we’re all hungry for something.
I tried going without food for a while the day I wrote most of this blog. What I felt was a relentless, nagging need. Want. Desire. An emptiness that desperately needed filling.
This may be a wild stretch, but just maybe, like Hosea, God is allowing Katherine the privilege of suffering as an example to the rest of us.
Maybe He’s using her to remind us all that we’re desperately needy for some food and drink that last. In a land of over-saturation, we’re suffering from spiritual malnutrition of the most insidious kind.
And maybe I’m supposed to be reminded of my own spiritual poverty when I connect with those beggars in Westwood. I am in no way above them.
We are family.
As we enter this holiday (Holy Day?) time of celebration, perhaps we should challenge each other to develop an increased awareness of the intense Hunger all around us.
As Dostoyevsky said, “If an onion is all you have, give an onion!”
GIVE AN ONION!!!
An onion of love, an onion of hope...
(CHRISTIANITY: One beggar telling another where the food line starts.)
You are my Shepherd, I'm Your little lamb
You lead me to the still water here in the pastureland
Sometimes I willfully wander
that's when I stumble and fall.
I hunger and thirst for mercy
I hunger and thirst for Your name
If I hunger and thirst for anything but You
I hunger and thirst in vain.
You are my Father,
I'm Your little child
You make a place at Your table
and ask me to stay awhile
I want to stay in Your presence
I want to feast in Your hall.
I hunger and thirst for mercy
I hunger and thirst for Your name
If I hunger and thirst for anything but You
I hunger and thirst in vain...
(Susan Ashton, "Hunger and Thirst" from Angels of Mercy)
"They will neither hunger nor thirst...He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water." (Isaiah 49:10)
"You still the hunger of those you cherish..." (Psalm 17:14)
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)
"Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh." (Luke 6:21)
"Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst." (Revelation 7:16)
Friday, October 17, 2008
What a year it’s been.
Although we’re planning a party for him next week, of course we had to have a little family celebration on the actual day. He smeared cupcake icing all over his face like a good little boy so that his Daddy’s daddy and his Mommy’s mommy could take lots of silly pictures. Then we put him on a blanket in the back yard to open presents, which were stuffed animals he didn’t love and clothes he was bored with. After that, he got fussy. (He’s got a bad cold.)
While his aunt Sarah and his granddaddy tried to entertain him, James’ mother and I sat in the backyard swing and watched as the sun illuminated the mountains on its way out. We rocked gently in the blessedly cool twilight, letting Jay clean up the mess. Katherine was quiet, exhausted and hoarse from fighting to be understood all day. I knew she was sad about having to be an observer rather than an active participant in the proceedings. As a tear dripped out of her left eye, she whispered to me, “This isn’t how I planned it, Mom.”
Katherine is a planner. A MAJOR planner. As an adult, it has frustrated her that I am not. She has things mapped out a year in advance, unlike her mother, who usually flies by the seat of her pants.
I reached over and hugged her head. “I know,” I said, “But God has a plan.” It felt weak and trite coming out, as so many condoling words do. I followed it by reminding her of all the good that’s coming out of her pain....how so many people are being encouraged by her story...yada, yada, yada. “Yes, but what about James?” she asked. I understood her completely without her having to spell it out. As compassionate and caring as Katherine innately is, her love and concern for her own firstborn child trump every other consideration. I know that she is honored that God is using her circumstances in mysterious ways as a blessing for others...BUT WHAT ABOUT HER BABY???
I know how I’d feel if I were her. I’m not nearly as selfless as Katherine is. I’d probably be having a fit. I’d be screaming and crying to God, “Well, it’s great that all these people are being blessed, but does it have to be at my child’s expense??? A child needs his mother to hold his hands while he’s trying to walk! A child needs his mother to pick him up when he’s crying! A little boy needs his mother to get down on the floor and play with him! What about my baby??? Is he going to be okay with all of this? Is he going to be scarred for life?”
We looked up and saw James silhouetted against the silver sky, sitting high on the shoulders of his grandfather. “He’s doing great, Katherine,” I said. “Just look at him.” She sniffed and nodded and made the “Ouuuuh...Cute” face. “He is,” she agreed. I started carefully wiping her tears away. “They only come out of my left eye,” she reminded me. “The right one doesn’t work.” But as I leaned over, I saw a little one dangling off her right eyelashes, sparkling in the dark.
Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)
But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11)
In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. (Ephesians 1:11)
...and best of all,
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
For once, I’m almost speechless.
You guys are incredible. Thank you SO much for your love, support, encouragement, affirmation...and for the confirmation that I am supposed to be doing this.
Obviously, this is about a lot more than what my family is going through. I am honored and amazed that God is using our pain to bring healing to others. You can’t know what a blessing and privilege that is. I appreciate those of you who have opened yourselves up and risked “public exposure” by your comments. It helps to know more about those who have chosen to share this rough journey with us. I realize that we are certainly not alone in facing heartbreak. Please know that I will be praying for those who have shared their own hurts and challenges. We are one body. When the pinkie hurts, the whole hand throbs with pain...and the arm, and the.......
Typical me: When I first had a chance to read the comments, my initial thought was, “Whoa...now I really gotta fly right!”
I got an immediate jolt of Spirit fire: “No, Kim...” He said, “All you really gotta do is be loved.”
I mean, how can anyone resist Him???
The good news is too good to be true...but it is.
No strings attached...
“Come one, come all, to the ugly bug ball!”
(...If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up
If I’m crazy, I don’t wanna be sane
When I’m empty, you fill up my cup
When I’m hurting, you bear my pain...)
*A couple of clarifications about the previous blog:
The comment in question was verbal, not written. Please note that I said it was “somewhat” negative. It was not a scathing indictment. Hopefully, the person that made it doesn’t even realize that it provoked such commentary. As “tami” commented, my post was not intended to “rally the troops” in support of the blog. I must confess, however, that it was precious to discover that I have so many willing defenders. I need all the help I can get!
The point is....the 'negative' comment reinforced reservations I have had myself, and forced me to really examine my motives and revisit the risks involved. I also felt that I needed to provide a little background information for those who are late to the dance.
The responses serve as a sign that the blessings far outweigh the curses. Thank you for giving me some peace.
Also, in rereading the post, I remembered that the words to the Jill Phillips song (“God Believes In You”) are“Everything matters if anything matters at all...”
I do believe that’s true.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
Recently, I got my first somewhat negative comment about the blog from someone other than a family member. Victim of low self-esteem that I am, I instantly went into a spiral of self-doubt. WHY AM I DOING THIS???
I am from a background that doesn’t quite approve of public exposure. It is with pride that many of my compatriots quote, “Grandmother always said you should only appear in the paper twice... at birth and at death.” Weddings are a fairly recent (20th Century) concession. My sweet mother, who is a young 81, suggested soon after Kelly started it that we needed to “Get off that Caringbridge Thing so someone else can have a turn.” It simply is not considered genteel to put one’s self forward, demand attention, expose one’s private business.
So, WHY AM I DOING THIS???
First of all, I need to tell you that I’ve never really written anything before except for some bad poetry and inappropriate letters to people like my daughters’ ex-boyfriends. Although I’ve taught high school English, I was not an English major in college. I think most of us who love to read harbor secret fantasies about writing, however, and I am no exception. I just never got around to it. If someone asked me to write an Advent devotion for the Church newsletter, I’d be paralyzed by “writer’s block” and would agonize until well past the deadline over what to say. I’d write a sentence, change a word, change another word, and finally scratch out the whole sentence. I would read the entire thing over again each time I finally did manage to tack a new sentence on to it. It would be a lengthy, labored process.
Talking has never been a problem, however. My grandmother was one of five sisters named Converse, and that is what they did...wonderfully well. I grew up listening to their highly descriptive, endless, epic stories. My father, who was half Converse, was also a remarkable raconteur. As a child, I drifted off many nights to his amazingly realistic sound-effects of WWII missiles exploding over Germany as he scurried from foxhole to foxhole.
Evidently, the legacy of excessive verbiage has passed on to me as well. In elementary school, I would get straight A’s in everything except for “Citizenship.” (Okay, not always in Math, either.) The mean teachers would give me a “B” in that box and write, “Talks too much with other students” in the comment space. The nice ones understood and let it slide. And I told stories, too, weaving dramatic sagas in the ‘cloakrooms’ of my old elementary school whenever the class was left unattended. Some of my baby cousins claim that they are still receiving therapy for the ghost stories I told them in the dark closets of my other grandmother’s rambling century-old white house.
Words stream through my mind in a constant flow, usually so fast that I can’t catch them. I know I don’t catch the best ones...I’m not quick enough. I’ve always been fascinated by words, and I believe there is great power in them. THE Word spoke Creation into existence, and we enter into the creative process with our words as well. Human words are a pale substitute, however, for the intimate heart communion that one day will render them unnecessary and meaningless. In the meantime, we struggle to share our stories, our experiences, our hearts. It seems to me that communication is one of the main reasons we’re here: to commune with one another...to share communion. In the movie “Shadowlands,” a former student tells C. S. Lewis, “We read to know we’re not alone.” Words are tools we use to share the human experience.
I’ve found that the written word is sometimes easier than the spoken. The fear, self-consciousness, and possibility of misinterpretation that may be obstacles in spoken communication disappear in writing. For several years preceding Katherine’s AVM rupture, I felt as if I were speaking a foreign language that no one could understand. In a place of terrific physical (and emotional) pain, I retreated into isolation. Some of what I was experiencing was simply not articulable, so I gave up trying to answer truthfully when people asked me how I was. But this forced me into a new intimacy with God that made the suffering much more than worth it all. For the first time since my 8th grade diary, I began journaling. When I was physically able to write, I talked to myself and God on paper, sometimes pouring out words that I couldn’t speak to another living soul. Sometimes He answered back, and I wrote that down, too.
It was all preparation.
The second full day after my arrival in California in April, I lay in my bed at UCLA’s Tiverton House with my grandson asleep beside me and began typing a letter to my friends. Words just poured out onto the electronic page of my laptop...I was talking by typing. In my mind, I was addressing a specific audience of friends who like to know the details. (As do I.) When I got to the hospital that morning, I asked Katherine’s friend Lauren how to send out a group email. After helping me with that, she suggested setting up the blog so other friends, whose addresses were not yet in the new laptop, could also have access. Thus was the blog born.
I wasn’t completely sure what a blog was.
Sometimes it takes my breath away to realize how many people are reading my private thoughts now. I wonder who most of you are. A few have become friends I’ve never met. I am blown away that so many are interested. I can’t allow myself to think about it as I spill my guts (and my family’s) out onto virtual paper in the privacy of my little apartment in LA. But it really gives me something to consider when I’m in Athens and need to make a grocery store run. I might run into someone who’s known me for years, but not really known me at all. Until now.
Guess I’m out of the closet.
In some ways, it’s ironic that I’ve put myself in this position. No one’s kids have been lectured on the Evil Dangers of the Internet as much as mine have. I am sickened by the “Jerry Springer/nasty ‘reality’ TV show/Facebook” need (obsession) we have in this society to expose ourselves to public ridicule at any price. (And voyeuristically to enjoy the negative exposure of others.) I realize that, in some ways, I have entered the realm of that culture I abhor by the use of this vehicle of communication. I acknowledge the many intrinsic risks...and the terrible vulnerability to which they expose us.
For now, I’ve decided that it is worth it.
Early on, when the implications first began to dawn on me, I tacked that "About Me” caveat onto the page in about three minutes while sitting in the noisy lobby at UCLA. I am so glad that I did. It is vitally important to me that anyone reading this understands that I don’t consider myself a “SuperSaint” or an expert on matters spiritual. (Or anything else.) You’ll never catch me running for political office.
But I will tell you this: In the middle of the most paralyzing fear of my life, the words simply began flowing out, unlocked from the self-conscious paralysis of a lifetime. The effortless ease with which they came was supernatural, just another of the many peripheral miracles of that mystical time. In the deepest place in me, I knew that this was what I was being called to do “at such a time as this.”
Later, when a moment of self-doubt first crept in, I prayed about it. This is what I heard reverberating through my spirit: “Just keep it real. Keep it true.”
So, at least for now, I very belatedly welcome you all to this story...Katherine’s story, my story, our story...chapters in the big one. I believe that every single human life is a fascinating story...and each of us has a sacred story to tell, for we are all created in the image of the Creator of the Big Story. All of history is His Story. Our stories are rivulets that flow into the great River of Life itself that surges from the Throne. Every tiny drop is important...every little tear. As Jill Phillips sings, “Everything matters if anything matters at all.”
Because death exists, suffering is universal. In the words of our hometown boys (REM), “Everybody hurts.” Although I’ve heard several comments that writing the blog must be “cathartic” or “therapeutic” for me, I hope it is more than that. It is my prayer that the stories I share from this painful time in the life of my family may in some way help others in their own times of suffering. It is a blessing for Katherine and for those of us who love her to know that her pain is not wasted, but somehow used for good. In turn, we have been richly blessed by the stories others have been brave enough to share with us. For instance, I recently received a beautiful, particularly poignant letter from someone whose sister was killed by an AVM rupture just a few years ago. Strangely enough, the sister’s name was Catherine; she left behind a 2-year old child and a grieving family. In her letter, this precious young woman wrote, “...I would have loved to help her get better, the way you are helping Katherine. How joyous it is to see the pictures of Katherine as she fights to regain strength and mobility. I love seeing James in his mother’s arms. In a way, by seeing Katherine’s progress and seeing all that you all are doing to help her, I can imagine me doing that for my Catherine. Through reading your blogs, I am able to play out, in my mind, the scenario I had envisioned for my sister when she first fell ill, and I thank you for that opportunity, for the peace it gives my soul.” (No, thank you, dear girl. Your story reminds us to be truly thankful for every day, no matter how hard. We will keep you and your family in our prayers.) We bond together in sharing the grief and pain that are inevitable components of life on earth.
In attempting to ‘keep it real and true,’ I realize that what I’ve actually been doing in this sharing of stories is testifying. Webster’s tells me that the stem is the Latin “testis,” witness. Testimony is defined as “firsthand authentication of a fact: EVIDENCE.”
I can tell by a few of the comments I’ve gotten that some of you are in the same place I was in before this happened. Believing, but doubting. Wanting to believe that it’s all true. Thinking we have to try harder, be better, in order for all the promises to prove authentic for us. Subconsciously holding on to some of our core beliefs like hypotheses that need testing, rather than authenticated facts. Wondering, wondering...is my personal faith strong enough? Would it hold up under the biggest test? (I barely make it through the small ones.) Will these ‘spiritual theories’ be supported by evidence when tested by fire?
This is the gist of my personal story...this is ‘that which I have witnessed firsthand and can therefore authenticate’:
I am weak, wavering, inconsistent, complex, and conflicted. I cannot will myself to stay strong, be selfless, keep the faith, fight the fight. I identify with the Apostle Paul in Romans 7 when he confesses, “I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway...” My best is not good enough.
I cannot hold fast to what I know is true.
the Truth holds.
He holds fast to me.
He holds us all.
...and in Him all things hold together.
That is my public testimony.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Monday, September 15, 2008
Growing up, my kids would dance in any public arena at the slightest provocation. Juke box in a diner? They’re there. Mariachi’s at a Mexican restaurant? There. Chicken Dance at an Oktoberfest? There. Boardwalk-on-the-beach-band on the fourth of July? Not just there, but grabbing the mike from the lead singer. (Okay, that part just applies to one child.) My girls didn’t care what anyone thought, they just danced exuberantly, joyfully...whatever, whenever the occasion.
Brooks and I were somber on the flight back out to California. Katherine would have loved a family celebration like that. She would have chosen some peripheral relative-of-a-relative and entered into an in-depth conversation about his or her life, making the guest feel at home and valued. She would have made sure that each member of the groom’s family knew each member of the bride’s family. She would have allowed James to be passed around by all the relatives like a chunky little hot potato. And she would have danced. She would have danced with her grandfather, her father, her uncles, her husband. Jay might have bent her backwards over the dance floor, borrowing moves from their own wedding dance.
When Brooks and I arrived at Casa Colina, Katherine and Jay just happened to be coming out of the TLC. (Transitional Living Center.) Brooks was already out of the car, but I was gathering up all my stuff. Jay wheeled her over closer to the car. I glanced up. I felt as if someone had socked me in the stomach.
And then it hits you with fresh horror.
The edges of temporary denial start peeling back like cellophane, exposing naked, harsh reality. Tachycardia seizes me, shaking me until I can barely breathe. Inside, I start screaming, “Oh my God, no, no, no.....that’s not my Katherine...this isn’t really happening...make it go away...make her get up out of that chair and talk to me...fix her face back...is this some kind of a joke? Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me, help us....”
I pretend to search for something on the floorboard until I can get it together.
As I start walking over to her, Katherine’s shoulders begin to shake with silent sobs. I pull her head to my chest and hold her. “It’s been a horrible week,” she manages to get out. I realize that she’s been brave until now...like a child who gets hurt at nursery school, gets over it, but then loses it again when her mama comes to pick her up. Or when a bereaved person cries afresh with each new comforter. “I know,” I say...for surely every week must be horrible now, no matter what the particulars are.
As I drove the rental car to the rental house, I shifted my mindset back to the New Reality and said the Serenity Prayer. Things were starting to feel familiar again by the time the pedestrian entourage arrived with the wheelchair. We got Katherine settled on the couch and she began to fill in some details of the previous week. “Miss A” does indeed have it in for her. She has become more verbally abusive towards Katherine, and sometimes has physically violent explosions of anger. She appears to think that Katherine’s Christian name is actually “Bitch,” and refers to her in no other way. Staff members believe it’s likely that Miss A’s brain injury has caused her to confuse Katherine with someone from her past. Miss A’s relationship with Jay is even more complicated. She has volunteered to have his baby, and fondly refers to him as “A**hole.” After Jay tucks Katherine in at the TLC, he tries to sneak past the other patients’ rooms as quietly as he can. Almost every night, just as he makes it almost to the exit, he hears a slow, guttural “Goodnight, A**hole...”echo creepily down the dark hall. It may be gallows humor, but for some reason we find this hysterically funny. Jay is just so not an A**hole.
The challenges Katherine faces with fellow brain-injured patients are nothing, however, compared to the agonies of coming to terms with the major deficits she has suffered. Day after laborious day she climbs up Mt. Everest with a backpack full of rocks on her back, only to discover that she’s progressed an inch at most. Some days seem like a rockslide. She is tired and thirsty. She feels as if she is starving to death every waking moment. I pray such suffering will not be wasted. Although her attitude is amazingly positive most of the time, every now and then I’ll catch her slumped in her chair, staring into space. She looks like a broken little rag doll.
When I was a little girl, I had a Madame Alexander doll named Kelly that was a “play doctor” doll. She came with crutches, casts, bandages, syringes...even tiny paste-on measles and mumps! I grew up making rounds at the hospital with my father, so I loved exercising my healing powers over this perpetually sick or injured girl. But one day, something inside her popped. Whatever held her head and limbs securely fastened to her torso malfunctioned. I was furious that I couldn’t fix her. Although my mother promised that we would take her to the Doll Hospital in Atlanta, other priorities prevailed. To this day, she lies, dismembered, in her original box in the closet of my childhood room.
How many times I dreamed of marching her into that (probably mythical) Doll Hospital and demanding that they fix her! How many times a day I feel like forcing entry at Heaven’s Gates, marching up to the throne, handing Katherine back to the One who made her, and demanding that He heal her!
Then I calm down and try to remember the Promises. She will be restored...she will have a future and a hope...she will have a ministry...her life is not over yet...
...even though everything “Seen” seems to argue against these Unseen hopes and dreams.
And we wait.
Which is something I don’t do well. It’s ironic that those of us who are “Time-Challenged” are the least patient people on earth. Those who make others wait hate waiting more than anything. But patience is an old-fashioned virtue for most of us in this Quick Fix Society. We’re ticked if we have to wait two minutes in a check-out line or at a stoplight. We want to get it done! Solve the problem! Fix it NOW! It is so hard to learn to do nothing and wait upon the Lord.
I heard a great sermon once on God’s Timing. The speaker, who knew this from painful personal experience, said, “We’ve all heard that when God closes one door, He opens another...but IT’S HELL IN THE HALLWAY.”
That’s where we are right now. Out in the hallway looking at a lot of closed doors...hoping one will open soon. Trying to trust that one will. In God’s timing, not ours.
It may be a while until Katherine is back out on the dance floor. But I believe that she will be someday, somehow. In the meantime, I am researching Waiting. Maybe I’ll share what I learn with you...one of these days. But you may have to wait.
Thank you for your patience. Please pray some for me, too.
“...For the Lord is a faithful God.
Blessed are those who wait on Him.”
Isaiah 30:18b (NLT)
“But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.”
Romans 8:25 (NLT)
I wrote earlier of the need to come up with something far better than “thank you” to express the heart-wrenching gratitude I feel. I never came up with anything. Then, this morning, after reading the previous blog’s comments, the phrase “Mille mercis” popped into my head.
With no internet access in the apartment, I can’t just click onto Webster’s or LaRousse’s to investigate etymologies. (And there’s no time to run down to Starbucks.) But it is interesting that the French word for ‘thank you’ so closely mirrors ours for ‘mercy.’ I think I remember from my college French that “remercier” is the French infinitive for “to thank.” To give back mercy?
“Mille mercis”...to give back a thousand mercies?
Is that like forgiving 70x7? Code for infinity?
That’s what it will take in this case. I plead Heaven to pour out an infinite number of mercies on all of you who have poured yourselves out for us. The phrase “a drink offering” comes to mind. When we have been dying of thirst, you have offered a cup overflowing.
So before we can completely turn our attention to Casa Colina and the adventures there, I feel that I must first look back and reflect on the past four months with humility and awe at the generosity of spirit (and everything else) with which we’ve been blessed.
Mille mercis a:
...all the saints of The City of The Angels, represented by the body of Bel Air Presbyterian Church...
...all those who kept faithful vigil in the lobby at UCLA for several long months...crying, praying, laughing, and just being with us...
...all of you who have prayed across the miles...
...the many “Baby Whisperers” who cuddled and loved James to sleep while his mommy fought for her life...
...the selfless friends who took him into their home and cared for him as if he were their own...
...the hundreds who brought the food, THE FOOD!!!, the banquets of nurturing food, that descended like manna on us day after long day...
...those who gave us the many lavish gifts of love: from beautiful flowers to soothing music, inspiring books, journals, funny DVD's, meaningful jewelry, pictures, crosses, scripture cards, cozy blankets, lovely handmade things, stuffed animals, sachets, ‘self-pampering’ treats of lotions and such, fruit baskets, wine, and goodies galore...
...the stellarly talented friends who’ve used the gifts God has given them to create inspired music in Katherine’s honor and for the blessing of many...
...the friend who came across country to deliver an inspiring DVD with messages of love and support...
...the Flower Picture Lady and the Purple Hippo Lady...
...the old friend who sent old pictures to remind me that time heals many things...
...my “LA daughters” who treated me with a hair appointment at Beverly Hills’ finest for Mother’s Day...
...those who selflessly ferried family members back and forth to the airport, in spite of the gas prices...
...the errand runners who supplied us with everything we needed, and then some more...usually at their own expense...
...those compassionate ladies who arranged for me to have massages when I could barely walk...
...everyone who took the time to share loving words of encouragement through calls, texts, letters, cards, emails, and comments on the blog and caringbridge...
...those who fought the LA traffic and the UCLA parking nightmare to come for visits...
...those who flew across country to be at our side in the hours of need...
...the amazingly faithful friends who helped us “Katherine-sit” when we couldn’t leave her in the room alone, “sleeping” on the torture chair/bed...
...those who spent hours and hours organizing schedules and communicating for us...
...the teachers who sent beautiful pictures from children to brighten the drab walls...
...those who exhibited the gift of hospitality to family members...especially to the one who shared his beautiful Bel-Air home as a peaceful refuge from the storm...
...members of the medical community who have shared advice...
...the churches who sent beautiful prayer shawls and/or continue to keep Katherine on their intercessory prayer lists...
...friends who’ve come to take us out to dinner for a hospital break...
...AVM and stroke survivors who have shared their personal stories and faithfully continue to cheer Katherine on...
...friends in Athens who’ve taken my mother to lunch and kept her from being lonely...
...and those who’ve taken care of my husband in my absence with delicious dinners, invitations, and calls of support...
...all the anonymous new friends who pray for someone they’ve never even met...
...my incredible buddies (YaYas) of 50+ years who’ve seen me at my absolute worst and love me anyway...who hug me and rub me and put me to bed...
...my wonderful, patient friends who email or call with no expectation of response...
...and especially to my faithful little friend who contacts me (or a daughter) practically every day, helping me feel ‘almost normal’ by sending news from home along with her love and prayers...
...And finally, to Dr. Nestor Gonzalez and the incredible staff at UCLA Medical Center. How do you thank someone for saving your child’s life? To Dr. Gonzalez and the countless other doctors, nurses, care partners, PTs, OTs, and STs...may God bless you all with thousands upon thousands of mercies for the tender mercy you have shown to Katherine and our family. You are tireless, selfless, compassionate, and caring. We will never forget the many loving faces and the gentle hands that were instruments of God’s healing. Words are completely inadequate...but I hope you can read my heart, if not my mind.
My mother has always said, “If I don’t ask “Why me?” in the good times, why should I in the bad?” I agree with the underlying philosophy of that. But in this case, I do ask “Why?” There’s some terrible tragedy every millisecond down here on the fallen planet. The cumulative affect can be desensitizing for many of us...it’s easy to shutdown and numb-out from the burden of overwhelming sadness in the world. It’s difficult enough to deal with the issues we face in our own families, much less anyone else’s. So the question I have in this case is: “Why us? Why have so many people sustained such interest and compassionate involvement in our family’s crisis? Why have people cared so much?” It is stunning, shocking...humbling, convicting. I grieve over lost opportunities to serve others as I have been served in this situation. I resolve not to miss another, knowing in advance that I probably will.
As I write these words, I recognize a little of that payback (or pay-it-forward) mentality. I wonder why it’s so hard simply to receive. If you give me a Christmas present, I need to give you one back. Particularly in the South, we feel the compulsion to pay back casserole for casserole. Maybe it makes us feel empowered in some way not to owe anything to anyone...American independence and all that. But it can’t be done here. I can never repay the thousand kindnesses we’ve experienced. Sometimes the only thing you can do is receive. Gratefully, helplessly...receive.
I’m finishing this several weeks after I started it. In the meantime, I’ve had access to the Information Highway, and found that the word “mercy” is from the Medieval Latin “merced-, merces," from Latin, “price paid, wages.” It points me back to the ultimate mercy. I’ve been bought with a price that is impossible to repay. There is nothing I can do but unclench my tight fists and receive...
I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh every morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore I will hope in Him!”
Lamentions 3:20-24 (NLT)